Culture, Global, Justice, Politics, Religion

Blogging the Omer Days 34 & 35: an update and more

Week Five, Day Six
Yesod of Hod
Week Five, Day Seven
Malchut of Hod
First I want to repost this comment by Rabbi Morris Allen (one of the spearheads of the Hekhsher Tzedek, you can read his blog about it here)from the comments section of my last post on the Rubashkin travesty, so that those who aren’t necessarily following the comments can see it:

… Th[e] statement [of the Conservative Movement on asking people to evaluate whether they should continue to purchase Rubashkin’s meat] came out from the leadership of the Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue. Hekhsher Tzedek remains very committed to affixing a hekhsher on products certifying that both ritual and ethical standards have been met in the production of kosher food. On Tuesday we will be reviewing our objective and verifiable standards which have been produced for us by KLD analytics. When these are in place, we will then have the opportunity to clearly begin identifying producers and products that meet our standards. While it is easy to condemn the “mild” nature of this statement, the Conservative movement is alone in the Jewish community publicly calling for the avoidance of products that might be produced in Jewishly unethical ways. I hope that informed Jews begin to demand that a Hekhsher Tzedek appear on the products we are to consume, and that Jews regardless of organizational or theological orientation wholeheartedly support the one effort that has been working tirelessly to address these issues in a thorough and thoughtful fashion. For additional information please go to Shabbat shalom

