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Op-Ed: The Danger of Tav Hayosher

Several weeks ago, I was introduced to Rabbi Ari Weiss, the executive director of Uri L’tzedek, the organization that launched the now-controversial Tav Hayosher “ethical seal” for restaurants. Rabbi Weiss met with me to discuss the background of the Tav Hayosher seal, hear my perspectives on the matter, and possibly form some sort of allegiance with me, given my experience representing food service workers throughout the country.

I was truly impressed with Rabbi Weiss’ gentle demeanor and apparent well-meaning. However, I believe that the Tav Hayosher ethical seal is a dangerous idea that should be stopped.

The Tav purports to restaurant owners that the Tav will benefit their businesses in several ways. First it will improve their employer/employee relations by increasing compliance with labor laws. Also, the Tav intends to create its own reward and punishment system: Kosher restaurant/catering patrons will be encouraged to patronize establishments carrying the Tav and to avoid non-Tav carrying establishments.

What the Tav may not explain to restaurant owners is that the Tav can significantly hurt any business that interacts with it. Entering a restaurant’s premises, interviewing its employees, and policing the treatment of its employees is only one short step away from inciting employment litigation against the restaurant. Based on my experience with countless aggrieved restaurant workers, I would not be surprised if the Tav’s antics quickly result in litigation against the restaurants it inspects.

In addition, we all know that the Jewish laws are complicated and that there are varying levels of kosher observance. In my opinion, the Tav deceptively insinuates that carrying the Tav adds some added level of halachic permissibility to the food it serves, a misconception that could easily deceive a kosher restaurant owner less knowledgeable in the laws of kashrut.

I am a staunch advocate for the restaurant workers’ rights, including wage/hour and anti-discrimination rights. The laws can sometimes be complicated. If you are a restaurant owner reading this, go hire an employment lawyer and make sure you are keeping the laws, because (a) that is the right thing to do according to the Torah, and (b) the liability for failure to keep these laws can be enormous if a lawsuit is filed. As Jews, we have an even higher duty to treat our employees ethically and to sanctify G-d’s name in our business practices.

Restaurant Owner, if you adhere to the federal and state labor laws, you will be doing the right thing and you will avoid liability. But please realize that the Tav is not your friend. They cannot give you legal advice, they cannot defend you if you are sued, and their ethical seal will not help you at all in that scenario—there is a U.S. legal system replete with lawyers, judges, and administrative agencies that handle the administration of the federal and state laws governing employment. Neither does the Tav make your restaurant more kosher. What the Tav can do is incite your workers to take action against you, including boycotts and lawsuits. If the Tav attains the power it seeks, it will be able to ruin you by removing the seal if it decides your practices are not up to snuff. Given that the Tav is a self-regulated organization, this decision will be up to the Tav, based solely on it’s own assessment of what is right and wrong. Do you really want to give this unfettered power to a group that can do this to you?

This is a critical time to stop the Tav Hayosher from gaining too much uncontrollable power. Do not allow them onto your premises. If you carry the seal, take it down and tell the Tav that you did so. Tell your friends that own restaurants to do the same. You owe it to yourself and to your community of kosher restaurants. Leave the kosher laws to the kashrut organizations and the labor laws to the institutions with the power to enforce them. Finally, if you have not already done so, hire a lawyer and comply with the laws. Set a good example, and prove to the public why the Jews are referred to as a “Light onto the nations.”

Maimon Kirschenbaum is an attorney at Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP , where he represents employees facing wage and hour violations, harassment, and workplace discriminations. His work has focused in particular on helping employees in the restaurant industry recover unpaid wages.


  • 1. Smoke & mirrors wrote:

    Sigh. In all likelihood, the only reason the writer has a problem with Tav Hayosher is due to the Rubashkin controversy. I would have more respect for him if he was at least open & honest about that.

  • 3. #1 wrote:

    To #1
    A) Does what the author wrote have merit regardless of the Rubashkin case? Talk about intellectual honesty…

    B)The Rubashkin case is the proof to what he just wrote (although for whatever reason he chose not to include it). He could have included it but chose not to, being that his argument can stand on its own even w/o the “proof”

  • 4. Worked for $8 an hour wrote:

    I agree with #1. This writer is hocking a chai-nik. Amid all the draft dogging, diaper throwing, and other scandals, Tav-HaYoshor is the best thing to come out of the frum community in a long time. I will go out of my way to support it. It’s good to treat workers well – the Jews and the non-Jews.

