Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Kosher Quandary: Ethics and Kashrut

These notes are unofficial and unedited. Any and all mistakes are mine.

Welcome to the Kosher Quandary, Ethics & Kashrut. Before we begin the panel, we would like to introduce President Richard M. Joel to

PRESIDENT RICHARD JOEL: I thought there’d be food. You can’t find food on this campus anymore without paying. (That’s the quandary, someone calls out from the audience)- I just want to give you a yasher koach on your awareness, care and participation on who we are and what we need to be. I want to particularly extend my appreciation to Simcha and Gilah for seizing the opportunity to help make this evening happen. Tremendous hakaras hatov to the distinguished and caring leaders of our community who want to participate in this with you. It’s very important that they be here and that Yu is a place that provokes these kind of questions and inspires you to build answers on these questions. The nexus between Torah and social responsbilitily is a pivotal one and it has to be observed passionately- has to be understood and has to do that recognizing the seriousness and depths of the sea of Torah and what we can mine from that sea. It’s wonderful to see you. Thank you for your participation and

GILAH: This is not the first time in our history that the production of meat has grabbed the headlines and created a – in the desert, Jews demanded real meat instead of manna. The Hellenists forcefed pig meat, holiday of Chanukah. The Marranos struggled to ensure they ate kosher meat. My very own great grandfather was sentenced to ____ when getting kosher meat in Siberia. Now, in 2008, we have – a brief word about who we are anfd why we are here this evening. TEIQU(A Torah Exploration Of Ideas, Questions and Understanding) is a new student organization founded by Simcha Gross and Gilah Kletenik. (LAUGHTER) Tonight’s program is TEIQU’s inaugural event. TEIQU was founded for the mission of building opportunities __ in the realm of Jewish academics, faith and community. Part of the various councils of YC and SCW which are cosponsors this evening. We thank them for their support. The goal for this evening’s program is to facilitate the opportunity for dialogue and discourse surrounding a subject that has received considerable attention in our community. AGriprocessors in Postville, Iowa- reports of what happened there have brought the precarious relationship between ethics and kashrut to the fore. This interplay is the focus of this evening’s event. While we may not arrive at answers tonight, we certainly are asking the right questions. We are very enthused by tonight’s turnout. To note, this panel is being livestreamed and promoted on JTA’s network right now. To help us in asking the right questions, we are honored to have with us a most distinguished panel- in your programs, pleaes find their complete Bios.

R’ Menachem Genack- the OU is the largest and most widely recognized kosher supervision agency in the world. Rabbi Basil Herring is the Executive Vice President of the RCA – one of the largest organizations of Orthodox Jewish Rabbis. Rabbi Avi Shafran is the director of public affairs for Agudath Israel. R’ Shmuly Yanklowitz is the co-founder and director of Uri L’Tzedek, the ____ which offers programs and suchlike.

The panel will begin by addressing the following in their remarks:

1. What if any are the considerations upon which we do this _____?
2. Do circumstances outside of shechita jeopardize – business and priorities, chillul hashem, dina d’malchuta dina, etc
3. How should our community (specifically the student community) respond to the recent scandal in Rubashkin?

After the opening statements, Simcha and I will direct questions to the panelists. To the contrary, while Rubashkins will come and go, the halakhic and ethical matters discussed here tonight are timeless.

On your programs, please see a brief accounting of what has happened at Agriprocessors.

RABBI AVI SHAFRAN: Let me begin with a heartfelt thank you to Gilah and to Simcha for arranging this. I know that I am speaking on behalf of our fellow panelists and everyone here at this wonderful turnout. I have particular thanks to give because I think perhaps what I have to say may prove not as popular as those after me, and I appreciate the opportunity to air a point of view that has not always been given the proper airing in the general/ Jewish media. I would like to speak clearly, but nothing that I say should be construed by anyone as impugning the intentions or good will of anyone. I might feel that certain decisions or opportunities were misguided but only

Searching for the right metaphor between ethics and kashrut, I say it’s the same as personal hygiene to poetry. A great poet might opt to not shower, but that bad habit does not necessarily affect the quality of his writing. His poetry has to be judged separately from his hygiene. So while kosher food producers are certainly required without any doubt by halakha to act ethically in every aspect of their , any lapses on that score have no effect, I repeat, no effect, on the kashrut of the food they produce. The same applies to societal laws (labor laws that go beyond the letter of what the halakha may require)- all those things may indeed be mandates on a Jew, if nothing else, because of dina d’malchuta dina, but they are independent, once again, from kashrut. This is eminently clear from the Talmud and halakhic codes. And that is part of the objection I and others have to the heksher concepts- it confuses different Jewish concepts (and conflates them.)

That begs the larger question and more important question about whether Jewish producers should be held accountable for non-ethical behavior. Of course they should. Accountable, yes. But more accountable than merchants of Judaica, booksellers, educational institutions, ____ manufacturers? No. They are no more accountable. Each of us, no matter our profession, are accountable. The fact that what has been proposed is limited to food producers is baffling or perhaps telling. Jewish ethics is a meta-concept and not limited to kashrut.

Further adding to the objections I have to heksher tzedek is the fact that the plan was conceived in sin. Not a word I use lightly or often. The sin I am referring to is the sin of jumping to negative judgements of others. The impetus was the controversy of the company called Agriprocessors. Let me say right away that I don’t know them, have no connection to them and would not know a Rubashkin from a Rubik’s Cube. Therefore I do not know why/ I don’t know if they mistreated animals as PETA says- I don’t know; I don’t know if they ran meth amphetamine lab as a government affidavit said, I don’t know if they harassed employees, I don’t know if they hired underage employees, I don’t know. Neither do I. Neither does anyone, no matter what anyone thinks. What I do know and what all of us should know is that it is Jewishly wrong to assume guilt on the basis of accusations. It is, to put it clearly and simple, unethical- Jewishly unethical. And to create and to herald a new effort as a result of the accuasations against people disregards a clear Torah law called hotzaas sheim rah.

But let’s pretend that the heksher tzedek was conceived of out of the blue. Would that not be sufficient reason to create a mechanism so that the industry would better adhere to this? Yes, it would, and indeed in Jewish history, there are histories of Gedolei HaDor who instituted price controls, threatened recalcitrant merchants- the object in those cases is that those decisions are not decisions that any of us is necessarily qualified to make. If the term Orthodox Judaism has any meaning, it lies in reverence for the past and those who lie closer to the past than we. The proper way to explore whether a communal mechanism is warranted is to bring it to the attention of the elders of the community. Tehre are of course different subcommunities in the Orthodox world which I don’t think I hav eto tell anyone here- but each has its elders. I don’t expect a Conservative Rabbi to acknowledge that fact- as non-Orthodox rabbis are based on progression, not on Mesorah and not on respect for elders. But those of us who calls ourselves Orthodox have to know on whose shoulders we stand and who the Torah teaches us to see as being the perceptive- thank you for listening.

