Religion Magazine

is the Rabbannut Hechsher Nothing but an Import Tax?

By Gldmeier @gldmeier

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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