Reading an article called Eco-Kosher Movement Aims To Heed Tradition, Conscience in the Washington Post earlier today led me to do some thinking about how several different food related issues tie together. The idea of eco-kashrut, like so many great recent innovations, dates back to the 1970s when Reb Zalman began thinking and talking about it. This was not long after he had moved away from Habad and was one of those targeted when Ramah purged several innovative thinkers who had been working there (I am always looking to learn more about this, if you know anything about it…). Zalman’s idea, as i understand it, was to consider ecological impacts, footprint minimizing, workers rights, tzar baalei hayim (animal rights), and related issues when considering which foods ought be eaten. It did not take long for the theory to gain traction in the Renewal world, though it didn’t move much beyond that for several decades.
Lately, as the WaPo article reiterated, a coalition has formed in the Conservative movement to look into the idea of eco-kashrut and the concept of a tzedek hecsher. Jewschool’s own Kung Fu Jew works with Hazon on their joint which deals with a lot of related issues and developments. As that conversation geared up, Y-Love dropped an argument in favor of the orthodox kashrut establishment getting their act together on worker justice and animal treatment issues:
An article on Eco-Kashrus (kosher certification requiring environmental concerns be implemented) was relegated to almost irrelevance in Kashrus magazine. Laws of bal tashchis, of “not destroying” the environment (“fruit trees” are referenced in the verse) are discussed in the Code of Jewish Law, right there in the second volume, not too far after laws of forbidden meat and dairy mixtures. Is there not even room for a debate of the validity of these holy laws when it comes to kosher certification?
And the workers. I have an extremely hard time understanding how blatant Choshen Mishpat (fourth volume of the Code of Jewish Law) violations are allowed to go on in light of numerous exhortations of the Sages in the Talmud (Bava Metzia) to treat workers well, pay wages on time, etc. Even calling someone an insulting word is forbidden by Choshen Mishpat 228.
While I share Y-Love’s anger at how blatantly the koshernostra has failed to take these issues seriously, i am excited to see the possibility of a competition to push these issues into the fore. If the Conservative yidden do launch some sort of tzedek hechsher it would certainly put a lot of pressure on the OU to prevent future Postvilles. Kol Ra’ash Gadol gave a fuller account of the Postville incident about 6 months ago, but in brief a kosher slaughterhouse was caught mistreating undocumented workers, threatening them with deportation, and heinously mistreating animals. Many of the facts were exposed by PETA in a video.
The tzedek hechsher would certify products as acceptable in six areas:
- fair wages and benefits
- health and safety
- corporate transparency
- animal welfare
- environmental impact
I bet I’m not the only person who finds the prospect of such a thing exciting. The details would be tough to work out precisely–is it permissible for a company union bust as long as it pays better than prevailing wages?–but the promise is really appealing. I have often been headed to a party, stopped to buy beer, and wondered which companies are worker and enviro friendly. Luckily now that some of the big unionized domestic producers (like Bud) have spread into beers which actually taste good, there are lots of options available but why should we have to do so much research. How many people would buy items with justice hechshers when they had the chance? Companies who do the right thing should be recognized for it and prosper. What’s more, this would be a great opportunity to partner with coop america and other orgs that have been doing green andorganic certification for years. This is the sort of initiative that could begin to win back young jews being pulled in lots of directions. Creating a serious ethical voice on these issues would be a huge step forward. Let’s hope that the progress over the next couple years is faster and broader than the progress through the last three decades.