Friday, 13 June 2008

Why Do We, Putzy Humans, Deserve Torah

Talmud Shabbat 88b

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said, When Moses went up on high, the ministering angels said to God, ‘Master of the Universe, what is one born of woman doing among us, God said to them, ‘He has come to receive Torah.’

They said to him, ‘That is a great treasure, hidden by you for nine hundred and seventy four generations before the world was created and you want to give it to one of flesh and blood! What is humanity that you should take note of him, the son of adam that you should account for him (Psalms 1). God, our Master how excellent is your name in the earth, who has set your glory in the Heavens (Psalms 8).

So the Holy Blessed One said to Moses, ‘Give them an answer.’

‘Master of the Universe, I’m scared they will burn me up with their breath.

God said to him, ‘Hold onto the Throne of My Glory and give them an answer.’ As it says, He made him hold onto the face of his throne and spread his cloud over him. (Job 26)

Then he said before them, ‘Master of the Universe, the Torah you give me, what is written in it. I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt. (Deut 5)’ He said to the Angels, ‘Did you go down to Egypt, were you enslaved to Pharaoh, why then should the Torah be yours?

Another one, what is written in it, ‘You should have no other gods (Deut 5). Do you live among nations who worship other Gods?

Another one, what is written in it, ‘remember the Sabbath day and make it holy. You don’t do any work that you would need to rest from.

Another one, what is written in it? Do not take [the name of God] in vain. Do you get involved in business transactions?

Another one, what is written in it Honour your father and mother. Have you fathers and mothers.

Another one, what is written in it, You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal. Is their jealousy amongst you? Is the evil inclination amongst you?

Immediately they acquiesced to the Holy Blessed One... Immediately each of them showed love for him and passed (masar) him a thing/word, as it says, ‘You have ascended on high, you have taken spoils, you have received gifts on account of adam (Psalm 68). As payback for calling you ‘Adam’ you took gifts. Even the Angel of Death passed on a thing, as it says … and he stood between living and death. (Num 48)… Had [the Angel] not told him how to do this, how would he have learnt it?

On the Retroactive Annulling of Conversions

The following article appeared in the Jewish Chronicle.

