Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Rhyme and Reason

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This week’s parsha begins with the words “Vezos chukas haTorah.” Rashi quotes the words of Chazal who explain the use of the word chukas in describing the laws of parah adumah. He says that the term chok represents a Divine law, the reasons for which we were not made privy to. The nations of the world scoff at us, asking why we observe these strange laws and customs. Instead of engaging in debates with them, offering up explanations and rationales, we are to state simply that we follow these laws because G-d commanded us to do so. End of conversation.

But some of us tend not to be content with this approach. We seek to understand the deeper wisdom behind the mitzvos and the reasons for the gezeiros derabonon. We believe that by attaching a reason to a mitzvah, we will enhance its observance. If we can explain the word of G-d in contemporary terms, we can bring more people into the tent of Torah and expand the popularity of its observance. Offering explanations for the mitzvos will not only make us more effective in kiruv, we think, but it will strengthen our own observance.

One can’t deny that there may be some validity to this approach at times. Yet, when we fail to take Chazal’s advice seriously, we pay the price. We open the door to a form of Judaism “a la carte” - where people choose to observe the mitzvos that “resonate” and suit their taste, while neglecting those that appeal less to their reasoning or emotions.

As an example, let’s take the mitzvah of shechitah. The reason we eat only animals whose necks were slit with a swift cut of a shochet’s sharpened blade is not because that is the humane method of killing animals. The reason we eat meat only from animals whose innards were checked and found to be without blemish is not because those animals are healthier.

Why, then, do we scrupulously adhere to the smallest details of ritual slaughter? For the sole reason that we are required to follow the word of G-d as commanded in the Torah, as delineated in the Gemara, and as codified by the Shulchan Aruch. A mashgiach must attest that the shochet cut the majority of the two simanim, the konah and the veshet. A hair’s breadth - kechut hasa’arah - makes the difference between kosher and non-kosher, between something fit for consumption and neveilah.

Rashi states in Maseches Sanhedrin [90] that one who believes in techiyas hameisim because he came to that conclusion on his own and not because he believes the drashos of Chazal is a kofer, an apostate. We follow the commandments, chukim and mishpatim because we believe with our innermost fiber that G-d created us for that purpose. Once we inject our own human reasoning into the equation, we are no longer following the will of G-d.

Once we get into the business of interpreting the will of G-d for the masses, we lose our footing. We lose perspective. We lose appreciation for the mitzvos as we bring them down to our superficial, fallible level.

And there is another way we lose. Witness the ongoing campaign against the Rubashkins by those who consider themselves more liberal and advanced than we are. Since they believe that the laws of shechitah were created to provide a humane form of animal slaughter, and the laws of kashrus were designed to provide us with healthy and clean meat, it follows that if the slaughterhouse does not conform to their concept of clean and humane, the meat is unfit for consumption.

When a company such as Rubashkin supplies 60% of kosher meat in this country, that is not a situation to trifle with. No longer are there kosher slaughterhouses dotting the country; they are few and far between. To jeopardize their production is to cause a shortage of kosher meat and guaranteed price hikes.

Jews were in this country for many decades before systems of competent and reliable kashrus were set up. For years, the kosher industry was chaotic, controlled by mafia-style gangsters. Rabbonim who came over from the old country and attempted to establish proper standards were run out of town, humiliated and maligned.

It was only after the Second World War that Holocaust survivors such as the Satmar Rebbe, the Tzeilemer Rov and Rabbi Alexander S. Rosenberg stood up to the charlatans and succeeded in finally bringing genuinely kosher food to the masses of Jews living here. Rabbi Rosenberg, in particular, as head of the OU, brought to fruition the dream of providing kosher food to Jews across this country wherever they lived, in large cities and small towns. The kashrus organization he developed enabled people to go into any supermarket and purchase kosher food.

We, who live in neighborhoods overflowing with religious Jews like ourselves, are deluded into thinking that there are millions of us out there. We fail to realize how small our numbers are in relation to the population of the United States. We don’t appreciate the kindness that G-d has showered upon us, brought about through the brilliance of people such as Rabbi Rosenberg, in having such a wide array of kosher products freely available. When you think about it, it is a miracle that international food companies such as Coca-Cola and Proctor and Gamble permit rabbonim to snoop around in their facilities, and actually pay them to do so, all in order to sell an additional small amount of their product.

