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How ‘Kosher’ Is Kosher Food?

If the term ‘kosher’ means fit, or done right, is the food we eat ‘kosher” if it’s produced using unethical practices? What if it meets all other technical requirements? Conservative Rabbi Morris Allen says, “no”. For Rabbi Allen, it is not enough to be concerned about the ritual specifics of the kosher food we eat without also being concerned about the ethical issues raised by its production, processing, and marketing.
This realization grew out of Rabbi Allen’s “Chew by Choice” program, which he began to encourage kosher observance in his congregation. He soon realized that ritual observance divorced from ethical observance is inconsistent with Jewish values. Thus was born Heksher Tzedek, now a national program of the Conservative Movement.


For generations, kosher consumers have relied on kosher certifying agencies to be their eyes and ears at kosher food production plants, assuring that kosher standards are maintained. A heksher is a symbol that a particular processed food has received the approval of a certifying agency as to its kosher fitness.
Heksher Tzedek, a symbol sporting a “J” and the Hebrew letter tzadi–the first letter in the Hebrew word for justice, tzedek (but that is another kind of symbol all together). A Heksher Tzedek appears in addition to standard kosher supervision, which will still be done by the standard kosher organizations. To win a Heksher Tzedek, the company must pass five additional eco-kosher and fair trade qualifications: that the food is produced in a humane manner; that food producers provide fair wages and benefits for employees; that they provide workers a safe and healthy environment with sufficient training; that the environmental impact of food production is limited as much as possible; that corporations behind the food permit transparency to check accountability and integrity; and that humane kosher slaughtering is utilized.
There is reason for concern about all of these issues as awareness about fair trade issues and the environmental impact of agribusiness increases. In addition, a recent PETA investigation has uncovered inhumane kosher slaughtering methods in South American kosher slaughtering plants, according to a recent report in the Forward. South American kosher meat plants, which provide the majority of meat for Israel, still use what is largely seen as a barbaric method: shackling the back leg of the animal, hoisting it up by its back leg, then dropping it to the ground to be held down and then slaughtered. More humane methods for kosher slaughtering are currently available. According to the Forward, such procedures are being discussed by Israel’s chief rabbinate but no action seems imminent.
What’s the delay? The Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards unanimously deemed such shackling and hoisting as invalid over seven years ago.
With Heksher Tzedek, the Conservative Movement is providing a real service: a way for all of us concerned about the social and environmental impact of what we eat to know that the kosher food we eat is truly “kosher” in the full sense of the word. That is helpful even for those who are vegetarians.

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Al Eastman

posted March 3, 2008 at 4:29 pm

EVERYONE should be concerned about the treatment of the animals in our food chain… Jews, Christians, Muslims and agnostics (vegans need not worry – LOL). Aside from religious requirements, the recent revelation of the downed cattle in the San Diego meat plant should make all of us demand stricter inspections at slaughterhouses. I would gladly pay another ten cents a pound for my meats if that would ensure the processing plants are clean and only healthy animals are put into our food supply. Perhaps if each of us contacted our members of congress about this concern, more inspectors would be hired. This may be a simplistic approach, but I’m open to suggestion.

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posted March 3, 2008 at 6:10 pm

I agree that I don’t see a reason for the hold-up. Right now I’m extremely ambivalent about buying kosher meat — I mostly eat vegetarian — and I’ve been really appalled by the attempts of plants like Agriprocessors to obscure their production methods and downplay the seriousness of the charges. I would definitely buy food with a Heksher Tzedek. The rabbi in a Conservative synagogue I attended about a year ago asked how many people would look for the heksher, and the majority raised their hands.
I think this is definitely one thing that could form part of Conservative Judaism’s core vision. I think right now the movement really lacks a sense of purpose, and I think it would send a strong message if *religious* Jews refused to buy “kosher” meat without the heksher tzedek. I wish leaders like Rabbi Allen much success in getting this passed, because I’m sure there are plenty of obstacles to doing it.

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posted March 3, 2008 at 11:35 pm

If Judaism really was concerned about every itty-bitty problem in slaughtering (that’s the correct word, slaughtering) an animal, Judaism would be a completely vegetarian religion (as others are).
Are there any ‘Hecksher Tzedek’ slaughterhouses? I doubt it-none are mentioned.
1/ Why would any business associate itself with the fastest shrinking branch of Judaism, the Conservatives?
2/ Most of the people who truly concern themselves with buying kosher year round are the Orthodox. And they generally go by the Orthodox heckshers.
3/ The anti-Orthodox Forward report concerned a Lubavitch owned slaughterhouse. Needless to say after that report that slaughterhouse is doing very well, thank you, just like the Lubavitchers themselves who are doing much better than the Conservatives.
Tick tock, bye bye ‘hecksher tzedek’.

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Yolanda Rodriguez

posted March 4, 2008 at 10:17 am

After finding out how brutal the animals are killed, I myself don’t want to eat beef anymore. Every time I see beef I get very upset. I know that in the jewish way is not the same,but is it?

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posted March 4, 2008 at 12:24 pm

My husband and I are not Orthodox, though he is far more attracted to things traditional than I. he identifies as conservative, I consider myself reform. We keep kosher, although we are not very strict. I cook fish at home but no other meat. Outside the home I may occasionally eat chicken or turkey (kosher) if I am a guest but will not touch any other meat. My husband enjoys beef or lamb if it is offered.
I am not a member of PETA. I find most of their antics to be at best obnoxious and at worst, dangerous. I still use goods made of leather,though I would never touch fur, and I do not think that people who eat meat are less moral than those of us who avoid it. That said, slaughter horrifies me and I fear many slaughterhouses (including those that are Kosher) slide into cruel practices. It must be hard to do that sort of work and not become callous.
The Heksher Tezdec is a nobel idea. Many non-Jews would probably be interested in it as well.

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posted March 4, 2008 at 6:11 pm

1/ “Why would any business associate itself with the fastest shrinking branch of Judaism, the Conservatives?”
3/ “The anti-Orthodox Forward report concerned a Lubavitch owned slaughterhouse. Needless to say after that report that slaughterhouse is doing very well, thank you, just like the Lubavitchers themselves who are doing much better than the Conservatives.” – Dave
This article is about pushing for more ethical practices concerning kosher meats. A tortured aniumal is not a kosher animal. And from what I read here.. you and every other Orthodox Jew (even in Israel) may be eating this torture tainted meat. Would it not be better to acknowledge this fact and work to change it, rather than to waste your time putting others down?
I will buy Heksher Tzedek when I can and then.. I will have the satisfaction of knowing that my kosher meal is even MORE kosher than that of the most devout Orthodox.

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Scott R.

posted March 4, 2008 at 6:59 pm

A certain person on this thread only makes comments if he can glorify in the death of all non-Orthodox movements.

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Raymond Gork

posted March 4, 2008 at 8:20 pm

I am not Orthodox, but I passionately believe in the rationality of Jewish philosophy. Kashrut has it’s own rationality, and taken to its logical conclusion, fits with the Judaic ideal of Tikkun Olam. Hechsher Tzedek is to my mind, the logical extension of Kashrut. It provides a powerful answer to the PETA lunatics, who don’t know the answer as to how, exactly, do we treat animals “ethically”. Every civilized human being should treat animals “ethically”. Using animals for food and ethical treatment of them are not mutually exclusive ideals. Those who mock Hechsher Tzedec ideas are not thinking the matter through to its logical conclusion.

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posted March 4, 2008 at 10:33 pm

I have become a vegen over the years. I grew up eating meat but the thought of killing animals and eating thier flesh nauseates me. I am sure humans have experienced this type of shakeling and slaughter as well. Not a pretty site. I love my fruits and vegitables and my nuts. Eat lots of soup and I don’t have to worry about being Kosher. ShoshannaSue

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posted March 5, 2008 at 7:39 pm

While I personally should not be a subject of ‘virtual Talmud’ I will respond:
I think that with all the deaths perpetrated on the Jewish people over the years I think its disgusting that a Jewish movement should work so hard at its own demise. When the Conservative movement disappears, and that’s the definite trend, this ‘death’ will be entirely self-inflicted. No Gentile, or any non-conservative Jew will have killed anybody. I know of only one other Jewish movement, (the Sabbateans) who essentially died out without being killed by anybody.
The reform are only surviving by a/ opening temples in retirement communities, and b/ being very welcoming of the intermarried and their Gentile spouses. Whether the reform will avoid the Conservative’s fate remains to be seen.
Of course its the Orthodox will not have to worry about their numbers.
Interestingly, many ‘mainline’ Protestant churches in America are following the same anti-natalist policies as the Conservatives and seem to be following the conservatives into oblivion.
I keep repeating my favorite pundit’s comments-the future belongs to those who show up for it.
Now hopefully we can go back to the subject at hand.

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Cecille Dugas

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Cecille Dugas

posted April 14, 2016 at 10:04 am

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