Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Chazeer Fissel Kosher

On the day after the release of Gilad Shali, the New York Times ran an editorial (Gilad Shalit’s release, October 18, 2011) excoriating Bibi Netanyahu for being able to close a deal with Hamas, “which shoot rockets at Israel”, but unwilling to negotiate seriously with the Palestinian Authority, which “Israel relies on to help keep the peace in the West Bank. Reading this editorial brought me back to my days as a yeshiva student and in particular to a brilliant and demanding rebbe who on rare occasion went off on a tangent, discussing current events. At the time there was much discussion on the future of the reform and conservative movements vis a vis intermarriage and assimilation. My rebbe made a startling statement. He claimed that he preferred dialogue with Reform rabbis rather than engage with Conservative rabbis. I was flummoxed. After all, the Conservative movement had a much closer affinity to Orthodox Judaism than the Reform movement since they subscribed to the halachic process, denouncing among other things the performance of mixed marriages by their rabbis. When I asked my rebbe, “mah pesher hainyan”? what do you mean and how can you possibly justify this position he responded with a pithy, terse, three word answer: “chazeer fissel kosher”!

“Chazeer fissel kosher” is a clever yiddish expression, which chides the pig for trying to pass itself off as kosher when in fact it is as treif as it gets. For an animal to be rendered kosher it first has to meet the fundamental criterion of having split hooves and chew its cud. The pig having cleft hooves and obvious to the eye tries to present itself as kosher, since chewing its cud isn’t a noticeable and an obvious characteristic. But the wiliness of the pig doesn’t go unnoticed and is reminded that it would be kosher had it chewed its cud. To my rebbe, the Conservative movement (rightly or wrongly) was like the proverbial pig. The movement tried to pass itself off as committed to the halchic process but in fact misrepresented itself by concealing the fact that they weren’t totally committed to it in the same fashion that was of the Orthodox. As the pig didn’t chew its cud neither did the Conservative movement conform to halachic Judaism. The Reform movement on the other hand, called a spade a spade. Their modus opperendi was to be clear as to where they stood in respect to halacha. They weren’t looking for acceptance among the halachic community. They rejected halachic Judaism and would perform intermarriages without the necessity of seeking loopholes or fictitious conversions, as the Conservative rabbis were wont to do.

My rebbe’s answer, simplistic as it seemed was actually profound and taught me a lesson on how to view the world. Had our rabbis learned this lesson well perhaps they would have had different take on the personality differences between Isaac and Essau. Essau was what he was. There was no mistaking him for anything but a hunter. He was taken advantage of by Jacob who presented himself to Essau in a kind and gentle light, not revealing his true intent. While Essau knew no guile, Jacob was a master of deception, knowing how and when to exploit a situation to his benefit. Thus when it was time to present himself to his blind father for the blessings it was without compunction that he disguised himself in animal skins to take on the physical characteristics of his brother. Who was Jacob? It is difficult to really know the man Jacob and what he represented at that particular moment in history.

Bibi, (unlike the New York Times editorial board) apparently learned long ago the very same lesson that my rebbe taught me. Hamas is our sworn enemy and they don’t try to sugar coat their ultimate aim to obliterate us. The Palestinian Authority on the other hand isn’t willing to reveal its intent although we know too well what their real intentions are. Bibi understands this and in his own vernacular probably refers to the PA as the chazeer fissel kosher. Too bad the New York Times hasn’t learned this lesson.