May
24
2010

Copyrighting Kosher

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Kosher Scandal

The proposal to legally hand over the rights to the word ‘kosher’ to the Jewish establishment is even more troubling than it initially appeared from the article in this week’s AJN.
Thankfully some in the blogosphere have stood up and spoken up against this proposal.
The AJN, on the other hand, only wrote about the need for people to submit their views on the proposed legislation after the May 14 deadline for submissions had long passed!
Of course, I have not seen the ECAJ/ORA submission to the relevant authorities, since it has not been posted on the submission page of the website. We have no way of knowing if this is due to a request not to make it public or because the government website is a bit slow.
The essential point in all of this is that we don’t even know the exact role of our leadership in this process. None of us even knew there was anything to know until last Thursday, when the AJN came out.
It was not on the ECAJ website. How would the average citizen who was not, “connected,” concerned know to look for something like this in the first place?
If the leaders wish to represent us, at the very least they should be letting us know what we need to know and what will impact our lives before it is a fait accompli.
I am not denying the right of these two organisations, or others like them, from making submissions to the government or representing themselves as Jewish voices. But by keeping this information to themselves they were preventing dissenting views from being expressed.
The next worry is why kosher food was part of this review in the first place.
In the mass of information about food labels, question 17 states:
“Is there a need to establish agreed definitions of terms such as ‘natural’, ‘lite’, ‘organic’, ‘free range’, ‘virgin’ (as regards olive oil), ‘kosher’ or ‘halal’? If so, should these definitions be included or referenced in the Food Standards Code? ”
What is kosher (or halal for that matter) doing here? Who slipped this into the review and what does it have to do with the terms that surround it? Will the government become halachic authorities, sitting down to argue disputes between Rashi and the Rambam or will this be going back to the rabbis who run the big kosher authorities?
We can only assume that if the words kosher and halal were in such a review that is otherwise so far removed from issues of religion, that there must have been encouragement on the matter from some source.
It can only be the Jews, Muslims, or both who are responsible for this.
Which leads us to the most troubling part of this affair.
What is ECAJ’s role in all of this?
Why is a roof body which is not religious attempting to gain control over the word kosher?
As Sir Humphrey would have said in Yes, Minister, the success of a minister or a civil servant can be measured by the departments he has control of and the size of his budget.
It would seem that there is an effort to centralise as much power as possible under the one banner. One danger among many is that private initiative will be restricted.
We are lead to believe that our welfare is taken care of and we have no need to take any action. But such a mentality always leads to stagnation.
Therefore, with the submissions formally closed, I encourage everyone to write to their MPs to have this proposal rejected.
The alternative is to have another piece of our Jewish lives centralise and closed to competition with the added insult of it all being subject to Government regulation..

Minister for Health: Nicola.Roxon.MP@aph.gov.au
The local MPs can be found at http://www.aph.gov.au/whoswho/index.htm under ‘contact list of members’
Please note:  the comments on this article will be forwarded to people who are involved in this review.

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May
20
2010

Sharia Law, Halacha, Parliament, and a Supermarket Near You

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Kosher Scandal

Hi all.

Due to offline work commitments, Yaron and I have been scarce around here, but an extremely serious matter has brought us out of hibernation.

It even prompted Yaron to write to his Federal Member of Parliament, Kelly O’Dwyer. Below is an edited version of that letter:

“As a member of the Jewish community, it was with considerable angst that I read in this week’s Australian Jewish News that the Federal government is considering creating a centralised authority that will determine the status of what constitutes kosher food.

The AJN writes “the submission… calls for one body… to be given the legal right to endorse individual kashrut authorities, setting the guidelines they must adhere to.”

This seems to imply that the act of labelling a product as kosher without first attaining the approval of the central authority would become illegal. Halal foods are in the same position.

While this may ostensibly seem like yet another example of government over-regulation, the consequences of such an initiative are potentially grave for the following reasons:

1) As an ordained Orthodox Rabbi I feel that such an authority is simply untenable.

Jewish law deals as a matter of religious course in disputes in a multiplicity of areas. Judaism, like Islam is inherently decentralised and for government to centralise power in either religion is anathema. That a government certified authority could pronounce on these disputes for all Australian Jews and Muslims flies in the face of the nature of our religions.

2) The members of any Western democracy are wary of giving secular authority to religious bodies. This proposed legislation hands a select group, with no actual or verifiable mandate, the status of the conveners of ‘official Judaism’ or ‘official Islam’. They will then be able to legally accept or reject a product as definitively kosher or Halal, despite the wishes of other, significant sectors in their community.

This breaking down of the walls between religion and state also worries the broader electorate because they rightly view liberal democracy as a bulwark against sectarianism.

3) This is not a health issue.

While government labelling standards are an obvious necessity when it comes to matters such as health, extending their reach to religious issues simply makes no sense.

