Herzfeld v. Lewin, Round 2


Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld (he of NYTimes Op-Ed fame) and his congregant Nat Lewin (famed attorney and Agriprocessors defender) are having a little intra-shul spat over the ethics of kosher slaughter. Lewin called Herzfeld a “vigilante” in his response to Herzfeld’s Times article and described his reasoning there as “fallacious.”

Now Herzfeld is back for another round, though with the stipulation that he won’t “engage in a back and forth.” Oh, well maybe just one more time.

Herzfeld’s response after the jump.

CORRECTION: This post originally referred to Herzfeld as Lewin’s “rabbi.” Though Lewin is a member of Herzfeld’s shul, he regularly attends a different congregation near his Potomac, Md. home.

Response to Nat Lewin
by Shmuel Herzfeld

Nat Lewin is one of our finest congregants and has always been a terrific advocate for the Jewish people. Obviously, our entire community is struggling with this difficult issue which asks us to balance the requirement of due process while not turning our backs on heart wrenching allegations that strike at the core of our identity.

I will not engage in a back and forth argument in this forum, but it is important to address the argument about the legitimacy of the position cited in the name of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter.

Many sources on this topic are cited in an article by Rabbi Avi Gisser, Chief Rabbi of Ofra, Israel in his article for Ma’aglei Tzedek, an organization in Israel that seeks to unite laws of kashrut with concerns for how workers are treated. The article is available on line at www.edah.org/mtzenglish.pdf.

The story about Rav Salanter was one story from a genre of Rav Salanter stories that might have been cited. Here is a small portion of Rav Gisser’s article:

According to Rav Kook, what our generation needs, especially now, is to add fuel to the great flame of social justice that stems from a deep awe of G-d. Three anecdotes from the life of Rabbi Salanter demonstrate this. Once, Rabbi Salanter visited a new matzah bakery in order to check its work practices and level of kashrut. He reviewed all the manufacturing procedures extensively and observed the intense labor and toil of the employees. At the end of Rabbi Salanter’s visit, the bakery owner proudly asked him, “What does the rabbi say?” He answered, “The Gentiles accuse us, G-d forbid, of using the blood of Christian children in matzah. While this is not the case, from what I have seen here, there is indeed a violation of the prohibition on blood in food. The blood of the workers is mixed with the matzah! I will not certify this bakery as kosher.” In another case, Rabbi Salanter was asked what demands particular attention when baking matzah. He answered: “One must be scrupulous not to yell at the woman kneading the dough.” He was also quoted as saying, “It is prohibited to enhance your mitzvot at the expense of others.” One day Rabbi Salanter was hosted by a rich man. When he performed the ritual hand-washing before the meal, he used a sparing amount of water. He was asked, “Doesn’t the Torah say it is praiseworthy to wash with a lot of water?” He answered,

“I can only do that in my own home. Here, however, I must consider the needs of the servant who must carry the buckets of water.” When attending large dinners, Rabbi Salanter also hurried to finish eating quickly in consideration of the waiters and other workers, who had to wait until the end of the meal to go home. “Justice, justice you shall pursue in order that you may live in and inherit the land.”

Rav Gisser’s article is published with a powerful statement immediately following it. Here is a portion of that statement:

Out of concern for Israel’s moral and humane character as a Jewish State, respecting all its citizens, in which justice is one of its basic principles, we wish to announce a social seal, committing all who believe in justice and morality. We hereby request all business proprietors to respect the dignity of their workers and visitors, both regarding to conditions of employment, and also assuring accessibility to people with disabilites. We ask all for whom the Jewish humane character of Israel is important to be aware of just consumerism, and to buy only in places holding the social seal.

It is signed by many of our greatest rabbis including, Rabbi Ya’akov Ariel, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Rabbi Yo’el Bin-Nun, Rabbi Chaim Drukman Rabbi Mordechay Elon, Rabbi Benni Lau and Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein.

Recommended from JTA