With new name, ethical kashrut seal can appear alongside the O.U.


NEW YORK (JTA) — In a move that paves the way for a new ethical certification to appear on food products alongside the Orthodox Union’s kosher label, the Conservative movement has chosen Magen Tzedek as the name for its certification, dropping the term “hekhsher” that some saw as an attempt to modify the ritual meaning of kosher.

The seal, whose design was unveiled Tuesday, would be applied to products already certified as kosher but which have met certain additional criteria for ethical production.

Rabbi Menachem Genack, the O.U.’s head of kosher certification, has been in discussions with the Conservative body overseeing the new seal, which will still be known as the Hekhsher Tzedek Commisssion.

Genack said that the O.U.’s agreements with kosher food producers generally preclude more than one kosher certification label from appearing on packaging. Had the commission retained the term “hekhsher” on its seal, Genack said, “it would have been a problem.”

Hekhsher Tzedek was born in 2006 in the aftermath of allegations of worker mistreatment at the kosher meatpacker Agriprocessors and was aimed at providing a supplementary certification that the food in question was produced in an ethical manner. Though embraced by the Reform and Conservative movements, some in the Orthodox world have criticized the initiative as an attempt to expand the notion of kosher beyond a set of strictly ritual requirements, introducing new benchmarks like environmental sensitivity and good treatment of workers.

Backers of Magen Tzedek say such criticisms are misplaced and that the newly unveiled seal was named so as to to clear up any confusion.

“One of the things that we have been clear about from the start is that we are not interested in doing anything but certifying food that has already been certified as kosher,” Rabbi Morris Allen, the director of Hekhsher Tzdek, told JTA. “In order to avoid any kind of misstatements made by others that this is an undermining of kashrut, as opposed to a vehicle to elevate kashrut, we just felt that in the long run it would be better to take the word ‘hekhsher’ off the products that we certifying.”

Rabbi Julie Schoenfeld, the newly named executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s rabbinical association, the Rabbinical Assembly, told JTA the name was chosen so the seal could someday be applied beyond food products.

“We wanted to have a name that reflected a wider vision of how this could be applied,” Schoenfeld said. “Obviously our present focus is only food, but we’ve had a lot of people who say, Why stop at food? We wanted to make this something that leaves us open to making a large statement and expanding this as we need to.”

Recommended from JTA