This week, in Parashah Shmini, we learn the laws of Kashrut. We often think of Kashrut as a hoq, a mysterious commandment that we follow only because our Torah says that God wants us to. But Kashrut is also a mishpat, a commandment informed by values and virtues that we can comprehend; in this case, an abhorrence of cruelty. Not only may we not eat, and thereby develop a thirst for, blood; we may not slaughter in a cruel way, because we care about tzar baalei chayim, the suffering of living creatures.
Yet, as a result of the efforts of Bema'aglei Tzedek, a Jerusalem-based nonprofit organization, consumers are now on the lookout for a second type of certificate indicating that the restaurant conforms to a completely separate set of kosher guidelines -- good employment practices and accessibility for the disabled. Called the Social Seal or tav chevrati in Hebrew, the certificate is now being prominently displayed in more than 300 Israeli eateries from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and in various other locales. It was introduced by Bema'aglei Tzedek to combat what the organization's director, Asaf Banner, calls "an all too often ignored, yet deeply troubling, aspect of Israeli society."
For generations of my own family, and many Jewish families, thegarment industry long has been a source of employment andentrepreneurial opportunity. Yet, in recent weeks, some local Jewishactivists, led by the American Jewish Congress, have been making theshmatte business and its workers once again the object oftheir heartfelt intentions.