The Jewish Press, the nationally distributed, Brooklyn-based Orthodox weekly, can be counted on to lean pretty far to the right when it comes to both politics and religion. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised by a pair of remarkably progressive (by contemporary Orthodox standards) opinion articles on two hot-button religious controversies that were published last week by The Jewish Press.
The first was an article titled “What Price Kashrus?” by Steve K. Walz. The article appears, of course, in the wake of the controversy raging over labor practices at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa, the nation’s largest kosher meat plant. Although Walz doesn’t explicitly reference that controversy, it seems a safe bet that it wasn’t far from his mind when he wrote the following: “Kashrus isn’t just about performing a ritual act. Otherwise the act itself is hollow or empty. The ritual must be performed in a humane manner, by people who act in a civilized manner, to both two-legged and four-legged beings.”
Meanwhile, in an essay titled “Love The Convert,” Rabbi Eliezer Melamed wades into the ongoing controversy over conversion standards. These controversies, of course, recently reached a fever pitch after an Israeli rabbinic court called into question the validity of conversions that had been performed by the Orthodox head of Israel’s conversion authority, in part because it deemed one of his past converts to now be insufficiently observant.
Melamed, however, doesn’t seem to be particularly sympathetic to the notion of revoking a convert’s Jewishness ex post facto. “Just as a Jew who does not yet observe all of the commandments of the Torah is nonetheless considered Jewish, so a convert who subsequently neglects the Torah remains Jewish,” he writes.
Melamed also weighs in on the side of Orthodox liberals on the question of what constitutes a valid commitment to Jewish observance for a potential convert. While many in the Orthodox world insist that a convert must agree in advance to observe all the commandments, others take a more lenient approach. For his part, Melamed notes that many Orthodox authorities hold that a prospective convert can be accepted if that person “is prepared in principle to accept upon himself the yoke of the Torah and its commandments” — even if that person “believes that from time to time he will have to transgress some of the commandments.”
UPDATE: A commenter named Helen writes:
Actually, the Jewish Press has been holding down the fort as a centrist Orthodox, religious Zionist paper while much of Brooklyn Orthodox Jewry has been moving ever rightward. Compared to the other religious papers out there the Jewish Press is quite sane. Their weekly Arts page deals with topics other Orthodox publications wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole, and ditto for the Jewish Press’s coverage of such topics as abuse in the Orthodox community, gay husbands forced to marry unsuspecting women because of community pressure to conform, etc.
I thought it was important to highlight this comment, since it suggests that I didn’t do justice to all the nuances of the subject. I will add, however, that The Jewish Press’s editorial line has, in fact, been pretty friendly to Agriprocessors and not particularly friendly toward efforts to facilitate the conversion of Russian immigrants in Israel.