Friday, November 2, 2007

International KOACH Shabbat

Hechsher Tzedek: Kashrut for the Next Generation

November 2-3, 2007

College students at nearly 50 campuses across the continent will be gathering this weekend for the Fifth Annual KOACH Shabbat. For the past four years Conservative students throughout North America have marked International KOACH Shabbat with a weekend of study and celebration. In 2006 nearly 4000 students on 82 campuses joined together to participate in Shabbat services, schmooze with friends and learn together.

Hechsher Tzedek: The Sanctity of the Food We Eat At Koach Shabbat 5768/2007

Welcome to KOACH Shabbat!

Hechsher Tzedek is an exciting new initiative being undertaken by the Conservative Movement. The text materials we have prepared take a two-pronged approach.


The sanctity of the food we eat starts not with Hechsher Tzedek, but with that which our tradition teaches regarding what foods are fit and unfit for consumption.

The following texts trace the laws of kashrut in their Biblical sources. In addition to learning about the origins of our dietary laws, this is an opportunity to explore how a framework for eating informs the holiness of our lives in a general way and elevates the meeting of a basic need to a sacred act. The ways in which kashrut serves both to elevate and unify the community are also part of the fabric of this discussion.

Genesis 1:29
God said, "See I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; they shall be yours for food.
Leviticus 11:2-3
These are the creatures that you may eat from among all the land animals: any animal that has true hoofs, with clefts through the hoofs, and that chews the cud - such you may eat.
Deuteronomy 12:15-16
But whenever you desire, you may slaughter and eat meat in any of your settlements, according to the blessing that the Lord your God has given you....But you must not partake of the blood; you shall pour it out on the ground like water.
Exodus 23:19
You shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk.

Harold Kushner: To Life! A Celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking
There is nothing intrinsically wicked about eating pork or lobster, and there is nothing intrinsically moral about eating cheese or chicken instead. But what the Jewish way of life does by imposing rules on our eating, sleeping, and working habits is to take the most common and mundane activities and invest them with deeper meaning, turning every one of them into an occasion for obeying (or disobeying) God.

If a gentile walks into a fast-food establishment and orders a cheeseburger, he is just having lunch. But if a Jew does the same thing, he is making a theological statement. He is declaring that he does not accept the rules of the Jewish dietary system as binding upon him. But heeded or violated, the rules lift the act of having lunch out of the ordinary and make it a religious matter. If you can do that to the process of eating, you have done something important.

Ethical Practice:

Having established what Jewish tradition says about which foods and combinations of foods are permitted to eat, we can now look at a further level of elevating the practice of eating. Grounded in the biblical texts regarding the treatment of workers, we take this discussion further into the rabbinic tradition to gain an understanding of what constitutes the proper work environment. It is critical to note that the absence of appropriate working conditions does not render food unkosher, but that ensuring that the work environment is suitable adds yet more sanctity to the otherwise mundane act of eating. These texts reinforce what qualifies as the Jewish notion of ethical practices in the workplace.

Deuteronomy 24:14-15
Do not oppress the hired laborer who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your people or one of the sojourners in your land within your gates. Give him his wages in the daytime, and do not let the sun set on them, for he is poor, and his life depends on them, lest he cry out to God about you, for this will be counted as a sin for you.
Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metzia 12a:
"His life depends on them." (Deuteronomy 24:15). Why does he climb a ladder or hang from a tree or risk death? Is it not for his wages? Another interpretation--"'His life depends on them' indicates that anyone who denies a hired laborer his wages, it is as though he takes his life from him."
Mishnah, Bava Metzia 7:1
One who hires workers and instructs them to begin work early and to stay late - in a place in which it is not the custom to begin work early and to stay late, the employer may not force them to do so. In a place in which it is the custom to feed the workers, he must do so. In a place in which it is the custom to distribute sweets, he must do so. Everything goes according to the custom of the land.

