I’m Tired Of The Fluffy Treatment The Jewish Journal Gives ‘Progressive’ Orthodox Judaism

The rabbis must be happy when they can have one of their own write these stories.

That way they won’t be asked any tough questions.

This is what I call unethical journalism — having someone you control report on you.

Here are excerpts from the Jewish Journal story:

Seeking to accentuate Jewish traditions that place a premium on ethical integrity, Los Angeles Orthodox rabbis are encouraging local businesses to sign up for a new seal of certification that ensures employers are treating workers fairly and humanely.

The move comes in response to allegations over the past year that the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse, Agriprocessors in Postville, Iowa, routinely violated the rights of its employees, many of them undocumented workers and many of them underage.

"We have always considered ourselves to be a light onto the nations — we’re the ones who are supposed to be a paradigm and example and role model for the rest of the world of what it means to be an ethical, moral, Godly person," said Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, leader of Kehillat Yavneh in Hancock Park. "If the world or if the media is looking askance, for whatever reason, at the Orthodox community, then it behooves us to address the issues."

Korobkin rallied his colleagues [three Modern Orthodox pulpit rabbis] to address the national crisis in kosher confidence by turning an eye toward businesses that serve the Jewish community on a local level.

They will offer, at no cost, a rabbinic seal of approval to any business or institution that volunteers to undergo scrutiny to verify that employees are being treated according to local, state and federal labor laws. The certificate will not be tied to kashrut in any way.

The three rabbis, and Rabbi Steven Weil of Beth Jacob, introduced the concept to their congregants in sermons during the High Holy Days. They have volunteered their own synagogues to be analyzed first and then within the next few months, hope to expand to other shuls, schools and businesses, starting mainly with the Pico-Robertson corridor and reaching out as the project grows.

A similar initiative in Israel, Bema’aglei Tzedek, was founded in 2004.

Last year, the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism created Hekhsher Tzedek, a certification for kosher food processors that encompasses fair treatment of workers, corporate integrity and environmental responsibility.

The Los Angeles group is calling itself Peulat Sachir: Ethical Labor Initiative, based on language from the verse in Leviticus 19 that prohibits an employer from withholding wages overnight from a worker.

Peulat Sachir will involve itself in six areas: minimum wage, overtime, rest and meal breaks, workers compensation, leave policies and anti-discrimination protections. A lay board of labor lawyers, businesspeople and others with expertise in the field will analyze business practices by looking at paperwork and talking with employees.

The board will not deal with the complex area of immigration status. Labor laws apply equally to documented and undocumented workers, explained Craig Ackermann, a labor lawyer and lay leader on the project.

Businesses will not have to pay for certificates, but the rabbis acknowledge that businesses may have to spend more to qualify for the certificate, if, for instance, they have to start paying for overtime, giving paid leave or making sure workers get appropriate breaks.

Whether businesses which are not now in compliance will risk having to pass those costs on to customers is an open question.

The rabbis are hoping that once consumers begin to ask for the certificate or more heavily patronize businesses that are certified, business owners will see the benefits, both moral and monetary, to being able to display a Peulat Sachir certificate in the window.

Over the next few weeks, the rabbis will continue to constitute the lay board and will reach out to businesses and different segments of the community. They are contacting leaders of the Iranian community, because a large percentage of the businesses on Pico Boulevard are Iranian owned. They are also reaching out to the right wing of the Orthodox community, which on a national level has been wary of similar projects.

For more information on the Ethical Labor Initiative, call (310) 276-9269.

I knew this project was in serious trouble when I read that it would "raise awareness."

Whenever I hear that phrase, I break out in hives.

Oy, why didn’t any of these rabbis come to the Moral Leader before going to work? I could’ve saved them so much tsures.

I live to make rabbis’ lives easier.

Oy, oy, oy!

If only these rabbis spent less time booting me and more time listening to me.

Oy, oy, oy!

