Last night I attended The Kosher Quandary: Ethics and Kashruth, which was the inaugural event of Yeshiva University’s new student organization TEIQU, A Torah Exploration of Ideas, Questions and Understanding. The debate was moderated by Simcha Gross and Gilah Kletenik who jointly spearheaded the event and founded TEIQU.
The room was packed with hundreds of people, students from all different colleges as well as professors, parents, and nearby residents. Cameras and sound systems were visible at every turn, namely the New York Times and PBS.
The panelists consisted of Rabbi Menachem Genack, Rabbi Dr. Basil Herring, Rabbi Avi Shafran, and Shmuly Yanklowitz. Gilah Kletenik opened the discussion with a brief history of “kosher quandaries” as well as posing the opening questions to the panelists. “What if any is the relationship between ethics and kashrut? How should Orthodox organizations certify meat?”
Although I cannot fully recount nearly everything the panelists discussed, I will try and give you a sampling of each.
Rabbi Avi Shafran currently serves as Agudath Israel of America’s director of public affairs and the American head of Am Echad. He opened his statements in a cautionary note stating that he knows that his opinions are not as “popular” or as discussed as the other panelist opinions. He also said that whatever he says he is not judging people but rather things, for only God judges people.
He began his response with a metaphor for the relationship between kashrut and ethics.Â He said they are like personal hygiene and poetry. A great poet may opt not to shower, but this does not affect his poetry. Kosher food producers are required to uphold ethical standards, but if they donâ€™t, the kashrut of the food is not affected. Ethics are independent of kashrut.
Rabbi Shafran went on to speak about Hekhsher Tzedek and claimed that the initiative “conflates and confuses two Jewish concepts (ethics & kashruth).”
“Should food producers be held accountable for these wrongdoings?” he asked. “Of course they should” he responded, “but should organizations and people in the kashruth industry be more accountable than other Jewish organizations? Jewish ethics is a meta concept-not limited to kashruth.”