Shas has decided to postpone discussion in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation of an amendment to ensure the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly on granting kashrut certificates because of the coalition upset it was causing. Economy Minister Arye Dery, who is also chairman of Shas, has decided to wait until the High Court of Justice hands down a ruling on the legitimacy of alternative kashrut certificates. However, the matter is still on the committee’s agenda because United Torah Judaism wants it to be discussed in Sunday’s meeting.
Discussion of the bill, proposed by MK Yoav Ben-Tzur (Shas), has been postponed three times in recent weeks, both because of opposition by members of the Kulanu faction MKs Roy Folkman and Rachel Azaria, who want to maintain the status of the organization that grants alternative kashrut certificates, known as Hashgaha Pratit, as well as due to the Finance Ministry’s opposition, which says that subjecting the kashrut of every food entering the country to the Chief Rabbinate’s approval will make it impossible to bring down food prices by encouraging imports.
The current law prohibits a food establishment from declaring its food kosher unless it has received a kashrut certificate from the Chief Rabbinate. The alternative kashrut initiative, as well as that of some ultra-Orthodox organizations, takes advantage of a loophole in the law and provides a kashrut certificate without using the word “kosher” on the certificate. The amendment Ben-Tzur is proposing would block that loophole and prohibit a restaurant from claiming it is kosher, even if it does not use the word “kosher.”
Shas had been hoping to complete legislation of the amendment before July 19, when the High Court is to hear a petition on the matter by two restaurants under alternative kashrut supervision. The two restaurants, represented by the Israel Religious Action Center, are demanding that the loophole be expanded so they will be able not only to present an alternative certificate, but use the term “kosher.”
Over the past few days, MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism), who presented the amendment together with Ben-Tzur, proposed that it distinguish between restaurants wishing to state that their kitchen is kosher, and imported food. The chief rabbis oppose this idea. Gafni also proposed that restaurants be able to display a unified sign, from the Chief Rabbinate, that states they are subject to “independent oversight.”
Gafni still wants the ministerial committee to discuss the amendment on Sunday, but Shas postponed it after it became clear that the compromises presented over the past few days erode the authority of the Chief Rabbinate, and that under the circumstances, the current law is preferable. Shas believes that based on previous High Court rulings on kashrut, the justices will turn down the petition and insist that the current law be observed. Such a stand would be in opposition to the opinion Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein submitted that there is no reason to reject the idea of displaying an alternative certificate as long as it does not contain the word “kosher.”