Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Kadima MK challenges rabbinate authority in new bill


He who adds to Torah subtracts.

Oct 16, 2007 23:31 | Updated Oct 17, 2007 1:04

Knesset Law Committee Chairman Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima) announced on Tuesday that he plans to present a bill to his committee in the next two weeks that would bust the Chief Rabbinate's monopoly over kosher supervision and marriages.

"The Chief Rabbinate has failed in its mission to provide kosher supervision and marital services to the entire Jewish nation," said Ben-Sasson in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. "For the sake of Orthodox Judaism, we have to take away the rabbinate's exclusive control over kashrut and marriages."

Pressure to break the rabbinate's monopoly over kosher supervision has been growing in recent months after the rabbinate decided to take a stringent stand on fruits and vegetables grown during the shmita (sabbatical) year.

As a result of the Chief Rabbinate's decision, produce grown by Jewish farmers in Jewish-owned land will not be recognized as kosher in 11 towns. The rabbis of these towns reject a halachic loophole called heter mechira, or "permitted sale," according to which Jewish-owned farmland is "sold" temporarily to a non-Jew.

Instead, restaurants, grocery stores and other food venues will not receive kosher certification unless they purchase fruits and vegetables from haredi supervisors who buy almost exclusively from non-Jews.

Because haredi supervision is often two or three times more expensive than regular supervision, many food vendors would rather forfeit their kosher authorization altogether.

Tzohar, an organization of Modern Orthodox rabbis, announced last month that it would set up an alternative kashrut apparatus in cities where the local rabbis refused to recognize heter mechira.

However, according to the law, only the Chief Rabbinate has the authority to give kosher supervision. Private kosher supervisors can provide supervision only once the Chief Rabbinate has done so. To open the way for Tzohar's alternative kosher supervision, the law must be changed.

But even if Ben-Sasson passes his bill in his own committee, he will fight an uphill battle in the government, as Shas strongly opposes any weakening of the Chief Rabbinate's hegemony.

"Shas will fight Ben-Sasson's bill with all its strength," said a senior source in the party.

"Tzohar rabbis apparently do not understand that if they open up an alternative kashrut to the existing one, the next step will be the legitimization of Reform Judaism," the source said. "Tzohar and other religious Zionist rabbis think they are still living back in the good old days when they were in the same coalition with Shinui and were able to freely destroy religious services."

Tzohar has also been at odds with the rabbinate over the issue of marriages.

All marriages between Jews are regulated by the Chief Rabbinate according to Orthodox Jewish law. Up until about a year ago, Tzohar provided Orthodox rabbis who were willing to officiate at weddings pro bono. These rabbis were also sensitive to the needs of secular couples.

However, the Chief Rabbinate opposed Tzohar's campaign, arguing that some of its rabbis were inexperienced and did not adhere to the Jewish laws regarding Orthodox marriage.

Tzohar rabbis retorted that the rabbinate's opposition was motivated by a desire to protect its control over marriages.

In a move that effectively blocked many Tzohar rabbis from performing marriages, the chief rabbinate drafted new criteria for rabbis qualified to perform weddings.

Ben-Sasson's bill would break the chief rabbinate's exclusive control over who can and cannot officiate at marriages.

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