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What is Eco-Kosher?

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It seems so obvious. Like all great ideas, our response is “of course!”

If the purpose of kosher laws (kashrut), according to the Torah, is to promote holiness, then how can we eat a food - even if it has kosher certification - that was produced by poorly treated workers or with pesticides that harm the environment?

In the late 1970s, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, renowned for his tendency to fuse together old and new approaches to Judaism, coined the word "eco-kosher."

Eco-kosher connects modern ecology (such as concerns about industrial agriculture, global warming and fair treatment of workers) with kosher, ancient Jewish dietary laws about food production, preparation and eating (such as ritual slaughter, separation of meat and milk, and tithing of fruit).

Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi noted that while a Styrofoam cup might be useful to someone keeping kosher, it would not be a good choice for someone keeping eco-kosher.

Eco-kosher suggests that we should only consume products that meet both Jewish dietary laws and Jewish ethical standards. Eco-kosher consumers encourage kosher food producers to care for the environment, animals and their workers.

Eco-kosher is a ripe concept. Food production in modern times differs greatly from food production in Torah times. Modern food production has led to environmental destruction as well as social irresponsibility. Meanwhile, both environmental and social responsibility are concepts embedded in Judaism in general and in kosher laws in particular.

Clearly the time has come to connect kosher laws to the world in which we live and the values we hold, as well as to reconnect kosher laws to their own intrinsic quest to promote holiness.
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