In Israel there are numerous kosher authorities, all legal, each with their level of religious observance. It is up to the consumer to check the kosher certificate before sitting for their meal or buying the product.

4) Whom will this legislation penalise?

I am Orthodox and philosophically disagree with other streams of Judaism; however, I accept their right to practice according to their conscience and defend their right to do so.

If a non-Orthodox Rabbi wishes to give his or her authorisation to a restaurant the proposed legislation would simply not allow for this.

It would seem that this legislation has been proposed to bolster the leadership of various communities rather than the very members of those communities. Ordinary families will suffer due to a restriction of choice and the free market that our society has been built on will suffer.

I feel that any move to introduce legislation such as this could open the door to similar legislation that would impact the Australian greater good for the sake of a narrow set of interests.

Yours Sincerely,
Rabbi Yaron Gottlieb”

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Apr
18
2010

The Bridge Builder – By Yaron Gottlieb

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series The Rav Elon Scandal

Unfortunately any scandals or misdeeds associated with a religion – or more often, with religious leaders – will always be used by some as a refutation of the religion itself. “Don’t shoot the messenger,” is a well-worn cliché, but perhaps as important is the notion that that the message – if useful or relevant – should not be killed off, even when the messenger delivering it may have destroyed the trust so many had placed in him. Continue reading The Bridge Builder – By Yaron Gottlieb →

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Apr
9
2010

Shabbat Shalom and a Brilliant post at YourJC

The blog, YourJC, has a post that provides one of the smartest arguments for the urgent need for diversification  of Jewish religious life in this country. Highly recommended.

Yaron and I will be back next week. Till then, we wish you Shabbat Shalom and a wonderful weekend.

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Apr
6
2010

Riots, Religiosity, and The Broken Bridge

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series The Rav Elon Scandal

Riots, Religiosity, and The Broken Bridge

My Israeli family had an unusual gift: they could always find a riot to stumble upon accidentally.

Back in 1994, when I was young and studying in Israel, my uncle and aunty* loved nothing more than to drive me back to Jerusalem after Shabbat (the Sabbath). They lived close to Tel Aviv, and would pile sundry relatives into the car with us to make the hour journey, have a coffee somewhere, and drop me off at the institute where I was studying.

These expeditions involved shoving a Middle Eastern pop cassette into the car’s deck and lots of raucous singing. We never listened to the news – which was perhaps why we were so often surprised by unrest. Why listen to depressing radio news of internal and external strife when you can wail with Sarit Hadad or feel your ears bleed to Ladino Romansa?

In between songs, my uncle would ask the same question every time: “What’s the best thing about Jerusalem?”

The others in the car would respond on cue: “The road out to Tel Aviv!”

This never stopped being funny. No elaboration was needed.

We all associated Jerusalem with stifling ultra-orthodox dominance and constant political tension.

Tel Aviv and her satellite cities, meanwhile, were where “real” Israelis lived – Israelis who served in the army, who struggled financially without generous state stipends for having a menagerie of children and studying Torah all day.

So when, one Saturday night, we arrived in Jerusalem, parked the car and made our way to the street with our favourite cafes, we naturally had no idea that a riot was in progress.

All previous demonstrations I’d seen till then were the result of left- or right-wing passions – political positions that – no matter how heatedly they opposed each other – still existed within the same broad framework. Whatever the ideologies, Zionism and democracy were integral to each side.

That night in Jerusalem, however, I saw a scene that existed beyond any familiar discourse.

Oil drums and stray pieces of news paper were set alight, and apart from my small family group and a few other hapless folk who hadn’t been listening to the news, the crowd was notable for its monolithic sameness: everyone was ultra-orthodox, everyone was male, and everyone was burning with a fury I hadn’t seen before.

Before and after that night, I would occasionally enjoy running through right-wing demonstrations, shouting left-wing slogans. Sometimes I would even wear the identifiable blue shirt of my far-left youth movement.

Everyone needs a hobby.

People might have shouted at me, but I don’t remember that. I do remember quizzical looks, and occasional amusement, and I remember feeling safe enough to be so, “brave.”

The only time I miscalculated was in an area in which a high percentage of the men had done time in prison, and even there, nothing too awful happened.

This riot was different. There was no temptation to attract attention of any sort.

The roar from the crowd shouted in unison, “Death to the Arabs.”

This was confusing at the time: I’d assumed that because the ultra-orthodox were non- or anti-Zionists that they wouldn’t harbour genocidal feelings towards Arabs. It was my first lesson that Zionism was not the problem.

My aunty is a woman for whom speaking loudly is a way of life.

Even in the depths of despair, she is voluble and humorous. That she spoke quietly and seriously in my ear that night made my every hair stand on end: “When I say run, run. Don’t ask questions, don’t say anything. They won’t care if they kill you when they start running.”

