Our Torah commands sanctity in the marketplace and workplace as in the home and synagogue. From biblical times to the present, Jewish tradition has summoned us to a life of ethical behavior and social responsibility, of fidelity to both ritual practice and the rule of civil law. This tradition acknowledges the legitimacy of property rights as well as business profit, but simultaneously challenges us to fulfill principles of just conduct. These principles include respect for just laws and conventions, treating all people with respect, and preserving and protecting God’s creation.
It is thus the responsibility of Torah leaders to teach and promote ethical conduct in the workplace. As part of this responsibility, the RCA has decided to recommend guidelines for conduct in the kosher food industry. Given the active involvement of rabbis in supervising kosher food production, and the influence we have in this area, we believe it is incumbent on us to promote and enforce conduct consistent with Jewish values throughout the kosher food industry.
Section B: Formalizing ethical guidelines for kashruth supervision
Kashruth certifying agencies currently focus on Judaism’s rules governing permitted and forbidden mixtures and ingredients, kosher slaughter, and similar ritual matters. As a result of generations of scrupulous and professional oversight, the various large kashruth certifying agencies enjoy a high degree of confidence on the part of both consumers and producers in these areas.
Historically, kashruth certifying agencies have not formally overseen legal and ethical compliance, though as a matter of conscience they have on many occasions refused to provide supervision due to reservations about misconduct. Their specific mandate and ability is to ensure that food adheres to the strict ritual demands of Jewish law and tradition, prescribed by the Creator for the Jewish people in order to sanctify us. Responsibility for regulating the business practices of the kosher food industry lies instead with a variety of specialized government agencies.
However, the close relationship between kashruth certifying agencies and kosher food producers, coupled with the requirements of Jewish law to conduct business in accordance with civil law, to protest serious moral wrongdoing, and to shun association with improper endeavors, have justifiably prompted broader expectations of those agencies. Beyond conducting their own affairs in a manner beyond legal and ethical reproach, agencies should explicitly inform clients that they require lawful conduct, and agencies should distance themselves from any producer whose conduct constitutes a gross affront to the ethical demands of Jewish law and tradition. These, too, are a divine commandment to the Jewish people.
The rest of this document outlines appropriate steps to achieve this aim.
Section C: Ethics Policies for Kashruth Certifying Agencies
Exemplary Behavior of Kashruth Certifying Agencies
Kashruth certifying agencies should conduct their own affairs in a manner that reflects positively on the role of the Torah in promoting ethical and legal conduct.
Scope of Contracts of Supervised Companies
An agency should require companies seeking its certification to affirm in advance that they are committed to law-abiding conduct, and have implemented procedures to comply with legal norms as they understand them.
In its agreements with companies they supervise, an agency should stipulate that serious legal violations, as described in Section E of this document, will constitute grounds for sanctions including termination of kosher certification.
An agency should have a practical, transparent policy for responding to allegations of serious violations of law at companies whose products it certifies. A designated individual or committee within the agency should be responsible for implementing this policy. In order to prevent a continued relationship with a company which violates the law, this policy should empower the agency to take prompt action.
Excessively burdensome guidelines will prove counterproductive. Each agency should adopt and publicize a policy that enables it to respond to violations without compromising its primary responsibility for guaranteeing the customer the highest kosher standards.
An agency must ensure that administrators, supervisors and others who are responsible for enforcing its policy are adequately familiar with its details. Appropriate orientation procedures and materials, and periodic refreshers, are essential elements in this process.
Practically, an agency cannot assume responsibility for monitoring a company for unethical or illegal behavior. However, an agency may sometimes encounter credible suspicions at a client company. Suspicions might stem from a variety of sources, including but not limited to criminal or regulatory investigations, on-site agency inspectors, or credible news reports or whistle-blowers.
Once suspicions are raised, an agency is not expected to initiate its own investigation; kashruth supervisors do not have expertise in investigating adherence to ethical or legal standards. Instead, it should judge the presence and degree of company violation based on all evidence at its disposal. This may include the results of investigations from duly authorized bodies, including law enforcement and regulatory agencies, public statements from the producer, or first hand testimony from its own representatives.
