Monday, April 11, 2016

Can Jewish observance continue as it is?

Is observance for the wealthy only?
Our son has the rather discouraging theory that the cost of being an observant Jew drives Jews away from observance.  He's of the opinion that many of the rabbinic rules seem to be based on the assumption  that all Jews have money to burn.  Personally, I think he has a point.  Everything from a rabbinic requirement to use only filtered or bottled water in New York City, which has the dubious distinction of having had its drinking water declared treif, to opinions that a kashrut observer who wants to use a dishwasher for both meat and dairy dishes must own separate meat and dairy dishwashers, simply take it for granted that all Jews can afford what many non-Jews might well consider a complete waste of money.  Apparently, some folks think that those of us Jews who would happily observe the laws of kashrut/keeping kosher but who might have trouble affording even two sets of dishes, much less two dishwashers, can just go jump in a creek.

As dilbert commented to the first linked post, "What I find nowdays is that in formulating a pesak [binding opinion regarding halachah/Jewish religious law], variables that are more quantifiable get more weight than non quantifiable ones. A common theme in pesak 200 years ago is that it was rare to find the chicken of a poor person to be deemed not kosher on erev Shabbat. In other words, all possible leniencies were brought to bear to make sure the person did not go hungry. I think the case unfortunately would be judged differently nowadays . . . "

Whatever happened to Baal Tashchit?
The prohibition against being wasteful (baal tashchit) seems to play second fiddle to many other halachot (religious laws).  Why should we have to leave our lights on all Shabbat (Sabbath) just to avoid breaking the rule against turning electrical devices on or off on Shabbat?  And what's wrong with "biblical kashrut," that the rabbis had to add a requirement for separate dishes, etc., for dairy foods and meat foods?  Our son has another good question:  What will happen when our earth's environment can no longer tolerate this kind of wastefulness--what will observant Jews  do when leaving lights on for days at a time (for example, when one of the Shalosh Regalim/Pilgrimage Festivals is followed by Shabbat) becomes illegal?


Blogger Richardf8 said...

The answer, I think, is to throw out every silly chumra that has been codified into a psak over the past 40 years. This nonsense comprises nothing but chidushim, and are best ignored.

I'm not even going to ask about the reason they decided that NYC tap water is traif (I had thought it was merely chametz; another notion too silly to be treated seriously).

But seriously, a paskan only derives power from people willing to accept his rulings.

Mon Apr 11, 11:45:00 PM 2016  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

It's like this, Richardf8 (Reform BT?): As stated in the linked post (see link #1), "some rabbis declared that the tap water in New York City contains tiny crustaceans and is, therefore, treif/trayf (not kosher) unless filtered." "Copepods," they call 'em. Yep, a miniscule shellfish that can't be seen by the untrained eye is causing all this grief.

Throwing out recent chumrot (unnecessarily? strict interpretations of halachah) would certainly help. But, as you said, a posek derives his authority from people willing to accept his rulings. And too many people are trying too hard to be strict in their observance to avoid being mistaken, heaven forbid, for non-Orthodox, a point that even my Orthodox commenter Dilbert concedes.

But even ditching chumrot won't solve the fundamental problem that being observant is expensive and wasteful. The laws requiring separate dishes, tableware, utensils, pots, etc., for meat foods and dairy foods are probably thousands of years old, at this point, and even the law against turning electrical devices on or off on Shabbat is probably over a century old by now. What the heck can we do about *those* rules?

Tue Apr 12, 11:27:00 AM 2016  
Blogger Jeanne Barrack said...

You mean all those years when I lived in Brooklyn I was drinking treif water? Did we get a retroactive pass for this? Bottled water?Oy!

Tue Apr 12, 04:50:00 PM 2016  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Jeanne, welcome to my blog!

The "treif water" ruling dates back to around 2004, so whether you broke the rule depends on when you lived in Brooklyn.

That said, I've broken plenty of rules because I didn't know they existed, so I hope we *both* get a retroactive pass. :)

Tue Apr 12, 05:35:00 PM 2016  
Blogger The Physicist said...

