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July 29th, 2010
09:55 AM ET

Addressing treatment of workers, group readies new kosher seal

CNN's Talya Minsberg filed this report:

Most religious dietary guidelines allow individuals to maintain a sense of holiness in their daily lives.

For many Jews, that sense was shattered in spring of 2008, when an Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa was raided and found to have hundreds of illegal immigrants and dozens of violations, from unsafe conditions to unethical treatment of workers. It was the nation's largest kosher meatpacking plant.

In June, Agriprocessors executive Sholom Rubashkin was sentenced to 27 years of imprisonment on fraud charges, though he appealed his conviction earlier this month.

The scandal has done more than send Rubashkin to jail. When American Jews learned that workers at the Agriprocessors plant faced dire conditions, including receiving safety instructions in English even though many spoke only Spanish, the community entered a kosher crisis.

For an animal to be “kosher,” it must be slaughtered using perfectly sharp knife to cut the throat. The method is apparently painless and is recognized as the most humane method of slaughter. For that reason, some Jews feel that keeping kosher is as ethical as it is holy when it comes to meat consumption.

During a 2006 tour of the Postville plant, Rabbi Morris Allen of Saint Paul, Minnesota said he was disturbed by worker conditions and that he shared those concerns with the facilities’ owners. He also began arguing to his congregation that keeping kosher is as much about workers as about animals.

“We needed to find a way to develop kashrut that is kosher and raised to the highest Jewish ethical standard,” Allen said in an interview. “If we were serious about kashrut (keeping kosher), it was time to understand the laws of kashrut that were not written in the Torah.”

Allen’s idea? A new kind of kosher.

Just like labels such as “fair trade,” a kosher label–called a hekhsher–certifies that the product is kosher. Allen proposed a new kosher stamp certifying that the treatment of workers is as kosher as the treatment of the food.

But creating a new kosher stamp has proved more difficult than it may sound.

“This was a systemic issue, not something that could be handled individually on one plant or another,” Allen said.

Since 2006, Allen has been promoting a new seal, called Magen Tzedek, through an organization of the same name. “The world’s first Jewish ethical certification seal," the group says, "synthesizes the aspirations of a burgeoning international movement for sustainable, responsible consumption and promotes increased sensitivity to the vast and complex web of global relationships that bring food to our tables."

Last September, Magen Tzedek issued a 154-page document outlining standards for the new seal, addressing everything from hazardous waste reduction to off site education for employees. The document covers employee wages, benefits, health and safety, animal welfare, and corporate transparency.

The well-publicized 2008 Postville raid prompted more manufacturers and consumers to support Magen Tzedek.

“Companies are always interested in whether the seal will sell more products, and we believe it will… it can restore the sense of kashrut in the American community,” Allen said.

Magen Tzedek and its Hekhsher Tzedek Commission have the garnered support from the Rabbinical Assembly, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the Nathan Cummings Foundation and Social Accountability International. Many kosher certifiers have also backed the new certification.

Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the largest certifier of kosher food, OU Kosher, has publically said he would not object to having the Magen Tzedek affixed to products supervised by the OU.

“Clearly we have captured the imagination of American Jewish community. It’s not accidental that two of the major Hekhsher Tzedek players were recognized by Newsweek as influence rabbis,” Allen said, referring to Newsweek’s 50 most influential Rabbis in America of 2010.

Magen Tzedek hopes to have its insignia next to kosher seals early next year.

While he declined to disclose companies that he says are on board for the new seal, Allen say that "major names that people will recognize will be among the first to go forward with this.”

Companies can apply for the Hekhsher Tzedek seal online. Magezn Tzedek plans to hold webinars to educate consumers and advocates.

An earlier version of this article misstated the date of a major raid of the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa. The federal raid happened in 2008.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Food • Judaism • Money & Faith

soundoff (74 Responses)
  1. Yogesh

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    April 4, 2012 at 12:22 am |
  2. Alex

    Sure, treat animals humanely, but Palestinians with brutality!

    August 1, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
  3. Jack

    Talya, I am surprised that you are starting off your internship at CNN with articles that carry distorted information. Are you aware that on June 6, 2010 Rubashkin was acquitted on State charges that he knowingly hired minors and at that trial the govt failed to prove unsafe conditions or unethical treatment of workers? Are you aware that much evidence was brought to the contrary, with many (non-Jews) testifying to the upscale modern plant at Agriprocessors, one of the most modern in all of Iowa? Why then do you continue to spread the above allegations? People want to see objective, fair and true coverage on CNN. Please don't let us down.

    August 1, 2010 at 10:05 am |
  4. allen is a murderer

    Rabbi Allen who fought for the conviction on the innocent Rubashkin is now trying to make his own Ethical Heksher through killing any human that stands in his way. now thats unethical i think, no? but ethics of aminals is priority to ethics of humans! thats called "a crook" RABBI ALLEN OF SAINT PAUL, MO IS A CROOK!!!