In assessing allegations, an agency must maintain an attitude of fairness and a policy of due process. It should not act hastily, and should give the accused company a fair opportunity to respond to allegations whenever possible.
Convincing Evidence of Wrongdoing
Once an agency has become convinced that serious legal violations are occurring at a company, it should act promptly and not remain, or even appear to remain, indifferent to such misconduct.
Section D: The Role of the RCA
The RCA will promote and assist the adoption of these ethical enforcement guidelines among kashruth supervising agencies. The RCA, together with agencies, will promote compliance with these guidelines.
When appropriate, and after discussion with an agency, the RCA may make public statements expressing its own judgment regarding any company which is deemed to have violated these guidelines, as described in Section E.
Section E: Specific Areas of Concern
Respect for the will of the people as embodied in legitimate laws is a requirement of Jewish law. Further, lack of commitment to legal obligations may be accompanied by a lack of commitment to kashruth standards. For these reasons and in accordance with Sections C and D above, the RCA and kashruth certifying agencies will respond to blatant disregard of such laws.
Although it is not possible to define in advance all of the types of misconduct that should be deemed serious, the following are some offenses of particular concern in the Jewish ethical tradition:
Integrity Towards the Consumer
The Torah prohibits deception, including any significant, willful attempt to mislead the consumer. These violations are of particular concern for a kashruth certifying agency, whose mandate includes advancing the interests of the consumer of kosher foods.
Honoring Commitments to Workers
Biblical and rabbinic tradition are replete with admonitions directing an employer to promptly fulfill his or her obligations to workers, and to free the employment relationship of any degree of servitude or duress.
Concern for Public Safety and Well-Being
Relevant civil laws and regulations dictate the appropriate balance between the needs of industry and the safety and cleanliness of the surrounding community and the greater environment.
Concern for Animal Welfare
Jewish law strictly forbids causing an animal to suffer, except in cases of legitimate human need or other unusual situations.
In accordance with Jewish law and tradition, the kosher status of food is determined by very specific requirements, as delineated in the Code of Jewish Law and related texts. Nonetheless, many other areas of Jewish law and ethics require that all Jews strive to facilitate correct business behavior far beyond the limited realm of kashruth itself, as we have outlined here.
To this end, with these guidelines, the RCA calls upon the Jewish community at large to assist in implementing these legal and ethical imperatives, for the good of society and the Jewish community.
The JPEG Task Force
Chairman of the JPEG Task Force
Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir
Research Director, Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem, Israel
Special Senior Advisor to the JPEG Task Force
Rabbi Dr. Aaron Levine
Samson and Halina Bitensky Professor of Economics and Chairman of the Economics Department at Yeshiva University
Young Israel of Avenue J, Brooklyn, NY
Members of the JPEG Task Force
Rabbi Kenneth Auman
Chairman, Rabbinic Kashruth Commission, Rabbinical Council of America
Young Israel of Flatbush, NY
Mr. Harvey Blitz, Esq.
Rabbi Michael Broyde, Esq.
Professor of Law, Emory University, Atlanta, GA
Dayan, Beth Din of America, New York, NY
Rabbi Dov Fischer, Esq.
Young Israel of Orange County, CA
Adjunct Professor of Law, Loyola Law School
Rabbi Menachem Genack
Rabbinic Administrator, Chief Executive Officer, Kashruth Division of the Orthodox Union
Congregation Shomrei Emunah, Englewood, NJ
Rabbi Shlomo Hochberg
Honorary President, Rabbinical Council of America
Young Israel of Jamaica Estates, NY
Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner
Rosh Beit Midrash of the Yeshiva University-Torah MiTzion Beit Midrash of Toronto
Rabbi Yakov Yellin, Esq.
Ex-officio (RCA) members of JPEG Task Force
Rabbi Dr. Basil Herring, Executive Vice President
Rabbi Moshe Kletenik, President
Rabbi Barry Kornblau, Director of Member Services