An article in Saturday's New York Times explores these questions as it tells the story of Rabbi Allen of Minneapolis/St. Paul. Rabbi Allen is a conservative rabbi who has pushed the Rabbinic Assembly (the rabbinic organization for Conservative rabbis) to approve a "Conservative movement hechsher" under the term "hechsher tzedek" or "just certification." What a fabulous name for it! And what a fabulous idea.
Aside from the issues I wrote about above, I have also objected in principle to the hechsher system. The system is political and in many ways about money -- companies have to pay a mashgiach to come in and certify their production as kosher. Let's point out that these mashgichim are Orthodox rabbis who, for the most part, would not recognize my rabbinate as valid. With all this in mind, I am far more likely to read labels and buy organic or natural products that say "Vegetarian" or whatever else I'm looking for than to buy a hechshered item. I must also point out that I don't buy meat, partly because of all this. (oh, and by the way, the Orthodox kosher system is very much opposed to the Conservative movement's plan, go figure.)
So the idea of a Conservative hechsher is somewhat exciting to me because there are very few Conservative rabbis who wouldn't recognize me and my rabbinate! And while there are many ideological differences between me and the Conservative movement, we are far closer in our beliefs about this particular matter than I am to an Orthodox mashgiach who is certifying a factory without a care for how it treats its workers, only how it treats the cows it is slaughtering (ew).
I am proud of the Rabbinic Assembly for approving and Rabbi Allen for bringing this issue to them! I look forward to seeing the results as their plan moves forward.
What do you think? Would you buy a product if it were hechsher tzedek?