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The Letter of the Law vs. the Spirit of the Law…

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on May 27, 2006


Yesterday I recieved an email containing a link to an article that described appaling working conditions in a OU (Orthodox Union) run meat plant in Iowa. It had been posted to a Reconstructionist Torah study list, with intention spark discussion about what can and cannot be considered Kosher.The Question was: “Can we consider this food kosher? Is it fit to be served in our homes and synagogues?”

My answer is “No”.

It might be that the letter of the laws of Kashrut are being observed in terms of how the animals are being slaughtered and the meat treated after the animal has been killed, but in my mind there is more to Kashrut than just impeccably performed rituals. The Spirit of the Law must be observed as well or the letter of the Law is being violated. In fact the Letter of the Law has become quite useless if the Spirit is not there.

Written Torah (and in my book, written Torah does take precedence over Oral Torah/Talmud) teaches us that we are to treat all alike. That there is no difference between the Jew and the Gentile in terms of what is applicable.

“Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for the home-born; for I am the LORD your God.”(Vayikra/Leviticus 24:22)

“The stranger that sojourneth with you shall be unto you as the home-born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Vayikra/Leviticus 19:34)

“And a stranger shalt thou not wrong, neither shalt thou oppress him; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Shemot/Exodus 22:21)

Now, one could argue that those Gentile workers are not ‘sojourning’ or ‘living with’ the People, but they do work within what would be considered Jewish territory, if they are working for Jews. So if we have one Law, it applies to all within Jewish Territory – at least.

One could also argue that since Israel is in Exile, the Gentiles are sojourning among us, as we among them, and therefore we should treat them exactly as we treat other Jews.

Then there is the matter of Chilul Hashem – Shaming G-d, i.e the opposite to Sanctifying G-d.

The Rambam (1135-1204) in his Sefer HaMitzvos (Negative Commandment #63) defines three components of the commandment regarding Sanctification and Desecration of G-d’s Name: “And you shall not profane my Holy Name” [Vayikra 22:32]. This sin is divided into three component parts. (1) Anyone who is forced to violate one of the commandments for which the requirement is ‘Be killed, rather than transgress’; (2) A person commits a sin for which they have no sensual passion and derive no benefit, but their intent is only to be (spiritually) rebellious and to throw off the Yoke of Heaven; (3) A person with a reputation for piety does an action which appears in the eyes of the masses to be a sin. Even if the act is intrinsically permitted, if such a person does this act – it could be a Desecration of G-d’s Name (Chilul HaShem).”

The way I see it point number three would apply here – The OU certification of the plant vouches for the piety of it. And it might be that, as I said in the beginning, that the letter of the Law is being observed, but this still throws a big shadow on not only this plant, the OU, but Judaism and therefore on G-d.

How can we claim to be a Holy Nation and a Nation Priests, a Light to the Nations, if we treat non-Jews as lesser beings? Whatever it is, it’s not Torah, in my mind.


Shalom!

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4 Responses to “The Letter of the Law vs. the Spirit of the Law…”

  1. MikeK said

    >>>
    “They leave so much to be desired in the moral and ethical treatment of workers,” Ouderkirk said of AgriProcessors.
    >>>

    This alone takes away any form of “seperateness”, or cleanliness.
    Immorality is unclean. That is the bottom line.

    Also, if workers are not “safety trained” and are getting themselves cut, and damaged; how is this meat Kosher with human skin & blood in it ?

    Like

  2. MikeK said

    >>>
    “They leave so much to be desired in the moral and ethical treatment of workers,” Ouderkirk said of AgriProcessors.
    >>>

    This alone takes away any form of “seperateness”, or cleanliness.
    Immorality is unclean. That is the bottom line.

    Also, if workers are not “safety trained” and are getting themselves cut, and damaged; how is this meat Kosher with human skin & blood in it ?

    Like

  3. Dov Aryeh said

    Quite simple – it isn’t, Mike, that is my, and the author of the article’s, point.

    For something to be Kosher (and not only food can or should be Kosher), the entire chain involved has to be Kosher. Their treatment of their workers, makes the meat not Kosher – but this is a point where Reform/Reconstructionist Judaism actually have stricter views on Kashrut, than Orthodox Judaism.

    Most Reform and Reconstructionist will not eat f.i veal, goose liver, or fish that is endangered, such as cod, simply because of the manner in which the animals are treated prior to slaughter or because eating it will depleat the wild stock of it.

    It is quite ironic really – many Orthodox will call me and other nonOthos ‘pork-eaters’ to our faces, yet will accept any meat on their table as long as it has the OU stamp…

    Dov

    Like

  4. Dov Aryeh said

    Quite simple – it isn’t, Mike, that is my, and the author of the article’s, point.

    For something to be Kosher (and not only food can or should be Kosher), the entire chain involved has to be Kosher. Their treatment of their workers, makes the meat not Kosher – but this is a point where Reform/Reconstructionist Judaism actually have stricter views on Kashrut, than Orthodox Judaism.

    Most Reform and Reconstructionist will not eat f.i veal, goose liver, or fish that is endangered, such as cod, simply because of the manner in which the animals are treated prior to slaughter or because eating it will depleat the wild stock of it.

    It is quite ironic really – many Orthodox will call me and other nonOthos ‘pork-eaters’ to our faces, yet will accept any meat on their table as long as it has the OU stamp…

    Dov

    Like

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