Ethical kosher seal comes to Pa., but will it catch on?
Hanging next to the bathroom in Max and David’s International Kosher Cuisine, a two-year-old upscale eatery in Elkins Park, Pa., you’ll find a veritable hall of fame, “certificates that we like to show off to people,” said restaurant manager Linda Grife.
The newest addition is a Tav HaYosher certificate, declaring Max and David’s kosher. But anyone reading the sign outside knows that; the Tav HaYosher, rather, deems the restaurant ethically kosher. The certification, created by Orthodox social justice organization Uri L’Tzedek, aims to ensure customers that restaurants are kosher both in food preparation and the humane and fair treatment of their employees.
And while the Tav HaYosher has been spreading through New York City since its creation last year, Uri L’Tzedek hopes to bring the certification to Pittsburgh this season. But do local restaurants care?
According to Grife, maybe they should.
Max and David’s, the first Tav HaYosher- approved Pennsylvania restaurant, only became certified a month ago, after Uri L’Tzedek Chief Compliance Officer Dani Passow “interviewed me and then interviewed the employees, then called the accountant to look at all the overtime, the financials,” said Grife.
Passow helped create the Tav HaYosher itinerary because “we as a Jewish community need to stand for ethical treatment,” he said. “As a society, we’ve established certain standards — minimum wage, fair treatment. If that’s the case, then Jewish values should meet those standards.”
For restaurants to be Tav HaYosher-certified in Pittsburgh, said Passow, “we’d start with a single point person who can get a handful of people involved to look over our compliance manual. Then we’ll go to that city.”
Uri L’Tzedek representatives will then train local authorities to monitor each participating restaurant.
Though Passow said that the free publicity provided by the seal often drums up additional business, local restaurant owners said any extra revenue wouldn’t be the certification’s biggest draw.
“We try to run an ethical business, so anything that would certify that to the community would be a good thing,” said Daniel Berkowitz, who owns Sweet Tammy’s bakery in Squirrel Hill with his wife (it’s namesake). “I don’t think it would necessarily bring in customers who don’t already come in, though. From a revenue standpoint, I don’t think it would make a difference.”
Across the street on Murray Avenue, Ari Gutman, co-owner of both Aaron and Ari’s and Milky Way agreed.
“Growing up as a religious Jew, I feel that I know the importance of respecting your employees, from the dishwasher all the way to the manager,” Gutman said. “Respect goes both ways. [Kosher is] the way you act, the way you are. It’s not just about food.”
A month in, Grife hasn’t seen increased business, but said the certification is, “just another feather to put in our cap for doing fair and ethical business.”
Application, certification and monitoring is free for restaurants, as sponsored by Uri L’Tzedek, according to Passow.
“They have nothing to lose,” he said.
Though Gutman and Berkowitz, who is a member of The Jewish Chronicle Board of Trustees, agreed, both questioned the necessity of bringing Tav HaYosher certification to Pittsburgh when, according to them, the current kosher authority, the Vaad Hakashrus, already monitors more than just proper food preparation.
“When you’re under the Vaad, there’s supervision on the way you run your business, how you act in life, everything that has to do with employees,” said Gutman. “I think Pittsburgh is way ahead of the game because we have that going.”
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at email@example.com.)