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McClatchy-Tribune  06/19/2014 3:37 PM ET
"Kosher with no certificate" [Globes, Tel Aviv, Israel :: ]

June 19--Two years ago, a few Jerusalem restaurant owners got fed up with the local rabbinate, and decided to give up their kosher certificates. They posted signs in their restaurants that read "Kosher with no certificate," and even started a Facebook page, which has been gaining momentum.

The movement was started by Haya Gilboa, a young, formerly observant Jerusalemite, who was troubled by the fact that many of her irreligious friends slowly began leaving Jerusalem, in part because on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath, the city was dead, because local businesses are afraid of losing their kosher certificates. With the help of Jerusalem City council member Rachel Azaria, she reached Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz party secretary and head of Sulam Yaakov seminary, and together with the restaurateurs, they developed a pilot for a community-run kashrut (kosher) model.

The pilot gave birth to an entity called "Private Supervision," which comprises seven Jerusalem businesses: Mizrahi Cafe, Topolino, Trumpeldor, Georgie Pitta, Hamakom Shel Itzik, Karusela, and Arbes Hummus. These restaurants and cafes have hung charters in their storefronts in which they pledge to diners that they adhere to kosher laws.

How is private supervision different from the Rabbinate's?

The first step is a training course for all restaurant staff, including kitchen workers and waiters, so they are able explain the project to the clientele. After the training course, a loyalty agreement is signed between the business and the public. The third stage is maintaining the kashrut, which is enforced through visits by volunteers and the (paid) field coordinator. The kashrut supervisors are all women, on principle.

And payment? "The business pays NIS 400 a month, in order to pay the field coordinator's salary," explains Leibowitz. "The administration and financial management is handled by the volunteers. My role is to advise on matters of Jewish law, for partial pay."

Are you trying to replace the Rabbinate?

"Our model is not suitable for very big kitchens with menus containing hundreds of items, therefore, it is not the solution. We want to alter the power dynamics slightly in everything having to do with kashrut."

Israeli law dictates that only the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, or a rabbi authorized by it, has the authority to issue a kosher certificate. Business owners are required to employ the mashgiach (kosher supervisor) at their own expenses, and the mashgiach is meant to advise the business owner regarding raw materials, and to make sure that everything is carried out according to the prescribed regulations. The kosher certificate is renewed twice a year. If the mashgiach finds a problem, he may deny the business a certificate, and publicize the matter.

According to the Rabbinate, a mashgiach earns NIS 37 per hour, and is expected to spend two hours at the restaurant three times a week, depending on what the managing supervisor decides, and what type of kashrut is required. According to the Chief Rabbinate, 100,000 businesses hold kosher certificates based on these criteria.

And does the system work?

The restaurateurs we interviewed for this piece (and others who wished to remain anonymous) insist that it does not. Most say they almost never see the mashgiach, that he shows up only to collect payment. Others tell of bullying and threatening behavior exhibited by some of the mashgichim (kosher supervisors). There are even some who report demands of under-the-table payments, and "off-site" salary negotiations.

This is what Karusela vegetarian restaurant-cafe owner Jonathan Vedai claims: "As soon as I paid, I asked for a tax invoice. The mashgiach told me there is no such thing. I could either not hire the mashgiach , or I could pay him under the table. In the end, I just told myself: 'You'll lose some customers, but it's better to keep quiet.' We bartered outside the restaurant. He demanded NIS 1,000, and I managed to talk him down to NIS 600. The mashgiach himself appeared for two to five m

 

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