RABBI MENACHEM GENACK: I’m going to try to follow ___ Neshuma’s admonition- every speaker should follow the three Ts- Truthful, Brief and Seated. It’s interesting to note that the Rambam puts the laws of kashrus in his volume “Kedusha.” And included in that is also issurei biah (forbidden sexual relationships) because we believe that through observing the ritual of kashrus and all the other laws related to it, we attain a certain level of kedusha, and that’s a function of discipline and purpose. The Torah tells us kedoshim tihiyu and the Rambam says that is an overarching principle that even things that are permitted by the Torah that are socially unacceptable says- otherwise one could be a Menuval B’Rshus HaTorah, an abhoreent person within the sanction of the Torah. So the kedusha and kedoshim tihiyu can’t be severed. That’s not to say that these are the same- they are not. One can compromise law in one area and not ____ another area. Experts in this who have told you otherwise who have argued this case over and over like at Agri that the kashrus has been compromised- simply inaccurate. But that’s not to say we are not concerned about these issues; we have to be very concerned.

We have to copy Hashem and follow in his ways. There is another reason why this is important- we have to be concerned with the perception of Kosher to the world and not just kosher- the other reason is we’re concerned with perception of Kosher and how Jews appear because we don’t want to create a chillul hashem. And also, we’re concerned about how our fellow Jewish brethren view this because we want to reach outto them. All of those things are issues we have to be concerned with and find balance and it’s not always so obvious how to find balance- a conundrum, only way it’s unresolved. I think what you’re learning here at Yeshiva is that these issues are not obvious sometimes. It’s nuance that is required and judgement calls. Not always obvious what direction they should go especially when balancing all these concerns- we sometimes have to live with the tension of TEIQU- not knowing the exact answer.

Heksher Tzedek- I myself have issues with heksher tzedek and I will tell you what they are; I met with Rabbi Lois Segal and Rabbi Alleck? about them. My concern is that I feel that these issues are more appropriately handled by federal agents- FDA, EPA that deal with these issues. And they have that mandate and I don’t think we can do it as well or as appropriately as them. And I would have told the people in heksher tzedek that I think the definition of the standards they are trying to reach will be difficult to concretize them. I told this to Rabbi Segal. The very first one he told me is that they will only give their stamp to a company that pays its workers at least the median wage in that industry. Which means by definition ½ of the companies in the United States are now not under their approval. Having said that, I think of Heksher Tzedek in terms of an initiative – somewhat different from Rabbi Shafran in that I think it’s something positive in this respect. I think we must work to balance people’s perspective on kosher- what defines a Jewish home for generations was that people kept kosher and when I was growing up as a boy, I remember my friends, who weren’t Orthodox; they were Conservative Jews; who had kosher homes but had two sets of dishes- they didn’t keep kosher out of the home necessarily but they did in the home, and that enhanced their sense of Jewish identity. The erosion of people’s perception of kosher almost willy-nilly will affect their identity as Jews. The average American Jew, not the Observant Jew- what was his perception in terms of his identity with Judaism. Heksher Tzedek in that sense- the intiative itself I think is meant on their part to try to bring their own constitutency back to kosher. There are such very beginnings of such notions in the Conservative and Reform movement and that is something we should applaud and we should encourage. I usually- when I – I always think to myself what would the Rav have done. And it’s interesting that the Rav was engaged in this very issue- he was concerned about the standards of kashrut in Boston and also the treatment of shochtim, abusive hours and he took a stand about it and it cost him enormously. There were different forces in Boston, I have to say nefarious forces, that made claims about him, false claims- at the end of the investigation what was discovered was the Rav was paying out of his pocket- I think the attorney general said he was the most honest man he ever met- he

The other thing about the Rav was about the creation of _____ and

RABBI BASIL HERRING: I too want to echo Rabbi Shafran’s thanks to the organizers and particularly to you, Gilah, for your persistence. Want to say that much of what I already wanted to say has already been said, so I am going to __ my comments at the risk of being too short or too brief- want to focus on the third and fourth questions that were put to us.

We cannot underestimate the importance in its own right and in terms of perception of ethical behavior on the part of any and every Jew. Derech Eretz Kadmah L’Torah- we are placed in this world as the Children of Avraham Avinu to bring Tzedek and Mishpat into this world, to reflect it existentially 24/7 365. And anything which diminishes that message and that calling is a shame not just in terms of how it is perceived and in terms of what God wants from us. The Rambam, where he says that the ultimate goal and purpose of intellectual perfection is ethical behavior.

The question I was posed is how on a practical level, how ought kosher agencies supervise their agencies, corporations where they are present. We at the RCA are currently, together with our partners at OU, formulating specific Jewish principles, ethical guidelines to be implemented across the board, not just the kosher industry but beginning with the kosher industry and in so doing, we find it and consider it to be mandatory- we are working with other kosher agencies besides the OU to put into their contracts with those businesses that there are specific expectations of how they are to treat their workers, tzaar baalei chayim; these must be part and parcel of what the kosher agencies respect- HOWEVER, we delude ourselves and we mislead the public if we think that the agencies themselves can in any way be responsible for enforcing in the sense of monitoring, investigating and coming up with reliable findings- of the thousands upon thousands of kosher-producing businesses- something beyond what anybody can reasonably expect. A single case with a single Rabbi at the RCA we can spend years, and that’s relatively simple! Any allegation made by one or hurdnreds of thousands of employees who may be working there is simply beyond what can be realistically expected. Left to governmental authorities, certainly we would want and expect that a kosher agency should not be “mitchaber l’rasha.” If such allegations have bene proven then the kosher agency should either disassociate or put in place certain penalties depending on what has been found/ documented and in that way to take a moral position.

Finally, question of how ought our community, particularly college students and consumers respond to this? Atzmecha- instead of pointing one’s fingers at others, to take a look inside oneself. I started out thinking I would change the world and instead decided to change ourselves. I think that if within our own lives we strive, in light of whatever is coming out there, to be more ethical, to practice more sensitivity outside of the Torah- scandal such as the one we have been hearing about. Indeed, every individual has the right to take personal action in the private realm up to and possibly including not being part of or not purchasing and not supporting such businesses even though one feels that this may not have bene proven- that is one’s right. One can say: I don’t have to support it until such time as the allegations have been proven to be true. In so doing, one also has t confront the very real questions of what are te larger ramifications of boycott- bringing about the demise of what might in the end be an innocent party. One has to consider the larger picture, not just to respond at the battle and say, I am going to do this; consequences be damned or damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. And so in complex situation slike this, we have to act with due consideration; we have always to put the ethical and moral at the top of our agenda but to do so in a way that brings about rather than defeats the goals that we need to achieve- all of us, together. Orthodox, Conservative, Reform- and god willing, we will all come out as one.

