What’s actually in the bill, why the cries of gevald, and will you still be able to get a Badatz pizza?
New Religious Affairs minister Matan Kahana’s reforms to the kashrus system, announced last week, raised a storm of protest from the chief rabbinate and religious politicians who warned of the destruction of kashrus standards. So what’s actually in the bill, why the cries of gevald, and will you still be able to get a Badatz pizza?
- Privatization — The main innovation will be to terminate the direct role the Chief Rabbinate currently has as a direct kashrus provider. Instead, private organizations will provide kashrus certification, with the Rabbanut acting as regulator and setting standards. To qualify as a kashrus label, the organization must be headed by someone qualified as a municipal chief rabbi.
- Competition — These reforms are meant to encourage a market-based dynamic in kashrus provision, so that a kashrus label from one city can service a restaurant in another, in line with practice elsewhere in the world, where hechsherim compete to offer services. Sounds legitimate, so why the resistance?
- Overruled — In practice, the Chief Rabbinate, which is responsible for basic and universal standards, won’t be the final arbiter of kashrus in Israel. According to Kahana’s proposals, any three rabbis qualified to serve as municipal chief rabbis — including one current or former municipal rabbi — can overrule the Chief Rabbinate to operate more leniently. This includes providing a hechsher for a restaurant open on Shabbos.
- Struggle — Could that really happen? The answer is that Kahana’s move is part of a struggle within the national-religious world over religious standards. Organizations like Neemanei Torah v’Avodah (NTA), a dati-leumi lobbyist group, has pushed for greater liberalization within the world of kashrus and beyond. Tzohar, a rabbinic group that challenges the Rabbanut’s authority on a host of topics, is also eager to provide kashrus services. The group’s halachic standards are subpar, as the Chief Rabbinate recently ruled.
- Kashrus Bazaar — The Rabbanut’s own response was fierce: It termed the changes “the end of kashrus in Israel.” The strong condemnation from both senior chareidi and national-religious rabbanim was born of a sense that the new kashrus free-for-all will most affect the vast majority of traditional Jews who rely on “Kosher” signs, and won’t know that under the new labels, things may not be what they seem.
Weakened — How will non-Rabbanut mehadrin hechsherim be affected? The answer is that you’ll still be able to eat out safely at frum joints, but overall standards are down.
“As soon as you take the Rabbanut out of the picture, private Badatzim are weakened as well,” says Yaakov Kenigsbuch of Bnei Brak’s Shearis Yisrael hechsher. “Take financial penalties. If a vendor tricks the mashgiach, the kashrus authority can at most take away the license. Only the Chief Rabbinate can initiate legal proceedings and levy a fine against the vendor. That is a major deterrent to kashrus malpractice.”
These pages have thankfully seen far less of Covid than they did for most of last year, but with growing waves across widely vaccinated countries like the UK, Israel, and the US, here are two (unrelated) thoughts.
According to America’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), life expectancy dropped by a year and a half, the steepest one-year decline since World War II. The excess mortality was due mainly to Covid, as well as homicides, diabetes, and chronic liver disease related to alcohol consumption — likely linked to last year’s lockdown policies.
As Covid has become another battlefront of partisan politics, it’s worth remembering that sobering figure. We rightly have to debate what to do about endless restrictions versus mutations, but there’s no doubt that without up-to-date vaccines, Covid’s a killer.
And then there’s this. Remember when the Mexican beer brand — unlucky enough to share a name with a once-in-a-century pandemic — faced a bleak future? Turns out that the label had a frothy year, with UK sales alone rising 40% in 2020.
Might it have helped that the coronavirus mouthful quickly gave way to Covid, a more palatable moniker?
Very possibly, but it’s also a reminder that for brewing giants as well as ordinary mortals, Hashem pulls the purse strings in unexpected ways.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 871)
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