    July 30, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
  5. Michael

    As every single allegation that this author mentions above against R. Shalom Moshe Rubashkin has been proven false by trial in Iowa, this is nothing more than slander. It is my hope that after successful appeal of his life sentence for "Bank Fraud" charges, he sues this author and many other politicians who falsely accused him for slander. At least some of the politicians like our president made their accusations before the trial which just resulted in tainting the jury pool but was not yet finished. However now that the entire case collapsed on itself despite big efforts by the government, this is just pure slander. Luckily no one really watches, reads or cares what CNN says anymore.

    July 30, 2010 at 11:27 am |
  6. PGelsman

    WE treat them as they treat us. They bomb us, we bomb them. Israel has never attacked any country that didn't attack us first!

    July 30, 2010 at 10:12 am |
  7. Gary

    I grew up in a Jewish neibhood in Austin Tx. the H.E.B has a large kosher section there. Most of the jewish kids were straight A students parents all Doctors,Lawyers and successfull busines owners. They went to temple and synagoges but never judged me or tried to convert me. As an agnostic I have kept in touch with many of them I have nothing but total respect for the jewish community.

    July 30, 2010 at 10:00 am |
    • PGelsman

      Thank you, and we love you too! 🙂

      July 30, 2010 at 10:14 am |
  8. Ira

    Jews will be few in number...that's a promise from G-d in the Torah (Bible). And even if there was just one Jew on the whole planet, he/she would still need kosher food.

    July 30, 2010 at 9:49 am |
  9. JJB

    The Rubashkin plant was raided because it was in Iowa, where the possibility of a Latino backlash was minimal. Had this happened in Texas or California, there would have been rioting in the streets. As a result of jealousies inspired by a TV story about Chassidic Jews living in a small midwest town with a meat packing facility, that was bringing jobs and money to the local businesses, all manner of radical groups, from PETA, to unionizers, to left-wing Jewish newspapers, and detestable bloggers descended like a ton of bricks. Like a ton of maggots. The result was the destruction of a fine facility that brought prosperity to many people. The result was the bankrupting of good people, who now are being threatened with a lifetime of, effectively, debtor's prison, for what are considered crimes, but are really civil matters, brought on by shameful anti-semitism. It is best to stay off TV, my fellow Jews.

    July 30, 2010 at 9:47 am |
  10. Oodoodanoo

    I didn't know seals were Kosher! I always thought walruses, sure, but this is new. That's great! Maybe they can join the Israeli navy.

    July 30, 2010 at 9:45 am |
    • Martin

      I'm not from NJ or NY, I live just outside Baltimore, MD. I have been off wheat for about a month now (right after rieadng your book). I haven't lost weight on the scale yet, but my bloating has gone down, my clothes feel better, I feel better overall. I am now in the process of removing most, if not all, sugar from my diet. I'm no longer craving the wheat products. Wow! I am currently at 217.5 pounds. The scale never seems to move for me. I'm hoping this is the answer

      April 4, 2012 at 1:05 am |
  11. Guest

    I'm only concerned with what my docter tells me I can and can"t eat – not God

    July 30, 2010 at 9:37 am |
  12. Scott NH

    I think this new seal is fantastic, but... here's another idea. Since there are tremendous similarities between Kosher and Halal, how 'bout we make a new symbol that means 1) This product is Kosher 2) This product is Halal 3) This product meets environmental and worker conditions. It is possible to make meat that is both Kosher and Halal, a Rabbi says a prayer over the entire plant, and a child of the book (Muslim, Christian or Jew) says a two word prayer over each animal.

    July 30, 2010 at 9:36 am |
  13. heyOh

    Hey Rubashkin..................I need a kidney!!! Can you hook me up, I don't care if it kosher or not.

    July 30, 2010 at 9:33 am |
  14. Zeppelin

    I eat veggies, rice, fruits, and meat in moderation... What's your issue with my diet?

    July 30, 2010 at 9:26 am |
  15. Zeppelin

    I'm Asian/European, non-religious and I buy Kosher and Halal products all the time! I'm sure there are others out there who are the same... I'm not sure the demand for these products will dwindle.

    July 30, 2010 at 9:25 am |
  16. Brian

    Rubashkin is a human sacrifice sacrificed by the satanic government. His company was run no less legally than any other one in the meat industry. I am 99.9999% certain, had Rubashkin been Protestant, e would never have had his issues with the government. The Rubashkin affair is the new Dreyfus Affair.

    July 30, 2010 at 8:56 am |
    • sam

      wow i agree 100 percent well said i was at the trial the prosecuters acted like nazis

      August 1, 2010 at 3:14 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.