Nov 10, 2014

Hashgacha Pratit. not just a story, but a certification


I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz about an article on Globes from back in June.

Leibowitz is one of the people behind a new model of kashrut supervision. He calls his certification, and I love the name, "Hashgacha Pratit".

Hashgacha pratit is modeled on a system of community volunteers all participating in the kashrut supervision.

Restaurants and cafes hang signs on their premises stating they are certified by hashgacha pratit, this private supervision, along with a pledge of trust and faithfulness with their customers that they adhere to the laws of kashrut.

Hashgacha pratit, under Rabbi Leibowitz, trains restaurant staff in the system and the relevant laws of kashrut. A loyalty contract is signed. And thenvolunteers from the public along with a paid field coordinator pay visits to the restaurant. Not really relevant to the program, btu they use female supervisors.

Businesses pay 400nis per month for the supervisions.

The goal is to be an alternative to the Rabbanut kashrut certification. Under the rabbanut, a business must employ the mashgiach. The mashgiach tells the owner what raw materials he can buy, and makes sure the business carries everything out according to instructions. The mashgiach has to show up on-site for two hours 3 times a week, and gets paid 37nis per hour (in addition to the price of the certification).

Supposedly there is a lot of corruption in the system. Some restaurateurs claim, and I have heard similar stories independently of the article and of what Leibowitz mentioned in our conversation, that often the mashgiach never actually shows up, except to collect his check. Sometimes the mashgichim are rude and bossy and don't allow the business to function efficiently,basically abusing their power instead of working in coordination with the restaurateur. There are also claims of mashgichim demanding under the table payments.

The Rabbanut also requires businesses to use expensive "gush  katif" vegetables, claiming non-gushkatif produce cannot be cleaned form bugs. Some rabbis, including Rav Amar, disagree with this and say produce can be checked and cleaned at reasonable expense.

(BTW, similar complaints have been heard about various mehadrin hechshers, and while the Rabbanut is the main authority responsible for kashrut that hashgacha pratit is looking to provide an alternative for, the complaints are the same across the board).

So what does Hashgacha Pratiti want to do, and how are they different than any other private hechsher offering tiself as an alternative to the Rabbanut, such as the Eida or Rubin or Beit Yosef or others? I also asked Rabbi Leibowitz how they avoid legal trouble with the law that requires kashrut via the Rabbanut and any other hechsher is only above and beyond that.

Rabbi Leibowitz explained that they do not use the word "kosher". This is similar to other private hechshers that use the word "meushar", or "approved" rather than kosher. This is how they avoid legal trouble, as only the Rabbanut is legally authorized to use the word "kosher" in certification.

Rabbi Leibowitz mentioned that a couple restaurateurs have gotten citations for using the word "kosher" in their signage, but they did that on their own against the advice of hashgacha pratit. He did add, that no citatiosn or fines have been paid, and the Rabbanut has yet to pursue any case in court. He suggests that they know they cannot win and will lose even more authority if it should ever go to court. I don't know if he is right or wrong about that, but that is how he feels.

Particularly interesting is the statement of loyalty, and how the entire system of trust works with mashgichim called "trusted kashrut reps" somehow being different than the classic mashgiach. On the hashgacha pratit website, they explain that the system works with building a relationship between the business owner and the "neeman kashrut" based on trust rather than authority. The restaurateur wants to uphold his staement of loyalty that he signed,and working together with the neeman kashrut encourages and enables him to do so. (take a look at the website to see their policies, such as allowing non-gushkatif produce while training the staff how to clean it properly, etc)

Rabbi Leibowitz is aware that a business owner could scam the system and deceive the public, but he says that they invest a lot of personal work in each relationship with each restaurateur, and it would take a serious liar to find a way to get around that. He could do it, but if he is looking to cheat and lie, Rabbi Leibowitz says he would have an easier time doing so under the certification of the Rabbanut than under hashgacha pratit.

Will it work? It is so far, for a limited number of restaurants. At the end of the day it is the consumer who will speak. If the consumer is willing to trust this system and this hechsher, it can work. Kashrut is based on trust. The kashrut supervision flourished due to lack of trust (largely because people don't know the manufacturers and restaurateurs). Leibowitz and his team are trying to put the trust back in kashrut.

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1 comment:

  1. As a resident of Nachlaot, I must say that Aaron Leibowitz is very good at what he does, as community leader and organizer, and work in kiruv, especially as a bilingual/bicultural person within the most diverse neighborhood in Jerusalem. You name it, we've got it: Haredi, Yemenite, Syrian, modern orthodox, and hiloni. And, he should stick with it.

    Although I am in favor of hashgacha pratit, I have absolutely no intention of patronizing one those establishments.

    I am much more comfortable at my local hangout the Y-Cafe, which has no heksher at all. We are all our own personal mashgiach there. We ask questions, and decide whether we're going to eat this or that.

    Aaron Leibovitz's ideas of Torah remind me of things I have heard from Avi Weiss, David Hartman, and of course, Yeshayahu Leibowitz. I cannot support the spread of this influence.

    Aaron Leibovitz is part of that evil [insert the nastiest noun you can think of here] Rachel Azaria's party, and will will become a city councilmember as part of the list's internal rotation agreement, when Tamir what's his name, the pseudo-rabbinical student at a pseudo-yeshiva steps down. Azaria is known for her anti-Haredi, Battle For Jerusalem initiative and feminism.

    I was shocked (even though maybe I should not have been) to see just how many of my brain dead, supposedly religious neighbors supporting them, when I went to vote.

    Nope. I cannot think of to many initiatives from Aaron Leibovitz I would be willing to support. Kashut supervision is definitely not one of them.

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