For example, look at the kashrut reforms being proposed. Trumpeting the ideal of “competition” so obscures the proposals that it is difficult to ascertain what exactly is being proposed. One report claims that the Chief Rabbinate will remain the overseer of standards even as individuals, groups or local rabbinates will administer those standards. That would seem to be a proper exercise of competition, although if everyone is implementing the same standards, what does the reform add?
What will take its place is the execrable form of kashrut supervision that existed for many years in the United States in which individual rabbis gave hashgachot – local or national – and rabbis asked by their congregants as to the reliability of these supervisors would have to investigate these people, one by one. Often the answers were “I don’t know,” “not recommended,” “I know him, he’s OK,” or “I never heard of him.” To the lay mind, it often came down to money, but money does buy a certain level of service and trust.
It is indeed true that you can pay much less to a kashrut “supervisor” who visits once a year or at least less than would be paid to a “supervisor” who visits several times a week. But the need to investigate each rabbi or group and its standards was tedious, inefficient, and unsatisfactory.
Over the decades, kashrut in America coalesced into four main organizations whose standards are quite similar, and local vaadim who usually follow the standards of those organizations. Kashrut became more centralized, more efficient, and more beneficial for the consumer. There is even an association of the kashrut professionals that meets regularly to resolve outstanding issues and discuss policies.
That is kashrut in America today, and those establishments that utilize individual or boutique hashgachot usually do it for a reason, and that reason is rarely to improve the level of kashrut. How odd, then, that Israel would want to revert to the old American-Jewish decentralized system that was so chaotic that it was abandoned!
We wouldn’t castigate the business, or take seriously the complaints of a proprietor, who wonders why he has to advertise on Channel 12 and Channel 20 instead of just Channel 20 alone. That is business, not Torah, and the merchant has the absolute right to say he uses only one hashgacha, even if it forecloses expanding his consumer base. Similarly, the consumer – for whatever reason – can declare that he will only purchase water with a particular (unnecessary) hashgacha. So be it.
The same scenario pertains to conversion, which this government would also like to decentralize and remove from the authority of the Chief Rabbinate. In America, “been there, done that,” and that too failed. It failed so miserably that well over a decade ago, the Rabbinical Council of America, in its most productive and consequential act in the last half-century, instituted the “Gerus Policies and Standards” that made conversion standards uniform and oversaw a network of a dozen conversion courts throughout North America.
For seven years, I headed the Bet Din that oversaw New Jersey and environs. It worked splendidly, and still does. Those who do not participate in that network usually (but not always) have lower standards that correctly call into question their conversions.
Why should driver’s licenses be granted only by the Ministry of Transportation? Quite frequently, there are complaints about how tests are administered, the costs involved, and the randomness of passing or failing. That too could be privatized, all in the name of competition.
Come to think of it, why must we rely on the Ministry of the Interior to oversee the admission of first-degree relatives to Israel during this crisis? The handling of this matter has been appallingly incompetent – convoluted, arbitrary and inefficient. The rules and forms keep changing (three different ministries have already become involved and the forms have changed five times), and this too would benefit from competition from the private sector. Dov Lipman’s Yadlolim organization has done wonderful work stepping in where the government has fallen short, as has the organization “Amudim.” Both would do a better job in approving permits that the government is doing.
We would answer that government always has a monopoly on the provision of certain services for the alternative to government monopoly is known as anarchy. And perhaps therein lies the key. People would only countenance anarchy in the provision of services that they deem unimportant – or if they wish to dismantle the entity that administers those services.
Every element of government could benefit from competition but we do not allow it when anarchy would result and the service provided is considered critical to society’s functioning. So strengthen the Chief Rabbinate rather than undermine it. Hold the bureaucrats accountable rather than further bloat the bureaucracy. Promote the observance of Jewish law rather than water it down. Don’t create anarchy in kashrut, conversion, marriage or divorce – even in the name of the dubious value of competition.