Two important religious ministers in Israel have announced planned changes to the country’s nationalized kashrut certification system.
The reforms are intended to reduce corruption and confusion in the system, but also strengthen the control of the Chief Rabbinate, which critics say is already too powerful.
On Monday, Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett and Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben Dahan announced at a press conference that masgiachot (kashrut inspectors) will no longer be paid directly by the establishments they are inspecting.
They will instead be employed by an independent corporation (though, imaginably, the establishments will continue to pay a fee or tax for the service). The inspectors will also receive a standard hourly wage and benefits.
The Chief Rabbinate has been plagued with complaints that inspectors and restaurant owners are easy targets for corruption.
The government also announced a new kosher “rating” system, from one to three Stars of David, indicating increasing levels of strictness.
In Israel, only the Chief Rabbinate is legally allowed to offer kosher certification, and businesses cannot even use the word without it. Several private kosher inspection agencies have formed in protest; and some business owners are simply going without certification, asking customers to trust their standards.
Hiddush, an Israeli religious freedom organization, said the reforms only strengthen the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly, and support “zealotry.”
Neither Bennett or Ben Dahan acknowledged one of the other major complaints about Israel’s kosher inspectors: that they often withhold certification for religious infractions that have nothing to do with kashrut.
The ministry recently announced another plan, to increase the authority of Israel’s anti-kashrut fraud officials. The plan to give them uniforms, badges, and investigative powers has met similar criticism from those skeptical of the “kosher police.”
Bennett is the influential leader of the right wing Jewish Home party. He is also Minister of Industry, Trade, and Labor. Ben-Dahan is also a member of the Knesset for Jewish Home.