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Hekhsher Tzedek

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Hekhsher Tzedek, Heckscher Tzedek, or Justice Certification is a proposed complementary certification for food produced in a way that meets comprehensive Halakha standards for workers and animals.[1]

Hekhsher Tzedek certification is not a form of kosher certification (and not to be confused with "hechsher") but has been described by supporters as complementary to Kosher certification. It was originated by rabbis within Conservative Judaism and has been endorsed by the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis, but specific legal and procedural requirements for implementation of certification remain under development.[2]


The certification resulted from the initiative of Rabbi Morris Allen of Beth Jacob Congregation in Mendota Heights, Minnesota following investigative reporting by Nathaniel Popper in The Forward regarding working conditions at the Rubashkin Agriprocessors kosher meat plant in Postville, Iowa.[3] In an interview with Pamela Miller from the Star Tribune, Rabbi Allen states,"While it [the team led by Rabbi Allen] was not able to verify all of the Forward's claims, 'we witnessed some things that went against the dignity of workers'".[4] Rabbi Allen argues We should not be eating food that has been produced in a way that has denied the dignity of the laborer. We should not be more concerned about the smoothness of a cow’s lung than we are about the safety of a worker’s hand. The Hekhsher Tzedek commission has put together a "Hekhsher Tzedek Brochure" which gives a quick overview of the need for, and goals of, Hekhsher Tzedek.


Hekhsher Tzedek proponents cite many D'Oraita and D'Rabbanan mitzvot. The obligations of humans to humans and animals is a thread that runs through the Torah. The Rabbinic sages delineate On'ah, Ha'akah and Tza'ar Ba'alei Haim in human relations to the other, beast or human. In Ona'ah, Deuteronomy 24:14-15, "You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, whether a fellow countryman or a stranger" as one D'oraitha, biblical basis for prohibition. Another for animals is Tza'ar Ba'alei Hayim. These Dueteronomic verses, and many kindred ones, emphasize God's care of all humans and animals; The famous injunction of Shiluah Ha'kaan to send the mother bird away, though sitting on its young or on its eggs, together with them, but to let it go first (Deut. 22:6/7), is a clear admonition of Tza'ar Ba'alei Haim.

The Talmud underscores the duty to take care of (domestic) animals. One ought to buy an animal only after having provided food for it (Yerushalmi, Yebamot, 15:3). One should not sit down to eat before having given food to one's animals (Gittin, 62a). This, of course, brings to mind the story about Rebecca who gave Eliezer drink from her pitcher, and volunteered to water his camels (Genesis 24:16-20). Whatever her motives, this act proved her good character to Eliezer (Genesis 24:14). Moses and David were praised for the devoted care of their flocks. There is the famous story about Moses looking for a stray lamb. Therefore, according to the Midrash, he was deemed fit, by a voice from heaven, to be the shepherd of the People of Israel. Bala'am, on the other hand, was rebuked for smiting his ass (Numbers 22:32). Fred Rosner rightly describes this as "a classical text for the teaching of humane treatment of animals."(11) The most striking example against cruelty to animals is undoubtedly the commandment to unload an animal, staggering under its burden, even if it belongs to one's enemy (Exodus 23:5). When Maimonides included this commandment in the Mishneh Torah, he added that it also applies to the animal of a heathen. [Mishneh-Torah, Hilkhot Rotzeach, 13:1, 13:8, 13:9;] It is forbidden to muzzle an ox when it is threshing (Deut. 25:4), to slaughter an animal and its young on the same day (Leviticus 22:28), to plough together with an ox and an ass (Deut. 22:10), and so on. All these laws were emphasized in the Midrashim, and Maimonides elaborated many of them in the Guide of the Perplexed and in the Mishneh Torah. Kind and careful treatment of animals even justifies the desecration of Shabbat and holidays, in order to relieve them from suffering.(Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Shabbat, 21:9, 21:10).

The most famous Talmudic example emphasizing the ethical aspect of Tza'ar Ba'alei Haim, is the story about Rabbi Yehuda ha - Nassi (the editor of the Mishna). When a calf, escaping slaughter sought shelter with him, he said to it: "Go, for this wast thou created." For this indifference to the calf's suffering he was punished from heaven. "Since he has no pity, let us bring suffering upon him." According to the story he was afflicted with pain, lasting for thirteen years; it was lifted only after he saved a litter of kittens (Baba Metziah, 85a)


The certification has been criticized by various individuals, including those affiliated within Orthodox Judaism, for allegedly downplaying the Kashrut of the animal by confusing it with social justice issues. They claim that it makes use of Kashrut to follow secular political agendas. Rabbi Menachem Genack, currently the chief kosher executive of the Orthodox Union, the largest kosher certifier in the United States, called Allen's idea "unreasonable and unenforceable."[5]

Proponents of Hekhsher Tzedek counter that this view downplays the many clear Halakhik injunctions against exploitation and suffering to humans and animals as well as a perceived opacity in the kashrut industry.