It was this tacit assumption among my family that our lives were not worth much to the rioters that left an indelible mark.

For all their bluster and love of verbal biffo, there is a sense among the general Israeli population that the country comprises a highly dysfunctional extended family that requires the citizens to look out for each other’s welfare.

That night, I understood that this feeling was not universal.

My memory of the “exciting” portion of the evening is hazy. There were police water cannon, we ran a bit. My hand was sore for a while after my aunty had released it from her grip.

The fear we felt that night coloured all my future experiences with what the family referred to as, “the religious.”

In reality, not all orthodox Jews were wholesale rejectionists of modernity and the state of Israel.

The orthodox Religious Zionists never fell under my family’s definition of “religious” and it was easy to understand why. While their politics and religiosity may not have reflected our beliefs, we never felt separated from them. It was possible to have long, heated, but ultimately good-natured discussions with them. They saw themselves as Israeli, and they saw us as Israeli. They may not have approved of our eating habits or Sabbath breaking ways, but they never gave us the impression that they thought we weren’t Jews.

The ultra-orthodox – the people my family meant by the term “religious,” referred to us as Israeli “goyim” – non-Jews.

On a tour of one of the ultra-orthodox neighbourhoods in Jerusalem that year, I was spat on by someone. I’d taken care to dress “modestly” as instructed, but I was still obviously a secular Jew who was bringing the tone of the neighbourhood down.

And what a strange neighbourhood it was. 18th century Poland/Hungarian village life had been transplanted into the Middle East and somehow this represented the ultimate in Jewish authenticity.

The news regularly reported stories of wayward secular cars accidentally straying into ultra-orthodox neighbourhoods on the Sabbath. These cars were soundly stoned by the enraged devout.

Those of us living outside Jerusalem, however, generally preferred not to think about he issue at all – until it was our car that was lost on a Sabbath in Jerusalem.

Tel Aviv and her surrounds were our turf, and on our turf, we could do as we pleased – in theory.

A few years later, I’d caught the last mini-bus home. It was a short ride well within Tel Aviv city limits. The mini-bus was packed and the only seat available was next to an ultra-orthodox man.

My first thought was, “I wonder if he’s lost.”

And then the shouting began: “Don’t let her on! I won’t sit next to her. She has to get off, NOW!”

In this man’s mind, his modesty would have been thoroughly compromised by sitting next to a woman; so obviously, I would have to walk.

The mini-bus erupted. Men and women screamed at this man in unison, “GO BACK TO JERUSALEM! This is Tel Aviv. You don’t like it? Get out yourself!”

Eventually, the mini-bus driver, a pursuer of peace, told the man to come sit next to him. I was ensconced among my secular brethren and we all glowed a little from our victory.

In hindsight, I understand how hollow this victory was – how such minor triumphs actually obscure the reality of ultra-orthodox domination of the country and how very illusory the “freedom” of Tel Aviv is.

I may have been able to catch that bus, but there are many other buses now – state subsidised – that enforce segregation between the sexes.

In the august tradition of Jim Crow America, women are relegated to the back of these busses. Should they object, they will be met by a number of forms of intimidation and ultimately forced from the bus should they remain obdurate.

The ultra-orthodox control personal status law in the country.

Should two Jews not wish to be married by a rabbi – and not be subject to archaic divorce laws that profoundly discriminate against women – they have to go overseas to wed.

Should a Jew and a non-Jew, or a Jew and a Jew not recognised as Jewish by the ultra-orthodox wish to marry, again, overseas marriage is the only option.

And now, the ultra-orthodox are looking to entrench their power to determine who is a Jew further and they are able to do this – to disenfranchise the entirety of non-Orthodox Jewry – because of Israel’s catastrophic electoral system that sees minor parties granted massively disproportionate power.

The tensions between the vast majority of Israelis, who are irreligious and the ultra-orthodox are cyclical. There hasn’t yet been a concerted and sustained effort to wrest control of personal status from the ultra-orthodox, and changes to the political system are due to arrive with the Messiah.

In Australia, it’s easy to have a, “live and let live” attitude towards the ultra-orthodox. Their life choices have no impact on the three quarters of Australian Jews who are not religious.

Israel is different. The nature of ultra-orthodoxy is to encroach on the lives and freedoms of the general citizenry.

When Rabbi Elon worked at bridging the religious/secular divide, his starting point was as a proud Israeli who never sought to deny the Jewishness of secular Israel. His agenda was not to turn Israel into a theocratic state that squeezed out all religious diversity.

The tragedy of his departure was that he was one of the few people able to converse with both sides. Secular people loved him, and most orthodox recognised his immense learning.

That this bridge is gone makes mediation between the sides seem as impossible as it was before Rabbi Elon appeared on the scene.

