Rabbis with integrity. That ought to be a pleonasm, but sadly as we know, it is not

[Hat tip BA]

Of course in Melbourne, we have solved this problem with Super Rabbis, able to clear halachic practice with a single huff and puff. We need more Rabbi Aryeh Sterns around the world.

Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Rabbi Shlomo Amar has recently refused to implement a proposal designed to reduce corruption in the arena of kashrut supervision in the capital, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Severe questions have been raised about the integrity and reliability of the kashrut supervision provided by the Jerusalem rabbinate in recent months, with concerns that some kashrut supervisors do not properly execute their supervisory duties.

One problem in particular is a phenomenon in which supervisors are awarded supervision over more restaurants and food businesses than they can physically supervise in one day.

Kashrut supervisors get paid either directly by the businesses they supervise, or in some instances by a manpower organization that provides the supervisors to the different businesses.

The more establishments a supervisor is responsible for, the more money he is able to make.

However, regulations of the Ministry of Religious Services stipulate that a supervisor spend at least one hour, and many cases two or three hours, in each restaurant, supermarket, catering company or other food business they supervise, per day.

According to sources within the Jerusalem rabbinate, there are several supervisors within the Jerusalem religious council’s kashrut department who are registered to supervise more than 10 businesses each.

It appears unlikely that a supervisor could maintain this workload and at the same time comply with the stipulations of the Religious Services Ministry for a supervisor to be present for at least one hour in every supervised establishment.

Allegations of possible corruption in the Jerusalem Religious Council were reported to the police earlier this year.

During a hearing of the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee on July 29, Supt.

Isaac Simon of the Jerusalem fraud squad said that an examination was being made of the requirement to hold an investigation.

In recent months severe deficiencies have been found by staff in the office of Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Rabbi Aryeh Stern, including supervisors who did not turn up to the establishments under their supervision and serious kashrut issues at some restaurants and businesses with kashrut certificates from the Jerusalem rabbinate.

In one of the restaurants, a well known cafe in central Jerusalem, it was discovered that the designated supervisor visited the site approximately once a week. The establishment in question requires three hours of supervision a day.

At the cafe, Stern’s staff discovered that the flour used for baking bread and other products was not generally sifted and that there were insects present in the flour, which would be a clear violation of kashrut laws.

In order to try and tackle these issues, Stern recently proposed that, as is common practice in many other major cities, the names of each supervisor should be printed on the kashrut certificate that is displayed in restaurants and businesses in Jerusalem with kashrut supervision.

This would help prevent abuses, since if a supervisor would have more businesses to supervise than is feasible in one day such a situation would be readily apparent.

Amar, however, refused to implement such a system. Although local religious councils have administrative authority over such policies, municipal chief rabbis sign kashrut certificates and could theoretically refuse to sign if certain policies are not implemented.

The secretary of the Kashrut Department of the Jerusalem Religious Council, David Malka, said in response: “The Kashrut Department and the Office of the Chief Rabbi do not conduct Jerusalem’s kashrut policy through the press or media. This is how we have acted for years and how we will continue to act.

“Despite the fact that in the current quarter the names of supervisors do not appear on kashrut certificates, the kashrut certificates are signed by both municipal chief rabbis.”

Kashrut certificates are issued four times a year, but Stern has refused to sign more than 100 certificates, out of the approximately 1,500 certificates issued to kosher establishments in Jerusalem, for the latest quarter. Some of these certificates are currently on display with only Amar’s signature.

Stern is insisting on interviewing the supervisors of the establishments in question, primarily supermarkets, before appending his signature to their certificates.

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Rav Aryeh Stern (pic from JPOST)

It seems that we can almost never rely on people anymore for kashrus?

Check out this story.

Have things changed? Is commercialism and making an extra buck overtaking honesty despite government laws? I wonder what those who “eat fish out” say. It’s scary.

Sydney Kashrus Authority responds

Dear Reb Yitzchok

Thanks for sending me the article.

You mentioned that you were unsure as to the standards employed by ‘Sydney Kashrus’ (The Kashrut Authority). I will do my best to clarify for you our position as follows:

We basically have three levels.

