By founder Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz

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aaron-leibowitz“Hashgacha Pratit” is an alternative Kosher Supervision model for restaurants and businesses. Based on Jewish law, mutual trust and cooperation, the project seeks to put the responsibility for kashrut in the hands of the restaurants and the local community. I established “Hashgacha Pratit” as Head of the “Sulam Yaakov” Talmudic academy in Nachlaot, and a member of the Jerusalem city-council for the Yerushalmim party. We are initiating a new dialogue about the role of religion in city life which is breaking the existing molds and creating unified communal spaces for the diverse spectrum of the Jerusalem population.

What is the problem?
The law in Israel gives an exclusive mandate on kosher food supervision to the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. This monopoly has created poor service, poor standards and many cases of corruption. It also prevents more liberal groups from providing alternative types of supervision for their communities.

The solution.
Since March 2013 Hashgacha Pratit has been using a loophole in the law to pioneer a community based supervision. The law prohibits the use of the word ‘Kosher’ without governmental authority, while this project uses the alternative terms ‘the Jewish law as it pertains to food and its preparation’. The State Attorney is on the record stating this is completely legal. To date the project has more than thirty locations in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Hertzeliah, and Zichron Yaakov.

What is the community model?
The community model is built on the covenant of trust which is signed between the business and the community, in which the business declares that it sees the faith that the community gives it as a ‘socially sacred value’ which will not be broken or abused. The business commits itself to viewing the organization as the representatives of the community of customers, and pledge to cooperate with them in maintaining the restaurant’s kosher status.

How can we rely on the business owner?
There are three potential halachic issues with regard to relying on the business owners: Are they sufficiently familiar with the laws? Is the reliability of the kosher status as important to the business owner as it is to the Kosher customer? Does the owner’s financial involvement create a conflict of interest that calls into question his/her trustworthiness and objectivity? Therefore a ‘Trustee’ who is a trained and paid employee of the project, is present in every business for at least an hour and a half a week, at varying hours. This adds an objective, professional element and provides a solution to these halachic issues, similar to a standard mashgiach (Kosher Supervisor).

How is the “kashrut representative” different from an ordinary mashgiach?
Even though the kashrut representatives do fulfill the role of “mashgiach,” the relationship between them and the business owners is built on trust and not authority. We enlist the will of the business owners to uphold the “covenant of trust” which they have signed, and as such provide a better response to the times when the “kashrut representative” is not present.

Is a Kashrut certificate provided to the restaurant?
The signed “covenant of trust” is displayed in the business. In addition, there is on site documentation which is available to the public detailing the standards of kashrut and the processes in place to ensure compliance.

What is next?
The project goal is to grow to two more regions and to over one hundred locations in 2016. There is also significant work in the public education and opinion arena. There is also significant political lobbying to prevent the ultra-orthodox attempts to make the prohibitions broader and place the project outside the law.

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