(from our vantage point, moving right to left- humor)

R’ SHMULY YANKLOWITZ: It’s really such a great honor to be with you all tonight. I would like to thank Gilah Kletenik and Simcha Gross- really exciting to see how much they have accomplished, passionate students at this Yeshiva and University. It’s also great to see President Joel and Rabbi Blau and put Rav Nati Helfgot in my semicha training. R’ Genack who demanded that Agriprocessors change its leadership, R’ Herring who developed these businesses and ethical practices and R’ Shafran who has been articulate about all this.

Personal journey- I arrived in Ghana, Africa a few years ago to work in a village. He noticed that I was carrying bags of food that I had brought from overseas and the chief of the tribe inquired why I had brought my own food and I explained that I was a Jew. And African tribe chief- it clicked for me that the world looks to Jews to represent an elevated and moral standard. When the nation sees a heksher and when the world says kosher laws, they think it’s a higher ethical standard. I left Ghana feeling inspired by the mission of Klal Yisrael. And this is why I was so hurt when I visited Postville just a few months ago- I saw workers who had experienced deep suffering. Maria from Guatemala- nasty, hot, bloody and slave-like conditions, 7-10:30 with only a 10 minute lunch-break with less than minimum wage.

Uri L’Tzedek- when we met with them and requested transparency- consumer trust had been broken. These are the men and women who have made our meat for our Shabbos tables- who will stand up and take up for them. I realized that social justice was not some concept- people’s lives are at stake. Literally thousands of Jews have emailed us with questions and asking us to defend these people. Paying below minimum wage which many thought was a lie but the company was fined $10 million dollars. Nezek, Tzaar, damages paid in unemployment, medical issues, unemployment- is this the Ohr LaGoyim? Are we really willing to argue it’s only anti-semitism when others look to us- is it not hypocritical when we say we want to have a higher ethical paradigm?

Focusing exclusively on kashrut and not paying attention to ethics makes halakha morally irrelevant, chas v’shalom. The Boston Beis Din assured grapes due to the extremely low – chashash for the issur d’oraisa of choshek- where is our moral courage? This is why R’ Israel Salanter said he refused to certify the Matzah factories as kosher because the women’s blood was as good as mixed with the matzot. Courage is found with person in Miami Beach who refused to do this (purchase Rubashkin meat after the initial raid.) Courage is found with the man whose factory burned down and still managed to pay all his workers.

In Kiddushin nun-vav amud beis, we learn that the consumer of goods produced culpably, and also Gemara Nedarim chaf-beis amud aleph, and the Rambam in Hilchos Geneiva paskened we don’t buy goods that are prepared unethically. The Gra in Choshen Mishpat learns from this Gemara nd R’ Schechter quotes the Rav in his article on Dina d’Malchusa Dina- as saying you cannot _____. Even if ethics and kashrut are not connected, they are connected in people’s minds- sitting back and enjoying one’s kosher sandwich, especially if it was produced in this way (oshek, etc)- is forbidden.

The Rav taught us that halakha was a floor, not a ceiling- it’s there to inspire much higher levels of ______.

Ramban- If one has kept perfectly kosher but has _____ - naval b’rshus haTorah. R’ Soloveitchik said on this point that “It is the Choshen Mishpat that represents the ___ of the Jewish nations’s greatness.” This is why the Rav fought desperately that the butchers _____, why when there was a yeshiva that could not pay its taxes, he said it had to close down. Tzitz Eliezer, R’ Moshe Feinstein, etc argued for _______

New paradigms for our leadership- we have found right here that there is a tremendous amount of exploitation, at times suffering from abuses, and the government is failing to address this. The attacks on the Orthodox and Kashrus will – we may not see these standards enforced. Agri is now behind us, but we need leadership- Uri L’Tzedek and the student community have a very important part of this. Uri L’Tzedek is launching an ethical seal for restaurants to show that in addition to the food, their workers are treated ethically behind the counters. Take responsibility for ourselves without the government interference- modeled off the Ktav ____ in Israel which has been tremendously successful. That has been backed by R’ Aaron Lichtenstein- something similar has been launched in Los Angeles. This is happening now – we must have the moral courage to tackle this crisis head-on. Uri L’Tzedek website to have the Ketav HaYosher.

The next time you are in a restaurant, take three seconds and see the infinite human dignity in their face. Friends, dream with me- imagine the day we could rise and see that Judaism was truly moral. Friends, dream with me that Maria can buy her 7-month-year-old baby boy formula after creating our kosher meat.

Now, it might seem that we are only fighting for non-Jewish lives here, but we are also fighting for the soul of the Jewish people. I close with the words of the Rav in "Confrontation:" “We are called upon to tell the community not only the story it already knows - that we are human beings, committed to the general welfare and progress of mankind, that we are interested in combating disease, in alleviating human suffering, in protecting man's rights, in helping the needy, et cetera - but also what is still unknown to it, namely, our otherness as a metaphysical covenantal community." Friends, that Other is the African Chief, Maria at Agri, Jose serving our falafel. We have been confronted.

[I didn't get most of that speech, mostly because the man was busy speaking too fast/ animatedly.]

GILAH: All right, that was pretty intense. (LAUGHTER)- We’re now up for questions.

SIMCHA: Due to technical difficulties, we – Rabbi Shafran, in your comments, you said that the kashrut status of a food is not affected by/ should it affect its kashrut certification?

It can be something more and it should be something more- exactly what more it should be is something that I think has to go to the Einei Ha’Eidah. Kashrut certifier is certifying not only the kashrut of the item but also other aspects.

GILAH: Do any of the panelists want to respond to that/ plow ahead to the next question?

Could Rabbi Genack give us a concrete example of how the OU balances?

GILAH: So I see this is very interactive.

