Shmuly Yanklowitz at Cafe Nana, the first restaurant to receive the Tav HaYosher
One year after the federal raid of the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa, Uri L’tzedek (Awaken to Justice), an orthodox social action group, has responded by establishing an ethical seal, Tav HaYosher, for all kosher eating establishments. “After seeing the pain and suffering inflicted by our own kosher industry on the stranger and the poor, the very people the Torah demands we protect, we realized we needed to be proactive and make a change,” said Shmuly Yanklowitz, founder and co-director of Uri L’Tzedek.
I had the opportunity to speak with Rachel Rosenthal, an active member of Uri L’Tzedek and the Tav HaYosher campaign, and has taught about ethical kashrut in communities across the Upper West Side.
The Tav YaHosher campaign launches today with a public event 6:30 -8:30 pm at Cafe Nina, 505 W.115th St., 2nd floor, in New York City. My interview with Rachel is after the jump.
What can people start doing, now, today, to support the Tav?
There are many different ways to support the Tav, which vary from short, one-time commitments to extended efforts that help increase the Tav’s agenda. The first thing to do is actively patronize restaurants and institutions that have a Tav! Second, the Tav should continue to grow, which requires increased awareness among both restaurant owners and community members. We are always looking for people to call restaurants and ask them if they have heard about the Tav. Similarly, hosting open house events and teaching in synagogues, schools, and other community venues helps spread the word about the Tav. Finally, if you would like to get involved in screening and auditing the restaurants, check out the Uri L’tzedek website for information about compliance.
What is your goal for participation?
Our goal is to eventually ensure that every kosher establishment in New York is upholding not only the highest standards of kashrut, but also the highest standards of moral and ethical behavior. Often, conversations about social justice take place in negative terms of condemnation. This is an opportunity for affirmation– to hold up those who are committed to both following the law and pursuing Jewish ethical ideals.
How many restaurants or other food establishments have agreed to participate?
So far, seven establishments have signed on. We hope that number continues to grow quickly!
What made them willing to do so?
Many restaurants are already following the standards set out by the Tav– the right to pay, the right to time, and the right to dignity and a safe working environment. Since all of these standards are outlined by New York State law, it is not only a matter of ethics; it is also a matter of legality. There are also advantages to signing onto the Tav, beyond the desire to do the right thing. We at Uri L’tzedek have made a commitment to supporting establishments that have the Tav, and encouraging others to do so as well. All of the establishments with the Tav will be listed on the Uri L’tzedek website, and we are in the process of sending that list around to synagogues as well.
How long has Uri L’tzedek been working on this?
We are proud to officially launch the Tav exactly one year after the federal raid of the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa. In the wake of the Rubashkins scandal, people’s positive associations of kashrut took a real hit. In many ways, the Tav is a grassroots response that asserts that in fact, people can be– and should be– proud to be kosher consumers. The Tav has been in the making for many months, partly inspired by the work of our partner organization B’ma’aglei Tzedek in Israel and their phenomenally successful Tav Chevrati. The Tav HaYosher has been growing for many months, with the first Tav being awarded in February.
What inspired Uri L’tzedek to work on this initiative?
Uri L’tzedek is an Orthodox organization built on the idea that social justice is inherently part of the halakhic system. Instead of leaving social justice to so-called “liberal” Jews, everyone has an obligation to fight for a more just world. This needs to start at home, with the people who serve our food. After Rubashkins, we all have an obligation to assert that kashrut is about more than simply having a seal on our food. It is about ensuring that our food is created in a way that we can feel comfortable with, both halakhically and morally.
The Tav is an easy way for us to take responsibility for those who live– and work– in our backyard.
What inspired you personally?
I was blessed to grow up in a community that taught me that it is not possible to be a good Jew without being a good person. Through all of my journeys, this value has stayed with me. As I became a more strictly kosher consumer, i found that I was constantly considering the relationship between kosher food and ethical food. In the wake of Rubashkins, I was, for the first time, ashamed to be a kosher consumer. To me, the chance to reclaim kashrut and affirm people who are doing the right thing– it seemed obvious.
How will this affect your life?
As somebody who lives in New York, I am very lucky to have a wide variety of kosher restaurants from which I get to choose. Kosher certification means that I can trust that the food I’m putting into my body meets the halakhic standards I have set for myself. The Tav allows me to add another layer to this commitment, ensuring that I am not supporting places that break the law and the moral standards I’ve set for myself. I love having the chance to affirm those who are doing the right thing, and encourage others to do the same.
Why are you willing to make these sacrifices?
To me, this is not about sacrifice, it’s about opportunity. Ignorance is not bliss in this case, and I do not want to claim that I am not responsible simply because I am not the perpetrator. The amazing thing about the Tav is that it makes a real difference in the lives of real people who live in the same place as me. Concrete change has to start in our own backyards. The Tav is an important first step.