An Orthodox Take On A Conservative Approach To Jewish Law

Rabbi Avi Shafran writes:

Conceived by the rabbi of a Conservative congregation, and now endorsed by that movement’s rabbinic arm, the “Hekhsher”’s promoters insist that it is not really a hekhsher, or kashrus certification, at all. It is, rather, an “enhancement” of such certification, an indication that a kosher product was also “made in compliance with a set of social justice criteria.”

Needless to say, a kashrus certifier certainly has a right, and in many cases a responsibility, to ensure that a food-producing company or food-service establishment seeking its certification hew not only to the laws of kashrus but to other requirements of halacha. Thus, a bakery that is open on Shabbos, a slaughterhouse that violates the dictates of tza’ar ba’alei chayim, or a restaurant where tzenius is lacking would all be rightfully subject to a machshir’s insistence that the business bring itself within the bounds of halacha.

And, of course, there are “social justice” issues, too, like the forbiddance of an employer to withhold workers’ wages, that are of no less concern to halacha. Tellingly, though, only that category of extra-kashrus concerns and animal welfare seem of interest to the purveyors of the planned “Hekshsher Tzedek.”

Brave New “Just And Sustainable World”

More telling still is that even in the realm of “social justice,” the advocates of the proposed non-heksher hekhsher seek less to ensure compliance with halacha than to supplant it with a broader social agenda of their own choosing.

Which explains why those advocates turned to a “social research” firm, KLS Research and Analytics – whose self-described mission is to effect “greater corporate accountability and, ultimately, a more just and sustainable world” – to create the document setting down the conditions for awarding the “Hekhsher Tzedek.”

The resulting seven pages lay down a “strict set of standards” relating to “Wages and Benefits; Employee Health and Safety/Relations/Training; Product Development; Corporate Transparency and Integrity; and Environmental Impact.” Evaluation of companies, it explains, will be based on data collected from, among other sources, “governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations, and the media.”

“Non-governmental organizations” would conceivably include groups like “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals,” or PETA; and “the media” – well, we all know what sort of exemplars of responsibility that word encompasses .

Unintended Consequences and Mischief-Making

We American Jews are fortunate to live in a malchus that is not only one of chessed but of laws. And among those laws are more than a few that govern many of the areas into which the “Hekhsher Tzedek” seeks to insinuate itself. Federal and state labor regulations cover wages, safety, animal welfare, employees’ rights, and much else. There are, moreover, secular laws covering areas that halacha may not explicitly address. In those cases, the principle of dina de’malchusa dina requires Jews to respect the temporal law, and its violation perforce constitutes a violation of halacha.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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