Wednesday, January 13, 2010

When Torah Has the Chance to Teach

A brief interlude in my progression of diatribes to call your attention to this story in the NY Times about kosher food at the Super Bowl. The article describes the rapid growth in the purchase of kosher meat among non-Jewish consumers. I was especially struck by those who buy kosher meat as a stand-in for organic or as a response to concerns about cruelty to animals. So many people are looking for express their values through their daily lives, and often they look to religion to provide that guidance. It is disturbing that many observant Jews think smugly that this trend confirms the inherent moral superiority of halakha. In fact, what it shows is that people want high moral standards and trust us when we claim to adhere to them, without examining the details. Which makes the reality that those high standards are applied only to the ritual aspects of halakha but not the moral aspects all the more disheartening. And makes ventures like Magen Tzedek all the more urgent.

To me, the most important verse in the Bible in terms of how we think about halakha in our world is Deut. 4:6: "For [the law] will be a sign of your wisdom and discernment before other nations." In a world where religious commitment is valued highly, we have the opportunity to model the adherence to high moral standards for all of American culture. But it doesn't work if we cling to fantasy that stringency about the laws of kosher meat magically lead to morality in some mystical, inscrutable way. It works if we return the moral demands of halakha to a central place alongside the ritual, if we examine ourselves and accept no less than the lofty spiritual discipline that we claim to represent.

1 comment:

  1. Right on. I marvel at how much kosher meat Trader Joe's seems to sell. And I think I know 75% of the people who keep kosher in my area.

    The kosher meat industry is, at best, an example of "naval b'rshut haTorah." Having attended the Hazon conference for the first time a few weeks ago, I was deeply impressed by how many Jews are committing themselves to the opposite - behaving "lifnim m'shurat hadin."