I don't normally chime in on these things, but as the one being used as the source I figure now is a good time. Just to get this out of the way, I do not hold truck with a large number of these types of rules in general. For example, I have yet to see an argument for the electricity ban that doesn't fall apart under the slightest bit of scientific knowledge of how electricity works (there are of course certain USES of electricity that are clearly banned, but not ANY AND ALL uses).

The argument here though is on the unreasonableness and unnecessary expense involved in some of these rules. This entire topic, in fact, came up because of Passover. AN entire separate set of everything to be used only for 8 days a year? Talking not just about the separate dishes for Passover, but the separate dishes in general: why do we do this? Surely this in unnecessary and unreasonable for most people, who do not have custom kitchens, who do not have the space for multiple dishes, who have one sink and one dishwasher.

Clearly, in biblical times this was never done. It might be months worth of earnings just to purchase a single plate for each person in your family in those times; they certainly did not have different dishes for milk and meat, let alone Passover. They simply did not eat them at the same time and cleaned up for Passover, and that was enough. Certainly we clean our plates far better than they did, so it can't be about residue. We even have better food sourcing, so the chances of a mixup are far lower for us than they were for them. Why was it good enough for them and not for modern Jews?

Part of it certainly is the practice of "building a fence around the law." This is the same logic that says poultry is meat, even though it can't possibly be exposed to mothers' milk since birds don't have any. But I think that some of it is also simple elitism; the desire to show that Jews are different and thus better than the gentiles. We shouldn't need the extra expense, the extra large houses, the custom kitchens that the tradition of so thoroughly separating milk and meat brings. Washing dishes in between meals should be enough. Even a large amount of kosher supervision is unnecessary; how can grain or even more ridiculously sponges be traif? But instead, we have this custom, and woe betide those who don't stick to them, for they shall be cast out and called fake Jews.

Someday, there will be laws that contradict these kinds of rules. Someday, paper will be replaced completely by ebooks. Someday, having multiple sets of dishes will be unaffordable. Someday using electricity on lights or gas on burners for long periods without direct purpose will be banned. Based on continuing population growth and depletion of resources, these are inevitabilities. The question is, will Judaism die out or become the province only of the very rich as it becomes increasingly impossible to stick to increasingly stringent standards of observance and strident calls to ritual puritanism?

Wed Apr 13, 01:14:00 PM 2016  
Blogger Richardf8 said...

The question is, will Judaism die out or become the province only of the very rich as it becomes increasingly impossible to stick to increasingly stringent standards of observance and strident calls to ritual puritanism?

Honestly, Physicist, I think that this is at once the crux of the issue and a false dichotomy. The crux, because an escalation of stringencies is at the heart of the problem, and a false dichotomy because it overlooks the possibility of practicing Judaism while eschewing these stringencies. The Conservative movement just permitted the use of Kitniyot. There ARE ways of being Jewish that don't entail following every new chumra, and are even open to discarding some of the old ones.

Unfortunately, there is also a pervasive myth that difficulty is equivalent to authenticity. As long as people accept that notion, the problem will persist.

And Shira - yes, ReformBT. I had an email address change and registered a new google account.

Fri Apr 15, 11:47:00 PM 2016  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"Unfortunately, there is also a pervasive myth that difficulty is equivalent to authenticity. As long as people accept that notion, the problem will persist."

Unfortunate, indeed, but probably true. :(

I haven't quite decided to ditch the kitniyot prohibition just yet, as I've been observing it all of my 67 years. That said, my parents did not consider green beans kitniyot, as NY Ashkenazim do. Also, the *only* non-chocolate candy that we could get kosher for Passover when we were growing up was sesame candy, which was literally sesame seeds "glued" with honey into small rectangles. It took me years to realize that I couldn't find kosher for Passover halva, tachina, or good old sesame candy here because NY Ashkenazim consider seeds kitniyot. Maybe I'll go back to eating green beans and seeds during Pesach.

Mon Apr 18, 02:04:00 PM 2016  
Blogger Richardf8 said...

