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Fighting the "Kosher Monopoly" in Israel

Fighting the "Kosher Monopoly" in Israel

Seated Orthodox Jewish man reading the Torah at the Western Wall

You might not know it, but if you stay at a hotel while visiting Israel, about 10% of your bill goes to certify that the food and facilities are kosher in the eyes of the state-sponsored, ultra-Orthodox Rabbinate. You’ll pay a similarly hefty tax at Israeli restaurants with kosher certificates. The Rabbinate has a monopoly over the word “kosher,” and reaps tens of millions of dollars of profits from that monopoly every year. The hotels and restaurants are forced to pass that expense on to us, the customers. 

For years, we have been challenging the Rabbinate’s monopoly in court on behalf of two restaurants who are fed up with being told that their kosher food isn’t “kosher enough.” Our case sparked an intense public debate about the right of the Rabbinate to essentially trademark the word “kosher.” It was discussed in the news, at Knesset hearings, in government reports calculating the enormous financial cost of the current system, and at dinner tables around the country.

Last year, in a split 2-1 decision, the Supreme Court rejected our case. However, we weren’t ready to accept defeat, and asked for a rehearing with a larger panel of judges, a request that is almost never granted. It paid off. The court held a new round of oral arguments last Thursday before seven Supreme Court Justices.

This time, we were not alone. The Israel Hotel Association, representing more than 350 hotels throughout the country, submitted legal briefs in support of our appeal.  So did the National Restaurant Association, which represents 600 food chains and establishments. Up until now, the food and hospitality industry has been scared to speak up because they feared retribution from the Rabbinate if they challenged the status quo. They have come to realize that if they don’t have the courage to challenge the status quo now they will have to eat that unfair expense forever.

There’s more at stake here than kosher steak. Most secular Israelis associate Judaism with corruption. This case helps explain why.  Religious monopolies, like all monopolies, are prone to abuse of power. With your help, we’re fighting to take one more link out of the corrupt chain that is hanging around every Israeli’s neck.

Anat Hoffman is the executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the public and legal advocacy arm of the Reform Jewish Movement in Israel. She is also the chairwoman of Women of the Wall, a group of Jewish women and men from around the world who strive to achieve the right of women to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Anat Hoffman
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