Agudath Israel Issues Statement on Hekhsher Tzedek Initiative


agudah114.jpgUpon consultation with its rabbinic leadership, Agudath Israel of America has issued the following statement regarding the Conservative movement’s new “Hekhsher Tzedek.”

The Agudath Israel statement stresses the vital importance of ethical behavior in all interpersonal and business dealings but “emphatically rejects” the initiative as distorting the meaning of kashrus.  It points to the facts that “Hekhsher Tzedek” is inexplicably aimed only at producers of kosher food and no other merchants or institutions, and that it includes elements that are decidedly beyond halachic mandates as evidence that the larger goal of the new “Hekhsher” is a redefinition of the term kosher.  What is more, the statement asserts, the Conservative movement, as a non-halacha-respecting movement, cannot credibly claim to serve as arbiter of halachic suitability.

The initiative, the statement avers, “is simply the latest manifestation of Conservative leaders’ tradition of exchanging Divine mandates for contemporary constructs.”

Following is the full text of the Agudath Israel statement:

The Conservative movement has embraced a brand new certification for kosher foods, the “Hekhsher Tzedek,” which is designed to indicate a kosher food producer’s “compliance with a set of social justice criteria.”  Agudath Israel of America regards the Hekhsher Tzedek idea as misguided and misleading. It rests upon, and will likely foster, a distorted understanding of kashrus, and a corruption of the halachic process itself.

To be sure, Jewish producers of kosher food – like all Jewish businesses – are halachically bound by obligations regarding fair treatment of employees, maintenance of a safe and sanitary work environment, and a host of other strictures that might be called “social justice criteria.”  They are, in addition, bound by the principle of dina d’malchusa dina (the law of the kingdom is law), and must comply with all applicable laws and regulations.  More generally, Jews are called upon to uphold the highest ethical and moral standards in their personal and business dealings.

It is of utmost importance that these halachic mandates be observed scrupulously.  But it is also important to recognize that they have nothing to do with the laws of kashrus.

The halachic tradition defines the term “kashrus” as relating to the ritual suitability of food.  Jews insist on kosher food not because of ethical considerations, but because Hashem has commanded us to observe certain ritual dietary requirements.  Terms like “kosher,” “kashrus” and “hechsher” are, as a result, rightly associated with those requirements – those requirements alone.
The “Hekhsher Tzedek” blurs this fundamental distinction.  Its promoters may assert that the certification is not designed to expand the traditional meaning of kashrus, but that claim is belied by the certification’s very name – and by the fact that it is being offered exclusively to foods that are otherwise under kosher certification.  If its purpose is simply to assure consumers that the companies they patronize conduct themselves in accord with social justice ideals, why limit the “Hekhsher Tzedek” to kosher food producers?  Why not extend it as well to manufacturers of all goods, services and institutions?
It is further noteworthy, and telling, that the scope of the proposed “Hekhsher Tzedek” goes well beyond halachic requirements.  It speaks of such matters as transparency in corporate governance, generous maternity leave policies and pension plans – worthy objectives, to be sure, but not halachic mandates.  If the “Hekhsher Tzedek” is simply interested in ensuring that producers of kosher food comply with the requirements of Jewish law, why incorporate these types of extra-halachic factors into the certification?

The answer to these questions is clear, and deeply dismaying.  The Conservative movement, most of whose constituents do not keep kosher, is attempting with its “Hekhsher Tzedek” a subtle redefinition of the concept of kashrus.  As Conservative leaders have done time and time again in a variety of modern-day contexts, they are paying lip service to halacha while in fact seeking to reshape it.  The “Hekhsher Tzedek” is simply the latest manifestation of Conservative leaders’ tradition of exchanging Divine mandates for contemporary constructs.

Sadly, but decidedly, the Conservative movement is not a halacha-respecting movement.  Accordingly, any effort on its part to serve as an arbiter of halachic suitability – whether regarding a kosher food producer’s compliance with halachic mandates or anything else – has neither credibility nor legitimacy.

In summation, standing up for ethical practices is laudable, but not when it is done in a way that redefines a Jewish religious term like kashrus – and not when it is done under the auspices of a movement whose claimed fealty to halacha is in fact an exercise in distortion.  For these reasons, Agudath Israel of America emphatically rejects the “Hekhsher Tzedek.”

