Herzfeld v. Lewin, Round 2

Ben Harris writes for JTA:

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 (his own rabbi!) 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.

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.

Rabbi Heshie Billet posts:

Rabbi Herzfeld cites Rabbi Salater as saying that” it is prohibited to enhance your mitzvah at the expense of others”. It seems tha Rabbi Herzfeld does believe that it is permitted to enhance his reputation at the expense of others.Why else publish his self serving, poorly researched piece in the NY Times? As if he is the white Rabbinic knight who unlike his colleagues is outraged by immorality.The Rabbi also did not think about the harm he might do by confirming allegations about a Kosher slaughtering plant before a government investigation was completed. His NY Times piece has already had a ripple effect in 2 European communities in a precarious position regarding government approval of Kosher Shechitah.
Had he really been the selfless spokesman for ethical Judaism that he claims to be, he would have chosen an in house venue as opposed to the NY Times. He also would have researched his piece better. The Edah Jounal is not a primary source on Rav Yisrael salater. There is no proof that the writer in the Edah Journal made any effort to check the accuracy of the Rav Yisrael Salanter any more than Rabbi Herzfeld. We now know that he did not research the story’s veracity at all.
His piece is a self serving piece at the expense of the reputations and well being of others.

Dear Dovy
There is no one in the RCA or OU who approve of the allegations at Agriprocessors if they are proven true. No one was aware of the allegations until the story broke. We all believe that Social Justice goes hand in hand with Kosher supervision. Wee also believe in due process. The accused has rights as well. There is also the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The process is not yet complete and the charges to date have not yet been proven.

My complaint with Rabbi Herzfeld is not with his right to criticize the OU or the RCA. My complaint is the platform he chose, his poor research, his self serving article in the Times ( the world should know that one Orthodox Rabbi cares and is different from the the others), and his failure to see that his article in the Times may impact negatively on Jewish communities in other parts of the world.

Had he written his piece exclusively in a Jewish publication, I would remain silent even if I thought him to be out of line.
Heshie Billet

Rabbi Yehuda Shwain posts:

Nat Lewin Esq.

We beg to differ with your conclusions re: the Kashus status of AGRI / RUBASHKIN. In the area of Law all Court appearances by lawyers subscribe to the common”if the law is in your favor, harp on the law..If the facts are in your favor, harp on the facts..If neither is in your favor, confuse the issues..

Re: Agri / Rubashkin kashrus status not the facts nor the Kashrus Halacha is in your faver…

The ones in the know have claimed for years that the kashrus at Agri / Rubashkins leaves much to be desired. Is is on a very low standard from a kashrus point of view. It’s alledged that labels are under the control of the plant & their workers, not under the tight exclusive control of the kosher certifiers.

It’s also alledged that Agri Rubashkin commonly switches labels as they need, even from non-kosher to kosher which includes relabeling labeling non-bet-Yosef as bet yosef.

Rabbi Weismandel is aware of the labeling issue that Rubashkin is in control of the labels. Trucks operated by non-Jews carry labels to affix to Agri Rubashkin products. I picked up one of those boxes.

The Non-Jew making the additional cut for bleeding and the ripping of the Trachea & yanking the lung with a hook would declare the animal as a TREIFA.

Using an electric prod on the head of the animal may make it a TREIFA.

Shooting the animal after Shchita & then using it as a kosher animal is unacceptable ” I have seen it myself”.

Don’t try to defend their Kashrus standards, They are operating a 70% non-kosher operation & they should never be permitted to operate a kosher operation due to all of their kashrus violations.

Kosher Consumers Union, Inc.
Rabbi Yehuda Shain, President

There are many other serious kashrus issues at the plant.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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