How Much is that Rabbanut Sign in the Window?

My favorite type of packaged cookies are those (Paskez?) brown and white confetti cookies. The cookies are good, but the approximately 74 kashrut symbols on the side are better.  I used to imagine the person looking for the 75th symbol. Something I was less aware of in my youth was how much each symbol cost.

That last question has become a burning issue in the Knesset and Israeli society. The Rabbanut currently holds a monopoly on distributing kashrut certificates, a right which was defended in court. The cost of that monopoly is high. Annual payments for restaurants range from 517-1,356 NIS depending on size while hotels can pay up to 12,295 (why hotel certification is at a different range is beyond me, A kitchen’s a kitchen. Hotel owners are also unhappy). Supermarkets pay around 80,000 NIS annually. Furthermore, restaurants and hotels must pay inspectors at least 37 NIS/hour. Inspectors for mehadrin restaurants can make around 8,000 NIS/month, a massive price in an industry with razor thin margins.

The performance of the inspectors may not meet the price. According to a friend who used to be in the business, one of his inspectors would come in, drinking some lemonade, relieve himself of the lemonade, and then head out. He did note one supervisor who spent hours checking rice, he also noted that the supervisor came from the Orthodox Union and not the Rabbanut.

One Finance Ministry report estimated that the intricacies of kashrut incur an annual cost to the economy of 3 billion NIS and an increase of 5% to the cost of food production (the report has been disputed). Furthermore, kashrut has been used to make the import of goods more difficult, thereby increasing food prices.

The certification situation becomes stranger when you consider polling on the matter. Only 18% of Jewish Israelis support the Rabbanut’s monopoly. 60% of religious Jews support the ending of the monopoly and supporters of every non-Haredi coalition party strongly support a new system with the lowest amount of support being 68% from HaBayit HaYehudi voters.

Alas, parliamentary politics is designed in a way to give minority parties more power. The Haredi parties very legitimately use this power to maintain certain institutions that much of the country would like to end. The power provides them with the ability to (perhaps…probably not) defend the Jewish character of the state and in a totally coincidental matter, make tons o’ cash for friends and family.

Some cosmetic fixes have been offered, but it’s hard to imagine anything that will truly fix the lack of competition in the industry. If the monopoly will not be taken from the Rabbanut, allow me to make a suggestion. Another “Haredi” issue is their role in national/army service. If Yeshiva students would also serve as kashrut supervisors as their national service, the price of food could come down fairly significantly. This would allow the Haredi parties to cheapen the price of Kosher food (which is theoretically in their interest) while also relieving political pressure to draft Yeshiva students.

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