Saturday, April 11, 2009

Movement to expand kosher to include moral standards stirs controversy 

To many Jews, keeping kosher has been simply about rituals commanded by God -- you avoid pork and shellfish, don't mix meat and dairy and only eat animals slaughtered according to Judaic law.

But within the Jewish community, some are asking whether moral standards -- such as decent wages and safety for workers, environmental protection and corporate transparency -- should be part of the definition, too.

"It's a way to think about the food that ends up on your plate," said Rabbi Steven Rubenstein, of Congregation Beth Ahm in West Bloomfield, Mich. "Who produced it? How is the worker treated? How is the animal treated? What happens to the soil?"

The new movement has drawn criticism from some in the Orthodox community, who say the reformers are improperly mixing Jewish law with modern social movements. But a range of leaders say the new effort is rooted in the original intent of kashruth, Jewish dietary law.

Discussions about what is kosher are taking place inside homes as Jews prepare for the eight-day Passover holiday that starts at sundown Wednesday. It's a time when kosher rules often are observed with greater rigor over religious dinners that bring together family and friends.

Rubenstein supports Hekhsher Tzedek, the kosher justice certification. It started after Morris Allen, a Conservative rabbi in Minnesota, read in the Forward, a Jewish newspaper, about poor working conditions inside the largest kosher plant in the United States.

Hekhsher Tzedek calls for placing a new symbol on food products that are produced in accordance with certain moral standards.

"Being kosher can't just be about a narrow, ritual definition," Allen said.


How is the worker treated?

Minimum wage? Health benefits?

What does that have to do with Kashrut?

Throw in unionization, pension benefits and whatever.

Stupid, liberal Jews.

Instead of worrying about whether the worker got two or three times the minimum wage, worry instead if the certifying rabbi got bought off.


In Israel there is an organization called Bmaagalei Tzedek. Volunteers check out worker's conditions wages etc, and other things like handicap access for example and then give a certificate. The goal is for this to catch on so that people will look for this certificate the same way one looks for a kashrut certificate.A Jew who keeps halacha should be just as concerned with these issues as they are about kashrut.


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