The latest conversion row could tear us apart 05/06/2008 Rabbi Jeremy Gordon

Shavuot is a time for reading the book of Ruth: “Wherever you go, I go, your people shall be my people and your God shall be my God …” It is a time when Jews should focus on matters relating to conversions. There is much to consider. In May last year, three rabbis in Ashdod annulled an Orthodox conversion of a woman who only attended the rabbinic court to collect a get, a Jewish divorce decree. Annulling the woman’s conversion did alleviate the need for the get, but only at the cost of stripping the couple’s four children of their Jewish identity. On appeal this year, the High Rabbinical Court backed the rabbis in Ashdod and rescinded every one of her rabbi’s converts over two decades. The ripples have been fanning out ever since. Having swept away one of Israel’s most respected modern-Orthodox luminaries and Israel’s Conversion Authority, these now tsunami-sized waves threaten the very fabric of Orthodox unity. Left in the wake of this ill-tempered spat are an estimated 20,000 Israeli Jews whose conversions have been rendered undone, at least in the eyes of the ultra-Orthodox. Recent voices entering the fray include the widely respected Chief Rabbi of Efrat, Shlomo Riskin, who lent his name to a letter accusing the High Rabbinical Court of a “sin of the first magnitude… an abuse of rabbinic power highly detrimental to the well-being of the Jewish people”, and Professor Marc B Shapiro, probably the most influential scholar of modern Orthodoxy, who has called on “the modern-Orthodox/religious-Zionist world [to institute a] complete break with the Charedi halachic authorities”. Writing in 1989, Lord Jakobovits, then Chief Rabbi of British Orthodoxy, asked how to “preserve the oneness of the Jewish people”. His message was that all streams of non-Orthodoxy should back away from conversions, since only the Orthodox could be trusted to save this “essential oneness”. With the High Rabbinical Court unwilling to find a way to save even the oneness of Orthodoxy, that claim now seems mortally flawed. A whole series of legal, not to mention personal and political, issues are at stake. Perhaps the most important from a legal perspective is the issue of the level of commitment to Jewish life a convert should undertake, and how to balance this against principles such as the unity of the Jewish people — achdut Yisrael and the needs of an individual in distress — sha’ah dechak. Judaism mandates the acceptance of converts but only of those who accept the covenantal duties of the Jews, the mitzvot. This raises the question of how “frum” a convert is expected to become. A commitment to “feel Jewish” void of covenantal performance rings hollow, but we do well to remember the words of the funeral liturgy, “There are none who do only good and never sin.” Since the dawn of modernity, two Orthodox approaches to this question have emerged. On the one hand, authorities in worlds of uniform observance incline towards a maximal sense of what should be required; the Lithuanian Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski claimed that “where it is evident that someone will desecrate Shabbat and eat forbidden foods, we may presume he converted only for show” and his conversion may be annulled (Achiezer 3:26). On the other hand, rabbis who engaged with a more pluralist and differentiated Jewish world (and in particular rabbis associated with Zionism) have taken a more liberal approach. The one-time Israeli Chief Rabbi Benzion Uziel stated: “Conversion is not conditional on candidates keeping the commandments … it is permitted, even commanded to accept converts, though we know they will not keep all the commandments. We should open up an opportunity for candidates. If they fail to keep the commandments, they [and no-one else] bear the guilt” (Piskei Uziel 65). Uziel is driven by a desire to heal breaches in the fabric of the people of Israel. He is seeking to bring those on the edge of Jewish life into its centre. In another response, Uziel mandates accepting a conversion for the sake of marriage even though legal codes explicitly exclude such an intention from being considered appropriate. He is no fan of conversion for the sake of marriage but, following a rabbinic doctrine of choosing the lesser of two evils, he argues that it is better to accept the candidate than leave the Jewish partner in an intermarriage. The American modern-Orthodox rabbi, Marc Angel, argues forcefully that, “when an intermarried couple comes to a [court] seeking the conversion of a non-Jewish partner, we must allow such a conversion. We may not take the haughty position that these are wicked people who deserve to suffer the fate of transgressors.” This kind of outreach has not, however, been a marker of contemporary ultra-Orthodox courts in this country or in Israel. Increasingly, the liberal and modern voices that once held sway in Orthodoxy have been driven out, replaced by an ultra-Orthodox, often anti-Zionist, rabbinic leadership; judges whose concept of decency, kindness and a love for all Israel have been shaped not by an engagement in the “real world”, but by a life lived in bastions of self-secluded meticulous observance. It is not that it is wrong to insist that converts meet standards beyond that of the majority of the Jewish community; it is not even wrong to reject a candidate for conversion if their intention seems flawed. But these demands must be balanced against the other voices in the tradition — voices of warmth, gentle welcome and a commitment to Jewish peoplehood. Rabbinic judges must understand how divisive a rejection of a convert can be, especially if such a rejection is performed retrospectively, especially if there are children involved. As a rabbi, I know the tools I can rely upon to save me from acting cruelly. They are among the most important sources I know. In electing to overlook the warm and gentle option, the High Rabbinic Court has abdicated its concern for Jakobovits’s “oneness of the Jewish people”. As a Jew and as a rabbi, I gave up on the ultra-Orthodox as guardians of this “oneness” some time ago: perhaps the time has come to offer any wavering modern-Orthodox friends a warm welcome in the broader and kinder Jewish world my less authoritarian rabbinic colleagues and I inhabit. Jeremy Gordon is rabbi of New London Masorti Synagogue

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Vanity, Vanity, it's all Vanity

Someone said this looked like me.

I'm not sure, but since this is vanity publishing ...

Sunday, 8 June 2008

On the Necessity of Parashat Sotah

This is the first sermon I have ever given on parashat Sotah.

It's a scary text for a modern and a feminist

It should be scary for us all.

To refresh our memories.

If a husband is overcome with a fit of jealousy regarding his wife's fidelity she is made to stand before God and, in the language of the Mishnah.

וכהן אוחז בבגדיה אם נקרעו נקרעו אם נפרמו נפרמו עד שהוא מגלה את לבה וסותר את שערה

And the Priest seizes her by her garments and if they are torn or ripped, they are torn or ripped and he exposes her heart and uncovers her hair.

And the woman is forced to drink mei hamarim – the bitter waters under the threat of her belly distending and her thigh sagging.

Let me be more specific about my problem with Parashat – Sotah.

Or rather what my problem is not.

My problem is not anthropological.

I know this is how they did things in 'the good ol' days.'

I know that there is a ordeal very similar to that of the Bible in the Ancient Babylonian Code of Hammurabi.

