Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
Let me explain.
Rav Shraga Feivel Zimmerman, the current Chief Rabbi of Gateshead, England, spoke in the aftermath of a major kashrut scandal which rocked Monsey, NY, in 2006. He recalled the story of the Prophet Jonah that we read on Yom Kippur afternoon. The story describes a huge storm that was capable of overturning the ship. Everyone on the boat was frightened and took out their idols. They started praying to the idols. When that didn’t work they woke up Jonah. What did he say about the raging storm? “It’s because of me.”
Jonah could have easily blamed the storm on the boat full of idol worshippers. Perhaps his presence on the boat was a mere accident, and the boat was destined for doom. No, Jonah said that responsibility is mine.
Today, in the wake of the Doheny “Kosher” Meat scandal, it is also our responsibility.
Of course people are mad and want to find someone to blame. After all anyone who ate Doheny meat, whether bought from the store, or eaten through of the many restaurants and caterers that sourced their meat there, consumed food that was potentially trief.
Yet, let’s remember that the Prophet Jonah says, “it’s because of me.” We read this on Yom Kippur to remind us that we need to take responsibility, and need to do a soul searching.
As it says in the Talmud, it is not the mouse that is the thief, it is the hole.
We are all looking for a mouse to blame. It was the mashgiach, it was the rabbi, it was the agency. But the mashgiach as far as we know was just doing his job, he just wasn't there when the suspicious meat was unloaded. The rabbi, head of the RCC, Rabbi Vann, who I know and admire, was doing his best according to the laws laid out in the Shulchan Aruch. While people might say, “if it had been me I would have behaved differently,” the answer is likely, “no.” We would have followed the same practices as the vast majority of kosher agencies.
The fact of the matter is that if while we may have eaten something that was treif, this was done by accident. We didn’t knowingly buy treif meat, it was sold or served to us. Our responsibility doesn’t lie in consuming the treif products — it lies in allowing this to happen.
The hole in our Kashrut system is two-fold. First and foremost is the system of repackaging. Not so long ago, and still with a few meat producers, the animals were slaughtered and packaged at the slaughterhouse. Now nothing is sold directly. The slaughter houses sell it to wholesalers, who sell it to distributors, who sell it to businesses and then ultimately to the consumer. As long as this system is in place, there will be thieves along the way that will be tempted to make a profit. This not just the case in the meat industry, but other areas of our our kosher food industry.
Secondly, if there were a serious demand for the strictest regulations governing kosher meat, or any other products, this would not have happened. The market always responds to the needs of the consumers. If consumers, businesses, and the like had demanded stricter controls, then we would have them. Instead, people are looking constantly for the cheapest meat, and not concerned with the way it got to the meat section.
Our immediate responsibility is to plug the holes in our kosher system, a system which is handled outside the view of the consumer, with little or no consumer oversight. In addition we must demand that companies do business differently. A review needs to be done on every level, with oversight by rabbinical experts who are ideally not part of any Los Angeles kosher supervision organizations, in order to approach this issue with the utmost impartiality.
We also need to avoid this becoming an opportunity for rifts in the community. That is exactly what the forces of negativity, the sitra achra, wants from us — divisions, blame, and schisms. We must be wary of self-serving individuals who use this tragedy as an opportunity for personal gain. We need to take this opportunity to come together and stronger as a community. There is nothing more that pleases God, says our ancient tradition, than to see Jews coming together, solving problems amicably, and treating each other with dignity and respect.
The lengthy discussion of the spiritual implications and the halachic implications of what to do with your kitchen items will be dealt with in a forthcoming article. For the meantime, until more information is available, don’t use meat purchased after 3pm from Doheny, and wait until a serious halachic decision is agreed upon by a majority of the cities rabbinic authorities in consultation with worldwide kosher experts to know what to do with your kitchen.
Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, the author of the recently published, Prayers for Israel, is a leading voice of the next generation of American Jewry. He blogs extensively on issues pertaining to Judaism and contemporary life. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiYonah.
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November 6, 2012 | 1:41 pm
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
(Part one of several blogs on my recent return to Poland after an 11 year absence.)
The snow began falling just as the busses were unloading for the 5th Annual Limud conference in Poland. (They spelled it Limud in Poland.) It has been eleven years since I left Poland after nearly a decade of community building there in the 1990′s.
Amidst the emotional reunion with friends that I had not seen in a decade, were hundreds of people who I didn’t recognize. 700-1000 of them depending on who you asked. A whole new wave of young Jews, older Jews, families, kids, all who had seemingly come out of nowehere.
Limud was staffed by energetic young volunteers at a conference center which had undergone a recent renonation that would make it the envy of any conference center in the USA. Registration was effortless and the good organization continued until the very end.
Without a doubt Limud was a blast. Everything that a Limud should be. Dozens of classes, community meals, late night conversations til dawn. A cross polination of people and ideas and intnerational trouble makers like myself. Yet what struck me the most was that the weekend was a cultural weekend. The current rejewvination of Polish Jewry, distinguishing from the one that I was part of starting in 1991, has been a secular revolution sponsored in most part by the JDC with help from the Taube and others. It was not that there were lack of religious programming – reform and orthodox minyanim took place – but their popularity was mininal. Maybe in total 100 people participated.
Back in the early days of the Jewish renewal when the communist system had dissapeared, the Jewish community was into the spiritual side of renewal. Ritual. Prayer. Hebrew. All the things that the communists had banned. No more phoney Yiddish theater, people wanted authentic forms of Judaism.
Today that is out the window in favor of a very cultural renewal. Classes and discussions ran the entire spectrum. The event was primarily Shabbat friendly, and the attedees were thrilled about being in a Jewish enviroment, whithout that spectre of anti-Jewish prejudice or fear of being outed.
Limud Poland has its own character: A very large number of elderly Jews and a huge number of very young folks. A cleverly named bookstore “Books & Stein” which I found flattering . The hotel bars opened at 10am. A real Polish disco that lasted until 4am. Dozens of wait staff cleared the tables whenever a dirty plate appeared. The food was extremely Polish, but meatless. Which in and of itself is radical in a country that eats a lot of, well, meat. Limited signage but no one was lost. About 25% of the classes were text based, while the others were discussions, lectures, or workshops. They made some killer lentil soup that I sampled. There were 2 Polish based reform rabbis, 2 Polish based orthodox rabbis, (a few import rabbis) and a karaoke style havdallah complete with some pumped up bald Israeli singer accompaning a CD of poplaur Israeli music from Hava Nagila to Ani Maamin, all in heavy euro disco beats.
Another element of Limmud Polaska which stood out for me most after an 11 year absence, was the diversity and unambiguous ambiguity of the Jewish heritage of the participants. There was no distinction made between those of mixed, distant ancestry, or Jew curiosity. There were no second class Jews as there were in the 1990’2 when one needed a Jewish parent to qualify. Now people are accepted on their own terms and there is little effort to verify the Jewish pedigree of the participants. My gut feeling is that most of the people have strong Jewish roots — it is still not so cool to be Jewish in Poland. It was a great way to reacquaint myself with the renewal of Jewish life in Poland and I hope to make it back for Limud Polska #6.