Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Is the ketchup kosher?

A few weeks before Pesach, I moved to a new desk at work. The previous occupant had left a lot of junk in the desk. I didn't realize one of the drawers had food in it under the files and didn't get around to cleaning it till this week. I found a whole bunch of ketchup and mayo packets inside, the kind that you get from fast food places.

Not that I have a great need to consume these condiments, but it made me wonder - are they kosher or are they chametz she'avar alav achar hapesach (CSAAAHP)? They are Heinz, and have an O-U on them. But they were in my desk over Pesach and weren't sold with my other chametz. On the other hand, I wasn't aware of their existence till this week. Plus, the desk doesn't belong to me, it belongs to my employer. So were the packets halachically considered to be in my possession over Pesach?

So what's the halacha?

A second question: if they are CSAAAHP, do I need to throw them out (rather than leave them in the office kitchenette) to avoid the chance that someone else Jewish in my office might eat them inadvertantly? Or if it's a safek that it's CSAAAHP, and a safek that a Jew would eat them, is that a sfek sfeka and it's ok to leave them in the kitchenette? Or does sfek sfeka not apply to possible chametz?

Just some "food" for thought.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Moth in ATM

At the ATM this morning, there was a moth under the glass.

Very surreal...

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I work for a giant rat!

At least according to the protesters outside my office. Apparently my employer, a huge financial services firm, is using a company for its moving and storage needs that is unfair to workers.

For argument's sake, let's say this is true. Obviously I'm not quitting my job over it. But it raises food for thought: what threshold would a company have to cross to cause you to quit? A division that produces porn? Toxic dumping? Sweat shops in Guatemala?

It's not an easy decision, especially when jobs are as scarce as they are now.

What do you think?

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

One more from the ferry

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The Staten Island Ferry

This is my first post from my cellphone. Hope this works!
I moved to eastern Pennsylvania a few months ago and have been commuting to NY on a semi-regular basis.
It's a brutal commute. If I didn't have to cross the Hudson, I could do it in half the time. But as it is, ot usually takes me at least 3 hours. It normally involves some combination of driving, NJ Transit trains, and PATH.
Today, I tried something new: the Staten Island Ferry. It didn't make the commute any shorter, but it was immensly more relaxing. The open water and air was far better than a cup of coffee ever could be! I'm looking forward to the evening commute, coming up soon!
I took a video from the ferry. As I said above, this is my first mobile post. Hope the video posts...

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

My first post criticizing Obama (no kidding)

Disclaimer first:

As I maintained he would in a number of posts during the campaign, I still think Obama’s turning out to be a darn good president in general. And I still think he’ll be a great friend to Israel. But as I indicated in this post, he’s not above criticism. However, the below criticism is in the same vein as those right-wingers who thought GW Bush was Israel’s best friend but criticized him during his second term for publicly supporting a two-state solution. Obama’s still my man. Now on to the criticism.

Obama left today for a trip to the Middle East. He’s trying to repair ties with the Arab world, and the greater Muslim world, which Bush shredded during his two terms. He’s going to speak from Cairo, a symbolic move to indicate that the Arab & Muslim states do not need to have an antagonistic relationship with the US and the US is willing to listen to what they have to say.

Fine, I support that. Even seen from a Israel-centric standpoint, Bush’s “us” and “them” cowboy diplomacy didn’t exactly help Israel, it only made her more hated, if that were possible. And with the threat of Iran, Israel needs friends in the region, or at least what passes for friendship around there, grudging cordiality and willingness to cooperate on some things, even if only through US mediation. So basically, Israel needs the US to have good relations with Arab countries. That’s the only way anything has ever been solved around there, and it increases Israel’s security.

So Obama is bending over backwards to show the United States’ good intentions to the Arab countries. But in a bizarre move, he’s decided not to stop in Israel during this trip. Now, I’m not one of those Jews who craves a visit to Israel by the US president for some sort of validation. But to go to the Middle East & not stop in Israel, a close ally, is a slap in the face, given the precedent of almost all previous presidents. I get that he’s staying away from Israel to make a point to underscore his overture to the Arab world and avoid undercutting his message of evenhanded friendship. But then, I would understand Obama stopping only in Egypt, making his speech & going back to the US.

But that’s not what he’s doing. Instead, he stopped in Saudi Arabia for a day first. If his trip is so carefully orchestrated to avoid insulting the Arab world by avoiding Israel, you’d think he would also carefully orchestrate NOT stopping in Saudi Arabia and lavishing praise on the country’s dictators, as he did, to avoid insulting Israel. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he didn’t stop in Riyadh solely to insult Israel. The news media reports that the trip to SA was a last minute add-on. But he and his advisors should have realized how that would look. If he’s already tooling around the region, going to more than one country, it’s an insult to ignore Israel.

