Are any of the considerations of granting a Kashrut certificate things like humanitarian treatment of the animals prior to slaughter? Good treatment of workers in the factory? Etc? How can you have kosher goose liver pate, for example? Isn't that an internal contradiction?
Kashrut is an ancient system of determining what food is acceptable to eat and what is not. It simply isn’t equipped to deal with all the issues of ethics that arise from the dealings of a contemporary business. It is one part of the puzzle, but should not be understood as the whole of what must be considered when purchasing food. Halahah (Jewish Law) does deal with worker rights and ethical treatment of animals. But kashrut is only one component of halahah. In the same way that organic or free-range products are making a push on the shelves of grocery stores across the country, Jews should also consider what else is important when putting food in their bodies.
Kashrut covers things like what the internal organs of an animal should look like. Maimonides spends a great deal of time in his “hilhot shehitah” discussing what parts of the neck must be severed, what parts of the animal are not kosher and how to properly drain the blood of a slaughtered animal. But Maimonides’ world did not include major production lines, factory farms or fast food restaurants. We should not expect early Jewish Law to consider those contemporary issues. It is up to us to continue that process of discernment.
For me, the primary concern in the ethical treatment of animals and workers lies in the over-production and over-consumption of meat. When we walk in to the supermarket to purchase chicken it has been sanitized to a point where it is almost unrecognizable from its living form. What we are left with is not so much meat as a protein-type. Few Americans today have a personal connection to the meat they eat. This leads to many of the ethical questions you raise. The question is how do we use our Jewish values to respond to these problems.
There is really wonderful work being done in the area of melding ancient traditions of kashrut with contemporary values and ethics. This is the beauty of a Judaism which evolves with each generation. I can now purchase meat that is free-range, organic and kosher. There is a new ethical certification being supervised by the Conservative Movement. Additionally, there are more and more local farmers interested in producing meat for local consumption. For me, that is the ideal; to be able to personally take part in slaughtering and preparing the meat we take in to our bodies.
Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan wrote about living in two civilizations. I believe that means not leaving our contemporary values at the door of the kashrut conversation. We should do our own due diligence and ensure the companies producing the meat that we eat are conducting business in ways that are legal and that match our ethical values. Anything less is simply a hilul (a desecration). Kashrut is just one Jewish value, not the entire megillah. While animal treatment or worker conditions may not be part of a traditional heksher (certification), a kosher symbol does not exempt us from our due diligence to ensure that companies we support are matching our other Jewish values.
The question presented, I suspect, is not unrelated to various events that have happened in the Jewish world over the last several years.It is in that context, and informed by the responses that have already been submitted by my non-Orthodox colleagues, that I tread carefully in this difficult realm.
To begin with, it is important to note, that Kashrut certification is just that – certification that the products presented as kosher are in fact kosher – which means that they do not contain any non-kosher ingredients.As a Rabbi who did extensive Kashrut supervision in factories, stores, and restaurants over many years for several major Kashrut agencies, I can attest that it is a painstaking and difficult process to ensure in the modern world of advanced food technology that we live in.There are myriads of possible ingredients, many vessels that upon which there are sometimes kosher and non-kosher , or dairy and pareve runs, which need to be assiduously checked and documented on a regular basis, at all times of day and night.
The Mashgiach (supervisor) and the agency have to contend with many issues, most of which may occur when they are not present, and can only do so if a good level of trust (based on constant verification) and respect is established between the company and its employees and the Kashrut agency.Included in this, of course, is the sense that the people with whom one is dealing are decent and ethical, and that the way they run their business is fully legal and compliant with government safety regulations.
The basic attitude of most Kashrut agencies has been summed up by Rabbi Menachem Genack, head of the largest Kosher supervision Agency, the Orthodox Union, (known by the OU symbol). He said:
“We don’t agree with the Heksher Tzedek for the following reason which has been our stated position. . .[it is not that we are] insensitive to ethical issues, animal welfare, etc., because all of these issues, which we should be proud of, are rooted in the Torah. The principle of [paying workers fairly and on time and the prohibition against cruelty to animals are certainly ] Jewish principles. However, we don’t believe that it is the responsibility of the OU or any kashrus agency to be the arbiters of those issues, because they are all covered by different federal and state laws and regulations. State and Federal agencies – the USDA, OSHA, FDA, and the EPA, which handles environmental issues – have the authority and expertise to handle these issues. We don’t. The Heksher Tzedek notion sets what will ultimately be very arbitrary and amorphous rules about what is considered appropriate standards.
