Kashrut reform may free Israel from the clutches of the rabbinate – editorial

A plan to reform kosher certification has faced controversy and the usual storm of anger and debate that divides secular and religious in Israel. The kosher certification reform of Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana (Yamina) approved its final readings at the Knesset Committee for Special Initiatives of National Infrastructure and Jewish Religious Services on Wednesday morning.
This is a major attempt to change the system. For too long, Israel has been stuck under a monopoly run by the Chief Rabbinate when it comes to kashrut certification. This monopoly is unparalleled in the history of the Jewish people. One of the unique aspects of Judaism historically is that it is not a top-down hierarchy, but a debating religion enshrined in historical religious texts such as the Talmud and the Mishna. Jewish communities lived all over the world and maintained their traditions, from kosher food to conversion processes. Unfortunately, this autonomy and unique aspect of the Jewish people has been nullified in the only Jewish state in the world where coercion is preferred to religious freedom.

This is because there is a complex layered process within Israel whereby some aspects of the state are outsourced to religious authorities. These authorities have at times become reactionary and even abusive in their methods and in the way they speak about the Jewish people in this country. What that means is that when religious parties felt they would lose power when former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left office after more than a decade, they made inflammatory statements that often bordered on incitement. This toxic combination when it comes to religion and state has meant that any attempt at change or reform is met with vicious debate and extremist rhetoric, often from rabbinical authorities wanting control.

Currently, the system allows local rabbinates under the authority of the Chief Rabbinate to issue kosher certificates. The reform would empower independent authorities to provide supervision and certification to companies.

“We are breaking the monopoly of the rabbinate,” said committee chair MK Yulia Malinovsky. “What hurts them is that they are losing the power to decide for all of us.” His role has been met with incitement by extremists in Israel, whose comments seem more appropriate to the Taliban than a functioning democracy. The incitement, according to Israel radio interviews, has included comments telling her to return to Ukraine and calling her non-Jewish.

THE BUILDING of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel in Jerusalem. (credit: NATI SHOCHAT / FLASH 90)

We have gotten used to this and tolerated it for too long. Soldiers who go to recruitment posts in our country are called “goy” and “shiksa” by religious extremists. People of color are spit on in religious neighborhoods. There is no end to the red lines that extremists cross. These same extremists claim they need control of kashrut, but many of them protest in a way that shows vile hatred for our country and often the Jewish people. Malinovsky is right; This hatred comes from privileged people who fear losing power.

In fact, they have power over our marriages, they have had power over conversions, over kashrut, and over too many things. With great power comes great responsibility. But they have not exercised responsibility and have often abused their power with a sense of entitlement. They have compared Reform Jews to pigs. To protest the kosher reform, they roasted shrimp and crabs in a strange protest.

The kosher oversight process in Israel has long been riddled with corruption. In one case, more in keeping with the mob, a rabbi accepted cash and gifts in exchange for certifying that things were kosher. A 2017 Comptroller report noted that the method by which supervisors receive money from the companies they supervise leads to conflicts of interest.

Breaking the monopoly and allowing competition will give the public a choice of who they want to work with and will improve the system. It can end the corruption and lethargy inherent in monopolies like the one the Chief Rabbinate has so far run. Most importantly, it will show those who incite that they can no longer hold this country hostage.


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