In Hammurabi it states

If a finger has been pointed at a man's wife because of another man, but she has not been caught, she shall leap into the River.[1]

And if guilty she floated.

I don't have problem looking at this old ritual in the context of the societies surrounding the Ancient Israelites.

I'll admit I find Sotah confusing in the same way the great medievalist, Nachmanides, found Sotah confusing.

Sotah is, said Nachmandies, magical it feels pagan, it's the most magical and pagan moment in the Bible. And, as a way of finding out guilt or innocence it feels too dependent on a miracle and, by and large, we Rabbinic types prefer to reason our way to justice, rather than rely on pointed finger descending from the heavens – it was you..

I'm confused but I'll look past my mild theological confusion.

My great problem with Parashat Sotah is this.

How, dear God, can I consider these texts holy?

We just sung this.

Etz hayim hi lmachazikim ba vkol netivoteha meusar.

It is a tree a life to all to grasp and all its paths are upright.

This week, that song is a struggle because instead of being to bathe in the beauty of our extraordinary tradition there is this niggle.

This poor woman, dragged up before a gawping crowd of men and stripped and poisoned to satisfy a very male niggle.

How can I read these verses as Torah, with love, vshinantam levanaecha – and you shall repeat these words to your children and hold them before you always – what even these words?

A huge part of my heart, my soul pulls me away from repeating these words, this week, every year it's this week.

And it is a very Jewish tug.

Many of you will know this story from Bereshit Rabba well.[2]

The Rabbis imagine Abraham as a young boy, his father, Terah, has left him in charge of the idol store and Abraham has smashed up the idols.

Dad comes home, surveys the destruction and demands to know what has happened.

How could I lie to you, the hot-headed Abraham replies meekly, there was this woman with a flour offering she wanted me to put before them.

But first this one said, 'I'll eat first'

Then that one, then the other until largest idol took up this hammer and smashed them up.

Do you think I am a fool – snaps back Terah – they are idols, how can they have any sense or knowledge.

At which point Abraham responds 'let your ears hear what your mouth says.'

How can you put yourself forward as a seller of idols when you know these idols are not holy.

How can go through the motions of religiosity when you know it's untrue?

How, in the name of God, can you deem something holy when you know, you know, it is not.

This is the problem with parashat Sotah.

Let me do another Gemarah.

Hael hagadol hagibur vhanora – 'God the great, the mighty and the awesome.'

We might know these words from the liturgy, but their origin is Biblical.

Moses spoke them, on the plains of Moav[3].

But the Rabbis[4] notice something else.

They notice that Jeremiah says something similar to Moses, but he calls God

Hael hagadol vehagibor – Jeremiah leaves out the hanorah he doesn't call God awesome.

It must be, say the Rabbis, that Jeremiah was so upset to see the destruction of the Temple that he couldn't bring himself to acknowledge God as awesome.

And the Rabbis notice something else. They notice that Daniel, when Daniel prays to God, prays to

Hael Hagdol vhanorah – Daniel leaves out hagibor – he doesn't call God heroic.

It must be, say the Rabbis that Jeremiah was so upset to see the enslavement of his people that he cannot bring himself to acknowledge God as heroic.

How is it possible, the Rabbis demand to know, for Jeremiah and Daniel to skip out a liturgy fixed by Moses himself just because they didn't feel like it?

The answer is clear –

מתוך שיודעין בהקדוש ברוך הוא שאמתי הוא

Since they know that the Holy Blessed One is truth, they could not ascribe falsity to God.

As a Jew you have to say what you mean, particularly if you want to speak from a religious perspective.

No comfortable white lies allowed.

No gentle dishonesties permitted

Rabbi Jacobs certainly knew that – no comfortable white lies.

So, here we are, with this problem with parashat Sotah

It's a problem made worse by a tradition that refuses to lie and countenances even a measure as extreme as reworking a teaching of Moses himself.

In search of a way to save Sotah it is worth working out why on earth the passage exists in the Bible at all.

After all we all know what happens to the adulterer – it's written [in the Ten Commandments/up there]

ואיש אשר ינאף את אשת איש

מות יומת הנאף והנאפת:

One who had adulterous relations with a married woman, the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.

This is the first step – parashat Sotah might be horrid, it might be cruel, it might be misogynist – but it saves the woman's life.

