A Post in the Key of Random
I've used a lot of ink and link to cover the ongoing discussion about how and whether ethics and animal welfare, labor, and health standards apply to kashrut.
My two favorite J-blogs recently offered some compelling commentary on the matter. An all-around reflective post on The Jew & The Carrot noted that "if 21st century ethical action is your goal, kosher certifying agencies are not going to help you achieve it." FailedMessiah discussed the kosher implications of the recent peanut recall and said, "This scandal should also be a lesson to the many non-Jewish consumers of kosher products who buy those products because of perceived health benefits and 'purity.' Kosher does not equal healthy. Kosher does not equal pure. Kosher means edible according to Jewish ritual law – nothing more, but sometimes less."
JTA's The Telegraph reported this week:
For anyone who has followed the Agriprocessors saga, it might seem ludicrous to believe that kosher meat adheres to higher standards of health or ethics than any other meat. But according to a study by a Chicago market research firm, cited in a post on the Daily Dish blog at the L.A. Times, the top two reasons consumers say they purchase kosher food are quality and health.AgriProcessors as the Microcosm of a Larger Debate
According to the firm, Mintel, 62 percent of kosher consumers -- Jews, Christians and Muslims -- cited quality as their reason for choosing kosher. More than half cited "general healthfulness," while 34 percent cited safety.
Nathaniel Popper, a senior writer at the Forward who has been top of the kashrut and ethics debate for quite some time (and who interviewed me for a 2007 article), had an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal last week. Popper said that the attention given to the AgriProcessors saga, especially among Jews, "astonished even" him. Popper wrote:
[T]his one story had managed to distill some of the most essential questions and issues that are dividing and defining the Jewish community, and indeed religious communities of all stripes today.What's in a Name?
These divisions are, at their most basic, about the proper way to interpret religious law and values: Should we read our ancient texts literally or adapt them to a changing world? . . .
[T]he Agriprocessors debate has been about more than just law -- it has been about how Jews should relate to each other and the world. . . .
It is the very vitriol and divisive nature of the Agriprocessors debates that is one of the most characteristic elements of the increasingly polarized Jewish community of today. Progressive Jews passionate about social justice and Orthodox Jews unswerving in Talmudic law have interacted less and less in recent years, and disagreed more and more. The battles over Agriprocessors have underscored the suspicions between the two camps.
The Conservative movement's Hekhsher Tzedek program has been renamed Magen Tzedek. The Jew & The Carrot explains, "Orthodox supervision organizations such as the OU [Orthodox Union] were none too happy at the thought of a rival Conservative hekhsher telling them that their meat was kosher. In the meantime, it seemed like the founder of Hekhsher Tzedek, Rabbi Morris Allen, was spending half of his time explaining that the new seal was not intended to be a rival kashrut certification but an ethical seal. Thankfully, after discussions with the OU the parties have agreed on a new name."
Josephine Donovan has an article in Tikkun magazine about a feminist approach to animal protection. The article doesn't have any particular connection to Judaism, but you can read it here.