Point/Counterpoint | Religion & Jewish Life

Point/Counterpoint: Magen Tzedek encouraging, not replacing, kashrut

(JTA) — We appreciate Rabbi Shafran’s embrace of the importance of the work of Magen Tzedek when he states in his JTA Op-Ed, “to be sure Jewish ethical values in food production are no less important (than) halachic concerns, and are indeed embodied in independent halachic mandates. But they are distinct from kashrut.”

With that statement, Rabbi Shafran has conceded the very point that Magen Tzedek seeks to demonstrate for the Jewish community — Jewish ethical values are no less important than halachic concerns.

We also would like to reiterate a concession we already made. Our initial language regarding hekhsher and kashrut was confusing, and it was to distinguish between this certification and kashrut that we changed the name of the symbol, and subsequently the project, to Magen Tzedek. The outdated language on our website has been corrected.

Magen Tzedek is not a kashrut certification and has never sought to be a kashrut certification. Rather it is an ethical certification program that is only available for food products already bearing a recognized hekhsher.

Far from replacing kashrut, Magen Tzedek will encourage those concerned with Jewish ethical principles to purchase kosher products. Kosher consumers will be assured that kosher-certified foods are prepared in a manner consistent with Jewish ethical values. A clear indication of success for Magen Tzedek would be an increase in the number of Jews keeping kosher.

The Magen Tzedek Commission has labored quietly and diligently for 5 years. We are now in the final beta-testing stages in creating the world’s first and only comprehensive Jewish ethical certification for kosher food. Our seal will uphold the biblical and rabbinic mandates regarding fair treatment of workers, humane treatment of animals and care of the earth.

It is a testament to the wisdom of Torah, halachah and all Jewish tradition that these fundamental Jewish ethical precepts can be translated into measurable standards applicable to commercial food production. These standards were developed in collaboration with SAAS, an organization acknowledged worldwide for its expertise in ethical certification programs.

Judaism is a religion built upon ethical precepts. This conviction is shared by Jews who keep kosher as well as those who do not. What we in our rabbinate clearly see is that there are Jews who can be inspired through its ethical precepts to discover the wisdom of the halachic tradition.

Our invitation to Rabbi Shafran and others remains open: Join with us in strengthening the Jewish people through the promotion of the ethical production of kosher food and of kashrut observance itself. Let us work together to see that the maximum number of Jews in this and the coming generations embrace the totality of their “yerusha,” their inheritance. Together we can inspire even more Jews to embrace this tradition we all cherish.

(Rabbi Michael Siegel and Gerald Kobell are the Magen Tzedek co-chairs.)