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An Orthodox rabbinical group is formulating a guide to ethical business practices with an eye on the kosher industry.

The Rabbinical Council of America announced Wednesday that the task force, chaired by Jewish business ethics authority Rabbi Asher Meir, would produce a detailed guide to ethical practice in business in general and the kosher industry in particular.

“We believe that the kosher food industry as a whole maintains an exemplary level of ethical practice, thanks in part to the presence of kosher agencies and supervisors,” the RCA said. “Nonetheless, we attach importance to having ethical guidelines incorporated as a matter of policy by companies receiving kosher supervision, thereby further raising the level of ethical compliance throughout the industry.”

The RCA initiative follows a similar effort begun by Conservative rabbis to establish an ethical certification that kosher food companies could pay to apply to their products, provided they have met certain criteria.

Rabbi Basil Herring, the RCA’s executive vice president, told JTA that the new initiative would not “police” businesses, saying that is beyond the scope of his organization’s abilities. The guide would require companies to pledge adherence to relevant civil laws and regulations, but would only “encourage” companies to strive for compliance with Jewish ethical principles.

Herring also stipulated that the RCA was not expanding the definition of kosher, as some critics have accused the Conservative initiative, known as Hekhsher Tzedek, of doing. The initiative’s organizers deny they are expanding the definition of kosher.

“Kosher is not a catch-all,” Herring said. “Kosher has a specific reference when it comes to food, and therefore we don’t really want to blur that distinction.

“But having said that, it’s not enough just to say I don’t care as long as the meat conforms to the laws of slaughtering, nothing else is of significance. We believe that we have a moral responsibility as Jews, and if you will as religious Jews, to say that it is also improtant … that principles of social responsibility, of social justice, be upheld. And be upheld publicly.”

Herring said the organization has set mid-December as a target date for completing its guidelines.

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