This noble-sounding "Peulat Sachir" effort is a bridge too far. It goes far outside the realm of Torah to set wages, vacation days, anti-discrimination statutes, etc. It goes far outside the expertise of rabbis. Worst of all, it is a violation of the Third Commandment — Thou shalt not take G-d’s name in vain. In vain, this program puts G-d’s name and the Torah’s name on a certificate for practices not mentioned by Torah.

Aside from that, it is peachy.

Modern Orthodox rabbis could do many things to make a better world. For one, they could act in areas where they have expertise, such as assembling their own chumash (Torah with commentary). Instead they leave this foundational Jewish task to the charedim (Artscroll) and instead waste their time fighting man-made global warming and other delusions.

It’s no wonder that Modern Orthodoxy is in decline and most Torah-serious Jews are charedi.

Why does Judaism have 100 ritual laws for every one on ethics? Because ethics are difficult to legislate.

This attempt above means well, but will it do well?

Can rabbis determine a fair wage? Is there a wisdom that comes from learning Talmud that allows one to improve on the free market? What if people are willing to come to Pico-Robertson to work under the table for $5 an hour but the rabbis determine that the minimum wage should be the $8 an hour mandated by law? At $8 per hour, the employer will hire fewer people for fewer total hours than at $5 an hour. The employer has a financial incentive to invest in labor-saving devices so he will need fewer employers. He has a financial incentive to offer fewer products and services requiring $8 an hour labor rather than $5 an hour labor.

Go down to Venice Beach and ask the people who surf and smoke dope and sell drugs and chase chicks all day why they act as they do? They will tell you, "It’s the minimum wage. It distorts the market place. If the invisible hand were allowed to operate freely, I’d be gainfully employed right now, contributing to society, my family and myself. But when government and rabbis intervene into the contracts arrived at freely by workers and employers, it bums my ride, man."

There are few people in Los Angeles who know more Torah than I do and I can tell you definitively that the Torah offers little guidance on how many vacations days a year an employer should offer his workers. The Torah also offers little guidance to rabbis about interfering in the contracts of free persons regarding overtime pay. I used to work construction and I’d sometimes rack up 100 hour work weeks. I did it with the understanding I would not be paid extra for overtime. That was fine by me. If my boss had to pay me extra for overtime, I would have been restricted to 40 hours a week.

When I worked construction, I often skipped my legally mandated ten minute breaks every two hours. I prefered to work straight through because I loved my work. I loved the sun on my back and the sweat in my eyes and the strain on my muscles as I powered through digging a ditch. It made me feel like a man. The chicks who were watching me dug it too. They liked the way I filled out my blue jeans.

I’ve worked a lot of jobs where I skipped my meal breaks, snacked on the job, and thereby got off earlier. It was win-win and none of the parties to our agreement would have taken kindly to rabbis interfering.

I practically know the Talmud by heart and I don’t recall anything in there about protecting the rights of transvestites, the transgendered and the sodomites. So what are the "anti-discrimination protections" these rabbis will enforce? That men who choose to lie with men as though they were women should not be called on their abomination?

The Torah is not some abstract document for me. It’s not a piece of literature that was weaved together by various men over centuries in the Ancient Near East. For me, the Torah is the immutable word of God. Every word in it is divine. It can never be superceded.

The other day, a goy challenged me to sum up the entire Torah while standing on one hand. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to choke out "discrimination!" before collapsing in a sweaty pile.

The Hebrew word for "holiness" is "kadosh" which means separate, distinct. The Torah is all about discrimination. It prescribes separate roles for men and women, Jews and Gentiles, adults and children, Kohenim from Leviim from Israelites and so.

Here’s how the havadalah ceremony ends (we recite this at the end of every Sabbath): "Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who distinguishes between the sacred and the secular, between light and dark, between Israel and the nations, between the seventh day and the six days of labor. Blessed are You, Lord, who distinguishes between the sacred and the secular."

That sounds like discrimination to me.

if it’s good for the Torah, it’s good enough for me.

