Should Kosher Veggies Be Organic?

| Mon Jul. 27, 2009 7:42 PM EDT

It's a sign of the times when the Orthodox Union starts taking its cues from the Certified Organic crowd. After 2000 years of formalized Jewish dietary law, Israel's top Rabbi has threatened to revoke the kosher status of vegetables deemed excessively sprayed. 

Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, the country's top religious authority, said he would yank veggies' blanket kosher seal of approval over "insane quantities" of insecticides. Although even the man with the plan acknowledged that there is no precedent for decertifying fruits and vegetables, he said that health hazards alone make spraying a religious concern. (Kashrut, the body of law dictating what is and isn't kosher, forbids eating any known poison.)

Besides being a good green initiative and probably long overdue, there may be some business sense in this. Only 21 percent of people who buy kosher food do so for religious reasons; the rest choose kosher for its perceived health benefits. Because Jewish law forbids mixing dairy and meat, most desserts and snacks contain neither, making them an easy choice for vegans and vegetarians. Kosher animals aren't fed other animals' parts, and their care and slaughter is strictly supervised. Finally, many buyers simply believe that the religious certifiers do a better job than the government at keeping food clean and safe. The laws are literally so complicated, the main certifying body in America runs a hotline.

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But fresh vegetables and fruits aren't certified at all. Unlike animal products, which become kosher (or not-kosher) through an involved process of rearing, slaughtering, butchering, and preparation, fruits and veggies are born kosher. The only thing that makes the fruit of the earth unkosher are bugs.

Predictably, that's led to a lot of spraying. Curbing this practice isn't only good for the flock. It could also cement kosher's reputation as a cleaner, safer food.

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