Left-Wing Non-Torah Liberal Jewish Factions to Test New Magen Tzedek Kashrus “Ethics Seal” in Kosher Marketplace


magen-tzedekKaren Loew reports in the Forward: After more than a year of fine-tuning, the criteria for earning a Magen Tzedek, the “seal of justice” to be awarded to kosher food producers that meet a detailed set of ethical standards, are about to be tested by American food companies. The seal would be added to products that already merit a hekhsher, or symbol certifying that a food item is kosher, to show that the product not only meets Jewish dietary laws, but comports with Jewish moral values, as well.

Beginning in January, several producers of kosher food will attempt to follow guidelines for everyday business conduct in five principal categories: labor, animal welfare, consumer issues, corporate integrity and environmental impact. The draft standards for these guidelines fill 150 PowerPoint pages. The companies’ efforts will be audited by Social Accountability Accreditation Services – an experienced social responsibility auditor based in New York City – with results to be announced in March.

Testing the standards represents the closest step yet to demonstrating “that Jewish ethical concerns that are based on who we are as a people are just as certifiable as Jewish ritual concerns,” Rabbi Morris Allen, a Minnesota pulpit rabbi, told the Forward. Allen is the project director of the Conservative-backed Hekhsher Tzedek Commission, which was formed in early 2007.

“This is a serious religious undertaking to help restore a culture of kashrut in America. Kashrut itself suffered a black eye as a result of some of this,” said Allen, who hastened to note that many kosher food producers have always behaved ethically. Covering everything from employee access to binding arbitration, the nutritional value of the food produced and recycling resources within a factory, the standards represent “the most exhaustive and comprehensive undertaking in the kosher food marketplace ever attempted,” he added.

Allen said that the Hekhsher Tzedek Commission has signed agreements for testing with two companies and is closing in on a third. He would not name them, because the parties have signed confidentiality agreements that Allen said are aimed at promoting honest and robust testing of the standards. One of the companies is a kosher-specific producer, while the other two produce kosher food along with nonkosher products, he said. Allen called them “significant players in the food industry – and in the kosher food industry.”

Some major players in kashrut, however, aren’t as excited. Asked whether people in kosher circles are buzzing over either Magen Tzedek or the “Jewish Principles and Ethical Guidelines (“JPEG”) for the Kosher Food Industry,” released early this year by the Rabbinical Council of America, which represents Orthodox rabbis, some authorities said it’s quiet on the ethical-advancement front.

Rabbi Menachem Genack, rabbinic administrator of the Orthodox Union’s Kashrut Division, said, “I don’t hear them talking about either one.” Rabbi Sholem Fishbane, executive director of the Association of Kashrus Organizations, also said, “It’s been pretty quiet. I haven’t heard any movement at all on these things.”

Genack said, “I frankly would be surprised if this really took off.” It’s hard to pay for the additional infrastructure, and companies are mostly interested in the marketing aspect of certifications, Genack said – meeting federal safety regulations keeps them busy enough.

“I’m interested just to see how it works out,” he said. “I don’t know. I don’t have a clue.”

In addition to the RCA’s “JPEG,” the Orthodox social justice group Uri L’Tzedek now grants a Tav Ha-Yosher, or ethical seal, to kosher restaurants around the country that meet basic standards for fair treatment of workers.

Because that initiative focuses on the comsumption end, while Magen Tzedek examines production, Uri L’Tzedek’s director, Rabbi Ari Weiss, calls the efforts “complementary.” (Kosher restaurants comprise a relatively small market share, while more than 40% of all food manufactured in the United States bears a kosher certification.) “The more rabbinic organizations and rabbis and leaders in the community who are talking about the significance and importance of ethics in both the workplace and kosher production – I think that’s an amazing thing,” Weiss said.

The Hekhsher Tzedek Commission released its “Standards for the Magen Tzedek Service Mark” in September 2009 and invited the public to comment. Joe Regenstein, professor of food science at Cornell University and an official adviser to the effort, said he received input from about 10 people, activists on various sides of the issue, which helped him fine-tune the standards that the beta-testing companies will use this winter. Their experience likely will lead to further retooling in 2011, Regenstein said.

Magen Tzedek’s project manager, Rabbi Iris Richman, wrote in an e-mail that audits “will take place both on factory floors as well as within the offices of these companies, where records, logs, and documentation will be reviewed. These auditors need not be Jewish nor do they require knowledge of kashrut, because the applicant facilities will already be kosher-certified…. The facilities themselves that apply for certification pay for audits, and auditors travel to the sites themselves, where they review documents, inspect the facilities, and interview workers confidentially. The exact details of these visits are being finalized as we speak.”

Read the full story at The Forward.

{The Forward/Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. Another money grabbing scam. They will probably make a lot of money. Good for them for thinking of it and acting upon it. Unfortunately it’ll only cause tzores. I don’t think any “Heimishe” brand will both with this nareshkeit.

  2. We owe it to the kosher consumer

    We in the field of Kashrus have accepted a fiduciary responsibility on behalf of the kosher consumer. Therefore, we owe our fidelity to the kosher consumer to uphold and maintain that fiduciary responsibility.

