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Apr 29, 2014

is the Rabbannut hechsher nothing but an import tax?

Every kosher food item imported into Israel must undergo inspection by the Rabbanut of Israel and receive their approval and certification of kashrut, despite already bearing the kashrut certification of foreign entities, no matter how "accepted" or stringent the foreign certifying agency may be.

Some say that this certification process by the Rabbanut on imported foods is redundant, superfluous and costly. Why not rely on perfectly acceptable foreign kashrut organizations that are accepted by even the most Ultra-Orthodox groups abroad rather than run the process from scratch, or from close to scratch, a second time?

A proposal is being explored by which the Rabbanut would no longer certify imported foods that already bear kashrut certification. This would cut import costs by as much as 35% (such as on hard cheeses), and those savings would be passed on to the consumer (mostly, I guess).

source: Haaretz (premium link)
The Finance Ministry is currently in talks with Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben Dahan (Habayit Hayehudi), in an attempt to reach a groundbreaking agreement that would liberalize the requirements regarding the recognition of food imported into Israel as kosher.
The move follows other efforts by the government to lower customs duties on some imported food to increase competition in the local food sector, and in the process lower food prices. Strict standards imposed by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate when it comes to recognition of food as kosher (meaning that it complies with Jewish dietary practice) are considered a major obstacles to the importing of cheaper food.
Currently, the Chief Rabbinate insists on recertifying imported food that has kashrut certification from rabbis abroad, meaning that without such approval, the merchandise will not be sold in kosher supermarkets. Although nonkosher food is also sold around the country, the largest supermarket chains sell only kosher merchandise. A major exception is Tiv Taam, which has carved out a niche as a nonkosher food retailer.
In the current contacts between the finance and religious services ministries, the possibility is being explored of enabling the Chief Rabbinate to accept foreign kashrut certification without requiring that the Rabbinate itself confirm that products are kosher. Sources close to the negotiations say it is absurd for the Chief Rabbinate to insist on recertifying the kosher status of imported food, when even the Health Ministry relies on the approval of foreign agencies when it comes to imported food or medicines rather than sending representatives of its own abroad. As an example, they cite the fact that ultra-Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn eat cheese from Philadelphia that was certified kosher in the Pennsylvanian city, saying the same should apply also to consumers in Israel.
Major cheese importers cite instances in which kashrut supervisors have inspected the cowsheds from which milk is produced abroad rather than sufficing with an inspection of the dairies that produce the cheese. Such inspections are expensive and involve extensive bureaucracy, to the extent that many dairy product producers abroad simply prefer not to sell in Israel. That in turn limits the range of kosher food available in the country and curbs competition in the retail food sector.
The kashrut inspection requirements for the importation of hard cheese increases the cost of the cheese to the Israeli consumer by some 35%, Israeli cheese importers say, and as a result they are not sold at prices that provide competition with locally produced hard cheese.

I don't know if this is good or bad. The Rabbanut's goal is to ensure at least a minimum standard of kashrut. Can they really contract that job out to other agencies? If they do, why not do the same within Israel as well? Why require double-kashrut on Israeli made foods, such as if a manufacturer or restaurant wants a Badatz hechsher, it is required to first obtain a Rabbanut hechsher and then it can add the Badatz (for example) in addition to that of the Rabbanut? Why rely on the OU or the Chaf-K but not Rabbi Rubin, Kehilot, the OU Israel or Rav Mahfoud (among others)?

Obviously they would have to come up with a list of acceptable agencies abroad (perhaps they can use the CRC's recommended list as a guide). Not every kashrut agency is reliable and they could not just make a rule to accept foreign kashrut as a given - just like they keep a list of which rabbis are acceptable to declare the Jewishness of a person applyng for aliyah, or a list of rabbinical courts abroad that perform acceptable conversions, they would have to work out a list of acceptable kashrut agencies. Any food imported with a hechsher from an agency not on the approved list would require the Rabbanut to check out the product and certify it independently of the foreign agency.

What do you think? Can it work? Is it a bad idea?

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  1. > is the Rabbannut hechsher nothing but an import tax?

    Yes. Next question?

  2. I think its a bad idea. There are some things that the Rabbanut is makpid on that oveseas agencies are not, such as chalav yisrael and yoshon.

    1. I believe currently the Rabbanut permits importing these but requires them to be marked. When we were in Israel this summer, we saw some dairy products with the OU mark, and in Hebrew there was a notation Chalav Nochrim or something like that, along with some statement of the Rabbanut. So no reason that practice could not continue.

    2. That was probably "Milk Powder", and not actual milk, which the rabbanut does allow, but there are those who are machmir on that anyway.

    3. Anon, that will stop if the new rules pass. If it is OU, it will just get an automatic ticket into the country.

    4. It was not milk powder, it was a package of cream cheese. And I believe I saw it on one or two other items in the supermarket.

