Monday, 25 August 2008

Beyond Hekhsher Tzedek

The aftermath of the Rubashkin affair has brought about a call for ethical considerations to be included in hekhshers given to companies for the observance of kashrut. The call is that it is not enough to sanction purchasing from a company simply based upon the observance of the narrow laws of kashrut but rather this sanction should include a declaration that this company also observes other ethical laws that define it as a exemplary corporate citizen.

There has been many responses to this call. One is that kashrut certification is, and should be, exactly that -- a certification regarding the specific laws of kashrut. Rabbi Aaron Levine, though, in article in the Jewish Press which can be found at presents a fundamental problem, though, with this concept in terms of its practical applicability. Rabbi Levine's words can be applied to much of Torah in general. There are certain halachot which are defined solely in practice. Whether a piece of meat is kosher or not is clearly definable in a set manner -- albeit there may be disagreements in the yardsticks to be applied in this set manner. You can clearly state, based on the facts alone, whether a piece of meat is kosher or not pursuant to a certain halachic standard. In the case of matters of tzedek though, all you can pass on to the person is the methods of evaluation but you cannot clearly state the conclusion in practice that needs to be specifically applied. In regard to these types of halachot you can't fully legislated specific behaviour because the specific facts of the case may demand a different evaluation. If one thinks about this, this concept can explain why ritual law dominates Orthodox Jewish mindsets rather than ethical law. People like to be told specifically what to do. Ethical laws within Torah can only teach methodology -- actual practice has to be determined in a case by case manner.

This, according to Rabbi Levine, is what would make a hekhsher tzedek very unwieldy to administrate although in principle it may be a good idea. It is, in my opinion, also why people in studying and observing Torah stress the ritual over the ethical. The former can have clear dos and don'ts. The ethical demands an evaluation in every case dependent on the rules of Torah. That calls upon us to think on the moment and accept the responsibility for our decision. And that is something we often shy away from

Rabbi Ben Hecht

1 comment:

Garnel Ironheart said...

The danger of the Hechsher Tzedek is that it substitutes concrete law for wishy washy political correctness.
For example, what is Tzedek? If the plant doesn't give its workers a health plan (vital in the US) is it violating a Tzedek standard even if it otherwise treats them well? What is management opposes a union drive? What is the labour force is not proportionately representative of the surrounding population?
The fact that the Conservatives are pushing this Tzedek thing is telling. First of all, any hechsher tzedek they produce would have an extremely limited scope. 90% of them don't keep properly kosher so the sight of a second little icon next to the OU wouldn't make much of a difference to them.
Secondly, as their recent history has shown, even when they have interesting ideas, they rapidly chase after any politically correct connection to those ideas until the original concepts are completely lost in a haze of newthink.
IMHO and AIUI, LFAD a consumer who cares should be aware of where his food comes from and how its made. As the old saying goes, those who like politics and salami should not watch either being made. If Rubashkin's can prove its meat is kosher, great, then it's kosher. But I still don't have to like its operating methods and therefore I retain the right to avoid its products. And if I don't care, what's another little icon going to mean to me?