Kashrus For The Masses – Part 1

kosher-symbolsFollowing is part one of a series of articles prepared for JKN by Rabbi Tzvi Liker

It is a relatively straightforward process to design kashrus guidelines for those who care about the kashrus of their food.  For example, a rosh yeshiva tells his bochurim, “We use hechsher “X”, but not hechsher “Y”.   The talmidim, will use hechsher “X” and not hechsher “Y”.   A Rebbe tells his Chassidim that in their circles they accept only certain hechsheirim.  Being devoted disciples, they follow his lead.  End of story.

If only it were so easy in the “real world”. 

Year after year, surveys show that the overwhelming majority of Israelis say they keep kosher; however, the word “kosher” is a very elastic term.  For most, a kosher product is one that says “kosher” on it, and a kosher restaurant is one that has a t’udah – a kashrus certificate.  Which rabbi or organization issued it is of no real concern to them; it is a t’udah, and that is enough.

Whereas I may not be overly concerned that Muslims eat only halal – food “kosher” according to their laws – I am deeply concerned that Jews do eat food which is kosher according to our laws – Halacha.

So how does one implement a kashrus system for those whose interest in kashrus is often marginal at best, and antagonistic at worst?

This and other questions are some of the topics we will try to cover in the next few weeks.

One very important point to mention at the outset, is that there is no law prohibiting the importation of non-kosher products to Israel.  Although this may be obvious to many, it needs to be stated clearly, as I have had people tell me that   A) they thought that only kosher food was allowed to be imported, and  B)  “It must be kosher!  After all, it has Hebrew on the label…”.  (Sad but true.)

Unlike many other countries, there are actually kashrus laws “on the books” in Israel.  These laws were proposed and passed in the early ’80s, with amendments added in later years.  Due to the delicate balance between the religious and not-yet-religious in Israel, these laws were formulated as consumer protection laws, not as religious legislation.  Of course, that does not mean their approval sailed through the Knesset, but they were slightly more palatable in that guise to even anti-religious members of the Knesset.

For our purposes, there are a few basic laws that are important for us to be familiar with:
1.    The Chief Rabbinate, as the sole official Jewish religious authority in Israel, is the only body empowered to grant kashrus certification.
2.    The Rabbinate may delegate its (certification) authority.
3.    Any rabbi, defined as a district rabbi, (rav ayzori), rav of a city, kibbutz or moshav, is empowered to grant certification in the area of his jurisdiction.
4.    Imported products marked or sold as kosher must bear the name of the certifying agency.
5.    The only criteria that may be used in the certification process are Halachic ones.

As is the way of many laws, the formulation of some of them was vague, leaving a number of loopholes, (some would say gaping holes) in the laws.  IY”H we will see some examples in future columns.

Outside of Israel, most kashrus rabbis and organizations are private certifiers, and are not part of or on behalf of the government.  As mentioned above, the Chief Rabbinate is actually a part of the governmental system.  (In fact, the Chief Rabbis travel with diplomatic passport and have the status of government Ministers.)  As such, the Rabbinate would seem to have the full backing of the legal system behind it to help it enforce the kashrus laws.  The flip-side of this relationship is that as an arm of the government, the Rabbinate itself is subject to laws and regulations which apply to any other government body.

When the Rabbinate discovers people who break the (kashrus) law, one would expect the legal system to bring its full weight to bear.  The Rabbinate, has in fact, successfully prosecuted a number of people in court for kashrus infractions large and small.  However, many a time, the courts will simply make do with a slap on the wrists.  In the words of one YWN article, “The Chief Rabbinate has apprehended many a Belker, but the courts are lenient, usually sentencing them to community service or fines involving insignificant amounts of money.”   (www.theyeshivaworld.com/article.php?s=kashrut)

At the same time, that same legal system can and does use the very same tools to force the Rabbinate to grant certification even when the Rabbinate feels that it is not justified.  A recent example is, “Court declares Jew for Jesus ‘kosher’. Ashdod baker wins case after 3 years”, (J. Post, Jun 30, 2009).  A Jewess For J. had her bakery’s certificate revoked because the rabbis involved felt that her beliefs compromised her credibility vis-à-vis kashrus and insisted on increased supervision.  The case went to court, and the courts, at least up to now, have sided with the woman against the Rabbanut.

Unfortunately, as the religious /not-yet-religious divide grows, and the courts take a more “active role” in society, the fear is that the tendency to decide against the Rabbinate (and traditional Judaism), will increase as well.  Although there is nothing inherently wrong with courts deciding on issues connected to the Rabbinate, such as working conditions, social benefits of the workers, etc., the red line must be clearly drawn when it comes to authentic Halachik issues.


Rabbi Tzvi Liker was the co-founder of the Chief Rabbinate’s Kosher-Import Division, and served as a kashrus consultant to the then-Chief Rabbis Avraham Shapiro, ז”ל, and יב”ל, Rav Mordechai Eliyahu.

Since leaving the Rabbinate, Rabbi Liker has been working as a kashrus consultant, working with some of the world’s largest food manufacturers and some of Israel’s biggest food importers.  In addition, Rabbi Liker works as a kashrus freelancer, and in that capacity has traveled to nearly 20 countries around the globe, inspecting factories and doing hashgochos for some of the world’s premier certifying rabbis and agencies.

Rabbi Liker also lectures in yeshivos, seminaries and kollelim in Israel on kashrus and kashrus-related subjects.


  • August 11, 2009 - 16:09 | Permalink

    And what does Rabbi Liker have to say about the Ynet shechita issue?

  • Shmuel
    August 11, 2009 - 16:33 | Permalink

    High Court did not rule. They only recommend against the Rabbinate. The Attorney General has sided with the Rabbinate and the issue is one big mess.

    More needs to be legislated on to avoid issues like this. It doesn’t have to be kashrut specific. Consumer protection cases should be ruled by jury.

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