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Restaurants Boycotted for ‘Ethical Hechsher’

Uri L’Tzedek certification on a Los Angeles restaurant.

A certification meant to designate kosher eateries as establishments that treat their workers with dignity and respect has become a controversial issue, with many of the participating businesses reportedly receiving threats, not accolades for their involvement in the program.

Tav HaYosher, launched three years ago as a free certification, is described as an “ethical seal” indicating that workers receive at least a minimum wage, overtime pay when working more than forty hours per week, a minimum or one day off per week, regular breaks and a safe, sanitary and non-discriminatory workplace. A grass roots program staffed by volunteers who frequent certified restaurants and speak with both owners and workers, it is a project of Uri L’Tzedek a social justice organization that fights prevent suffering and oppression.

But according to reports on the Jewish Journal’s website, there are those who take issue with Uri L’Tzedek, which launched a two month long consumer boycott against the Agriprocessor meat processing plant in Iowa following the massive immigration raid that closed down the plant and sent Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin to jail. Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, founder and president of Uri L’Tzedek who received his rabbinical ordination from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, has been an outspoken voice condemning Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin for labor conditions at the Agriprocessors plant.

According to the report, a threatening email sent by a person identified as Menachem Cohen to establishments bearing the Tav HaYosher designation warned business owners that they faced a potential boycott because of Rabbi Yanklowitz’s involvement in the Rubashkin case, accusing him of making false claims against Rubashkin.

“Until you remove Tav HaYosher, you will find an increasing number of people boycotting your business,” warned Cohen in the email.

“We received a second email from them,” Avi, a manager at The Kosher Experience in Teaneck, New Jersey, told VIN News. “They told us that the boycott will continue until we remove all association with the Tav HaYosher.”

Although Tav HaYosher certifies over 90 restaurants in the United States and Canada, much of the activity against the certification seems to be centered in the Los Angeles area, according to the Jewish Journal, which found that four local restaurants, Mexikosher, Schnitzly, Nut House, and Café of Paris had removed their Tav HaYosher certification because of the threats. Restaurants owners reported getting mixed reviews for their participation in the Tav HaYosher program, with some patrons applauding their decision and others walking out when they saw the certificate.

While it appears that the backlash against the Tav HaYosher seems to be coming from the Chabad community, Rabbi Chaim Cunin, CEO of Chabad California said he had no knowledge of any activity against the Tav HaYosher.