Magen Tzedek, Ethical Kosher Seal, Stalled Amid Orthodox Opposition

Four Years After Launch, Little Visible Progress Made

Little Change: The raid on the Agriprocessors kosher meat plant spurred the launch of Magen Tzadek. But four years later, what is there to show for it?
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Little Change: The raid on the Agriprocessors kosher meat plant spurred the launch of Magen Tzadek. But four years later, what is there to show for it?

By Seth Berkman

Published May 20, 2013, issue of May 31, 2013.
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Robert Kaiser, a science teacher from New Hampshire with an interest in finding ethically produced kosher food, was excited when he learned of Magen Tzedek, a seal that would combine Jewish values and social justice in food production, spanning from the treatment of workers to environmental impact.

But almost four years after the Magen Tzedek Commission drafted its first standards, not one product bears the initiative’s seal. Kaiser recently voiced his complaints on the organization’s Facebook page, which displayed only two posts by the group since last May.

Morris Allen
Morris Allen

“Your arguments for ethical meat make a lot of sense; I agree with you,” he wrote. “Yet the four years of silence on the topic… speak volumes.”

Kaiser recently told the Forward, “When I look up what they do, I don’t see very much there. At the moment it’s a bit of a disappointment.”

Five years after the federal government’s largest ever immigration raid exposed rampant worker abuse at the country’s biggest kosher slaughterhouse, Magen Tzedek, which was meant to respond to the scandal, appears hardly more active today than Agriprocessors, the plant in Postville, Iowa, that the feds’ raid shut down. There is little evidence that the project has capitalized on the calls the scandal sparked for ethically created kosher food.

That is a far cry from what Morris Allen, Magen Tzedek’s program director, predicted in 2010. By the end of the year, he said then, 15 companies would be on board with his group’s seal. In an interview May 14, Allen told the Forward that his group is currently in talks with “three or four” companies.

Allen said he has learned not to make such bold predictions anymore.

“I don’t want to say any date, I’ve been burned too often,” he said.

But personal misjudgments by Allen — a Conservative rabbi with no prior food certification experience — are not the only reasons that Magen Tzedek remains a dream: There is also wariness toward the seal on the part of kosher meat producers. Some are concerned that they will lose the hekhsher, or traditional kosher seal, that they require from Orthodox certification agencies if they sign on with Magen Tzedek.

“In theory, what [Magen Tzedek is] doing is great,” said Naftali Hanau, founder and CEO of Grow and Behold, a producer of kosher pasture meat. Hanau stressed that his own enterprise shared many of Magen Tzedek’s principles. But he explained that his primary market is Orthodox consumers “who want the highest standard of kashrut, which is glatt kosher meat.” He added, “Many in the Orthodox world have reservations about them.”


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