Social Justice & Judaica: Fair Trade and Jewish Values

Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof: You Shall Pursue Justice By Karen Akst Schecter

As some of you might know, Jay and I try very hard to know our artisans personally, and to take great interest not just in their work, but in their lives as well. So when we went shopping at the NY Gift Show last week, we went to say hello to old friends, and make new ones.

Although we’ve frequently dreaded the gift show in the past, we were eager to attend because this year Fair Trade had a large presence. And there were, in fact, many importers who adhere to fair trade principles, selling everything from clothing to candles to jewelry to housewares. In addition, many of the individual artists with whom we work, from here and from Israel, were also in attendance.

But what about fair trade Judaica? What is the connection between fair trade, ethical sourcing, and Jewish values? It’s a simple one actually, embodied in a single tenet of ethical living, Jewish or other: Tzedek tzedek tirdof: You shall pursue justice. By choosing a product made by an artisan paid a fair wage, you a pursuing social justice. If people are paid a living wage for their work, enough to feed themselves and their families, send their children to school, and obtain adequate health care, they are empowered, and in turn can empower others, helping grow economies and creating a more just world for all of us.

In our mind, there is no more relevant time to make certain that goods are ethically sourced than when one buys Judaica or other spiritual goods. Think about this: one wraps oneself in a tallit, a prayer shawl, to create a holy space. Do you want to store that tallit in a bag made in a factory with no safety regulations, using child labor, and not paying a living wage, or would you prefer to use a fair trade tallit bag or one made by an individual artist? Or consider Chanukah, commemorating the fight of the Jewish people to achieve religious freedom. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to honor that reaffirmation of both freedom and the spiritual quest with a menorah whose purchase supports an artisan struggling with the burden of poverty? Or by playing the dreidel game with a dreidel made by a Peruvian artisan from a tagua nut, a renewable resource, instead of from assembly line plastic? And wouldn’t it be lovely to welcome the peacefulness and soulful feeling of Shabbat, the day of rest, with a handcrafted challah board, or a Shalom bowl or coat hook whose purchase helps a child go to school? To celebrate the birth of a baby with a fair trade rattle? We can go on and on . . . .

Charitable giving has always helped to address need, and effective altruism – putting one’s money where it will have the greatest positive impact – is a valuable addition to the arsenal of tools used to help the world’s poorest people. But neither necessarily addresses the underlying issues that keep the poor in poverty. By purchasing fair trade or ethically sourced Judaica, you are directly facing those issues, and helping an artisan out of poverty.

Such is the message behind fair trade Judaica, an embodiment of ethical living, and the highest form of charity.

For more information about the Fair Trade Judaica movement and to show your support, please visit

Artwork by Archie Granot.


  1. Betsy says:

    Karen, what a great explication of the thinking behind the Fair Trade Judaica movement! We will borrow it at Fair Trade Judaica, I know! Mixing social justice miztvot with hiddur mitzvah – perfect.

  2. andy greenberg says:

    Hi Karen,

    what a wonderful and relevant post. I am forwarding the link to the rabbis at my synagogue (there are 6 of them!) and hope that we can spread the word. You really put it so well. Thanks for everything!


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By Karen Akst Schecter

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