      My point was if there is a concern that the foreign hashgacha accepts something the rabbanut does not, just mark that fact on the package. Which is what is already happening today with OU-D products.

    5. Anon, but we are talking about the redundancy of the rabanut confirming imports. If that becomes unnecessary, then who will regulate what happens with overseas hechshers?

    6. Josh: who cares? Why should regulation be enforced? The market will decide for itself. For example, the OU has a pretty well known hechsher, and it is trusted by a very large sector of the market that doesn't care one way or another if the Rabbanut has or has not given them a haskoma. On the other hand, take some company manufacturing chocolates in Uruguay, under the hashgacha of some obscure Rabbi Cohen, wanting to export to Israel. Very few kosher consumers recognize Rabbi Cohen's hechsher, so if the company wants to get any kind of market penetration in Israel, it's in their interests to approach the Rabbanut and get them to give some kind of approbation that Rabbi Cohen is really giving good hashgacha in their factory, that they use chalav nochri milk powder, and they are not makpid on yoshon. They don't want to pay for the Rabbanut to do so? Then they'll have to satisfy themselves by appealing to the non-kosher market or those who trust hechsherim they don't recognize.

    7. First of all, most of it's a machlokes if yoshon applied in chutz l'haaretz. The Bach sayd no. So it's nothing about being makpid or not.
      Second of all, if Israel is a free market capitalist democracy, i don't see what right has the Rabbanut to impose his hechsher on all import. You don't trust this hechsher don't eat it. I worked in kosher food business and one of my best friend was mashgiach for more than 30 years.i can tell you by personnal experiences and stories from my friends that politics and money play a lot in hechsherim.

  3. I think the Rabbanut is a wonderful organization, and they really do their best to ensure that things they certify really do meet the most stringent guidelines, including health ones. I have friends who rely only on rabbanut and specifically do not trust the various "badatzim" (some products do have private certifications without a Rabbanut hechsher).

    That said, I'm all for the free market. There is no reason why the Rabbanut should have a monopoly on kashrus - not for local produce and not for imported goods. If you don't trust foreign hechsherim without a Rabbanut hechsher, then by all means, don't eat them. If you are prepared to rely on the certification of Rabbi Berel Shmerel from Kurpakeril, then you should have the right to do so - at your own peril. I personal wouldn't recommend relying on obscure hechsherim, and the Rabbanut is very good for providing trusted third-party verification. But if you come from Kurpakeril yourself and you know and trust R' Shmerel, then I can't see why the Rabbanut should prevent you from importing food bearing his hechsher.

    Enough nanny-statism. If you care about kashrus, then make an effort to educate yourself and make wise consumer choices. The Rabbanut should be a service provider, competing with the rest of the market for our trust - not a regulatory nanny forcing us to eat only things that they approve.

    1. If that's what your friends think, they are making a big mistake...

      1) There is no such thing as a "Badatz" product that doesn't have a rabbanut hechsher. If there is, that would be illegal and not "kosher".

      2) The regular badatz hechsher is there to ensure that there is kosher food available, at affordable prices, for everybody. To manage that, they need to follow as many kulot as they can.

      Yes the stuff is kosher, but shouldn't we want to go by higher standards?

    2. ablock:
      1) Not true. Last time I was in the supermarket I picked up a chicken with an Eida Charedis hechsher. It did not have a Rabbanut hechsher. I was told the Eida has a special "p'tur" from getting a Rabbanut hechsher; I don't know if this is officially true, or why, but the evidence backs it up.
      2) I think you meant "The regular Rabbanut hechsher... follow[s] as many kulot as they can". I think that's an exaggeration, but even if it's true, so what? You are free not to rely on them, if you want "higher standards". Those who want to rely on them may also do so. My point is that the kashrus market should be open to competition as much as any other service, and consumers can vote with their feet.

  4. . I too know people who specifically eat Rabbanut. They say the Rabbanut is better because they have transparency which no other hechsher has. The others, you take then at their word. With the Rabbanut they are obligated to publish regular updates and info of what they do and problems they experience.

    Regarding the 'ptur' mentioned.. I am not aware of any ptur, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. The law requiring Rabbanut first might not apply to everything. I just looked at a package of meat in my freezer and in the label I even a rubin hechsher and don't see a Rabbanut hechsher.
    It could also be that they have it but aren't required to put it on the label

  5. Shaul, get back to work :)
    The p'tur as I understand is only for meat/poultry and only for the eida.
    I don't think anyone is required to print the rabbanut hechsher on their label.

    The rabbanut certainly does not rely on as many kulot as they can. They do rely on some that are not used by the private badatzim.

  6. Isn't it a lot more likely that the importer just uses the Rabanut as an excuse for justifying the extra 35%. I mean, come on, 35% just for a rabanut check of the originating hashgacha??? Highly unlikely!

  7. Could also be the reporter making it up. But yes the price is difficult to believe.


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