R’ GENACK: We view giving certification as a seal of approval, not only that it’s kosher but also that it meets certain standards in terms of people’s perception as well. Recently there was a company in India- child labor there, we didn’t grant the supervision. I wanted to respond to something that was mentioned before in terms of the Rubashkin case; I think one of the things you asked is how do we respond to a scandal and so on. I followed this story very closely for the past four years and I don’t think anyone thinks I am an apologist for the Rubashkins; I know the Rubashkins don’t think I am (those that still talk to me.) But I think that the story in the press was really unbalanced- that’s not to say I don’t think they hired illegal immigrants or bank fraud, etc, but having said that- the picture that this plant was the den of iniquity is just not true. The OU has 8000 plants on supervision. Slaughterhouses are ___ prices. To the untrained eye, it seems like something horrendous is happening and PETA plays on that. And the story in terms of the Postville plant I think requires more balance- the notion that there was a meth factory in the middle of this plant; there was no meth factory in the middle of this plant. I was actually very disappointed in the way the state of Iowa handled the case. $10 million dollar fine for what they subtracted for the use of a smock- $10 million dollars is what happens in Russia, Putin- not what should happen in the United States. 9000 counts- 32 kids were underage; was that an appropriate response? I think they probably knew about the illegal aliens, but 32 kids? How do students respond to a scandal? I think the story is much more nuanced and requires more – Bill Sullivan, Deputy General of Illinois who is representing some of these workers and a lot of them told them they were grateful to the Rubashkins that they gave them a job, but don’t think this is so unique- that’s not to say giving the illegal aliens a job is appropriate; it’s not appropriate. Some of them are working in restaurants in New York and some of them working in your homes- I didn’t think it was there; that’s not to say I think the Rubashkins handled it well. I was furious with them because I thought that the image of a Jew was being – I think fundamentally they are good people but they broke the law, and there are consequences for breaking the law. They didn’t have the professionalism to survive, small business, they are paying- maybe properly- a very heavy price for it. Looking inside, it should give you some pause to be very skeptical about things assorted as absolute facts- did they have vested interest- did they skew the story a little bit? They were sort of swept up in the vortex – of course you can count on the Bush administration to smooth things up (CLAPPING)- absolutely outrageous, taking the workers and putting them in jail, no due process; they barely know what’s happening. Exacerbated by poor management in the factory by the family but a lot of that was workers/ supervisors, some of them, on the floor- might have been abusive- but the notion that this is sort of like a Goulag – it wasn’t- and I don’t think it was standard practice that they were paid below minimum wage. That’s not the charge they were accused of- they were charged with two things: 1) Hiring illegal aliens and 2) Bank fraud.

GILAH: What we’re wondering is- many have discussed a lot of what’s happened reportedly at Rubashkins are accusations and there hasn’t been a day in court yet. What if somebody is convicted (tried and convicted and found to have done illegal things- clearly they are over on dina d’malchuta dina)- what then? When an organization is convicted by dina d’malchuta dina, how does a kosher certification react?

R’ BASIL HERRING: First of all, I think you should know that Rabbi Genack is a very humble man and I am going to speak for him- the OU has in its contracts worth- the businesses that it supervises that if there are ethical lapses that are documented, that that will result in the removal of the hashgacha. The OU is not just a processor of kosher requirements; there is a moral conscience there. We commend the OU for that. I spoke on this topic- theme of the day- they were all in agreement that something has to be done, all in agreement that this must be a concern of major national kosher agencies. The question is realistically, what can be done. The answer, in short, is who is guilty- was it management, ownership; was it done on a consistent basis; were there warnings issues; was there disregard for those warnings- all of these things have to be factored into the equation and the appropriate response forthcoming. One thing that cannot be allowed to happen is business as usual- given the outrage and the outcries we have heard here and over the months past, even if you wanted to ignore it, you couldn’t, and the Rabbis certainly feel the pain and the pressure from within and from the communities to know that these are the things that must change. Without being overly simplistic, certainly we must respond, but it must be a response which is also _____.

SHMULY: The Kuzari says the Jews are like a symphony, that we don’t daven tefillah b’yachid, why? Because all our weaknesses are exposed- that’s why we need everybody invested in this issue, the Agudah, the RCA, the OU, Yeshiva University, Uri L’Tzedek- on this question of what to do when they are violating. Ktav Yosher is modeled off of being a partnership- we don’t want to do this. Anyone who does not protest a wrong is punished for the transgressions of the entire world- or by the Bar Kamtza story, Jerusalem was destroyed because – until the humans employed in your industry are treated as Tzelem Elokim.

GILAH: The leadership of Rubashkin stepped down- seems to indicate some sort of connection between ethics and kashrut.

R’ GENACK: The OU’s conviction was that there has to be some level of due process. America’s the greatest enterprise in the history of the world for good and part of that is due process. They haven’t been convicted yet, but what we did is that if they are indicted and they were indicted at least for misdemeanors in Iowa, we said that unless they change their management, we won’t continue to supervise them. ____ long before that. We’re concerned about the perception in general, as I mentioned before. Things are not so obvious what the response should be- we’re balancing a stream of kosher food. The Heksher Tzedek- they didn’t call for a boycott of the product, although it goes without saying they were upset about that- in a lot of towns there was no alterantive for the kosher meat- that’s the sole supplier. If they were running a concentration camp, there’d be no choice, but that wasn’t the case. In this case, we thought that the violations that were claimed- ADM is one of the most important suppliers of raw material oils, flour, etc- the CEO of ADM- Andreas was charged and then convicted with conspiracy to raise prices. Everything ultimately runs on corn. Does that mean we should automatically remove supervision from ADM? The answer, I thought, was no. Compliance with the law no is really- depends on a lot of different factors- where we think they are going- where are they going in the future. Are there attempts to remedy the problem but the answer is not a simple answer of you violate this, we cut you off- we are here to promote kosher and to try to make it available inexpensively. R’ Soloveitchik said to my predecessor that whenever you see an OU symbol on the product, speaks to vitatily of the American Jew.

GILAH: Ask R’ Shafran to respond but also to respond to the idea of Gedolim playing a role- who exactly are these Gedolim (LAUGHTER) and what are we expecting them to do?

R’ SHAFRAN: Particularly R’ Herring, said it very well. Obviously difficult questions- I think in terms of a driving violation, moving violation- someone drives in an irresponsible fashion, point at which he gets a ticket, perhaps his license gets taken away. Point of view where he’s taken to prison because of his disregard. These are questions that can’t be answered- not the answer to questions that require a certain amount of deliberation, deep thought, consultation with rabbinical authorities. I cannot list the names of Gedolim because I would leave someone out and offend somebody- we’re all Rabbis, perhaps, rabbinical students, which is just as good, but we’re not, I think, what we would purport to call halakhic authorities on the level of the posek. And then there’s a level beyond a posek- a Gadol. Different Orthodox communities look to different Orthodox authorities and far be it from me to impugn the right of any Jew to look to his authority- but he has to look to his authorities. That Rabbinical authority has to be consulted about what the proper response would be and there is no one size fits all in such things.

SIMCHA: Shmuly, your organization, Uri L’Tzedek has created the seal Ktav HaYosher. Your organization sounds very similar to Heksher Tzedek- are they the same or are they different and what do you like or not like about Heksher Tzedek?