At the same time, we appeal to all our fellow Jews to rededicate ourselves to the highest standards of proper and ethical business conduct.  Jews are called upon to serve as a light unto the nations, people whose interpersonal dealings cause Hashem and His holy Torah to be loved by all (Tractate Yoma, 86a).  During this season of introspection, may we all resolve to strengthen ourselves in this respect, and thereby merit Hashem’s favorable judgment for a blessed new year.

(YWN Desk – NYC)


  1. Excellent statement, in my opinion.

    The same people who brought us female “rabbis” and man-man “marriage” ceremonies are now proud to introduce… drumroll please… the “Hekhsher Tzedek.”

  2. so I assume the Agudah is against hechserim that wont give a hescher to a pizza place if it has a TV, as it has nothing to do with the laws of kashrut.

  3. I have been told by many conservative Jews that they keep kosher. Recently, I observed one of them eating a treif burger. When I asked him how he managed to find the only kosher McDonald’s in North America, he explained to me in all seriousness that:
    A)This burger is not being eaten in the home, and B)they have a different definition of the word kosher than we do. He explained that a cow is a kosher animal, hence any beef that comes from a cow must be kosher as well. Their criteria is that the “type” of animal needs to be kosher. When I asked him if he heard of the torah and shulchan aruch, he explained to me that there are many interpretations. In closing, he made comment that when he goes upstairs he will proudly be able to say that he followed whatever his Rabbi told him to do. i asked him if he ever went to the horse races? He looked at me funny. I asked him what happens if you put down $1000 on a horse and it does not cross the finish line. There are no refunds! If you bet on the wrong horse, you lose. Similarly, when following your “rabbi” blindly, you might also very well be betting on the wrong horse. I also mentioned that his dishes would surely merit to go to heaven, however….

    Amongst the regular members of conservative “shuls”, most of them are clueless. However, they turn to their rabbis (sometimes) for direction. It is really sad that these men (hopefully) go ahead and distort the Holy Torah. They then tell us that we should be more tolerant!!!!
    Let us examine where conservative Judaism stands today:In the Conservative movement today we see the beginnings of the spiritual and demographic unraveling that rips apart any Jewish movement disconnected from Mesorah: One study found that four percent of Conservative Jews rediscover Orthodoxy each year, 13 percent move into Reform, and 35 percent drop all Jewish affiliation; another found that 37 percent intermarry. WOW!!! HaShem Yiracheim!

    Yasher Koach to the Agudas Yisroel for this letter. and no, it was not too strong at all!!!

  4. for the agudah this is all politics. untill this
    “Hekhsher Tzedek.” issue came along they did not say a word about rubashkin. now that everybody is talking about it , they open there mouths and say something
    if the agudah realy cared about things they would take a stand about the high cost of tution at yeshivos and do something about it to help parants . the reason why they do nothing about it is simple. people don’t complain about it so they don’t have to do anything about it.

  5. I would remark that the reason for hescher tzedek is that its an attempt to get C jews to actuall keep real kashrut.

    Their are jews, RL, that won’t keep kashrut if they feel that kosher food is not as ethical as the non kosher food available to them. However, if they felt that the kosher food was at a higher ethical level, they’d be more inclined to only keep kosher. The C leaders who are founders of this, I’m pretty sure have those people in mind.

    My personal feelings is that it doesn’t work in practice, as in the end you are making ethical decisions based on the ethics of a certain political belief. Who is to say being pro unions is ethical and being anti unions is unethical? The ethics of that political belief are bound to change, so you end up with a moving target instead of relatively fixed (with machloket) kashrut definition we have today.

  6. A piece of pork with this hechsher tzedek will be deemed Kosher, because the workers of the processing company are paid on time and the animals had free cable tv their whole life.

    Look at History. Reformies and therefore the conservatives have always tried to hijack Judaism, and in the 1850’s, they attempted to outlaw Kashrus in Galicia all together, but only managed in reinstituting the “Kosher-tax” which was an axtra amount of money that Jews had to pay to keep kosher and have shechita, and this money went from the prussians to the reformists intstitutions of sin.

    Look, its what theyre doing again.

  7. Semantics – hechsher should of course apply to consumable food products, but of course many people have adopted it and plastered the term on everything from eruvin to s’chach (“Who gave the hechsher for that eruv?” “This s’chach is so easy to roll over my sukkah, and has a great hechsher, too!”). It’s similar to misappropriation of the word “glatt” – I am nearly to a point of refusing to purchase chicken that is advertised as “glatt kosher.” Find me the man who checked that chicken’s lungs, and I’ll show you a bridge in Brooklyn that’s a bargain for today, only (and just for you, because you’re a friend).

