Rabbi Metzger Battles Fraudulent Kosher Certifying Agencies


rabbi-metzgerWhile “going kosher” has become the hottest trend in the Israeli fast-food and gourmet restaurant industry, unscrupulous kashrus certifying agencies are systematically offering their sometimes fraudulent services to store owners in open violation of state laws. This mushrooming phenomenon, which has taken root in both large- and medium-size cities such as Yerushalayim and Modiin, has defrauded both local consumers and foreign tourists alike.

During the past few months, Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger has spearheaded a new campaign to confront the growing number of store owners posting fraudulent certificates by threatening them with both legal action and alerting the public not to patronize their stores.

“The State of Israel treats kashrus fraud as a consumer issue – not a religious issue, which is a key element in enforcing regulations,” said Rafi Yochai, director of the Special State Bureau for Kashrus Enforcement in the Chief Rabbinate’s office. “You don’t have to be kosher if you don’t want to, as Israel is a democratic country. However, since at least 70-80 percent of the population wants to eat kosher products and this includes religious and non-religious Jews, then the minute an owner requests a kashrut certificate, the state gets involved.”Yochai traced the growing “keeping kosher” trend to changes within the local workforce, consumer demand for kosher products in Israel and abroad, as well as foreign tourism.

“The process started around 10-15 years ago when more and more religious people became hi-tech employees, lawyers, etc. Thus, these workers looked for places to eat lunch or dinner. It thus became profitable for these fast-food and restaurant owners to become kosher,” Yochai stated. “With more and more consumers in Israel and abroad looking for quality kosher products, non-kosher factories decided that in order to survive, they had to start producing kosher products. Almost everyone wants and needs kosher in Israel. And the explosive growth of the haredi population also created a large market for mehadrin products.”

Thirty years ago, both the Chief Rabbinate and government of Israel began to understand that kashrus needed a legal structure in order to prevent outright fraud. Between 1980 and 1983, the Chief Rabbinate worked diligently with the Knesset to enact laws that would prevent fraud. Today, Israeli law stipulates that only the Chief Rabbinate is authorized to offer kashrus certificates to store owners, factories, supermarkets, hotels, hospitals, IDF, etc.

The Chief Rabbinate also worked in tandem with several charedi badatzim (Beit Din Tzedek). “The Badatz hechsher actually began with a small group of batei din who for ideological reasons wanted to offer their own certification to their small communities on a select number of items, such as sugar, salt and flour. The certification was most certainly not part of a business formula,” Yochai recalled. “However, during the past decade as the kosher food and restaurant industry grew at a rapid pace, some so-called new ‘badatzim’ emerged to create a business element by offering their own Badatz or mehadrin certification.

“What do these people do? They walk into an establishment and ask the owner how much he is currently being charged for kashrus certification. In many cases, these unscrupulous people will ask for about 50 percent less than the going cost of a legitimate hashgacha and will give the store owner some fancy certificate to display in the window. Both the Chief Rabbinate and the legitimate Badatz hechsherim we work with suffer from this craziness. The consumer is scammed, while both the store owner and the fake kashrut certifier are perfectly satisfied. This is where the consumer kosher law is now being strictly enforced by the State of Israel.”

Yochai maintains that the Chief Rabbinate is sympathetic to the many small business owners (e.g. managers of falafel and pizza stands) who might not be able to afford a full-time mashgiach to oversee a very limited amount of ingredients. “You don’t need a full-time mashgiach in a falafel store. What we do is, we check the ingredients served and then we provide a list of names of places that the Chief Rabbinate accepts for buying pita, chummus, salads etc. This way, everyone is happy.”

However, Yochai reiterated that for the many foreign tourists who frequent falafel stores, supermarkets and restaurants, there are certain basic kashrus criteria that they should know about. These include:

· All food establishments in every Israeli town or city must display the local Chief Rabbinate’s kosher certification in the window or above the counter. Check for the date on the certificate and make sure it is an original, not a photocopy

· If an establishment displays a fancy looking “Mehadrin Min Mehadrin” certificate featuring unrecognizable names such as Badatz Nachlat Yitzchak, Keter Hakashrut, Shemen Hamishca, Nezer Kashrut, Yaakov Landau Beersheba, Mor U’Levana, Ichud Yisroel or Nezer Hidur, they are operating outside the State’s kashrus laws, according to Yochai.

· An establishment must display a legitimate local Chief Rabbinate mehadrin certificate in order to be recognized either as dairy or meat mehadrin. There are separate Chief Rabbinate mehadrin dairy and meat certificates.

· An establishment that features both a legit Chief Rabbinate certificate alongside one of the aforementioned bogus mehadrin certifications (which currently is the fashion in many food outlets) is not considered a mehadrin establishment. A legit mehadrin establishment must always feature the Chief Rabbinate’s mehadrin certificate alongside another legitimate Mehadrin/Badatz certificate, such as Eida HaCharedis, Rav Machfud-Yoreh Deah, Badatz Beit Yosef, etc.

 {The Jewish Press/Noam Amdurski-Matzav.com Newscenter}