Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
With great chutzpah and an undercurrent of antisemitism the Polish Parliament has rejected a bill proposed by the government to permit Kosher and Halal ritual slaughter. As has been the case in other European countries that have banned kosher slaughter, the process is deemed “inhumane”.
All this has happened during the saddest days on the Jewish calendar and has led to Poland’s esteemed Chief Rabbi, Michael Schudrich, the architect of post-Communist Jewish revival and a lifelong vegetarian, to threaten resignation. Having helped Rabbi Schudrich to reestablish kosher slaughter in Poland and in the 1990’s through the importation of a ritual slaughterer form Hungry, and personally supervising kosher meat production, this ban is particularly personal.
As with most Jewish communities, the vast majority of Polish Jews do not keep kosher. Yet, the news that the ban on Kosher meat production in Poland will continue indefinitely is of profound symbolic importance. For a country that is trying to revive its image as being hopelessly anti-Semitic, where a small, nascent Jewish community is rebuilding itself, the renewal of the ban on kosher slaughter is just the latest sign that perhaps Poland has not really changed.
Ironically, Poland is a major supplier of kosher food around the world, including a growing export of kosher meat to Israel. The OU, the largest supervisory agency for kosher products worldwide, certifies production in over two dozen Polish factories. Products under supervision include, bakeries, vegetables, fish and milk and more.
The Polish parliament for its part is going against the obvious economic benefits pertaining to the production of Kosher food, and especially meat. A constitutional court has upheld the ban on kosher slaughter which echoes back to the days during pre-war Poland when a full-blown economic assault was waged against its Jewish citizens. The ruling by most accounts goes counter to the Polish constitution. With this one move Poland’s parliment undermines its relations with the world-wide Jewish community.
Polish Prime Minister Tusk’s enemies are capitalizing on a right-wing shift in the countries political climate. The unpopular Prime-Minister is being hounded by the opposition who have seized upon his weaknesses. One of those weaknesses is his pro-Jewish stance. In addition, the opposition have decried the export of Polish meat which should stay in Poland and not be exported to Israel and to Muslim countries. With unabashed chutzpah, Tusk’s opposition is using the issue of Kosher and Halal slaughter as part of their campaign to wrest control of a government.
Not all of Poland’s politicians are bending. Poland’s agricultural minister for example has decried the decision in sharply worded term calling the ban unconstitutional infringement on the rights of minorities in Poland. However, the Prime Minister stated that the government will not attempt to introduce new legislation making kosher and halal slaughter permitted.
The decision of the Polish Parliament coincides with the days of sorrow for the Jewish communities. This period of national mourning called the “Nine Days” leads up to the largest day of national mourning, Tisha B’Av. These days are known for sorrow and persecution. From the times of the destruction of the Second Temple until today, many tragedies befell the Jewish people during this time including the expulsion of Jews from England (1290) and Spain (1492), World War I (1914), and the deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto (1942).
While the decision to ban kosher meat production and ritual slaughter are not on the scale of these tragedies, its timing could not be more profound. At a milestone in Polish Jewish and Christian rapprochement, the completion of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in the heart of Warsaw, Poland has found itself once again a flashpoint of intolerance. This is not to lessen the intolerance and racism found in other European countries that have enacted a similar bans on kosher and halal slaughter. Yet, because of Poland’s unique history as having the largest Jewish community in the world prior to WWII, and the country that suffered the largest percentage of annihilation of its Jewish community during the war, this turn of events is highly unfortunate.
In the early 1990’s, when we were able to resume the production of kosher meat in Poland, it was sign that Poland’s Jewish community had a future. In a country that prides itself on meat dishes, the availability of Kosher meat to the Jewish community was another step in the direction of communal rebirth. While a vegetarian at the time, I was keenly aware that a lack of readily available kosher meat was critical to a sense of self-sufficiency that is part of the Polish psyche. No longer was it necessary to import canned meat from Israel for use in the Jewish soup kitchens. No longer did families have to settle for un-kosher meat to create Friday Night Dinners, Passover seders, and holiday meals.