Just because you grew up not eating certain foods because they were kitniyot does not mean that you have to observe a ban on every NEW food the "NY Ashkenazim" decide are kitniyot each successive pesach. Define your tradition and adhere to it. If you're OK with green beans and fresh peas, but not so much with rice and corn, great. But just because some idiot with a Shtreimel and Smicha says "we're not allowed to sesame seeds any more" doesn't mean you have to jump on that bandwagon.

And OK, you've got 19 years on me, but seriously? You couldn't get those fruit-slice gel things?

Tue Apr 19, 12:32:00 AM 2016  
Blogger Richardf8 said...

Oh, and Gebrokts . . . Don't get me started on that, any Jew who won't eat a Matzoh Ball on Pesach is a heretic, as far as I'm concerned. OTOH, I think that this particular ban probably works to your advantage, since it puts so much Gluten Free Passover stuff into the marketplace.

Tue Apr 19, 12:37:00 AM 2016  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

How could I have forgotten good old "fruit slices?" Thanks for the reminder, Richard/Reform BT. Basically, we could eat anything that was made by Barton's. I forgot that they also made non-chocolate candy. I don't remember whether it was Barton's that made the sesame candy.

My parents served both green beans and sesame candy, but not fresh peas, which they (or their rabbi) considered kitniot. Go figure.

Aside from family minhag/custom, there's another issue to consider, I understand. In recent years, I read somewhere that one was not supposed to add to the list of foods considered kitniyot, which originated in Ashkenazi areas of Europe. So how did corn (maize) and peanuts get declared kitniyot, given that they're both New World plants unknown in Europe until roughly the 15th century?

Ah, good old Gebrokts (matzah or matzah products that are dampened after the matzah is baked--matzah balls are a prime example). Some Ashkenazim hold that Gebrochts might accidentally contain chametz, and refuse to eat matzah except in its totally-dry form. Those who limit themselves to "Non-Grebrocht" miss out on a lot of good food. But as you said, that works quite nicely for folks who can't eat wheat or any form of gluten. As our old friend, who's also gluten-intolerance says, "Bless the non-gebrochts people." :) Yep, some of us stock up every Pesach. :)

Wed Apr 20, 07:18:00 PM 2016  
Anonymous Woodrow/Conservadox said...

1. Even Orthodox Jews don't all follow the "bugs in the water" thing. When I lived in Forest Hills, I asked the rabbi of the first shul I joined, and he didn't think it was a problem. Certainly for an observant Conservative Jew its pretty much irrelevant- and I suspect that its also not an issue in liberal-minded modern Orthodox communities like Riverdale. (In more haredi places, its probably an issue but low housing costs more than make up for the cost of whatever they do to filter their water).

2. Re dishwashers: I've lived without dishwashers- not everywhere, but in some apartments I've lived. If you use predominantly meat or dairy, it won't kill you to hand wash dishes for the 10% of the time you deviate from that pattern (or use disposables).

3. As far as electricity- I find that what I lose from one or two lights being on 24 hours, I save from not turning on the other lights. (At any rate, not a problem for observant Conservatives like yourself). So I think the wastefulness argument is pretty silly.

And from the pattern of my electricity bills, I think heating/cooling is what uses up huge amounts of energy, not keeping lights on. For example, I've come home from vacations where I forgot to turn off a light or two, but my bill was only a couple of dollars more than the normal bill. So I suspect that I could have my lights on every hour every day for a month and my electricity bill would STILL be less than it would be in a hot summer where the air conditioning is on.

Certainly there are many silly stringencies out there- but I don't think that most of them are particularly costly for most people most of the time (except in hassle and time perhaps).

Mon May 02, 11:50:00 AM 2016  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

" I think heating/cooling is what uses up huge amounts of energy, not keeping lights on."

And leaving a couple of air conditioners running for several days straight (Yom Tov/Shabbat combination), even if the temperature doesn't warrant them being on for so long, isn't wasteful?

Buying foods specifically for Pesach when you have perfectly good food already in the house isn't wasteful (or, at least, an added expense)?

Why do you find the wastefulness argument silly?

Thu May 05, 01:55:00 PM 2016  

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