Tuesday, 27 November 2007

How Kosher Was Your Turkey?

D's note: originally published 11/27/07, 12:13 AM, Eastern Daylight Time. Note: Link is obsolete.
How Kosher Was Your Turkey?
Some Jews Demand Better Treatment for Birds
By JULIE WIENERwsj November 23, 2007; Page W11
Yesterday, 24 New York City households served turkeys that were not only free-range, organic and raised on a nearby family farm -- but also 100% kosher. For that, their guests can give thanks to Simon Feil, a 31-year-old actor who has devoted the past 1½ years to starting Kosher Conscience, a "kosher ethical meat co-op." The co-op, which 90 people have expressed interest in joining when it begins regular poultry and beef deliveries in a few months, will offer kosher meat that has been treated humanely "at every stage," he says.
Judaism's taboos on pork and shellfish, as well as the requirement to separate meat and dairy products, are well known even among gentiles. Yet for many contemporary American Jews the taboos can feel arbitrary, cumbersome and devoid of meaning (only 17% say they keep kosher homes). At the same time, some Jews who do find spiritual meaning in the dietary laws have become frustrated that kosher food production does not always reflect their values.
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Sontaran said...

Orthodox organizations regularly make giving a hechsher to a food manufacturer contingent upon keeping shabbat or toivling their utensils or keeping mitzvoth that are unrelated to kashruth. Some have withdrawn hechshers from coffee shops because they are allow mixed seating.
Aguda claims to be defending the definition of kashruth, by arguing against mixing in any other values. But their own practices do exactly this, in the provision and withholding of hechshers.
By contrast, the Conservative "Hechsher Tedek" does not claim to be a certification of kashruth, but rather a certification of conformance to values outside of kashruth, and thus is very clearly not conflating other values with kashruth, unlike many Orthodox hechshers that do.

Now, I happen to think that anyone who owns an Orthodox hechsher should be free to give or withhold their hechsher, based on a mix of other values, as determined via the branch of halachic tradition they hold by.

But the problem here is that Aguda is being disingenuous. If they really wanted to keep the definition of kashruth "pure", they would lobby Orthodox kashruth organizations to stop making the offering of hechshers contingent on anything outside of kashruth.
But that is never going to happen.
Therefore, Aguda's stance has nothing to do with protecting the definition of kashruth. Rather, it's all about something else.

Hechsher Tzedek is ultimately an embarassment to Orthodox kashruth organizations since they have ignored animal abuse for so long.
The emergence of Hechsher Tzedek will inevitably bring people to ask: "why are the Orthodox certifying abused animals as kosher?" It is precisely this question that Aguda wants suppressed and they have chosen this rather self-conflicting way of achieving this.

Furthermore, the emergence of this could also put a non-Orthodox branch of Judaism in a position of power in terms of relations with the food industry -- a type of power that has mostly been the purview of Orthodox certification.

It seems to me that Aguda is basically protecting their status and power by confusing the public.

Shmuely said...

Sontaran's comments deeply offend me. "Treif" has a very precise definition too, and does not include non-life-threatening forms of animal abuse.
An animal can be severely beaten, starved, pumped with chemicals, and manifest a plethora of diseases as long as it's likely to survive its injuries for more than a year -- and still be kosher.
We should be able to beat the crap out of any farm animal we like, pump it full of synthetic hormones to make it more meaty, force it to stand for months knee-deep in its own feces, and still sell it as kosher as long as it's been schechted properly. After all, it is kosher and that's what matters in the end.

This is the nature of Kosher meat. It's our minhag to allow the animals to be kicked around and generally treated like crap. And an established minhag is like a mitzvah. Therefore, It's a mitzvah to kick the crap out of the animals we eat. They exist for our purpose, to feed us, and have no intrinsic value other than for humans to use them as we see fit. We humans have been given dominion over all the animals by Hashem, and so we have the right to use them as we see fit.

Who cares if you kick the crap out of them in the process? Jews can't be bleeding hearts, worring about every animal life. Animals are not living beings, not in any important way: they are a commodity in a market having many billions of cows and chickens for sale at any given moment. When you get your beef or chicken, it bears little resemblance to anything real: it's just a nondescript raw slab on a styrofoam tray covered in plastic wrap, amidst hundreds of other similar trays -- all with hechsher labels stuck on.

You, the buyer, don't know and you don't care how that styrofoam tray got to the store shelf. You just want it for dinner and that's as it should be. What does it matter what happened prior to that? You got your meat and you're happy. Don't worry about it.

It's just a slice of cow. Eat it.

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

Let me first say that I also do not have a problem with extending the scope of cerification. I often think that it may be a good idea if cetification agencies included some rules of manners in some stores under certification.