There was an incident concerning Rabbi Yochanan ben Matya, who told his son, "Go, hire us workers." His son went and promised them food [without specifying what kind, or how much]. When he returned, his father said to him, "My son! Even if you gave them a feast like that of King Solomon, you would not have fulfilled your obligation toward them, for they are the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. However, as they have not yet begun to work, go back and say to them that their employment is conditional on their not demanding more than bread and vegetables." Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said, "It is not necessary to make such a stipulation. Everything goes according to the custom of the place."
Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metzia 83a:
We need [this example in the Mishnah specifying that local custom undermines an employer's stipulation that workers begin early and stay late] for the case in which the employer raises the workers' wages. In the case in which he says to them, "I raised your wages in order that you would begin work early and stay late," they may reply, "You raised our wages in order that we would do better work."

Saul Berman: from Labor on the Bima, A Publication of the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice
The rabbis are here teaching us a profound lesson. The most demeaning form of oppression of a laborer is to assign to him meaningless work. The most ruthless form of abuse of a laborer is to have him engage in an activity which serves no productive purpose and, therefore, prevents him from having any pride in his achievement.

The measure of proper treatment of labor is not simply the physical rigors to which the employee is exposed. The employer has a responsibility to preserve the dignity of the employee through assuring that he or she can achieve a sense of meaning in the labor which she performs.

Hechsher Tzedek:

Next is a statement from the Hechsher Tzedek Commission which sets forth the goals of the Commission and the ideals of the initiative. Note that no meat processing facility has yet to earn this endorsement. Work has begun with Empire Poultry and Agriprocessors; each of these companies has welcomed the Commission into their work environments and given them access to their employees.

The Hechscher Tzedek Campaign is an initiative of the Conservative Movement of Judaism to improve the working conditions, treatment of employees, environmental standards,and business practices in kosher food-producing businesses.

By definition, kosher food is in line with Jewish dietary ritual laws. This campaign will bring kosher food in line with Jewish ethical law and social justice values.

The Justice Seal

The Conservative Movement, in consultation with industry experts, will create a set of standards that will most likely focus on:
1) Health & Safety
2) Wages & Benefits
3) Training
4) Environmental Impact
5) Corporate Transparency
6) Product Development.

Businesses that adhere to these standards will receive some type of “seal”, indicating that the food was produced in just conditions.

The Hechsher Tzedek will not replace existing kosher certification – it will be used in addition to traditional kosher certification. Only food already certified as kosher will be eligible to receive a Hechsher Tzedek.

Pursuing Justice

As Jews, we are in a unique position to advocate for improved working conditions, environmental standards and business practices in kosher food-producing businesses.

We are the consumers of kosher foods. We are in a great position to help kosher food producers meet the desires of their customers, become more just in their practices, and have their products be more attractive. Also, when consumers come together and ask businesses to make change, oftentimes businesses listen.

Our tradition teaches us to pursue justice, and to repair the world.

Many Jews view keeping kosher as a means of sanctifying our world. Hechscher Tzedek is an extension of this value and a concrete way of practicing it.

Additional Resources:

On Kashrut

Abramson, Rabbi Robert, ed., Kosher: Sanctifying the Ordinary, USCJ Department of Education(CD-ROM).

Dresner, Rabbi Samuel, Keeping Kosher: A Diet for the Soul, Rabbinical Assembly and USCJ Commission on Education, 1982.

Klein, Rabbi Isaac, A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, KTAV Publishing House, 1979.

Lebeau, Rabbi James, The Jewish Dietary Laws: Sanctify Life, USCJ Youth Department, 1983.

Stern, Lise, How to Keep Kosher: A Comprehensive Guide to the Jewish Dietary Laws, William Morrow, 2004.

My Jewish Learning

On Hechsher Tzedek

Rabbi Morris Allen
Rabbis Move Ahead With New Certification Plan
New York Times
Report of Commission of Inquiry

--Rabbi Elyse Winick