"Kosher" Consumption: Interpreting Jewish Tradition to Guide our Purchasing

“Why not insist that banks, factories, and those who deal in real estate should require a hekhsher [kosher seal] and be operated according to religious law? When a drop of blood is found in an egg, we abhor the idea of eating the egg. But often there is more than one drop of blood in a dollar or a lira and we fail to remind the people constantly of the teachings of our tradition.”
                    —Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, A Time for Renewal

Our tradition is rich with commandments to provide for the needy and to respect the laborer. “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Tzedek, tzedek tirdof) is an often-cited pillar of Jewish religious, social, and cultural practice. If given the choice to ensure that nothing we did in this world contributed to another’s suffering, the decision would be easy. Were we able to always choose not to harm our planet, the right action would be clear. But we live in an increasingly complex world, and tracing the full impact of our personal spending habits would be nearly impossible.

Judaism provides the laws of Kashrut to guide eating habits. We can keep strictly kosher and in line with tradition by learning some simple rules and looking for the hekhsher, the mark of rabbinic approval, on products in the grocery store. But many of us, like Rabbi Heschel, want guidance on implementing the teachings of Judaism’s demand for social justice beyond food preparation. In the midrash (commentary) on the story of Creation, God says to Adam, “Everything I have created has been created for your sake. Take care that you do not corrupt and destroy my world, for if you do, there is no one after you to repair it” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13). Some are inspired by this and other texts to purchase sustainable products. But how can we know what we buy is made without harming the planet?

Likewise, there is no hekhsher certification that denotes a workplace in compliance with Leviticus 19:13, “The wages of a laborer shall not remain with you until morning.” The Babylonian Talmud declares that withholding an employee’s wages is “as though [they have] taken the person’s life.” How can we know that the manufacturers of the goods we buy understand the gravity of the situation?

The Green & Just Guide is a useful and inspiring resource we can use to live our values through our purchasing. In the following pages you will find organizations like Green America, Sweat Free Communities and LA Labor 411 that have created lists based on criteria such as fair pay, a voice on the job, sustainable source materials, and reduced waste. These values echo our tradition and many other religious and moral traditions as well. You will also find textual references in the leaves throughout this manual that guide us along a path of Jewish teachings that can inform our purchasing decisions.

Moreover, the guide demonstrates the breadth and depth of our community’s commitment to seeking green and just purchasing options. As we read in the Tractate on Blessings, “The Torah cannot be acquired except in fellowship” (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 63b). We hope this document engages you in becoming a part of the living Torah by joining our community’s actions toward justice.

While these resources may not be as easy to find as a hekhsher, they can be just as rewarding. With this guide, you can put into action Rabbi Heschel’s words and be constantly mindful of the teachings of our tradition. And in a joyous time of celebration with family, what could be more important?