With the resurgence of Polish anti-semitism, the reemergence of Polish Jewish life has been dealt another serious setback. On these days of introspection and mourning, the Jewish world has been dealt another blow. We should not look at this as an isolated infringement on Jewish religious practice on a small Jewish community, but as a global Jewish community issue and a harbinger of the winds of change.
11.3.13 at 10:01 pm |
8.16.13 at 9:21 am | The High Holidays need not be awful, they can be. . .
8.16.13 at 9:18 am |
7.16.13 at 4:26 pm | We should not look at this as an isolated. . .
6.25.13 at 12:05 pm | The debate must be change from the narrow. . .
6.9.13 at 9:27 pm | The recent proliferation of media-inspired lists. . .
6.30.11 at 8:20 am | I often ask myself, what would Abraham and Sarah. . . (11)
6.25.12 at 10:34 am | From the moment that Matisyahu’s new album. . . (4)
2.16.12 at 10:51 am | (3)
June 25, 2013 | 12:05 pm
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
Jewish communities might be fighting about fair access to the Kotel, but what is missing from the discussion is Jewish use of holy places in Jerusalem. The Muslim Waqf and the Palestinian Authority’s opposition to the Kotel compromise demonstrates their intense racism. Instead of infighting, the Jewish community needs a bold and unified approach regarding access to the holiest Jewish sites and exposing injustice.
A newly released compromise for access to the Kotel calls for development of the Southern part of the Kotel wall for the creation of a mixed prayer area. The plan faces many hurdles. However, it is considered by many to be a fair solution to what seemed not long ago to be an intractable situation. Hopes are high around the world that those who most vehemently seek representation of their religious beliefs, and respect for their prayer choices at the Kotel, will accept the plan.
Even if there is a brokered settlement between opposing Jewish factions, there is a fundamental and historical challenge ahead. The most contentious front against the compromise at the Kotel will be from the Muslim Waqf and the Palestinian Authority which regularly launch protests against any development of Jewish access to places near the Temple Mount.
Jews may be able to reach a compromise, but the Waqf and the PA will not. The PA and Waqf will wage an international campaign claiming Jews are trying to destroy the Temple Mount just as they have alleged in the past. Whatever solution is eventually created, the Waqf and Palestinian Authority will decry it as encroachment on Muslim holy sites.
PA religious affairs minister said recently that that creating a Southern Kotel Plaza in order to add an egalitarian/mixed section may "push all of us to new conflicts". Clearly these statements are intended to be threatening. He is promising a violent and organized reaction against Jewish access to our holy site, and Israeli sovereignty.
Instead of proposing a plan to create the mixed prayer plaza, Israel needs to start negotiations about a Jewish presence on the Temple Mount itself and development of access to the Temple Mount for Jewish worshippers. Jewish worship on the Temple Mount is currently illegal. In May a group from Canadian B’nai Brith, hardly a radical or religiously extreme organization, were met with intense racism, cries of “Allah hu Akbar,” and harassment when they tried to visit the Temple Mount.
“You don’t have to send delegations to Hungary to witness raw antisemitism,” said Frank Dimant, a man known for diplomacy and moderation, “Jews are treated as second-class citizens in the Jewish state.” Ironically one of the leaders of the mission to Israel, Eric Bissell, president of B’nai Brith Canada, was also a delegate to the Global Forum on Anti Semitism taking place that same week in Jerusalem.
The problem of Jewish access to the Temple Mount is of paramount importance to the future of Jewish access to other holy sites of Jerusalem some of which, like the Temple Mount and the Kotel, are clearly outside of pre-1967 borders. A future Palestinian State might make Jewish prayer there illegal. Successive Israeli governments have refused to address this racism over desires to avoid a provocation. The Kotel compromise negotiations have drawn this conflict out in the open and presents an ideal opportunity to bring to the world’s attention the intense racism of the Waqf and PA.
