Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Growth of a Concept-Heksher Tzedek takes off!!

It has been a busy time for those of us working on Hechsher Tzedek. Last week, while I was at Camp Ramah-Wisconsin, I had the opportunity to teach about Hechsher Tzedek in a variety of settings. The excitement and the response was truly moving. We are hopeful to be able to post some of the responses to a recent trip to Postville by a group of 15-year old campers. They were able to see the many positive things happening inside the community as well as better understand the reality of what it means to be a line worker in a factory setting.

On Tuesday night, July 17, I participated in a Hechsher Tzedek forum at Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minnetonka. It was a very exciting gathering. On a humid summer night, well over 70 people came to hear about the importance of Hechsher Tzedek. The crowd was diverse and the enthusiasm was very real. Clearly, the concept of making explicit the connection between mitzvot bein adam lhavero (commandments between one person and another) and mitzvot bein adam lmakom(commandments between a person and GOD) is something that touches the neshama of Jews. For too long, ritual and ethical commandments have been seen as independent categories that need not influence one or the other. But Judaism does not want us to live our lives that way. Rabbi Aaron Brusso, in introducing the program, quoted Rav Kook, the first chief Rabbi of Israel who decried the notion that there were Jews who saw passion in ritual life and ignored the pleas of humanity , and there were other Jews who heard the cries but found so little meaning in ritual living. Hechsher Tzedek is a powerful means of demonstrating the possibility of linkage. Hechsher Tzedek is a way to demonstrate that kashrut animates the life of the Jew in all of our ways of experiencing the world.

The only sad moment in the evening was when one individual wanted to know why we were so involved in "attacking other Jews." In truth, we have done everything possible to refrain from any attacks. I pointed out to the questioner that the only attacks I have seen have been from certain rabbis who have chosen to vilify and slander me and the Conservative movement for raising these issues. We have chosen and will continue to choose to stay above the line. We believe that the support for Hechsher Tzedek will come from all streams of Jewish life, and that the vast majority of Jews see in Hechsher Tzedek an opportunity for demonstrating that beauty of Jewish belief and practice.

We are hopeful that by Rosh Hashana, the objective, verifiable standards that can be used in evaluating for the Hechsher Tzedek will be announced. At that point, the next phase of this sacred undertaking will begin. As we focus during these days leading to Tisha B'av, let us not lose sight of the famous gemara in Bava Metzia that said the Temple was destroyed because judges could not understand the full meaning of the law they were asked to judge. By limiting their rulings to the letter and not considering the ethical dimension of the law, they created the fertile ground for the Temple's destruction. It was the gemara's way of saying that the separation of ethical demands from ritual demands can be disastrous. Let us never fall prey to that thinking again.