Monday, June 12, 2006


“We report to a Higher Authority” is a very successful marketing slogan for kosher meat producer Hebrew National. It suggests that kosher products are holier and therefore healthier. That may be true for Hebrew National, and I have no evidence to the contrary. But it is not true of all companies who call themselves kosher.

AgriProcessors, a major kosher meat producer selling its products under the Aaron’s Best brand, has been under fire for mistreatment of animals since December of 2004 when an animal rights group shot video of the plant’s slaughtering processes. At the heart of kosher is the principle of “tzar baalei chayyim,” sparing animals from unnecessary suffering. Not so at AgriProcessors. Of course since meat eating itself is unnecessary, and God’s prescribed diet in Genesis is clearly meatless, one could (and I do) argue that true kosher is vegetarianism. But the suffering of the animal is not the only issue; of equal importance is the treatment of workers.

Exploiting laborers renders products, both food stuffs and other goods, treif, unfit for human consumption. A new study of AgriProcessors’ labor policies reveals that on this count too they are decidedly treif. Workers are often undocumented, underpaid, poorly trained, and overworked. (see the Forward, May 26, 2006).

“Aaron’s Best” is really what is best for Aaron, and seems to bear little resemblance to anything remotely holy. Yet religious Jews continue to buy their products. Why? Because law is God and God is law in so much of what passes for Judaism. But this is not Judaism; this is idolatry.

Judaism is not alone in making idols. Every religion offers up a lens (it is really a mirror, but that is for some other time) through which to view God and in time begins to worship that lens as if it were God. That people don’t see this amazes me. Religion is too often bullshit from a sacred cow (if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor).

I take kosher very seriously. I think that doing your best to only consume items that do as little harm to animals, people, and the environment as possible is what kosher is all about. I am a kosher Jew, and while tuna, salmon, and halibut consider me a Nazi, cows and chickens think I am Gandhi. Mea culpa to the fish; my kosher is a work in progress.

The fact that a company that causes needless suffering to animals and workers can still be kosher simply reinforces my sense that orthodoxies of any sort are corrupt to the core.

What Judaism needs, what all religions need, is a prophetic voice standing in the marketplace of ideas and speaking truth to power. Jesus may have been the last Jew to do this for Judaism, and look what happened to him— they turned him into God! There is no better way to avoid the message then worshipping the messenger. How terribly sad for us all.

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