Thursday, 16 Cheshvan 5773
In what appears to be a growing trend, eateries in Yerushalayim are challenging state law and the Jerusalem Rabbanut Kashrus Department. Store owners have been meeting and gaining support as a group, deciding the kashrus provided by the Jerusalem Rabbinate is not what it should be, prompting them to save the money and operate as “kosher” without the supervision.
While the religious public at large will not eat in a restaurant without a hashgacha, many Jews who view themselves as shomer shabbos will, and the Rabbanut is fearful that if the trend continues it will result in people eating in restaurants that lack proper kashrus supervision since many well-intending restaurant owners are ignorant of many halachos pertaining to kashrus. State law mandates that any stores advertising as “kosher” must have a kosher certificate from the local rabbinate of that region. One may have another teudah alongside the local rabbinate, which is often seen in the form of one badatz agency or another. The legitimate badatz kosher supervisions will not give a hashgacha to a store that does not have a local rabbinate hashgacha, aware that doing so is a violation of the law.
Jerusalem Rabbinate posek HaGaon HaRav Eliyahu Schlesinger told Galei Tzahal (Army Radio) on Thursday morning 16 Cheshvan 5773 that operating as “kosher” without kosher certification from a local rabbinate is illegal and store owners will face fines. When the rav tried to challenge the facts presented regarding the cost of kashrus for restaurants he came under fire by the radio host, who requested that “Rather than simply discarding the statements as incorrect, please address the issues at hand”. The rav accused the radio host of speaking without having sufficient knowledge on the subject at hand. Rav Schlesinger explained the cost to the rabbinate is symbolic, a mere 600 NIS annually, but this of course does not include the cost of the mashgiach. One store owner explains he was requested to pay 1,000 NIS monthly for the mashgiach, which he explains he cannot afford. The rav simply wished to point out the annual fee for having the kosher certification is minimal and the cost is for the mashgiach, who cannot be expected to work for free.
Store owners that have banded together insist the mashgiach and his supervisor are all too often ‘no shows’ and they feel they are throwing good money out the window. Rabbi Schlesinger explained “just as a lawyer and doctor cannot advertise themselves as professional without a license, regarding kashrus, the same is true. One who sets the guidelines and the level of kashrus is the local rabbinate in each municipality and in order to accomplish this, a teudah and mashgiach are required. If you have a complaint regarding a mashgiach who is a no show, then he should not be paid. No one should or is expected to pay a mashgiach when he does not report for work. This in an unacceptable situation.”
Yonatan, a store owner, feels the mifakeach (supervisor of the mashgiach) must be responsible for the level of kashrus, adding “I do not feel that if a store has a teudat kashrus from the rabbinate it is necessarily kosher based on what I see in reality”. Yonatan insists that he and his colleagues have seen firsthand that the local rabbinate teudah does not attest to a level of kashrus since mashgichim are not doing their jobs.
Rabbi Schlesinger concluded by stating “if you advertise as being kosher without a teudah from the local rabbinate, in this case Yerushalayim, you are breaking the law”. Clearly stores operating without mashgichim are problematic, but equally clear is the fact that a small number of store owners have decided to challenge the Jerusalem Rabbinate and state law. Unfortunately, the radio interviewer did not permit Rabbi Schlesinger adequate time to delve into the complexities of providing kashrus, and even if the Jerusalem Rabbinate has shortcomings, the public must be made aware of the need to have a competent kosher certification and a mashgiach in place to ensure a suitable kosher environment exists.