  • 6. the danger wrote:

    is the cheap jews like rubashkin who dont want to pay their employees and treat them with respect..please

  • 7. I-m in Kashrus and knows what-s going on wrote:

    I totaly agree tav is a dangerus institution that will only cause problems and mislead many people to think the restaurant is kosher.

  • 8. DeClasse- Intellectual wrote:

    First, the seal implies that the institution that has it is under their supervision of koshrus–how many people are going to read the fine print. Rather they will look for a simonim that indicates that the place is kosher and with so many authorities giving their approval, how can one tell the difference between a kosher sign for koshrus and a sign indiciating approval for ethical treatment of employess. In other words, there should be a letter stating such without any reference to kosher.
    Second, the problem with Rubashkin #1 was not his treatment of his employees nor his fights with the illegal defimations from PETA about animal cruelity, it was over financial dealings, and his bad business practices.

  • 9. Tav Fan wrote:

    Unfortunately, kashrut agencies have no external oversight, and, unfortunately, kashrut agencies seem to have a limited sense of what determines “kosher”: impersonal laws are the end all, peoples’ lives can be abused in the process.

    The Tav simply tries to bring balance to power gone awry.

  • 11. Mashgiah wrote:

    I would like to bring Mr. Kirshembaum’s attention to a new uncharted legal Bussiness – the work conditions of a Mashgiah Kashrut. These guys get punished from both sides: kashrut organizations and restaurant owners.

  • 14. John wrote:

    When someone opens a company In spite of something he will stop at nothing to prove his point and to #1 I can and I’m sure 100s more can say that maimy is a great person and is not a attention seeking freak like the other “op-eders” we see writing to this website.

  • 15. g-unit wrote:

    tav is totaly in line with halacha.. particularly this past weeks sedrah, which clearly discusses labor laws.

    Get ready folks as this is firmly in our future. There is nothing wrong with it and the sooner mainstream kashrus agencies add this to their oversight, the sooner marginal agencies like tav hayoshor will go away. This is not a liberal agenda unless halcha is as well.

    It does not force employers to pay for family planning .. that would be it ask workers be treated and paid fairly.

  • 16. to no. 2 wrote:

    It doesn’t sound like this is an idea coming from the frum community. and I fully agree with the writer of this article. Tav Hayoshar is a very big danger for the frum community and also for the restaurants. It should be stopped asap.

  • 17. mr soros look what mr chase did 4judaism wrote:

    mr soros should look at what mr chase did for yiddishkeit, reforming judaism has never worked just look at jewish history beautifying it on the other hand has worked tremendously!

  • 18. michal wrote:

    This is just a liberal, socialist, self-hating Jewish organization trying to usurp the power of kashrus agencies. Supporting this is anti-Jewish. One more libtard assault on small business in AmeriKa! Take down the signs if you were dumb enough to post them and keep this drek out of your shops.

  • 19. to #1 and #2 wrote:

    to #1 what does rubashkin have anything to do with this? answer the issues mr kirshenbaum brought up, and he brought up quite a few.

    to #2 “hocking” why dont you answer the issues mr kirshenbaum brought up? and he brought up quite a few.

    “Amid all the draft dogging, diaper throwing, and other scandals,” what are you talking about? making up non sense so you can start your own gig and control the kosher world?

  • 20. michal wrote:

    Rubashkin was framed. Any one with even limited intelligence can discern this. Watch “Food Inc.” and see how EVERY slaughter house is much worse than Rubashkin ever thought of being but they get a pass because they are Monsanto, Monfort, Tyson, etc… They padded the coffers of politcians with mega-donations). They (govt.)needed a nice (Jewish) scapegoat with lots of bells and whistles to show they are serious abut immigration violators (HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. There has NEVER been a comparable sentence for what Rubashkin (may Hashem free him now) was convicted of.

  • 21. oversight on wall st not on main st! wrote:

    im somewhat involved in the restaurant business, the jewish restaurants are not any worse then anyone else in this business when it comes to employee treatment, they are actually better so who needs this non sense?

    dont we have rules and laws in this country that are enforced by lawyers etc.? who needs this extra oversight when it aint broke? we need oversight on wall street not on main street mr soros! :)

    this is a ploy by a liberal reform movement portraying themselves as frumeh yidden.

  • 22. if you see a tav poster walk out. wrote:

    The name uri letzedek gives it away, who are you to call yourself uri letzedek? you guys are going to “awake” yidden really? are there rabbonim promoting your “awakening”?

    sounds like a liberal non torah like agenda being pushed here.

