(JNi.media) Knesset Economic Affairs Committee Chairman MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Camp a.k.a. Labor) promised on Tuesday that “the monopoly of the Chief Rabbinate will end, and this will happen in my lifetime. There will not be double payment on faith.”
The Knesset Economic Affairs Committee on Tuesday debated the cost of kashrut certification for food products, at the request of MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid). Stern said the public has grown tired of problems related to state and faith and has realized that the political system will not resolve them. “The result of this despair is not that people leave the Chief Rabbinate, they leave Judaism,” he argued, adding that the kashrut system has become “almost synonymous with corruption.”
MK Stern mentioned that a Finance Ministry report presented in a recent Channel 2 exposé had found that the excess cost of the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly on kashrut certification is roughly $150 million. “The Kashrut [supervision system] has become a hotbed for the desecration of God’s name rather than the sanctification of God’s name,” Stern declared.
Committee Chairman Cabel said the weakest segments of the ultra-Orthodox population carry most of the economic burden of the kashrut monopoly. “The Chief Rabbinate is not doing its job, to say the least,” he charged. “It is strong only against those who have no political support. This is a take no prisoners, very economic political battle.”
In response, Religious Affairs Ministry Director-General Oded Fluss said that, according to a Tourism Ministry document, the cost of kashrut certification constitutes only 0.9% of the turnover of hotels in Israel, and the certification adds only 30 agorot to the price of a kilogram of chicken, which costs $4.3. Kashrut inspectors, he said, earn only $9.49 per hour.
“I agree that it is the weak public which shoulders the burden, but it is willing to pay more [for kashrut certification],” Fluss said.
MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) addressed the demand for competition in the kashrut certification market and said that, by the same token, we can ask for competition in the issuing of health and fire certifications for hotels. Cabel and other MKs rejected Maklev’s rationale, and MK Stern said, “When people are not strict when it comes to health, people die, but kashrut is not pikuach nefesh (the obligation to save a life).”
MK Sofa Landver (Yisrael Beitenu) wondered why dog food, shampoo or diapers require kashrut certification. According to her, the kashrut industry grosses $770 million a year, and the burden falls on the citizens. MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu) noted that the Chief Rabbinate forbids importing meat that is consumed even in Hasidic communities abroad and sends rabbis to oversee the slaughter of animals. This increases the cost of meat by 20 percent, she said.
Rabbi Aharon Leibowitz, founder of Hashgacha Pratit (Heb: personal supervision, with the spiritual layer intended as a pun), an alternative kashrut certification model, said the Rabbinate’s monopoly not only increases the cost of kashrut, it also lowers its quality.
Noaz Bar Nir, head of the Israel Hotel Association, said kashrut certification constitutes 3.3 percent of a hotel’s costs. “In the name of kashrut, many activities that are not related to food are barred,” he said. “The problem is not the Rabbinate, but the fact that local religious councils are not subject to its instructions, so everybody takes the law into their own hands and sets their own rules.”
Yehuda Cohen, head of the Event Hall Owners Association, told the committee that the Rabbinate intervenes even in events such as New Year’s parties. “This causes damage and even causes concern at the Vatican, which wants to know how Christians are being treated here,” he said. According to Cohen, some rabbis from local religious councils open their own kashrut certification service and “extort” between $250 and $400 a month from business owners.