Hotels cut costs by forgoing rabbinate kosher certificates

Israeli hotel breakfast Photo: Simplex 360

The high cost of rabbinate kashrut certification is leading some Israeli hotels to turn to alternative certification, while others are doing without any certification.

Are you having trouble cleaning your home for Passover? Now try to imagine what hotels have to do in order to get rid of every bit of wheat, make the plates kosher, and destroy every trace of leavening. According to figures from the Israel Hotel Association, hotels in Israel spend NIS 12.5 million every year just on kashering their kitchens for the holiday.

A considerable number of hotels have decided to omit this process, and to waive their kosher certification along with it. The decision is not necessarily an ideological one; it is pure business. Other hotels, especially those that do not belong to the large chains, are using the alternative kosher certification offered by the Tzohar organization instead of the certification offered by the Chief Rabbinate.

Hotel Olive Gilboa and the Ma'agan Eden Hotel Holiday Village on the Lake Kinneret shore are the two latest hosting sites to switch to Tzohar, an organization founded in February 2018. The list also includes hotels in Jerusalem, where the demand for kashrut certificates is usually high: Colony Hotel, Paamonim Jerusalem Hotel, and Villa Brown Hotel.

Tzohar began with restaurants, such as Arcaffe and Ilan's, and is now expanding to hotels. Their kashrut certificate costs a few thousand shekels, depending on the size of the hotel, substantially less than the price charged by the rabbinate.

Doron Bichler, manager of the 148-room Ma'agan Eden, told "Globes" that he had decided to forgo a rabbinate kashrut certification the hotel had for 20 years after being told to fire the kashrut supervisor he had employed for 16 years. "We have wonderful ties with our regional rabbi," Bichler says. "He tried to work with us, not against us, but in recent years, I felt that people above him were making very costly demands. If I buy sheets or towels, I hold an auction, but there are no auctions for a kashrut certificate. We had to pay NIS 350,000-400,000 a year for a kashrut certificate. We decided against offering lunch, because we couldn't afford the cost of the kashrut supervision. When they made me host a kashrut supervisor with his family in a room at the hotel together with his wife, including meals at our expense, we started looking for an alternative.

"The straw that broke the camel's back was the demand to fire the kashrut supervisor I employed on their behalf. I've been working at this hotel for 26 years, and I have never fired anyone. That finished me. After that demand, I asked Tzohar whether I could continue employing the supervisor through them, and that's what we did. Today, I pay NIS 60,000 a year. I believe that other hotels will follow our example. It's a matter of irrational costs caused by stringent demands typical of an agency that has no competition."

"An excellent breakfast on the Sabbath"

The Lear Sense Hotel, which opened in Gedera a few months ago, decided to do without kashrut supervision completely. Owner Tzachi Tzuk is aware that some guests will no longer come to his hotel, but he says that there are also "people who are glad to enjoy a better culinary experience on Friday night, drink coffee with milk in it, and eat an excellent breakfast on the Sabbath." Lear Sense Hotel's customers consist of both business customers ("kosher food doesn't matter to them as much") and local tourists. "We appeal to people looking for a culinary experience during their vacation at the hotel," Tzuk says.

One of the attractions offered by the hotel is the Aberto restaurant, managed by Chef Asaf Stern. "We wanted the restaurant to also attract guests from outside the hotel, but we thought that people wouldn't come to a kosher chef restaurant in a hotel," Tzuk says. "The option of foregoing kashrut is relevant mainly to small hotels. They have learned that giving up kashrut creates traffic and increases profits."

The Atlas chain, which operates hotels in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, and Eilat, found a creative solution to the kashrut problem. Co-owner and director Danny Lipman says that all of the hotels are kosher, but that not all of them have a kashrut certificate. "At bed and breakfast hotels, we take care to buy only kosher products, but we don't employ kashrut supervisors there," he explains. "In hotels in which we hold a kashrut certificate, the reason is respect for the property owners, who are religiously observant. In Jerusalem, there is demand from guests coming from overseas, mainly the US. Our criterion is commercial."

"Globes": Is it worthwhile?

Lipman: "The costs are painful. Having a kashrut certificate means several more jobs that contribute very little to the hotel's activity, if anything. It's also a significant financial burden in the costs of the products. Although we're careful to buy only kosher products, the rabbinate sometimes demands specific products that cost two or three times as much. Beyond the costs, once the hotel has a kashrut certificate, it has to observe all sorts of other rules concerning activity in the kitchen and dining room. So it's true that there are guests who are fed up with not being able to order coffee with milk on the Sabbath, but they understand where it comes from, even if it doesn't make them happy."

"More hotels will be less scrupulous"

Will we see more hotels getting rid of their rabbinate kashrut certificates? This sounds logical from at least a financial standpoint. Hotels spend NIS 366 million every year for having a certificate hanging on the wall. Who pays for it? The guests, of course - those who justifiably complain about the high prices of hotel stays in Israel.

The cost of a kashrut certificate consists of the salaries of the kashrut supervisors (NIS 77 million a year), the cost of having the supervisors stay at the hotel on the Sabbath (NIS 10 million a year), and the costs of having food that conforms to the rabbinate's requirements. Beyond that, double food equipment (separate equipment for dairy and meat) must be purchased, and there is a special payment for kashering the hotel for Passover.

The Hotel Association says that a bill likely to be proposed in the next Knesset will make things worse. A bill proposed by MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu), aimed at regulating the kashrut supervision system in Israel, will turn the Chief Rabbinate into a regulator authorized to grant licenses to private agencies, which will be able to grant kashrut certificates according to criteria set by the Chief Rabbinate. The measure is aimed at increasing competition, but the Hotel Association fears that the result will be the opposite: the cost of employing kashrut supervisors will rise by NIS 20 million.

Will hotels abandon the rabbinate's kashrut services, or kashrut in general?

Lipman: "It depends where. It won't go away so quickly in Jerusalem, but in Tel Aviv, I assume that we'll see more hotels being less scrupulous about a kashrut certificate."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on March 27, 2019

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2019

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Israeli hotel breakfast Photo: Simplex 360
Israeli hotel breakfast Photo: Simplex 360
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