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 rabbimorrisallen2.blogspot.com 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.