Restaurant Owner Says He Won’t Pay Rabbinate’s Fine Over Alternate Kosher Certification

The Restaurants Association believes the move is illegal and has advised Haim Avrahami not to pay the fine and to appeal it instead

Pasta Basta owner Haim Avrahami stands next to his alternative kosher certification in his restaurant at the Mahaneh Yehuda market in Jerusalem, September 27, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

The owner of a Jerusalem restaurant fined by the Chief Rabbinate on Tuesday for posting an alternative kashrut certificate said he has no intention of paying the 2,000 shekel ($567) levy. He added that his kashrut notice met all the requirements set down in a High Court of Justice ruling earlier this month.

"Apparently the Rabbinate is very nervous about the High Court ruling," said Haim Avrahami, owner of Pasta Basta in the Mahaneh Yehuda market. “They feel as if the ground is being pulled out from under them and they want to convey a message to restaurant owners that whoever leaves them and goes to an alternative supervision will pay for it. It’s just a scare tactic.”

Pasta Basta's kashrut supervision is provided by the Hashgacha Pratit organization.

Avrahami noted that his lawyer said the Rabbinate had no authority to fine him. “I’ll go to court for this if need be,” he said. “I am calling on restaurants not to be afraid, and I call on the religious public to check out the Hashgacha Pratit website and decide for themselves which kashrut is better.”

Hashgacha Pratit’s kashrut certificate was recently reworded in accordance with the High Court decision, which said that business owners could present a true declaration of the standards and supervision of their kosher observance. Pasta Basta’s kashrut document states that it is closed on the Sabbath, its meat comes from a kosher butcher and the alcoholic beverages it serves have been examined, among other aspects. It states that the restaurant is supervised by Rabbi Oren Duvdevani of Hashgacha Pratit and that it does not have a kashrut certificate issued by the Chief Rabbinate, a declaration required by the High Court ruling.

Nevertheless, the ticket in the sealed envelope delivered to Avrahami by messenger on Tuesday states that he was being fined by the Chief Rabbinate for “presenting a food establishment as kosher in any fashion on an object or installation that is connected to the place without the owner having a legal kashrut certificate.”

Avrahami, who operates eight Pasta Basta branches, some of them kosher, has had his fill of the Rabbinate. “In terms of the money that they charge there isn’t that much of a difference, both the Rabbinate and Hasghacha Pratit take around 900 shekels a month. But in the end the Rabbinate supervision costs a lot more because they require that I buy raw materials from specific suppliers and I never know what their motive is. For example, the lettuce they make me buy costs three times what other brands of lettuce cost.

“I’ve been working with Hashgacha Pratit in some of my branches for two years and they are much more closely involved than the Rabbinate,” he adds. “The Rabbinate was a rubber stamp; once a day the supervisor comes for five minutes and checks where the supplies come from. Hashgacha Pratit trains my workers regularly on how to clean and work with the food, they train new workers, they make me sign on a declaration that I meet many standards, and more. It seems as if they really care about kashrut.”

The Restaurants Association said it had advised Pasta Basta not to pay the fine and to appeal it because it believes the levy is illegal. It also called on restaurants not to be deterred by the Rabbinate’s move. “This is an act of aggression by the Rabbinate that is trying to intimidate restaurants so that they shouldn’t follow the High Court ruling. It’s scandalous that a statutory body acts like a bully, thumbs its nose at a High Court ruling and does as it pleases,” the association said.

The Chief Rabbinate said it fined the restaurant after the supervisor of the unit, which enforces the law against kashrut fraud, had informed Avrahami that “it is forbidden to present a business as kosher by such a presentation of kashrut.” The Rabbinate’s statement concluded that the unit “would continue to take steps according to law to prevent fraud in kashrut.”