Dec 10, 2008 — A panel discussion on the role of ethics in Jewish dietary laws, entitled The Kosher Quandary: Ethics and Kashrut, drew hundreds of students and guests to Yeshiva University (YU) Tuesday night, December 9th. The event was presented by the newly founded YU student-run organization, TEIQU (A Torah Exploration of Ideas, Questions, and Undertsatanding), and was a timely response to the controversy surrounding AgriProcessors—which until recently was the largest kosher slaughterhouse and meat-packing plant in the United States. After being charged with numerous violations of child labor laws, immigration and bank fraud, AgriProcessors filed for bankruptcy in November.
“The goal for this evening’s program is to facilitate the opportunity for dialogue and discourse surrounding a subject that has received considerable attention in our community,” said Stern College for Women senior Gilah Kletenik, who co-founded TEIQU and moderated along with Yeshiva College junior, Simcha Gross. “While we may not arrive at answers tonight, we certainly are asking the right questions.”
Panelists at the evening’s event included rabbis representing major Orthodox organizations, including Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs at Agudath Israel of America; Rabbi Menachem Genack, rabbinic administrator and CEO of the Orthodox Union’s (OU) Kashrut Division and a rosh yeshiva [professor of Talmud] at YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary; Rabbi Basil Herring, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America; and Shmuly Yanklowitz, co-founder and director of Uri L’Tzedek, an Orthodox social justice organization.
While all the panelists agreed that any form of unethical behavior is unacceptable, they differed on their opinions of what role ethics plays in kashrut.
“While kosher food producers are certainly required by halakha [Jewish law], without any doubt, to act ethically in every aspect of their business and personal lives, any lapses on that score have no effect, I repeat, no effect, on the kashrut of the food they produce,” said Rabbi Shafran in his opening statement.
“Experts who have argued this case over and over and suggest that the kashrut at AgriProcessors has been compromised are simply inaccurate,” said Rabbi Genack. “But that’s not to say we are not concerned about these issues; we have to be very concerned.”
Rabbi Genack went on to say that the OU “views giving certification as a seal of approval, not only that it’s kosher, but also that it meets certain standards in terms of people’s perception as well.”
Shmuly Yanklowitz urged Jews everywhere to join in fighting social injustice. “Focusing exclusively on kashrut and not paying attention to ethics makes halakha morally irrelevant,” said Yanklowitz. “Even if ethics and kashrut are not connected, they are connected in people’s minds. We must have the moral courage to tackle this crisis head-on.”