Friday, March 01, 2013

Great moments in Rabbinic Over Reaching

Today the Daily News tells us about Jezabel, a kosher Manhattan restaurant, and its encounter with the kashrus police at the Orthodox Union. According to the paper the restaurant changed its name to JSoho at the OU's request/suggestion.

There are two ways to interpret the story:

After the restaurant applied to the OU for kosher certification, the organization bullied the restaurant into changing its name. This is a clear example of rabbinic over reaching and the OU should be condemned for using its power inappropriately.

After the restaurant applied to the OU for kosher certification, the OU delivered some good advice, saying something like, "Hey, if you want to appeal to kosher consumers perhaps you shouldn't name your joint after an evil non-Jewish Queen who's often associated with promiscuity." This, of course, is excellent advice, and the owners were wise to act on it.

Unfortunately, the  account provided by the Daily News supports UNFAVORABLE READING. See for yourself. The report also includes a quote from R' Moshe Elefant in which the head of the OU's kashrut division clouds the issue even further.

"Jezebel was an evil person,” Rabbi Moshe Elefant, the head of the Orthodox Union’s kashrut division in charge of Jewish dietary laws, told the Daily News. “It is not appropriate to name a kosher restaurant after her. 

I agree but that's the restaurant's call. Not yours. Anyway, we see Tannaim named Ishamael (also an evil person) and modern day Sefardim called Nimrod. So it would seem these things have a statute of limitations. Besides, calling the place Solomon or David is no better. Over the course of history, there have been evil people with both names.

“The Talmud [Bible] [sic] is clear,” he added. “The basis in Jewish law is that a name has significant influence on who you are, what you are and who you represent.” 

This is mysticism masquerading as halacha. Of course, your name is important. But there's nothing magical about it. When I meet someone called Humbert P Horfillnilly I am going to relate to him differently than I would relate to someone called John Kennedy. That's human nature. For the same reason, choosing the right name for a restaurant is an important marketing decision. But like any other marketing decisiosn that's the owner's call. All the OU is asked to do is indicate if the food is kosher. Naming the place isn't their role or responsibility and by connecting it to the kashrus certification, they crossed into bullying.

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