The proposed Kashrut reforms in Israel, if implemented, will be disastrous spiritually, financially and socially, none of which seems to concern their proponents. Its sole achievement, such as it is, will be diminishing the Chief Rabbinate into figureheads who do little more than solemnly intone tehillim at public gatherings for Yom Hashoah and Yom Hazikaron. Oh, and they are also expected to validate each person’s version of Judaism as legitimate and acceptable. Seldom has an initiative, especially one being promoted by an observant Jew, been more likely to wreak havoc and destroy the system it purports to save.
Take the simplest issue, cost. The Ministry of Finance itself estimates that the price of kosher food will increase up to 20% if the reforms pass. The reasons are also simple enough: the Chief Rabbinate currently operates on a bare bones budget that subsidizes less than a handful of inspectors, in addition to paying on-site mashgichim who service the establishment or restaurant. Privatizing the system will halt even the modest government subsidies currently provided and those costs will be borne by the companies, who of course will pass them on to the consumer. Additionally, hundreds of additional supervisors will be needed to ensure compliance with even minimal standards – and these costs too will be passed on to the consumer.
When costs rise, consumer demand decreases. That means that demand for non-supervised and thus cheaper food will increase and that in turn will reduce the incentive that the casually observant Israeli – the ones who follow kashrut guidelines because, well, they are Jews and this is part of Judaism – will have to maintain this commitment.
Additionally, companies will divide themselves between those who are serious about kashrut and those who are in it for business reasons and will look for supervision on the cheap. The latter will seek out the lowest common denominator – the most minimal supervision with the least on-site supervision possible – and that, in turn, will invariably reduce their share of the kosher consuming market. Two consequences are thus likely: one, companies will nonetheless forced to coalesce around a handful of the more stringent supervision services, which will require more coverage and thus be more costly (again, raising prices on the consumer) or two, other companies will shed the kosher supervisors they deem to be too stringent and seek out even more lenient providers and that will completely turn off the serious kosher consumer and harm the companies even more.
This will devastate the supermarket industry in Israel. One of the joys of life in Israel is that a Jew can enter any of the major supermarket chains, all of which are closed on Shabbat, and know that every product in the store is kosher. That will end, as not all products will be deemed acceptable, and the consumer will be confronted with a variety of names of strangers whose standards are mysteries. Supermarkets will have to maintain their own mashgichim and decide which of the multitude of agencies and individuals are acceptable and which not. Keeping kosher in Israel will become more difficult. Exports of Israeli products will be harmed as the kosher consumer abroad is almost exclusively Orthodox and will not countenance a multiplicity of agencies and individuals of unknown competence and standards who are paid to give their imprimatur. It is not at all unlikely that the big four national kashrut agencies in the United States, for example, will seek to certify products here as well on a larger scale – and that too will increase the cost to the consumer here and abroad.
It will render it even more challenging to eat in people’s homes, as every product will now be suspect. Neighbors will have to assess each other’s level of commitment to ascertain whether they are still taking kashrut seriously or have just given up and accepting everything and anything because someone with a Hebrew name and a title (and earning money from it) says this product is fine, and even if the supervisor might not eat it himself. Rabbis will be asked an infinite number of questions about the reliability of these or those people, and cogent answers will not be forthcoming.
If one would wish to destroy the kashrut system in Israel and undermine the confidence of the kosher consumer in the reliability of what he or she is eating, it is hard to imagine a more efficient way of doing that than by these proposed reforms. Ironically, it is also a very effective way of increasing Haredi influence over the kashrut establishment because most kosher consumers would sooner trust a Badatz than trust some three random rabbis who are providing supervision because the merchant resented the existing guidelines under which he operated and sought more accommodating ones.
It is fascinating that these reforms are being pushed by Minister Matan Kahana, a former fighter pilot. Fighter pilots are renowned for their ability to innovate, to improvise when things go wrong, to maneuver in and out of trouble by flying up and above and sideways and twisting sharply downward in order to avert trouble. One senses that he feels here an imperative to pass these reforms, weaken the Rabbinate, and, come what may, we can always rectify what went wrong at the appropriate time.
Indeed, but sometimes, G-d forbid, the plane crashes, and the pilot is shot down, and in the best of circumstances, ejects and lands safely on the ground – which, in a political context means, having impaired one ministry and its workings, he can be assigned to another ministry in another government because politicians in Israel usually face little accountability for poor job performance or for initiatives that went completely awry. Reform is not a task for politicians but for sober minded and sincere kashrut professionals to determine how best to provide kosher food to the Jewish public, as reliably, efficiently and inexpensively as is feasible.
This is a disaster waiting to unfold. It is a classic example of “stage one thinking,” in which people focus only on the immediate gratification provided by a particular action (usually, the attainment of some pleasure; here, the attack on the Rabbinate) and do not contemplate the second and third stages – the long term effects of what they are doing. Such conduct is impulsive, impetuous, devoid of reason and usually the product of some uncontrollable emotion or desire.
While the opposition will reflexively vote against the budget, it is hard to conceive that observant members of the government – from the Prime Minister to other ministers to Knesset members – will facilitate tearing down one of the pillars of a Jewish state – its kashrut establishment. These reforms will make kashrut observance more difficult, more costly, and more divisive to Israeli society.
Other than that, it sounds like a great idea.