Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A 'kosher' way to treat employees?

CNN is reporting on the fall-out of the Agriprocessors kosher meat packing plant in Postville, Iowa, at which illegal and underage immigrants were found to be working.

The question this seems to have opened up is, do the laws of Kashrut extend beyond the actual food, into the company and it's employees?

Jewish dietary laws, known as Kashrut (from whence the word, Kosher comes), are part of the 613 commandments contained in the Torah, although the interpretation of these laws has become something of a business.

Much like 'Certified Organic' requires certain payouts, the 'heksher' or mark of kosher-ness on food is also big business, due to the portion of Jews who still strictly (or otherwise) adhere to this dietary system.

The situation with Agriprocessors is so interesting because, strictly in terms of the actual food and how it is processed, the meat is kosher.

Because Kashrut is part of a set of laws bounded in ethical monotheism, however, the broader implications of Agriproc's actions have caused quite a stir to the point that some are advocating for another level of kashrut, a righteous kashrut.

According to the article, "Interest in Allen's "hekhsher tzedek," or "certificate of righteousness," has ballooned since a May 12 immigration raid at Agriprocessors in Postville, Iowa.

As a pick-n-choose-Jew (patents pending), I have never eaten shellfish or pork (knowingly), I try not to mix red meat with cheese (usually), and I try to rationalize my decisions based on my limited knowledge of the actual content of the Torah. But I don't only eat food (meat included) that has been branded by a heksher

This story, however, has a very interesting angle in it closely related to 'stuff Jewish young adults like'. That angle is the feel good angle. We want to feel good about what we eat, where it came from, how it was handled, and now, under what working conditions it was handled.

I may not want to pay the increased price for beef produced at living wages, but dammit if I want my meat tainted with the tears and (underpaid) sweat of underage immigrant labor.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, as this is really the case of a niche market to whom these ethical concerns be turn out to be paramount depending on which rabbi decides to make a proclamation one way or the other.

How do you rationalize the omnivore's dilemma?

No comments: