Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tisha B'Av

Meaningful and comfortable fast to all. May we mourn whatever aspect of galut we find meaningful to mourn, but do it together. That's the most important thing.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Doctors vs Moneylenders

This morning, while looking for the weather channel, I came across a segment about the Israeli medical system. It turned out to be a segment of The 700 Club, with Pat Robertson. They were praising how good a system of medical care Israel has.

Then Pat mentioned how wonderful it is that when you look at the US medical system, the top ranks are heavily populated with Jews. Wait a second, isn't that major stereotyping?

Well, if so, I'm happier with that stereotype than the old one, where we're all greedy moneylenders.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Yehudi Hilchati

I used to blog under the name "Yehudi Hilchati" on a blog of the same name. Around a year ago, I wrote there:
Should I blog under my own name?
I've always been a little uncomfortable with anonymous blogging. But I do it anyway, for the reasons outlined below.

I've written stuff here that I probably wouldn't want my family or some members of my community to know of. Though I'm not a full-blown skeptic, I've expressed enough opinions on the documentary hypothesis and the origins of Judaism to earn the title of "apikores" by strictly traditional standards. I've also written some left-of-center opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue that while relatively moderate, would provoke massive arguments with my right wing (on that issue) family if they knew about it. So all in all, blogging anonymously allows me to express my opinions without fear of repercussions.

On the other hand, blogging anonymously keeps me from extending the discourse of this blog to real life. If I blogged under my own name, I'd be able to make the blog simply an extension of my ideas in real life, which I could discuss with people verbally and then simply refer them to my blog. Therefore, I've been thinking about dispensing with the "secret identity" and blogging as myself.

But if I did, I'd probably just start a new non-anonymous blog and just let this one go dormant, with no identifying link between them, for the reasons mentioned above. I just don't need arguments and tension with parents, siblings, and some friends. (My wife is aware of this blog.) The new blog would probably avoid some topics I've dealt with here.

Although I don't have a huge number of readers, over the past 1+ years, I've developed connections to a number of other blogs and have commented in many places, all under the name "Yehudi Hilchati".

So do I leave it behind and start a new blog under my own name and rebuild a readership with no base?

Should I just stay put and leave aside my need to express my opinions under my own name?

Or should I be really daring and go public on this blog and let the chips fall where they may?
Obviously I went with the first option, above, and started a new blog, this one. So why am I revealing this now, when that's precisely what I said I wouldn't do?
Because I've realized that this blog has become almost exactly what the old one was, with similar opinions and ideas. I even took the best of the old blog and reposted them here, with slight updates. And while there is a little less of the "apikorsut" and politics about Israel, I've commented on many other blogs under this name without censoring my opinions at all. And after a few weeks of having my real name listed in my "DYS" profile when I first started blogging under those initials (my real ones) I removed my last name, because I felt a little too exposed.
So in almost every way, this blog's exactly like the old one. I guess that someone starts a blog because they have something to say. And that something is hard to constrain.
In any case, now that I've gotten to know more bloggers, I realize that I'm far from radical compared with many others. And some friends who I spoke to about my hashkasfic doubts didn't seem surprised or disturbed, nor did they have issues with the kashrut of my food.
So what's the point of this whole post? I'm not sure, except maybe to free myself of any remaining dual-identity constraints. So keep reading!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Is meat slaughtered by women kosher?

Cross-posted on DovBear

Gil Student, over at
Hirhurim, recently posted “a loose translation of notes from lectures by R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik” examining the issue of whether women can be slaughterers (shochatot). Gil, in his introduction, links it to the issue of women Rabbis and concludes that if shochatot are not allowed, neither are female Rabbis.

The Rav brings a number of sources that essentially prohibit women slaughterers based on the fact that a shochet is a communal position and women cannot hold communal positions. But the
Shulchan Aruch writes that women can be shochatot. The Rama, however, says that they may not serve in that capacity because the custom is that they haven't been doing so. That seems like an extremely poor and circular argument. We don't allow it because we haven't been allowing it. So all the arguments against women slaughterers seem to be based only on social considerations, not solid halacha. And many do allow women to slaughter for themselves, just forbidding it for the community. So Gil is right in a way, by tying female rabbis to female slaughterers. The argument against both are based only on social considerations and there seems to be plenty of halachic room to permit them now when social circumstances have changed.

