Rabbinate Warns Businesses Using “Alternative” Hashgachah

The building of the Religious Council and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel in Jerusalem Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90
The building of the Religious Council and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel in Yerushalayim. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The Chief Rabbinate’s Kashrus Division has begun distributing letters demanding that businesses using alternative kashrus services remove all reference to their being “kosher,” including certificates, advertising, and anything else that could be construed as claiming the establishment is kosher. Businesses which fail to do so could face steep fines.

The letters are being distributed in the wake of a High Court decision Monday that ruled that the term “kosher” when applied to restaurants, institutions or manufacturers involved in the food business, is exclusive to the Chief Rabbinate. The Rabbinate is the only group authorized to use the term “kosher,” and only food supervised by the Rabbinate or by those it gives its blessing to (such as various Badatzim) can use the term to describe the food they sell or prepare.

The ruling was seen as a blow to the various alternative kashrus services which have sprung up in recent years. The common denominator of these services has been that the businesses are “self-supervising,” meaning that they declare that they are kosher, or that the supervision is limited to the food itself – leading to the anomaly of a business that claims to serve kosher food but is, chalilah, open on Shabbos.

Throughout the day Tuesday, business owners who use alternative kashrus services were interviewed on Israel Radio and Army Radio, with most saying that they would continue conducting themselves as they had in the past. However, many are expected to change their positions, since the Rabbinate said it would fine businesses for falsely representing themselves as kosher. In addition, the businesses could be subject to laws against consumer fraud, which could prompt criminal proceedings.

In 2015, former Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein issued an opinion that was presented to the High Court advocating for operation of the alternative services. It stated that businesses which call themselves kosher based on those criteria were not violating the law. This court decision overturns that ruling.

As a result, United Torah Judaism and Shas are likely to shelve planned legislation that would have bolstered the Rabbinate as the only official body entitled to grant kashrus certificates, NRG reported. The law has already been approved by the Knesset Law Committee, and had the court ruled otherwise, the parties were planning to introduce the legislation for its first Knesset vote, where it was expected to pass easily. It’s not clear, however, if the government would have backed the bill – thus a possible coalition crisis was averted.