With elul comes the end of my "vacation"
I didn't do much.
I drew in my notebook,
vegged out on old movies,
ate bad food,
but I didn't see Israel...
Or recover the energy lost
by my personal hurricane.
I need a vacation
I went to the beach, but going to a frum beach just isn't the same.
I’ve already covered the issue of my allergies and various gastrointestinal discomfort enough times, so I will not comment on my latest stomach upset. I won’t mention how it all began when I attended a sheva bracha and was surprised by the delectable array of milchig dishes. I won’t rave about the lasagnas, the pizza, the calzones and ice cream Sundays for dessert (with jimmies or sprinkles depending on your linguistic flavor) because, as I said, we’ve already covered this subject. I won’t write you a detailed transcript of my hemming and hawing over whether I should partake of the mountain of mammary delights that were placed before me by a troop of obedient chareidi children, their peyos flying as they rushed to and fro preparing the table for the culinary slaughter that we impoverished yeshiva buchrim were about to unleash. I won’t tell you how good the slices of pizza tested, or how the combination of mozzarella tomato sauce and anything tastes wonderful… And I won’t give single detail about how I’ve paid for my hour or so of caseinated pleasure with a full week of pain, a chain reaction that occurs when I turn the milk volume up to 11 and keep it there for any period of time. Finally, I won’t write that I’ll never do this again, or swear off of pizza, because... I’ve already said it before.
If I ever get the chance to become a father to a daughter I know I'll feel just like this, even though it'll all be frum dating.
I confess I’d never heard the story sited in a recent NYTimes article about Rabbi Yisroel Salanter not giving a hechsher to a factory that mistreated its workers, but after some determined sleuthing I found what I think is the complete text of the story and have reprinted it for reference.
Rabbi Salanter was asked to give a Kosher certification to a matzah factory. After touring the facility he informed the factory owner that he could not give him the kosher certification.
“Why not?” demanded the owner.
“Because there is blood in your matzos,” responded the Rabbi.
“What! How could you say such a thing? How could you repeat the Christian blood libel, which you above all people know is completely false!”
“You don’t understand me… Look at the way you treat your workers. You don’t compensate them adequately! You abuse them and mistreat them... you don’t properly maintain safety in the factory... you force your employees to work overtime for no pay...
“It is their blood,” continued Rabbi Salanter, “that is in the matzos, which makes it just as impermissible as if you had put real non-Kosher ingredients in the matzos.”
As the father of the mussar movement (a movement that stressed moral development), it makes sense that Rabbi Salanter would be careful to factor in the treatment of workers in a matzoh factories into giving kashrus certifications. His objections weren’t based upon his own list of moral statues, rather they were drawn from existing halacha: it is assur to delay payment of a hired man's wages (Lev. 19:13) and it is assur to strike a fellow Jew, and creating conditions that might cause injury (Deut. 22:8) is also prohibited by halacha. But the elephant in the room regarding this scenario and its comparability to the recent events, is that the oppressed workers in the 1800s Lithuania were most definitely Jews and the oppressed workers of the Agriprocessor slaughterhouse are most definitely not. This is not to say that there are no protections for non-Jews under Jewish law, but in our time secular law protects workers to a degree that chazzal never legislated and under dina d’malchusa dina we are obligated to follow these laws because they are the “the law of the land”. As an aside: I’m not entirely sure that our obligation to follow the laws of the USA is actually derived from dina d’malchusa dina. From what Rav Shechter writes here it appears that our obligation to follow secular law might stem from the fact that we honor communal agreements that benefit everyone, not from the absolute divine right of kings. In any case, Agriprocessors Inc. was clearly obligated by secular law (and the Jewish obligation to follow secular law) to follow OSHA guidelines, hire workers that were of age and to not abuse them.
Whether we are speaking from a Jewish perspective or not, if the allegations against Agriprocessors are true, the company engaged in practices that should horrify us all. The types of abuses alleged are all too common when there is a large population of rights-less people hired by a large corporation. Similar allegations have surfaced about many of the largest corporations in the United States (Walmart, The Gap, Apple to name a few) and the issue of economic immigrant rights is one of the largest questions facing the nation today. Where my opinion differs from Rabbi Harzfeld is in determining the correct Jewish response to this issue.
