The Knesset Economic Affairs Committee discussed on Tuesday the cost of kashrut certification for food products. The meeting was held at the request of MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid), who said the public has grown tired of problems related to religion and state 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.”
Stern mentioned that a Finance Ministry report presented during a recent Channel 2 exposé found that the excess cost of the Chief Rabbinate`s monopoly on kashrut certification is NIS 600 million. ”The Kashrut [supervision system] has become a hotbed for the desecration of God`s name rather than the sanctification of God`s name,” he declared.
Committee Chairman MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Camp) said the weakest segments of the haredi 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 backing. This is a very economic political battle, in which no prisoners are taken.”
(Committee Chairman MK Eitan Cabel)
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 percent of the turnover of hotels in Israel, and the certification adds only 30 agorot to the price of a kilo of chicken, which costs NIS 17. Kashrut inspectors, he said, earn only NIS 37 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 in jeopardy).
MK Sofa Landver (Yisrael Beitenu) wondered why dog food, shampoo or diapers require kashrut certification. According to her, the kashrut industry grosses NIS 3 billion a year, and the burden falls on the citizens. MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu) noted that the Chief Rabbinate forbids the importing of meat that is consumed even in Hasidic communities abroad and sends rabbis to oversee the slaughter. This increases the cost of meat by 20 percent, she said.
Rabbi Aharon Leibowitz, the founder of Hashgacha Pratit, 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 determines 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 interests 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 1,000 and 15,000 shekels a month from business owners.
MK Cabel concluded the meeting by saying ”no one will take us to a place of a fight against religion. We are launching a campaign not against religion, but for religion. We are embarking on a difficult journey for those who want kashrut and preserve the religion – and we will bring about change. The monopoly of the Chief Rabbinate will end, and this will happen in my lifetime. There will not be double payment on faith.”