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Magen Tzedek: Irrelevant Symbol or Ethical Standard?

A new symbol created by the Conservative Movement implies a “gold standard” of ethics above the Jewish kosher laws. Agudath Israel says it's bunk.
By Chana Ya'ar
First Publish: 5/8/2011, 3:17 PM / Last Update: 5/8/2011, 6:36 PM

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The Agudath Israel organization which represents Orthodox Judaism says that a new symbol created by the Conservative Movement which is intended to deal with standards regarding labor, humane treatment of animals, safety, environmental concerns and corporate integrity is essentially misleading and irrelevant. 

The "Magen Tzedek" symbol allegedly implies a “gold standard” of ethics above and beyond the kosher laws. The new symbol, reportedly to appear shortly on packages of kosher food, is expected to appear on those products which already bear a symbol indicating that they are under kosher supervision.

“Magen Tzedek is a catalyst for a changed consciousness about the relationship between ritual observance and the ethical underpinnings of Jewish law,” stated Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Conservative Movement's Rabbinical Assembly. “I am confident that it will renew the Jewish community's focus on the ethical teachings of our tradition and provide a roadmap for ethical renewal within the Jewish community and beyond.”

“Such issues are worthy ones but they are well covered by governmental regulations and other areas of halacha (Jewish law -ed.) as determined by recognized Torah authorities,” the Agudath Israel said in a statement. “The goal of 'Magen Tzedek,' however, is nothing less than to redefine kashrut,” the organization charged.

The sponsoring organization of the new symbol – the “Hekhsher Tzedek Commission” – deals exclusively with food, Agudath Israel pointed out. In its literature, that organization states as its objective: to "improve our consciousness, understanding and practice of kashrut by extending the definition beyond ritual to reflect ethical, environmental and social concerns."

The problem, points out Agudath Israel, is that in kashrut, “There is no such thing as 'ritual.' There is only halacha – the holiness we are enjoined by our Creator to embrace.”