A Biblical Case for Ending the Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s Monopoly on Kosher Supervision

For most of Israel’s history, the chief rabbinate has held a government-enforced monopoly on certifying that restaurants and other places where food is produced are kosher. But, largely in response to allegations of corruption and favoritism on the part of the chief rabbinate and its approved supervisors, a number of rabbis have begun granting kashrut certification outside the official system. Now Tzohar—an Orthodox organization founded to challenge the chief rabbinate’s positions on marriage and divorce—has joined in this effort.

Eliezer Melamed, an influential rabbi and no one’s idea of a religious liberal, defends Tzohar’s efforts by appealing to traditional texts to argue that halakhah admits, and in fact encourages, a sort of federalism. Thus the council of elders Moses convenes in Numbers 11—traditionally understood as the precursor to the Sanhedrin, or supreme rabbinic council—is a representative body, with elders drawn from each tribe. And just as, in ancient Israel, different tribes were autonomous units that operated their own rabbinic courts, so, too, Melamed argues, different segments of Israeli society—the modern equivalent of tribes—should be allowed their own rabbinic authorities. He explains:

“Appoint yourselves judges and officers for your tribes in all your settlements that God your Lord is giving you, and make sure that they administer honest judgment for the people,” [commands] Deuteronomy 16:18. The sages say in [both] the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds, “It is a mitzvah for every tribe to judge its own tribe” (Makkot 1:8 and Sanhedrin 16b, respectively). According to the reading of Moses Naḥmanides (ca. 1194-1270), it’s possible there may even have been a commandment to appoint a high court or Sanhedrin for each and every tribe with certain powers over members of that tribe. . . .

Today, the [Jewish] nation is divided into ethnic groups [e.g., Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Mizraḥim, etc.] and circles united by ideology [e.g., secular Jews, religious Zionists, Ḥasidim, etc.]. . . . Torah scholars of one sector or group must not disqualify the scholars of another, so long as they are loyal to the Torah and its commandments. And even if a sector’s halakhic opinion is unacceptable to the majority, it is forbidden to disqualify their position regarding what they rule in their own communities, . . . and their opinions must be considered [in discussions of jurisprudence]. . . .

[W]hen groups and institutions try to impose their opinion on members of another circle, and attempt to deny the authority of their rabbis and prevent them from serving as rabbinical judges or in other positions controlled by chief rabbinate, [as has happened in several instances], we are no longer speaking of a situation where the rabbis of Tzohar may establish a kashrut organization, but rather a situation in which it is almost obligatory for them to establish one . . . in order to give . . . expression to their portion in the Torah.

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More about: Halakhah, Hebrew Bible, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Chief Rabbinate, Judaism in Israel, Kashrut, Religion & Holidays

Israel’s Nation-State Law and the Hysteria of the Western Media

Aug. 17 2018

Nearly a month after it was passed by the Knesset, the new Basic Law defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” is still causing outrage in the American and European press. The attacks, however, are almost uniformly incommensurate with this largely symbolic law, whose text, in the English translation found on the Knesset website, is barely over 400 words in length. Matthew Continetti comments:

Major journalistic institutions have become so wedded to a pro-Palestinian, anti-Benjamin Netanyahu narrative, in which Israel is part of a global trend toward nationalist authoritarian populism, that they have abdicated any responsibility for presenting the news in a dispassionate and balanced manner. The shameful result of this inflammatory coverage is the normalization of anti-Israel rhetoric and policies and widening divisions between Israel and the diaspora.

For example, a July 18, 2018, article in the Los Angeles Times described the nation-state law as “granting an advantageous status to Jewish-only communities.” But that is false: the bill contained no such language. (An earlier version might have been interpreted in this way, but the provision was removed.) Yet, as I write, the Los Angeles Times has not corrected the piece that contained the error. . . .

Such through-the-looking-glass analysis riddled [the five] news articles and four op-eds the New York Times has published on the matter at the time of this writing. In these pieces, “democracy” is defined as results favored by the New York Times editorial board, and Israel’s national self-understanding as in irrevocable conflict with its democratic form of government. . . .

The truth is that democracy is thriving in Israel. . . .  The New York Times quoted Avi Shilon, a historian at Ben-Gurion University, who said [that] “Mr. Netanyahu and his colleagues are acting like we are still in the battle of 1948, or in a previous era.” Judging by the fallacious, paranoid, fevered, and at times bigoted reaction to the nation-state bill, however, Bibi may have good reason to believe that Israel is still in the battle of 1948, and still defending itself against assaults on the very idea of a Jewish state.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel's Basic Law, Israeli democracy, Media, New York Times