Friday, April 15, 2011

If this is "kashrut", count me out "נמאס לי "מכשרות

Yesterday Haaretz reported on events venues, specifically wedding halls, whose owners have been threatened with loss of their “kashrut” certifications if they host same-sex couples. Note that I put “kashrut” in quotes. The reason is that for me, kashrut is about the spirit, not just the letter, of the law, i.e., it involves ethics, not merely the gushpanka of some mashgiach that the meat and dairy utensils and work surfaces don’t make any contact.

For a certain portion of the public, kashrut certification is akin to an establishment’s certification that it has passed fire, building, and health codes. Accordingly, where secular consumers wouldn’t patronize an establishment lacking the first three, Orthodox consumers won’t patronize an establishment lacking the latter. So in effect, establishments operating without kashrut certification are the victims of an institutionalized boycott: A state-run agency — the rabbinate — is actually violating the law that guarantees freedom of occupation. Furthermore, the rabbinate is now in violation of the Nakba Law, which contains a clause prohibiting state-funded institutions from engaging in incitement. Because after all, what is refusal to host gays but incitement, as it implies that gays are untouchables?

I’m certain that if it hasn’t happened already, wedding halls will be threatened with losing their “kashrut” certificates if they host events wherein there is mixed dancing, or what is deemed morally abhorrent music or other entertainment. So what are we non-Orthodox to do? While turning to the courts is nice (assuming they decide in our favor), it’s time-consuming and costly. Instead, there is something we can do immediately, and that’s ceasing to view ourselves as victims of the Orthodox establishment, and starting to view ourselves exactly as the Orthodox, i.e., a consumer group with power.

A restaurant owner is quoted in the article as saying, “…he was not refused over the issue of kashrut certification,…[but rather because] there was sensitivity at his establishment over the issue of [same-sex] weddings because of his religious clientele.” Well you know what? I’m sensitive to insensitivity. I and my public — the non-Orthodox — have our “special needs” too: We have the “need” to not be complicit in intolerant practices. And the natural followup thereto is to counter-boycott, that is, to boycott venues that have kashrut certification.

Upon giving an affirmative reply to a couple’s inquiry, “Are you kosher?” and then hearing the prospective clients say, “Then no thanks, we’re not interested,” venue owners will sit up and pay attention far faster than they will to some verdict issued after having been dragged through the courts at a glacial pace.

As far as adhering to Jewish dietary restrictions, a certification-free place (they should actually hang signs that say “We’re kashrut-free. We welcome all clientele!”) can meet our needs. The client chooses the menu, after all; all it takes is choosing a meat-only / dairy-only menu that includes only permitted foods. If Orthodox guests are invited, let them do as they would if invited to any event: Decline, or attend but don’t eat, or eat what they deem acceptable (cold produce; soft drinks for instance). It’s not a host’s duty to ensure that every single guest’s dietary limitations are taken into account; it is a host’s duty to make sure to provide enough selection so that every guest can eat something; in any case, no one is going to starve.

Business owners listen to one thing: their bottom line. As soon as non-kosher businesses begin to realize that they’re a niche market, i.e., they serve a certain clientele, they’ll respond accordingly. But first, non-Orthodox consumers must take the initiative. We have to realize our power as a consumer group with our “special needs”, just the same as the Orthodox are recognized as consumers with their “special needs”. We need to fight Rabbinic Rule over our celebrations from the ground up — or shall we say, from the wallet up.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Has Seder gone cutesy? האם סדר פסח הפך ל"פנן"

When I read this article, I thought I’d plotz: Now we’re supposed to be concerned about the 10 Plagues’ psychological effects on our delicate little tatelehs? I give you a few excerpts from this absurd piece:

“It leads me to wonder,” says Nussbaum. “Is it possible to engage with the Seder’s graphic illustrations of God’s might without leaving the kids emotionally or spiritually scarred?”

Oh, please. This is clearly an attempt to find a “fresh angle” to a festival about which — admit it — everything’s already been said.

“Some of the things [in the Haggadah] sound amazingly scary and awful,” said Miami-based psychotherapist and author M. Gary Neuman.

So now we’re consulting psychotherapists about the Haggada’s effect on the *kinder*? Spare me.

Then we have psychologist Clark Goldstein helpfully advising parents to:

“…take their cues from their children, paying attention to the child’s age and disposition…If the child brings up concerns… address them. Try not to ask leading questions, like, ‘Does that section scare you?’ Let them lead with any concerns or questions they might have.”

Dear God. Was this quote lifted from some Parents’ Guide to Divorce or God Forbid, Death? Have we lost our minds? This is nothing less than a meshugeneh stop along the Coddling Continuum. Disturbing? We were shown Night and Fog at Hebrew School at age nine, and I don’t recall ever even considering approaching my parents about its, shall we say, disturbing aspects. And now we’re supposed to add “Possible Effect of 10 Plagues on Yankeleh’s Sensitive Psyche” to our list of 21st-century Parenting Concerns, underneath Exposure to Germs and Abduction by Sex Predator?

