Is The Purpose Of Religion To Aggrandize Yourself Or To Serve God?

That’s the question I think about when I look at Jewish Los Angeles.

When the Orthodox Union puts its hashgacha (kosher certification) on toilet bowl cleanser and water, is that just for making money or is there a divine reason for it? If there is a divine reason for it, if this is rooted in Torah text, then where is this text?

Is the RCC elevating Los Angeles Jewry? Are they elevating its level of kashrut (the Jewish dietary laws) observance? Are they establishing a unified front to deal with difficult issues? The RCC gets things done. They’re superbly organized. They put together an eruv for Los Angeles. There’s one rabbinic body to solve disputes.

Is the power behind the RCC, Gershon Bess, developing a religious elite? Is he gathering and elevating religiously serious Jews? Is he organizing them by bringing them under his guidance? Instead of religious Jews heading off in all sorts of different directions, is he making them more powerful by concentrating them under the RCC‘s directives?

When rabbis speak from the pulpit about matters in which they have little knowledge (global warming, illegal immigration, most political issues), is this because the Torah compels them or are they just foolish or are they self-aggrandizing? It feels to me most of the time in these situations that it is self-aggrandizing. The rabbi loves the sound of his own voice even though he has no wisdom to impart from the Jewish tradition on these issues (much of the time, the Torah is silent about global warming, for instance).

Starting around the late 1980s, the Rabbinical Council of California built up great power in Jewish Los Angeles. It strove to become the only Beit Din (Jewish law court) on the West Coast. Did they do this to serve God or to build up a personal fiefdom?

When a rabbi only answers halakhic questions if you will join his shul and join his cause (that’s the impression many have of RCC power Gershon Bess), is that for the glory of God or is it for personal aggrandizement?

When the RCC shoved out Rabbi Yehuda Bukspan’s certification of Noah’s Bagels because it wanted the business, was this to glorify God? How could it if none of the ingredients and none of the practices changed at Noah’s Bagels under RCC supervision?

When the RCC (through its supporters) tells businesses such as Noah’s Bagels that they will do vastly more business under RCC supervision and this does not happen so the chain decides to go trafe (non-kosher), does this glorify God?

When Rabbi Bukspan is pushed out of kashrut certification of Coffee Bean for the more right-wing Rabbi Lisbon and Rabbi Benzakken, is this for the glory of God?

When kosher certification became a big business and a center of power and prestige, was this to morally sensitize Jews and humanity to eating or was it just a power grab?

Does the Orthodox Union and the other kosher-certifying agencies give a damn about the laws the kosher or is it just an opportunity to make money and increase power and prestige?

When one’s religion becomes chiefly about pushing others to observe needless stringencies such as cholov Yisrael (only using milk supervised by a mashgiach), is that about aggrandizing yourself or about glorifying God?

The trend in Orthodox Jewish life over the past 30 years is increasing stringencies in matters not mandated by Torah, but what rather seem to attempts at aggrandizing oneself, to make oneself look super-religious.

Meanwhile, the left-wing Modern Orthodox seem to be mainly about saving the environment, embracing gays and ordaining women and giving them increasingly equal ritual participation. Is this what the Torah wants or is this what modern sensibilities want?

When you call others “shaygetz” (non-Jewish male) for chewing Wrigley’s spearmint gum, is that glorifying God? Wrigleys does not have hashgacha. Does it need it? The gum that is chewed and spat out, do all its ingredients have to be kosher to the same degree as food that is ingested? I do not think the Torah requires this. Chiclets is like a candy and it contains ingredients that are swallowed and are not kosher.

If you let rabbis know that unless they support the RCC and the chareidi line, their children will have a very tough time getting married, is that glorifying God? If you let teachers know that if they deviate from the RCC line, they’ll have a tough time getting jobs, is that glorifying God?

When I look at the Jewish world, it seems like the powerful frequently know the least Torah (Steven Weil, Avrohom Union, Gershon Bess, Norman Lamm, Yonah Metzger, Richard Joel, Avi Weiss) while those on the sidelines know the most (David Rue, Yehuda Bukspan, Emanuel Rackman, Abner Weiss). I am not arguing that the greatest Torah scholars should rule above able administrators such as Norman Lamm, Steven Weil, Avrohom Union, Richard Joel, etc. I don’t know.

Maybe activists such as Avi Weiss should be front and center?

I found it curious that when Beth Jacob of Beverly Hills said they wanted a new chief rabbi, they made it clear they were not looking for a Torah scholar.

I thought Torah scholarship was the greatest prize in Jewish life?

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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