On May 12, exactly one year after the immigration raid at the Agriprocessors meat plant in Postville, Iowa, an Orthodox social justice organization has launched a “seal of ethics” for qualified New York City kosher restaurants and supermarkets.
The Tav HaYosher, “Seal of Ethics,” overseen by Uri L’Tzedek, certifies that a restaurants’ respect for its workers’ rights to fair pay, fair time and safe working conditions, are in accordance with the highest standards of both American and Torah law, according to the organization’s Web site, uriltzedek.org.
The seal is given free of charge following inspections by mostly college-aged volunteers and rabbinical students from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah,
So far, six New York-area kosher eateries and one grocery store have met the requirements, while many have not.
The standards are tough. Uri L’Tzedek Lead Professional Rabbi Ari Weiss said one place that did not qualify offered to raise its employee’s salaries by over $100 — and still failed to obtain the seal for other reasons.
Demand for the seal is high, according to Weiss.
“We’re in a partnership, it’s about building relationships,” he said. “The community will patronize places that have this seal as a way of affirming their Jewish identities and concerns.”
While initiatives such as the Conservative Movement’s Hechsher Tzedek seek to put labels on food certifying that they were made according to fair labor and trade practices, Tav HaYosher only seeks to certify restaurants, and its labels will not appear on food in supermarkets.
“We’re not kosher, we’re yosher, the seal of ethics,” he said. “We’re in cooperation with the hechshering organizations, there is no competition.”
While Tav HaYosher does not investigate whether the foods being used or sold in stores with the seal were produced according to fair labor laws, “those are conversations that need to be had,” Weiss acknowledged.
In Pittsburgh, the Tav HaYosher concept has its supporters.
Elan Sokol, manager of Aaron and Ari’s Grill isn’t worried about his restaurant passing.
“Local restaurants should have a very high standard,” he said. “Many cities with restaurants I’ve worked in have ‘off-the-books’ employees that are not treated well, but Pittsburgh does not have that problem. We make it a very high point to see that all our employees are happy.”
Sokol said treating employees well is more than just good business. “It’s absolutely a Jewish obligation. But more than that, it is a Jewish obligation to treat all people with respect, except Cleveland Browns fans.”
(Derek Kwait can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)