Jewish Group Hopes to Expand 'Eco-Kosher' to Other Faiths

Rabbi Zalman Schacter Shalomi coined the term "eco-kosher." (
Many Christians say grace at mealtime, but that shouldn't be the extent of the relationship between their faith and their food.

So says Debra Kolodny, executive director of ALEPH, a Jewish Renewal group that recently launched an interfaith Sacred Foods Project with a $200,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.


Twenty-five years ago, Kolodny said, the founder of the Jewish Renewal Movement, Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi, coined the term "eco-kashrut" or echo-kosher. It describes the practice of evaluating food and production from a spiritual perspective for its healthfulness, its environmental impact, and its treatment of animals and workers.


The Sacred Foods Project, she said, takes the idea and expands it from Judaism to all faith traditions.


The project aims to encourage people of various faiths to study what their own scriptures and traditions say about eating, Kolodny told in an interview.


"The idea is we want to get some kind of shared understanding about what good food is," she said. The hope is that when people are educated, their purchasing and consumption habits will change.


"There's so much mindlessness about eating," she said.


"As people of faith we have a moral obligation to be good stewards of the earth," Kolodny said in a press release. "We must make sure that the way we grow and distribute food honors the land, the water, the air, our bodies and our souls."


She said the Sacred Foods Project is an outgrowth of the growing interest in sustainable agriculture—methods of food production that are able to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs—and the increasing importance of faith in the marketplace.


Sustainable farming includes not only environmental factors, like topsoil management and organic agriculture, but also encompasses philosophies of economic profitability and equity and ethical treatment of animals.


Because of different views about vegetarianism, Kolodny said early conversations would probably be limited to dealing with food crops. However, she added, one element of the Jewish system of kosher foods relates to the slaughter of animals being humane.


Goals of the project, she said, include establishing a theological foundation and for religious leaders to meet with scientists, advocates and business leaders.


Ultimately a "sacred foods brand" might be developed, she said, but it is more likely the project will compile a shared list of food growers, producers and distributors that the members endorse.


Groups working with ALEPH in the project include National Catholic Rural Life,  Chicago-based Faith in Place and the Food Alliance.


"I really invite individuals and religious communities to have a conversation with each other about what their faith tells them about being in right relationship with the earth and the animals we use for food and work," Kolodny said.


ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal is a core organization in the trans-denominational movement that started about 40 years ago grounded in Jewish prophetic and mystical traditions. It seeks to help the world by promoting justice, freedom, responsibility and caring for all life and the earth, an idea captured in the Hebrew phrase "Tikkun Olam."         


Bob Allen is managing editor of


Click here to learn more about ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal

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