After Scandal, Slow Start for Ethical Certification

Magen Tzedek Yet to Put Stamp on Any Kosher Products

By Seth Berkman

Published October 03, 2012, issue of October 05, 2012.
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According to Uri L’Tzedek’s executive director, Rabbi Ari Weiss, its Tav HaYosher seal has gone up in 92 restaurants, markets and caterers across North America, and has received support from such leaders as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But establishments carrying the Tav HaYosher seal have not been immune to criticism. According to an article in The Jewish Week last June, restaurants in Los Angeles have been bullied and have received threats for carrying the seal from elements of the Orthodox community angry that Uri L’Tzedek joined in criticizing Agriprocessors and its popular owners, the Rubashkin family, after the revelations about the slaughterhouse’s labor and environmental practices emerged. In New York, the Forward reported that when Tav HaYosher launched in 2009, some Orthodox customers said the seal was offensive because it undermined traditional kosher authorities.

Allen acknowledged that Tav HaYosher has been successful. But unlike his group, he noted, Uri L’Tzedek does not verify the standards of those carrying its seal through use of an outside professional auditing firm. It instead uses trained volunteers to conduct compliance visits at its client restaurants.

“We have faith in our compliance efforts and partnership-building efforts, both from our staff and volunteers,” Weiss said.

Siegel said that resistance from Orthodox opponents, though expected, has been shocking and painful. “The response in some cases is so vociferous and really over the top, it does really take your breath away,” he said. In May 2011, Agudath Israel of America called Magen Tzedek a “falsification of the Jewish religious heritage” in an article published on the website Vos Iz Neias. One month later, the Orthodox newspaper Yated Ne’eman called Magen Tzedek the result of a “smear campaign waged against Agriprocessors,” and described its history as a “chilling tale driven by falsehood, deceit and injustice.”

Mary Zamore, a reform rabbi and author of “The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic,” published by CCAR press last year, praised Magen Tzedek for the discussion it has ignited within all sectors of the Jewish community.

“What they’re trying to achieve is a very pure, high level of ethical certification,” Zamore said. “I think what they have achieved in the meantime is remarkable. They have spurred conversation in the Jewish community, which is very important, 100% necessary.”

But for Siegel and Allen, the goal is not to spur dinner table discussion; they want to uphold values that they feel have diminished over the years.

“It’s not a business and not a way to elbow into the kashrut industry, but about an idea that we believe represents the best of Torah,” Siegel said.

Contact Seth Berkman at berkman@forward.com


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