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  • Popper on Orthodox Jews & Agriprocessors

    by Steven I. Weiss

    The man who is largely responsible for bringing most of the Agriprocessors story to light takes a step back in the WSJ to reflect on why this has become such a big story, and what it says about Orthodox Judaism.

    These divisions are, at their most basic, about the proper way to interpret religious law and values: Should we read our ancient texts literally or adapt them to a changing world?

    Now that most of the Agriprocessors news has happened (whether or not Sholom Rubashkin is convicted of the crimes he’s been indicted for really won’t have much impact on community sentiment, since both those who think he’s guilty and those who don’t likely won’t change their minds if/when the verdict goes in the other direction), it’s appropriate to look at these past few years and think about the whys, wherefores, and howsos.

    On the basic point, about whether this entire Agriprocessors thing — this indictment, this immigration raid, this hand-wringing over what we’re really eating — is actually about what’s kosher and what’s not, if we’re true to ourselves and thorough in our examinations, will undoubtedly come out on the side of the latter.

    This couldn’t be more clearly highlighted than in Popper’s own piece here in the WSJ:

    As part of this push, these rabbis, who were representing the Conservative movement, created a new program, known as the Hekhsher Tzedek or Justice Certification, which aims to evaluate the business ethics of kosher producers.

    The Hekhsher Tzedek generated intense pushback in large segments of the Orthodox community, where there is a belief in strict adherence to the laws set down in the Jewish holy texts — these are the Antonin Scalias of the Jewish world, to continue the Supreme Court analogy. One influential Orthodox rabbi told me, “I don’t keep kosher because of some sense that it is the right thing to do socially — I do it because God said so.”

    Legal theories aside, what’s most clear is that the Hechsher Tzedek, much like the fight against Agriprocessors, isn’t actually about what’s kosher and what’s not. This is a point that the creators of Hekhsher Tzedek have tried to explain from the beginning, but which was ultimately made most clear when, a month and a half ago, they actually changed the name: it’s now Magen Tzedek, not Hekhsher Tzedek, to clear up any confusion over the issue of whether or not this new symbol can assert something is kosher that wasn’t, or assert something isn’t kosher that was.

    The battle over Agriprocessors wasn’t about what kosher is, was, or will be. What is it about, then? Many other things, and surely we’ll get to many of them soon.

    February 10, 2009 | Read more Newsdesk posts. No Comments »

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