Justice, Religion

Chew on this: Nathan Cummings funds Hechsher Tzedek initiative

Apropos of Kol Ra’ash Gadol’s recent post, here’s a little update on Rabbi Morris Allen and the exciting Heksher Tzedek initiative, which was prompted by Allen’s investigation of the Rubashkin’s plants. (Again, see Jewschool coverage of Heksher Tzedek here.)
The Nathan Cummings Foundation has just awarded Heksher Tzedek a major one-year grant, which means that the dream of having food justice in the Jewish community (and far beyond it) is that much closer to becoming a reality.
The horrible conditions in the Rubashkin plants in 2006 prompted Allen to try to do something about the seeming contradiction between kosher food and justice — a contradiction that shouldn’t exist, according to Allen. He writes on his blog,

We need to be in a world where we can say that keeping kosher is the way in which I demonstrate not only a concern for my relationship to God and Torah but the Jewish concern for our relationship to the world in which we live. That’s what I really want to get across to people.

Heksher Tzedek aims to award hekshers to companies that follow a (in-development) set of justice requirements about worker rights, safety, animal treatment, etc for food products. I had the pleasure of hearing from Rabbi Allen a few weeks ago at Hebrew College, and he is probably one of the most inspiring and brave rabbis working today, for taking on the massively powerful kashrut industry that really does have the power to ruin a person if they want to. He said,

Kosher food should be the kind of food that elevates a sense of kedushah, and when you discover that things are the very opposite of that, you have to respond. …Something is wrong when the smoothness of an animal’s lung is more important that the condition of the workers.

When Rabbi Allen was investigating, he spoke with a number of workers at the Rubashkin plants. One story was particularly moving. He sat down with a man who worked the line and asked him, “What is it like to work in a plant that produces our food?” The man was visibly startled at the question, and then touched.
“You know,” he said, “I have sat next to a rabbi [monitoring the line] for over ten years, and this is the first time any rabbi has asked me what it’s like for me to work here.”
These are the kind of efforts in the Jewish community that I want to be part of. From strength to strength, Heksher Tzedek.

8 thoughts on “Chew on this: Nathan Cummings funds Hechsher Tzedek initiative

  1. Oh yeah, and props to the Conservative Movement for taking this on and convening a committee (chaired by Rabbi Allen) to make it happen. I honestly feel like this could be a defining moment for a movement that is losing relevance and focus. This is exactly the kind of combination of tradition and modernity that movement people talk endlessly about but of which they can’t provide good, ground-breaking examples coming from their ranks. Until now.

  2. I was about to email the Jewschool board to remind us that the word is actually “hechsher” and not “heksher” (one of my minor pet peeves, along with saying “Ana b’Koach” instead of “Ana b’Choach), but then I went to the blog about the hechsher and it indeed turns out to be called “Heksher Tzedek.” Yipes.
    Much more substantially, though, hooray for the initiative no matter how incorrectly it’s spelled. I hope it succeeds, and I wish them luck navigating what are sure to be the nasty nasty politics ahead.

  3. I hear you RR, I wrote it all as “hechsher” and then had to go back and change it to conform with the blog and name of the initiative…

  4. I wish I could for once see a discussion of the “tzedek hechsher” which didn’t revolve around “Finally we can show those ____ people how nasty and heartless they all are! WOOHOO!!!!” Seriously, are the intentions behind this entirely negative?

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