You could stick a pin through a tractate of Talmud and if you gave me sentence where the pin went in, I could give you the sentence where the pin comes out, yet I am unaware of the Talmud making any ruling on paternity leave or rehab leave or grieving leave or get-in-touch-with-your-feelings leave, etc. So how can rabbis legislate on the appropriate amount of leave an employer must extend to his workers?

I recall something in the written Torah that a cripple can not be a Kohen Gadol (High Priest). What if they built the Third Temple here in Pico-Robertson and a cripple was due to become the Kohen Gadol?

Pico-Robinites are jolly lucky to have me around to keep them straight.

I know what you’re thinking. In fact, I can practically hear you screaming, "But what about the workers, governor?"

Well, the best thing the rabbis can do for the workers is to urge their congregants to vote Republican and to urge the Republican leadership to cut marginal tax rates and eliminate the capital gains tax.

Rav Yitzhock Adlerstein and Rabbi Michael Broyde wrote an article for the Forward making many of my points above, albeit less colorfully.

Rav Adlerstein writes:

Our position is that scrupulously obeying the law – Torah law, and the law of the land – is a good idea. Going beyond the letter of the law is also a good idea. Hekhsher Tzedek is not a good idea.

…Moving in the marketplace beyond the letter of the law in is not easy to demand. What level of compensation, of health-benefits, of vacation privileges should be agreed upon as “ethical?” Without such agreement, any standard is unsatisfying. What is compelling to one person is excessive to another, and insufficient to yet someone else. If the standard does not flow directly from Torah literature, then it is necessarily arbitrary. Both Rabbi Broyde and I (as well as anyone who spent a decent amount of time in a yeshiva) know that there is no accepted set of ethical expectations. If arbitrary standards are going to be used instead, we argue that rabbis are no better than anyone else in developing them, and at a definite disadvantage in enforcing them, having little investigative experience or authority.

Briefly, if the standard is a legal one, governmental agencies can do a better job enforcing them. If the standard is not a legal one – and does not flow from genuine Torah sources – then reasonable people will disagree, and rabbis have little to add.

Some would argue that there is nothing to lose by agreeing to have a group of well- meaning rabbis come up with some standard, even if arbitrary. This is a mistake. Whenever you go beyond the expectations of the law, there are complications. Sometimes, they are so onerous as to make the entire exercise counterproductive. It is easy to see, for example, that the wage and benefit package suggested by Hekhsher Tzedek will add significantly to the price per pound that consumers will have to pay for meat. It should also be easy to see that were meat prices to rise, someone would set up large scale production in Argentina, or even China, and not have to worry about American conceptions of minimum wages and benefits. The net result is that American workers would not get enhanced wage packages, but that they would lose their jobs altogether.

I really resent the increasing intrusion of rabbis into our lives. Soon they’ll be telling me what I may and may not blog. Oh, the horror, the horror.

Joe emails:

The issue is not coverage of the certification process, but why it is necessary. Let the Jewish Journal cover why there is no course in any Jewish Orthodox Day School on ethics/reliability/integrity/accountability/decency.

The pedagogic philosophy of L. Ron Hubbard emphasized these traits. I believe teaching these traits to children is also part of the Torah way, especially if Jews are going to live in a modern society with a developed legal system that does legislate some ethics.

The pedagogic philosophy at Orthodox day schools is too devoted to filling kids brains with legends, allegories, and medieval law (and I am a huge talmud fan). Instead of the first part of Talmud learned in day school being the laws of lost objects and when you return them, let kids learn "Pirkey Avot" which talks about ethics such as the Jewish view on karma (a famous portion inolves a rabbi seeing a skull in the water and saying that on account of you killing others were you killed, and those who killed you will be killed).

I won’t even go into the necessity of naming names like Robert Kassirer, et. al. whose shenanigans make the US attorneys heads spin. No way would the Jewish Journal get their hands dirty on that – no – the air conditioned offices of Rabbi Korobkin are much more comfortable. Some journalists record history, some make history. The Jewish Journal seems to do the former, without even attempting at the latter.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). 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 (Alexander90210.com).
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