Jacob Milgrom, the acknowledged master of sefer Bemidbar sums up this irony perfectly

By appropriating a semi-pagan, semi-magical ritual, the whole Sotah mechanism 'provides the priestly legislator with an accepted practice by which he could remove the jurisdiction over and punishment of the un-apprehended adulteress from human hands and thereby guarantee that she would not be put to death.'[5]

It's actually a step in the right direction.

Which brings me to the Rabbis.

The most remarkable thing about the Rabbinic treatment of the Sotah ritual is the key Mishnah which describes what happens during the ordeal.

It opens as follows[6]

אם אמרה טמאה אני שוברת כתובתה ויוצאת

If she says, I am impure, they tear up her ketubah and the marriage is over.

It is only if she claims to be pure that she is taken to the East Gate of the City.

This opportunity for a confession never appears in the Bible.

As far as the Bible is concerned, either you are clearly guilty, in which case death, or the husband has a suspicion, in which case the Sotah ritual applies.

Now we have a third option – if the woman confesses, the marriage is dissolved.

As one makes their way through the major Rabbinic treatment of Sotah we come across whisper after whisper of a re-framing of this admittedly discomforting text.

What of the man who feels it is appropriate to accuse his wife of adultery in such a public and shameful way.

הוה פתח ריש לקיש בסוטה, אמר הכי: אין מזווגין לו לאדם אשה אלא לפי מעשיו

When Reish Lakish would begin teaching Sotah he would say this 'a man is only paired up with a woman according to his own actions.[7]

And then of course the Rabbis do away with the whole apparatus of Sotah.

Rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakkai abolished the ritual of the bitter waters [citing a verse from the book of Hosea] I will not punish your daughters-in-law when they commit adultery (Hos 4:14)[8]

And it is gone as a matter of practical Rabbinics.

It remains only as a text.

Drosh lkabel schar – we should study it to receive merit.

When we engage in the journey of this text through our tradition I would encourage us to see not a misogynist pagan ritual but an attempt in the Bible to rescue a suspected adulterer from death, an attempt by the Rabbis to find ways out of the whole ritual, a way to gently prod at the jealous husband – are you sure you are so clear of blame yourself and then finally, a triumph of hermeneutic magic – poof, it's gone.

The story of Parashat Sotah is a lesson in travelling. How far can you go, while staying in the system.

How far can you change while staying the same.

And now, all of a sudden, this whole business of Sotah starts to feel very Masorti.

Rabbi Brad Artson of the American Jewish University wrote that the Tree of Life, the Torah, needs a prune every now and again.[9]

He is of course right and to see that happening with an issue like Sotah is to understand how our tradition functions.

And as long as we continue to read.

As long as we continue to be affronted by verses like parashat Sotah but, instead of deleting them, or feeling embarrassed by their power,

As long as we use our own confusion and puzzlement that a tradition as holy as ours can contain verses like this.

As long as we dig deeper, look further, hold onto our masorah – our tradition – ever more tightly

We get to understand something far more important than the mechanics of a particular ritual at a particular point in history.

We get to understand the very nature of what it means to be, to be a Rabbinic Jew.

The danger with deleting that which discomforts us is that we turn off our sensors.

We make the edit and we forget what it means to be part of this journey.

Anything that seems a little awkward, a little uncomfortable, the temptation is always to back away, pretend it doesn't exist.

And we are then in grave danger of losing both bathwater and baby.

The Reform liturgy, for many years, felt uncomfortable with the second paragraph of the Shema, so that went.

And the end of the Ain Keloheynu, so that went,

And resurrection of the dead, so that went.

Many of these things have recently come back in the wonderful new Forms of Prayer Siddur, and that is great – and the siddur is a tremendous piece of work,

but for me, I miss some elements in the tradition.

The challenge in life is not to work out how you feel on day or the next.

The challenge in life is not be blown back and forth on the winds of fashion.

The challenge in life is to understand our edginess and to learn from it.

The challenge is to understand what goes on beneath our surface awkwardness.

And when we are dealing with our glorious 3000 year old tradition there is a great deal going on under the surface.

And that is the journey.

To hold the ancient past

To understand the way in which the past has rolled into the present

And to pledge ourselves to be part of this journey into the future.

And if we can do that we deserve the great blessings of our faith.

We deserve God's blessing and protection

We deserve the God illumination and favour

We deserve that God should lift up God's face to us and grant us peace.

