Minnesota Rabbi Morris Allen (of Beth Jacob Congregation in Mendota Heights) is on the national map again with his path-breaking work as Program Director of Magen Tzedek, the new label for Kosher food that incorporates rules for the protection of the earth, workers and animals into the production of food.
Yesterday Newsweek Magazine announced that it was naming him – along with Michael Jackson’s Rabbi Schmuley Boteach and Joseph Telushkin – one of the “50 Most Influential Rabbis in America.” He even made it in the Top 10.
I asked Rabbi Allen to comment on the honor of receiving the national recognition for his work. He remarked:
For Newsweek to salute Hekhsher Tzedek means that our work and our focus has touched a very important spot in American Jewry. we are working hard to restore a culture of Kashrut in this country–a culture of Kashrut that celebrates both the ritual and ethical aspects of Jewish life.
I am excited that people are able to grasp that Kashrut matters–and that we have an obligation to insure that we really are “responding to a higher authority” and that ethical aspects of jewish life are no les important than ritual aspects. The fact that the meeting place for this is around our dining room tables speaks to the wisdom of Judaism which sees food as an opportunity for acts of the holy–for bringing God into the mundane aspects of our life
I queried the Rabbi, why is Magen Tzedek‘s label for Kosher food relevant to our local Jewish community, and to other Jews around the country? He explained:
[Magen Tzedek] matters because Judaism matters and because part of the wisdom of Judaism is Kashrut. For too long we have allowed people to worry more about the smoothness of a cow’s lung (whether the meat is glatt or non-glatt kosher) and have not worried about the safety of the worker producing the meat for us.
For too long we have allowed people to believe that Leviticus chapter 11 (the laws of Kashrut) are written in large type, and that Deuteronomy chapter 24 (which details ethical responsibilities to workers) is written in small print. In truth the Torah is written in one size print and we must grapple with all of its part equally.
Intrigued, I asked how we as individuals can get involved in this movement to promote justice in the preparation of Kosher food. Rabbi Allen responded:
We are now moving to the next stage of our work, having signed a major contract with Social Accountability International(SAI) which will be taking our standards and developing the metrics to measure them; and then will be beta-testing them with several food producers.
In addition we have just launched our Magen Tzedek Ambassadors program–we are asking for people to sign up for a four-part webinar series and to agree to work inside their communties promoting the importance of insuring that people begin looking for the Magen Tzedek label on products. Contact Iris Richman at email@example.com to sign up.
Although he wasn’t recognized by Newsweek for his work establishing Beth Jacob Congregation, I was touched (as a member of his congregation) when Rabbi Allen told me, “In truth the most important work I have ever done has been building, together with a wonderful group of Jews, Beth Jacob Congregation.”
So next time your hear people making fun of Jews in Minnesota (and it happens, although we wish it weren’t true…), tell them to pick up a copy of Newsweek. Oh yeah.
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