Had Shammai Engelmayer (“Hypocrisy and the Jewish Future,” Jan. 9) taken the time to actually familiarize himself with my remarks at a recent Yeshiva University symposium, he would (one hopes) not have been able to misrepresent my position as he does.
It is true, and I said, that neither lapses of business ethics nor offensive music in a restaurant have any effect whatsoever on the kosher status of the food served there. That is a truism, entirely analogous to the fact that a medicine produced by an ethically deficient drug company is no less effective than that produced by an ethically spotless company.
When a kashrut certifier, however, weighs the decision to certify an establishment, both business ethics and non-kashrut-related religious issues are perfectly reasonable concerns for it to take into account – because certification offers an endorsement of more than kashrut. It in effect tells consumers that the establishment is a worthy one for Jews to patronize.
What sort of ethical concerns are rightly in the purview of a certifier is another question, and a complex one. Should ingredients originating from a country where child labor is the norm be unacceptable? Should a company that pays only minimum wage to its employees be turned down for certification? Must workers be unionized? Must they receive a certain number of paid vacation days? If so, how many?
I do not claim to know where the line should be drawn in such things. My main point at the symposium was that drawing the line requires wisdom, experience, and true Torah knowledge.