Kosher Corridor Controversy Over Restaurants’ Labor Rights Commitments

The controversial certificate in question
The controversial certificate in question Photo: Uri L’Tzedek

All MexiKosher wants to do is serve Mexican food to Kosher eaters, but the Pico Boulevard restaurant recently found mired in the middle of an argument roiling the Kosher community. The Jewish Journal reports that owner-chef Katsuji Tanabe’s Tav HaYosher certificate, which hangs in the window to let diners know he observes progressive labor practices, was issued by Modern Orthodox social justice non-profit Uri L’Tzedek. After hanging the certificate, Tanabe started receiving calls from Ultra-Orthodox Jews claiming “different Chabads” and threatening to boycott the restaurant if he didn’t remove it, with many suspicions leaning towards the involvement of members of The Chabad Lubavitch movement, of which the organization itself is not suspected of encouraging any specific actions. Tanabe removed the certificate and says, “I don’t talk about politics or religion in the restaurant…We only talk about food.”

But the beef goes on between the nameless callers and Uri L’Tzedek, with 100 restaurants that received the labor approval falling under further boycott threats. So far, L.A. is the key battleground in the dispute over the Tav Hayosher, a voluntary, free certification showing an owner’s commitment to pay correct working and overtime wages and observe breaks, some of the very same practices L.A. restaurants in general have been accused of overlooking. So far, three local businesses have dropped the commitment to fair labor practices after pressure was put on them to remove their certificates.

The trouble, according to the story, stems not from a religious rift per se, but possibly in an earlier boycott lead by Uri L’Tzedek against an Iowa meat processing plant called Agriprocessors, once the largest Kosher meat processors in the country, which closed down following a “massive immigration” raid in 2008. Seeing underage workers and other labor abuses at the facility, the group’s boycott was joined by about 2,000 Jewish leaders and Rabbis, though its owner was ultimately cleared on 67 counts of child-labor abuse.

Still, Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin, the Ultra-Orthodox owner of Agriprocessor and a prominent member of the Lubavitcher Hasidic movement, was sentenced to 27 years in prison for financial fraud, while the company itself went bankrupt. Uri L’Tzedek is now be resented by some in the community who feel it was too aggressive in persuing Rubashkin’s downfall.

Now, restaurants bearing the Tav HaYosher are caught in the middle of the feud, with the boycotters widely believed to be taking revenge against Uri L’Tzedek for its targeting the shuttered meat processing plant.

Among the Pico Boulevard businesses currently feeling the heat are Bibi’s Bakery, Nut House, and Schnitzly, the latter two dropping their certificate, while Bibi’s is holding on despite a cancellation on an order made by a local Chabad group once they laid eyes on it. Bibi’s owner, Dan Messinger, defends the presence of the document at his place, saying, “The Tav isn’t a condemnation of Sholom Rubashkin…If people don’t want to shop here, they don’t have to shop here. I’m still comfortable with the commitment I’m making to my employees.”

Rubashkin Revenge: Ethical Certificates at Center of Dispute [Jewish Journal]

Kosher Corridor Controversy Over Restaurants’ Labor Rights Commitments