Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ethics and Kashrut

You may have seen this article in Thursday's New York Times:

Label Says Kosher; Ethics Suggest Otherwise By PAUL VITELLO
In the wake of sweeping labor abuse charges at a kosher meatpacking plant, an overflow crowd debated whether food produced under such conditions can be considered kosher.

The article speaks of how the Orthodox are trying to find a way to do, essentially, what Conservative Judaism has already done with Hekhsher Tzedek, that is, to link ethical behavior towards workers and animals with the ritual purity of the slaughter and preparation of meat. Such was not the case with Agriprocessors.

Our board voted in November on a resolution endorsing the initiative. There was considerable discussion, as many had concerns as to the degree to which Hekhsher Tzedek's standards conform with existing law. There is always a concern for over zealousness when new standards are being contemplated. The board wished me to communicate those concerns, which I have done (and am doing now with this public blog). But I cannot say how proud I am of a board that took so seriously its role of representing a Conservative congregation looking to take a more active role in a movement that is redefining itself as we speak. I am also proud to be part of a movement that is willing to push the envelope in this area, to not merely be a movement of nostalgia but one of conviction. Conservative Judaism has truly turned a corner with the concept of Hechsher Tzedek.

Here's the Sample Resolution suggested to synagogues by the movement. Our board agreed with all the initial clauses, and then the latter section was simplified and was modified,

The resolution our board passed...

WHEREAS, Temple Beth El of Stamford, Connecticut is committed to encouraging members to perform Mitzvot encompassing ethical and ritual observance; and

WHEREAS, Kashrut is a core value of our congregation and the Conservative Movement; and

WHEREAS, we understand that the laws of Kashrut teach reverence for life and humane treatment of animals; and

WHEREAS, our congregation continues to express its commitment to social justice; and

WHEREAS, Torah teaches us concerning the rights of workers and the importance of business ethics; and

WHEREAS, our congregation continues to express its commitment to environmental protection;

WHEREAS, we are concerned by reports of illegal treatment of workers and animals and illegal business practices within the Kosher meat industry including the impact such reports may have on the commitment to Kashrut;

THEREFORE, be it resolved that the Board of Trustees of Temple Beth El stands behind the development of a Hekhsher Tzedek program that requires compliance with applicable law in the areas of (a) employee welfare, including wages, benefits and health and safety, (b) animal welfare and treatment, (c) corporate accountability and integrity and (d) environmental impact, that would be applied to the Kosher food industry; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Rabbi is authorized to communicate the substance of this resolution to the joint Hekhsher Tzedek Commission comprised of representatives of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly as well as concerns raised by the Board of Trustees in respect of the draft Policy Statement prepared for the Commission by KLD Consulting; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Board of Trustees will review and consider its support of the Hekhsher Tzedek Policy Statement, once finalized, including whether the concerns raised in respect of the draft policy have been addressed.Whereas, our commitment to Kashrut is undermined and discredited by reports of worker abuse, animal cruelty and corrupt business practices within the Kosher meat industry

Therefore, be it resolved that the congregation stands behind the development of a Hekhsher Tzedek to be applied to the Kosher food industry to the extent that it requires full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.

More information on the initiative can be found at:

The Blog:

Kashrut must also apply to ethics, insist local rabbis
USCJ’s Heksher Tzedek resolution from 2007
Orthodox Rabbis To Set Voluntary Guidelines for Kosher Businesses
Orthodoxy’s Kosher Crisis
OU Threatens To Drop Agriprocessors After Charges
Kosher Plant Is Accused of Inhumane Slaughter

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