Shabbat shalom

[1] Para 132, ANET p. 171

[2] Genesis Rabba 38:13

[3] Deuteronomy 10.17, see also Jer 32:18 & Daniel 9:4

[4] Yoma 69b

[5] JPS Commentary Bemidbar p.350

[6] M Sotah 1:5

[7] Sotah 2a

[8] M. Sotah 9:9

[9] In the context of Ellie Spitz's Responsa on Mamzerut

Friday, 6 June 2008

On Religion & Politics

This week I had the pleasure of hearing the Archbishop of York address the Institute of Jewish Policy Research Institute dinner. Dr John Sentamu spoke on the subject of Religion and Politics.

I offer a selection from his words, this week, as we approach our own moment of revelation. Shabbat shalom and Chag Sameach,

‘Organised religion is always ambiguous. It can be both an instrument for good or for great evil.

When I consider the history of organised religions the world over and look at the present state of our world and the countless acts of violence committed in the name of God, is it any wonder that the third commandment given to Moses on Mount Sinai was not to misuse the name of the Lord?

‘Whether it be the so called Salafi-Jihadism of Al Qaeda claiming the lives of innocent people perversely in the name of Allah or those narrowly focussed political parties attempting to usurp religious values and heritage, the purveyors of hatred and violence cover their wickedness with a religious cloak, or to use the words of Rabbi Lionel Blue, "the terrorists covering their own inner violence under a fig leaf of faith".

Such abusers of religion lay easy claim to centuries of heritage with their lip service whilst their actions, and in some cases perverse ideologies, twist out of shape the garment of faith woven over centuries by faithful scholars and adherents.

For those who claim the mantle of faith, the ultimate injunction must be for us to know God better, to know God more, and to love and serve our neighbour better. In doing this we fulfil our obligations not only to God but also to the society which we share.

‘Such duties and obligations form the bedrock of a religious approach to politics that extends far beyond the comparatively modern term of "social justice".

Rather the prophets and the law lay the foundation for our primacy of care for the other and in so doing lay down the foundation for the role of religion in politics.

‘It is a test for all the key questions that we face: from family values to foreign policy, from the housing we dwell in to the social values that dwell within us, from health care to healing of our national fears and divisions, from the distribution of our resources to determining the things we value most, from the things that make for peace on a global level to the community level, from our definitions of justice to our practice of it, from what we'd like to change to what gives us hope for ever changing it.

‘Of course there are some for whom this business of our worship of God and the loving and serving our neighbour means that we should have no place in the political arena… It is perhaps no surprise that it is when I receive a letter from a correspondent supporting my views I am congratulated for my apparent bravery in speaking out, whilst those who disagree with my stance castigate me in the most telling terms for getting involved in politics – didn't I know that religion and politics should not mix ?

The word Politics derives from the Greek for Polis – the City, for the place where life was lived and public business was done. How can anyone think that God is unconcerned or unconnected with any parts of our lives, public or private, or that we can build arenas which become no go areas for God?’

The full transcript of the Archbishop’s words can be found at

Rubashkin and the Cost of a Kosher Chicken

Bmidbar - in the wilderness - no-one can hear you scream.

It might the tag line for some new Hollywood movie.

In the wilderness, maybe the Children of Israel thought they could get away with their behaviour, because who cares what goes on in a wilderness?

As a Rabbinical student I led a bus tour of America. We drove from New York, on the East Coast to San Diego on the West Coast, then north up the coast to Portland

Oregon, and then back again.

It turns out that, despite what you may have thought, there is a middle to America. New Yorkers, San Franciscans and the like call is fly-over. A wilderness.

One of my earliest literary forays into this wilderness, and I remember it well, came in a book, Boychicks in the Hood by Robert Eisenberg. In this touching collection of essays a secular Jewish guy, who learnt Yiddish from his grandmother, finds out he has a cousin who is a Satmar Hasid. So he goes off to meet and before he knows it he

has found himself on a world-wide tour of the Ultra-Orthodox world.

It is a lovely book and it was the first insight I had into a world of Bratlav Chasidim heading to Uman, the Yeshiva in Gateshead and more.

But one chapter stuck more than any other in my mind. It was when Eisenberg headed to a town called Postville, North-East Iowa. Fly-over territory.

There, far far from any kind of Jewish centre Robert Eisenberg visited a slaughterhouse. Not a normal kind of slaughterhouse, you understand,

The largest kosher slaughterhouse in the world.

Agriprocessors, or Rubashkins as it is known.