We are taught that whenever one takes enjoyment from the world we must first thank Hashem. In the situation that the particular type of enjoyment is culinary delight we are called to make one of six brachot, either she-hakol, ha-adama, ha-eitz, mezonos, ha-gafen or ha-motzi. A general rule is that if one is unsure of the correct bracha for a certain food, one should say the bracha she-hakol; but the l’chatchila or a priori impulse, one should try to be as specific as possible. The same logic of specificity carries over in all parts of the religion and is reflected in Talmudic writing. An example of this is a tosephos on the first daf of maseches Succah; Tosephos asks to question of why the language of “pasul” or unfit is used when a more specific language is more desirable (it is only the fear that laymen may misinterpret the seriousness of building a incorrectly made succah that forces the mishna to use a more “crude” language). So when Rabbi Harzfeld so eloquently put out the call for kashrus organizations to factor workers rights into the rubric of kashrus certification I asked myself one question, “Is kashrus a blanket under which we can stuff any ‘moral’ issue that we wish, or is it a specific concept?” Do we risk making the word kosher into a fuzzy concept that has less to do with food and more to do with the social concerns of a generation?
Kashrus organizations are firstly Jewish religious organizations, they derive their mission, bylaws, and structure from generations of halachic decisions; so if one were to add a labor/immigrant protection role to kashrus organizations the rulings would not necessarily be based on the laws of the United States, but rather a world of the past where a 13 year old could be expected to gain employment, anticipate marriage, and begin fending for himself. While this may seem backward and alien to most Americans, it is still the prevailing situation in most of the world; children regularly choose or are put to work by situations that are considered normal in the societies in which they live. The only worry in having young children working is whether they are treated humanely and given tasks that they can perform safely; it is alleged that this was not the case in Postville and I imagine a kashrus organization’s labor division would be similarly concerned about safety based upon biblical passages that prohibit the abuse of non-Jewish workers. But what would halacha have to say about ingress and egress routes, sprinkler coverage, providing belts for lifting heavy objects, keyboard trays for RSI or illegal immigration? These questions are mostly left for secular courts to negotiate, and for good reason, the United States is not Jewish state and is definitely not a religious Jewish state and Jews are bound to follow the laws of the country in which they live unless they are specifically discriminatory. When/if a religious Jewish state is founded these as well as other issues that the generations spread throughout the Diaspora never had the freedom to legislate will have to be decided.
So unless we find a hidden mesechta that gives guidelines for all of the issues that concern the workers’ rights community in our time, a labor rights enforcement unit would essentially be an enforcement arm for existing secular law. And there lies the rub, why is an organization whose primary responsibility is food preparation branching out into an area duplicated by arms of the government and watchdog groups on either side of the political spectrum? Do we ask animal control to do drug interdiction? INS to do ISO certification? PETA to help out the DEA? The examples I use are extreme, but not dissimilar to the proposal to add non-Jewish labor law into considerations of kashrus. PETA would laugh if told to idle their volunteers, teach them labor law until there are well versed, and then ask them to enforce it while commandeering Japanese whaling boats in the Pacific; but we Jews, so scared of disapproval from our gentile neighbors, are suggesting just that. In what world are OSHA regulations and immigration within the purview of kashrus? Only in a world where ones’ zealousness to not break gentile law deludes one into thinking that it is Jewish law. The moral statues of the world we live in are subject to change and obfuscation, the same groups that decry illegality of the violence that is alleged to have been unleashed against Postville’s undocumented workers openly flout and protest laws regarding these same immigrants’ undocumented status. Which side would those calling for a “Jewish” moral response have the rabbis take in the struggle for the rights of some of the hardest workers in America? The left’s stance that they should be afforded the same or similar rights as those who are citizens, or the right’s approach that calls for deportation procedures against people for breaking the law by entering our country illegally? I don’t want the rabbis who should be out checking that Chinese factories aren’t spiking my processed food with treif bogged down in meetings deciding which stance to take on issues that are not, and have never been their purview. It is my view that most of the calls to do such a thing come from an inferiority complex borne of years feeling like “the other” and a communal worry about what “they’ll” make of our shaggy bearded relatives who sharpen their knives to carry out ancient ritual. But I want to whisper a suggestion to those who are scared of this possibility, “they’ll do that anyway.”
