The established, accepted mehadrin kashrus agencies are well known to chareidi Jews in Israel and abroad: the Badatz of the Aida Hachareidis, Rav Landau, Rav Rubin, Chug Chasam Sofer, Agudas Israel, Beis Yosef, Mehadrin Yerushalayim, Shearis Yisroel, and Rav Machpood.
But in recent years, many more “mehadrin” kashrus agencies have sprung up, whose founders and standards are mysterious and unknown. Who are they and can they be relied on?
Bnei Yisroel Beis Din Tzedek
The Bnei Yisroel Beis Din Tzedek, headed by the “great Gaon Menashe Balker”, certified restaurants, bakeries and food stores along Israel’s coast. But who was this erudite rabbi Menashe Balker behind the hashgocha?
Menashe Balker, 54, had spent years in prison for crimes which included armed assault, domestic violence, attacking a minor and theft. When he was released from prison several years ago, he needed a way to make a living which wouldn’t land him behind bars again.
He struck on the idea of opening a kashrus agency in which he charged between 500-1,000 shekels a month from clients. When he was caught for the fraud, and arraigned in the Rechovot Magistrate’s Court, he promised not to repeat the crime. The judge agreed to deal with him leniently and gave him only 3 months of community service.
But Balker returned to his old kashrus tricks and was arraigned in court again, this time with shackles on his feet. The judge lashed out at him, “You and the businesses were in cahoots with each other, and the suckers were the individuals who thought they were eating kosher food.”
How could Balker set up his own “Badatz”? State laws stipulate that a food outlet cannot be certified kosher unless it is first certified by the Chief Rabbinate kashrus division. However, many organizations prefer, and the law permits, taking on additional stringent mehadrin kashrus certification. Until a few years ago, only a handful of mehadrin kashrus agencies took advantage of this possibility.
“A consumer who wants to eat in a restaurant has to be assured that it is supervised by the State and is guaranteed kosher,” says Rafi Yochai, who is appointed over the Fraud Department in the Chief Rabbinate’s kashrus division. “It’s exactly like the State certifying that a doctor who presents himself as such is truly a doctor and not an imposter.”
This loophole has opened the way for swindlers to create their own “kashrus agencies” to fool the innocent citizens. These phony kashrus agencies create certificates almost identical to valid ones. They know that most Jews, even those who are makpid to eat mehadrin, don’t look too carefully at the kashrus certificate.
Many falafel stands in Tel Aviv carry the official-looking Shemen Hamishcha kashrus certification, under the auspices of “Harav Hagaon Yaakov Ben Shimon shlita.” This association was founded 10 years when the “rav and gaon” was 26 years old.
A Tel Aviv restaurateur explains how he got Shemen Hamishcha kashrus supervision: “Their man came to me several years ago and offered a certificate for 400 shekels a month. He would come every few weeks and try to sell me some mezuzos. After a year, I understood what was going on and left him. It’s not serious.” Other business owners paid between 500 to 1,000 shekels a month, less than the low fees charged by the Rabbanut.
Ben Shimon has managed to circumvent the law by printing on his certificates “Teudat Hashgocha” instead of “Teudat Kashrus”. The fraud that he is perpetrating upon the innocent client is the same.
Shemen Hamishcha’s offices are located in a new, beautiful apartment in a new Ashkelon neighborhood which turns out to be Ben Shimon’s private home. His wife, who was bathing the children when the Maariv journalist knocked on the door, refused to say how to get in touch with her husband.
A phone call to Ben Shimon yields that he is only producing “hashgocha” certificates for his unknown private kehilla, which, under pressure, he reveals numbers several dozen families. He at first says he’s a rav certified by the Rabbanut, but then adds, “You know what? Actually I’m not certified by the Rabbanut.”
The head of the Tel Aviv Religious Council, Eldad Mizrachi, claims he has turned to the Association Registrar numerous times to stop Ben Shimon’s activities. Finally, the Registrar realized Ben Shimon was perpetrating a fraud, and got on his case.
One of the ways which the Rabbanut is trying to crack down on phony mehadrin kashrus agencies is by penalizing businesses who display the phony certificates by cancelling their Rabbanut kashrus certification. The food establishment knows that without hashgocha, it will lose hundreds of clients.
In Jerusalem, the situation is even worse, for the simple reason that its large religious population demands kashrus certification on everything it consumes.
One phony kashrus agency calls itself Nachlas Yitzchak, after the distinguished yeshiva headed by Rav Yitzchak Kadoori, zt”l, with Rav Kadoori’s name appearing on its kashrus symbol. Hundreds of businesses have accepted its hechsher despite the Rabbanut’s kashrus division publicizing over 2 years ago that the agency is misleading the public. When Nachlas Yitzchak challenged the Rabbanut in court, the ugly details of this “kashrus agency” came out. Businesses under its supervision were open on Shabbos, and found to serve meat and dairy together. When the Rabbanut had removed its hashgocha from a large catering service found with treif meat, Nachlas Yitzchak jumped in to offer its hechsher.
Keter Hakashrut / Kisey Eliyahu / Tiferet Hakashrut
Another phony kashrus agency has managed to change its name three times, from Keter Hakashrut, to Kisey Eliyahu, to Tiferet Hakashrut. Claiming to provide mehadrin min mehadrin supervision by kashrus supervisor “Rabbi Avi Tzvi”, the swindler behind the agency is Sahar Mizrachi, who has never been certified by the Rabbanut or passed any State exams. He too hides his fraud by claiming to be under the auspices of Rav Eliyahu Aberjil, the Beersheva av beis din, who was appalled when informed that a crook is using his name.
Two months ago, the Rabbanut did a spot check on Burger Bar in the Gilo neighborhood which is under Mizrachi’s hashgocha. The owner of the establishment admitted, “Mizrachi asked me for a one time payment of 500 shekels and afterwards 500 shekel every month, which he raised to 641 shekels including VAT. He didn’t make me sign on contract stipulating kashrus conditions and didn’t even explain how to make my place mehadrin. As far as I was concerned, all I needed was his mehadrin min mehadrin certificate. At first he used to check for ten minutes to half a hour twice a month, and afterwards he only came once a month to take the 641 shekels for his certificate. I decided not to hang the certificate any more because I felt it was fake.”
A similar story happened in Mana V’chetzi restaurant at 7 Zakkai Street in Jerusalem. The owner relates, “In the first 2 1/2 weeks, a mashgiach came almost every day. Then the next nine months he received 500 shekels every month without coming once. I realized that he’s a fraud. Clients came in and saw the certificate and innocently thought I had a mehadrin hechsher. But I didn’t and I stopped working with him.”
Mizrachi is defensive when accused of being a swindler. He claims that the authorities are on his back because he is a relatively small organization, instead of going after the larger uncertified kashrus agencies. But when pressed for details about his agency, he starts to blubber. “It’s not relevant how much I charge, certainly not on the telephone… I don’t have to answer that… I can’t answer it in the bus, my car is in the garage… Stop trying to convince me to say something I don’t want…”