Israel Gets New Kashrut Authority, but Don't Expect Things to Change on Shabbat

Tzohar has launched its own service granting kashrut certification in Israel – but the consumer may not be able to spot the difference, at least in the short term

The launch of Tzohar's new kashrut authority, Tel Aviv, February 25, 2018. Shai Berman, left, Rabbi Raffi Feuerstein, Rabbi Dr. Moshe Be'eri, Rabbi Oren Duvdevani and Irit Gottlieb.
Tomer Appelbaum

The Tzohar organization launched its own service granting kashrut certification to restaurants and businesses in Israel on Monday, placing it on a potential collision course with the Israeli Chief Rabbinate.

Tzohar’s leadership delivered a presentation of its service, called Tzohar Food Supervision, to the media in Tel Aviv. They claim the service will be revolutionary for Israeli businesses needing a kashrut certificate, but in fact it won’t differ from the usual kashrut procedure in any substantial way – not even in price.

The basic model of supervision will be the same as that of the (Orthodox) Rabbinate, the religious Zionist organization acknowledges.

So what’s new? Tzohar’s leaders have vowed to conduct themselves with complete transparency; to eschew ties between the supervisor and supervisee (a common criticism of the Rabbinate in recent years); to use technological tools; and to demonstrate understanding of business needs. In addition, Tzohar will be using female kashrut inspectors.

So what’s the same? Well, any restaurant opening on Shabbat won’t be able to obtain kashrut certification from Tzohar, no matter how kosher the establishment’s food sources.

Also, Tzohar’s prices are about the same as those charged by the Rabbinate. As a result, it’s way too early to say whether it’s a harbinger of change as far as consumers are concerned.

Perhaps the main upshot will be that, finally facing serious competition, the Rabbinate’s process will become more efficient.

The new kashrut certification arm will be headed by Rabbi Oren Duvdevani, formerly a high-ranking official in the Rabbinate’s kashrut authority.

Tzohar says its goal is to reach 1,200 businesses within three years, including restaurants that presently have no certification.

Tzohar co-founder Rabbi Raffi Feurstein says his organization’s purpose isn’t to supplant the Rabbinate, but to challenge it by introducing competition to what had been a monopolistic field until the High Court of Justice intervened last year to allow for some independent certification.

The launch of the new Tzohar kashrut authority in Israel, February 25, 2018.
Tomer Appelbaum

“Our opinion and view is that the State of Israel should have a state Rabbinate,” Feurstein clarified. “We don’t want and don’t aspire to replace the Rabbinate. But like the ministries, it should have a regulator that sets the rules. ... We don’t want to take over from the Rabbinate. We want to add more businesses that hadn’t been kosher until now.”

Shai Berman, head of the Israeli Restaurants and Bars Association, appeared with Tzohar’s leaders at the press conference and recited the Shehecheyanu blessing for the new venture.

“This is an important day for Israeli society and the economy,” Berman said. “We know a monopoly is a bad thing and want to have an alternative.

“No longer can a single body impose its will and tell us what to do,” he added.