Kashrus organizations are there for one purpose, to check on food; they are not there to evangelize, to make friends, or to act as ambassadors for the Jewish people; but I am sensitive to the outrage over the hillul Hashem that seems to have occurred at the Postville plant, so here’s my solution: Give clear guidelines for what rabbis are to do when they see deplorable behavior. Rather than add to the canon of kashrus law we must work alongside agencies and groups who already fulfill the watchdog and enforcement duties over the food industry. A cow schlepped by a 14 year-old undocumented worker is and always should be perfectly kosher, no issur of the Torah has occurred; but if a rabbi sees said child being abused the violence should be reported to the police and dealt with by the proper authorities. It is inappropriate for additional structures to be created to carry out missions that have nothing to do with kashrus, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t use existing institutions to achieve the same goals. The orthodox community (the most faithful consumers of kosher food) is by in large not involved with community and social rights organizations; and for good reason, the tides of moral thought can easily result in what’s “right” according the changing standards of society being on “wrong” in the following generation (the Nazis were big boosters of animal rights). But those who choose to get involved can and should do so on their own; and just as they shouldn’t be denigrated for their approach to life, they mustn’t denigrate those who do not tie their Judaism to whatever moral stance they chose on their own to support; there is enough mudslinging in this world without adding the slingshot of religious coercion into the argument.
During the Nine Days Rabbi Herzfeld asked us to “…think about the current state of our kosher meat industry. We should think about what it means to literally keep Kosher and what the word Kosher has come to mean in American society…” I have thought about it; kashrus is adherence to Jewish law regarding the slaughtering of meat, the preparation of food and the supervision that assures of that the law has been followed. What kashrus is not is a catch-all term that means that we will decide the halachic fitness of food preparation based upon secular law or philosophy. It is incumbent on every human being to help his fellow when he’s in danger as the Torah says “thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor” (Lev. 19:16) so I neither condone nor see as responsible the rabbis who are accused of either watching as workers were physically abused or took part in the alleged abuse; but we must not conflate the mission of Kashrus with social justice. The abuses that occurred MUST be vigorously prosecuted and the law of the land upheld. If the various allegations are true the Rubashkin family should be ashamed for their behavior.
I love music, all types of music... I've been searching for months for a definitive answer to what is "good", or at least not assur, music and haven't come up with any answers.
Months ago, after I stopped listening to the interplay of Thom's beautiful voice and the instrumentation, I listened to the words of this song and by the third hearing I realized that the song is about someone trying to convince another to do something pretty high on the ladder of aveiros.
The gemara in Sotah (daf 2a) gives suggestions as to Rebbi's juxtaposition of Sotah after Nazir:
למה נסמכה פרשת נזיר לפרשת סוטה? לומר לך שכל הרואה סוטה בקלקלה יזיר אעצמו מן היין
Rashi comments that the reason for the vow was to prevent קלות ראש. A drash that I heard in the name of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein speaks out the question that we should all be asking: Why would someone who watched a woman die because of עריות have to worry about קלות ראש; as he/she should be permanently sobered up by the experience and sufficiently strong to distance one's self from עריות?
The reason is a window into human nature that resonates with me even though I am troubled by the implications... Exposure to indecent acts desensitizes even the most pious soul. As countless accounts from people trapped in the throes of war and famine have shown; over time, incidents that would horrify most of humanity become commonplace, mundane. Viewers of the sotah in her disgrace would no longer have minds free of the concept of adultery, after watching the punishment meted out in the fashion of the Torah it would be rather indelibly marked into their brains. The memory would lie there tantalizing them with the forbidden. True, they would remember the "downside" to getting caught, but the temptation to all that is prohibited would tango with their yetzer hara waiting for a weak moment to invite its victim to the dance floor.
So while (in my opinion) we aren't meant to live cloistered lives, in the model of the amish or an order of monks, we aren't meant to place stumbling blocks before ourselves; life will surely place enough of those in our way without our help. If I am honest then, I might throw out certain Radiohead songs and continue through my entire music collection, waging war against the yetzer hara… But I have this one question, “What happens when you’re already ‘corrupted’?” Does it matter that I heard the Beatles sing about the same topics while in the womb? That I already have the kernel in my mind; like a splinter, ruining the perfection in an otherwise smooth board?
