Chief Rabbinate Enlisted to Help Lower Food Prices in Israel

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Cereal boxes photographed at a Jerusalem supermarket on June 19, 2016.
Cereal boxes photographed at a Jerusalem supermarket on June 19, 2016.Credit: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Agreement has been reached with the Israeli Chief Rabbinate paving the way for kosher certification of food that is brought into the country as part of a pilot program to liberalize food imports.

The plan, which is commonly known as the cornflake reform, will allow food brands to be imported into Israel by parties other than the official importer. The practice, known as parallel importing, is expected to increase competition and reduce food prices. And now that the rabbinate has agreed to cooperate with the plan, the rabbinate will, on a trial basis, certify a list of parallel imports as kosher.

The rabbinate agreed to begin certifying the products as kosher after the director general of the rabbinate, Rabbi Moshe Dagan, and representatives of the Finance Ministry came to agreement over the pilot program and after resources were allocated to run it. The agreement, which comes into effect this week, followed staff work that was carried out based on guidelines set down by Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau.

The pilot program will enable importers other than the official representatives in Israel of foreign food manufacturers to obtain kashrut supervision on a range of imported food and in the process, it is hoped, pave the way for additional food importers to enter the picture to import kosher products that up to now have only been imported by the official importer in Israel. The program aims to provide Israeli consumers with a broader range of food certified kosher by the rabbinate.

Although there are food retailers in Israel that sell non-kosher food, the major supermarket chains sell only kosher food for the convenience of Israelis who observe Jewish dietary laws. The cost of food became the subject of a public protest that was in 2011 over the cost of cottage cheese, a protest that spawned a more general mass protest movement later that year over the cost of living.

The rabbinate’s pilot program is to last for about a year, during which the implications and scope of the parallel food imports will be examined in preparation for a more long-range plan that would provide kashrut supervision for parallel food imports on a broad scale.

When the so-called cornflake reform of parallel imports – which go well beyond breakfast cereal – was first proposed in 2016, attention was focused on health aspects of parallel imports but not the issue of the kashrut of the imported food.

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