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Letters

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CJ welcomes your letters. Please address them to Andrea Glick at aglick@uscj.org or Rhonda Kahn at rkahn@wlcj.org. Letters should be no longer than 250 words and must include your full name and place of residence.

Kudos on the Fall Issue of CJ

The fall issue of CJ had a great variety of articles that showed changes, for the good, in the Conservative movement.

The articles about Sukkot gave readers ways to make their family observances personal, relevant, and interesting. Connecting homelessness with the temporary and fragile nature of a sukkah was very meaningful.

I was very proud that the Conservative movement is welcoming same-sex couples and equally proud that United Synagogue is supporting the socially conscious project Operation Tent of Abraham and Sarah. It was refreshing to see the current trends in experiential Jewish education. I applaud United Synagogue for re-instating a department for education. I know that the teachers here in New Jersey have sorely missed such support.

I thought it very brave to print Alex Sinclair’s article dealing with loving Israel while being able to criticize it,and brave of Rabbi Wernick to admit something so personal as stopping himself from being a “sukkah snob”!

Scattered throughout were articles about, and photos of, people of all ages. There was something for everyone! I know that the Conservative movement is going through a tough time right now. I wish that everyone – in and outside of the movement – could see all these wonderful steps in revitalization.

NITA POLAY LEVIN
Edison, NJ

No Shirt, No Shoes, No Shul?

Rabbi Hillel Hayyim Lavery-Yisraeli’s wish that “a synagogue should be a safe place for all” is admirable (“Should There Be a Dress Code in Our Synagogues,” Fall 2012). Equally admirable is his exhortation that “we need to learn to not objectify people…based on their appearance.” However, I completely disagree with his conclusion that it is an imposition to call for dress codes.

Above many arks are the words, “Know before Whom you stand,” a reminder that when we walk into a synagogue we are entering – and honoring – sacred space.

I am not saying we should succumb to a fashion show mentality. Doing so would miss the point of why we attend services. However, guidelines and dress codes are entirely appropriate – especially as they relate to tzniut (modesty). And yes, the restrictions would primarily affect women. Rabbi Lavery-Yisraeli notes that a restriction on dress would make demands of people. Doesn’t Judaism make demands of us all the time? The answer isn’t forcing offenders to don choir robes. The answer is reminding men, women and children that they are standing in a singular place. A sensitively and respectfully worded dress code just might help elevate our encounter with the sacred – and with each other.

ELIZABETH DAVIS
Seattle, Washington

I appreciate Rabbi Hillel Hayyim Lavery- Yisraeli’s opinion. It is quite the magnanimous and open-minded attitude that would suggest that anything goes and all is acceptable. Being afraid to take a stand, being afraid to hold a standard, and throwing in the towel rather than taking a lead, are three examples of terrible role modeling. What lessons are we teaching our children by ignoring behavior that is questionable?

The likelihood of a man going to the boss of a Wall Street firm barefoot, shirtless and in shorts asking for a raise is probably nil. And why might that be? It is inappropriate and unacceptable. How is it that we can expect a man to dress according to his environment and expect any less from a woman?

Most parents have at one time or another told their kid, you can’t wear that to the party, change your clothes. People know that there are places where certain dress codes exist.

The amount of appropriateness that should be expected and should be required in a synagogue is no more or less than should be considered when appearing in any other formal and official ceremony. Formal, in the sense that there is a need to maintain a sense of decorum, of holiness and of sanctity, in a house of worship.

What is the purpose of a Jewish house of worship, particularly on Shabbat morning? To pray and to transcend everyday minutia by concentrating on our thoughts, offering prayers, is a shul’s foremost feature. If a person doesn’t have those feelings for the service, it would well serve them, as an example to our children, to honor those who do. Being sensitive to others is more than commendable, it is more than admirable, it is what one Jew should do for another. A house of worship should promote behavior and dress that inspire prayerfulness, holiness and spirituality. Few if any distractions are helpful to that end.

If we hope, at all, to pass on to our children a modicum of respect for others, it behooves us to teach them that there is an appropriate dress code for shul. Creative, independent, open and free choices should not stomp on others’ sensitivities.

LAURIE DINERSTEIN-KURS
East Windsor, New Jersey

WHAT WE EAT

I had been meaning to write a response to Rabbi Feld’s article (“What We Eat: Looking at Kashrut through a Conservative Lens,” Summer 2012). Perhaps the delay has been useful so that I can also relate to the negative responses in the fall issue. Weren’t there any approving?

I, too, have never heard such remarks and reflections within the Conservative movement. But that is the sad thing! I admit that Rabbi Feld’s halakhic reasoning is flawed. That doesn’t mean there are no means to fully support his view. Those who state, as one responder did, that the “food laws in the Talmud are a way of constructing a barrier between Jews and the larger society...” are completely blind to the fundamental origins of food laws and also blind to the realities of the Jewish community’s relationship to the world around us.

Is Shabbat meant to be a barrier between Jews and non-Jews? Is that the fundamental purpose of Shabbat? Of course not! Neither is it with food. What is the purpose of the Jewish community in the context of the world? The misuse of the Shulchan Arukh has made the goal of ultra-fundamentalism to fabricate a Judaism that is about withdrawal. That is completely foreign to the ideals of Conservative Judaism.