    Executives who face troubling decisions are often confused about how to arrive at the right, moral and ethical course of action. This is not surprising since by definition a “moral dilemma” is one where there is no clear right and wrong, only positives and negatives.

    We should be guided in our moral reasoning by the insight that comes from respecting the moral rights of the kosher consumer; justice to colleagues and peers; consequences and outcomes; explaining and defending to others as well as to ourselves the decisions we make.

    Have I searched for all alternatives? Are there other ways I could look at the situation? Have I listened and considered all points of view of my colleagues and peers, while still maintaining high ethical standards?

    Even if there is sound rationality for this decision, and even if I could defend it publicly, does my inner sense tell me this is right? Will my colleagues, peers, and the educated kosher consumer agree with my rationality?

    Does this decision agree with my religious beliefs and with my personal principles and sense of responsibility to the kosher consumer? Would I want others in kashrus to make the same decision and to take the same action if faced with the same circumstances?

    What are my true motives for this action? Would this action infringe on the moral rights and dignity of others? Would this action involve deceiving others in any way? Would I feel this action was just (ethical or fair) if I were on the other side of the decision? Am I being unduly influenced by others who may not be as sensitive to these ethical standards?

    How would I feel (or how will I feel) if (or when) this action becomes known to the educated Kosher consumer? Would others feel that my action or decision is ethically and morally justifiable to the educated kosher consumer? Can I justify my action as directly beneficial to the kosher consumer and to kashrus in general?

    We can stretch and expand our moral reasoning and ethical judgment, and sharpen our ethical sensitivity and moral awareness by thinking through particular dilemmas in light of the above. If we consider all the questions discussed above with real intent and pure motives, then we can be confident that we will come with G-D’s help, to sound and ethical decisions.

    When we achieve clarity as to the issues of the dilemma, we are better prepared to make a decision that is both right and defensible. We must remember that our goal is to achieve an ethical course of action in all areas of kashrus, not to find a way to construct a rational argument in support of an unethical decision.

    Our daily decisions do (at times indirectly) impact the kosher consumer. We live in a world where other concerns e.g. profits etc., often come into conflict with the concern for ethics and principles; and where society is demanding a higher standard of kashrus, and a higher ethic of social responsibility to the kosher consumer.

    We must be willing and able to give the kosher consumer in fact, that which the kosher consumer believes he / she is getting in theory.

    We owe it to ourselves…..we are all “kosher-consumers”.

    Yehuda Shain, Pres.
    Kosher Consumers Union, Inc

  3. What these guys are really after is to have the ability to eat traif food. The Torah has a ‘Bal Toseif’ and a ‘Bal Tigro’. Of course its easy to understand the ‘Bal Tigroh’, what could be wrong with ‘adding’ Mitzvos? however Meforshim explain that by being a ‘Bal Tosaif’ you usually end up being a ‘Bal Tigroh’.

  4. The question that has still not been answered, if they are indeed sincere, then why this is specific to food and not socks that are made in Indonesia etc etc???

    We all know the answer…

  5. Once upon a time the movement’s adherents often kept some level of kosher in the home but outside they were “free” to eat as they wished . With such an Orwellian mind can this new “hechsher” have the same applicability? Meaning only for food in their homes, but outside of their homes they can eat food w/o such a “hechsher”?

  6. All I had to do was read the quote by “rabbi” Iris to know that this most definitely wont be something I support.

    “that Jewish ethical concerns that are based on who we are as a people”

    Who decides these ethical concerns? A bunch of conservative “rabbis” who see no problem with their congregants being mechullel shabbos and kashrus and intermarrying? The “rabbis” who have no ethical qualms with abortions, euthanasia, and toeivah marriages but Chas v’shalom a cow is slaughtered upside down instead of right side up?

  7. If the frum community is decidedly against this program, they should “vote with their feet” and not buy products that carry the seal say why. The market will then make its determination.

  8. I am totally against this program because it not only comes from narishkeit from conservative clergymen who are mechallel Shabbos and way to the left MO rabbis but also because Uri L’tzedek and Mr. Morris are partly to blame for the fall of Agri and the false indictment of R. Shalom Rubashkin. I personally will not buy products with this “ethics seal”. Shame on any MO rabbi who supports this narishkeit.

  9. Excuse me this has nothing to do with kashrus or food for that matter. It’s a “union” label.
    The Unions were good in their times, now they are breaking the economy big time.
    This tzedek Org, should start with all of the third world countries that produce for the USA.

  10. I for one will in no way support this treifedick “hechsher” and will NOT buy ANY product that bears it, even if that means changing brands. I will also write to any company that does carry this seal and tell them WHY I have stopped purchasing their product(s)

  11. Since there is no such thing as Conservative “Judaism,” and since its non-“Rabbi” is the clergyperson of a different religion than Judaism,

    its “Magen Tzedek” is not a valid Hechsher.

    End of story.

  12. All this is is an attempt by the conservative & reform religion to get credibility and recognition. This has nothing to do with Yiddishkeit & should be totally rejected by the Kosher consumer.Let them give a hechsher on toilet paper because that’s what their ordination qualifies them for!