The Orthodox establishment in Israel is in uproar over plans to establish an “alternative” kashrut supervision organisation that critics said would challenge the state rabbinate’s authority.
Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein, who leads the moderate Orthodox rabbis’ movement Tzohar, said: “we are not coming to replace the rabbinate, but to challenge it and create some competition in a monopolistic marketplace”.
The Chief Rabbinate, which has been fighting private kashrut organisations for years, had previously secured a High Court verdict prohibiting restaurants from calling themselves kosher if they are not under its supervision.
But a recent ruling has changed the situation, allowing restaurants to present themselves as “under supervision, not of the rabbinate”.
Critics of the rabbinate within the Modern Orthodox stream contend that Strictly Orthodox kashrut organisations have been allowed to operate for decades while those representing more moderate streams have been persecuted.
Rabbi Feuerstein claimed at the launch of Tzohar's kashrut group that “the market is already open to [Charedi] groups and there should be competition.”
He explained that the new organisation would “allow transparency over the fees and kashrut regulations, so they can be clear and universal, and not differ from rabbi to rabbi and place to place.”
Restaurant owners have complained they are at the mercy of their individual inspector and often have to pay him a separate fee.
Tzohar, which is training both male and – for the first time – female kashrut supervisors, says its guidelines will be clear and transparent.
But many rabbis disagree with the initiative.
Yaakov Ariel, the former chief rabbi of Ramat Gan, east of Tel Aviv, said that the new organisation could be “a danger to kashrut”, adding: “opening an alternative, without the Chief Rabbinate's agreement, will create chaos.”
There is also concern that an open market in kashrut will erode the rabbinate's authority in other matters, crucially its monopoly on performing weddings and adjudicating in family law, and restrict one of its main sources of income.
Israel’s kashrut industry employs thousands of supervisors. According to Ministry of Finance figures, it is worth four billion shekels (£830 million) a year.