The Israeli position could be spelled out clearly for the West:
Israel seeks to provide all their citizens freedom of religious practice— something that the PA and Waqf are clearly against. Israel stands for tolerance of different religious beliefs and unhindered religious practice. Religions can live side-side and Muslim and Jewish worshippers deserve equal access to the Temple Mount. Israeli proposals could include a Jewish prayer area which does not encroach upon the two mosques on the Mount.
The promised outcry from the PA will present the Jewish community with the undeniable fact that they do not control the destiny of their holiest places.
If the Waqf and the Palestinian Authority succeed in making those hard won plans for compromise and fair access to the Kotel obsolete through their threats of violence, the Jewish community in America, and Israel will face a serious test.
Therefore it is in Jewish and Israeli self-interest to reach a compromise over prayer at the Kotel. Israel and Jewish communities abroad need to stand together in solidarity to ensure fair access to the all Jewish holy places like Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb, rather than be bogged down in intense infighting over mixed prayer at the Kotel. Energy needs to expended upon fair prayer and fighting racism not denominational antipathy. Dueling over who decides what is authentic prayer distracts Jews from historic milestone of unfettered access to the Kotel denied for so many generations by successive occupying powers. It was not so long ago that no Jew could pray at the Kotel at all.
The debate must be change from the narrow question of fair access to a universal one - from “who prays where” at the Kotel, to “who prays where” in Jerusalem.
June 9, 2013 | 9:27 pm
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
Jeffrey Goldberg's recent column in Bloomberg, is a very powerful argument for canceling the recent proliferation of media-inspired "Jewish Lists." This article is a must read. It also got me thinking about what the lists that we create today say about our generation, because lists are a valuable insight into our culture.
Whether we are aware of it, published Jewish lists have been around at least since the sixth century when the scholars and leaders of the Jewish community in exile in Babylonia directed the academies of Sura and Pumbedita. These leaders, collectively called the Geonim, were charged with making hard decisions and protecting the safety and welfare of Jewish communities. As such they worked hard to help keep continuity by making complex law and philosophy more easily understood. The famous scholar Sa'adya Gaon made a list of commandments in the Torah. He was followed by other rabbis, and the Ramban and Ramban both wrote lists identifying what they felt were the exact listing of biblical commandments. Later the Sefer Ha Chinuch made a list of mitzvot, this time with a beautiful explanation of each mitzvah and this is still popular today -- eight centuries later.
(And let's not forget the most cherished list, The Ten Commandments.)
More recently, it became popular to make lists of Jews in sports, music, film, writing, Nobel Prize winners and other public Jews who are part of the tapestry of 20th century Jewish life. List making became a new who's who directory of famous Jews. (Even the "Book of Lists " was written by a Jew.) What these lists have in common is a desire to highlight to the world and the Jewish community itself that we are making a positive contribution to society. We should be proud of our collective contributions to America, for example.
Within the community, it seems another reason for these lists is to inspire our children with Jewish role models -- even if some of these Jews were never open or proud of their Jewishness. It seems as if the people making these lists think it will energize a listless Jewish community or perhaps make the community more inviting to any Jew standing on the margins.
Of course there are insidious Jewish lists as Goldberg so eloquently points out, such as the lists put together by Nazis, Communist regimes, other totalitarian regimes, Senator McCarthy's infamous political enemies list, American White Power movements, Islamic radicals -- just to name a few.
Recently, popular list making is being scrutinized as doing more harm then good, as pointed out eloquently by Goldberg. There is also Danielle Berrin's long expose about the 50 Most Influential Rabbi's list and Dennis Prager's column in the Jewish Journal.
There are other lists as well: The Forward's list of top American Jews, the Forward 50 Fifty, and Most Influential Jews list by the Jerusalem Post, which seems to be the final straw for Goldberg. And there are others. (In full disclosure, I have been listed on some lists, most recently on a list of 10 top Jewish influencers in social media.)
The recent proliferation of media-inspired lists do not achieve the purpose that communal list-making served in the past. Instead of serving to clarify, inspire and teach about who we are as a people, today's lists are of people and not ideas or values and can only serve to divide an already quarrelsome people.
March 29, 2013 | 12:22 pm
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.
November 6, 2012 | 12:41 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.