Recently the almost universally recognized hechsher OU has put Agriprocessors on notice. Unless the ownership of Agriprocessors make significant changes in the upper level management, change the CEO and fall into compliance they will rescind their valued hechsher. As of September 18, 2008 a new CEO has been named and this should be lauded. On a parallel track Conservative Judaism has introduced the Hechsher Tzedek. This new hechsher would certify that not only is the product technically kosher, but also conforms to Jewish ethical standards regulating our behavior in the workplace.
Both of these noteworthy developments are positive moves in the right direction. The OU ought to be lauded because while they represent orthodox standards of kashrut they are also the symbol to the wider Jewish community which observes kashrut as well. Many of these people were caught in a difficult situation and were indeed conflicted as a result of the developments at Agriprocessors. They found that observance of ethical standards was in conflict with their desire to consume only kosher meat products. By eating kosher meat products certified by the OU they may not be able to meticulously observe ethical commandments. Or to put it another way: by eating meat products certified by the OU as kosher they would be violating another mitzvah regulating our ethical behavior towards the worker.
The Conservative movement’s initiative to introduce the Hechsher Tzedek accomplished several things: It placed a sharp focus on the need to find relief for the ethical imperatives central to Judaism, but being violated. By introducing the Hechsher Tzedek new options were being made available to those committed to observing meticulous standards of technical kashrut but not compromising with those mitzvoth bein adam l’chavero – the ethical commandments. Lastly, by introducing their unique hechsher, pressure was brought to bear on the OU. The OU has responded appropriately, they’ve done the right thing and ought to be applauded.
It would appear that the next step is for closer cooperation between the OU and the Hechsher Tzedek. A blending of these two hechsherim would send a powerful message to the wider Jewish community that on certain issues there is no difference what your denominational preference is.
In this season, when the Days of Awe dominate the mind set of most serious Jews, regardless of denominational identification, those mitzvoth which are between man and his fellow man take on special and unique significance. We all know that as we approach Yom Kippur we cannot, as our sages teach us, come before the creator with expectations of mechila and selicha from our Creator before first having made peace with our fellow human beings. A merger between the Hechsher Tzedek and the OU would blend the mitzvoth bein adam lamakom and the mitzvoth bein adam l’chavero, bringing all of us to a higher sensitivity level and perhaps a genuine contribution towards tikkun olam.