It's hard to get a sense of how powerful an organisation Rubshkins are - or at least were.

60% of all kosher beef in America.

40% of all kosher poultry comes from this one slaughter house.

When Aaron Rubashkin founded his slaughterhouse he re-wrote the book on how to provide Kosher meat, taking all the labour out to where the animals were.

The plant was a huge employer in a very depressed part of the United States, around 1,000 employees, that is sustaining 1,000 families. When the Rubashkins opened a new processing plant in 2006 the Governor or Iowa gave the company a cheque for half a million dollars, part of an incentive package to bring the work to the town.

Reading Eisenberg's book I was left with the quaint picture of he painted of 200 frum yids, sitting around, shechting chickens and cows by day, studying by night and generally feeling very bored.

It amused me, and stuck in my mind when I heard something far far more serious.

Two weeks ago Federal agents raided the Rubashkin plant. Of the 1000 staff they made 68o arrests, that is 68o arrests.

The investigating officers were looking to find illegal immigrants and they found at Rubashkins plenty.

In the last week 260 of illegal Guatemalan workers plant have been sentenced to five months in prison. The New York Times has called the raid the largest criminal enforcement operation ever carried out by immigration authorities at a workplace.

It turns out that when the Federal Government wanted to send out a message that illegal workers would no longer simply be deported they picked on this oh so Jewish employer.

And it get's worse

My colleague Harold Kravitz, a Rabbi in Minnetonka, went to visit Postville this week.He was able to meet with some of the women who worked in the plant. The men have all been jailed, but the women, if they have kids, are having their sentences delayed so they can care for their charges.

Harold wrote the following

`We spent hours hearing about appalling working conditions and the abuses that have taken place at Agriprocessors. We heard allegations of all kinds of abuses: underage workers; the poorest pay of any slaughterhouse in Iowa; supervisors who demanded payments and sexual favors in exchange for jobs or particular assignments. Workers consistently described being cursed at and screamed at to work faster and harder. We heard of people working in demanding and dangerous jobs with no training. We heard two stories of workers being struck. We repeatedly heard workers describe how a lead supervisor would demand that they buy a used car from him for more than its value in order to get a job at the plant, even though they were not eligible for a driver's license. The people we talked to are in the process of being deported. They had nothing to gain or lose from what they now say about their experiences. They are simple folk who answered questions directly without apparent embellishment'

Rubashkin have been paying their new employees $5 an hour, that's £2.50 to you or me, substantially below the mandated federal minimum wage.The Federal application to make the raid records information from an informant that a human resourcesmanager laughed when the worker presented her with three social security cards being used by three different workers, but carrying the same social security number. The source also claims to have seen weapons being traded in the plant and, God help us, a methamphetamine lab on site. The source, a one-time employee recalls that he destroyed the lab, but was subsequently confronted by his supervisor and, the source believes, this led to the termination of his employment.The search warrant affidavit is a shander, a hillul hashem, a deep embarrassment.

In fact my colleagues, members of the Rabbinical Assembly, Masorti Rabbis, have had their eye on Rubashkins for some time. A commission of enquiry into working conditions at the plant reported some years ago and a number of American Conservative Synagogues have been boycotting Rubashkin meat.A group of Conservative Rabbis, led by Rabbi Morris Allen have been doing important work in setting up what he calls Hekhsher Tzedek

Hekhsher Tzedek is a supervision not of the details of slaughter and list of ingredients of food products, but a supervision of the human labour that went into their manufacture.It is a supervision of worker pay, provision of health benefits, vacation, sick pay, training, health and safety, corporate governance and transparency and environmental impact.It is one of the most important initiatives in the Movement.It may have been in part behind the raid.It may have been being the decision of KAJ, one of the major Orthodox certification organisations in America, to stop supervising at Rubashkins.I am proud of Hekhsher Tzedek.

But I am ashamed and angry about this;

I am angry and ashamed because I, as a Kosher-observant Jew, have been turned into an accomplice to oppression.

Kol Yisrael Aravin zeh le Zeh - all of Israel is responsible for one another.

The corrupt and illegal hiring practices of Rubashkin's have wound up a wrecking ball that has now been cut loose and left to blow apart families and individuals least able to care for themselves.The corrupt and illegal hiring practices at Rubashkin's have placed a stumbling block before the blind -- economic migrants fleeing their lives of poverty in Latin America looking for a chance in the developed world.

And you must not put a stumbling block before the blind.

