Thursday, May 22, 2008

Vegan Drumettes, Anyone?

There are numerous reasons why I value my friendship with Rabbi Harry Maryles, one of which is his commitment and love for our people, even if at times he goes too easy on those giving us a bad name. This isn’t a negative quality; on the contrary, I have nothing but utmost admiration for his ability to “dan lechaf zechus”, to give people the benefit of the doubt.

I cannot, however be as generous as my dear friend. This business about Rubashkin is but the tip of the iceberg. The orthodox community has for too long gotten away with being “closet racists”. I recall back in the 70’s certain indicators which led me to conclude that we have a problem in our community. A high school yeshiva student caught cheating on the New York regents reasoned that it was ok. His warped halachic rationale was somehow linked to the fact that the cheating was against the non Jewish establishment, thus, not really “geneiva” and therefore permissible. Another indicator that something was awry was that military service in defense of the United States was better left to the goyim. Somehow their blood wasn’t quite as red as ours. I recall a musmach who had volunteered as a chaplain in the U.S. Army was chided by his peers.

On more than one occasion as yeshiva students, we had long and heated debates as to the meaning and innuendo of five profound words: “asher bochar banu michol haamim”. Did those words mean that we were actually better than everyone else, did it mean that we had a particular relationship to God, which was necessarily exclusive or did it mean that we had a roll too play as others did, ours however, being defined through Torah. There were too many who believed “peshuto k’mashmao” that we were better than everyone else, that we were in fact the chosen, and that our relationship to God was not only unique but special; above and beyond the others. It is this kind of thinking that has penetrated to the very core of the orthodox Jewish weltanschauung.

The culture of this form of victimless racism does negatively impact, because of its trickle down effect and the Jewish supremacist attitude that it fosters. The maxim “if you tell a lie long enough you believe it” is true. For whatever reason, we Jews over the generations have viewed with disdain and distrust gentiles. Our 1200 year experience in Europe wasn’t pleasant (nor was the sojourn of our Sephardi brothers and sisters in Muslim countries), to say the least. But we are two and three generations removed from that horrific European experience and really have no excuse to carry on this benign Jewish racism.

Truth be told, it is no longer benign. Rubashkin and their corporate culture of Jewish elitism at the expense of others have hurt and damaged irreparably the lives of people, God’s people. Those of us who buy Rubashkin products are enablers, partners in the iniquity and share in the guilt.

My dear friend Rabbi Maryles sites a Talmudic text to refute this unforgivable racism; that it needs to be excised from the heart of the Jewish people. I don’t need to quote Talmud or reference Rabbi Student’s erudite discussion on the topic. All one has to do is read the Pentateuch with Rashi and Targum Onkelos and one will quickly realize how we need to venerate and respect all those with whom we live, even the gentiles.

Over a year ago, when the Rubashkin scandal first broke I argued that being carnivorous was really a “b’dieved”, and that the laws of kashrut (including shechita) were designed to be humanitarian. The shechita has to be painless, and we forbid “tzar lbaalei chaim”. The idea being, that if we are benevolent to the animals which we consume we will be kind and loving to human beings. Apparently, Rubashkin has inverted the paradigm. Maybe we ought to view this whole unfortunate, embarrassing, felonious episode as one more reason why we should become vegans. Vegan drumette, anyone?