(By the way, since the Shulchan Aruch permits women slaughterers, and Sephardim follow the Shulchan Aruch without the supplement of the Rama, do they allow shochatot today? If not, why not?)

So should shochatot be permitted? Basically, even according to those who forbid it, it seems to me that they would probably permit it b’dieved, after the fact. Meaning, if someone ate meat slaughtered by a woman skilled in all the halachot of shechita, there was no sin. The meat was kosher.

But despite my progressive stance on most issues relating to women and Judaism, I'm going to invoke social considerations to explain my opinion that except in limited situations, it probably would be unwise to institute it as a general custom at this time.

Let's first be clear about what we're asking and who would care about such an innovation.

There are several type of people who keep kosher. There's the "kosher by ingredients" crowd. There's the "any hechsher, as long as it's on the package" crowd. And then there's the Orthodox standard, meaning hechsherim generally accepted by the community.

Let’s break it down by denomination. The Reform movement doesn't have any official kashrut standards, though some individual members may keep some personal strictures.

The Conservative movement has official standards, but doesn't have a kashrut supervision infrastructure of their own. So they generally rely on Orthodox hechsherim, but will use ones that aren’t widely accepted in the Orthodox community. For example, while the Conservative movement
officially endorses Hebrew National as acceptable for consumption, they do so on the basis of HN's new Orthodox hechsher, Triangle-K. (While T-K isn't accepted in much of the Orthodox community, the Rabbis there are Orthodox. The issue of T-K certifying HN's non-glatt meat is another post.)

That leaves the Orthodox community, which will only consume meat certified by communally accepted agencies.

What if the Conservative movement had its own kashrut supervision agency? Then I see nothing wrong with their using women slaughterers. Orthodox people wouldn't be eating that meat anyway, no matter what gender slaughtered the animal.

But within the world of Orthodox hechsherim, it's a different story. What if Rabbi Avi Weiss decided to create a kashrut agency? (Please note that the following scenario is totally hypothetical and is just to illustrate my point and does not represent any known plans of Rabbi Weiss)

He has already created the new female equivalent of Rabbi, the Maharat, a development of which I wholeheartedly approve. And I presume that to receive smicha, a Maharat must study the same traditional curriculum as a male Rabbi, which would include Yoreh Deah, the volume of Shulchan Aruch that contains the laws of kashrut, including shechita.

So what if this hypothetical kashrut agency started using shochatot?

The institution of the Maharat is already controversial. But its effect is limited to the communities in which these women serve and doesn't spill over. But kashrut is a social intitution as much as a halachic one. People eat in one another's homes and celebratory affairs based on shared assumptions of kashrut reliability. Were Rabbi Weiss, or any figure in Left Wing Modern Orthodoxy to institute the practice of shochatot, there would immediately be a split in the social fabric of Orthodoxy. The implicit assumption of reliable kashrut upon entering the home of someone who was LWMO or observant Conservative would be gone. And the uproar would cause fissures and public discord on a huge scale. The unspoken social compact of kashrut would be broken. It is for that reason that I would be wary of such an innovation at this time.

However, what if Rabbi David Silber, of Drisha, (again, totally hypothetical) decided that a shochetet was halachically permissable, but rather than endorse the practice for the wider community, decided to have a special event at Drisha with meat slaughtered by a shochetet. If he was comfortable of the halachic permissibility, why not?

Social reasons should not hold back halachically permissible practices. However, extreme social disruption should be considered before moving too far, too fast.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Tunisia - an Arab democracy?

Who says the Arab world has no democracies?

"Since 1987, Tunisia has gradually reformed its political system, it has abolished life presidency and opened up parliament to opposition parties."

And despite the fact that they hosted the PLO for so many years, it seems like they have a history of friendliness towards Israel:

"President Bourguiba was the first Arab leader to call for the recognition of Israel in a speech in Jericho in 1965."

In the 90's they even had good ties towards Israel, but that's deteriorated since 2000. Maybe it'll improve again, as their democratic values would seem a natural way to provide motive for rapprochement.