The idea of Hekhsher Tzedek remains controversial. Criticisms include:

  • A view that this is a stealthy effort to open the door for the Conservative movement to return into the arena of kosher supervision.
  • Some have questioned the need for a religious certification on Social Justice, since governmental agencies such as OSHA and the Department of Labor are charged with supervising and enforcing appropriate working conditions. "These Governmental Agencies have been empowered by the Government of the United States of America to enforce all matters of law. "[6][7]

Hechsher Tzedek Proponents counter that while Dina Dmalhuta Dina is operative, the Torah and Halakah have many additional Halakhot that supersede and extend beyond Dina Dmalhuta for the requirements of Torah, hence the need for Hekhsher Tzedek. Furthermore For example, regarding the obligation of an employer to fairly compensate workers, including sick and vacation pay, Rabbi Avraham Reisner of the Rabbinical Assembly, builds an [1] based on the law in Shulchan Arukh (Choshen Mishpat 331:1), which states, "One who hires employees should treat them in accordance with local custom," followed by Rabbi Yosef Karo’s injunction from the same source, "When the custom was to provide their meals, he should provide their meals, to provide figs or dates or something similar, he should provide it — all in accordance with local custom."

Also, Reisner’s paper, while legal in nature, is "not a tshuvah [a Jewish legal responsum with the force of law]," agreed Allen. "All the areas addressed [in Reisner’s paper] have already been addressed halakhically. We’re not asking the movement or the Jewish people to do something beyond what is required [by Jewish law]. It’s not question of whether there are ethical underpinnings on labor relations or for keeping kosher, for example. These already exist. The movement is already clearly on record against hoisting and shackling in upholding Tza'ar Ba'alei Hayim, the ethical treatment of animals.

  • Some have accused the creators of Heksher Tzedek of singling out Agriprocessors for criticism as a means to start the Hekscher Tzedek. They allege that the creators of Hechsher Tzedek expressed serious concerns with the safety at Agriprocessor, but not at Empire Poultry or other meat plants. According to OSHA's online database Empire Poultry has more violations than Agriprocessors in a similar period of time.[8] A consultant to Agriprocessors who works for OSHA, visited Agriprocessors and said that the plant does not have any issues that are not shared by the rest of the meat industry.[9][10] He said that Agriprocessors has a very positive attitude towards the safety of employees, and is constantly improving the working conditions of its employees. [11]

The slaughterhouse became the focus of controversy two years ago when People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, made public an undercover videotape showing steers walking or bellowing up to three minutes after their throats were slit. The video also showed AgriProcessors using a controversial method for slaughtering cattle — turning the animal upside down and pulling out its trachea after its throat had been slit. In the last three years, Agriprocessors has paid the Environmental Protection Agency and/or OSHA more than $750,000 in fines.

  • The manner in which Heksher Tzedek inspected Agriprocessors has been deemed dishonest by Rabbi A. Zeilingold. In an interview, Rabbi Zeilingold stated that he was promised by Rabbi Morris Allen, who leads the group that is working on Heksher Tzedek, to visit Agriprocessors with the sole purpose of determining whether the allegations the Forward made against Agriprocessors were true. Although in a recent interview, Rabbi Morris Allen admitted that he could not validate all the claims of the article published by the Forward, he failed to indicate what inaccuracies he found in the Forward article as promised. Some believe that he has remained silent to protect the push for Hekhsher Tzedek: if he admits that the criticisms of Agriprocessors are unsubstantiated, the case for the Hekhsher Tzedek may fall apart. [12]

Some have noted that Zeilingold has a business interest with Rubashkin; he is paid by AgriProcessors to oversee the plant, and his supervision mark is on Rubashkin's non-glatt product.

  • The efficacy of the Heksher Tzedek organization remains to be seen:
  1. If there is an accident in a meat plant certified by the Heksher Tzedek as safe, will the group that certified the plant be liable to a lawsuit?
  2. How will the people certifying the Heksher Tzedek oversee that a plant is fair to workers or not?
  3. How will the people certifying the Heksher Tzedek determine what is fair or not fair in matters of labor?

See also


  1. "Rabbi’s Campaign for Kosher Standards Expands to Include Call for Social Justice" article by Samuel G. Freedman in the New York Times May 19, 2007
  2. "Rabbis Move Ahead With New Certification Plan" article by Nathaniel Popper in The Forward May 18, 2007
  3. "In Iowa Meat Plant, Kosher ‘Jungle’ Breeds Fear, Injury, Short Pay" by Nathaniel Popper, The Forward, May 26, 2006
  4. "Does kosher extend beyond the treatment of animals?" by Pamela Miller, Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 17, 2007.
  5. A 'kosher' way to treat employees?, Associated Press, August 12, 2008
  6. "Conservatives and Kashrut", Editorial, The Jewish Press, June 6, 2007
  7. "America's Workers: Paying For Protection",Counterbias, January When the United Synagogue threw its support behind the Hechsher Tzedek last December, both the concept and Rabbi Allen had come under widespread attack from Orthodox figures. Rabbi Asher Zeilingold of St. Paul, who had collaborated with Rabbi Allen in the past, emerged as a very public defender of AgriProcessors, issuing a report that characterized The Forward’s accusations as “completely unfounded, without any basis in fact.” 22, 2007
  8. "Inspection Data - Agriprocessors". OSHA. Retrieved 2008-01-16.   • "Inspection Data - Empire Poultry". OSHA. Retrieved 2008-01-16. 
  9. "US: Meat Packing Industry Criticized on Human Rights Grounds",CorpWatch, January 25, 2005
  10. "Of meat, Mexicans and social mobility", The Economist, June 15, 2006
  11. "Does kosher extend beyond the treatment of animals?”, by Pamela Miller in the Star Tribune, June 18 2007
  12. "Friendship of Orthodox and Conservative Rabbi in Tatters Over Kashrus Issues”, Editorial Note in Kosher Today, January 22, 2007

External links and further reading

Adapted from the Wikinfo article "Hechsher Tzedek" and is licensed under the GFDL

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