A woman at the hechsher tzedek workshop rises to comment to the group and to Vic Rosenthal of Jewish Community Action of St. Paul, Minn.,
where the movement began.
Kashrut with an emphasis on ethical standards offers another option.
Marcy J. Levinson
Jewish Renaissance Media
ou shall not abuse a needy and
destitute laborer, whether a fel-
low countryman or a stranger"
(Deuteronomy 24:14 15) is the basis for
hechsher tzedek, a new concept in kosher
food that is getting much attention in the
The concept was a hot topic at the inter-
national biennial of the United Synagogue
of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) in
Orlando from Nov. 29 to Dec. 3.
A joint effort between the Rabbinical
Assembly and United Synagogue, hech-
sher tzedek is a social action program,
according to the brochure, to "display a
seal on already designated kosher foods
that reflects production benchmarks
consistent with Jewish ethical standards,
including how companies treat their
Hechsher tzedek would supplement, not
replace, other kosher certifications, such
as that of the Orthodox Union (OU).
The project comes after several years of
bad publicity for kosher slaughterhouses,
raising doubts about the humane treat-
ment of the animals and workers and
undermining support outside Orthodox
ranks for living a kosher life.
In addition to passing a resolution
December 27 • 2007
endorsing the effort, the biennial included
a workshop to educate Conservative Jews
about the idea.
Presenting at the workshop were Rabbi
Morris Allen of St. Paul, Minn., who
launched the effort and is the project
director, and Richard Lederman, who is
the director of public policy and social
action for the USCJ.
Although the hechsher tzedek seal does
not yet appear on any kosher items, the
committee has established a policy state-
ment and working guidelines by which an
item can earn the seal.
Among the criteria are wages and ben-
efits, employee health and safety, employee
training, product development, corporate
transparency and integrity, and environ-
According to the draft policy state-
ment, "compliance will be assessed, as
applicable and wherever possible, at the
level of the facility where the product
was manufactured, although overall corn-
pany performance will also be taken into
Rabbi Allen said the campaign is mul-
tifaceted in that it will allow members of
the Jewish community who may not be
"connected" or affiliated to get involved
in a social justice project and help com-
munity members create relationships with
"Getting people connected in organizing
work within the synagogue keeps them
connected and gets them doing things
they'd never done before Rabbi Allen
He said campaign supporters will
reach out to business owners who may
consider adhering to the five benchmarks
of hechsher tzedek to help maintain ethi-
cal Jewish standards and possibly help
increase the sales of their products by
bearing the seal.
We want the average member of a
synagogue, regardless of affiliation, to own
this campaign:' Rabbi Allen said.
Vic Rosenthal, the executive director
of Jewish Community Action out of Saint
Paul, who is involved in the campaign,
said, "We are trying to change the way
According to the workshop presenters,
Here is a list of key messages about
• It is a seal to be placed on already
designated kosher products, reflect-
ing production benchmarks consistent
with Jewish ethical standards.
• The evaluation process is uniform,
objective and verifiable.
• Hechsher tzedek is not a replace-
ment for any kosher designation, but
an accompanying seal.
• Submitting to the hechsher tzedek
process is voluntary.
hechsher tzedek is not getting universal
support among Jewish denominations.
The OU believes in hechsher tzedek
but doesn't think we should be doing it,"
Rabbi Allen said. He said the Chabad-
Lubavitch movement has said it will with-
draw its hashgachah (certification) from
any product with hechsher tzedek. The
Lubavitch movement, however, does not
have a national or international kashrut
commission to give or take away hash-
Rabbi Allen said the Conservative
movement is not seeking to change kosher
standards, but to include a higher level of
Marcy J. Levinson writess for the JN's sister
newspaper, the Atlanta Jewish Times.
• Hechsher tzedek will demonstrate
that ritual and ethical commandments
have an equal place at Jewish tables
and that isolating one at the expense
of the other does a disservice to
Jewish tradition and the meaning of
According to the policy statement,
the hechsher tzedek movement
"began as a response to reports and
accounts of production cycle practic-
es in companies that produce kosher
food that were found to be contrary
to Jewish law and ethics."