Kosher and then some
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Yanklowitz said that he had inquiries about the seal from restaurants in Washington, D.C. and Chicago. The certification also marks a practical step for the organization.
“Social change is pragmatic,” Yanklowitz declared. “The majority of restaurants are horribly abusive and very few are paying minimum wage. We have to move away from naïve idealism to work towards having money in pockets and dignity in the kitchen.”
Letters about the Tav HaYosher were sent to every kosher restaurant in New York City; many were visited by Uri L’Tzedek representatives, Yanklowitz said. “It is highly unlikely that any establishment does not enter into the Tav for any reason other than not meeting the standards,” he noted.
The initiative has so far met with praise. In a statement released on the Uri L'Tzedek web site, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein condoned the effort and said that the Cong. Kehilath Jeshurun kosher list, considered the authoritative list of kosher eateries in Manhattan, would mark those restaurants that do have the seal.
A past critic of Uri L’tzedek has also offered praise: “Any effort to protect worker's rights is certainly praiseworthy,” said Rabbi Avi Shafran, a spokesman for Agudath Israel. “If the standards the certification plans to use are those of American law, it will simply be assuring consumers that dina dmalchusa [local law] is being observed by an establishment. That is a worthy thing.”
In the Five Towns, most restaurants hadn’t heard about the certification, but weren’t opposed to it. “I want to be Zagat certified,” joked Moshe Orlofsky, the owner of Off the Grill. “You should see how the customers treat my waiters.” Then he added, more seriously: “I treat my workers well for ethical reasons and from classic business philosophy. You treat your workers well and they treat you well.”