Kashrut & Hekhsher Tzedek

Resolution Adopted by the CCAR


Adopted by the Board of Trustees – August 2008
Central Conference of American Rabbis


Over the past several years, the use of undocumented laborers in several industries has given rise to a growing number of legal, social, and ethical problems. Those who employ individuals who have entered this country illegally too often take cruel and inhumane advantage of the legal status of these employees. Abusive employment practices may include paying such workers less than minimum wage; denying them benefits typically provided in the industry; requiring them to work in conditions that violate civil and criminal law; or, in far too many instances, subjecting them to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Painfully for the Jewish community, it has come to light that certain kosher meat processors may be numbered among such abusive employers.  recent allegations about the business practices of the kosher meat processing plant in Postville, Iowa – including, but not limited to, the abusive and unethical treatment of workers, the inhumane treatment of animals, and the flouting of American law – are particularly distressing.

Those who produce kosher meat are engaged in sacred work and therefore are expected to adhere to the highest standards and values of Jewish tradition. Those who keep Kosher, including the growing number of Reform Jews who are embracing the observance of kashrut, should not be forced to choose between their ritual observance and their ethical values.

Jewish law and values impose ethical guidelines governing labor, business practices and the treatment of animals. The Torah repeatedly calls upon us to deal justly with the laborer and the stranger in our midst. The Central Conference of American Rabbis has a long history speaking out against abusive labor practices, going back at least as far as its 1918 resolutions urging the abolition of child labor, the institution of a fair minimum wage and workman’s compensation for industrial accidents and occupational diseases. Tza’ar ba’alei Hayyim, concern for animals’ pain, is a Jewish principle enshrined in Torah and Talmud (e.g., B. Shabbat 128b).

The Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism have established a Hekhsher Tzedek Commission, the purpose of which is to create an additional certification for Kosher products taking into account ethical considerations in addition to ritual laws. Such considerations will include how kosher meat processing companies conduct their businesses, particularly with regard to treatment of workers, health and safety, animal welfare and environmental impact..

THEREFORE, be it resolved that the Central Conference of American Rabbis:

  • Adjures all those who are engaged in the sacred work of producing kosher meat to conduct their business according to the highest Jewish ethical standards as well as ritual standards;
  • Applauds the Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism for their efforts to enfold this ethical dimension into their understanding of what constitutes the appropriate preparation of food through their Hekhsher Tzedek initiative;
  • Will explore means by which it can work cooperatively with the Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism in efforts to establish and promote a certification established by the Hekhsher Tzedek Commission, which is consistent with our understanding of Jewish values and justice; and
  • Encourages Reform Jews and others, whether or not they have elected to observe kashrut, to consider the guidelines to be established by the Hekhsher Tzedek Commission and to uphold ethical guidelines in their dietary practices, as in all areas of life.