Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Race to Frumkeit - and Me

Part of the negative fallout with the ascendancy of  the Charedi world is the well known phenomenon of sliding to the right. (Which I prefer calling the great Chumra chase.) One might ask, ’What’s wrong with being more religious?’ Nothing wrong with it. Whether as individuals or as a group. People have the right to incorporate every Chumra they choose in an effort to serve God in the best possible way. Unless it impacts people beyond their world.

With the Charedi world growing by leaps and bounds the Chumra chase filters into other Orthodox communities. Many of which use the Charedi model as the standard one should aspire to. Even if there is no Halachic requirement to do so. Which is why so few mainstream weddings and banquets have men and women seated together. I understand why they do it. They see it as a Hiddur – a better form of modesty between men and women to not have them sit at a table together. But it is certainly not a Halachic requirement. Especially at banquets.

This mentality is why organizations like the Eida HaCharedis Hechsher (Kosher certification)  is seen as the most reliable Hechsher in Israel. They are probably the most widely accepted Hechsher. One sought by many food producers and restaurants. Even though there are other trustworthy Hechshers, this one is by far the most trusted.

I was told why by one Charedi individual in Israel: They do not compromise. If you do not meet their standards, they do not give you their Hechsher.  Whther they are worthy of that reputation is another question. But that is how thy are seen and every food purveyor wants one. Since it increases their business by enabling every consumer in the Frum world and beyond to buy their products and services.

Which of course gives them a lot of power. That kind that has enabled the Eida to do set whatever standards they choose regardless of whether those standards are Halachic or not! They are also the most expensive certifiction to get. If I understand correctly their fees are the highest in the industry. If you don’t want to use them, they don’t care. They don’t need your business and it’s your loss!

So far all of this is perfectly legal and ethical. Their growth and power is an outgrowth of the basic economic principle of supply and demand. 

What makes this problematic is the demand side of the equation. The slide to the right is what keeps them in power - increasing it as the Charedi community grows. Even though new Kosher certification agencies in Israel have increased that has not helped matters. The more Hechsehrim there are, the more confusing the Hechsher equation becomes. The more then - one might seek the tried and true Eida Hechsher so there can be no doubt about the prodcut or service you are buying.

That kind of power enables the Eida not only to set high Kashrus standards, it enables them to set racist standards and even Hashkafic standards. Which they have recently done with the Kosher wine industry. 

There is a special Halacha in Kashrus that applies only to wine. Briefly it is based on the biblical prohibition against drinking or using Yayin Nesach – wine used in idolatrous practice. There is a rabbinic extension of this law that applies to Stam Yeinam – wine of idolators even if not used in idolatrous practice, even if they are not idol worshipers  themselves. Even if they only touch it. This prohibition applies even to Jews that do not observe Shabbos. (There is secondary reason mentioned in the Gemarah of preventing intermarriage which drinking wine with non Jews might lead to.)

The Eida has decided that to receive their Hechsher - no Ethiopian Jews may work anywhere near the wine being produced. This has been called racist by Israel’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi, Yaakov Yosef. 

And now even I am now considered to be unfit to touch wine. Why? Because I wear a Kipa Seruga (knitted Kipa). In order to get an Eida Hechsher, the Eida now requires that Kipa Seruga type Jews (who are mostly associated with Religious Zionism) must be removed from all areas where wine is processed in order to be qualified to receive their Hechsher.

This of course has absolutely nothing to do with observing Shabbos. It has to do with politics, plain and simple. With this new condition they have essentially declared that if a bottle of wine is touched by me or anyone who wearing a Kipa Seruga  it must be poured out and not used in any way.

The unmitigated gall of Pasuling so many religious Jews because of this nonsense is breathtaking in its scope. Remember how trusted they are by the growing Charedi world. Which as noted above impacts the entirety of Orthodoxy. Does this mean that the Charedi world now sees anyone wearing a Kipa Seruga to be Pasul L’Eidus - are they going to retroactively void Gittin (religious divorces) where a Kipa wearing Jew was a witness? 

This is sick! And in my view a major Chilul HaShem that should be called out, not only by the Sephardi Chief Rabbi, but by every single rabbinic leader worthy of that title anywhere in the world. They should not continue to be seen as the most reliable Hechsher by anyone.  Not to mention the fact that the Eida looks the other way when some of their own people cause one Chilul HaShem after another. Like when some of their constituents harass Charedi soldiers.

This is the price of Frumkeit gone wild. Sure, they are very Machmir on certain things. They are very careful to avoid being influenced by outside culture. They urge isolation from the rest of the world toward that goal. Their interpretation  of modesty is far more stringent than the rest of Orthodoxy. To the point of erasing women from the public sphere as much as possible.

And yet, Frumkeit seems to be prevailing regardless of the cost. Other observant Jews be damned!

It would be great if Israelis could boycott their Hechsher, but they might as well boycott food, that is how pervasive their Hechsher is. 

I don’t see things getting any better. As long as Frumkeit is king and they are seen as the Frummest among us, things can only get worse.