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Saturday, 20 October 2007

Knesset panel threatens to found separate kashrut authority

Knesset panel threatens to found separate kashrut authority
By Amiram Cohen, Haaretz Correspondent

In protest of the Chief Rabbinate's policy regarding the "shmita" or
sabbatical agricultural year, the chairman of the Constitution, Law and
Justice Committee has threatened to establish a separate authority to
grant kashrut certification for produce.

"If the Chief Rabbinate does not get its act together in the near
future, the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee will advance the
establishment of an alternative kashrut authority in Israel, which will
provide fitting solutions for the general public," committee chairman
Menachem Ben Sasson (Kadima) said.

According to religious Jewish law, land must lie fallow every seven
years - the shmita year - to allow it to rest. Jews worldwide may eat
fruit and vegetables from Israel during the sabbatical year only if they
were grown on land owned by non-Jews.

For decades, the Chief Rabbinate and the local rabbinates of most major
cities have accepted the "heiter mechira" system, allowing Jewish
farmers to symbolically sell their land to a non-Jew for the fallow year
on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, then buy it back at the year's end. The
temporary change of ownership means produce farmed during the year is
considered kosher and can be sold to Jews

Ultra-Orthodox rabbinates have never recognized heiter mechira as a
valid system, but have traditionally turned a blind eye to the practice,
allowing Jewish farmers to continue their livelihood during the
sabbatical year.

In recent years, however, ultra-Orthodox rabbinates have increasingly
objected to the system. This year, the rabbinates of several regions
have threatened to nullify the kosher certification of farmers who
practiced it. The Agriculture Ministry has called on the Chief Rabbinate
to empower local rabbinates who agree to accept heiter mechira to
authorize produce for sale and thus bypass rabbinates which refuse.

Ben Sasson called on the Chief Rabbinate to give kashrut authorization
to all "businesses and institutions in all the cities in which local
rabbis refused to do so."

The High Court objects to the Chief Rabbinate Council's decision to
allow local rabbinates independence on this issue. Local rabbis who
oppose the arrangement would give kashrut certification only to
businesses in their city that agree to import produce.

"In Jerusalem, tomatoes are sold for NIS 9.50 per kilogram, and in
certain cities for NIS 12. This price increase won't stop in Jerusalem
and not at tomatoes. It will take with it all fresh produce. The price
increase will also seriously harm the Haredi public and Israeli farmers.
The kashrut authority will also be harmed because the general public
will turn its back on it and I intend to lead a process to protect all
of these systems," Ben Sasson said.

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