I choose the third way, but it might be a cop out; I choose to interpret the lines “Forget about your house of cards/And I'll do mine. Fall off the table…” to be about the uncertainty of making choices that have consequences, instead of a would-be lover trying to convince a woman to be his paramour.
Maybe that’ll do?
Just to hold your hand
I woke up last Tuesday with a strange urge to go outside and graze. At first I was scared by this impulse, what kind of person wants to go outside and eat grass? But then as I groggily rolled out of my bed my first waking thought made a little more sense… Instead of the correct soft smack of flesh upon tile my feet made two dull clops against the ceramic. To call them feet would also be incorrect, as the kind farrier that came later to give me shoes informed me, "From now on, they's called hoaves boy... Aw don' cry, it ain't so bad." I wasn’t some sort of horse lover before, we’re city folk, the closest that I’d ever been to a horse was watching the police ride them during parades. But after getting over the shock of having a horse for a son, my mother sensibly went down the library and learned all she could about grooming and hoof care. Some part of me thinks that she expected it, when I announced that I wanted breakfast with a loud neigh (it took me a while to figure out how to talk properly, I still have trouble with “s”) she only did one double take and asked me what horses eat for breakfast. A little too cool if you ask me, but it was a relief just the same. The newspapers weren’t as kind; the reporters tied my being on the track team with inflammatory reports of high school kids taking horse steroids to be better at sports… But a quick look at my less than stellar record at meets rendered that speculation moot. Scrutiny of my ancestors revealed no previous transformations into animals and a doctor testified before congress that I was neither contagious nor an ingenious magician… So after the media hype died down I was sent to the same place every 15 year old is sent, high school. The kids were mean at first, I'd never been popular before but now only my friend Russell would sit with me at lunch; then two days later I demolished our rivals in the tri-county cross country meet by finishing the course in half the time that it took all the other runners and people started to warm up to me. I even got a girlfriend; I’d gallop to her house every morning and she’d ride on my back to school. I loved the way she’d tousle my mane when I did something funny, or hold on tightly as a raced alongside the bus showing off. One could say that my life hasn’t been better… But sometimes I stand awake at night wishing that I could just hold her hand.
Forget about your house of cards
And I’ll do mine
Fall off the table and get swept under
I'm delirious from lack of caffeine
I love the romance of the picture, but the only place I fit into that time is as a street sweeper way in the background... I'm not alone, most of my friend's grandparents were the ones sewing their clothes.
On the subject of clothes: I like wearing suits... Quote: Suits are full of joy. They're the sartorial equivalent of a baby's smile.
Jewschool gets the hat-trick on the recent NYTimes article on the Rubashkin scandal; but I enjoyed Hirhurim's take on the issue more than the "we collectively must atone for their sins" position taken by R. Herzfeld.
All minorities reflexively feel the need to excuse or abandon an offending member in the face of disgust from the majority community; I can remember my small chevra of "brown boys" people in Memphis doing this very same thing when one of us was found guilty for some school-yard offense. But the interesting facet of this case for me is that the liberal and conservative wings of orthodoxy (already a niche within a minority) seem to be taking opposite avenues to placate the masses and themselves. The right wing says, "they were illegals... it's no big deal... why are you picking on us!?!" While at the same time the left wing cries, "Please, we didn't know, they're the bad ones, not us... we can change, I'm so sorry."
Why do we as a group "need to express shame and embarrassment" (line from the op-ed) because someone who happens to have violated both halacha and secular law? The fact that someone eats a cheeseburger in Chicago or cuts someone off on the freeway in Texas doesn't mean that I should run to the nearest non-Jew and say, "I'm so sorry". We already have groups who work for food cleanliness, immigrant law, and kashrut stringency, and they all seen to be "on the case" already. True, the OU isn't taking the lead role in working on the immigration issues; but why should they be, it's not their purview!?! Rather than clothing ourselves in sackcloth and calling for collective guilt, a christian concept if there ever was one that doesn't accomplish much, we should try to strengthen the existing structures that let these people down rather than have kashrut organizations dip their toes into the murky waters of immigration, labor law and OSHA policy.
