Hashgacha Pratit: An alternative Kosher Supervision model

By founder Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz

[Learn more at www.kashrut.org.il]

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.

Enforcing the Chief Rabbinate’s new, legal kashrut regulations

This year, following a year-long battle with Hiddush, the Chief Rabbinate updated its kashrut regulations to be in accordance with the law. Everyone that has heard of this change has viewed it as revolutionary and a sea change. It comes after decades of religious coercion, and it is important for us to make clear that the intention of Hiddush’s initiative was not to prescribe the use of musical instruments, recorded music, photography, etc., on Shabbat, but rather to remove the Rabbinate’s illegal prohibitions, and make it possible for individuals and groups to choose how to celebrate their Shabbat rituals and oneg Shabbat in meaningful ways. Unfortunately, the Chief Rabbinate long extorted the hotel establishments, using its monopolistic authority over kashrut to force the hotels and event halls to comply with its Shabbat standards and anti-Christian sentiments.

Relevant kashrut regulations – old and new

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We know that among our members there are those who apply different criteria to their Shabbat observance, and we fully respect this divergence of opinion and practice. The one thing we do not respect is unwarranted religious coercion, which runs contrary not only to the law empowering the Rabbinate, and contrary to the basic principles of democracy, but also runs against the clear will of the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews, resulting with growing alienation from Judaism rather than drawing Jews closer to the Jewish tradition. (see more on this in the upcoming 2015 Religion and State Index, to be published before Rosh HaShanah)

The reason we share this information at this time is the realization – after receiving calls from a number of hotels and tour operators, as well as colleagues who brought groups to Israel over the summer – that the Rabbinate hasn’t quite “internalized” the new rules. In fact, they are doing everything in their power to prevent their implementation. Hiddush will take further action, vis-à-vis the Rabbinate, the Ministry of Religious Services and the Attorney General’s office to convey the binding nature of the new rules, but it’s clear to us that the most effective avenue for bringing the new rules to light, and enabling colleagues who wish to celebrate Shabbat services with guitars (for example) in hotels on Shabbat, is to actively mobilize our colleagues.

We ask that those colleagues who have encountered problems share the details of their encounters with us, and colleagues who are planning future trips should convey to their tour operators and hotels what their intentions and expectations are, as to the use of music, photography, video projection, etc., as part of their Shabbat programming. As you may imagine, the hotels are eager to see this change, making it clear that the current policy of the Rabbinate seriously hinders their ability to serve groups and potential groups (such as Israeli labor union groups) who decide, for instance, not to come to Jerusalem because they are curtailed in their weekend programming. Without counter-pressure from clients, the hotels may not be able to effectively push back against the ongoing pressure from the Rabbinate.

Individual colleagues with whom we had contact and briefed on the new guidelines were both appreciative and enthusiastic. This is one more example of RRFEI’s importance, to broadly share relevant information with our colleagues.

Update: Resources and Media


Please note:

  1. Hiddush’s 2014 Israel Religion and State Index is now available here under resources.
  2. Media coverage on Hiddush’s victory against the Chief Rabbinate’s illegal kashrut regulations for hotels and event halls is now available here under resources.

Please contact RRFEI or register to join Rabbis for Religious Freedom and Equality in Israel.