Israeli Lawmakers Step in After Rabbinate Prevents Reform to Lower Food Prices

A reform that would increase competition by easing the import of dry foods has been held up by the Chief Rabbinate that is insisting on additional kashrut certification

A food label indicating the product is Kosher.
Tal Cohen

Knesset members decided Monday to step into a long-simmering dispute that has blocked a government drive to lower food prices by allowing so-called parallel imports of some products.

The Chief Rabbinate has been undermining the law, known popularly as the cornflakes law because it eases rules for importing dry foods like breakfast cereals and pasta. The aim is to spur lower prices by encouraging competition.

The rabbinate has effectively blocked parallel imports by insisting that all importers of a specific product obtain separate kashrut certification. That policy came under fire at a session of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee.

“When the rabbinate gets from a factory a recognized kashrut certificate, why does a second importer also need to provide a kashrut certificate, too? asked MK Eli Alalouf (Kulanu). “This is just another attempt by importers who want exclusivity on an imported product.

Rabbi Moshe Dagan, the director general of the Chief Rabbinate, said the rabbinate couldn’t ensure that even seemingly identical products were kosher if there were no documents showing their origin.

“The parallel imports has no connection with the original manufacturer — he buys from an intermediary,” Dagan said.

Nevertheless, Alalouf said it would be wrong to exclude the rabbinate from the deliberations on the reforms and urged it to submit its budgetary and personnel requirements for guaranteeing the kashrut of products being brought in by multiple importers. Alalouf said the committee would request additional money from the Finance Ministry for the rabbinate’s needs.

MK Israel Eichler (United Torah Judaism) agreed that if the rabbinate gets the tools it need to ensure kashrut on parallel imports it would have no excuse for delaying them further, but added: “Just as we added personnel for veterinary supervision in the reforms, we need to add personnel to the rabbinate to ensure kashrut supervision.”