Although I instinctively don't like it, I do understand why there's a "circle the wagons" mentality in some parts of the frum community whenever something important to them is challenged. For centuries this was a necessary reaction to the hugely anti-Semitic world around them. More often than not, it was an appropriate defense to a trumped up charge - blood in the matzos, controlling the world financial system and other such lies.
Unfortunately, the same reaction persists today even when the community is confronted with an obvious failing on its part. One of the biggest examples these days is the ongoing revelations of pedophilia and child abuse within the Orthodox yeshiva system. As many other bloggers are doing an excellent job documenting this, I've left the issue alone. The other big current issue seems to be the ongoing Agriprocessor saga.
Indeed, what's happening with Agriprocessors seems to exemplify how far this "circle the wagons" tactic will go. Consider the recent column by Rav Yitzchok Adlerstein. Like one of his fellow Agudah apologists, Rav Avi Shafran, he seems to have decided that no matter how many charges are levelled against the Rubashkin family company, it is the duty of a "good" Jew to disbelieve that any wrong doing has taken place and that those who are protesting against the massive amounts of chilul Hashem coming out of Postville are, in fact, the real enemies of the Torah observant community.
Yes, the Hechsher Tzedek is a bad idea. After all, the vast majority of Conservatives don't keep properly kosher in the first place. And as both Rav Shafran and Rav Adlerstein point out, it will likely be hijacked by union-friendly groups to create many new requirements that have nothing to do with American labour law but rather socialist grievances with the capitalist system.
But that doesn't change what's happening with Agriprocessors. The documented incidents of cruelty to animals, the 9000 plus charges regarding child labour, illegal labour and unsafe working conditions, the attempts by the Rubashkins to villify their opponents, all these remain issues. Rav Shafran and Rav Adlerstein simply don't get it: It doesn't matter if the meat is kosher. It matters that the environment the meat is produced in isn't.
As Rav Basil Herring, head of the RCA noted in The Jewish Week, it would be so hard to create a working version of the Hechsher Tzedek that avoids all the potential problems with union hijacking:
Rabbi Herring said the guidelines would have two parts. In the first part, a company would make a commitment to act in accordance with all civil laws and regulations.
Rav Shafran's response in the same article is baffling:
“A big part of our concern is that the hekhsher tzedek is perceived and promoted for kosher food producers,” he said. “Limiting a hekhsher or guideline to kosher food producers alone when the same concerns apply to seminaries and synagogues and widget manufacturers would be perceived by people as if there is some central interrelationship between kashrut and ethics.
“If you want to empower ethics in the Jewish community, it should be done through halachic means,” Rabbi Shafran continued. “There is no reason to begin with the empowerment of ethical behavior in one aspect of Jewish life, rather it should be aimed at all business, social and personal concerns.”
Am I the only one who has a problem with his concern that people will perceive that there is a relationship between kashrus and ethics? Of course there's an interrelationship! Observing God's laws is supposed to be about leading an objectively ethical life. If you live in a house bought with stolen funds and the maid who cooks your dinner is an underaged illegal immigrant, does the meat being glatt make you a good Jew with nothing to worry about? Can we so completely compartmentalize bein Adam l'Makom from bein Adam l'chaveiro?
Proper Orthodox Jews should expect more than such simple, hypocritical thinking.