  1. The first level are certified products such as Teal Lake wine , Jenbray Tuna, cholov yisroel dairy products etc, made to a standard similar to that of such bodies as the Eida Chareidis . Any difficult shailois in this regard I ask HoRav HaGaon R’ Yakov Blau Shlit”a of the Eida with whom I have done a lot of work over the years.
  1. Then there are certified products made to the OK and OU standard. This may include dairy products that are not cholov yisroel. All of our certified products are to that standard as a minimum. I have a very close working relationship with the OU and the OK and with both Rav Belsky Shlit”a and Rav Shachter Shlit”a. It should be noted that all our licensed facilities including caterers follow that same standard as a minimum.
  1. We have a third level (a level that does not exist in the USA).These are what we call “approved” products manufactured by non-jews. I have wriiten an article explaining the halachic rationale and resultant differences and you can find it on our website www.ka.org.au in the halachic policies section. It is in relation to this “level” that we indeed follow the London Beth Din, The Manchester Beth Din, The Johannesburg Beth Din, and all who list “approved” products.

Many might be tempted to say that the approved products are ‘less kosher’ than certified products – such a statement is in my opinion wrong. The reality is that they fall under a different halachic paradigm.

An analogy to illustrate: It is without question forbidden to add a drop of milk to chicken soup. If one did so on purpose one would not be permitted to eat the soup. However, if it fell in by accident, and was botul b’shishim, the Halocho is that one is permitted to eat the soup. Two apparently identical occurrences, yet there are two opposite outcomes. The reason for this is that we are dealing with two completely different paradigms – the meizid (purposeful intent) paradigm and the shogeg (unintentional/accidental) paradigm.

Similarly there are two distinct paradigms in relation to kosher foods. The certification paradigm, when a company comes to you, pays you for your services and markets to Jews; and the approval paradigm, where you initiate the visit to the company, you are not paid by them and they are not specifically interested in the Kosher market. The OU/OK, etc ONLY deal with the first paradigm. This is largely because of the size of the kosher market and the Jewish population of the USA. There are sufficient certified products so it is not necessary to have approvals. Furthermore, halachically, as companies are specifically marketing for the Kosher consumers it may not be possible to employ the approval paradigm. However jn other countries, such as the UK and Australia, there are insufficient products and the relative size of our kosher consuming market enables us to employ the approval paradigm.

Products manufactured at level 1 or 2 are all marked K or C in our directory. They are all formally certified or made to that standard and are colloquially called “mehadrin”. [Though some would argue as to whether a chalav-stam product – albeit certified to OU/OK standard – should be called “mehadrin”]. Products that are level 3 or “approved” are listed without notation. The consumer has the choice to be mehader or not, and we are transparent with the information we provide allowing them that choice. We believe that this way we maximise the opportunities for people to keep kosher.

Kosher Australia has announced that it is moving to only use the certification paradigm. That is their choice, which should be respected by those under their jurisdiction. The rabbis of the Kashrut Authority (comprising the rabbis of The Sydney Beth Din and the Yeshiva Rabbinate here in NSW) are of the view that it is still necessary to retain the approvals paradigm. We feel it would be both erroneous and onerous of us to impose on the general kosher consumer the stringency of only eating certified products when the approved products are 100% kosher l’chatchila. See Tur Orach Chaim Siman 110 , where we are instructed to pray upon entry to the Beis HaMidrash that “I do not err in a matter of halacha … and  pronounce on … that which is permitted that it is forbidden”. If the consumer wishes to eat only ‘mehadrin’ products that is the consumer’s choice but not a Halachic necessity.

Simply put, the availability and cost of Kosher here in Australia cannot be compared to that in the USA. Only listing certified products would place an added burden on the kosher consumer; and could cause those who are on the periphery of keeping kosher to turn away from kashrus observance. Of course, if it was halachically unacceptable to list approved products then the above rationale would bear no weight – the fact however is that the approved products are  kosher l’chatchila to be consumed. It is on that basis that we have left the choice in the hands of the consumer whether to be mehader or not.

I hope this clarifies the issues from our perspective.

All the best

Rabbi Moshe D Gutnick
Rabbinic Administrator
The Kashrut Authority
Kosher Certification in Australia New Zealand
and the Asia Pacific

Rabbi Gutnick asked me to preserve formatting. Just in case, I have included a PDF of the Sydney KA Response