SHMULY: I generally prefer to only say what I like but that’s not the purpose of the panel tonight, so I guess I’ll just lay out a couple differences. One is that they call it heksher- might be conflating kashrut with ethics. I think they also want to charge money for their heksher; ketav would be totally free. Also I think their standards are striving for ideals while we are trying to go for realities (I mean, we were wondering- what about environmental aspects, fair trade, etc) but we are really modeled off what is in Israel.

SIMCHA: R’ Genack, in a recent article and in your comments, both you and R’ Herring agreed that : all those issues are under the _____ - problem where secular society defines our standards- we don’t define our school dress codes by those standards-

R’ GENACK: There’s a presumption here that somehow the federal standards are lower than the halakhic standards. That is probably, in most cases, not the case- they are usually more stringent. I would think that those standards that the government sets are the standards that motivate- should the OU be the one to determine how much arsenic there is in the water? Do we have expertise in that? We don’t. Their standards are much higher than halakhic standards that are required- these principles that we’ve relegated so-to-speak; these are all principles that are Torah principles, that Torah taught the world. To be concerned about the environment- Baal Tashchis- these principles, broad principles are Torah principles- obviously federal agencies can do a much more effective job with these than we- but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t take action if we could. We have to understand one other thing- supervise 80 countries around the globe. There are 8000 factories around the globe- kosher food available for the American Jew- we just don’t have the resources- to try to set arbitrary standards on our own. People call me all the time and say how do you give supervision on this or that candy- it’s going to kill you. I’ve grown up on Hersheys Chocolate Bars; I know you can at least survive to a certain age. And we say that is a determination we are going to leave to the FDA.

R” BASIL HERRING: I’ll be quite frank- within our ___ - the principles that we hope will be adopted, we have struggled mightily with many of these questions- the relationship of dina d’malchuta dina to what might be a higher ethical standard that halakha might require- it’s a huge problem- R’ Genack mentioned 80 countries around the year. Dina d’Malchuta Dina in Thailand or India- who are we to dictate or demand of a farmer in Thailand that his 14 year old cannot work when it may make the difference between life or death. It’s very easy for us to sit here in our ivory towers, armchair philosophizing, what is the position in third-world countries. What is absolutely required, what is the tradeoff with these standards- we are struggling with it right now; hopefully we will come to some kind of resolution but it is not a simple matter whatsoever.

GILAH: There’s been a lot of talk about dina d’malchuta dina. Is it only dina d’malchuta dina- there are certainly more halakhot that deal with this- it seems that the Torah has pretty straightforward clear guidelines about how to act – so we are addressing this to all the panelists minus Shmuly.

RABBI SHAFRAN: The Torah- the key word is what Gilah mentioned, guidelines. I don’t think that there are specifics in halakha that address issues like child labor, minimum wage- so I would question the premise that beyond dina d’malchusa dina, in this realm at least, that halakha has a specific standard that are beyond those of our society. We live in an extremely socially conscious society- the very fact that we have social justice laws- the fact that there is an OSHA which can be a very onerous organization, environmental concerns, child labor laws, etc- all sorts of law about government-employee relations goes beyond the letter of the law. Doesn’t make it bad, makes it even better- lifnei m’shuras ha’din. That’s the essence of dina d’malchusa did. There is a Magen Avraham, I think- I didn’t come as prepared as R’ Shmuly did- the decorum that is normative in a non-Jewish house of worship is the decorum required in a Jewish place- has bearing on what we have here. Something is considered unacceptable because it’s not sufficiently respectful of the house of worship- becomes a requirement in the Jewish house of worship. It’s not a minor thing- it’s a major thing and needless to say, we are all obligated to keep to that din.

Briefly to something I think R’ Herring said, maybe R’ Shmuly- I think that the Baalei Musasr are very clear about the fact that when something takes place in larger society or larger Jewish society that has a negative impact on us, it is fed by a lot of little actions that we either take or don’t take. I would like to suggest that – and I am speaking to myself and you can listen to in- each of us in our personal lives have to see whether we perhaps were not sufficiently careful, that perhaps we fed into something that has become a national scandal- we should leave with at the very least that.

GILAH: You noted how Torah does not have specific laws pertaining to child labor, and concluded by encouraging us to look inwards- I was always under the impression that the Torah is really a beacon of light of how to treat other people in this world and why the Torah may not have a specific prohibition against child labor laws against Guatemalan workers- if we’re looking inwards, how are we supposed to act and respond to these social justice concerns?

R' SHAFRAN: I don’t see the contradiction there. I would never hesitate to ask my child to clean his room or mow his lawn- it’s child labor, but child labor is only wrong when it reaches a certain age- the Torah would definitely forbid any dangerous or onerous work – it’s a fact that there is no across-the-board age limit on doing work. What I was talking about when I mentioned looking inward, there is out there and in here a perception that Judaism is not sufficiently concerned with Kavod HaBriot and the wellbeing of other people. Each of us in every day of our lives comes up against a minor reflection of that sort of oppression. It can be in terms of how we speak to someone- causing pain with words, so what I meant to suggest that if one turns to one’s spouse and says something mean- insulting becomes the coin of the realm; if we resist that influence and make an effort to treat one another – full respect of humanity, I think that will have a trickle-up effect and might prevent the next scandal.

R’ BASIL HERRING: Just wanted to read a couple of sentences from a famous statement of the Maggid Mishna- what he says there is that the Torah has laid down general principles concerning the development of one’s character in the world- meaning one’s interpersonal conduct should be just. Would the Torah’s commands apply in all times, every period, when man’s characteristics vary according to the time- some they made absolute as Din and others only L’Chatchila and Chassidut- all ordained by them. Use your seichel and apply it, whether you are consulting with the Gadol Sheb’dor. In light of the prism which the Torah gives us- Torah she’bikhtav and Torah she’baal peh.

ME: [barefoot, but at least my nails are painted!] I think R’ Shafran made a point no one has adequately answered- why just this? Why stop here? Why kosher? Because of the PERCEPTION? What about unpleasant things like Eved Knaani or selling your daughter into slavery? My father used to joke, before I turned twelve, that he would sell me…Where do our ethics derive from- the Torah or outside of the Torah? What about my Nike sweatshop sneakers- are you going to stop buying them? Downloading music and stealing from people? Will we create an organization to stop those?

SHMULY: So why kashrut- that’s a fantastic question- there’s a couple answers- that’s where the allegations are right now- at least that’s what is being highlighted- the world associates kashrut with ethics. That’s more than our gym shoes- I think they are quite different than our kashrut and our ethics. How kashrut is connected to kedusha- I think that halakha is driving us to create a moral and spiritual consciousness- every time we eat something and make a bracha- kashrut has a very special place for us- we could care about our sneakers- but just because we could do everything, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do anything. Let’s start somewhere and then let’s go to our sneakers.

