January 27, 2014

Kosher Community Faces Challenge of Policing Growing Industry

NEW YORK — On almost every continent, kashrus officials are faced with the challenge of preserving the integrity of kosher. In the US, consumers are fed a regular dose of “kashrus alerts” that may include mislabelled products, unauthorized usage of symbols, and in some instances outright fraud. The fact that there are now some 1300 organizations and rabbis that certify kosher does not help with the confusion it often creates for many. Ironically, say kashrus sources, negotiating Israel’s web of kashrus standards can be very challenging to an American tourist used to major symbols and endorsements by major Chasidic rabbis. 

Recently, Israeli Deputy Religious Services Minister Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan announced that he intended to create a kosher observance authority to put an end to the practice of business and restaurant owners having to pay individual kosher inspectors directly, Israel Hayom reported. According to the plan, which is expected to be presented for government approval in the coming weeks, business and restaurant owners seeking kosher certification will pay a fee to the government, which will supervise and pay the inspectors. The authority will function under Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, which answers to the Religious Services Ministry.

Shai Ghini of Topolino, a small Italian trattoria just off Jerusalem’s famous Mahane Yehuda market stopped paying the fee for hashgacha and now says: “As far as we’re concerned, we’re kosher. There are a lot of people who trust me and my word more than the rabbinate’s word that we’re kosher.”  The restaurant uses only kosher products and is closed on Shabbat. He says that most of his customers don’t seem concerned by the lack of a certificate.” But to many kosher standards is confusing even when establishments do offer a certificate. In Jerusalem alone, some 1,000 businesses and restaurants have kosher certification from the Chief Rabbinate. But there are such standards as “mehadrin,” glatt,” “Bet Yosef” and even different standards for various local rabbinic councils.

In Europe, the Conference of European Rabbis recently launched a website for the growing number of kosher products produced in Europe, including many in Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union. The rabbis are hoping that by having a central data base, kosher consumers will be able to ascertain whether products sold in European stores are actually kosher.

Image courtesy of Chicago Rabbinical Council