Beef – It’s What’s For Dinner
Posted by rabbiart on May 24, 2008
The subject of food first comes up in the Torah when HaShem tells Adam and Eve what they can have to eat. They are told:
God said: ‘Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed–to you it shall be for food; and to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is a living soul, [I have given] every green herb for food.’ And it was so…. (Breshit, 1: 29-30)
And it was the day that G-d said was “very good.” At that time, humankind lived in a vegetarian universe. Humans eat only grain and fruit, and animals do likewise. Food comes up again in the story of eating of the forbidden tree, but let’s skip over that story, which is not really about food, and move ahead to the aftermath of the flood, where meat eating is sanctioned. Noah is told:
“Every moving thing that liveth shall be for food for you; as the green herb have I given you all. Only flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.” (Breshit 9:3-4)
The only rule at this point is not to eat the blood; kosher butchers are not required. Eventually, we get the complete rules of kashrut, including rules for proper killing of animals, and handling the resulting meat so that there is no danger of consuming blood. Eventually we get kosher butchers, the institution of the mashgia-ach, and in the last ten to twenty years – kosher meat and poultry at the local supermarket. All we have to do is look for any of the many hechshers that indicate kosher food.
You may know what has been “recently” uncovered at AgriProcessors of Postville, Iowa. It was all the rage when first purchased by Aaron Rubashkin. A number of stories were published about the arrival of kosher-keeping Orthodox Jews in a small plains state town. The business grew until AgriProcessors and their distributors were supplying over 60% of the beef and 40% of the kosher poultry products distributed in the United States. The employee count grew to over 800, but many of them were undocumented workers, and sure as day follows night, poor treatment followed. Somewhere a descendant of Upton Sinclair may be writing an unhappy postscript to The Jungle.
Sub-standard treatment of animals and workers led K’hal Adat Jershurun, their certifying agency, to pull their certification on April 16 of this year after a long effort to identify and improve conditions at the plant. The federal government swept up 400 illegal immigrants in a raid on May 12. There have been over three dozen safety violations in 2008 alone. Leading jewish organizations have issued letters and petitions calling on Mr. Rubashkin to change business and kashrut practices.
“We ask the following:
1. Pay all of your workers at least the federal minimum wage.
2. Recommit your company to abide by all federal, state and local laws including those pertaining worker safety, sexual harassment, physical abuse, and the rights of your employees to collective bargaining.
3. Treat those who work for you according to the standards that Torah and halakha places on protecting workers–standards which include the spirit of lifnim meshurat hadin, going beyond the bare minimum requirements of the law.”
Otherwise, says the petition, the undersigned will stop patronizing establishments utlizing AgriProcessors products as of June 15.
Here’s the salient paragraph from the United Synaogue statement in this matter.
New York, NY ( May 22, 2008 ) – In light of continuing disturbing allegations of unacceptable worker conditions at the Agriprocessors Plant in Postville, Iowa, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly is united in calling for a thorough evaluation by kosher consumers of the appropriateness of purchasing and consuming meat products produced by the Rubashkin’s label.
There have been two major responses to issues at the intersection of business practice and kashrut. One is the “eco-kosher” movement; the other is the “hechsher tzedek”. The philosophy of the eco-kosher approach is to expand the definition of kashrut to encompass more than just whether a given food-stuff is “on the list” and has been slaughtered appropriately. Fair-trade coffee is a good example of eco-kashrut. In determining if coffee is eco-kosher, one considers where the coffee is grown, how the workers are treated, how the land is treated, harvesting methods and so on. All of this goes into whether or not the coffee is kosher.
The second approach goes with the label, so to speak of “hechsher tzedek.” The hechsher, which is in fact on the label, certifies that the product has
“met production benchmarks consistent with Jewish ethical standards, including how companies treat their employees. Hekhsher Tzedek will serve as a supplement to – and not a replacement for traditional certification of kosher products.
The creation of the accompanying seal will ensure that not only are kosher products rooted in the proper Jewish methods of inspecting and slaughtering animals, but that the food is produced in a way that demonstrates concern for those human beings who are involved in its production.”
This approach takes the mitzvot that apply to business practices and applies them to kashrut. For example “You should not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, whether a citizen or a stranger”. (Devarim 24:14-15 ) or “Not to do wrong in buying or selling.” (Vayikra 25:14)
What is Kashrut about? It worked originally to separate the growing Jewish nation from other cultures. It is a way of imposing order on the universe and a way of being mindful of what we eat. Some have suggested that the highest form of Kashrut would be to follow G-d’s original intention and keep a vegetarian diet.
Kashrut in its original intent does not seem to be about justice. But without justice Kashrut seems devoid of meaning and hollow. Applying justice to kashrut makes perfect sense.
Our Torah portion this Shabbat begins with the phrase em behukotai telechu – if you walk in my laws. That is the ultimate challenge that the Torah makes to us – whether at the customary age of celebrating Bar Mitzvah, or at any point in our lives. As we congratulate this year’s B’nei Mitzvah class, let’s remind them, and each other, that we are B’nei Mitzvah every day of our lives. So each day we have to determine how to walk in G-d’s ways. Applying justice to whatever we do, is a good way to start.
This entry was posted on May 24, 2008 at 6:43 pm and is filed under Jewish Practice, Social Justice. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.