Here is a Ynet  story about an independent kashrut organization in Israel called Hashgacha Pratit whose stated  purpose is to return Israeli Kashrut to the public domain. OU-pig.jpg The group has challenged the monopoly held by the Chief Rabbinate as well as the dysfunctional standard of only allowing men to perform kashrut supervision.

Their alternative Kashrut model for restaurants and businesses is based on Halacha (Jewish law) and places much of the responsibility for kashrut in the hands of the restaurants and the local community.

Her name is Hemdah Shalom. She is 56 years old and is one of the two only female kashrut supervisors in Jerusalem on behalf of the Hashgacha Pratit (“private supervision”) organization, which offers an alternative kashrut model for restaurants and businesses and is breaking not only the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over kashrut in Israel, but the male monopoly as well.

There is only one tiny problem that is preventing the organization from equally competing for the right to provide kosher permits: Under the law, which was passed by the kashrut monopoly’s representatives in the Knesset, the Chief Rabbinate is the only body authorized to grant businesses kashrut certificates.

As always, follow the money.  The Chief Rabbinate uses a religious pretense to maintain a monopoly over the certification business.

When Hashgacha Pratit started operating, the Rabbinate began fining businesses that used the organization’s services and presented themselves as kosher for “violating the law against kashrut fraud.” The owners of two restaurants in Jerusalem decided to fight these fines by petitioning the High Court of Justice, arguing that the Rabbinate was violating the freedom of religion. The petitioners were even backed by then-Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who made it clear to the High Court that he did not see any legal offense in their conduct as long as the alternative kashrut certificate did not explicitly use the word “kosher.”

The petition was rejected, but Hashgacha Pratit requested another hearing with an extended panel of judges. Chief Justice Miriam Naor approved the request, and the hearing of the petition was expected to be resumed this week with a seven-judge panel. The state’s response to the petition last week revealed that the attorney general had changed his mind. Unlike Weinstein, Avichai Mandelblit—a religious Jew—objects to the presentation of alternative kashrut certificates even without the word “kosher.”

This situation, he says, “could lead the public to unknowingly commit dietary transgressions.”

The significant change, however, is that the Israel Hotel Association and the Israel Restaurant Union have decided to take a stand and join the petition against the Rabbinate.

It’s nice to see Jews take their religion back.  Competition will drive prices down, and that will make observance easier for Jews.  But I suspect maintaining power and controlling the kashrut money is likely far more important to the Chief Rabbinate.

And it must be very uncomfortable to have both threatened by women.

The male monopoly in the field comes from the Rabbinate’s need to give yeshiva students a livelihood that relates to their main occupation—Torah studying. They can also be allowed to be supervisors, but not exclusively. Women deserve it too.”

From a halachic perspective, there is indeed no reason why women cannot work as kashrut supervisors. In practice, however, apart from a few exceptions, all supervisors in Israel are men. For years, the Chief Rabbinate refused to allow women to participate in kashrut supervision courses “for modesty reasons,” and it remained an exclusively male profession.

Shalom and other women refused to accept the discrimination and joined a battle led by the Emunah movement against the Ministry of Religious Services and the Rabbinate to allow women to become part of the kashrut system. After an 18-month struggle, which included a High Court petition, Chief Rabbi David Lau ordered the Rabbinate to allow the Emunah women to take the kashrut supervision tests. Sixteen of the course’s female graduates took the exam—not in the same room as the men, of course—and they all passed with flying colors.

“There is still a long way to go,” Shalom says. “I hope that in the future the Rabbinate will actually start employing women.”

Visit the Hashgacha Pratit web site.