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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Referring to the Orthodox Union, the country’s largest hekhsher agency, he said, “We can’t do anything without the approval of the O.U.” Hanau declined to elaborate on the record.

In fact, under the O.U.’s standard contract with producers whose meat it certifies, the meat producers are required to get the O.U.’s approval before signing on with any additional hekhsher agencies.

“You can’t have another symbol without checking with the O.U,” explained Menachem Genack, CEO of the O.U.’s kosher division.

But in an interview with the Forward, Genack said his agency’s stance toward Magen Tzedek remains the same as it was two years ago.“If there is a company that wants to use Magen Tzedek, we will not object to it appearing on the label,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “We also would not object to them putting ‘halal’ on their label. These are marketing decisions the company makes on its own.”

Since its inception, Magen Tzedek has faced criticism from the Orthodox world. Agudath Israel of America, an ultra-Orthodox umbrella organization, has deplored the group as an attempt “to redefine kashrut,” and called its seal “a falsification of the Jewish religious heritage.”

The group also faced complaints early on from the O.U. about its original name.

The Hekhsher Tzedek Commission, as it was initially called, was formed in 2006 by Conservative Jewish leaders in response to the mistreatment of workers at Agriprocessors. But in 2008, under pressure from the O.U., the group changed its name to Magen Tzedek. Genack told JTA at the time that if the “Hekhsher” portion of the name were retained — implying that the new group was handing out traditional kashrut approvals — “it would have been a problem.”

Allen said that he has not heard anything negative directly from the O.U. since then, nor has he been told by companies he’s met with that the O.U. has issued any directives to not negotiate with Magen Tzedek. “But not every kosher-food certifier company is as publicly supportive,” Allen said.

Allen said that another prospective client told him that his shokhet, or ritual slaughterer, would be pulled if he continued discussions with Magen Tzedek. Allen believed that K’Hal Adath Jeshurun, a New York-base hekhsher agency, provided the shokhet to this meat producer.

“If you’re a kosher meat producer, a shokhet is more important than Morris Allen,” he said.

Samson Bechhofer, president of KAJ, denied those claims. “I don’t think we’ve had any discussions about that with anybody,” he said. “Not to my knowledge.”


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