Rabbi calls for Orthodox ‘hechsher tzedek’

Rabbi Shlomo Levin, spiritual leader of Milwaukee’s Modern Orthodox Lake Park Synagogue, has an opinion piece in J the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle. calling on the Orthodox establishment to start certifying the working conditions at kosher meat companies:

The Orthodox Union states clearly that its supervision relates only to whether food is permitted to be eaten. It does not consider labor issues, animal cruelty, environmental impact or anything else of this nature and has no plans to start doing so. Why not? For many reasons.

The list of potential issues to include in expanded supervision is nearly endless. The government already regulates some of these matters; the O.U. lacks the required resources and expertise.

And many of these concerns are not uniquely Jewish, while the O.U.’s purpose is to serve the special needs of the Jewish community.

There is nothing wrong with the O.U. conducting itself in this manner, as long as we understand what the O.U. symbol means. A product is kosher to eat, but whether the company manufacturing that product is kosher to do business with is unknown.

What we need is not a replacement for the current kosher supervision system, but an addition to it.

Since how a business treats its workers, the environment and its animals is important, we need another mechanism by which consumers can receive that information.

The Conservative movement has taken some steps to form a “hechsher tzedek” kosher certification focused on the above issues. Some other small, independent groups have done the same.

The Orthodox kashrut establishment, however, due to its large existing infrastructure of supervisors, would be able to produce a new certification with the greatest ease, efficiency and speed.

As kosher consumers, let’s make clear that we want them to do so. Only if we as consumers make known that we will base our purchasing decisions on the presence or absence of such a new symbol is it likely that substantial action will be taken.

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