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January 26, 2010

Orthodox Group Pushing Ethical Kosher Guidelines

RCA logo The guidelines include a list of legal offenses that should be considered significant wrongdoing, including misleading consumers; neglecting the health and safety of customers, employees or the public; and mistreatment of animals.

Orthodox Group Pushing Ethical Kosher Guidelines
Julie Wiener • Associate Editor New York Jewish Week

A few months after the Conservative movement unveiled a first draft of its “Magen Tzedek” standards for evaluating whether kosher food companies comply with Jewish ethical teachings, a centrist Orthodox group has issued its own “principles and ethical guidelines” for the kosher food industry. 

RCA logo While Sholom Rubashkin, the former manager of the Agriprocessors kosher slaughterhouse sits in jail awaiting sentencing on 86 counts of financial fraud (and several prominent Orthodox rabbis are pressing the Justice Department to free him until he is sentenced), the Rabbinical Council of America, which represents 1,000 centrist Orthodox rabbis, is unveiling new guidelines calling for kashrut agencies to adopt policies for withdrawing approval from companies engaged in “significant wrongdoing.”

The guidelines are endorsed by the Orthodox Union, the largest certifying agency of kosher food in North America, and endorsements from other major kashrut agencies are expected.

The meat and poultry produced at the Agriprocessors plant, which was charged with violations of immigration law, child labor law and financial fraud, retained its kosher supervision after a federal raid at the Iowa plant in May 2008.

However, the Orthodox social justice organization Uri L’Tzedek, sponsored a month-long boycott of the company’s products, and that September the Orthodox Union threatened to revoke supervision at Agriprocessors if new management was not put in place within two weeks.

Agriprocessors filed for bankruptcy two months later. Last summer, the company came under new ownership and is now called Agri Star. 

Developers of Magen Tzedek, a certification that will supplement, not replace, kosher certification wasted no time in claiming that the new RCA guidelines represented a “vote of confidence” in their project.

“We heartily salute the RCA for developing these guidelines which obviously come in response to recent serious abuses within the kosher food industry,” said Rabbi Morris Allen, founder and director of Magen Tzedek, in a statement issued shortly after the RCA guidelines were made public. 

“We are gratified to have the core principles of Magen Tzedek affirmed in their guidelines and feel supported in our effort by our counterpart organization in the Orthodox world,” he continued.

However, the goals and demands of the RCA guidelines — that companies comply with United States laws — are considerably more modest than those of Magen Tzedek, which sets standards that go far beyond the law on everything from environmental practices to employee wages to treatment of animals. 

In an interview with The Jewish Week, Rabbi Asher Meir, chair of the RCA task force that developed the guidelines, said his group’s guidelines make it clear to food producers that “if we know you’re engaged in despicable behavior we will refuse to have our name associated with you.”

The guidelines call for kosher certification agencies to develop “clear procedures” so that kashrut inspectors can report wrongdoing they encounter not related to kosher compliance and the development of “fair and equitable policies for following up on any problems detected.”

Asked what constitutes wrongdoing, Rabbi Meir, the research director for the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem, said, “Our guiding principle is law-abiding behavior.”

The guidelines include a list of legal offenses that should be considered significant wrongdoing, including misleading consumers; neglecting the health and safety of customers, employees or the public; and mistreatment of animals.

In contrast to Magen Tzedek, “we’re not setting up our own standards for animal suffering, worker safety or truth in advertising,” Rabbi Meir said. “We don’t have expertise in that or the ability to enforce, and the United States has extensive regulations.”

“What we saw at Agriprocessors was that the producers were not aware what the demands of the supervisors were,” regarding compliance with U.S. laws, he said. 

“Agriprocessors didn’t expect the response from the OU, and the OU didn’t expect the level of indignation from its constituents,” he said. 

The new guidelines do not require kashrut inspectors to report manufacturer misdeeds to the police or outside authorities.

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I applaud. The difference is, the RCA's version is supposed to make kosher consumers feel better about what they consume. The Conservative program is supposed to make consumers feel better about kashrut.

Scoff all you want, but it's quite possible that Magen Tzedek could appeal to a huge non-Jewish consumer base that already looks for things like organic and fair trade products. and be quite successful in that way.

And does anyone else get a smile at the fact that the "centrist" RCA is pushing leniency where the MT program is stricter? The irony is juicy. It couldn't be that the kosher establishment has an awful lot of skin in the game to get strict here.

i think my gas station is putting 89 octane in the 92 octane pumps.

Can we get pipet-weilding rabbi to test my
gas for my gas for me?

This is absurd.

Bill, do you drink gas???
If so I know an RCA rabbi who will paskin on the libation ... for a fee.

I am all for it as long as it does not raise the already high cost of kosher food. From my read the RCA guidelines make sense and should not impact the cost of hasgacha.

