[For a good description of licensure and its effects, see here. This post will be merely descriptive. In further posts I will discuss how to improve the situation]
This post was originally going to be entitled ‘Rabbinic licensure’. However, after a more thorough study I have decided that this title is inappropriate. This is because the licensure in Israel, when it occurs, occurs at the stage of actually providing services, not the title itself. It potentially affects not only Rabbis, but anyone offering religious services.
What is licensure? Simply put, licensure is a policy in which a government requires an individual to answer to certain terms before they may legally provide a specific good or service. These terms may include a certificate of education from an approved school, the payment of a license fee and any other conditions the state lays down. Sometimes licenses are required for each individual service as we will see below.
Only people possessing licenses may provide the specified services. If a person provides the service without a license, even if they are more than qualified to do so, they are subject to criminal prosecution which can include fines and even jail time. Furthermore, the legal validity of their actions are often not recognized by a court of law after the fact.
Religious Services and Licensure
As far as I know, there is no such thing as “licensure” for the title or job of Rabbi in the state of Israel. Anyone who has the appropriate certificates may call themselves by that title, whether they are Orthodox, Conservative or Reform. The only exception to this is a Rabbi who enters the public service under the Rabbinate. Then their semicha is subject to scrutiny and approval or disapproval (not revocation per se, just deciding whether it’s sufficient to allow one to enter public service as a Rabbi or Dayan).
Where licensure comes in is the provision of specific religious services. In order for these services to be considered legally valid, they need to be approved first by the state, an indirect form of licensure:
A Rabbi performing any of the above three services without the specific permission and approval of the Chief Rabbinate is performing an act that is legally null and void. As was seen in the case of Rav Druckman, that which can be given can just as easily be taken away; R Sherman’s “revocation” can be seen in secular terms as a revocation of license with all that entails.
Burial is another religious service which requires a license approved by the Ministry of Religious Services. One can register either as a religious burial service or a civilian-secular one. As of this writing, hard-right Hevra Kadishas have an almost complete monopoly on religious burial, one of the reasons for the many conflicts regarding women as well as exorbitant marginal costs.
Kashrut is an interesting case. According to the 1983 law against fraud in Kashrut, only the Rabbinate may declare food or food products to be labeled “kosher”. This is the case even if said food has already been declared kosher by other hashgachot such as the OU. Ostensibly, this is a clear cut case of monopoly.
However, the fact is that there are innumerable private hechsherim run out of the Charedi community that doesn’t answer to the Rabbinate. So how do they avoid getting jailed or fined? Simple. They don’t write “kosher”. They simply say “behashgachat” and the like.
I should point out that there are many services that don’t require a license or specific permission. A mohel can be certified by the Rabbinate and the Ministry of health, but a mohel who merely knows his craft from spending time as an apprentice is legally allowed to operate. The same goes for mashgichim, balaniyot and a number of other services.