I want to offer kudos to those working on the problem, both in general (hekhsher tzedek) and in specific (the leaders of the Conservative Movement in offering this statement). As one commenter has pointed out, this is the only movement from which we are hearing anything, however substantial: the Reconstructionists have been silent, presumably for the same reason offered by the Reform (They don’t encourage their followers to keep kashrut). The Orthodox have also been -except for notable individuals- silent as well, or worse (it is, after all, Orthodox institutions offering hasgachah to Rubashkin to start with).
And I want to say that I continue to have hopes that the Conservative Movement will move itself forward and do great things. It is, nonetheless, difficult for me to see how slowly things are proceeding. In some ways, this parallels the brouhaha of not very long ago, in which the Conservative movement dragged itself through a painful process of dealing with homosexuality, coming out of the process with four more or less mutually exclusive tshuvot; at least one person who had voted for more than one of those mutually exclusive tshuvot; synagogues using the excuse of the one tshuvah by Dorff/Reisner/Nevins as an excuse to leave the movement, even though they most likely were leaving for other unrelated reasons; and in the future a probably slow move towards more acceptance of those who are gay and lesbian (although the tshuvot mainly dealt with gay men, leaving the lesbians and bisexuals as more or less equivalent, which is halakhically not quite right).
However, this particular matter, I actually find substantially more painful. Why? A couple of reasons, first, the homosexuality matter was more or less already decided and things would have probably naturally come along eventually anyway. I am more than enormously pleased that homosexuals can now enroll in rabbinical school without having to make the insane choice about whether to honestly present themselves as who they are and be rejected, or to hide an enormous part of their lives, living in the closet throughout rabbinical school. Insane.
But, no one’s life depends on it. No one’s family was going to go hungry or be deported over it. We weren’t doing it to outsiders, thus bringing a deliberate chillul hashem upon the entirety of the Jewish community by abusing non-Jews deliberately, and by considered plan. Shall I go on? Okay, so even more: the urgency about the kashrut disgrace is what is at stake. It IS very difficult fro institutions to make considered moves quickly, but there are simply occasions when the ugliness is so overwhelming that more than gentle and careful statements are necessary. I know that they can bite you in the A**. Believe me, by experience, I know that. But if the story of Pesach tells us one thing, it is that we as Jews are obligated to leave Egypt to serve God; human masters are never to be considered before The Divine imperative.
In making harsh statements, in this case, our lives are not at stake, but our souls may well be. The period of the Omer is one of self-reflection as we draw near to the divine at Sinai. We are 5/7ths of the way though our Seven times Seven days until we rech Shavuot and stand before God in fear and trembling. Not this past week, but the week before, we read the portion of B’har: Onthe mountain. that is where we are trying to go. The portion itself reflects the period of the Omer in laying out the principals of Shmitah and Yovel: every seventh year the land rests, the land has a shabbat shabbaton, and after the seventh of these we make holy the 50th year, freeing all the land from its servitude to people to whom it does not belong, and freeing those serving other people, to whom they do not belong. Everything, everything, is free.
This week we finished Bechukotai, and the sages ask about a word that appears only in this portion: In Lev. 26:21 & 24, the word “keri” appears. Rashi relates the word to Mikreh, chance, commenting: Our Rabbis said [that the word keri means] “irregularly,” “by chance,” [something occuring] only occasionally— so [here]: if you will follow the mitzvos [only] occasionally.
The editors of Etz Hayim Chumash understand this as “Following God’s ways only when convenient.”
The debate about Jews following mitzvot only when convenient is usually turned against those who are not shomrei shabbat or kashrut. But it seems to me that that is not a rigorous enough definition. If we tell people, you must keep kosher, but that mens that it’s okay to eat meat that is technically kosher although the Jews who produced it violated all sorts of other halachot, and in doing so harmed animals, and human beings, that’s okay, because God forbid you have to cut down on the meat that you eat, that is also serving God when it is convenient. The period of seven times seven years culminating in Yovel: Proclaim freedom throughout the land for all its inhabitants – is meant to be a reflection of the journey to Sinai. In this period of the Omer, of seven times seven weeks journeying towards Sinai, towards Shavuot, we should be thinking about what that freedom is. It is not, as so many people have presented it in alternative haggadot (not to slam alternative haggadot which often bring perspectives in dire shortage), freedom from, but freedom to. It is the freeing of our asses to serve God so that our minds may follow (to paraphrase George Clinton).
Our minds are still not free if we cannot take a stand and say, “This is wrong.” We are not serving God when eating meat (and let’s face it, Americans eat a lot of meat) is more of a consideration than the people who slaughter it, or the animals who are slaughtered for it. We are not serving God when profit is considered over making sure that supervisors are not sexually harassing illegal workers because they know the workers can’t report them.
It strikes me as especially appropriate that Shavuot is traditionally a dairy holiday. We slaughter no meat when we stand in awe at the foot of the mountain. Our asses are now long free, it is time to free our minds. Stand up. Serve God. Fear no human, nor human entity, but only God; speak so that your voice is heard. The reward is this: “I will establish my dwelling among you and I will not spurn you. I will will walk with you and I will be your God and you will be My people. I am the Lord your God who brought you out from the land of the Egyptians from being their slaves, and I broke the traces of your yoke and I walked you out standing upright.”
I want to stand upright again.

6 thoughts on “Blogging the Omer Days 34 & 35: an update and more

  1. the Reconstructionists have been silent, presumably for the same reason offered by the Reform (They don’t encourage their followers to keep kashrut)
    Not so. Check out the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation’s statement on kashrut. It begins, “Our philosophy values kashrut as part of the spiritual and cultural legacy of the Jewish people, and as one aspect of the Jewish search to welcome the Divine presence to our tables and into our communities.” That same statement says a recent survey of Recon Jews indicated that at least 30% of their members keep some form of kashrut. The Reconstructionist Movement has also been a leader of the eco-kashrut movement, so it would seem to be a prime candidate to issue some sort of a statement on Rubashkins.

  2. I am a Reconstructionist rabbi who has spoken out for over a year about Rubashkin’s, including urging congregants to protest Trader Joe’s marketing Rubashkin meat this past winter. There is definitely a grass-roots movement among Reconstructionist, Conservative and Reform rabbis in Boston to boycott Rubashkin’s products. In our Boston Reconstructionist congregation, we spent two years discussing kashrut at length, and emphasized the importance of the ethical background as well as the halachic requirements of kosher eating.

