The Jewish community has been roiled by the continuing charges against kosher meat giant Agriprocessors. Kosher consumers are angry that practices which are supposed to bring credit to Jewish tradition are instead sullying its image. But Jews have been divided on how to respond.
The Conservative movement has proposed a new kind of certification, called a Hekhsher Tzedek. It would certify that a food company adheres to a specific set of standards — developed by those behind this initiative — in providing wages, working conditions and vacation time to its employees, among other things.
We certainly agree that working conditions and the like are Jewish concerns. This is consistent with the message of the great biblical prophets who underscored our responsibilities to the downtrodden and disadvantaged. Many tiers of responsibility in the workplace are firmly ensconced in Jewish law.
Nevertheless, we reject the Hekhsher Tzedek proposal. It is arbitrary, impractical and, ultimately, threatens to undermine the standing of Jewish law.
Kosher consumers are not upset that Agriprocessors has failed to catapult poor workers into middle-class comfort. They are troubled that the company may have broken the law. We agree with the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, the rabbinic supervisors of Agriprocessors, who refused to convict in the court of public opinion, but made it quite clear that if the allegations stand up to scrutiny in court, they will not be able to continue their association with those who violate legal norms. If push comes to shove, kosher consumers — who already pay a premium to observe the law — will put principle before convenience, even if it means curtailing their consumption of meat.
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