The following is an interview I had with Uri L’Tzedek staffer Dani Passow concerning their new Kosher Ethical Seal: Tav HaYosher.
1. Please state your name, position, organization, and how you got involved.
Dani Passow. I work for Uri L’Tzedek (http://uriltzedek.webnode.com/) as the Chief Compliance Officer for the Tav Hayosher. While in college, I first became aware of the Tav Hachevrati ( “Social Seal”) in Israel that certifies restaurants with ethical labor practices. I thought it was a project that should be adopted here in America. When I heard that Uri L’Tzedek was initiating a similar project, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to become involved.
2. What was the basis for creating Tav HaYosher?
American Orthodox Jewry of the last century did a remarkable job at creating an infrastructure for ritual observance. The fact that Hescherim (stamps of Kashrut certification) are found on so many foods and in so many restaurants throughout the country is a tremendous achievement. We at Uri L’Tzedek are extremely appreciative of this work as a first step toward actualizing our Torah values. In addition to ritual, we also hear the Divine ethical command to ensure the safety and dignity of the most vulnerable in society. Many workers, in both Kosher and non-Kosher restaurants, are egregiously underpaid, do not receive overtime and are often physically and verbally abused. While all of these are legal violations, law enforcement in the restaurant industry is notoriously ineffective. Moreover, many restaurant workers are illegal immigrants, and even though they have the exact same rights as legal workers, they have a paralyzing fear of deportation, making them reluctant to report violations to authorities. This leaves these individual vulnerable to exploitation. Uri L’Tzedek recognized that we, the Kosher consumer, are responsible for the treatment of workers in Kosher restaurants. We are thus building the infrastructure, just as our predecessors did with Kashrut a generation ago, that secures the rights and security of workers in our restaurants.
3. How does Tav HaYosher affect kosher observant individuals?
It adds another dimension to being a Jewish consumer. Not only do our choices of where and what we eat demonstrate a commitment to ritual, but also to ethics. Moreover, the Tav is part of a move to be more consistent in our Jewish practice. We responded not only to the laws of ritual purity in the book of Leviticus, but also the laws of how we treat other members of society.
4. For us kosher travelers, where can we find restaurants that are certified with Tav HaYosher? What cities are they in currently, and where do you expect to expand to in the coming months / year?
The Tav HaYosher launched last week certifying seven restaurants in New York city, with that number expected increase in the near future. We are also currently in conversation with restaurants in Boston, Washington D.C. and Chicago. Updates on the Tav can be found at our blog: http://tavhayosher.wordpress.com/
We are calling for partners throughout the country who are dedicated to our mission and that are eager to join this important endeavor. One way readers can become involved is by asking restaurants if they’ve heard of the Tav and suggest they be in touch with us. In Israel, the Tav HaChevrati launched only five years ago and now certifies over 350 restaurants. It was through word of mouth and dedication from consumers that they were able to expand so rapidly. The same is possible in the States.
5. Have you seen Tav HaYosher make any impact on the kosher restaurant industry yet?
There are now seven restaurants in New York City where kosher consumers dedicated to ethical labor practices can feel secure eating, we have had unsolicited requests from a number of restaurants eager to have the Tav, leaders in the Kashrut industry have voiced their support. And it’s only been a week! Every day we are hearing from Kosher consumers excited about restoring their faith in the ethics of the Kashrut industry. Volunteers wanting to become compliance monitors have been calling and sending emails. The next months and years are going to see a dramatic change in the Orthodox community’s approach to the food industry.
6. When will you be certifying kosher travel meals, kosher cruises, and kosher airplane food?
When the Kashrut industry first began, I’m sure serving Glatt Kosher five thousand miles high wasn’t on the agenda. And look where we are today. As the Tav HaYosher gains prominence, it’s hard to tell how far we can go. Who knows, maybe the space food on the first manned trip to mars will have our seal on it. If there are budding astronauts out there, here’s where you come in.