Rabbi Morris Allen, the Conservative rabbi at the helm of the new Hechsher Tzedek initiative – also called ethical kosher – and Devora Kimelman-Block, founder of KOL Foods, a DC-area supplier of kosher, organic and locally produced foods, including beef, were on a DC public radio show today.
What did they say?
Nothing much new, except for one thing.
Rabbi Allen said the reason the Conservative Movement did not take strong public steps against Agriprocessors (the Rubashkin family) in 2006 after the Forward's exposé was published (and the Conservative Movement did its own investigation), was not because the Rubashkins were found to be treating their workers ethically.
So why the relative silence?
The investigating committee of Conservative rabbis did not want to add to the hillul Hashem.
Exposing the Rubashkins was out of the question – even if exposing them would have saved a worker's hand or prevented her rape, even if it would have led to truly humane kosher slaughter or ended unfair and illegal business practices that damaged other kosher meat providers.
So what the Conservative rabbis got instead was a far greater hillul Hashem 1 1/2 years later – the largest single immigration enforcement raid in US history, and all its related charges of child labor, abuse, extortion and fraud.
The Hechsher Tzedek is a good and necessary thing, and Rabbi Allen is good man.
But the fact remains that when it was necessary to lead, Conservative rabbis blinked.
What distinguishes them from Orthodoxy is that, for a brief moment in time, the Conservative Movement actually tried to make a difference. Orthodoxy did not. (In the infamous words of the CEO of OU Kosher, Rabbi Menachem Genack, it is the government's job to deal with these issues – we rely on the government.)
The Hechsher Tzedek might – finally – be up and running this fall. Or it might not. But as I wrote more than a year ago, it really won't matter.
Because the Conservative Movement runs by committee. Every decision they make takes months, even years.
On the other hand, Orthodoxy is largely autocratic. It will launch a copycat version of Hechsher Tzedek before the Conservative Movement can launch the original.
What Orthodoxy does will pale in comparison to what the Conservative Movement would have done. But, because of the politics of the kosher business – and because it will be launched first – the Orthodox brand will quickly win out.
And Conservative rabbis will have no one to blame but themselves.