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Fit to serve? Socially conscious kashrut sweeps Jerusalem

by josh September 24 2008
FoodEnvironmentMunicipal newsShopping
He cares. Do you?

The Social Seal: Because I care

Kosher certification is so passe. These days it seems every Ploni Almony with a deep fryer and some charif has a kashrut certificate (Tel Aviv's Kingdom of Pork excluded). But while rabbis worldwide have universally accepted a non literal translation of not bathing a kid in its mother's, or anyone's, milk, Kashrut certification generally ignores the idea behind those words. Over 100 years after everybody missed the point of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, a small Jerusalem outfit is making waves by showing that eating by God's standards involves more than separating milk from meat and that guiltless gourmet has nothing to do with transfats and everything to do with treating people well.

Bema'aglei Tzedek, a Jerusalem based consort of youths with a mind for social change, have taken it upon themselves to certify restaurants, catering halls, and other food service establishments with a social seal that verifies their commitment to workers' rights and handicapped access. A full one third of Jerusalem eateries now carry the social seal, including 1868, Bar Kochba, Village Green, New Deli and Emil (a full list of participating restaurants can be found on their website here.) A number of kibbutzim have also begun to employ the seal, even this place, which hopefully reformed its chicken stomping ways to get the seal. The Christian Science Monitor describes the movement, which has begun to spread across the country, as growing out of frustrations stemming from the political situation.

The popularity of the social seal, continues [Bema'aglie Tzedek founder Asaf] Banner, is a testament to a growing Israeli appetite for understanding and partaking in these community Jewish values. A shift, he muses, that might have to do with a collective sense of disappointment over the faltering peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

"A lot of young people are beginning to say, 'let's invest our energies internally. Let's fix our own society first,' " says Banner. "Once we know who we are, and what society we want to be – we will stop stammering and might be better able to move forward with peace as well."

A similar movement is growing in America, though one that would concentrate not on restaurants, but on kosher food suppliers. Their desire for change has nothing to do with Palestinians and instead stems from a number of concerns about how socially conscious kosher food is. Kind of like a Green movement for God with Rabbi Morris Allen, the project director, playing the part of Al Gore. One major target of the campaign has been the AgriProcessors plant in Postville, Iowa, the largest kosher slaughterhouse in the world and a Chabad stronghold. The plant was recently raided by immigration authorities for employing illegal immigrants and making them work hours no God would be happy about, even if they aren't on Shabbat. The plant had already come under fire a few years earlier when a religious Jewish couple working for PETA taped animal abuse in the plant, which they said would render the meat unkosher by anyone's standards.

The American effort, being led by the Conservative Movement, has met with resistance from Orthodox leaders, including Chabad, and the kashrut powerhouse Star-K, who say it is not their job to monitor a plant's safety record. That job, they say, falls under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration, that little agency founded 100 years ago after everybody misunderstood The Jungle. It seems when it comes to meat, kosher or not, it all goes back to Upton.

Photo of activist courtesy of Bema'aglei Tzedek

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