  3. Kol Ra’ash Gadol, you and I together have participated in some activities in the past which many of our colleagues found distasteful, and you know that I am not a Conservative movement cheerleader by any means.
    But I think you are still being too harsh here on a couple of levels.
    First of all, I think some of your facts are incorrect. I am not aware of a single USCJ synagogue which left the movement and claimed it was because of the Dorff-Nevins-Reisner teshuvah. Quite the opposite, the Canadian congregations which left all quite explicitly said it was not D/N/R which caused them to leave but their sense of the USCJ being USA-centric and New York-centric. That they were not getting sufficient return on their congregants’ investments and that the New York office was not sufficiently responsive to their needs.
    As far as the Rubashkin issue, I’m not sure that I think the statement should have been stronger. Why?
    1.) Most people who care at all about this issue read it as a call for boycott anyway even if the word boycott is not used. This is probably smart as there may well be legal or IRS implications of using the word boycott.
    2.) Many Conservative (and Orthodox) rabbis have done what I did in my congregation. I sent a statement to my congregation telling them that I and my family will no longer eat Rubashkin and I will not allow it to be served in the synagogue. I apprised them of what meat was available in the area, which brands were or were not Rubashkin, and urged them to call the one butcher which doesn’t currently label the source of the meat urging them to do so.
    3.) P’sak halacha has to take into account facts on the ground and the recipient of the p’sak. There are many areas of the country where the *only* kosher meat available is from Agriprocessors. Now, you and I both know it is possible (indeed preferable) to live without meat but for whatever reason a lot of my congregants, particularly older congregants, simply do not believe it is so. If a rabbi outright bans Agriprocessors and it is the only kosher meat available, then assuming his/her congregants abide by the ban, I believe that many of them will simply start buying non-kosher meat.
    I am of the opinion that by now, enough kashrut-observant Jews are avoiding Agriprocessors that its viability as a company is in question. I also believe that stores and butcher shops are going to be looking for alternative suppliers. I can tell you that the one supermarked in my town itself which carries kosher meat, is starting to carry non-Rubashkin meat which they never used to do.
    Finally, quality work takes time. The Heksher Tzedek commission wants to have objective metrics which are verifiable and defensible, not just a gut sense that something is OK or isn’t. Developing those metrics takes time and research. I’d rather see it done right than done poorly.

  4. Charles,
    You may be right (although I think that at least several of the Canadian congregations did in fact represent the DRN tshuvah as “the straw that broke the camel’s back, even if the actual issues were not in fact those (I’m inclined to believe that it was more an actual issue of who gets spotlighted and how money gets collected and spent) see ).
    I grant that it might be wiser to not move, or move slowly; an dit may well be that people read it as a boycott even if it’s not. It may well be that (some) old people really aren’t able to be moved and would rather eat treif than stop eating meat (although I find that view somewhat condescending; just because you’re old doesn’t mean you’re done learning and it’s a matter of personal philosophy for me to at least try to offer ways for people to move themselves); I do note thought that one can get kosher meat by mail anywhere in the continental US via mail order and the web, but yes, I grant that the very same people who may not be able to give up meat are the same ones who are unlikely to be interested in buying meat over the internet or by mail.
    All that you say may be so, and yet, I am disappointed because the evidence is so overwhelming, and this has been going on for so long. It’s not just the COnservative movement in which I am disappointed, but the entire north american Jewish community.
    I am tired of seeing the comments on the ORthodox rabbis who have taken a stand that they’re minions of Avi Weiss and so to be discounted, or having their piety questioned, or that they’re somehow secret anti-semites.
    My point about the homosexuality issue is that it’s similar because the whole Jewish community has this kind of reaction to everythng – nothing, or too little, too late. and the reason why is that when someone does take any kind of steps the rest of the organized Jewish world pounds them – and it doens’t really matter what the issue is: homosexuality, Israel-Palestine, or meat: if you question anything someone in the Jewish community does, for any reason, you and everything associated with you immediately becomes suspect; thus, we’re all afraid to stand up and do something, because chas v’shalom, in doing so, we’ll be ignored because simply the act of saying something puts us beyond the pale of the Jewish community.
    It’s just all so tiring.

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