Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 15 February 2009

The Food is Kosher

Like a bad horror movie monster that just won't die, the Agriprocessors debacle continues to reappear in the news. By now, two conclusion have been formed as to what's going on in Postville, Iowa.

One group has concluded that nothing bad has happened. No violations of kashrus law were ever found. The allegations against the Rubashkin family, all 9000 plus of them, are just that: allegations. Nothing has been proved in a court of law and even if it were, we don't hold by goysiher law so nothing will still have been proved. As a result, getting the Rubashkins out of trouble is a mitzvah of pidyon shevuim. Bottom line: the food is kosher.

The second group has concluded the opposite. Agriporcessors is the biggest chilul HaShem since Lenny Bernstein. Multiple Jewish laws were transgressed in the operation of the plant. There can be no sympathy for Jews who claim to be yirei Shomayim yet act like this. The food may be kosher but it stinks like faeces.

The first group is exemplified by Rav Avi Shafran, chief bag man for the American Agudah. For Rav Shafran, the principles are clear. If a black-hatted Jew does something, it's always okay. Even if everyone else looking on says it isn't, it's still okay. And if you insist that something has gone terribly wrong with a system that allows people to openly commit crimes and then defends those people, you are ignorant and don't know what you're talking about.

Rav Shafran's ongoing target in this matter is Conservativism Hechsher Tzedek. As Rav Shafran describes it:

And its trumpeting in the venerable Wall Street Journal will likely deeply disturb the main proponents of the Hekhsher Tzedek, who have in recent weeks sought to unbake the cake and recast their initiative as not really a “hekhsher” (i.e. kashrut certification) at all but rather a non-kashrut-related endorsement (oddly, though, only for food), renaming it “Magen Tzedek.”

If you haven't been following the issue closely, you'd think Rav Shafran was on to something. But you'd be wrong.

Now, I'll state my own opinion first: I don't think the Hechsher Tzedek is a good idea. It may have high aspirations but in the hands of people who are obsessed more with political correctness and secular liberalism than with Torah and mitzvos, it will quickly turn into another example of how non-observant Jews take Jewish notions and completely twist them out of recognition. Tikun olam, anyone?

Having said that, Rav Shafran proceeds from a false assumption to make his argument work. The assumption is that originally Hechsher Tzedek was about kashrus and now it's been changed. Ah ha! They're wavering and flip-flopping.

No, Hechsher tzedek has nothing to do with kashrus. It has to do with business ethics. For many without and WITHIN the Torah observant community, the Rubshakin’s scandal has created the distinct impression that all the OU cares about is if the food is kosher. Are workers being mistreated? Not our problem. The food is kosher. Killed or maimed due to unsafe working conditions? Not our problem. The food is kosher. Paid starvation wages and threatened with deportation if they get uppity? Not our problem. The food is kosher. That's why Conservatism felt this new standard had to be created. Because the business produced kosher food can be quite non-kosher.

It would only have applied to already kosher products, not created new ones. A business that failed to apply for a conventional hechsher would not have been eligible to get it. What it would have done was create a new ethical standard for businesses, certifying those which operated under what Conservatism considers Jewish business ethical law.

I can guess why the name changed too. Because people like Rav Shafran have been jumping up and down over the use of the word "hechsher" which, rightly or wrongly, is strongly associated with kosher food, they changed the title to give a better impression of what they're trying to do.

The Midrash tells us that the reason for Ahashverosh's big party at the beginning of megillas Ester was because after the Temple was destroyed, the prophets noted that it would be rebuilt after 70 years. Counting from when King Yeho-yachin was exiled, Achashverosh mistakenly concluded that the 70 years had come and gone without the Temple being rebuilt. Thus he concluded that God has abandoned us and that his empire would endure forever. Hence the party.

The interesting thing about the party was that Jews were invited and that glatt kosher food was provided so that they could participate fully. Food, wine, it was all there. The Midrash tells us that all the best Jews went, despite the pleadings of Mordechai who pointed out the contradiction of going to eat kosher food at a party celebrating the apparent nullification of Divine prophecies.

Rav Avi Shafran would claim to be on Mordechai's side, no doubt. But his writings make it clear: he'd have been at the party and then written a column on how Mordechai was full of nonsense. After all, the food was kosher.


Bet Shemesh Board Gaming Club said...

I like this mashal

David said...

Shafran's basic problem in this (as in most of the things on which he writes) is that he is absolutely unable to perceive the other side of any issue as anything other than foolish at best or dishonest and evil at worst. I suppose you could say that his emunah is very strong...

LonelyMan said...

The problem with Shafran and his kind is that they are unwilling to actually address the problem, ending up only complaining about other people's solutions. This has been a problem in the Orthodox community for way longer than Rubashkin, but it so happens that there was so much media coverage on Rubashkin that it had to be brought to the surface. In that manner, it's no different from the whole child molestation issue. We should face it frankly....the Orthodox community, especially it's Chareidi side which seems to run most organizations, doesn't have the cajones to tackle many big problems. It upsets too many zealots, donors, whatever, and the problem gets left out.

I would have liked to see initiative on this from a MO perspective, an American group something like Uri l'Tzedek in Israel, but nobody except the Conservative movement chose to run with this idea. I say "good job" to them, and changing the name helped too, as they were actually able to make a move in an area which the Orthodox were, but shouldn't have been, paralyzed in. They're not afraid of the big bad Chareidi.