Later on, Neuman adds: “Seder’s focus ‘should be about the children, and connecting to them.”

Says who? Actually, if I hear one more person say this, I’m going to throw myself into a vat of locusts. Let’s take a minute to realign our tires here: The Haggada was compiled between 160 and 360 CE. Granted, the Mishnaic concept of “engaging children” is obviously light years from ours; and certainly no one wants to return to the days of Uncle Moishe or Zaydeh droning through the Haggada so tediously that a vat of locusts would actually have beeen a relief from your boredom, but does that mean we have to go to the other extreme and turn Seder into an episode of Sesame Street?

Cannot Seder be lively and thought-provoking without having to dodge whizzing stuffed frogs and Styrofoam hail? In short, where is it written that engaging has to equal fun? Fun is what Purim is for. Fun is what birthdays are for. Not everything that occurs in the presence of children has to be fun.

The Haggada tells of a solemn, dramatic event, and the telling thereof should be appropriately solemn and dramatic. One of the major themes is to “tell your sons [i.e., children] of the Exodus. I’d venture that the reason Seder is so central to Jews’ collective memory is precisely because of its solemnity and drama. Do we want our kids’ memories of Seder to be no more impactful than an afternoon at Discovery Zone?

Next, I looked up the product pictured with the article, Passover Ten Plagues Finger Puppets. Here’s my Amazon review thereof:

"...products like this are a turn-off for me. First of all, a basic "requirement" for me to buy any Jewish-themed product is the inclusion of Hebrew. Where's the Hebrew? So right away I'm not buying it. The other turn-off is that I'm loath to add anything to the Seder that's not already there, especially if it's something cutesy. You can have a good time at Seder and include the kids without turning it into a nursery school. This is pushing it too far in that direction for me."

It’s not the commercial aspect to which I object; I'm certainly in favor of clever, enterprising innovation. But to purport to sell a Jewish product sans Hebrew? Veto from here: Hebrew is what held us together for over two millennia in the Diaspora; I refuse to patronize any Jewish enterprise that omits it. Even if the recipient doesn’t know Hebrew — and I’m aware that most Jews don’t — the visual of the Hebrew words for the Plagues does have its effect, however small, and does transform the product into something that if not holy, is special: It’s not Just Another Toy in the kids’ collection.

To that end, I wrote to both companies to ask: Where’s the Hebrew? Perhaps if others followed suit, the manufacturers would be convinced to add it; certainly no one would be opposed to its addition, and who knows? It might even boost sales.

I’m not calling for a boycott, here; Lord knows there are more important products to boycott; I simply seek to call attention to the fact that Hebrew is not just another language: It’s our “brand”; without it, we become “generic”. And I’ll jump into a vat of locusts before I let 5,000 years of history go down the drain like so much chametz.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Divorcing? Time to Take Back That Name מתגרשת? הגיע הזמן לקחת את שמך בחזרה

I recently noticed that, instead of reverting to her birth name, a divorced acquaintance of mine chose to hyphenate her and her ex’s surnames (her children have his surname). When I asked her why, she replied, “For the kids”, i.e., I want them to feel that we share a surname. Another acquaintance, a victim of abuse during her marriage, kept her ex’s surname even though it quite obviously doesn’t even reflect her heritage. Same reason given: the kids.

Both of these women divorced when their kids were young. Clearly, when they were in the “eye of the storm” so to speak, and their kids’ worlds (if not their own) were falling apart, these mothers sought to retain some semblance of order and stability, which is understandable in such a situation.

Yet also clearly — yet nonetheless understandably — they were not looking ahead: They were only looking at the next ten or so years during which anyone — namely schools and Scout troops — were going to care about or relate to the family as a unit. As far as the bureaucracies are concerned, after the age of 18, those children are individuals in their own right; it is no longer relevant who their progenitors are, or certainly if they are linked by a name. They go on to live their lives, presumably for decades, and Mom is stuck bearing the name of a man she may detest. How logical is that?

As soon as a person is an adult, the rest of us don’t have any expectations one way or the other regarding her surname matching those of her parents; in fact, we don’t expect matching names at all. I therefore urge divorcing women who took their husbands’ names at marriage to take the opportunity to remedy a decision they likely now regret, and reclaim their birth names. Not only is it likely to feel liberating during what may be an oppressive time, but the message to one’s children is likely more empowering than it is destablilizing: We make mistakes, but while we can’t go back and undo our mistakes, neither are we bound by them; we can shed the trappings of those mistakes and start anew, which is not synonymous with severing our link to those we love.