May 30, 2008

Problems With Postville Go Beyond Meat Prices

Federal agents raid the AgriProcessors plant and all the Forward chooses to focus on a possible shortage of kosher meat (“Raid on Kosher Slaughterhouse Sparks Fears of Meat Shortage,” May 23)? Where is your sense of indignation? Where is your sense of rage?

Isn’t the Forward offended by the fact that the owners of Agriprocessor have been peddling treyf under the guise of kosher? As somebody living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who has been buy their meat and who will not be buying it again, how can you think that this meat is kosher?

Why do you think Agriprocessors would be obeying Jewish ritual law when its owners have such contempt for state and federal law? Did not the prophets tell us to become good citizens of the land in which we live?

According to the Torah, the Jewish people observe kashrut as a means of being holy. How can anything be holy that violates the law, that does not pay workers a living wage and that was just fined by state health agencies for violating the law?

Yes, it is wrong to speak ill of another person. But it is even worse to lead others into sin. This is what the owners of Agriprocessors have done by passing off the truly treyf as being kosher.

For those of you living in major metropolitan areas, finding alternatives will be a lot easier than it will be for those of us living in the hinterlands. We may have to eat a lot more tuna — kosher, of course — and cheese, but at least we will not have to overpay our friends in Postville.

Existence Is Not the Only Moral Imperative

For opinion writer Yehezkel Dror, “existence” appears to be a slippery category that spans the range from the bare physical survival of Jews to Israel’s comparative influence on the international scene (“When Survival of the Jewish People Is at Stake, There’s No Place for Morals,” May 23).

In fact, existence by itself tells us nothing that we can balance against other values. We need to know what we mean by it — existence as what? — before we can enter it into a moral calculus.

And who gets to decide? Judging from Dror’s opinion article, existence is little more than a rhetorical device through which to justify convenient politics.

National existence can be stretched to explain away just about anything. Dror has produced a potential justification for suspension of democracy, ethnic cleansing and the use of nuclear weapons.

In view of Dror’s explicit endorsement of the use of weapons of mass destruction, it is not clear why he makes an exception for genocide — a nuclear attack, after all, could easily kill a third of a target nation’s population.

At first Yehezkel Dror appears be arguing that Jews should disregard moral imperatives if Israel’s existence is at stake. Later on he seems to be making the very different claim that Israel’s continued existence is the overriding moral imperative. Which is it he recommends — drop morality or recognize what morality requires?

Dror is also unclear regarding the precise interest he believes ought to have priority over any, or a least all other, moral concerns, but most often he seems to have the physical existence of the Jewish people in mind. But the very expression “physical existence,” when applied to the Jewish people and used as a synonym for Jewish survival, betrays a profound misunderstanding of what it is to be Jewish.

As mere physical, biological creatures with biological descendents, the best way for Jews to ensure their survival has long been and still is mass conversion and total assimilation. Obviously Dror would not want that.

Dror, like all those genuinely concerned with Jewish survival, is really interested in something more than mere physical existence. Unfortunately, Dror is so impressed — correctly — with the fact that physical existence is necessary for the existence of Jews, that he seems to forget the crucial fact that it is not sufficient — for we Jews are essentially a spiritual and historical people, and only incidentally a people that, for the most part, share a genetic background.

We can debate whether universal and Jewish morality endorses a particular policy in certain given circumstances, and we can debate whether a particular policy is effective or counterproductive in advancing Israel’s security and survival as a democratic, Jewish state. I suspect that Dror and I would disagree about the morality or effectiveness of many of these particulars.

However, I hope we all reject the advice implicit in Dror’s argument — namely, that the only way to ensure the continued existence of the Jews is for Jews to stop being Jewish. The encouragement to embrace amoral, no-holds-barred ethnocentrism amounts to nothing less than the injunction to abandon our Jewish identity.

A secure, democratic Jewish state is of enormous historical significance to the Jewish people, and we should do everything morally and Jewishly permitted to support it. But it is a human institution.

Let us not become state- or land-worshipping idolaters. To paraphrase a man of conscience from a different tradition, what profit the Jewish people if we gain some territories, if we thereby lose our Jewish soul and our claim on human decency.

Recommend this article

May 30, 2008

Thank you!

This article has been sent!