  • 23. Reuvain wrote:

    The tav was born in sin. The founders declared a boycott of Rubashkin without ever seeing the plant. The allied themselves with the union, liberal rabbis who do not keep kosher and the local church. Halacha demands you must know both sides before deciding they caused Rubashkin grave harm.

    Federal laws protect workers, kasruth organizations insure halachic standards. We don’t meet a bunch of liberals from the west side imposing their view of ethics on Jews who follow Halacha.

  • 24. I agree with the author wrote:

    We don’t need to add to the torah. The only reason we have hechsherim is because Kosher is a specifically Jewish thing. Labor rights are not. I think this “hechsher” is bad for Kashrus because it will cause confusion. Although there are lots of hechsherim in the US, some good some not good, we’re still better than Israel where there are real fake Hechsherim that are all over. This “Hechsher” will be the start of completely bogus Hechsherim.

    Also, if they care so much, why is it a Jewish thing? Why don’t they do it in ALL restaurants and give it an english name?

  • 25. op-ed should be in the new york times wrote:

    mr kirshenbaum was very selfless here to say the least, i am quite surprised that a lawyer would write something like this and risk the counter attack from organizations such as uri letzedek.

    I just dont understand why this truth can only be found on this site and not all over at least jewish media.

  • 26. how to solicit funds from reform jews. wrote:

    Im understanding that mr soros has donated funds to uri letzedek, im just wondering if he was approached or if this is his idea?

    I can see the large jewish organizations like chabad, aish, the federation having issues with soliciting funds from extreme liberal reform jews, but this method r ari weiss is using to pull out the funds is genius.

    wealthy jews like soros, the shusterman’s etc. would probably like to give to jewish causes but only if they are reforming judaism so here is a business niche rabbi weiss picked up on.

  • 27. Impressed with Kirshenbaum wrote:

    Although, I am not personally acquainted with Mr. Kirschenbaum (I am of his parents generation), I am becoming a fan of him. In the past I have defended his role in the workers litigation, and now I am once again in general agreement with him.

    Tav Hayosher is conceptually a great idea. Both Halacha and overarching Jewish values demand that we behave legally and ethically, and we treat others, especially employees, with rights and dignity.

    The problem with Tav is that they purposefully put themselves “michutz lamachaneh”. Not only do they assume a totally elitist posture viz a viz the chareidi world, but their perspective ends up making them intellectually dishonest.

    The principals of Tav had made some extremely inappropriate comments about the Rubashkin case early on, and have since been dishonest about it. They have repeatedly said that Tav never came out against Rubashkin, and this is technically true. As a non profit with a specific goal, it would have been inappropriate for Tav to take any position on Rubashkin, pro or con. However, some of Tav founders, as individuals, were part of the lynch mob that contributed to Rubashkin’s current situation. Intellectual integrity would mandate that Tav’s denial about their role in this matter would contain this information.

    People have approached the Tav leadership asking them to come out in support of Rubashkin, because Rubashkin deserves fair treatment no less than anybody else. They have refused, and instead they make wishy-washy statements about how everybody deserves a fair trial. Even when it was pointed out to them that doing the right thing and supporting Rubashkin would help the Tav cause, they still refuse.

    I believe the Tav people are fundamentally good people and want to do the right thing. Their hearts are in the right place, and they truly are committed to Torah and Klal Yisroel. But until they are ready to confront their own elitism, I am afraid they are doomed to failure.

    As someone who is a strong believer in both ethics and morality in business, and in Justice for Sholom Rubashkin, I must say to Tav: You have let all of us down on both counts.

  • 28. Critical of New York Judges wrote:

    Attention every. It is a well known fact everyone that, unfortunately, George Soros is a self-hating Jew, who wants to destroy the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and Yiddishkeit because of his own beliefs and philosophy. It is a known factor both in political and Orthodox Jewish sectors.

  • 29. #1 & #2 are hacks from the -tavhayoshor- wrote:

    These tavyoshon sleeze balls, are typical liberal looking to build their career on other peoples back, what a bunch of parasites.

  • 31. 2012 Familia. wrote:

    What is the connection of emoyment ethics to food? When i start to see the tav seal on clothes, cars, vacation packages etc. i will start to consume all products that are ethically certified.

    Until then i see tav as dangerous. An org. That exploits our dedication to kashrus. A racket that is in the pricess of shaking down returanteours.


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