Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Is It Really About Kashrus?

Charedi MK, Uri Maklev (Jewish Press)
I don’t really get what all the fuss is about. On the one hand I support the Rabbanut (the Israeli Chief Rabbinate). Ideally there ought to be no competition in the realm of certifying Kashrus. There ought to be one certifying body that applies the same standards for the entire food industry. 

But the truth is that Israel lives in a murky world where completion already exists. A Rabbanut Hechsher is about the least trusted Hechsher (Kosher certification) in Israel. I don’t think there is a single Charedi Jew that would eat food certified only by the Rabbanut. In fact I’m pretty sure that most non Charedi Jews that are nevertheless seriously Orthodox do not trust that Hechsher. 

In fact there are very few Kosher certification agencies the Charedi world does trust. The chief among them being the Eida HaCharedis Hechsher.  That being said no certification agency is allowed certification without the Rabbanut certification. The the Eida Hechser is therefore tehnically under the auspicies of the Rabbanut.

However most Charedim could not care less about the Rabbanut’s involvement. I wouldn’t be surprised if they would prefer the Rabbanut stay out of it all together!

Bearing all this in mind, a Kashrus Reform bill has just been approved by a Kenesset committee. It will allow independent agencies to certify food or food establishments as kosher.  This has raised the hackles of Charedi legislators. From the Jewish Press: 

MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) repeated the description of Wednesday as a dark day and vowed not to give up. “You may end it here, but now I’m just starting the war. Kosher consumers will not have trust and confidence in the Kashrut,” he said. “People went hungry for bread because there was no kosher food. There is no kashrut here. You have not seen before your eyes the civil rights nor the religious rights in the Land of Israel, The law may have passed but we’re just starting the war now. We will reach every child in the country to inform him that your Kashrut is an absolute fake.”

If I understand correctly, this is not an entirely accurate description of the bill. Which includes the following provisions:

These entities will receive approval from the Superintendent of Kashrut at the Chief Rabbinate.

▪️The entities will be able to act according to their choice, according to a kashrut standard to be determined by the Chief Rabbinical Council or according to a standard to be determined by three rabbis...

▪️Kashrut supervisors will be required to be certified by the Chief Rabbinate

It seems like the Rabbanut will still have some control over who gets to certify or supervise. Although I'm not sure how the alternate 3 Rabbis will be chosen or by whom. Which kind of casts some doubt about how much control the Rabbanut will actually have. But the bill hasn’t been passed yet and that detail can be worked out to avoid any unqualified rabbis. 

It therefore seems to me that Charedim are crying wolf. The facts on the ground are that independent Kashrus supervision already exists. The formality of a Rabbanut imprimatur notwithstanding.

Are Charedi objections more about control than about how Jews in Israel will be able to keep Kosher? 

If they wanted credibility for their view that Kosher supervision should remain in the hands of the Rabbanut alone, it would help if they trusted them in the first place. Which they don’t.

What about the fear that Reform and Conservative Kosher certifying agencies will now be able to  issue certificates? (If that is even true.) Will that not be a stumbling block to people that relying on a Hechsher in order to keep Kosher?

I suppose it might. But that is already the case here in the US. There is no Rabbanut here in charge of all Kosher supervision. Anyone can set up a certifying agency. There are plenty of ‘Hechshers’ here that are not trustworthy. One has to know which ones are and which ones aren’t.

How does one do that? The CRC (Chicago Rabbinical Council) has a list of all the trustworthy Hechshers on their website. If I am in a store and see a Hechsher I don’t recognize, I call the CRC and ask them if it’s on their list -  and get an answer in a matter of seconds. I’m sure other cities with large Orthodox Jewish populations do the same thing. But even if they don't. the CRC is easily accessible (online or by phone) all over the world.

Israel might have to do the same thing. So what? It isn’t the end of the world, and the Charedi world ought to stop acting as though it was. An independent agency consisting of trustworthy Rabbis from across the entire spectrum of Orthodoxy could in theory be set up to do that. Problem solved.