Ethical Kashrut

Bringing animal treatment, workers' conditions, and environmental issues to a kosher table.

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Organizations on the Ground in Israel and America

A number of Jewish groups are working to expand kashrut beyond the letter of the law.
Hazon, a Jewish non-profit inspired "to create a healthier and more sustainable Jewish community," has spearheaded efforts to promote issues such environmentalism, spiritual consumption, good animal treatment, and labor concerns. They also host conferences promoting thoughtful food consumption.

Hazon's community supported agriculture (CSA) groups (known as Tuv Haaretz) are receiving increased orders from Jewish community members who are interested in the eco-friendly consumption practices of local produce.

Jewish environmental groups such as Canfei Nesharim and COEJL, have argued for "eco-kashrut," a framing of the values of kashrut around the sustainability of our earth and body.

Another constituency is primarily concerned with the mistreatment of animals. Due to the poor conditions in many factories that mass-produce meat, some consumers support only the strictest vegan products. Others are content with vegetarianism.

A growing movement, however, wishes to continue to consume meat, but only if the animals are treated properly. Small procurers of meat, such as Kol Foods, who are committed to free-range animal living while maintaining their status of glatt kosher (strictest slaughtering standards), are slowly emerging as a force in the contemporary market.

A more recent fast-growing grassroots movement has emerged to secure the rights of the workers that produce and prepare kosher food. In 2004 B'Maagalei Tzedek, an Israeli non-governmental organization, launched the Tav Chevrati (the Social Seal) to ensure that workers in restaurants are treated according to the minimum standard required by Israeli law. They have certified more than 350 restaurants in Israel with their seal. About 250 of those restaurants are certified as kosher.

In the United States, a similar project was spearheaded by Uri L?Tzedek, an Orthodox Jewish social justice organization that I co-founded, which launched the Tav HaYosher (the Ethical Seal) in the spring of 2009. The seal aims to secure workers' rights to fair pay, fair time, and safe working conditions in kosher restaurants. A Conservative Movement initiative, Magen Tzedek is planning to certify kosher factories which have quality labor practices. Both organizations have argued that the laws of kashrut are not to be confused with Jewish ethics but that they can be intertwined in a significant way with our perception of our consumer responsibilities. In short, "ethical" does not redefine "kashrut." Rather it is complementary and distinct.

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Shmuly Yanklowitz

Shmuly Yanklowitz is a rabbinical student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, a Ph.D. student in moral psychology at Columbia University, a Wexner Graduate Fellow, and the Founder and Co-Director of Uri L'Tzedek.