Let’s consider again what Rabbi Feld is questioning. Isn’t the purpose of the Jewish community “Tzekek, tzedek (Justice, justice)... shall you pursue” rather than severance from the world? This is the direction questions regarding kashrut should take.

Taking the Shulchan Arukh’s view about food laws in the context of Conservative Judaism is a grand hypocrisy, especially when one contrasts that to the acrobatics of reasoning applied to issues such as homosexuality, driving on Shabbat and other banner objectives in the movement. Why does the movement defer 100 percent to the Orthodox regarding kashrut but when we want to determine matters of sexuality and other things we jettison Orthodoxy altogether?

Is there anything between Orthodoxy on one extreme and the complete abandonment by liberal secularism on the other? Of course there is. The ideal is what Rabbi Feld hinted at. The Conservative movement should reassert authentic kashrut principles, which are not about excluding the non-Jewish world. Rather, kashrut principles should reflect the principle of tzedek. How justice applies to the food world is obvious. Orthodoxy does not take into account the safety and health value of the food or how the animals are raised. Ours is a very different world than that of the Talmud when farming and animal husbandry were entirely natural.

The Torah principle is clear regarding animal rights. Using feeds that are unnatural is grounds to render an animal treyf. In fact, the non-Jewish world has superseded us in the values of animal husbandry.

The Conservative movement should use a different kashrut paradigm. The food products in most kosher supermarket sections are the worst quality in the store, containing ingredients, such as MSG, that have been abandoned by other manufacturers. The Conservative movement could connect local farmers, dairy producers, farmers markets, and local suppliers, using the well-established paradigm of food cooperatives.

We can be a force to promote greater dignity for the world we live in, or we can withdraw in a dwindling enclave of self-exclusion. We should observe Shabbat and eat food with the same coherent principles. We are here to repair the world not depart from it. If we aspire to rights of gender, sexuality, race, and religion, we will never achieve anything if we can’t establish dignity for domestic creatures.

OLIVER WELLINGTON
Norwalk, Connecticut

Rabbi Feld Responds

Frank H. Dondershine (Letters, Fall 2012) forthrightly responds to a central question raised in my article: given that through the ages the rabbinic attitudes to kashrut were shaped by their relationship to the surrounding society, should our practice of kashrut now change? Is the situation of Jews in America the same as that of Medieval Jewry? Mr. Dondershine’s response is that the need to separate ourselves and differentiate ourselves from the surrounding society remains the same. I firmly disagree. The question for us is not how do we distance ourselves from our non-Jewish neighbors, but how do we integrate ourselves in society yet maintain a distinct Jewish consciousness. I argued that not limiting kashrut to supervised situations but thinking about what one is eating, checking ingredients, constituted our American form of kashrut. I added that ethical considerations should be a critical part of our practice of kashrut. Disturbingly, this is a matter that has become controversial among those who supervise kashrut.

Regarding the latter issue, Mr. Chernin remarks that one of the practices that I mentioned regarding animal feed has now been outlawed. However the point I was making regarding unnatural feeding of animals remains an issue. Here is part of a statement by the Union of Concerned Scientists acknowledging that federal law has outlawed the practice of feeding blood to animals:

“However, most animals are still allowed to eat meat from their own species. Pig carcasses can be rendered and fed back to pigs, chicken carcasses can be rendered and fed back to chickens, and turkey carcasses can be rendered and fed back to turkeys. Even cattle can still be fed cow blood and some other cow parts. Under current law, pigs, chickens and turkeys that have been fed rendered cattle can be rendered and fed back to cattle, a loophole that may allow mad cow agents to infect healthy cattle.

Animal feed legally can contain rendered road kill, dead horses and euthanized cats and dogs.

Rendered feathers, hair, skin, hooves, blood and intestines can also be found in feed, often under catch-all categories like “animal protein products.”

Rabbi Edward Feld

Defending Israel

So Alex Sinclair (“Critical Loyalty: Defending Israel Should Be Complex,” Fall 2012) believes Israel should be held to higher standards. But what are his expectations of the Palestinians? Given the history of the Israel/Arab conflict, it’s not enough for them to say that they accept Israel’s right to exist.

Israel has made concrete efforts to achieve peace, dismantling Yamit and ceding the Sinai to Egypt, pulling settlements out of Gaza. The results: a cold peace (which may be falling apart) with Egypt, smuggling tunnels bringing munitions to Hamas through Sinai, and thousands of rockets lobbed at civilian population centers in southern Israel. Israel has also proposed several plans outlining the basis for the establishment of a Palestinian state. The response has always been outright rejection, followed by demands that the rejected proposals be the starting point for any future negotiations.

The fact is that there is no possibility of a two state solution unless the Palestinians stop the anti-Israel incitement that spews from their schools, mosques, and mass media outlets. The descendants of the Arabs who fled the 1948 Arab-initiated war need to be told their future is in the Palestinian state, not in Israel. Jews who wish to remain in areas of religious and historic significance to them, even if those areas fall under Palestinian rule, should be allowed to do so, as full citizens, just as 1,000,000 Arabs have full citizenship in Israel.

Sinclair’s suggestion for handling the complexities of the Arab/Israel conflict amounts to accepting the Palestinian narrative. We should be educating our students about the Israeli side of the story.

TOBY F. BLOCK
Atlanta, Georgia

 
 
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