Jews protest, boycott Agriprocessor products, Kashrut certification evolves

The junior rabbi in my synagogue wrote the following column in this month’s newsletter (for my synagogue) that very clearly states why the behavior of Agriprocessors, a kosher meatpacking facility in Iowa, is so, to be blunt, not only unkosher but actually sinful.

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Then, today, the senior rabbi’s sermon explicitly called for a boycott of Agriprocessor products.  It was one of the most ardent, forceful, blunt, actitivist and political sermons I think I’ve ever heard from him in the seven or so years we’ve been at this synagogue.

Here’s an article from Boston.com that explains more of what’s going on:

The raid on Agriprocessors’ Iowa plant has sparked debate in the Jewish community about the role of ethical considerations in the production of kosher food and sets the backdrop against which the moderate Conservative movement will issue guidelines Thursday for an ambitious new “hekhsher tzedek,” Hebrew for “certificate of righteousness.” The additional stamp would identify producers of kosher foods that meet its standards regarding working conditions, treatment of animals, and the environment.

In rolling out the new certification, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly, two national umbrella organizations, join a wave of socially conscious buying that has led many consumers to seek fair-trade coffee and sneakers not made by children.

To Conservative Jewish leaders, the new certification symbolizes the embrace of tradition and modern social concerns that defines the denomination.

“Hekhsher tzedek reminds us that kosher is not just about rituals,” said Rabbi Barry Starr of Temple Israel in Sharon, where Cetlin is a member. “That’s a very powerful niche for the Conservative movement.”

My synagogue will be posting the guidelines that were issued on Thursday, but you can also find them at the Hekhsher Tzedek site and, in particular, that site’s blog.

These actions are not of little consequence to the individuals and families and institutions that keep kosher (which I don’t) but also to those of us who expect our religion and its leaders to maintaint the highest standards.

I’m proud of my rabbi’s stand behind the boycott, but as someone who doesn’t keep kosher, I can’t say how powerful that really is.

10 thoughts on “Jews protest, boycott Agriprocessor products, Kashrut certification evolves

  1. We don’t keep a kosher kitchen, but we make an effort to source food that is not exploitive or environmentally damaging.

    This winter, we went in with 3 other families to buy a side of organic, grass-fed beef from a ranch in our state. The other meat we buy are from ranchers who go beyond the minimum, like Coleman and Niman ranches.

    Why you should avoid poultry that does not say antibiotic-free:
    http://badmomgoodmom.blogspot.com/2007/12/what-we-eat.html

    Hog farm horror stories:
    http://badmomgoodmom.blogspot.com/2008/09/fact-and-fiction.html

    The carbon impact of eating locally-grown food:
    http://badmomgoodmom.blogspot.com/2008/01/animal-vegetable-miracle.html

  2. Mark – I’m not sure what you’re referring to – I’m not a rabbi and haven’t studied to be one. Is there something specific that you know from Jewish law and text that you think the rabbi’s piece should include?

  3. Hi Chuck! “Religious” Jews typically don’t include Conservative rabbis but definitely my rabbi works hard to fulfill all the mitzvot that have to do with living a moral life. Hope you’re well.

  4. Judy – I’m so sorry – I posted this in advance of going out of town and didn’t see the problem until I got back yesterday – if you click on it, it should enlarge but you can also find it at bnaijeshurun.org under “Tidings” in the August edition (it’s a pdf).

  5. Muffet – thanks for the comment – I understand that Aaron’s and David’s is pretty much not sold around here at all anymore. I hope that people who rely on and need these products will find other sources and that that works to change the reality for those at Agriprocessor. Shameful really shameful.

  6. When ignorance is masked as religious opinion the bottom falls out of any morality. Jewish morality is clearly enshrined in law and your article makes no reference of it, probabl because to become a ‘Rabbi’ you spent more time studying fluff and theology than the meat and potatoes of jewish law and text. Vive le ignorance.

  7. When the religious use their traditions and laws for the betterment of others, rather than some symbolic function, I am impressed. Way too often they’re simply a function of expressing a difference or making a “better than you” statement.

  8. Yes, Jill, it’s still obscured.
    We have been getting our news on this topic from The American Israelite, the oldest Jewish newspaper in the USA. Some of the coverage has seemed very slanted toward the processing plant, which has upset me greatly. The plant hired a public relations firm, and that firm has admitted that they have blogged under fake names. What they did, if it is true, is reprehensible. It cannot be called kashrut with that kind of behavior.
    We don’t keep kosher, either, but I have noticed a big change in advertisng for the grocery stores that sell kosher products. Aaron’s and David’s are no longer mentioned at all.

  9. Jill – thank you for addressing this topic and putting the story out there. It is truly heartbreaking. Problem – the rabbi’s letter is obscured by the right hand column – I can’t read all of it. Any chance you could fix that?

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