Thursday, December 11, 2008

Avi Shafran and the New York Times

I'm going to presume up front that its the reporter's fault that Avi Shafran comes across like an obstructionist goon in the Time's article about the kosher conference at YU last night. Surely he was misquoted. The Times is evil, and never met a Jew it liked. OK? Satisfied?

Now here's what happened:

Four of our leading Orthodox lights - Shafran included - gathered in front of an audience at YU last night to debate questions of kashrus and ethics like "what to do if you suspect that the kosher meat on your table has been butchered and packed by 16-year-old Guatemalan girls forced to work 20-hour days under threat of deportation." Shafran's role in the in the discussion was mentioned twice by the Times, and he didn't come off well either time:

In a more pointed comment, Rabbi Avi Shafran, who has defended the prerogative of the Orthodox rabbinate against what he sees as well-meaning but misguided efforts to add social-justice protections to the criteria for the production of kosher food, said, “Lapses of business ethics, animal rights issues, worker rights matters — all of these have no effect whatsoever on the kosher value.”

Agreed, but this isn't, and shoudn't, be construed as an issue of kashrus. We all agree that the way in which meat reaches our table has no bearing on its kashrus. We also agree that its wrong to exploit workers or to abuse animals. So why does Avi make it about kashrus whenever someone starts talking about exploitation? Why does he dig in his heels and remind us that this has "no effect whatsoever on the kosher value?" We know that. Thanks! What we want is for the Orthodox leadership to stop insisting on its perogative to say what is and isn't kosher, and instead find ways to solve issues of exploitation.

This is precisely how Avi and Aguda behaved when the rest of us were sick to our stomach about Kolko the pedophile. Instead of marshaling the Aguda troops to find ways to protect children, Avi made common cause with the Catholic Church to undermine a NY State law which would require parochial schools to report abusive teachers. Rather than expending his enegies on behalf of the victims, he went to work protecting the perogatives of the leadership. Now, the issue is exploited workers and abused animals, and Avi is playing the same selfish game.

Here's Avi's next mention in the article. It isn't much prettier and it drives home my point:

"There is nothing in Jewish law that conflates the status of kosher food with the way the food is produced,” Rabbi Shafran said in a phone interview Wednesday. “What sticks in our craw,” he said, referring to the proposed seal, “is that it is following the zeitgeist rather than following the law. It falsifies the integrity of Jewish law.”

Protecting the rights of workers is "following the zeitgeist?" Sorry, I though it was a law enshrined in the same Torah that told us about kashrus (though admittedly the laws about kashrus are harder to parse, and not nearly as straightforward as the worker-protection rules.)

Let me see if I understand this. It's OK for Brooklyn zealots to blame everything evil under the sun on skirt lengths and to post placards and make speeches condemning women who dress immodestly. That's fine. That's Judaism. Of that Agudah approves. But let people make the same sort of self-righteous noise on behalf of the weakest and the most vulnerable and that... THAT! "sticks in your craw?"Jewish law has rules about kashrus, and it also has rules about behaving properly in business. Avi, can you please separate them in your mind? Instead of being so defensive, and so worried about the rights of the leadership, why not act from strength and do something to help those who need it most?

Buy my book. (please)

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