AG Warns: Without Reform, Chief Rabbinate Could Lose Kashrut Monopoly

Attorney general’s letter follows expiry of High Court ultimatum to change kashrut inspectors’ terms of employment due to possible conflict of interests

Avichai Mendelblit in Jerusalem, June 2018
Olivier Fitoussi

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit warned the Chief Rabbinate on Wednesday that it could lose its kashrut monopoly unless it changes the inspectors’ terms of employment. If the rabbinate fails to do so, the High Court of Justice could rule that the law against private kashrut cannot be enforced, Mendelblit told the rabbinate in a letter.

The attorney general’s letter was prompted by the expiry of a High Court ultimatum last year to change the kashrut inspectors’ terms of employment, due to a possible conflict of interests because the business owners requiring the inspectors’ services were the ones paying their wages.

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The letter was addressed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Religious Services Minister David Azoulay and chief rabbis Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau.

The rabbinate failed to carry out the reform because the Finance Ministry refused to hire the inspectors as public servants and the inspectors themselves claimed their employment terms might suffer.

Mendelblit went on to write that the High Court had given the rabbinate a number of extensions to carry out the reform, but the rabbinate failed to do so or to submit a bill to rectify the situation.

Mendleblit urged the rabbis to submit a draft bill memorandum to the relevant ministries right away in order to keep up with the schedule. He referred to another High Court ruling, on a petition to allow private kashrut, stipulating that unless the connection between the kashrut inspectors and the business owners was cut off by June this year, the decision to ban private kashrut would be revoked.

The rabbinate recently decided to implement the ruling by setting up private companies to employ the kashrut inspectors, thus severing the connection between them and the business owners who require their services. But this plan has not been carried out yet either, Mendelblit said.

The ruling was given in May 2017 and the court said the inspectors’ alternative method of employment was to be ready by the end of June 2018, but this date has passed too, the attorney general said.

“If the kashrut issue is not resolved as soon as possible, it may not be possible to enforce the law on private companies that issue kashrut certificates,” Mendelblit wrote.

Chief Rabbi Yizhak Yosef said in response: “The Chief Rabbinate and government have done everything they could to find solutions to prevent the severe blow to thousands of kashrut inspectors, which would lead to reducing the quality of kashrut itself.”

It is inconceivable that these efforts and the desire to examine other alternatives are deemed a problem by the court, he said. “The court must also be partner to the desire to prevent harm to thousands of workers,” he wrote.

Yosef said that since last week, when he became the official in charge of kashrut, “I haven’t slept a wink or rested in an effort to save, mend and improve the kashrut system.”

Dr. Shuki Friedman of the Israel Democracy Institute said, “The attorney general’s letter proves again what is well known to all: The state kashrut system in Israel is a failure and the Chief Rabbinate, which is in charge of the kashrut system, is imprisoned in a web of political and economic interests and incapable of bringing about a significant change.”

Friedman added that “in this situation, and as the attorney general implied, it is doubtful whether the rabbinate’s kashrut monopoly is constitutional, and must be revoked. The right way to provide better kashrut to its Israelis who consume it is to privatize the kashrut system.”