    As to the merits of the Hechsher Tzedek – *shrug* – it’s a free market in the United States. And many produces would probably politely decline. And others who think that it would fatten their bottom line would slap it on their label next to “Free Trade” and “Evironmentally Friendly.”

  8. APPLEGUY – In the latest issue of Kashrus Magazine Rabbi Wikler states that 17% od “conservative” Jews keep kosher. I don’t know if that’s all the time, both in and outside the home, but it’s a interesting statistic. If by any chance, the “rabbi” of the McDonalds burger eating Jew, knows anything and has guided flock contrary to halacha he has a tremendous price to pay in the next world.

  9. Comment #2 raises an interesting question.

    By not putting a hechsher in that pizza place or ice cream place, the hechsher is saying we feel uncomfortable facilitating eating here.

    So the question is why are we more upset about potential mingling or exposure to TV than we are about facilitating mistreatment of others?

  10. Meanwhile, the OU has forced Agriprocessors to accept unionization of their plant as part of their hechsher requirements. What does this have to do with Yoreh Deah? Is unionization even an ethical imperative under Jewish Law? How about closed shops?

    The OU and RCA are becoming solidly Modern Orthodox and PC. So far, Agudah is resisting the trend, but then, they don’t give hechsherim, do they?

  11. the conserv. leaders might want to use this to get their followers to keep kosher – but this just makes it a better reason why we should reject it. There is nothing stopping them from having the hecsher tzedek on treif, and then, the conserv. jews will be eating treif thining it’s kosher! they have a definition of kosher, as they say, which is ridiculous and baseless – they’ll start endorsing perdue, since the chickens are a kosher species! this could be a disaster if it works.

    Plus, if it is just for kosher food, who gave them, peple who are mechalel shabbos befarhesya, as well as mumarim in every halacha, the right to tell us what’s ethical(based of course on american definitions and not torah definitions)!?!

    Let them put on tefillin and stop living with niddos – then we’ll talk about ethics.

    For the record, the OU’s decision to force unionization was not endorsed by, let’s say, rav belsky, or any gedolim there – it was probably some assimilated balhabus who has a warped definition of right and wrong. The statements of any rabbinical organization, including the OU, does not represent the moetzes(this was said even in the times of reb chaim ozer) – ma she ain cain conservatives, the rabbis themselves are behind this one; there’s the huge difference.

    You will never find something political like that(unionization or the like) being said by a godol, or rov.

    For the record, the RCA’s decisions are decidedly MO, – their decisions about evolution, and other issues, speak for themselves. Being that it is an umbrela organization, many, many, are huge talmidei chachamim who are against the RCA’s policies(their statements about global warming and about how we need to become environmentalists come to mind as well)

    Dont pay attention to them – just listen to the gedolim.

  12. great unknown: could it be that they view a union as being the best possible solution at the moment to prevent what bad things from happening to reoccurring? Not that its even the best solution in general, just right here and right now its the best solution?

    Are the other kosher meat packing plants that are unionized PC?

  13. This whole kashrut thing has gotten out of hand. I think we should chuck it and start over.

    And if you think I’m nuts, do you think Moshe Rabbeinu or R’ Akiva soaked and salted their meat? Or disposed of a perfectly good hind quarter of a behayma?

  14. Seems like the RCA has what to say also…

    NEW YORK (AP) — Responding to allegations of worker abuse at the nation’s biggest kosher slaughterhouse, an organization of Orthodox Jewish rabbis announced Wednesday it was forming a task force to craft Jewish principles and ethical guidelines covering the kosher food industry and business in general.
    The Rabbinical Council of America said it would publish the results in a detailed guide. Rabbi Asher Meir, an author and expert in Jewish business ethics, will lead the task force.
    “We are fully aware of the realities of a competitive marketplace spread all over the globe, and the need to provide affordable kosher food,” Rabbi Shlomo Hochberg, president of the council, said in a statement. “In taking this step, the RCA seeks as a practical matter to reinforce ethical values and corporate policies, while ensuring a reliable and affordable supply of food products for the kosher consumer.”

  15. Why is Conservative Judism called a movement? Conservitive Judism is a relatively new religion which has its roots in Judism. Most observers of this religion are still of Jewish national origin. Give it time and if it still thrives like cristianity it will be only paracticed by goyim let us hope it doesn’t become anti-semitic.

