Positive change for USCJ?

Even the Conservative Movement has jumped on to the eco-friendly bandwagon. This week, The Washington Post highlighted the new seal that USCJ will award certain food products:

The Conservative hechsher tzedek, Hebrew for “justice certification,” will attest that a particular food was produced at a plant that meets ethical norms in six areas: fair wages and benefits, health and safety, training, corporate transparency, animal welfare, and environmental impact. (MORE)

The goal is to get measurable standards in place by the High Holidays this year and beginning labeling packages in the subsequent year.

Said Rabbi Morris Allen of Mendota Heights, Minn., head of the committee drafting the rules

“We’re not trying to muscle ourselves into the business that others have developed” of certifying foods. “We do believe that most Jews, if given a choice between ‘This item is kosher’ and ‘This item is kosher and also was produced by a company that respects its workers and the environment,’ that most Jews will choose the latter.”

While I think that this is an innovative approach to modernizing halacha, the larger question, in my mind, has to do with the motivation of the Conservative Movement.

Of the three main branches in American, Conservative Judaism is the only one not to have a Washington, D.C.-based policy office. Both the Religions Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) and the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs work to bring about legislative initiatives that the reflect the needs of its constituency.

In fact, in a recent speech, presidential candidate Barack Obama sited the heads of both of these organizations (Rabbi David Saperstein and Nathan Diament, respectively) as key influentials at the crossroads of policy change and religion.

This brings me back to the justice hechsher. Perhaps this is USCJ’s first serious move into the realm of public policy. If so, it would be a step in the right direction for an organization that, in the opinion of many, struggles both to keep up with its fellow movements and to maintain the support of its constituents.

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