Conservatives’ ‘Ethical’ Seal Nearing Kosher Marketplace


morris-allenThe Baltimore Jewish Times reports: “We will not put a hechsher on pork products.”

Counterintuitive as the need for that statement about kosher certification might sound, it was just one of the points about the Conservative movement’s planned ethical seal that the group responsible for the certification wanted to clarify at this week’s gathering of Conservative rabbis in New York.

The Hekhscher Tzedek Commission announced at this week’s Rabbinical Assembly convention that it had hired a social auditing firm to compile standards for what the seal will represent. The Magen Tzedek certification has been in development for three years following multiple scandals at the nation’s largest kosher meatpacking plant, Agriprocessors of Postville, Iowa.

Beta testing with two companies will be finished by the end of 2010.

“Over the course of the next year we will be in the marketplace,” promised Rabbi Morris Allen, the Hekhsher Tzedek project director and spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Jacob in Minnesota.

Joe Regenstein, an adviser to the Hekhscher Tzedek Commission and professor of food science at Cornell University, said the new certification will cover five areas: wages and benefits; health and safety of workers; animal welfare; environment and sustainability; and a broad category of corporate responsibilities, such as nutritional labeling and good practices.

At the convention panel at which the certification was discussed-“Moving Magen Tzedek Into the Marketplace: How the Conservative Movement is Seating Itself at the Kosher Table,” the co-chairman of the Hekhscher Tzedek Commission, Rabbi Michael Siegel of Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago, urged the dozens of rabbis in the room to make the commission’s projects known to their communities.

The commission wants each synagogue to appoint one socially aware and active member to work directly with the commission for a year.

Siegel also urged the audience to make sure that their synagogues and Jewish organizations are in compliance with the ethical standards espoused by the seal, such as using fair labor practices for workers and ensuring that outside contractors, like catering companies, adhere to the standards.

“We have to set the right example in our own synagogues. It’s a serious issue,” he said. “This will be our Achilles heel if we don’t address it.”

The commission hired Social Accountability Accreditation Services (SAAS) for help in coming up with the standards a food company must meet in order to be approved for the Magen Tzedek, or star of justice. The commission posted draft standards at the Magen Tzedek Web site for three months, inviting public comment, and now the standards are being finalized.

“We think that social justice in the marketplace is something that we can make happen,” said Eileen Kaufman, executive director of Social Accountability International, which accredits and monitors organizations as being in compliance with social standards. “What we do at SAAS is take creditable standards and put them in a structure that enables them to be carried out and used as criteria for purchasing. That proves as incentive for organizations to follow them.”

At first the label will be targeted toward U.S. kosher food product companies, Regenstein said, estimating the number at about 10,000. It will include only products that already have been certified as kosher, including non-food items like detergents and aluminum foil, as well as products that do not require kosher certification, such as fruit and vegetables.

Even though some companies might adhere to the social justice practices enumerated, if they are not kosher, they cannot get the seal.

“We are a Conservative Jewish organization. We will not put a hechsher on pork sausages. That’s just not who we are,” Regenstein said. The Magen Tzedek is “tied to Jewish ethics and to Jewish law. The companies have to meet a minimum of Jewish law.”

Regenstein prefers to call the accreditation the Magen Tzedek rather than use the term hechscher.

“The word hechsher means kosher certification, and this program is not kosher certification,” he said. “This is a social justice program attached to previously recognized kosher certification.”

Read more here.

{Balt. Jewish Times/Noam Newscenter}


  1. A social justice program is inherently flawed as it reflect the “certifying agency’s” mores – which can change with time, as society changes its own levels.

  2. We CHASIDIM will boycott every hechsher that carries this conservative certification. I hope the rest also does.

  3. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. The conservatives will have to engage in a strong marketing campaign to convince food producers that they need this heksher; or else their sales will be diminished. To do that they would have to promote the heksher as something the majority of kosher-buying consumers endorse, which is false. The kosher certification companies should do their own counter- marketing (in advance) by contacting their client food companies and explain why they should not be tricked into subscribing to this heksher. I kind of feel bad for the hapless non-Jewish food companies who try to cooperate with kosher standards, pay huge sums of money for their legitimate hekshers, and now will have to deal with someone telling them they need to pay for a new heksher if they want kosher business. What a scam.

  4. There is really a dearth of Torah learning in the conservative shuls. They should stop worrying so much about social justice and learn Torah.

  5. It seems that rabbi allen has his own agenda
    to get in the haskacha business. Maybe aGRI didn’t
    want to accept a hecksher
    from the conservative movement. These
    rabbis are very dangerous they bunch of
    mechalai shabbos under the guise of rabbi.
    Nowhere was it mentioned by rabbi the
    Hascaha was no good.

  6. It has taken years and is still “on the way”. How many people would actually pay attention to this hechsher tzedek? Not too many. I think the businessmen who run these companies will catch on fast. They are looking for one thing, increased sales and this new hechsher won’t increase sales measurably.

  7. “why are we even giving this Rah Be anai hashem the light of day”

    That’s just YOUR opinion.

    Who are YOU to dare to divine what HaShem may or may not think about Rabbi Allen?

  8. The anonymous #5 has told us:

    “There is really a dearth of Torah learning in the conservative shuls. They should stop worrying so much about social justice and learn Torah.”

    How does he know? Does he speak from personal experience – or is he just shooting from the moten?

  9. The United Synagouge, which is the conservative movements central body is in dire financial straits. They apparently saw that the OU supplements their income via kashrus and they decided to manufacture their own form of “kashrus” to certify.

    One wonders if they felt that they needed to cause the Rubashkin disaster in order to drum up some reason to even have the “heksher”, that all of this was to drum up funds.

    Is that “tzedek”?

  10. Isn’t conservative judiasm a fraud to the jewish religion.Why can’t we relye on the USDA for what they want to do.Isn’t it the goverment to pertect the consumer?Why does the consumer has to pay twice? let say they mess up can we go after them

  11. Most food plants (probably none) will allow them into their plant nor disclose the information they are seeking. They are spending huge amounts of money to pay these fancy consulting firms for their services and very likely nothing will come of it.

  12. I call on all frum yidden to boycott all products and hechsherim that will have this conservative farce symbol on their products. Hit them in their wallets .the traif eating shabbos driving conservative apikorsim are trying to teach us about kashrus.I find that very humerous.

  13. No. Social justice is not a Jewish matter only. It is the the one thing that explains the term that the “Jews shed light onto the world” which means that we are to influence the world at large. I’m sure that doesn’t refer to Ztizit and Tephillin. And thus tell this Heksher that, yes, they should put their seal on pork and shelled fish as well……Perhaps there won’t be any confusion then if the item is kosher according to Jewish law as pertaining to Jews

  14. to # 9 100021

    you asked? who am i to divine judgement to hashem
    answer.. a Mechallel shaboss is Chaiyev Missa B’dai Shomiyim
    I didn’t make those rules up…you’ll have to argue that point with Hakodosh Boruch Hu

    and please let me know when you finish arguing with Hakodosh Boruch Hu what he says

  15. Agree with 16, if this guy is conservative that means he ain’t doing the right things. How very sad that these ppl are considered Religious jews