Yes, there are many heimishe companies, but without the large multi-nationals at the top of the food chain, they could never exist. They could never supply enough product and produce all the necessary ingredients on their own; there simply are not enough resources and capital to provide the infrastructure.

This paper has been writing periodically about Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and warning of the dangers it presents. Some were not convinced and sent in letters to the editor asking why we are bothering with them. What does the Yated care about what Chovevei does? How does it affect you?

The answer is as follows. In addition to the principle of kol Yisroel areivim zeh bazeh, every city they penetrate and every beachhead we permit them to create represents a step backwards for the cause of Torah in this country.

To illustrate the point: Chovevei students have now created common cause with members of the Conservative clergy and secular Jewish organizations seeking to curtail the distribution of Rubashkin’s kosher meat based on unproven pretensions and pretences.

The Conservatives aren’t stopping there. The same group which, since its founding, has wreaked havoc upon Jewish communities, misleading uninformed Jews into believing that they were comporting with Judaic law and tradition as it drove them away from authentic observance, now seeks to bring kashrus under its jurisdiction. The same group that introduced chillul Shabbos as shemiras shabbos and estranged tens of thousands of fellow Jews from the mitzvos now has the temerity to dictate to us the laws of kashrus.

The Conservative Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue breached the most basic bounds of decency by issuing a statement urging its constituents to seek kosher alternatives to Rubashkin products.

The May 22nd statement read, in part: “The allegations about the terrible treatment of workers employed by Rubashkin’s have shocked and appalled members of the Conservative Movement as well as all people of conscience. As Kashrut seeks to diminish animal suffering and offer a humane method of slaughter, it is bitterly ironic that a plant producing kosher meat be guilty of inflicting any kind of human suffering.”

And they are not stopping there. They are setting up an organization by the name of “Hekhsher Tzedek” to operate as a rabbinic kosher supervising agency. According to one of their statements, “Hekhsher Tzedek would bring certified kosher food into compliance with the Torah’s tradition of ethical laws and the Jewish community’s commitment to social justice. Hekhsher Tzedek will seek endorsement from all producers of kosher food and will have its symbol serve as an indicator of a product’s acceptability. Only food already certified as kosher would be eligible to receive a Hekhsher Tzedek. We hope that this initiative will serve as an ethical model throughout the entire food industry.”

As did mosrim of old, they are engaging in a massive propaganda campaign through a compliant Jewish and secular media, bashing Orthodoxy and its “archaic” standards. How ironic. The people who uphold the Torah and follow in the footsteps of their ancestors, who brought monotheism and a system of civil laws, jurisprudence and decency to a pagan and depraved world, are being lectured to by charlatans who have destroyed for their followers every vestige of the very religion they claim to promote.

These same leaders who have robbed their followers of every remnant of kedushas Yisroel by substituting Torah law with fictitious “halachot” and other innovations seek to undermine the system of kashrus which took so long to establish. In so doing, they will willingly destroy our ability to purchase kosher meat and poultry in every corner of this vast country.

So swept up are they in their role as great humanitarians that in the name of benefiting immigrant workers and animals, they are willing to do a terrible disservice to the Jewish people in this country - robbing many of the blessings made available by decades of mesiras nefesh on the part of dedicated people.

By parading the unproven allegations of PETA and other aberrant groups through the press that “kosher is not really clean,” that Orthodoxy does not guarantee civil rights, who knows how many people these “humanitarians” will cause to turn away in revulsion when they see a kosher symbol on a product?

How many stores will they be able to convince not to carry kosher meat? How many companies will they be able to hoodwink into accepting their rabbinic supervision? How many people will begin to honor the endorsement of their rabbis? How many will begin questioning our system of kashrus while swallowing the pop-propaganda of these arrogant groups?

Let us wake up and put a stop to this misguided and dangerous crusade before it is too late.


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