The other point that is asked here is where ethics derive- there’s a pluralism of ethics from the Torah- some comes from our mentors and Rabbeim- I think one of the most important parts and one missing from the Orthodox community is from encounter. Not just to read the newspaper- there’s been trips here through YU which are fantastic- we have to understand the narratives of other humans- have to see the neshama- I care about you.

RABBI GENACK: Rabbi Shafran said he thinks we should start at the bottom with Nike shoes.

[I don’t think these answer my question….]

STEVEN: Rabbi Genack, you had mentioned that we should leave the decisions to the government authorities- yet the first time this came up, when do we trust them/ when don’t we trust them (the government) and how does that play into how the OU interacts with these organizations?

RABBI GENACK: My point was not that everything the government does was absolutely correct- my point was in terms of expertise, etc, to handle these issues- there are agencies set up and equipped to do it- if we know that something is a violation of ethics and law- appropriate authority- but you know is ask a kashrus agency to determine what is the standard. I mean, who sets that standard- we’re not scientists; we don’t have the authority- is dumping salt into the (water?) It’s not that we are not concerned with those issues- it’s that we should be more humble in terms of what we could do and what’s appropriate for us to do. System set up is an appropriate one and that’s why I think it’s more meaningful to rely on them- don’t have the expertise to measure too much cholesterol, too little cholesterol- we look to the FDA for that- people talk about what was happening to the Rubashkin plant- so obvious that anybody could notice them- I didn’t mean to set up the government as the ultimate authority in terms of ethical behavior- if we live in a country, certainly in the USA- where we can rely on expertise, their sense of purpose- and they do it frankly better than us. And if we try to do what we can’t do, we will fail in terms of our basic issue.

GILAH: Been a very intense and enlightening evening- we placed ourselves firmly in the Mesorah of Jewish history and asking questions and struggling for answers. Like to thank all of our panelists (APPLAUSE)- in addition we would like to thank the undergraduate counsels. Finally, we would like to thank each and every one of you for coming and being a part of Jewish history tonight.

R’ GENACK: There is a story that I did want to tell- what always struck me about the story about Rubashkin- in terms of getting into this mess- [I missed the story because I was on the phone] maybe it was a little less, it wasn’t remarkably different except for the alleged violations of law- what got them in trouble initially was the story of PETA (is that what he said?). Once the issue of PETA was raised- the Rav could see 50 years ahead- he took the initiative to take research about kosher slaughter and how humane it is and how to make the process- some of the issues were raised; this wasn’t the Rav’s normal career path but you know, he sometimes would go out of that path because he thought there was something – challenge to the Jewish community- did it later on in terms of this issue. It’s an interesting issue to look into- you should look into that book- it teaches us in terms of real leadership.


Anonymous said...

"[I don’t think these answer my question….]"

They don't answer you question, there is no answer, this movement has little basis in real halacha. It's a cause, a cause is when you ask someone why they are doing it and they answer "well, um, because"

nmf #7 said...

Excellent! Thanks, Chana- wish I could have been there personally to enjoy it!
And- your question is probably too tough a question to answer in such a limited forum- it includes all things that we Jewish people do that are not right in terms of the law, but are done anyway...ex: hiring illegal immigrant cleaning ladies was mentioned in the speech.

Toviah said...

Looks like you're famous again :) Check hirhurim.

dman said...


Thank you.

Nachum said...

I wish that R' Yanklowitz could have distinguished himself from Hechsher Tzedek by pointing out that before they've even gotten off the ground, they've decided to buy into the left-wing agenda, in every detail, as "kashrut." Instead, he chose to praise that agenda but simply say this wasn't the time or some such.

Ah well. Where's a modern-minded Jew to go if he doesn't accept all the liberal nonsense?

Kol HaKavod to the organizers and participants. I was able to watch online and hope to attend TEIQU's event tomorrow in person.

Charlie Hall said...


Thank you for yet another great transcript! You have been doing such great service for the Jewish community.

"[barefoot, but at least my nails are painted!] "

Ok, you've avoided sweatshop sneakers, but did you check out conditions at the chemical factory where your nail polish was manufactured? ;) Seriously, your question was probably the most profound of the night.

The Cousin said...

Bookmarked to read later...looks interesting.

Question from a (YU/Stern) outsider--what does "TEIQU" stand for?

SimchaGross said...

The Cousin:
TEIQU stands for:
A Torah Exploration of Ideas, Questions and Understanding

Anonymous said...

Note the Chofetz Chaim Heritage foundation's focus on lashon hara? Why no focus on x,y or z? Is this any different than your question?

Was R' Shafran asked if he would OK a hechsher on a restaurant that had mixed dancing? an internet cafe (Main St. Queens?)

The short answer to your question is ain hachi nami but this is where the action is today.

Joel Rich

AJ said...

BTW What Shmuley keeps talking about is not a "Ktav" but a "tav" -- i.e. certificate.

He is modeling himself off of the "Tav HaChevrati" ("Social Certificate") in Jerusalem, which is run by "Bma'agalei Tzedek", a Jerusalem-based Religious Zionist social justice organization. This Tav is put up in restaurants that follow Israeli labor laws -- paying workers overtime, giving them breaks, etc... Unfortunately, Israel has less than 10 government workers in the entire country who enforce these laws, so it comes to private organizations to do so. They then publicize the list of restaurants (I have been in houses of Israeli friends who have a fridge magnet of the list of local restaurants under the Tav.

If you are curious, here is information about the organization as a whole:
and about the certificate

AJ said...

Also Chana, about your question, it is simply more practical to focus on food organizations -- they already need some type of Hechsher, so this is just one more step. Rabbis already have access to these organizations -- there is no reason that Nike will allow access to the Rabbis.

Moreover, because these Kashrut organizations are run by religious Jews for religious Jews, a religious Jewish organization can have a greater effect. First of all, if the owner is a religious Jew, than the words of a Rabbi means more. But even moreso, if all religious Jews were to boycott Nike, we would have no effect, because we make up a tiny portion of their revenues, and it is not economically worth it for them to listen to our demands. If we were to organize a boycott against a specific Kosher restaurant for not paying taxes or not paying their workers enough, it will make financial sense for them to follow the law.

Sam said...

Thanks for posting this, Chana.

