Justice and Eco-Kashrut

Rabbi Arthur Waskow


According to traditional halakhic categories, it is forbidden to oppress workers, including food workers, but what is "kosher" to eat does not rest on the absence of violation of that mitzvah.

In the 1960s, a cross-denominational Board of Rabbis in Masssachusetts ruled that the oppression of farm workers in California was a violation of Torah, and strongly urged that Jews not purchase grapes that were grown by violating "oshek" -- the name of the don't-oppress category. But they did not rule the grapes un-kosher.

In this case, as in violations of the earth, it is up to our generation to define what a violation is and to enforce it thru consumer boycotts, lender boycotts, appeals to corporate stockholders and pressure on corporate boards, etc etc .

It is this process that "eco-kosher" is about. It might well apply to products or services that are not edible at all -- plastics, paper, energy, garments, etc -- and hence would not come under the traditional halakhic categories of "kosher" at all.

If we were to do our job REALLY well, this would result not in ad-hoc actions here and there but the growth of a coherent body of decisions -- in short, halakha -- which means a walking, a path-of-life -- whether this halakha were adopted by traditional Jews or not.

by Rabbi Arthur Waskow
Director, The Shalom Center.