Virtual Talmud

A Palestinian gunmen today walked into Merkaz Harav Yeshiva gunning down eight boys in the middle of prayers. This horrible act of terror is but another sad chapter in this 60-year war. Yet, it represents an emerging trend in the sorry state of relations between Palestinians and Israelis–one based in the house of study. As this war continues, it’s bloodying and blurring the lines between what is politics and what is theology, what is sacred and what is profane, and what is holy and what is secular. A 60-year battle is being re-turned into an eternal war.
To understand the significance of this act one needs to understand who and what is Merkaz ha-Rav. Simply put, the act is nothing short of a Jew walking in to Al-Ahzar University or Notre Dame and wantonly killing Christians taking the Eucharist or Muslims prostrating themselves to Allah. Mercaz is the leading religious Zionist learning center. It is also a hotbed of settler ideology and the recent events will only further radicalize the student body.

We took up the question of the Conservative Movement’s Hecksher Tzedek a few months back and I am glad Rabbi Grossman brought it up again. At the time I was taken aback by the negative comments that some had posted opposing Hecksher Tzedek as an attempt to foist non-Jewish (ie, contemporary liberal American) values onto Jewish practice, as though Jewish practice were some timeless and monolithic institution that didn’t respond to changing values and mores. One of the reasons Judaism is as rich, varied, and resonant as it is, is that Jews were constantly adapting to changing circumstances and surrounding culture, and their practices adapted with them. It’s a point I’ve made many times before on this blog: Judaism is created by the Jewish people and evolves through time, rather than remaining static and fixed. Protesting that caring about the treatment of animals–or workers, or the environment–is somehow not a “Jewish” position is preposterous, especially because it doesn’t involve contravening any existing laws. I don’t see how one can possibly oppose the idea of this hecksher unless they have a vested interest in the current monopoly over kosher certification or believe that any innovation is wrong on its face.

If the term ‘kosher’ means fit, or done right, is the food we eat ‘kosher” if it’s produced using unethical practices? What if it meets all other technical requirements? Conservative Rabbi Morris Allen says, “no”. For Rabbi Allen, it is not enough to be concerned about the ritual specifics of the kosher food we eat without also being concerned about the ethical issues raised by its production, processing, and marketing.
This realization grew out of Rabbi Allen’s “Chew by Choice” program, which he began to encourage kosher observance in his congregation. He soon realized that ritual observance divorced from ethical observance is inconsistent with Jewish values. Thus was born Heksher Tzedek, now a national program of the Conservative Movement.

Rabbi Stern is right to protest that we should not be judging someone on their religious affiliation. However, he is wrong to uncritically pass along the very information that has been circulating in anti-Obama email smears.
If Rabbi Stern had checked out his sources, he would have discovered that the right wing articles he cites are full of inaccuracies. If he had checked with any impartial journalistic source, like the New York Jewish Week, he would have discovered that Zbigniew Brzezinski does not serve on Obama’s campaign and has had no input on Obama’s Middle East policy. Rather, Obama’s Middle East foreign policy advisors include such strong pro-Israel advocates as former Clinton advisors as Dennis Ross, Dan Shapiro, and Anthony Lake.
As for Samantha Powers as a foreign policy advisor in Obama’s campaign, a spokesperson for the NJDC, recently told me that Powers does not advise Obama on Middle East matters and that his Middle East advisors include many conservative pro-Israel advisors. The spokesperson said, “…The most important thing to keep in mind is that Obama has a strong voting record on Israel, his campaign has a released an array of strong pro-Israel proposals and he speaks eloquently in support of Israel. As Jewish Democrats, it is comforting to know that whoever our nominee is will be pro Israel.” That is supported by recent statements from AIPAC, as I mentioned in my last post.