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Fighting for What's Kosher.

Byline: Nora Rube

In my introductory Judaism course, many of my students are surprised to learn that the actual definition of kosher has nothing to do with food. The slang use of the term ("Something's not kosher here") is actually correct. Kosher meat is not blessed by a rabbi, nor is it "cleaner" than other meat. Kosher simply means "fit" or "proper"; kosher meat is meat from an animal that is sanctioned by halakhah (Jewish law) and subsequently slaughtered according to that same law.

Questions about the nature of Jewish dietary laws entered the public discourse with new allegations surrounding the slaughterhouse Agriprocessors, which supplies over half of the nation's kosher meat. The allegations include an undocumented workforce, child labor violations, unreasonably low wages, poor safety training, extortion, and physical and sexual abuse.

Much of the outrage about these conditions came from the Conservative movement, which has recently raised the idea of an ethical stamp of approval for kosher goods. This stamp, known as hekhsher tzedek, is meant to be placed on products already determined to be kosher by recognized authorities (such as the Orthodox Union), but would signify that those goods were produced in an ethical and socially responsible manner. This proposal has drawn ridicule from some segments of the Orthodox community, who see it as hypocritical coming from a movement where many practitioners eschew dietary laws anyway.

The last few decades have seen an increase in multiple sinks, even multiple kitchens to fulfill kosher laws. While some argue that these increased standards are far beyond what our most revered ancestors practiced, those advocates for stricter standards claim that with great power comes greater responsibility. The question remains, why can't these stricter standards include demands for greater ethical and social responsibility?

Nora rube is assistant professor of religion and classics at the university of rochester in rochester, New york. (Reprinted from Sightings, and the Martin Marty Center at the university of Chicago Divinity School)
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Author:Rube, Nora
Publication:Spirituality & Health Magazine
Article Type:Reprint
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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