Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Eating Jewish - Values we can all believe in?

Please take a look at this wonderful article in this week's 'The Jewish Forward' by Jay Michaelson,
'Magen Tzedek: Model of the Jewish Future or Show Without an Audience?  

'Magen Tzedek' is the name given by the Conservative movement to a seal on food that  '... would certify conformity not to the ritual particulars of kashrut, but to the deeper and more profound requirements of Jewish social justice law.'

It's an excellent article and I commend it not specifically for how the Magen Tzedek seal seeks to emphasize the ethical values of Judaism (although I think it is an important and meaningful contribution to Jewish food consciousness), but because Jay raises some incredibly thought-provoking questions about the commitment of non-Orthodox Jews to obligate themselves to live by a specific code that raises our consciousness about the food we eat, how it is delivered to us, the treatment of the workers who helped to produce it, and the environmental and health consequences of certain kinds of food choices. 

Rabbi Eric Yoffie introduced the question of how Reform Jews engage with a range of Jewish food ethics in his Biennial address just a couple of weeks ago, and you can read more about the URJ initiative, 'Just Table, Green Table' here.  That initiative is less specific than the Magen Tzedek seal - it does not lay out one specific path to conscious and ethical eating, but does call upon all Jews to actively engage and think about how they eat as an aspect of what it means to walk a Jewish path through life, guided by the wisdom and ethical values that are grounded in our own tradition.

Jay points out that, in the USA, many of those who choose to purchase kosher food are not Jewish.  They make this choice because of an assumption that a religious seal on food means that the food is healthier - perhaps it conforms to higher ethical standards too.  Unfortunately, that is not always the case, as was evident in the travesty of ethical and criminal breaches that took place at the Postville meat processing plant in Iowa, owned by the Rubashkin company, primarily with regard to the treatment of employees.

But Jay asks: 'Imagine if Jews were known in America to be the super-ethical people instead of the super-ritual ones. We’re the people who won’t eat a hamburger unless the workers at the restaurant are paid a fair wage. We’re the ones who consider environmentalism to be a matter of religious concern. Because doing the right thing matters to God.'  

As Jay points out, this is a Judaism that can thrive and survive not because of endogamy, but because Judaism offers meaningful ethics, values and practices that appeal to a wide range of people.  And that's a Judaism that I want to be contributing my part to.  How about you?
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz

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