At a first glance, the kashrut certificate that hangs on the wall of Falafel Hakikar in Tel Aviv looks like any other. Only a more careful look reveals that the certificate in question was not issued by the Chief Rabbinate, but by an alternative organization called Mishmar Hakodesh.
The owner of the falafel stand, Moshe Sigman, explains that he decided to use the kashrut supervision services of Mishmar Hakodesh, because he could no longer afford to pay the fees charged by the Chief Rabbinate.
"My place is still kosher and everything here is being done in accordance with Jewish law," Sigman claims. "It's a simple matter: The Chief Rabbinate wanted to charge me more than double, and I don't intend to pay them. The new company I employ doesn't charge anything."
Sigman is not alone. In recent months, the Chief Rabbinate has noticed a growing trend among businesses across the country that choose to use the kashrut services of one of the dozens new organizations that provide them.
Business owners explain that the high fees charged by the Chief Rabbinate leave them no other choice: In addition to an annual fee of thousands of shekels, they are also required to pay the minimum wage of the kashrut supervisor each month.
According to law, the Chief Rabbinate is the only body authorized to issue kashrut certificates in Israel, but sources in the Rabbinate admit that it is almost impossible for them to enforce the regulation.
This week, the Rabbinate published a list of bodies that issue kashrut certificates illegally, and warned costumers of dozens of restaurants against dining in places that do not carry an official certificate.
In addition, the Rabbinate files lawsuits against these organizations, while the police regularly fine businesses that use "piratical" certificates.
'End Rabbinate's monopoly'
Mordechai Assor, the head of Mor Valevona, an organization that issues kashrut certificates to dozens of restaurants in the north, rejects the criticism leveled at him by the Chief Rabbinate. Assor, who served as a kashrut supervisor for the Rabbinate for many years, stresses that his company adheres to very strict standards.
"There are hundreds of businesses that are sick and tired of paying high sums to supervisors and for certificates… I charge much less and the demand just keeps on growing. I charge minimal fees," he states.
Other private kashrut companies also call for an end to the Chief Rabbinate's monopoly on Kashrut supervision, claiming that competition in the field would improve the services rendered and lower the prices.
However, the main concern of business owners is losing costumers who insist on the Rabbinate's certificate, and some say they have already lost clients over the issue.