Agreed with Joel Rich. Anonymous (2:25), you are so wrong. How sad that so many don't seem to see ethics as part of halakha. After exhortation upon exhortation in Chumash to treat the stranger well because we were once suffering strangers, after all the commandments to pay workers on time and protect the downtrodden, after Yeshayah telling us all our rituals are worth nothing if we cannot be decent people--after all that and more, you still see no basis in Judaism to make sure we're not exploiting and abusing others? A religion of Jewish ritual law alone is not Judaism, and caring about the downtrodden is not a "liberal" idea, it's a Torah idea.

So why am part of that cause? Because I'm sick of seeing Judaism being twisted around by those who make excuses not to care about ethical abuses. .

The answer to Chana's question, as I understand it, is a pragmatic one as Shmuly and Joel Rich put it: the food industry is what has the attention now, and it's where there is enough steam to create change because people are aware of the problems. Of course it would be ideal to eventually expand this concept. Also, in my personal opinion, I think the ritual law surrounding Kashrut highlights the discrepancy between that and the ethical laws/standards being broken, and make us look like even bigger hypocrites than in other industries.

srosan weng said...

Please kindly visit our website: We have many NEW fashion nike Jordan1-21,Airforce ones,shox,AirMax ,dunk,Bape shoes,Prada, gucci,Timberland,adidas,Puma and clothing in stock.And very cheap (from $25/pair to $50/pair).They are all very popular recently.
Nice to talk with you on MSN. (

Nachum said...

Also, like it or not, correct or not, once the kosher symbol is on something, there's going to be more attention paid to abuses of other sorts at that company. Simple as that.

zach said...

Avi Shafran's apologetics disgust me.

1) "Any lapses [and he repeats this multiple times] in ethical behavior has no affect on the kashrut of the food that they product." No affect? Is he really saying that ethical behavior is not a halachic issue? If so, would he accept a reform rabbi as a shochet even if he is makpid on kashrut but not in hilchot Shabbat?? Of course not. Shafran compartmentalizes halacha and says that one can still be considered frum yet cheat others, cheap on taxes, speak loshon harah, abuse workers, abuse children, etc.

2) "Jewish producers should not be held more accountable for non-ethical behavior than merchants of Judaica, booksellers, educational institutions...". More accountable in general, no, but certainly more accountable in kashrut!

3) "The heksher tzedek was conceived in sin because it jumped to negative judgments of others." Strong words, but is Shafran saying "Agriprocessors is innocent until court proceedings are concluded?" No matter what evidence is made available to the public? So be consistent Shafran, would you let your child alone with one of the many accused child molesters before they went to trial?

4) "I don’t expect a Conservative Rabbi to acknowledge that fact- as non-Orthodox rabbis are based on progression, not on Mesorah and not on respect for elders." So he now insults every non-Orthodox Jew as not having respect for elders?

Shafran makes me ashamed of Orthodoxy.

Roman said...

I saw the debate live. It was handled very well and is a great opnener for TEIQU. I will attend their furutre events.

That said, I felt the Gila,the moderator had some liberal bias.

She pressed R' Shafran to declare who his gedolim were (which I felt is a question everyone in the audience knew the answer to. He's the public relations head of the agudah - its fairly obvious his gedolim are the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah), but as a friend pointed out,she never asked Shmuly to respond to R' Shafran's position that such an action needs rabbinic authority.

I think that is a very relevent question to ask. At least much more revelvent then the question she asked R' Shafran.

Other then that minor quip, it was an excellent event and a great service to the community.

Roman said...

to Zack:

1) Well intended but logically flawed. ethics is a halachik issue,but not a kashrut issue. The reason a reform schochet cant be trusted is because according to the halachos of kashrut, to be a proper witness one must have a certain level of halackic observance.

agree with 2 and 4

SS said...

I was personally impressed that ANYONE could get those four people in the same room! Hazzaq U'Barukh to the organizers- Simha and Gilah.

I think the points were well taken but i don't think there was a strong emphasis on unity. After the panel everyone parted on their own ways! There was no huddle by all 4 panelists, with them putting thier hands in the chanting Sedeq! or Sedeq Umishpat!

I think there needs to be a joint effort- putting our differences aside and working on projects to now spread this mission of Sedeq Umishpat- AKA the Torah.

Well with that said- I had a wonderful night.

Anonymous said...

"why just this? Why stop here?...What about unpleasant things like Eved Knaani or selling your daughter into slavery?"

Are you playing with a full deck? You are comparing exploitation of poor workers with dinei torah that are all with chesed and rachamin? what do you want, you want to throttle "unpleasant" halachos? maybe we should shorten the niddah cycle? If you don't like judaism there are plenty of other religions you can go join.

tzvee said...

zach says, "Shafran makes me ashamed of Orthodoxy." Take it easy. It's not just you. Lots of regular folk agree with you and just ignore him.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps an answer to your question (which I find odd was not brought up by the responder to your question) is that frum Jews are involved with the Kosher food industry. We need to begin by some in-house cleaning before moving on. Part of the issue is that the owners of the kosher food companies are acting in issur and committing aveiros themselves...just as a frum Jew should not sell meat that has not been shechted properly, so too he must not sell products that have been produced through negligence of other halachos. Whether they be food or shoes. I'd venture to guess that there are more frum Jews involved in the food business at many levels (raw materials, slaughterhouses, producers, factories, restaurants, grocery stores, etc.) than in the shoemaking business. And even if this statement were incorrect, namely, that there are not so many frum Jews involved in food production, those who are involved in it are easier to reach and easier to reform through these measures. Contrary to Anonymous of 12-10 at 2:25AM, it is, in fact, based on both Jewish values and halacha, and, dare I say, universal values that transcend time and location(not "liberal social values we, nebach, got from secular culture"). Exploiting human beings in the manner that many are exploited today, physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, or, Ch"V sexually, is just plain wrong. Any argument along the lines of "it's better than the alternative" is a morally relativist argument--are we to say that how humans are to be treated depends on what the other option is? Am I, as an alternative to the worse option, to simply imitate them but make it slightly better? "In job X, they would have whipped you payed you 46 cents an hour. Bu we are better than that...we shall slap you and pay you 50 cents." Surely, as frum Jews, we do not believe in moral relativism such as this. I'm sure Shmuly can quote you the sources.

SimchaGross said...

In case anyone is interested, The New York Times covered the event:

MICHOEL said...

some of the comments here are a bit silly. Ethics is a halachic issue, of course. But kashrus has it's own dinim. And whose ethics? Maybe hiring illegals is a great act of chesed. Does anyone force them to take those jobs? So maybe, given a choice between not hiring illegals (or a 15 year old in need of money) and hiring them and allowing them to buy food, maybe the ethical imperative is to hire them. Prove that it isn't! Do mixing ill-defined "ethics" into kashrus is a very bad idea.

dman said...