Having said this, though, it is still important that distinctions be made and maintained about the specific rules of food kashrut and other laws. It is when these two realms intersect in a way that ultimately confuses the nature of the law that is the essential problem. I have no problem with a sind that states that a certain product was produced in humane environments for animals -- such as is done in the cosmetics industry -- but I do have a problem if this concept is linked to technical laws of kashrut. The result is only confusion and a misunderstanding of the law. Food kashrut, in its limited technical sense, has ultmiately nothing to do with humaneness to animals eventhough many people give meaning to the these laws in this manner. (This actually is a source of extended discussion amongst the commentators). The extension of the scope of supervision should still maintain the true nature of the law in its specfic sense. This is not to say that a consumer should not recognize that a piece of meat actually did come from a live animal. It may be proper to instruct people about how we should connect with the animal kingdom (given the fact that this may also be a matter o halachic debate). But let's recognize that this is not an issue of food kashrut in its technical sense.

Another point that needs to be mentioned is in regard to sontaran's position that other laws have already crept into the province of hashgacha. The fact is that this is true. Some hashgacha agencies will not give hashgacha to Pesach resorts that have mixed swimming; a restaurant that had belly dancing was Forced to stop that form of entertainment. Different hashgachas, though, have different standards in this regard. Some, though, are very stringent that they only deal with food hashgacha and thus will not enter into any other halachic realm. I am not sure i I agree with that -- and if I ran a hashgacha agency I may demand observance of other mitzvot as well to get my "seal of approval' - but that really is up to the persone giving the hashgacha. An important point, though. Other laws do enter the realm of food hashgacha. Ontaran's first examples are on point. Whether the owner of an establishment is shomer shabbat and whether dishes are toiveled can technically affect the kashrut of any place. Observance of other laws do enter the realm of technical food kashrut through the workings of the system. As such, it is also important to recognize when a hashgacha agency, in considering other laws, is still actually only concerned about kashrut in its speciic technical sense or whether it is showing concern for other laws,

Finally, as to the invovlement of the Conservative movement in this field. No doubt there will be some negative backlash by certain segments of the Orthodox world. My concern, though, is only the potential confusion. As long as Jews abide by the myth that Judaism is monolithic -- and the various branches speak in a language that maintains that myth -- any involvement in kashrut or any type of halachic supervision is potentially misleading. Let's call a spade a spade. Let's not superimpose deinitions upon each other. If a Conservative hashgacha wants to give a hechsher to swordfish following the Conservative view on this law, let it do so -- but with honesty that it is deining kosher pursuant to Conservative standards. If another organization wants to define kosher based on the humane treatment of animals, again let it do so -- but let it also be very clear that this is not the traditional understanding of the word. All I am calling for is honesty, by everyone, in stating how they are defining the term kosher.

Moishe said...

There is only one reason why there is so much controversy over Heksher Tzedek, and that is that USCJ has not made a clear statement about what the scope of the certification will be.

USCJ's website has a press release and a report, neither of which make it clear whether the Heksher will cover only "Tzedek" issues or some kashrut issues as well. Rabbi Allen's blog is also unclear (through buried somewhere in the mass of posts, there may be a clear statement somewhere)


Even the wikipedia site doesn't make it clear:

In any event, there are many Jews, including Conservative Jews, who would very much wish to buy products that have been certified to be free of worker and animal abuse.
If there is a large enough population that is demanding products that are certified in this way, to conform to a noble value, and if an organization is formed to conduct the inspections, then what kind of person would wish to stand in their way?

If USCJ wants to go ahead with this in a way that doesn't rile up the control freaks, they need to make a clear statement that their inspection will have nothing whatsoever to do with kashrut laws, will not step on the toes of the existing kashruth certifier (OU) and will be purely geared towards justice issues.

But, that being said, aside from the flack they'd get from the Aguda people, there's really no good reason why a heksher tzedek shouldn't also cover kashrut issues, if its creators so decide. After all, may kosher products exist with many different kinds of inspection labels on them, including multiple kashruth symbols from different schols of halachic thought, as well as "Organic" labels, "Fair Trade" labels, USDA labels, and dozens of others. Why single out the USCJ for persecution?

ZA said...

Dear Rabbi Hecht
Firstly, I am an Orthodox Jew and would not even consider eating something that is not labeled by a known (and accepted to my Rabbi - and to Rabbi Wolpoe :-) hashgaha.

Here is the real problem: it is true that technically, animals or employees abuse may not fall in the domain of the Hekhsher part of the Halakha (although I would say that cruelty to animals might actualy be within that domain.) But the hekhshers that the OU and Aguda give to outfits such as Rubashkin make these agencies - in the eyes of the rest of the world - accomplices. You may ignore that issue and you might say that anti-Semites will always find something against us, but in the end of the day you and I will have to own to that issue when it will come back to haunt us. And in that case it might be a real issue rather then a fictitious one!