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“A new ethical seal joins traditional kosher symbols: Will it fly?” Chicago Jewish Star, February 24, 2012

A new ethical seal joins traditional kosher symbols: Will it fly?
Chicago Jewish Star
February 24, 2012 – March 15, 2012

Chicago Jewish Star LogoIS KOSHER SLAUGHTER “HUMANE? Do KOSHER SLAUGHTER “HUMANE? Do the I kosher dietary laws promote good kosher dietary laws promote good health? Was pork forbidden because pigs were thought to be unclean? Is the separation of milk and meat based on kindness to animals? Is it a matter of hygiene? Or is kashrut observed because it is Jewish law, and all else is, at best, tangential?

Now a different question has been raised – Should kashrut and Jewish ethical values be aligned? – and answered in the affirmative with a new food certification program.

The certification, called Magen Tzedek, which will ensure consumers a product meets not only kosher standards but also ethical ones, became operational this month. The agency, an Illinois non-profit was originally established by leaders of Judaisms Conservative movement, but is now independent of any denomination.

Its board of directors is co-chaired by Rabbi Michael Siegel, Senior Rabbi of Chicago’s Anshe Emet Synagogue.

Magen Tzedek is intended to be an additional seal of approval rather than a substitution for certification by a kashrut agency. Their new standards will certify food products in areas such as labor practices, environmental issues, treatment of animals and corporate practices.

GIVEN TODAY’S KOSHER LANDSCAPE, the notion that there should be an ethical certification, reflecting concerns about workplace conditions and environmental impact to complement traditional kosher certification, is not so far-fetched.

After all, the practical observance of kashrut has evolved over the years.

To cite one example: At one time, the designation “glatt kosher” referred only to a small portion of the kosher beef sold, available for those who observed the additional stringency and paid the additional cost. Today, in Chicago-area kosher markets, the only beef available is glatt. It has thus moved from a stringency practiced by the few to a mainstream requirement practiced (per force) by all.

To cite another example: The concern about pesticides, hormones and social responsibility has also had an impact on how some kosher consumers shop.

Citing changing consumer preferences, Empire Kosher, the world’s largest producer of kosher chicken and turkey, now offers organic kosher chickens. The company itself promotes its adherence to many of the same values as Magen Tzedek.

There is also a Green-K certification (for products that are both kosher and organic or natural), issued by the Kosher Organice Council, an organization founded around the same time as Magen Tzedek.

That beeng said, there are some hard questions to face.

Who is the target authence for the Magen Tzedek certification? Is it the traditional Jew (who already keeps kosher and appreciates this extra ethical layer of supervision)? Or is it the Jew who will decide to keep kosher because of the Magen Tzedek certification?

The an wer is probably both. Which in turn leads to more questions.

Those who are committed to the observance of kashrut will not abandon the practice – mandated by the Torah – with or without a Magen Tzedek ethical certification. But will those whose starting point is ethics be just as devoted to the kashrut part of the equation?

And more: A food manufacturer will need to pay for this certification (as it does for its koeher certification), and will likely look to pass the cost on to the consumer. Will the added supervision mean an added cost that kosher consumers will be willing to pay? And can the food company be convinced that it will be to its benefit to undergo another process and add another label to its products, which may also entail changing some of its practices or suppliers?

How will the standards be monitored? Will supervisors regularly visit and check facilities, as kosher supervisors do?

The most emportant question, in our view, is how (if at all) Magen Tzedek will be promoted among Jews. Hopefully, it will draw more to the observance of kashrut.

That, surely, is at least one purpose of Magen Tzedek, isn’t it?