Raid Of Kashrut Dept. Finds No Evidence Of Competence, Credibility
Jerusalem (AP) – Authorities conducted a raid this morning of the Israeli Rabbinate’s department for supervising and certifying establishments claiming to provide kosher food, and found no indication that the agency had any effectiveness on the premises.
Police and Ministry of Religious Affairs personnel entered the offices in downtown Jerusalem and confiscated papers, computers, and assorted other materials in an effort to determine where, if at all, the Rabbinate had been keeping its ability to properly implement a system for certifying restaurants and factories as kosher. An examination of the materials revealed that any stores of competence had been exhausted long ago, and that the department had only traces of credibility left.
The Rabbinate is empowered by law to determine what entities are allowed to use the term “kosher” to describe their food, a consumer protection implemented to prevent fraud. Doing so requires that the institution maintain given levels of efficacy, transparency, consistency, and adherence to established standards of kashrut supervision as enshrined in certain books of Jewish law. But the Rabbinate’s role as, effectively, judge, jury, and executioner has freed it from outside oversight, opening itself to an impaired ability to ensure that it was itself adhering to the standards it purports to enforce. One of the Rabbinate’s heads is currently under house arrest, awaiting trial for fraud and breach of trust.
Responding to agitation from community activists, the ministry decided to take action, but it remains unclear what impact the move will have. Shoddy record-keeping had already compromised the department’s ability to adequately track the validity of imported foodstuffs labeled as kosher “with the approval of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel,” and the information garnered in the raid is unlikely to have an effect on the problematic dynamic of having restaurants act as employers of the kashrut supervisors.
Elsewhere in the world of kashrut supervision, independent agencies charge the food establishment a specific amount, employing its own supervisors either to remain on the premises or to conduct unannounced inspections. As the investigation has revealed, however, the Rabbinate here apparently lacks the competence necessary to handle such a complex arrangement, and foists the bureaucratic and bookkeeping burden on the businesses it certifies.
A supervisor, known as a mashgiach, assumes the dual role of advising the establishment of the practices required to ensure adherence to the laws of kashrut, and of inspecting the facility to ascertain its compliance. The Rabbinate’s system, says Ministry spokeswoman Amira L’akum, charged its supervisors with inspecting too many establishments, impairing their ability to adequately supervise any single one. “Basically, under the current system, a mashgiach comes in once a month or so, makes a token inspection of the trash can, and collects his check.” She added that there was no way an inspector could remain at any one restaurant or vendor long enough to audit the establishment’s compliance with procedures such as sifting flour to remove insects, checking eggs for blood spots, or not operating what looks like an elaborate, legally sanctioned protection racket.
Indeed, the Rabbinate can levy stiff fines for attempting to sidestep its procedures, which includes the engagement of any other supervising agency in the Rabbinate’s stead. L’akum noted that the department’s established pattern of behavior does not include butting heads with any independent kashrut organizations that actually have implemented a reliable supervision system. “Whether this indicates a modicum of competence or a baseline cynicism has yet to be determined,” she said.
Buttressing the argument for the cynicism factor, Rabbinate inspectors raided two related Jerusalem establishments this week, touting their discovery of forged kashrut labels. The establishments, a cheese store and restaurant with the same name and owner, had never paid the Rabbinate for supervision. Ministry officials, who declined to be identified in keeping with procedures regarding ongoing investigations, surmise that the move was calculated both to showcase whatever vestiges of competence remain, and to demonstrate that it nevertheless lacks either the will or capacity to conduct any such raid on establishments that are already paying the Rabbinate.
A spokesman for the Chief Rabbinate predicted that the institution would emerge from the episode unscathed, noting that the police department, which has been handling the evidence, has exhibited the same level of competence and credibility.