Ethical Kashrut

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

Print this page Print this page

Self Development or Just Society?

To be sure, a large portion of the Jewish community is not asking these ethical questions. Rather their primary concerns when it comes to food purchases relate to health and finances. But a growing number of Jews, of all denominations and lifestyles, are gaining inspiration from the notion that kashrut can help create a society committed to justice.

Some ask why food, among a host of other options, should be at the center of this emerging discourse around ethics. Why not focus on sneakers made in sweatshops or the automotive industry? Proponents of ethical kashrut have argued that food must come first for a few reasons:

1.The Jewish community has already demonstrated immense success using money and power to build the kosher certification system. This infrastructure and model can just as easily be used for ethical certification and awareness.

2. As Jews, we have ownership and responsibility over the kashrut industry.

3. The laws of kashrut have a unique charge to pursue holiness.

Still, some authorities and communities have explicitly rejected ethical kashrut. For example, Rabbi Avi Shafran, spokesperson for Agudath Israel, believes that while the ethical treatment of animals and workers may be ideal, the lack thereof has absolutely no consequences for kashrut. Speaking metaphorically in response to this issue, Rabbi Shafran has said: "A great poet might opt to not shower, but that bad habit does not necessarily affect the quality of his writing." 

I personally believe that Jewish tradition demands more.

Rabbi Yisroel Salantar, the founder of the Mussar movement once said: "Another person's physical concerns are my spiritual concerns." The physical conditions of the workers that produce meat are at the center of Jewish spiritual and law. The choices of Jewish consumers regarding the treatment of workers, animals, and the earth, had and will continue to have a strong foothold in shaping our understanding of kashrut and holiness.  

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

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.