Rabbis asking Jewish congregations not to cross picket lines

Friday, April 19, 2019

BOSTON (AP) — As thousands of Stop & Shop workers remain on strike in New England, some Jewish families are preparing for Passover without the region’s largest supermarket chain, which has deep roots in the local Jewish community.

A number of rabbis in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island have been advising their congregations not to cross picket lines to buy Jewish holiday essentials at the store that one analyst says has the highest sales of kosher products among New England grocery stores. More than 30,000 Stop & Shop workers walked off the job April 11 over what they say is an unfair contract offer, a claim the company disputes.

“The food that you’re buying is the product of oppressed labor and that’s not kosher,” said Rabbi Barbara Penzner, of Temple Hillel B’nai Torah, a reconstructionist synagogue in Boston. “Especially during Passover, when we’re celebrating freedom from slavery, that’s particularly egregious.”

Rabbi Jon-Jay Tilsen, of Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel, a conservative synagogue in New Haven, Connecticut, cited ancient Jewish law prohibiting artisans from taking the livelihood of fellow artisans.

Tilsen said that ban is akin to the use of replacement workers by companies during labor strikes, which Stop & Shop has employed. “I am not making any judgment about the current strike,” he stressed. “I am stating that we, local Jews, must respect the workers’ action.”

But at Temple Shalom, a reform synagogue in the Boston suburb of Newton, Rabbis Allison Berry and Laura Abrasley said it’s ultimately a personal decision, though one they suggest should be framed within the American Jewish community’s long history of supporting organized labor.

Penzner and other rabbis acknowledge their call to avoid the ubiquitous grocer can be challenging for some, especially in more remote communities where Stop & Shop is the most affordable — and sometime the only — place Jews can get matzo meal, for making matzo balls, gefilte fish, coconut macaroons and more for Passover Seder.

New Haven resident Rachel Bashevkin said she stocked up on Passover essentials before the strike.