  16. If the heksher tzedek stamp will only be placed as a supplement to foods already certified as kosher, what is the big deal? they wont be certifying pork, since it does not have a kosher stamp

  17. Comment #18: Learn from Comment #17! This dirt and animal abuse was shown on Intl News! You’re wrongfully judging Conservative Jews just by hear-say. You’re not better by attaching a kleenex on your belt in case you have a runny nose…or not capable of lifting up your child on Shabbat? STUPID. Hashem was saying: “Don’t carry burdens” meaning problems… your rabbinicals took it many steps forward and made new regulations. SLAVERY. Shabbat is for us and not for Hashem. Y’all make it so difficulty that no joy is found in it. WAKE UP blind men.

  18. It seems from many of the respondents that unionization is up there with avoda zara(idol worship), gilui Araryos(immoral sexual behavior) and shfichus daminm(murder) as one of the three cardinal sins that one must allow oneself to be killed for rather than commit

    Only assimilated MO baalabatim favor unions, rabbis and charedim would never even think of comitting such a “sin”

    Unfotunately as Marvin Shick so elequently claims, the Oilam has elevated the entire American conservative agenda to the status of Torah MeSinai.

    What this world sorely lacks is a Poalei Agudas Yisroel. CHaval al Davvdin vilo Mishtakchen

  19. OY VEY YOSSI YOSSI! you are missing the point. Today they are saying that they will only give hechsherim to supplement already certified. Yes, that is today. But tomorrow……. Who will stop them?!? Is that not the whole history of conservatism. We can not allow them to get in the doorway. The biggest dream that any conservative jew has is being legitimized by the orthodox. This does not mean per-say being legit in OUR eyes, rather them feeling that they are perceived as legitimate. In truth, sadly to say, they ARE the illegitimate offspring of Orthodox Judaism (speaking of which, mamzeirus is a huge problem in their world today, but we wont get into that).
    This is their bait. We can not allow them to do this.

    RE:YAAKOV DOE #9, that stat is very interesting. Unfortunately, I believe that it only holds true for the home. Let me give you an example. The city that I live in hosts the largest conservative synagogue in North America (5,000 families). One of the rabbi’s closest congregants told me that he believes that only four(4) families are kosher outside of the home. I will let you do the math to figure out a percentage. This particular synagogue is from the most right wing of all of the conservative places. In fact, last year, they left their affiliation because of the toaiva issues.
    Regarding the rabbis, unfortunately, they know very well what their congregants are up to. In the best of circumstances, there is a don’t ask don’t tell policy. The only two people in the conservative synagogue that are REQUIRED to keep the laws are the rabbi and the chazzan.

  20. clarification:”One of the rabbi’s closest congregants told me that he believes that only four(4) families are kosher outside of the home”.
    it should read “only four(4) families are STRICTLY kosher outside of the home”.

    there are many others that would eat out dairy and fish in non kosher establishments. (They are makpid gamur not to eat shell fish etc. I wonder if i should tell them and their rabbi that the Rav Moshe zt”l’s heter was not on gvinas akum!!!!!)

  21. Personally I would prefer not to buy a product with a Hechsher Tzedek stamp on it since it would be supporting (or giving recognition to) an immoral organization… “the Conservative Movement”

    Letting an organization like this guide our lives is like getting in a car with someone who does not know how to use the break pedal. Personally, I am all for running a business in the most ethical manner and being environmentally friendly (Regardless of what anyone might have told you we do live in this world and we are responsible for it. Why is this any different than being taught you should not throw trash on the street? They are both things that can make our quality of living better.). However I think that here this is not about ethics, per se, but rather about conservative being the authority on living as a Jew. Aguda, I think makes a good point when they say, why is this being only targeted to food and not all other businesses? Obviously this is not so much about ethics but rather a move to legitimize the Conservative movement, and possibly a sublime move to undermine halachic standards of Kashrus and to undermine halacha in general (however they will ultimately fail as all have failed who have come against the Torah, hopefully the fail before they can make any headway).

  22. Had the frum community taken the lead on this, there wouldn’t be a Conservative hechsher. Had we stopped Agriprocessors, had our Gedolim spoken out against the chilul Hashem that took place – and continues to take place in Postville, then this wouldn’t be necessary.
    But you know what – if the conservative movement’s hechsher tzedek brings ONE Jew back to keeping kosher – then I’m in favor of it!