Kashrus for the Masses – Part 2

kosher-symbolsPart 2 in the series prepared for JKN by Rabbi Tzvi Liker

II – Kashrus Laws

Last time, we began to discuss the kashrus laws in Israel.  What we will try to do over the next few weeks is to continue explaining the laws, and then get into specifics.

The second law we mentioned permits the Rabbinate to delegate it’s authority to “others”.  In essence, this means that the different kashrus agencies known as BaDa”TZes are empowered to grant certification by the Rabbinate.  This is a rather odd situation, as many of these BaDa”TZes are opposed in principle to the concept of The Chief Rabbinate and its authority.  (BaDa”TZ is a acronym for Beis Din TZedek – righteous court of law.  The term is often a misnomer; some of these BaDa”TZes are not a Beis Din – court of law, and a number of them are very far from being righteous.  More on that in future columns.)

The third law we mentioned is that a district rabbi, (rav ayzori), rav of a city, kibbutz or moshav, is empowered to grant certification in the area of his jurisdiction.

Many of us coming from overseas, especially from the US, are well aware of the varying kashrus standards employed by the plethora of certifying rabbis and agencies.  We “know” that the rabbis and organizations we rely on are in fact reliable.

It is “understood” that all factories under the OK or the OU, for example, will use only certain hechsherim for their ingredients, will follow certain protocols in productions, and of course will have top-notch people working for them.  So, no matter where I buy a product, New York or L.A., Minneapolis or Dallas, I am hopefully getting the same quality kashrus.  To the best of our knowledge, we are on (kashrus) terra firma.  (When in doubt, we hopefully turn to those more knowledgeable than us for guidance….)  We would like to believe that in Israel of all places, the kashrus standards and policies would be of a high, if not the highest, caliber, all determined by the central authority – The Chief Rabbinate.  However, this third law effectively means that each rabbi is free to determine his own criteria for certification.  Each city, kibbutz and moshav will have its own standard, and no two places in Israel will have the same standard.

Bnei Brak and Ramat Gan are a stone’s throw from each other, but might be light years apart as far as their kashrus is concerned, and in fact Ramat Gan might even have a higher standard than Bnei Brak.    (Please note the use of the words “might be” and “might”.  I am giving a theoretical scenario and not necessarily describing facts on the ground.)    This leaves the conscientious (kashrus) consumer in a quandary.  Since different rabbis set different standards, how can I ever really know what exactly it is I am getting with a Rabbanut teudah?  The short answer is, that unless I ask, I have no way of knowing.  (In future columns we will discuss the differences between “Rabbanut” and Rabbanut Mehadrin”.)

The fourth law concerns importation of products to Israel.  As mentioned before, there is no law prohibiting the importation of non-kosher products to Israel.  However, if a product is imported and or sold in Israel as kosher it’s kashrus must be endorsed by the Chief Rabbinate’s Kosher Import Division (KID) as meeting its standards.  Those who buy non-kosher have no kashrus concerns, however, those who insist on kosher should know that they are indeed getting a kosher product.  Therefore, even products with a recognized hechsher cannot be sold without first being approved by the KID.  Before approving a product, the KID policy is to check the a number of issues, such as: Is the product is Milk, Meat or Parve.  If Milk, is it chalav yisrael or not?  Does it contain liquid milk or milk powder?  Does it contain gelatin?  If it is a product which according to KID standards requires bishul yisrael, was that performed?  These and other issues are supposed to be checked by the KID.  Each issue itself is worthy of dedicating a few columns to, and iy”h, time permitting, we will try to cover them as well.

The last law we mentioned was that the only criteria to be employed in determined the eligibility of something certification are kashrus-related issues.  One might ask, “What other issues are there to discuss?”  The following are some cases that gone to court:
1.    A wedding is taking place around the pool of a hotel.  As we can imagine, those in attendance are not “properly attired”.  The Rabbanut claimed that the mashgiach – the supervisor – cannot walk around to check that all is okay at the affair and therefore refuses to certify the affair.
2.    An affair is taking place with the main entertainer being a belly dancer.  As above, the Rabbanut says its mashgiach cannot perform his duties, including wandering through the hall to make sure there are no problems.
3.    A traif restaurant chain uses a brand name.  A salad manufacturer produces kosher salads under various names, one of them being the same name as the restaurant.  The Rabbinate refuses to certify the salads under that name, because people might be led to think that the restaurants are kosher as well.  Do they have the right to refuse the certification?
4.    A factory sells kosher and non-kosher meat to Jews.  The Local Rabbanut refuses to grant certification to the kosher meat because they also the non-kosher to Jews.  Note:  They are not selling the traif meat as kosher, they are selling kosher to those who want it, and traif to those who want that.

(The courts decided as follows:  1,2,4 – against the Rabbanut.  3 – in favor of the Rabbanut.)

As we see, sometimes there are factors other than, “Is this itself kosher?” which may be factored into the kashrus equation.  Should these factors be taken into consideration?  I will leave that up to the reader to decide.

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.


  • Alizah Hochstead
    August 17, 2009 - 07:28 | Permalink

    An excellent article which begins to clarify the murky depths of kashrut. While working for the KOF-K in America and dealling with the Chief Rabbinate Import section (Rabbi Lasri) I developed a tremendous respect for the difficult job they have making sure that products imported into Isrel with their stamp have a clear level of kashrut.

  • Even Gold
    August 18, 2009 - 11:03 | Permalink

    Aliza it seems the most difficult part of their job is to decide which of the importers they should invite to which of their childrens wedding.

    From your comment one gets the impression that everything is OK with what is brought into the country…

    One wonders how Cereal bars from Germany ‘supervised’ by an individual (who never had Semicha), that no longer lives in Germany is still approved by this department. A hechsher which is represted by a certain shape with a K in it and frowned upon in the USA especially by your previous employers…manages to get in and all other one man remote European agencies also get past the finished line.

    When dealing with imported goods i am afraid level of Kashrut is as clear as mud.

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