Monday, Nov. 03, 2008

When Kosher Wasn't Kosher

When federal agents first arrested 339 illegal immigrants at the Agriprocessors kosher meat processing plant in Postville, Iowa in May, initial coverage focused on the scale and implications of such large-scale law enforcement. But for many Jews the raid posed two other urgent questions: where to get Biblically admissible beef, since Agriprocessors had cornered 60% of the market; and whether the "kosher" designation, long a ritual matter, should have an overt ethical aspect — since the company stands accused of more than 9,000 counts of child-labor violations, among other misdeeds. In October the Rabbinical Council of America, whose decisions inform the country's largest kosher certifier, following the lead of the Judaism's Conservative movement (and the prompting of groundbreaking investigative reports by the Jewish newspaper, The Forward), agreed to link certification to Jewish ethics. It is one good thing to have come out of a shocking heartland tragedy.