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Friday, August 23, 2013

New in Jerusalem: Higher level of kashrut

Kosher observant Jews who have yet to parse out the difference between regular and mehadrin kosher certificates, please pay close attention: A new class of kashrut certification has been conjured up in Jerusalem. Called mehuderet, it’s meant to allow businesses following the stricter mehadrin supervision to save some money without losing customers. But will this new level not further erode the regular kosher certification and increase divisions in the kashrut business, all under government auspices?
"Kashrut mehuderet is here to help businesses who conduct themselves as mehadrin, but still do not adhere to all mehadrin conditions," said Rabbi Eliyahu Schlesinger, a kashrut adjudicator in Jerusalem. These businesses adhere to mehadrin standards in some aspects such as increased attention by kashrut supervisors, but not in others. The new mehuderet certification, Schlesinger said, allows businesses to order meat to be delivered to Jerusalem from other cities such as Tiberias or Hadera, as long as the suppliers are mehadrin certified. For a mehadrin certificate, a Jerusalem business would have to use only meat slaughtered within Jerusalem, under the supervision of the Jerusalem Rabbinate.

The Jerusalem Rabbinate has yet to widely publicize the differences among the three levels of kashrut, but it has already began issuing the new certificate to some restaurants. One shawarma stand in the Ben Yehuda Street pedestrian mall, which mainly attracts Jewish tourists from abroad, already bears mehuderet signage. The owner said he wished to cut the cost of kosher meat.

A significant part of the Israeli economy, the kashrut certification market is worth hundreds of millions of shekels annually, mostly in the food industry but not exclusively. The entire supply chain, beginning with the breeders and slaughterhouses, through to retailers and supermarkets and all the way to hotels and restaurants, is supervised by kashrut certifiers. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel, which provides supervision services for a fee, is only one of the players in the market.

Every one of the major companies in the food industry, such as Strauss, Tnuva and Osem, or in the cleaning products industry, hires one of dozens of private kashrut certifiers, such as the Badatz Ha'eda Haharedit, Badatz Rubin and others, in order to appeal to those who observe the more strict mehadrin standards. Especially when it comes to meat, mehadrin certification drives up the costs, which are passed on to the customers in turn.

The new certificate is beginning its way just as Jewish life in Israel is expected to become more costly. The Religious Services Ministry said this week it is planning to soon charge higher fees for everything from kashrut supervision to burial, marriage registration, and ritual immersion.
Even before the introduction of mehuderet, there was a certain absurdity to the Rabbinate’s lowest kashrut certification. Regular kashrut certificates are not trusted by the rabbis even though they are the ones to issue them. They grant them with a wink, as if to say “that’s is for the common people.” Regular kashrut requires purchasing fruit and vegetables from selected suppliers, and buy greens that are worm-free but heavily sprayed with pesticides.

These demands often lead to bitterness among Jerusalem restaurant owners, some of whom have waged a rebellion against the city’s rabbinate in the past year, observing kashrut but without a certificate.

Each city’s rabbinate determines the kashrut standards at every level of strictness. In Jerusalem, in order to display a mehadrin certificate, a restaurant that serves meat is required to employ a supervisor for most hours of the day.

A restaurant with a regular kashrut certificate is formally required to have a supervisor on premises for only three hours, while, in practice, these supervisors might only come in for minutes.
According to Schlesinger, the kashrut adjudicator, a business with the new mehuderet ranking will be required to employ a supervisor for four to five hours a day, in addition to the permission to bring in meat from outside the city.

But is there a need for yet another kind of kashrut certificate? What is the justification for an additional state-sanctioned tier?
“It's all a matter of supply and demand," according to Schlesinger. "We examine what people need and want, and sanction it. Many people want mehadrin kashrut, and they trust mehadrin meat even if its production wasn't supervised in Jerusalem.

We're willing to supply this need. It's not really up to us, we only sense what the public wants, and allow the public a chance to chose. I don't see anything divisive about it. Someone might wish to buy more expensive diapers. This is the same thing, we only supply the variety.”

But what about the regular kashrut certificate? Will it now be worth even less? Schlesinger says there is nothing to worry about. “Believe me, the regular kashrut is also a good kashrut. Anyone can come in and eat."

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