Thursday, August 28, 2008

Outrage or Indifference

Guest Post by Dov Kay

The following is a response to a serious question posed on a private e-mail list that I would like to pose here. It was on based on the Agriprocessors controversy. The question is as follows: When comparing the Monsey butcher/Kashrus scandal to the Agriprocessors scandal - which event raises a greater sense of outrage in the Frum world? I am not discussing the validity of the claims made against Agriprocessors. They have yet to be proven and I am still reserving judgment. But for the sake of argument let us assume they are true.

Eating Non Kosher meat B’Anus ( by force of accident – not mistake) means that there are no Halachic consequences. That is because those who did so were not aware nor had any way of knowing they were doing so.

Yet the outrage when it was discovered that hundreds of observant Jews were duped into buying and then eating Treif meat was so enormous that the reaction was almost cathartic! It changed the way Hechsher organizations do business. And it was the talk of the Torah world for a long time. True - the Monsey Butcher was guilty of tremendous Michshol. Be he is really the only one with Halachic consequences. He is the one who requires major Teshuva.

The Agriprocessors controversy has had an almost opposite reaction. In that controversy people suffered serious injuries. Some lost limbs (fingers) due to unsafe working conditions where 13 and 14 year olds were hired to use buzz-saws and similarly dangerous equipment! It seems that the more right wing one was, the more apologetic they were about those accusations. The sense of outrage was lacking.

One individual expressed his disgust at the fact that the Frum community was scandalized by the Monsey Kashrus scandal, but has not reacted the same way to charges against Agriprocessors. (His point wasn't whether these charges were proved, but people's reaction to the alleged offences.) In effect this was causing him a crisis of faith.

With permission - the following was Dov Kay’s response:

There is a Ger Tzedek in this town who likes to say that it is lucky he discovered Judaism before he discovered Jews.

At moments such as these, I find myself tending to strip “pure”, conceptual Judaism, which is beautiful and flawless, of its cultural and sociological trappings, a bit like the Rambam’s advice to abandon a depraved society by fleeing to the desert.

However, I am aware that this also runs the risk of being Poresh Midarkei Hatzibbur - separating oneself from the community - which the Rambam excoriates. I am also aware that it is this very din in the Rambam which Charedi ideology uses to justify its stance on Austritt and attitude to the outside world in general.

Given that I largely reject their stance, I am left even more sensitive to the need for balance in seeking a perfect, ethereal Judaism while loving flawed, flesh-and-blood Jews.

To some extent, the way in which you deal with the dilemma may depend on how you frame your conception of the tzibbur. Is it the members of your local Shul, or the transcendental, timeless community that is K’lal Yisroel? It was Paul Johnson who said about Rousseau that he loved humanity in general, but despised the individual human being.

Clearly, we need to avoid this attitude. Too much of the self-righteous waffle we hear around Tisha B’Av time about Ahavas Yisroel – love of the Jewish people - and Sinas Chinam – baseless hatred -suffers from this shortcoming, in my humble opinion.

I am a commercial property lawyer with many Frum clients who, it saddens me to say, tend to be more dodgey, to use an English expression, than their non-Frum counterparts - whether it’s outright asking me to lie or insisting on squeezing a price reduction out of the seller on the day of exchange, when the seller is over a barrel. (My Rav told me that this practice is permitted, but I think it is unethical nonetheless.)

What upsets me even more than the dishonesty is the indifference to it in the community from whence it arises. I recently listened to an mp3 Shiur by a respected Charedi Dayan with expertise in Choshen Mishpat. (See - and for links to these often stimulating Shiurim).

The Dayan concluded his Shiur on Halacha and the Conveyancing Process by arguing that the suggestion that Charedi Jews are more dishonest than their non-Frum counterparts in untrue and probably a slander invented by irreligious Jews to make themselves feel better about their lack of observance.

It is this spirit of denial and refusal to engage in a communal Cheshbon Hanefesh that has caused me to “change camps” as far as the Charedi/RZ/MO divide is concerned. This is not intended as Chizuk, but just a simplified description of my personal journey.

The individual experiencing a crisis of faith should be Zocheh to make his own journey and arrive safely at his destination! Chazak v’Nischazak.