War of words breaks out over start of Kashrut reform in Israel: MK calls Haredim ‘racist and ignorant’

January 3, 2022 by Gil Tanenbaum - TPS
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On Sunday, the first stage of a set of reforms on kashrut certification in Israel as promoted by Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana, from PM Naftali Bennett’s Yamina Party went into effect.

People dine in a restaurant in the city of Kiryat Ono during Tisha B’Av                       Photo by Eitan Elhadez-Barak/TPS

Restaurants and other places of entertainment that provide kosher food will no longer be limited to receiving kashrut certification from their local religious councils. Instead, businesses will be able to seek certification from any regional council in the country.

Starting on January 1, 2023, the second stage of the reforms will go into effect which will see the licensing of private agencies that will be authorized to issue kosher certification in direct competition with the national Rabbinate.

Itim is an Israeli organization established by orthodox rabbis that has been working to effect change in the country’s religious establishment, both in the areas of conversion and Kashrut. Its founding director Rabbi Seth Farber is pleased with the reforms. He told TPS, “The new kashrut regulations enable competition in an area that has been stagnant for far too long.”

“The religious establishment was unable – over the last decade – to make amends for serious holes in the kashrut industry,” added Rabbi Farber. “Today marks a first step at fixing the situation.”

Minister Kahana himself is obviously pleased to see his reforms moving forward. In a Tweet, he called Sunday a, “New morning in Israel!”

“Today, the first phase of a kashrut program will begin, which will regulate the kashrut system of the State of Israel and march it forward toward better, more supervised, more orderly kashrut,” said Kahana.

But the leaders of Israel’s ultra-orthodox establishment, the Haredim, are not thrilled with the changes and are threatening to boycott any rabbis who agree to grant kashrut certification under the new reforms. A number of them have circulated a new petition calling for the ex-communication of such rabbis.

Leading Ashkenazic ultra-orthodox Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and the spiritual leader of the Sephardic Shas movement Rabbi Shalom Cohen both signed the new petition which says, in part, that the reform is intended only to disrupt the Tora world and to “create discord among the rabbis of Israel” and that they will cause the “complete destruction of the kashrut system in the holy land.”

Israel’s Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman has always been in favour of reforming Israel’s religious establishment and how it controls the day to day life of Israelis. He has, for example, attempted to push through legislation in the past that would allow for purely secular marriage in Israel, or at the very least, civil unions. Today Jewish Israelis can only get legally married in the country with the approval of the country’s rabbinate.

Liberman has been in conflict with Israel’s Haredi parties over the years on these issues and so his comments on their reaction to the kashrut reforms came as no surprise.

In response to Haredi threats of boycotts over kashrut reform, Liberman tweeted Sunday, “boycott? Your coercion will not work this time!” He also said that reform will benefit both the restaurateurs as well as their customers.”

“Boycotts will not work,” added Liberman. He said that the field of kashrut “belongs to everyone and not just to one stream or another and I am sure that everyone knows how to decide for themselves what is right for them. We will continue to resolutely implement this important reform that dismantles the monopoly on kashrut in the State of Israel.”

Yulia Malinovsky of Yisrael Beitenu (Liberman’s Party), who promoted a new law reforming conversion in Israel that was shelved last week by the coalition, had her say on the matter as well. She tweeted an explanation of how the reform will work along with the statement, “May we live, at a good time and good luck!

Malinovsky also took the opportunity to make a scathing attack on the ultra-orthodox sector in general. Calling them racist and ignorant she said, “They are not interested in kosher or conversion, it is a matter of power, to dictate our way of life. When they stop acting racist and ignorant – then I will speak differently. I am not ready for Israel to remain in exile and in the ghetto of ignorance.”

She may have simply been venting after her bill on conversion was scuttled. But it remains to be seen how Malinovsky’s comments will be received, how the coalition members will react to them, if she will be called upon to apologize and if her statement will in any way affect the possibility of her reintroducing a conversion reform bill in the Knesset in the future.

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