haredim kosher food 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Many organizations have been getting into the business of giving socalled
kashrut certificates that deal not with the ritual aspects of kashrut but with
ethical concerns. The Rabbinical Assembly in America now has a Magen Tzedek
certificate it issues to indicate that the kosher food is produced in ways that
meet the business ethics of Judaism so that the food is ethically as well as
ritually pure. Other rabbinical associations have followed suit.
Israel there is a group that issues certificates to firms indicating they follow
ethical business practices. All of this only emphasizes that Judaism is more
than a set of rituals, it is also an ethical way of living.
I was shocked
recently, however, to see a newspaper report recently that there is a Jewish
organization here that is planning to give “kashrut certificates” to stores and
companies that can prove that they do not employ “enemies of Israel,” which the
head of the group explained means Arabs. My immediate reaction was to say that
any business displaying such a sign would be one I would absolutely refuse to
The most disturbing part of the report was that this
certificate was being sought after by many places in the haredi areas of
Jerusalem. What evil spirit is getting into such groups that would offer such a
thing and want to display it? Is it even legal in the State of Israel to
discriminate against any group in employment on the basis of race or religion?
After all, Arab citizens are guaranteed freedom and equality by our Declaration
of Independence. It states quite clearly, “The State of Israel will uphold the
full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of
race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship,
education and culture.”
It would be well for us to remember both our
history, for centuries Jews were denied employment in so many fields, and our
tradition which forbids us to discriminate against non-Jews.
religious Jews should do that is particularly disturbing because the Torah goes
out of its way to prohibit discrimination and persecution of “the stranger.” The
Torah takes it for granted that when Israel inhabits its own land there will be
non-Israelites who will dwell there with them and makes provision to protect
them. This is analogous to the fact that non-Jews, Arabs, dwell in the modern
State of Israel.
The Torah is emphatic in emphasizing that these
strangers must be treated well and fairly. In the very first of the Torah’s
legal codes it is stated, “You shall not wrong a stranger [ger] or oppress him,
for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:20). This is repeated
again even more explicitly in the very next chapter: “You shall not oppress a
stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been
strangers in the land of Egypt” (23:9).
The holiness code in Leviticus
reiterates this and equates the stranger to the native, i.e. the Israelite:
“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The
stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall
love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I the Lord am
your God (Leviticus 19:33-34).
When the theme of the stranger is taken up
by Deuteronomy it requires the judicial system to protect the rights of the
stranger: “...decide justly between any man and a fellow Israelite or a
stranger” (1:16). “For the Lord your God... upholds the cause of the fatherless
and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing him with food and clothing.
You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”
They were easy victims of economic exploitation, the
deprivation of property or denial of legal rights. Therefore the Torah provides
for their protection and it is God who upholds their cause.
Yes, we were
“strangers” not only in Egypt, but in Spain, in France, in Germany, in Morocco,
in England and so many other places. We know and understand what that means and
therefore should be ultrasensitive to how we treat others. Israel has sufficient
laws to protect us against traitors and enemies, internal as well as external.
It does not need vigilante groups to work outside the law to keep us safe and
untainted by the “strangers” in our midst.The writer was the founding
director of the Schechter Rabbinical School. A twotime winner of the National
Jewish Book Award, his latest book is