Yaron, who studied under Rabbi Elon will write about the Rabbi’s strategies and successes and will ask whether the fall of the man necessitates the destruction of his message.

* they were not actually my uncle and aunty but more distant relatives who, with their enormous extended family, “adopted” me.

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Apr
3
2010

After Pessach: The Israeli Secular/Religious Divide After the Rabbi Elon Scandal

We hope everyone has had an enjoyable long weekend and that our observant Jewish readers are surviving the dietary rigours of Pessach.

The next post will be up on Wednesday.

I will respond to themes touched on by Yaron in his post on the Rabbi Elon sex scandal. My post will  explore the secular/religious divide from a very irreligious perspective.

This will be followed by a piece from Yaron that examines the importance of Rabbi Elon’s message – as distinct from the Rabbi’s alleged misdeeds – of bridging the secular/religious chasm in order to avoid an irreparable rift that is, perhaps, as great a challenge to the Jewish state as any external threat.

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Mar
31
2010

Turf Wars, Tradition, and Innovation: The Case of the Soft Matzah – By Rabbi Yaron Gottlieb

Turf Wars, Tradition, and Innovation: The Case of the Soft Matzah

The recent entrance of a soft Matza into Melbourne’s kosher-for-Passover marketplace has brought the sort of furious controversy that seems to follow almost any religious innovation or attempt at doing something outside the “authorised leadership” in the Jewish community.

Matzah, for the uninitiated, is the “bread” product eaten on Pessach (Passover). The definition of matzah is, flour and water mixed together and not allowed to sit for more then 18 minutes before baking.

The European custom is that the matzah is a large cracker (that shatters into a multitude of pieces whenever it is taken on an excursion). This is the tradition that almost all the Jews of Melbourne grew up with.

There are, however, other Jews in the world. Continue reading Turf Wars, Tradition, and Innovation: The Case of the Soft Matzah – By Rabbi Yaron Gottlieb →

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Mar
28
2010

Chag Sameach – Wishing everyone well during the Passover period

Hi everyone. As mentioned in earlier posts, the Pessach (Passover) festival begins tonight and lasts for eight days. The next post will be up on Thursday.

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Mar
27
2010

And on the 8th Day they Created Gebrokts: Passover Ironies – by Malki Rose

Alex’s Note: For those unfamiliar with the intricacies of the Jewish festival of Passsover (known in Hebrew as, Pessach), it is more than a simple commemoration of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt and liberation from slavery. The celebration lasts eight days, with the first two nights devoted to elaborate, ritualised dinners. Even devoutly irreligious Jews celebrate in this way.

Jews who are more observant also adhere to a strict dietary regime that precludes anything containing chametz. The literal translation of chametz, is, “leavening” and it refers to any form of fermented product (in matters of yeast, not wine), or anything that might cause fermentation.

The observance of this practice over the eight day period is a remembrance of the speed with which Jews had to leave Egypt: they did not have the time to allow their bread to rise – to leaven. For this reason, Jews eat matzah throughout Pessach, and remove anything that might cause leavening before the festival.

Malki Rose muses on this tradition, and the Jewish tendency to let rituals, such as the pre-Pessach war on chametz, to get thoroughly out of hand.

**************

By Malki Rose

For some reason, Pessach preparations seem to be getting sillier and sillier.

Last year we just vacuumed the carpet, this year we vacuumed the ipod. We used to cover bench-tops in foil or plastic, and restrict kashering (making kosher) to just sinks, stoves, ovens and cookware.

Now we seem to be kashering and cleaning everything we ever have and will come into contact with. Continue reading And on the 8th Day they Created Gebrokts: Passover Ironies – by Malki Rose →

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Mar
24
2010

Chutzpah and The Petulant Zionists

For our non-Jewish readers: the past week has been the lead up to the eight-day Passover festival.

It’s a time of frantic and compulsive cleaning and bizarre shopping practices in preparation for eating far too much. A post about the nature of this festival is coming in the next couple of days.

What this means for the blog is sporadic posting until after the festival ends on April 6th.  In order to get updates on new posts during this time, you can subscribe to the RSS feed at the top of the blog (if you know how it works, in which case, you’re one up on me). I also post updates on Facebook for every new post.

***

This week’s Jewish News contained a particularly interesting piece (page 4) about Albert Dadon’s Leadership Forum.

The forum itself was held last year and was something of a coup. Israeli and Australian political leaders were brought together by Dadon’s organisation, the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange (AICE) to discuss various ways in which the ties between the two countries could be strengthened.

There were petulant whispers, none of them quite confident enough to be voiced publicly that somehow, Dadon was not playing by the rules because he operated independently of existing Zionist organisations. Continue reading Chutzpah and The Petulant Zionists →

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