Thursday, December 25, 2008

New Kashrut Conservative symbol

December 22, 2008 ( New York , NY ) – The Hekhsher Tzedek commission has announced the creation of Magen Tzedek, the new ethical certification seal that will be introduced to the kosher food industry in the coming months.

Magen Tzedek, a stylized version of a star of David, is the logo that will appear on the packaging of kosher foods whose producers successfully apply for ethical certification from the Hekhsher Tzedek commission.

The commission was launched in the summer of 2007 as a joint project of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly. The work of the Hekhsher Tzedek commission already has been credited with creating new interest in the ethical aspects of kashrut both within the Conservative movement and beyond it. The Magen Tzedek seal does not replace the hekhsher that certifies that food is halachically kosher but is designed to supplement those seals. Dr. Joe M. Regenstein, a professor of food science at Cornell University, has been named an advisor for the project. A well-known consultant to the kosher food industry, he will help create the Hekhsher Tzedek commission’s compliance application and procedure.

“Magen Tzedek is a proud product of Conservative Judaism but also a gift for the entire Jewish community,” said Rabbi Michael Siegel, a co-chair of the Hekhsher Tzedek commission. “It is a bold new symbol that signifies kosher food produced with the highest degree of dignity.”

The Magen Tzedek seal will be awarded to kosher food companies based on a number of criteria having to do with such matters as employee health, safety and training; wages and benefits; the company’s environmental impact; corporate transparency, and product development.

The Nathan Cummings Foundation gave a $100,000 grant to the Hekhsher Tzedek commission earlier this month, the second grant the foundation has given the commission. Awarded in a time of economic recession, the Cummings grant is a vote of confidence in the Hekhsher Tzedek commission’s mission to effect positive change within the American Jewish world. According to the commission’s other co-chair, Jerold Jacobs, the funds will be earmarked toward advocacy and education efforts to promote the ethical certification initiative.

“By introducing Magen Tzedek, we are inviting the public to be a part of the conversation about kashrut, justice and Judaism,” Mr. Jacobs said. “Magen Tzedek draws together consumers of kosher food around the communal table to contemplate how to bring tzedek – justice – to the world.”

Rabbi Siegel speculated that even non-Jews or Jews who do not keep kosher might select a product with a Hekhsher Tzedek certification as a way of expressing their commitment to social justice. “In this regard Hekhsher Tzedek assumes an important position in the broad social movement of ethical eating,” he added.

The new Magen Tzedek seal will be introduced at the annual Hazon Food Conference this week, which features Rabbi Morris Allen, creator and founder of the Hekhsher Tzedek initiative. The conference will be held December 25-28 at the Asimolar Conference and Retreat Center in California.

“Our initiative has captured the hearts and minds of American Jews, reflecting deeply-held social and religious values,” Rabbi Allen said. “Magen Tzedek presents people with an opportunity to deepen their observance of kashrut while emphasizing the importance of social responsibility.”

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