Saturday, February 21, 2009

The sequel, as promised (re kashrut controversy)

Here's the original.

When I asked the rabbi whether he'd checked out the local bakeries and determined that they were kosher, he gave me a very interesting response. He said that he'd seen a very Orthodox man coming out of one or two of the bakeries, and, therefore, assumed that they must be kosher. Regarding another one or two of the bakeries, he said that there was nothing wrong with the ingredients that they were using, but it wasn't clear from what he said whether he himself had checked out the bakeries or whether he was relying on the word of some congregants.

In other words, he didn't actually answer my question.

He told me that, in matters of kashrut, he tends to be meikil (lenient). That, I can believe.

Bottom line:

  • I find myself in the rather dubious position of having to decide whether, regarding what I'll eat in my own synagogue, I want to be more kosher than my Orthodox-ordained rabbi.

יד לֹא-תְקַלֵּל חֵרֵשׁ--וְלִפְנֵי עִוֵּר, לֹא תִתֵּן מִכְשֹׁל; וְיָרֵאתָ מֵּאֱלֹהֶיךָ, אֲנִי יְהוָה. 14 Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling-block before the blind, but thou shalt fear thy God: I am the LORD.

Since only we congregants know about the change in the synagogue's kashrut policy, any of the folks from the local Orthodox synagogues who occasionally stop by for kiddush on a Shabbat/Sabbath or Yom Tov/Holiday will think that our cakes are still being bought from bakeries that are under rabbinical supervision, especially when they see our own rabbi eating the cakes. In my opinion, this is a violation of the prohibition against "putting a stumbling-block before the blind," which the rabbis of old interpreted as meaning that one shouldn't cause a person to sin due to ignorance or temptation. But how am I supposed to explain to an Orthodox guest that our Orthodox-appearing rabbi is eating cake from a bakery without rabbinical supervision? I'll grant you that there may be nothing the rabbi can do to change the congregation's decision, especially if he doesn't want to jeopardize his job. But just because the congregants are eating the cake, does that mean that the rabbi must do so, as well?

From a comment to the linked post:

"Too Old to Jewschool Steve said...

. . . Your rabbi is eating with the congregation, not leaving before kiddush. Not only may he have satisfied himself as to the bakery's kashrut, but perhaps he has decided that respect for the congregation and facilitating community is more important."

I would say that that's a possibility, but, judging by the gusto with which the rabbi's been digging into the cake--even ignoring the "real" food, such as tuna salad, which is still being bought with a hechsher (rabbinical seal certifying that a product is kosher)--I'm not sure how likely that is.

To be honest, I find this whole situation embarrassing.

  • There's also the rather pressing question of whether opening my big mouth to visitors might create a financial hazard for me, since the rabbi already threatened to sue me once for a much more trivial offense than calling his interpretation and/or observance of the laws of kashrut into question.
"Let them eat cake," huh? That was easier for Marie Antoinette to say than it is for a 21st-century Jew.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shira, I happen to think you're right on this one. Notwithstanding my prior comments, when it involves a greater community, a sufficient amount of whom may have stricter standards, there's a good case for holding by the stricter standard. While I don't have a good answer for you, vis-a-vis your shul, I don't think its appropriate to raise the issue with outsiders/visitors. This is your Rabbi's job.
My regular shul is conservative in a town with at least 5 O congs., and with frequent crossover at kiddush, especially for simchas. There is a local deli in a nearby town under the supervision of the C rabbi in that town. While most of our members will eat there, they are not approved for catering at our shul, which only permits those establishments supervised by the local O Vaad (or some equivalent supervision), although our Rabbi cannot serve on the Vaad. But this way, anyone who will actually step into the building will be able to eat. However, a friend of mine is the Rabbi at a cong. some distance away, but knows well the C-supervised establishment (he previously worked in the area) and does permit them to cater at his shul!
One can argue that this is the problem with pluralism.

Mon Feb 23, 07:28:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Steve, since there are Orthodox synagogues within walking distance of our local Conservative synagogue and there is a certain amount of kiddush crossover, this is a concern. As far as I can discern, though, I'm one of maybe two people in our synagogue who are concerned--and the other person who's concerned isn't our rabbi. :( Given the rabbi's background, I just don't get it. It may very well be the rabbi's job to raise the issue with visitors, but I don't think it's likely that he'll do so, because I don't think that *he* sees this as an issue. I'm not sure whether the problem of Orthodox Jews eating unsupervised cake in our synagogue hasn't occurred to him, or whether he just considers non-members irrelevant to his decision.

As for the minority of congregants who'd like to see a stricter kashrut standard maintained, our rabbi, like Larry Hentoff's former Conservative rabb--see the comments to this post-- simply expects all of us congregants to go along with his lenient interpretation of the laws of kashrut, and, like Larry's wife, I've made myself unpopular by opposing that approach.

Mon Feb 23, 09:00:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Your rabbi may have orthodox smicha, but he's the rabbi of a conservative shul. Ergo, he's not orthodox. While there was a pass given for some Ortho rabbis back in the '60s to take traditional (i.e., non mechitza conservo) shuls), that's not really the case any more. He's as much a conservative Jew as you are, and apparently, not terribly strict on kashrut. where his ordination came from is irrelevent to who he is now.

Wed Feb 25, 04:56:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

JDub, the interesting thing about this situation is that not only is our rabbi currently employed in a right-wing Orthodox boy's yeshiva, he has also undertaken a course of advanced rabbinic studies with the intention of obtaining a position in the Orthodox rabbinate. I know this sounds cynical, but I can't help thinking that he's enjoying being lenient while he can still get away with it. He's not Conservative, he's just enjoying the free ride, that is, he's taking advantage of the relative lack of communal expectations that he tow the halachic line.

Thu Feb 26, 07:12:00 PM 2009  

Post a Comment

<< Home

<< List
Jewish Bloggers
Join >>