Rabbi Morris Allen Challenges the Kosher Establishment

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My colleague Rabbi Morris Allen (pictured at right participating in a recent phone-a-thon at the St. Paul, MN JCC), who lives in the Minneapolis area, has taken on those in the Orthodox community who have near hegemony over kashrut certification in the meat-packing plants and slaughterhouses local to his congregation. His activism comes as a result of the negative publicity that has appeared over the last several months concerning the questionable treatment of animals being readied for kosher slaughter. Since I am a vegetarian, the whole matter particularly troubles me. But I have to admit that Rabbi Allen’s approach is totally in the right direction. He argues that animal rights are not sufficient in the determining of kosher standards. Rather, he suggests, we must ensure that the workers in these slaughterhouses, mostly underpaid immigrants, are treated humanely as well. Thus, he proposes a new standard called “hekhsher tzedek,” which guarantees that the animals and the workers are all treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. This philosophy calls to mind Arthur Waskow’s proposal some years ago (which he called eco-kashrut) to make sure that the standards of kashrut were “green.” By keeping kosher, Jewish people can feel addressed by the mitzvot (commandments) and connect with other members of the community and with their Jewish heritage, but by incorporating the ideas of Rabbi Allen and Arthur Waskow, the kosher dietary laws take on the added significance of advancing the cause of tikkun olam (“healing the world,” the Jewish notion of social justice).

As someone who keeps kosher and is supportive of maintaining kosher dietary laws, especially as a daily spiritual discipline, I wonder whether Rabbi Allen’s approach might be appealing to those on the periphery, especially to those who might not previously have thought about kashrut at all. Those who may not have considered keeping kosher may be inspired to do so as a result of the social justice element hekhsher tzedek injects into the practice. Could we position a kosher dietary standard that is righteous to all involved as a way of reaching those on the periphery?


  1. I applaud Jewish Conservative Rabbis for creating a Hechsher Tzedek or justice certification that sets humane labor standards for kosher meatpacking plants. However, it is unfortunate that this certification does NOT include standards for humane treatment of animals.

    Worker mistreatment and unsafe working conditions at AgriProcessors, the largest glatt kosher slaughterhouse and meatpacking plant in the world, prompted this action. In addition, in 2004, egregious inhumane animal abuse was documented at this same AgriProcessors plant, subsequently confirmed by the USDA. Clearly these atrocities violate the Jewish mandate in the Torah against tza’ar ba’alei hayyim, causing unnecessary pain to animals.

    In fact, “Kosher” actually means “fit” or “proper.” Thus, if the meat we consume is truly fit or Kosher, we must ensure that the animals that supplied that meat live and die humanely.

    In my opinion, guidelines for humane Kosher Shechita should include: 1) waiting until lack of movement before moving or removing organs from animals; 2) banning the use of electric prods; 3) providing a calm atmosphere for the animals; 4) using captive bolting (fatal electrical shock) in a timely fashion when Shechita fails to produce rapid unconsciousness (making meat from these animals un-Kosher); 5) requiring the use of an upright pen for animal restraint (such as the Grandin pen); 6) prohibiting the practice of shackling and hoisting and the use of inversion pens (currently stated to be a violation of Jewish law in the Conservative Teshuvah authored by Elliot Dorff and Joel Roth, “Shackling and Hoisting” YD 6.2000); 7) re-considering the use of pre- Shechita stunning (halakhically reasonable grounds for pre- Shechita stunning are presented in the Conservative Teshuvah authored by Mayer E. Rabinowitz, “A Stunning Matter: Stunning and Bolting After Shehitah.” YD 27:1.2001a).

    Implementation of guidelines for humane Shichita will ensure that we observe the spirit of the law as well as the letter of law when certifying meat as kosher.

    Comment by Joanne — June 28, 2007 @ 4:44 pm

  2. Any man who chooses to be a ‘rabbi’ (‘true teacher’ of Torah) or a ‘dayan’ (‘judge’), or a ‘mekubal’ (‘kabbalist’) should be doing so Voluntarily. Out of his pure love for Hashem and the Torah. And his Ahavat Yisrael.

    If he refuses to do community work voluntarily, and wants and accepts payment for everything he does, such a man should not be leading a community. He should get a job and earn a living. He can collect milk bottles or clean the windows. That is what is called ‘earning a living’.

    Torah is learned, studied and taught: out of Love. Voluntarily. But the ‘rabbis’ have turned the Torah into their ‘Profession’, from which they earn money.

    We are commanded in the Shema to:
    ‘LOVE Hashem, your G-d, WITH ALL YOUR HEART, and with all your soul and with all your might.’
    ‘VE’AHAVTA et Hashem Elokecha BECHOL LEVAVECHA uvechol nafshecha uvechol meodecha.’ (Devarim, Vaethanan, 6:4-5)

    Is the ordinary man or woman PAID to pray to Hashem, or to say some words of Torah? No. Has veshalom! But the rabbis are. These men can give ‘lovely’ shiurim that they have rehearsed. But they would not give a shiur without being paid for it.

    The true hachamim and rabbis of old, all actually worked at proper jobs and professions.

    Wake up! Even a little child could have worked this out. These salaried men can never truly stand for the Torah, because in a case of conflict between a correct course of action according to the Torah, and the rabbi or rav’s pocket – his pocket and position will always prevail.
    Pirkei Avot: (2:2)
    “Raban Gamliel beno shel Rabi Yehuda HaNassi omer: yafeh talmud Torah im derech eretz, sheyegiat shenaihem mashkachat avon. Vechol Torah she’ein imah melacha sofa betailah ve’goreret avon. Vechol haoskim im hatzibbur yiheyu imahem leShem Shamayim……”

    “Rabban Gamliel, the son of Rabi Yehuda HaNassi, said: It is good to combine Torah study with a worldly occupation, for working at them both drives sin from the mind. All Torah without an occupation will in the end fail and lead to sin. And let all who work for the community do so for the sake of Heaven………”

    Comment by Eliyahoo WilliamDwek — May 11, 2010 @ 11:34 am

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