And why do I have the feeling that a stop in Israel more likely would have been on the agenda if Ehud Barak or Tzipi Livni had formed the government instead of Netanyahu? Or even if Netanyahu had formed a broad coalition with Kadima & Labor instead of with right-wing and religious fringe nuts? I’m no supporter of Netanyahu and his coalition, but it strikes me that if Obama can meet with and lavish praise on the Saudi royal family, who have, like most Arab “moderates”, made hateful and false statements about Israel, and at least indirectly supported terrorism, he could swallow meeting with Netanyahu, who is the Dalai Lama in comparison, in Jerusalem.

Do you get your values just from the Torah?

What is morality? And what are ethics? Or values?

In my discussions with Charedim, (and some Centrist Orthodox and even Modern Orthodox) both online & offline, we often come to an impasse when I realize that one of the basic assumptions they’ve made is that I, as a kipa wearing Jew, take all my cues for morality, ethics, and values from the Torah, and that there can be no other standard.

Even if one accepts that premise, there are far reaching disagreements on what the Torah has to say when it comes to value judgments. But leaving that aside, in any case I reject the basic premise. I see no reason that the Torah should be the only arbiter of my moral being. I may be a Jew, but that’s not the only thing I am. I’m also a human being.

When the Charedi I’m talking to realizes that I’m not on the same wavelength when it comes to this issue, he will often engage in circular arguments:

“How can you not see the Torah as the final word on every issue? The Torah says you’re supposed to see it that way, and therefore, as a Jew, that’s what you must do!”

Aha – that’s one of the very (supposed) “Torah values” that I reject, that the Torah is my only moral guide. So that argument holds no water with me.

I am a committed Jew. I keep kashrut & shabbat, daven, study Torah, wear a kipa, etc. But that’s not all I am. I’m also a human being who attended college, reads voraciously, has friends who have all sorts of beliefs and lifestyles, and is affected by contemporary western moral values.

An example: recently I was talking to a relative, and she referred to a cousin who “nebach”, married a non-Jew. As is her wont, she said this in a low voice as if mourning a tragedy. I used to think the same way. Anyone who intermarried was destroying the Jewish people, and voluntarily doing Hitler’s work.

But as an adult, I got to know people who were intermarried. And you know what? Most of them are happy, raising well adjusted kids, and leading a meaningful lifestyle in their own way. Many of them even raise their kids with a strong Jewish identity, with the non-Jewish spouse attending synagogue along with the rest of the family.

And so I realized, why is it my place to judge these people and say that they’ve taken the wrong path in life? Am I so arrogant that I know the one and only true path and that they’ve abandoned their only route to some heavenly salvation? Why not just be happy for them that they’ve found happiness, something that’s hard to find in this world for so many people?

So what do I do with the halachic opposition to intermarriage?

One possible solution is to dig down deep into the mists of early Judaism and argue that the Torah doesn’t really prohibit intermarriage and that it’s all a Rabbinic innovation. And there may be some truth to that. But I’m a firm believer in Judaism as an evolving religion. And as such, it would be disingenuous to claim that traditional Judaism hasn’t had a major problem with intermarriage for at least 1 ½ millennia. And in any case, if I use that sort of argument, I’m boxing myself in and making it a requirement to find some sort of historical-religious justification for any personal moral value I hold that on the surface disagrees with tradition.

Instead, I prefer to concede that, yes,Rabbinic Judaism prohibits marriage to a non-Jew who hasn’t sincerely converted. But that’s irrelevant. I’m not intermarried and so it’s not a personal issue. And the Torah’s opposition? It is what it is. But I, as a human being with values that are a result of my almost 40 years of life experience, see nothing wrong with it for other people who’ve chosen that path. I don’t uphold it as an ideal, but once they’ve chosen such a romantic partnership, let them be happy! So I’ve gone to weddings and danced for Jewish brides and non-Jewish grooms and vice versa, and celebrated their unions. The Torah may say it’s wrong, but so what? Not every one of my values has to be from the Torah.

I have a similar attitude towards homosexuality. Admittedly, I’m not gay, so I can’t really understand the struggle that a gay Jew who was raised Orthodox must go through. Still, I can’t deny that the Torah calls homosexuality “toevah”, often translated as “abomination.” But when it comes to my gay friends? As long as they’re happy, I’m happy for them.

A few years ago, a co-worker to who I was close died young. Her funeral was held in a catholic church. I felt no need to ask a Rav whether I was allowed to enter for the funeral, because the answer would have been irrelevant. It was far more important to attend her funeral and be there to say goodbye in the manner her family chose.

It seems to me that giving over all of one’s decisions to what the Torah says (or some Rav’s interpretation of what it says) makes one a poorer human being. Struggling with ethical dilemmas and thinking for oneself, based on the richness of one’s own experience is part of life. And I think even most Charedim absorb ethical ideals from contemporary notions even as they deny it. For example, the Torah talks about slavery (yes, yes, I know the apologetics, it’s indentured servitude, not much better), but do any Charedim believe in slavery? Wouldn’t most recoil at the idea? We all get our morals, values, and ethics from various sources, often unconsciously.

So where does your value system come from?