The RCA stuff can coexist with the MT. Those that are more observant of halachah will just insist on a MT on top of an OU.

We owe it to the kosher consumer:

We in the field of Kashrus have accepted a fiduciary responsibility on behalf of the kosher consumer. Therefore, we owe our fidelity to the kosher consumer to uphold and maintain that fiduciary responsibility.

Executives who face troubling decisions are often confused about how to arrive at the right, moral and ethical course of action. This is not surprising since by definition a “moral dilemma” is one where there is no clear right and wrong, only positives and negatives.

We should be guided in our moral reasoning by the insight that comes from respecting the moral rights of the kosher consumer; justice to colleagues and peers; consequences and outcomes; explaining and defending to others as well as to ourselves the decisions we make.

Have I searched for all alternatives? Are there other ways I could look at the situation? Have I listened and considered all points of view of my colleagues and peers, while still maintaining high ethical standards?

Even if there is sound rationality for this decision, and even if I could defend it publicly, does my inner sense tell me this is right? Will my colleagues, peers, and the educated kosher consumer agree with my rationality?

Does this decision agree with my religious beliefs and with my personal principles and sense of responsibility to the kosher consumer? Would I want others in kashrus to make the same decision and to take the same action if faced with the same circumstances?

What are my true motives for this action? Would this action infringe on the moral rights and dignity of others? Would this action involve deceiving others in any way? Would I feel this action was just (ethical or fair) if I were on the other side of the decision? Am I being unduly influenced by others who may not be as sensitive to these ethical standards?

How would I feel (or how will I feel) if (or when) this action becomes known to the educated

Kosher consumer? Would others feel that my action or decision is ethically and morally justifiable to the educated kosher consumer? Can I justify my action as directly beneficial to the kosher consumer and to kashrus in general?

We can stretch and expand our moral reasoning and ethical judgment, and sharpen our ethical sensitivity and moral awareness by thinking through particular dilemmas in light of the above. If we consider all the questions discussed above with real intent and pure motives, then we can be confident that we will come with G-D’s help, to sound and ethical decisions.

When we achieve clarity as to the issues of the dilemma, we are better prepared to make a decision that is both right and defensible. We must remember that our goal is to achieve an ethical course of action in all areas of kashrus, not to find a way to construct a rational argument in support of an unethical decision.

Our daily decisions do (at times indirectly) impact the kosher consumer. We live in a world where other concerns e.g. profits etc., often come into conflict with the concern for ethics and principles; and where society is demanding a higher standard of kashrus, and a higher ethic of social responsibility to the kosher consumer.

We must be willing and able to give the kosher consumer in fact, that which the kosher consumer believes he / she is getting in theory.

We owe it to ourselves…..we are all “kosher-consumers”.

Yudel Shain
Kosher Consumers Union


I use my car to drive my food around.

Great, once we are finally following some Torah laws about kashrut, could we now get an ethical / Torah guideline hechser for the treatment of gerim. And agunot. And fundraising. And business dealing.

We should have an ethical hechsher of rabbis. It would show that one was an "erlicher yid", not an evil chumra wielding moron to whom the phrase: a little knowledge is a dangerous thing applies.

Yora yora, yadin yadin, even yitaher bechorot yitaher are nothing without living a true torah lifestyle of v'ahavta l'raecha k'mocha (love your fellow as yourself).

The biggest phoneys are the modern orthodox for when it came to enlarging their riverdale institute they used NON UNION workers. The unions picketed and when the Jewsish week asked the head of hecsher tzedek why they are using non union, they responded that they make an exception to synagouges. So a multi million dollar institute can get away with non union workers and deny them health coverage but every mom and pop struggling eatery has to give health coverage to its workers. PHONEYS PHONEYS PHONEYS

The modern orthodox hecsher tzedek are a bunch of phoneys. When they enlarged their hebrew institute of riverdale they used non union workers.Unions picketed and when the Jewish week newspaper asked the head of hecsher tzedek, his reply was that he makes leeway for synagouges. Imagine a multi million dollar institute refuses to use union workers so they can save on providing health benefits but they want every mom and pop struggling eatery to pay health benefits to their workers. phoneys phoneys phoneys.

"Yora yora, yadin yadin, even yitaher bechorot yitaher "

surely you don't mean "yatir bechoros do you?"

Agrees with Chayim,

this is just a power grab on the part of the rabbi's.

these people have no training or qualifications in areas of law and nonreligious equity.

But if the rabbis take this seriously.... this could be a really really wonderful thing.

I'm tired of hearing people say that orthodox Jews think it's okay to scam the system and break secular laws as long as they keep halacha. We need to have the rabbis proclaim loudly and clearly that the laws of the land are important to us as Jews. This is a very good step in that direction.

Herb yes late night typo

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