osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,
osewalrus
osewalrus

The OU Needs to Get a Gripand Focus On Important Things

An open letter to the Union of Orthodox Rabbis:

Dear Union of Orthodox Rabbis (OU):

I noticed your recent press release on the California Supreme Court Decision. May I ask why this is any concern of the OU? I mean, I understand from the press release because you were a sign on to some amicus brief or other, but that just begs the question of why you signed on in the first place.

In recent years, I have been dismayed by the tendency of the OU to assert itself as the spokescritter for the Orthodox Jewish movement. This has included making proclamations on whether one should drink to intoxication on Purim, and attempting to proclaiming national campaigns, such as the campaign against "kiddush clubs." While your organizations members are certainly entitled to express their views (like anybody else), the tenor of these writings suggests that you consider yourself as having greater authority in matters of halacha or as spokespeople for a segment of American Jews than, IMO, is warranted.

May I remind you that unlike other movements in American Jewery that have established hierarchies, traditional Judaism does not. Even in periods where bodies of Rabbis have been constituted, this has occurred either through the voluntary agreements of communities facilitated by sovereigns in the lands of our Exile (such as the Va'ad Arba Artzot) or forced upon us by rulers who desired to have a single authority responsible for the Jews. Happily, in the United States, where we have enjoyed freedom unequaled until the founding of the Jewish State (reishite smeichat g'ulateinu), such institutions and organizations were neither required nor welcomed. To the contrary, every Jew has had the responsibility to "make for [themselves] a rabbi" and follow the opinions of their chosen halachic authority rather than look to a national body for halachic or spiritual guidance.

As such, I find it difficult to understand why the OU has extended itself in this case. This is not a case that concerns conduct bearing on the OU and the services it provides. It is a matter of the law of the State of California, outside the scope of the OU's overall concerns. The OU has not, to the best of my knowledge, generally engaged in advocacy on general social issues. While no one would doubt that homosexual relations fall outside the scope of permissible behavior as defined by halacha, and Rav Moshe (zecher tzadik livracha) provided in a t'shuvah that such relationships are assur to goyim as a violation of the shevah mitzvot bene Noach, the same is true for a wide variety of other issues and concerns that the OU has not before extended its advocacy work. For example, would the OU support an effort to outlaw the boiling of shellfish alive, or support the workof PETA in banning other practices which clearly violates the Noachide Law against aver min hachai?

To the extent you are looking for causes, might I recommend something closer to home? To wit, the situation with Agriprocessors, which has become a major busha for our community. While I agree completely with the statement in the article linked to above declining to opine on the innocence or guilt of senior management until allegations are proved, there is still a need for a response to these allegations within our community and without. As a major provider of certification for Kosher products, it is both your right and your responsibility to remind providers of kosher food that and Jewish owners of businesses receiving the OU certification that we have an obligation under the halacha to observe the secular law (dinah d'malchuta dina) and that practices that bring Jewish or kosher businesses into disrepute shame us all. As we make our way from Peasach to Shavuot -- a time when we recall how our ancestors in the Desert elevated themselves from slaves at the 49th level of tumah to a nation worthy to receive the Torah and capable of saying with one voice "Na'asseh v'Nishma!" -- it would be both suitable and appropriate for the OU to remind those who rely upon its services and certifications of our moral and legal responsibilities to behave as exemplars of moral rectitude in all our dealings. To the extent there is an idea among certain people in our community that our halachic responsibilities are somehow weaker (or do not extend at all) to secular law and dealings with non-Jews, it should be vigorously attacked by all right thinking people and by those who consider themselves the leaders of the community.

I would add that this should be particularly emphasized in the context of payment of wages and fair treatment of workers -- whether Jewish or non-Jewish. It was only a few weeks ago that we read in Pashat Kedoshim "do not leave over until the next day the wage of the worker" (Lev. 19:14) And as it is also written: "Nor shall you oppress the stranger that lives among you, as a fellow citizen you shall treat him, the stranger that dwells among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for were you not strangers in the Land of Egypt? I am the Lord!" (Lev. 19:34) And further, we are enjoined to have honest business practices "You shall not work a corruption of justice with false weights and measures; you shall have an honest scale, an honest dry weight, and an honest fluid measure, I am the Lord who took you from the Land of Egypt." (Lev 19:35-36).

In conclusion I would remind you that the halachot concerning fair treatment of workers, tithes to the poor, and maintaining honest business practices are included in the injunction "Kedoshim Tihiyu" in which one finds the prohibition on homosexuality (Lev 20:13). It is, of course, a well known precept that all the Laws which the Holy One, Blessed Be He, gave to us in the Torah are equally holy and of equal value. It would therefore be both unfortunate and inconsistent were the OU, as a collection of Rabbis dedicated to halacha, were to inveigh against a change in secular because it might lead to a greater incidence of violation of one command, yet decline to inveigh with clarity and vigor against practices that directly violate halacha-- especially where these violations take place under the auspices of OU certification of kashrut.

Sincerely,

Harold Feld
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