Don't know where I was going with this... But I think I feel a story coming on.
unpublished Different Derech stuff from "the bad time":
I've been asked before
To make an example of myself
to inspire the uninspired
uplift the fallen,
if you will.
this kli isn't holy enough
and even if it was
I'd rather sit
in the back of the shul
and make the angels quiver
Cory Doctorow imagines what it would be like if Superman had been adopted by a Jewish couple instead of the uber-goyim that the Jewish writers of the comic set him up with.
"Mama, I'm _not_ a super-villain," Hershie said for the millionth time. He
chased the last of the gravy on his plate with a hunk of dark rye, skirting the
shriveled derma left behind from his kishka. Ever since the bugouts had inducted
Earth into their Galactic Federation, promising to end war, crime, and
corruption, he'd found himself at loose ends. His adoptive Earth-mother, who'd
named him Hershie Abromowicz, had talked him into meeting her at her favorite
restaurant in the heart of Toronto's Gaza Strip.
"Not a super-villain, he says. Listen to him: mister big-stuff. Well,
smartypants, if you're not a super-villain, what was that mess on the television
last night then?"
A busboy refilled their water, and Hershie took a long sip, staring off into the
middle distance. Lately, he'd taken to avoiding looking at his mother: her
infra-red signature was like a landing-strip for a coronary, and she wouldn't
let him take her to one of the bugout clinics for nanosurgery.
Mrs. Abromowicz leaned across the table and whacked him upside the head with one
hand, her big rings clicking against the temple of his half-rim specs. Had it
been anyone else, he would have caught her hand mid-slap, or at least dodged in
a superfast blur, quicker than any human eye. But his Mama had let him know what
she thought of _that_ sass before his third birthday. Raising super-infants
requires strict, _loving_ discipline. "Hey, wake up! Hey! I'm talking to you!
What was that mess on television last night?"
"It was a demonstration, Mama. We were protesting. We want to dismantle the
machines of war -- it's in the Torah, Mama. Isaiah: they shall beat their swords
into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Tot would have approved."
Mrs. Abromowicz sucked air between her teeth. "Your father never would have
approved of _that_."
Podcast or download the text
Would I lie to you? Would a face like this lie to you, do I look like some sort of criminal? You come in on a hospital gurney after, after what exactly? I’m sorry you’ll have to speak louder, my hearing… Gunshot wound, oye! Anyway, you come in after barely surviving a bullet to the chest and you think I’d lie to you? At a time like this? Whaddaya take me for? Look I’ve got the perfect heart for you over here. Tell the guys to bring you over, come! Come! I’m telling you this heart is a steal! If you didn’t want it I’d take it myself… 100%! Look, I’ve got kids your age and if any of them needed a new one, I’d yank this off the lot so fast your head would spin. I see you’re looking at the left ventricle; let me tell you, I’ve never seen ventricles like on this model...
Have compassion, H’ for wretched am I, heal me Gd for terrified are my very bones.
What? Oh, that!?! Just a scratch! The woman who traded it in was a peach, a peach of a woman! She told me she got that nick when some no good… And excuse my French, “son of a bitch” left her. Just one day “Boom” out of the blue! But don’t worry, I had my guys in the back check it out, they looked around and it’s just surface damage, didn’t even touch the frame! I’m telling yah, you’ll never find a heart like this one; runs like new, well cared for. Let me show you some of the features, the right ventri…
I have worn myself out from my groaning, I soak every night my bed with my tears.
Oh, over there? What are you looking at? Oh, that? Don’t worry about it; it’s just normal wear and tear… I’m telling you my guys are good, they stripped it down and re-coated it. You don’t have to worry about the myocardium, it’s just Mesothelial pericardium damage, superficial… Nothin’ to worry about, All the hearts on this lot come with a 10 year/100,000 beat warranty; you have a problem you come back here and I’ll fix you right up. You just come in, we’ll work out the financing and we can have it put in today. You want to keep looking for a bit, talk it over? Fine, I’ll be right here if you have any questions.
Turn away from my, doers of iniquity, Gd has heard my supplication, Gd has heard my plea.
