April 11, 2011

So What Did the OU Say About Magen Tzedek?

Matzav.Com, a well-read Orthodox Web site, reported that “Allen Claims OU is Looking Forward to Appearing With Magen Tzedek.” This was apparently a reference to remarks made by Rabbi Morris Allen on April 3rd at the St. Paul JCC. Magen Tzedek is a planned new certification for kosher foods confirming that the foods have been prepared “with the highest degree of integrity (i.e. animal welfare and employee wages and benefits).” Rabbi Menachem Genack, the CEO of the Kashrus Division of the Orthodox Union (OU), denied Allen’s claims. He and other officials at the OU restated their long standing position that social justice issues are amply covered by government agencies and do not require a new certification, which was an outgrowth of the events at Agriprocessor that led to its ultimate demise and a 27-year sentence for its CEO, Sholom Rubashkin for bank fraud. Rabbi Genack himself was one of the harshest critics of the government’s handling of the Agri case. “Everything it did was an overreaction,” Rabbi Genack told the Jewish Week. “It destroyed a company. It destroyed the economy of the region. ... Asking for a life sentence was an absolute outrage. I think the one that should be in the dock is the U.S. Attorney. That’s where I think there’s an ethical outrage. The justice that was done is more reminiscent of Soviet jurisprudence.”


Rabbi Allen, a Conservative Rabbi, has taken great pain to define Magen Tzedek as a supplement to kosher standards, rather than a redefinition of the Torah’s concept of kashrus. He, in fact, changed the name of the certification from “Hechsher Tzedek” to “Magen Tzedek” to avoid the perception that it was a new kosher certification. But the Magen Tzedek Web site reads otherwise. The slogan for Magen Tzedek is “Kashrut for the 21st Century.” In a pitch to manufacturers, the site defines Magen Tzedek “as the gold standard of kashrut.” The site, in facts, solicits contributions with the line: “Built on the principle that ethics must be an intrinsic component of our ritual observance of kashrut, Magen Tzedek is already changing the kosher food industry.” My own marketing studies have confirmed that even in the midst of the Agriprocessor fiasco, kosher consumers of all persuasions continued to purchase meat and poultry based on kosher certification, price and quality. In my conversations with dozens of kosher manufacturers, retailers, and consumers of all backgrounds (including Conservative, Reform and unaffiliated), the message is clear: Magen Tzedek is unnecessary, divisive, a collective indictment of an entire industry, a proposed new tax (since there would be a fee for this “service”) and even an insult to our government institutions (i.e. USDA and Department of Labor). And as for the OU message, it is equally as clear!