Uri L’Tzedek literally means, “Wake up for Justice”. Tzedek, though connotes a particular kind of Jewish justice, though not a justice that deals only with Jews. It is a sense that Jews have to pursue justice worldwide that was instilled in our people ever since the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. The organization, headed by Shmuly Yanklowitz, pursues many causes, including a “moral kosher stamp” called the Tav HaYosher loosely translated as the “mark of integrity” which aims to ensure that the working conditions at any food production company are just and fair and do not exploit the workers.
It is in this light that Yanklowitz led a trip to Guatemala. And where do kosher meat and Guatemala come to a head? At the former Agriprocessors Rubashkins kosher slaughterhouse in Iowa. Most of the 389 illegal workers deported from the plant last year there were from that country. That episode was embarrassing for the Jewish people, to know that such injustice was being done at a “kosher” institution. It was Yanklowitz who was behind the bid to end Agriprocessors exploitative operation.
Uri L’Tzedek also fights the corruption of Get refusal, where Jewish wives are forced to remain chained to husbands who do not live with them and are unable to remarry simply because the husband refuses to grant her a bill of divorce. For these women, the Jewish wedding and chuppah canopy are a continual nightmare. These men are pressured by demonstration and negative press until they grant a divorce.
It is organizations like Uri L’Tzedek that help to ensure that our Jewish practices and Jewish customs don’t just end at putting up our ceramic mezuzahs, but actually remind ourselves of God’s presence in our home; not to simply put on your knitted yarmulkes, but to be reminded of God’s presence outside the home and act accordingly; not simply light our nice silver Menorahs and pretend that by simply doing the action, justice is being done in the world. Uri L’Tzedek doesn’t stop at ritual. It doesn’t even stop at Guatemala. It will keep going as it continually brings Jewish ritual to life by actualizing its inner meaning.