…You know you’re probably right, I’m sure the dumb shmuck had something to do with it, could you imagine having to rebuild you life after something like that? You start trusting, bonding, wearing your heart on your sleeve and BOOM, without warning, without giving her a chance he just left! But you know what, that’s how you know that this is a quality heart, some hearts couldn’t take it, but this heart is built tough. The endothelium is, if you’ll excuse the pun, bulletproof. You’re sitting there with a heart with a hole in it; I’ve seen hearts like yours, hearts gone bad, worn down by fast-food, depression, and anxiety… They can fix ‘em, but they’ll never be the same. But this heart!?! That woman bounced back on this heart, it repaired itself! They were meant to be, bashert! The shock of it! But she just picked herself off the floor with this heart. This is the heart for you. How can I get you into this heart today?
Gd takes my prayers, they will all be embarrassed and confused, they will all be embarrassed and turn away instantly.
I’m sure that schlemiel wishes he didn’t pass up on that lady; and don’t you pass up this once-in-a-lifetime heart like him. I’m telling you, with this heart you’ll go places… Great, tell your friends to push you inside and we’ll work out all the details. Have you up and running in a jiffy.
As mentioned on a previous blog I (sadly) never learned how to speak the languages of my forefathers. BUT I can now say three lines of the Lion King by heart.
Simba: Man, I'm stuffed.
Pumbaa: Me, too. I ate like a pig.
Simba: Pumbaa, you *are* a pig
Simba: Yie, mi be pie
[lit: boy, I'm going to burst. Yie pronounced: yee ay (ay as in April); Be pronounced as in bed; pie and in a pie]
Pumbaa: Mi insu. Mi didii ti se precko.
[Precko prounced as in 'echo']
Simba: Wo ye precko
[Wo pronounced as in Would; Ye as in Yes]
In a month or so I'll be going to the "Jewish bloggers convention" Should be interesting
I understand that you like to be left alone, curling up somewhere below my pancreas sandwiched between various types of kishkes like a babe in a blanket. But I need to make clear that you are only one cog… One tiny piece of the apparatus that is my internal mechanics, a pawn to forces greater and more complicated than you can possibly understand. And you are not asked for much… I send you a balanced diet complete with roughage, vitamins, 8 glasses of water a day and I don’t dare fill you with milk products, processed food, or any of the garbage that people call food. But you must remember that you are in a team, an army if you will, and this team lives, eats, sleeps, fights as a one body… And tonight we are going into battle, a battle that we are only called into twice a year, once on Purim and again when one of our various friends gets engaged.
I need you to know that this war won’t be won by stomping off like some weak kneed coward in the face of the enemy; it’ll be won by doing your duty, taking what you are given, and asking for more. When asked you will fight! I know I can count on you, stomach, not because you’re some crazy futuristic pumping iron stomach but because you have guts… You are freaking guts! And tonight you will rise to the challenge of many Guinness’, perhaps a shot or two and when I’ve finished all that drinking I will inevitably crawl to the nearest outlet of greasy burgers and ram half a pound of meat down my esophagus… I don’t know why I always do that, but stomach tonight is your night to shine.
Now I know that you’re scared that you’ll chicken out, have that reaction we discovered the last time we had a glass of milk. You might have been listening to some of the slander that I myself have said about you in the past, denigrating your day-to-day toil because of your occasional recalcitrance. But don’t worry about it; that was another man, a man beaten down by his frequent trips to disgusting public bathrooms, scarred by cheesecake, cream cheese and lasagna… On this night, I have confidence in you. On this night, I know that you’ll do your duty. On this night I know you’ll ride, no wade, into battle like one of those guys in that 300 movie, all ripped with ab muscles and whatnot… And when the going gets tough you’ll go berserk, digesting like you’ve never digested before, breaking down food particles into smaller and smaller pieces and passing them on quietly and without a fuss to the intestines.
And when this night is over you’ll feel proud of yourself. You will thank Gd for the opportunity that you fear most at this moment. Half a year from now you’ll reminisce saying “I was there, I did my duty” and have the peace of knowing that you reached your full potential.
Alright now, you son of a gun, you know how I feel. Oh, and I will be proud to lead you into battle.