RSS icon Email icon Home icon
  • Ethical Eating: Beyond What We Put Into Our Mouths

    Posted on November 29th, 2011 Ruth Abusch-Magder No comments


    Thinking about what we eat is not a new for Jews but the questions we ask today are different, organics and local were given for the rabbis of old. This week we have a special guest visitor to the blog who write powerfully about the intersection between our responsibility to Israel the land and people and the food we eat. Ruhi Sophia Motzkin Rubenstein is the daughter and granddaughter of Reform Rabbis, who  is pursuing her own rabbinical studies at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. She credits her Reform upbringing with inseparably linking Judaism and social justice for her, and with teaching her to engage critically with tradition.

    Ruth Abusch-Magder



    In his now famous poem, “Tourists,” Yehuda Amichai lamented,

    Visits of condolence is all we get from them
    They squat at the Holocaust Memorial,
    They put on grave faces at the Wailing Wall
    And they laugh behind heavy curtains
    In their hotels.. . .

    Amichai’s snapshot shows the quandary that any caring visitor faces when they come to Israel: How to really engage with this place with integrity? What do I need from Israel? What does Israel need from me – particularly when I’m only here for a very little while?

    Ruhi Sophia Rubenstein

    I struggled with this question when I came on Birthright trip in 2004, and again when I came to spend a semester of college here in 2005. When I came back last year as a rabbinical student, I found that this tension only become more sophisticated the more time I spent here.

    I will probably live with that tension forever, but I have found at least one small point of resolution. I was eating lunch at the Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies last October when I heard a presentation given by the director of Bema’aglei Tzedek , a Jerusalem-based non-profit that focuses mostly in workers’ rights and handicap access, based on Jewish values. She described the situation of the working poor in Israel, and the ways in which her organization works to create grassroots, structural change in the Israeli socio-economic reality.

    She focused on a project that relies on the active participation of non-Israeli Jews. This is the Tav Chevrati, the social justice certification for restaurants that respect their workers’ rights and provide handicap access to their customers. The Tav Chevrati draws all of its strength from consumers excited about social change. The involvement of American and international tourists and residents is especially valuable, since restaurant and cafe owners feel it is in their best economic interest to cater to the interests of the international English speaking population. Indeed, since the Tav’s founding in 2004, around a third of the restaurants, pubs and coffeehouses in Jerusalem have adopted the Tav, thanks to consumer pressure, particularly from English speakers.

    Since the day I heard that presentation, a little over a year ago, I have made sure to eat only at Tav certified restaurants when I go out in Jerusalem, and I always leave a card telling the business owner that I’m there because of the Tav. It’s so very easy. The Tav ensures that the rights of all workers, of whatever background, ethnicity or legal status, are protected. By eating according to the Tav I can encourage a more equitable Israeli society, even as a non-citizen. Even a participant on a 10-day trip can make that choice and be effective, if they let the business owners know that’s why they are there.

    I think the Tav is so smart that I now work with it almost full-time. Towards the end of my rabbinical year in Israel, last spring, I decided to stay another year. I received a fellowship through the New Israel Fund/Shatil. I accepted placement with Bema’aglei Tzedek, working as Tav Chevrati Community Coordinator, trying to make Jerusalem a more just city, one tour group, one restaurant at a time.

    There are so many ways the Tav could grow. Imagine if Rabbis coming on congregational trips educated all of their participants about the Tav, or if tour groups coming to Israel requested from their tour providers to eat only in Tav-Certified restaurants. Imagine if movements in the US or Europe made public resolutions encouraging their member congregations to eat only at Tav-Certified establishments. Imagine how quickly more restaurants would sign on – and how many lives of dishwashers and waiters and souschefs would be changed.

    Amichai’s “Tourists” poem concludes:

    “I said to myself: redemption will come only if their guide tells them,
    “You see that arch from the Roman period? It’s not important: but next to it,
    left and down a bit, there sits a man who’s bought fruit and vegetables for his family.”

    Choosing to eat according to the Tav is a delicious way to support all of the men and women here trying to buy vegetables for their families.

    For more information about Bema’aglei Tzedek and the Tav Chevrati, like Bema’aglei Tzedek on Facebook, follow TavCommunities on Twitter, and email







    Leave a reply