“[For instance, ] one of their standards is that the companies should pay their workers above medium or average wage of that given industry. Does this mean that any company that is paying their employees less than that is unethical? Does that mean that if a company has to pay above the medium wage that half the companies of the United States – the half under the average – are automatically unethical? That simply defies logic. We will not put in place such standards.
"We supervise plants throughout the globe. We rely on the local – state or federal – authorities to manage these issues. We don’t have the ability or the expertise to do it. Our focus is on what we know – the Shulchan Aruch, the laws of kashrus.”
However, in light of certain practices that came to light, especially at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, IA, all agencies took a very long and hard look at the possibility that the company, owned by observant Jews, was engaging in unethical and illegal practices.After activists from PETA discovered a questionable practice post slaughter, several delegations of leading Rabbis went to Postville and instituted some important changes.See http://tinyurl.com/ou-postvillefor more info on this.When the Rubashkin story (that was mentioned by Rabbi Stanway in his reform response to this question) broke, the Orthodox world was very pained, upset, and at the same time incredulous that this was possible.There was much soul-searching and introspection, as well as a great desire to know if in fact the story as originally reported was true.
Without delving into the entire tragedy here, one may fairly note that it is tragic and contrary to communal norms of civil dialogue when a person outside the Orthodox community uses the Rubashkin debacle to berate and mock America’s scupulously honest and ethical national network of Orthodox kashrut supervision agencies as practitioners of “hypocrisy”, “extortion”, and “inhumane” behavior. Surely a fair-minded reader will understand that it is somewhat ludicrous for a responder, whose movement, from its American inception, abandoned the core values of observing the Kashrut laws, to pontificate onwhat is, or is not, Kosher.It is furthermore completely disingenuous, as in fact, Agriprocessors was exonerated of virtually all the charges that were brought, and thus what actually happened there is being completely misrepresented by said respondent.In fact, over-zealous prosecutors brought buckets and buckets of accusations and charges that since have been thrown out by the courts. Every single count of animal abuse was thrown out. The number of charges of child labor was reduced from 9,311 to less than one percent of that number – more than 99 percent of those charges were thrown out. All charges of unsafe work conditions were dropped. For all the defamation against the slaughterhouse and the media splash, virtually the entire case was thrown out. Thus, the respondant’s unfair screed against the Kosher supervision industry is unfair, uncivil, and disingenuous. For further reading on the Agriprocessors story, see http://tinyurl.com/rubashkin and http://tinyurl.com/6z2xa8l .
It therefore is not surprising that thousands of people joined, not to exonerate Rubashkin, but to protest the civil rights irregularities that accompanied the entire media circus behind the arrests, the exaggerated charges that were dismissed wholesale, and the excessive sentence that was imposed and that presently is being appealed as violative of American Constitutional laws. See further at http://tinyurl.com/judge-reade, http://tinyurl.com/aclu-iowa, and http://www.cnbc.com/id/42131815.
As a rule, I would not have engaged in the above discussion in this forum, but it was necessary given the untruths that had been stated.
As to the other parts of your question, as mentioned, certainly it is forbidden to treat animals inhumanely.In fact many inhumane practices, such as force feeding animals, are not only forbidden in their own right, but also have a high probability of causing internal damage to the animal, which render it non-kosher as well.Because of this, I am aware of many individuals who will not eat goose liver pate, or veal, as a matter of principle.
Nevertheless, if, in fact the animal’s internal organs were not damaged and the basic requirements of a healthy animal are met, the animal is still kosher under the basic requirements of Jewish law. It is true that it may be "within the letter of the law, but outside the spirit of the law" to patronize such phenomena, but that is true in many areas of any legal system – one can find gray areas that are left to the conscience of the individual, but are not per se illegal.
It is hoped that the meat producers who produce these products, while seeing the animals essentially as a “crop” to be “harvested” for their meat, would treat the animals humanely.Certainly in the light of what was mentioned above, virtually all reputable Kashrus agencies are striving to ensure that the business they supervise and lend their names to, are meeting at least minimal, and hopefully higher, ethical and humane standards, as well as following the basic law of Kashrut.
To this day there has not been an institutional Kashrut certification which takes into consideration the humanitarian treatment of animals, the treatment of workers, etc. This is changing. Two welcome developments are entering the kosher food market. While not intended to replace any of the current certifications—which certify that ingredients and processes meet the rigorous standards of Jewish law to be considered “kosher—the “Magen Tzedek” of the Conservative movement and the “Tav Hayosher” of the organization Uri L’Tzedek are moving things forward. According to its website, the Magen Tzedek “will be awarded to kosher food products that meet or exceed the highest levels of ethical awareness in the areas of worker treatment, animal treatment and environmental responsibility.”