You do not appear to have considered dina d'malchuta dina and the Chillul Hashem emanating from the Postville situation in your analysis.

Sam said...


The concern of a lot of people--and this is what Shmuly's organization is currently addressing--has not been whether or not to hire these workers, but how they are treated once they are hired. Illegal immigrants have the same rights as workers under US laws, but would be afraid to go to the authorities if they are abused, meaning they are particularly vulnerable..

So, you have workers (legal or illegal) working for well under minimum wage, or not getting paid on time/not getting paid overtime, or in some cases even sexually/otherwise harrassed. I think we can all agree fairly well that this is unethical, and whatever their situation would be otherwise has no bearing whatsoever on our obligation to stop this kind of treatment.

MICHOEL said...

Hello Sam and Dman,
Sam: I don't disagree with you but who and where is the line going to be drawn? If case A is clearly unethical, case B is not.

Dman, DDMD doesn't effect kashrus. And we are not smarter than the Ribbono Shel Olam. If, let's say, one who eats treif b'farhesia, is pasul l'eidus, and now the entire world adopts the hechsher tzedek idea, so what is the din of someone that eats meat that he knows is kasher but does not have a hechsher tzedek? To argue that hechsher tzedek has the ability to come and be posul his eidus is asking for a lot of problems. Maybe he was and eid by someones kiddushin. I am just throwing out ideas that need to be thought about.

Greg said...

Bet you guys didn't know this, but the NY Times was there!

Here is the link to the article:

Sam said...


I agree with you very much that there is a level of ritual kashrut unaffected by other points. As someone who has increasingly been learning more about Uri L'tzedek--again, the organization Shmuly is from-- and their campaign, though, I urge you to do the same. They are not confusing the actual dinim of kashrut with the ethical questions as in your scenario, but rather pointing out that we do still have the obligation to act ethically on top of eating food prepared in a kosher manner. (See my above responses on why, in that case, their campaign is currently working with restaurants/the kosher food industry--it's mostly practical). The problems you describe might be true of another organization (though I don't really know much about them, so I couldn't say), they are not of this one.

As to where to draw the line--you're certainly right, there could be cases without clear lines. But on the whole, there are some things going on that we definitely do know are unacceptable, and we can absolutely start with those. My understanding has been that Uri Ltzedek's campaign is using legal guidelines as a minimum that employers should live up to. While asking for minimum wage vs. living wage and other such questions are certainly debatable, legal guides are a sensible place to start (it is the law, after all). And, the fact that we're not sure exactly where to go should not mean we do not at all do a minimum we could.

Again, I really do recommend that you (or anyone else reading this) learn more about Uri Ltzedek and what they are doing. The more I have done so, the more pleased I have been.

Anonymous said...

In all honesty I agree that it is important that we do everything we can to ensure ethical treatment of workers, but there are severe logical flaws in the way Uri L'Tzedek has proposed doing that.

Anonymous said...

Sorry my first post got on without an explanation. Not sure how that happened.
1)They say they want to ensure that workers are treated ethically. However, when you get down to it, that's not what they want. They want to ensure that workers are payed minimum wage, and that they are treated according to other legal standards. These standards are not ethical ones, they are legal. These issues are under the jurisdiction of the government.
2) These standards are not objectively ethical. They are the social norms, and as such we should morally be bound to them. However, it is incorrect to assume it is anything more than that. A classic example which was discussed was child labor. In halacha, halacha encourages teaching your child an umanut, which is specifically physical labor. Halacha is probably refering to someone in their early teens. In the time of the Gemara that was the norm. Clearly have a child work the fields now would be problematic nowadays, but only because thay would be a violataion of social norms, unless you claim that American legal standards affect what was moral 1500 years ago.
3)To add to that point, what if one state has a higher minimin wage than another. Is the one with a lower minimum wage less moral. Clearly not. If a NY store pays the minimum wage of another state, it's violating the law,not ethics. If so, Tav HaYosher is just ensuring that stores keep the law.
4Purely ethical issues can not be monitered. For example, according to halacha, wronging someone verbally in worse than wronging him monetarily. Unless I'm mistaken, no one claiming that we should deny a store the tav hayosher because he screams at his workers.
-Just be honest, what you want to do is moniter ethics that fall under the rubric of the law. That's all you can do. If so, why does that help more than informing the authorites if you notice such a violation.

YoelB said...

This is a modification of a Hirhurim comment.

It seems to me that the OU (and other kashrut agencies) are hoist by their own petards in this. For many years they have been certifying products that don't actually need a hechsher. As I understand it, the reasoning goes something like this:

A company thinks its customers think that "kosher" means "we answer to a higher standard" (higher quality, cleaner, purer, more ethical,) and therefore will be more likely to buy a product if it's certified kosher. So the company contacts Kash-Rus-R-Us (henceforth KRRU) for supervision.

KRRU has the option of saying, "well that product is intrinsically kosher, you don't need our services." Instead, it says, "sure, we'll take the money and certify the product."

A naive person might ask "why?" "Well, it will raise the profile of our hechsher, help us hire more mashgichim, and help pay for supervision of other products which will help our overall operations. Anyway, they came to us."*

(The vast majority of customers for kosher products aren't Jewish. Probably less true for meat, but I know of non-Jews who buy kosher meat for the "higher standard" reason.)

At that point, KRRU has, in my view, obligated itself to its client' customers to make sure that the products KRRU certifies are, in fact answering to a higher standard.

Doing so does may well involve the complications that were mentioned by the panelists and some commentators above.

But isn't not doing so once you've accepted the money geneivat da'at, or at least aiding and abetting the company's geneivat da'at?

If KRRU tries to evade the issue by saying "technical kashrut (zeh l'chud v'zeh l'chud) is all we're interested in," it is in effect saying "kosher is one thing, that 'higher standard' stuff -- well, if those fools think it means our client is any better than any other company in the industry, we'll let them think our client's products are special it if that'll make them want to buy them. But we won't actually do anything special to justify what a bunch of idiots think. I mean, the government regulates all that stuff anyway."

When that attitude comes out, as it is bound to, what else is it but a chillul Hashem?

* I once asked the OU "why certify eggs if I still should check for bloodspots even on certified eggs?"
The OU's answer was extremely informative, but basically came down to "well, wouldn't you feel more comfortable if there's an OU on your eggs? The answer also stated "You can be sure that the OU, being that it has to protect its reputation for purity and quality, thoroughly inspected their plants to assure that these plants – adhered to the basic laws as demanded by the department of agriculture."
In other words, according to the OU's spokesman, the OU not only relies on the government regarding safety and sanitation issues, but audits its supervisees' compliance with the government. So why not audit compliance with, say, labor, environmental and financial regulations?