Not even in the Wilderness, not even in Potsville.

The verse

Lifnie Iver lo titein rnichshol -- you shall not put a stumbling block before the blind continues veyareita me-eloheicha ani Hl - and you shall fear your God, I am THE LORD

Why, ask the Rabbis ask is this extra bit of text included - you shall fear God.

Because the blind person who has just stumbled might not know if the noise of a stumbling block being placed before him was done ‘For his good or otherwise.’

And indeed no-one else might see the egregiousness done to this blind person.But God, God knows

The one who knows all thoughts. You shall fear that God,

even in fly-over territory where no-one really wants to look

Even in a slaughterhouse where we don’t look too closely because the whole business of producing kosher meat is,well, just a little too bloody for comfort.

But while we are digging around in Chapter 19 of the book of Leviticus let me share some another verse.

You shall not defraud your neighbor, nor rob him; the wages of he who is hired shall not remain with you all night until the morning

Or how about this one, from Deuteronomy

You shall not abuse a needy and destitute labourer.

Or this one from Malachi

I will act as a relentless accuser against those...

Who cheat labourers of their hire...said the Lord of Hosts.

(Malachi 3:5)

The Rubashkin scandal has barely featured in the Jewish Chronicle, but its been all over the blogosphere.Some have protested that these messy employment practices are an abuse of our requirement not to be a scoundrel in the face of the law

L fnin mishurat Kadin

But that misses the point entirely.

The problem is that employment regulations are halachah.It is prohibited to treat employees badly not from some cosy ethical standpoint.It is prohibited as a matter of din.

So where now?

I feel a sense of obligation to the families left in Postville, stripped of a source of labour that they should never havebeen offered, but now cannot do without.The local Churches are being overwhelmed by those indesperate need of support. I have pledged some of my own funds, anyone wishing to join me is invited to send a cheque to the shul marked for this purpose.

But there is also something else.

Something more important and far broader in its impact.

This grubby, far away, incident at Rubashkins threatens to draw the veil from all the things we don't want to see in these lives we live, driven by consumption.

Abraham Joshua Heshcel put it most forcibly.

why is it only required for butcher shops to be under religious supervision? Why not insist that banks, factories and those who deal in real estate require hekhshers and be operated according to religious laws? When a drop of blood is found in an egg, we abhor the idea of eating the egg, but often there is more than one drop of blood in a dollar or a lira and we fail to remind people constantly of the teachings of our tradition.

There is much in the papers and on the news about the horrors of price increases, fuel, food.

But the truth is that we pay too little for the resources we consume.

We cannot justify paying the paltry amounts we do for our food; even kosher meat, and we protest at the cost of kosher meat.

Rubashkin pay £5 an hour to their chicken pluckers. How much would you want to be paid to sit day after day in Iowa plucking chickens?

We cannot justify paying as little as we do because of the true cost of plundering the resources of the world is far greater than the £4.99 we might splash out on a T-shirt.

We cannot justify it because the true cost of a litre of diesel is far greater than £1.20 or even the £1.30 that is around the corner.

There is as Heshcel puts it blood in our dollars.

We are denuding our planet of natural resources and we are oppressing the poorest on our planet by forcing them-to turn these natural resources into consumables for our amusement and entertainment.

We assume our food, like the manna in the midbar, arrives miraculously and we drive down our prices because it makes us feel better.

We assume that clothes come ready made, without a sweatshop of Chinese tailors or Bangledeshi seamstresses having to pour over them.

We need, desperately, to being to take seriously the true cost of consumption.

We have become, since I have arrived here at New London, a Fair Trade Synagogue.

It's an embarssment, frankly.We get a certificate. You can see it in the kitchen. It means that we promise to serve only fair-trade coffee and chocolate, as long as its not too difficult for us to get these items.

How hard is that?

We need something far deeper

We need to relook at how much we really need to consume, compare it to how much food we throw away rotten, or clothes lying ever un-worn in our wardrobes.It's easy to point a finger at Rubashkin.

And Ido.

But we all need to take responsibility for the pressure put on suppliers of consumables to feed us, cloth us, tend our every whim.

We need to conduct personal consumption audits.

And we need to fear God.

veyareita me-eloheicha

For, in the final moments, our excesses of consumption and the oppression of the poor and the needy labourers we have all effectively imprisoned with our will to consume will stand before us, stacked up among the debits of our


Shabbat shalom

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