Hotel, Restaurant Associations Seek to Join Suit Against Official Kashrut

Say Chief Rabbinate takes control of hotel menus, dictating what can and cannot be served.

Shawarma restaurant with a kashrut certificate issued by the Chief Rabbinate.
Emil Salman

The umbrella organizations representing Israel’s hotels and restaurants on Tuesday asked the High Court of Justice to allow them to join a petition against Israel’s official kashrut authority.

The Israel Hotel Association and the Israel Restaurant Union called the Chief Rabbinate kashrut authority’s a “bad monopoly – bad for tradition, bad for kashrut and bad for the public, which is voting with its feet and vacationing abroad at non-kosher locations.” The organizations are calling for an immediate reform.

The original case was filed in 2014 by two Jerusalem restaurants against the Chief Rabbinate, the Religious Services Ministry and the Jerusalem Religious Authority. It contests the law forbidding them from using the word “kosher” without the official rabbinate certificate, claims that the rabbinate’s monopoly over kashrut is unconstitutional, and calls to allow entities other than the rabbinate to issue kashrut certificates.

In the statement to the court, the hotel body says that most of its members are interested in serving kosher food that meets halakhic standards, and understand that this means some form of supervision is necessary. However, the rabbanate’s arbitrary way of imposing its regulations and orders on the hotels is driving a significant number of them away from kashrut, it states. Likewise, many Israeli restaurants are pushed away from kashrut by the rabbinate’s conduct, the two bodies state.

The representative groups state that the rabbinate takes a strict view of kashrut that goes beyond what is required by halakha, Jewish religious law. The Hotel Association says that the rabbinate takes control of hotel menus, dictating what can and cannot be served. For instance, it forbids the hotels from serving strawberries and figs; permits the use of mushrooms only from specific suppliers; and permits serving fava beans only when they are split and white. The rabbinate also demands that any leafy greens and green herbs, such as lettuce, basil, dill or parsley, be from specific growers that meet stringent halakhic standards and are considerably more expensive than other growers.

The rabbinate also forbids some hotels from using eggs, and insists that they use liquid egg whites instead.

The petition states that occasionally, the rabbinate’s demands stem from considerations that have nothing to do with kashrut, and insists the restaurants and hotels use specific suppliers for no apparent reason. For instance, the rabbinate and local kashrut authorities sometimes require that restaurants and hotels use suppliers that they themselves also certified.

The petition is being filed in concert with Ne’emanei Torah Va’avodah, an organization affiliated with the religious Zionist movement that seeks to improve religious services in Israel.

The three groups seek to join an existing petition as friends of the court on a case involving the law forbidding kashrut fraud. The clause under discussion forbids food establishments from stating in writing that they are kosher unless they have a kashrut certificate.

The groups stated that they decided to join the case after Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit took the side of the rabbinate, which is insisting that restaurants not represent themselves as kosher in any way unless they have the rabbinate’s official stamp of approval. Given Mendelblit’s stance, the restaurants and hotels wanted to give the courts a balanced picture. While recognizing the value of kashrut for Israel as a Jewish state, and the importance of not forging kashrut certifications, the current situation involves “irregularities (and even corruption), inefficiency and arbitrariness, which causes damage to the public and to businesses, to the values of kashrut and to the delicate relationship between the state and religion.”

The two restaurants that filed the original court case previously had kashrut certificates, but chose to drop them amid a growing trend of restaurants calling themselves “kosher but without a certificate.” Instead, they continued to maintain their kosher practices and joined a private kashrut initiative.

The attorney general at the time, Yehuda Weinstein, had favored taking a more limited view of the law and allowing restaurants to present themselves as kosher so long as they made it clear they did not have a certificate from the rabbinate.

However, the High Court of Justice ruled against the restaurants last year, stating that only the rabbinate had the authority to grant kashrut certificates and that any claim of kashrut without the official stamp of approval was forbidden.

The ruling was then appealed.

The hotels and restaurants cite a report prepared on behalf of the Finance Ministry which found that the kashrut monopoly costs Israel 600 million shekels ($160 million) a year, or 0.6% of the country’s total expenditure on food and drink. The expense to Israel’s hotel industry is estimated at 209 million shekels a year, states the report; the hotel umbrella group estimates that the cost is actually 366 million shekels a year.