FILE - Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Jerusalem Rabbi Aryeh Stern at his home in Jerusalem on May 4, 2015. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90
FILE – Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Jerusalem Rabbi Aryeh Stern at his home in Jerusalem on May 4, 2015. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90


Jerusalem – The battle being waged by Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Aryeh Stern to reform kashrut supervision in the capital was stepped up a notch on Wednesday when the concerns regarding the management of the Jerusalem Religious Council which has opposed the rabbis initiatives were brought in front of the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee.

Since being elected in November 2014, one of Stern’s priorities has been to improve the Jerusalem rabbinate’s kashrut supervision service and he requested staff in his office to examine the reliability and efficacy of the kashrut supervisors appointed by the Jerusalem Religious Council, numbering more than 300, who are supposed to provide daily supervision to some 1,500 kosher restaurants and businesses in the city.

The rabbi’s staff found however numerous deficiencies in the supervisory regime, including supervisors who did not turn up to the establishments under their supervision and serious kashrut issues at some restaurants and businesses with a kashrut certificate from the Jerusalem rabbinate.

In one of the restaurants, a well known cafe in central Jerusalem, it was discovered that the designated supervisor visited the site approximately once a week, despite the fact that in most restaurants supervisors are required to visit at least once a day usually for an hour. For the restaurant in question the requirement was three hours a day.

At that restaurant, Stern’s staff discovered that the flour used for baking bread and other products was not generally sifted and that there were insects present in the flour, which would be a clear violation of the laws of kashrut.

The supervisor in question was subsequently fired but this step evoked the ire of the chairman of the Jerusalem Religious Council Yehoshua Yishai, who was appointed to head the council in 2008 by then Shas Minister of Religious Services Yaakov Margi.

Yishai suspected that one of the kashrut inspectors, responsible for overseeing the performance of kashrut supervisors, had informed Stern’s staff of the problems at the cafe in question and with the supervisor responsible for it, and said that he would call him in for a disciplinary hearing.

The inspector however reminded Yishai of a letter he had written to him in 2012 in which he had detailed his concerns that various supervisors, including the one responsible for the Jerusalem cafe in question, were not performing their tasks as requested.

The disciplinary hearing has yet to take place.

Yishai also summoned Stern’s chief of staff Avinoam Kutscher to a disciplinary hearing and threatened to fire him from his position. The State Comptroller intervened however and instructed Yishai to cancel the hearing and instructed him not to fire Kutscher.

In addition, Yishai instructed the secretary of the kashrut department to send a WhatsApp message to the 14 kashrut inspectors in Jerusalem explicitly instructing them not to cooperate in any way with any official from Stern’s office unless the inquiry came directly from the rabbi himself.

Kutscher argues that this message was intended to shut down Stern’s efforts to examine the deficiencies in the Jerusalem kashrut supervision department and thereby prevent the rabbi from implementing his reform agenda.

Apart from the irregularities in the conduct of kashrut supervisors, concern has also been raised by Stern’s staff about the actual appointment of the kashrut supervisors themselves, which include three brothers, one brother-in-law and the father-in-law of the current secretary of the kashrut department of the Jerusalem Religious Council, who is himself a kashrut supervisor.

At the Knesset Committee hearing on Wednesday, the head of the Jerusalem Police Fraud Office, Superintendent Isaac Simon, said that his department was examining whether or not to open an investigation into the irregularities within the Jerusalem Religious Council and its kashrut department.

Also in attendance at the meeting was Elad Malka, a member of the Jerusalem Municipal Council for the Hitorerut Jerusalem party who filed a complaint to the State Comptroller’s Office regarding the various irregularities in the kashrut department discovered by Stern’s staff.

Malka said that since filing the complaint he has been subject to legal and political threats, and said that there was “thick and heavy smoke” above the Jerusalem Religious Council, “which indicates there is an inferno and not just a fire.”

Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie, who called for the Knesset committee hearing, said that it was the Knesset’s responsibility to protect whistleblowers and those attempting to expose corruption in government institutions.

“The severe suspicions require deep examination and correction on an organizational level as well as [addressing] the quality of the kashrut [service],” she said.

“The reality in Jerusalem demonstrates institutional failure between the chief rabbi [of Jeusalem] and the religious council. Those who expose corruption must not be harmed and I am here to lead a process of reform in Jerusalem and in other religious councils.”

During the hearing, Lavie clashed with committee chairman and Likud MK Dudu Amsallem who asked to expedite the hearing saying that “there are more important hearings to follow.”

Amsallem did say however that he welcomed the intervention of the State Comptroller preventing the dismissal of Stern’s chief of staff and agreed that efforts should be made to protect anyone exposing irregularities in the kashrut system.

Yishai did not respond to a request for comment by The Jerusalem Post.

During the Knesset committee hearing he said that he had addressed the issue of kashrut supervisors who do not visit the restaurants under their supervision and said that “many supervisors have been fired.”

According to Stern’s office however, only two supervisors have been fired including the supervisor fired by Stern himself.

As reported by Vos Iz Neias