Saturday, March 3, 2007

Frumies @ Starbucks

There are no hypocrites when it comes to religion only inconsistent people. If it isn’t convenient a pilpulistic halachic loophole will be found. If it’s convenient a machmir will be instituted. Fifty years ago any yellow cheese was kosher. Today it had better be cholov Yisroel. Fifty years ago any ice cream was acceptable as long as it didn’t have any obvious and noticeable non kosher ingredients. Hirshey’s chocolate was kosher without a hechsher. So were Milky Way and Mars Bars. Ratners was frequented by frumies without a hechsher so was Greener Pastures. They were kosher because it was convenient for them to be kosher-just as its ok to frequent Starbuck’s even if they sell glatt treif ham sandwiches.

Today it is inconvenient to be kosher without a hechsher: if it lacks a hechsher, forget it. The hechsher business happens to be a big business today, and although they may be “not for profit” they are driven by profit. It’s gotten so bad with the competing hechsherim that we’ve pretty much splintered off into different frumie orbits. Inviting people to your home has become an impossible mission unless they are a homogenous group, all subscribing to the same hechsherim. Best Kosher is unacceptable to Agudah and Rubashkin is the hechsher of choice for Lubavitch/Chabad. This in and of itself becomes an unfortunate situation because diverse friendships are inadvertently discouraged. If you are an MO and invite a chabadnik for dinner it had better be their approved shechita or they won’t eat it. Pretty disturbing!!

It is so disturbing that my friend Harry Maryles addressed this issue in his blog Emes V’Emunah on September 25 “Protecting Oneself from Eating Treif”. In his essay he refers to the fact that there are Rabbis who bring their own food to simchas which are catered by respected companies with impeccable hechsherim. He writes of the “absurdity of not trusting recognized hashgachos that virtually every Rav of any stripe trusts, borders on that being a chasid shoteh…” He said it, not me and I couldn’t agree with him more. I’m surprised however, with his naiveté. Why is Harry so surprised? With the frumies getting frumer it stands to reason that you’ve got to venture further out there into space.

Fifty years ago virtually no one paid any attention to Glatt. Cholov Yisroel was reserved for the fringe fanatics and no one ever heard of Yoshon. So where do you go, if you’ve put all these chumros into place. You just can’t stop because there is a well oiled system that needs to satisfy it’s ego with yet another chumra.

I don’t believe any of this sanctimonious behavior is l’shaym shamaim; no one can know what G-d wants, but any intelligent, well informed and balanced person can tell you, what G-D doesn’t want. He doesn’t want disharmony in the world he created, certainly not among his chosen. I am surprised at Harry’s disapproving comment when he says it’s “anti-social….and it sets up false standards for others to emulate….you can be extremely meticulous and still end up eating treif”. Why Harry, are these behaviors any more anti-social than having competing shechitas. Anti-social behavior as manifested in custom and dress has always been the hallmark of the frumies. The quintessential masters of anti-social behavior are the many and varied Hassidic courts and communities who dress like little medieval feudal noblemen. There is absolutely no religious imperative to their dress – but their dress sets them apart and this is anti-social behavior. Being anti-social was considered normative behavior among the haredi community because it kept you separate and apart from the gentiles (lo selechu b’chukoseihem). We don’t drink their wine because we don’t wish to socialize (Stam Yainam) with them. Yayin M’vushal is even a stronger statement of wishing to be separate and apart from our neighbors. If we follow that logic, however we shouldn’t drink their beer or whiskey, because if any thing, they are the great equalizers-used more so in social settings than wine. But that may be too inconvenient. Perhaps that too is on the way just as the new chumra necessitating a hechsher on single malt whiskey!

The problem with anti-social behavior is that it is difficult to keep it from spinning out of control. For the longest time, it was aimed at the gentiles and this anti-social impulse has unfortunately become ingrained in the haredi psyche. After all we are taught that we are an Am Kohanim V’Goy Kadosh and we have reinforced this in a multitude of social behaviors some of which are cloaked in halachic jargon (stam yeinom, yayin nesech, pas acum, chalov yisroel). This notion of being apart from them has been misunderstood contextually and rather than create a society based on ethical teaching, has latched on to trivial icons and in the process, created a monster that has turned on its master. Rather than develop a keen and unique understanding and practice of ethical Judaism, a pattern of behavior has morphed into segregation and isolation underscored by needless chumras. This monstrous aggregate of chumras has spun out of control and has finally turned on itself. It no longer recognizes its very own hechsherim that it created.

Thus, we have a new phenomenon, of frumies not trusting the legitimate hechsherim of caterers and who are bringing their own food to the simcha. Where does the derech eretz and darchei noam fit into the equation? Where is the menshlechkeit and erlichkheit? But wait, what about the frumies who now occupy seat @ the local Starbucks, sucking their lattes next to a counter selling ham sandwiches. Where is the hechsher? Pretty inconsistent-Pretty crazy.