Kosher law ensures that animals are slaughtered humanely, but it says nothing about how workers in the factory should be treated, which makes sense enough, as kashrut originated long before a factory produced food for the Jewish people.
Sholom Rubashkin, former head of the kosher plant Agriprocessors, was charged and convicted earlier this year for “conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens for profit; aiding and abetting document fraud; and aiding and abetting aggravated identity theft.” This has raised a question within the Jewish community: should the ethical standards applied to the slaughter of animals be expanded to cover the standards of the human work environment in which kosher foods are produced? Rabbi Morris Allen believes so:
“We needed to find a way to develop kashrut that is kosher and raised to the highest Jewish ethical standard,” Allen said in an interview. “If we were serious about kashrut (keeping kosher), it was time to understand the laws of kashrut that were not written in the Torah.”
Allen’s idea? A new kind of kosher.
Just like labels such as “fair trade,” a kosher label–called a hekhsher–certifies that the product is kosher. Allen proposed a new kosher stamp certifying that the treatment of workers is as kosher as the treatment of the food.
While kashrut laws are now viewed by some Jewish communities as archaic dietary restrictions, Allen has reinvigorated the debate around the relevance of kashrut by emphasizing the general ethical implications of the law and bringing it into the modern context.