For years it has been the practice of the Kosher certification industry that issues of economic justice and animal cruelty are not their concern. However, this wall of separation has been pierced in the past when, for example, the raising of calves for veal was forbidden by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein because of tza’ar ba’alei chayyim, the infliction of undue pain on animals (Igrot Moshe, Even Haezer, Part 4, Benei Berak, 1985, end of no. 92, pp. 164- 165). The purchasing of veal and its consumption would then be forbidden as this would fall under the category of abetting the actions of sinners (Mishnah Gittin 5:9). The Magen Tzedek would apply this standard across the board to products which already have simple kashrut certification. Under this certification, an animal that was cruelly force-fed or a food which was produced in a factory in which the workers were not fairly compensated would not meet the standards to receive the Magen Tzedek.
The Tav Hayosher is awarded to restaurants and not manufacturers. The Tav is only given to establishments which respect their workers’ right to fair pay, right to fair time [i.e. a forty hour week and time and a half and the like] and right to a safe work environment.
Both of these certifications would break through the conceptual wall which, for some reason, separates the demand for kosher food from the demand for just food. Much as Isaiah (chapter 58) presents the demand for justice as a prerequisite to the observance of the sacrificial rites or even the Shabbat, so too do these ethical kashrut certifications demand that an employer be as stringent in the laws of Choshen Mishpat (the economic laws in the Shulchan Arukh) as in the laws of Yoreh Deah (the kashrut laws in the Shulchan Arukh). It is told of one the great Rabbis of the mussar movement, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, that one year he could not be present at the baking of the matzot for Pesach. He sent some of his trusted students in his stead. They asked him: “What stringencies of Jewish law should we demand?” He replied: “The woman who does the baking is a widow. Make sure she is paid on time.” We can demand no less.
Unless I am totally incorrect, there is no consideration given to awarding a hashgacha – a certificate of supervision testifying to the particular kashrut of an item. Therefore, according to this definition of kashrut, no, it does not matter whether or not the animal is humanely treated or whether the workers in the factory are taken care of in a ethical manner. Frankly, this is a shanda and it ought to stop.
Although we might like to ignore it, the truth is that Jews are as prone to abuse their workers as anyone else. It is too easy, sometimes, to commit a little sin here which leads to a little sin there and then it snowballs. The rabbis were right: mitzvah goreret mitzvah, aveira goreret aveira – a mitzvah gives rise to another mitzvah, a sin gives rise to another sin.
The rabbinic literature is filled with the guidelines for taking care of the laborer and much of that quest for fairness comes from the verse: “You shall not defraud your fellow. You shall not commit robbery. The wages of a laborer shall not remain with you until morning.” (Lev 19:13) Workers are not to be abused, defrauded, exploited, enslaved, etc. In fact, if you want to see precisely the way workers are NOT supposed to be taken care of, all you need do is look at the disgrace of Postville, Iowa where ostensibly Jewish slaughterhouse owners essentially enslaved workers, most of them Hispanic. It was, frankly, a shanda of the worst kind. And, to add insult to injury, the supporters of the head of the company were sending out emails trying to exonerate him. Sometimes it is best to recognize a sin, regardless of where it comes from.
And, indeed, you are right in your perception of hypocrisy. The kashrut food business has often been referred to as a form of extortion. Payments are made to the mashgiach (certifier), workers are abused and huge profits are made from an industry that is, from its very rabbinic/biblical origins supposed to be the pinnacle of ethics.
So disturbing is this trend that there are people who look for the certification of the meat only to know which meat not to buy – so concerned about what they perceive to be the unethical treatment of both workers and animals.
The definition of kashrut needs to expand for the concerned Jew. Kashrut must include ethical kashrut, eco-kashrut, and an awareness not only of the meat we are eating but the chain of production – the who and how – of how it got to our plates. Pate is treif. Veal is treif. The product of enslaved workers is treif. Hypocrisy – and all that emanates from it – is treif.
The only way we are going to have an impact on this industry and its sometimes ethical misrepresentation of a product’s kashrut status is not to buy it and/or demand that there be an ethical oversight mashgiach. Perhaps things will change then.
In the meantime, I commend you for worrying about this issue. For as we pay attention to what goes into our mouths, we can begin to change how it got there and that is how we change the world – one cow at a time.
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