Monday, July 11, 2011

Frumkeit - Symbolism over Substance

Rabbi Moshe Heinemann is not a man known as an extremist. He is in fact about as mainstream a Posek as one will ever find. He happens to be pretty lenient in some his Hechsher polices.

An example is his Hechsher organization the Star-K. One will find the Star-K on Kitchenaid ovens. Rabbi Heinemann has been able to work with this major oven manufacturer and their engineers to design a ‘Sabbath Mode’ function into it. The Sabbath Mode is an almost indispensible requirement in our day of electronic ‘bells and whistles’ on all appliances that are activated at the mere opening of a door. The Sabbath Mode shuts those things off. Rabbi Heinemann allows the use of such ovens on Shabbos. However his Heter of opening a door while this oven is on is not universally accepted.

Without getting into too much detail - Gramma or indirect Melacha is not permissible on Shabbos. Since these ovens are regulated by thermostats they tend to turn on when a door is opened as colder air from the room hits it. That is Gramma. The Sabbath feature does not change that. But Rabbi Heineman uses a loophole to allow it. There is apparently always a 2 minute delay between the moment the air hits the thermostat and the oven turning on the ovens heating element. Rav Heinemann is Mekil and hold that is a step removed from Gramma. But many Poskim still consider it Gramma.

Another example is that Rabbi Heineman’s Star-K uses women as Mashgichos as do nearly all other Kashrus agencies (to the best of my knowledge). Although women are allowed to serve as Mashgichos, it is not a slam dunk. The Rambam considers it Serrara. Most other Rishonim argue with the Rambam and we do not Paskin like him. But R’ Moshe Feinstein says it would be preferable if we honor the Rambam’s views L’Chatchila.

But when it comes to portraying themselves as Frum that is another story entirely.

A recent Star-K Kashrus flyer has a picture of their local Mashgichim on the back page. It was taken at a recent event honoring all their local Mashgichim and Mashgichos. But the female Mashgichos are not in that picture or any other picture in that flyer.

To the best of my knowledge there has never been any controversy about publishing pictures of women in non Chasidic circles until very recently.

The idea of not publishing pictures of women has been discussed here before. It is the Satmar-like Chasidim who go to such extremes. The non Chasidic Yeshiva world was never like that. But in the race for Frumkeit this now seems to be the order of the day! A Kashrus agency that is decidedly not Satmar has decided to join the ‘No pictures of women’ club. Just like many magazine publishers have. Why? I can only surmise that they do not want to be perceived as not Frum enough.

Symbolism over substance is the clarion call of today. We are becoming a Kingdom of extremists. But extremism does not make us a holy nation. It just makes us extreme. Chumra does not equal holiness.

Like I have said in the past, I have no problem if a particular segment has its own Chumros. My problem is that in a world constantly moving to the right, it is inevitable that the most extreme Chumros of others will find their way into the mainstream.

The avoidance of pictures of any female Mashgichos in a the Star-K Kashrus flyer is just another indication of that. If a moderate like Rabbi Heinemann has opted for this ‘Chumra’ it won’t be long before this Chumra becomes mainstream – if it hasn’t already. Those who do not follow it will be seen as left wing and Krum. Just like those who have mixed seating at their weddings or even banquets are seen now.

I see no way out of this trend. The race to be the Frummest person (or organization) on the block continues unabated. Frumkeit has becomes THE status symbol. And all I can do is watch it happen.