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December 25, 2008 - Image 69

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2008-12-25

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

More Approval

Orthodox groups to offer ethical seals for businesses.

Sue Fishkoff

Jewish Telegraphic Agency

N

San Francisco

of to be outdone by their

Conservative colleagues,
Orthodox groups on both coasts
will soon be vetting the ethical standards
of businesses serving the Jewish commu-
nities.
In New York, Uri L'Tzedek, a social jus-
tice group founded last year by rabbinical
students at the liberal Orthodox Yeshivat
Chovevei Torah, is set to launch its Tav
HaYosher, or ethical seal. The seal will be
awarded to kosher restaurants in New York
City that treat their workers fairly.
Yosher is a Hebrew word meaning hon-
esty or straightness.
On the other side of the country, in Los
Angeles, three Orthodox rabbis are putting
the final touches on Peulat Sachir, or the
Ethical Labor Initiative. The term comes
from a verse in Leviticus 19 demanding
that workers be paid the same day they
complete their work.
Like the Tav HaYosher, the Los Angeles
program involves a seal certifying that an
establishment is treating its workers fairly
and humanely. Unlike the New York initia-
tive, the West Coast operation will offer its
seal not just to kosher restaurants but any
local business serving the Jewish com-
munity, including synagogues, bookstores,
even attorneys' and physicians' offices.
Both initiatives emerged in response
to mounting scandals at Agriprocessors,
formerly the nation's largest kosher meat-
packing plant that has virtually closed
down under a slew of financial difficulties
and alleged labor law violations.

Strict Commitment
Founders of the initiatives declare that
as Orthodox Jews, they feel compelled to
respond to a situation that cast aspersions
on their communal values. "As Orthodox
Jews, we have a very strict commitment to
the laws of kashrut," said Chovevei Torah
student Shmuly Yanklowitz, the co-direc-
tor of Uri L'Tzedek. "We see them as sepa-
rate from but equally as important as how
much you pay somebody"
The New York and Los Angeles efforts
are modeled closely after the Tav Chevrati,
or social seal, a similar initiative run

by the four-year-old Israeli nonprofit
Bema'aglei Tzedek, or Circles of Justice.
The Bema'aglei Tzedek seal is granted free
to restaurants that are seen as respect-
ing workers' rights and being accessible
to those with disabilities. More than 300
restaurants in Israel, including 130 in
Jerusalem, display the seal in their win-
dows.
The Agriprocessors scandals engen-
dered widespread public discussion this
summer and fall within the American
Jewish community about the ethics of
kosher food production. The latest was a
Dec. 9 forum at Yeshiva University on the
ethics of kashrut, where for the first time
the heads of three major Orthodox groups
debated the role of ethics in kosher certi-
fication.
Some in the wider community argue
that social justice and kashrut are impor-
tant but separate concerns. Others hold
that they are inextricably entwined, that
kosher food produced in an unethical
manner is not "fit to eat; one translation
of the Hebrew word "kosher."
The Conservative movement's response
to the issue was the Hekhsher Tzedek, or
Social Justice Seal, based on the opinion
that the two spheres cannot be separated.
The seal, which has been endorsed by the
Reform move-
ment, will be
awarded to kosher
food manufactur-
ers that meet a
broad range of
ethical standards
regarding treat-
ment of workers,
environmental
concerns, health and safety, and financial
transparency.
The details of the seal are still being
worked out, with a launch date expected
next year. It will be awarded only to food
products already certified as kosher.
While much of the Orthodox commu-
nity has criticized the Hekhsher Tzedek as
unwieldy at best and, at worst, an attack
on the Orthodox-controlled kosher certifi-
cation system, the founders of the two new
Orthodox seals believe that as Orthodox
Jews, they bear a special responsibility
for the actions of businesses that cater to
their community.
The May 12 immigration raid at the

Uri L'Tzedek leaders Ari Hart, Shmuly Yanklowitz and Ari Weiss.

Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa,
moved them to take concrete action, first
by calling for a boycott of Agriprocessors
products, then by developing the Tav
HaYosher.
The Tav
HaYosher seal
will be given free
to kosher restau-
rants in New York
City that guar-
antee three basic
rights to their
workers: fair pay;
regular time off
and a safe and healthy work environment.
Restaurants that opt into the system will
be vetted by a team of volunteers and then
display a certificate showing their adher-
ence to these standards.
Uri L'Tzedek held its first volunteer
training in early December and has qui-
etly collected a handful of Manhattan
restaurants interested in the project. The
group expects to award its first seals in
late January.
The Los Angeles intiative is not as far
along as Uri L'Tzedek's project. Rabbi
Daniel Korobkin, the spiritual leader of
Kehillat Yavneh in the city's Hancock Park
neighborhood, says he and the two others

The heads of three major
Orthodox groups debated
the role of ethics in kosher
certification.

behind the Peulat Sachir — Rabbi Elazar
Muskin of Young Israel of Century City
and Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B'nai David-
Judea Congregation — conceive of it as a
covenant that a business owner will sign,
pledging to treat his or her workers fairly.
The group is still working out the
details with its attorneys, but Korobkin
says the standards will be commensurate
with California labor law: minimum wage,
overtime, rest and meal breaks, workers
compensation, fair leave policies and anti-
discrimination protection.
"If a synagogue has a janitorial staff, for
instance, we want to make sure that staff
is being treated weir he said.
Like the New York Orthodox initiative,
the L.A. seal is not meant to be punitive.
"We want it to be educational, to empower
the employer and employee who might
not know their rights and obligations:'
Korobkin said.
But it also goes beyond the volun-
tary ethical guidelines proposed by the
Rabbinical Council of America for Jewish
businesses, he says. Businesses carrying
the seal in their window will be reviewed
periodically, and owners will be expected
to attend regular training sessions.
Korobkin says the first Peulat Sachir seals
should go up in a couple of months. ❑

December 25 • 2008

B31

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