Of Treifos and Trust

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Rabbi Adlerstein’s non-response to the “Monsey chicken story” resulted in the largest comment thread in recent memory — thanks to people responding to the story. Something about fools rushing in comes to mind, but still more apropos and timely is a Mishnah in the first chapter of Maseches Yoma, the Tractate concerning Yom Kippur and its Temple service.

מסרוהו זקני בית דין לזקני כהונה, והוליכוהו לעליית בית אבטינס; השביעוהו, ונפטרו והלכו להם. ואומרין לו, אישי כוהן גדול, אנו שלוחי בית דין, ואתה שלוחנו ושלוח בית דין; משביעין אנו עליך במי ששיכן את שמו בבית הזה, שלא תשנה דבר מכל מה שאמרנו לך. הוא פורש ובוכה, והן פורשין ובוכין

The Elders of the Court would hand him [the Kohen Gadol] to the elder Priests, and they would take him to the upper floor of the House of Avtinus. They would make him swear, and they would depart. And they would say to him, my master the Kohen Gadol, we are the representatives of the Court, and you are our representative and the representative of the Court; we make you swear by He Who rests His Name upon this House [the Temple], that you shall not change a thing from all that we have said to you. He would separate and cry, and they would separate and cry.

As Yom Kippur arrived, after instructing the High Priest on what he should do, the Elders of the Sanhedrin, the High Court, would make him swear to perform the service faithfully. This arose because of the Tzadokim (Sadducees), who would ignore the Oral Law and perform the service incorrectly. Since followers of Tzadok had previously become the Kohen Gadol, it was necessary to force the Kohen Gadol to make an oath to perform his duties in accordance with the Halacha.

Then it says that both he and they — the Kohen Gadol and the Judges — would turn away and cry. The Gemara (19b) explains: he would cry, because they suspected him of being a Tzadoki. And they would cry, because in the words of Rebbe Yehoshua ben Levi, those who doubt the innocent are punished bodily.

We should ask: what do they have to cry for? Wasn’t there a past history of wrongdoing by previous High Priests? Wasn’t this an entirely rational precaution on behalf of the community? Of course both of those things were true — but nonetheless, that is small comfort for the need to suspect an innocent person.

When I grew up in a New Jersey suburb, we rarely locked the door. Living in Baltimore, we use the locks, we use the deadbolts, and we have little signs from Security Link dotting the lawn. Does that mean we are safer? I don’t think so. Not at all. Those who live in communities where the idea of a stranger entering your home is unfathomable are the ones who live in safe places today.

So yes, in the wake of this story, Kashrus certification and Kashrus standards will be irrevocably changed. For hundreds of years we operated under the presumption that an apparently upstanding, observant individual could be trusted, and kosher certification was as much a precaution against inadvertent mistakes as anything else. Now we know that such trust can no longer be invested even in those who appear to be entirely trustworthy. Does that mean that we are now safer, and less likely to be fed non-kosher food? I don’t think so. Not at all.

The world is in a terrible state when we need to suspect everyone, even the innocent.

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20 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    In this market economy, subgroups within the kosher food market will decide what level of supervision makes them comfortable enough to buy meat products. This may well be higher than the halachic “minimum acceptable level”. Producers, distributors, and retailers will make cost-benefit calculations as to how much spending on extra-tight supervision is justified by their potential gain (or avoidance of loss). Since we already have hechsherim at various stringency levels above the minimum, we’re not exactly dealing with a new concept here.

    Note that the above scenario requires no change whatsoever in halachic assumptions; it’s a consumer thing.

  2. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Hirsch, I can’t say that Halachically it is not permitted to trust a single witness. Obviously, I am not a great posek, and if any of the poskim were to say this, we would hear it from other sources.

    However, permitted does not mean required. In the generation before Rabbeinu Gershom, it was permitted to marry two wives. Most of the reasons that caused Rabbeinu Gershom to forbid it were already there, and probably fairly clear – it just wasn’t forbidden yet. Would a prudent Jewish man have married two wives, or no?

    Similarly, it is permitted today to trust a single witness about the meat s/he is selling you. However, AFAIK there is no Halacha that requires you to buy your meat at such a store. I am not saying it is Halachically forbidden to do so, merely that it seems imprudent.

  3. Hirsch says:

    Ori Pomerantz:
    “Hirsch, there are other cases when something that is Halachically permitted is not done in practice because of possible negative consequences. Torah LeMoshe MiSinai permits conditional divorces, polygamy, slavery of non-Jews, etc.”

    Again, in my previous post I wrote: “If your answers are yes- then where is your halachic makor for such a tremendous chidush?” Where/Who is your makor to be mevatel these yesodos? Rabbeinu Gershom was the one that stopped the allowance of polygamy–Is there anyone on the level of Rabbeinu Gershom that has said the same for eid echad neeman bisurin and/or chezkas kashrus (by monetary situations)?

  4. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Hirsch, there are other cases when something that is Halachically permitted is not done in practice because of possible negative consequences. Torah LeMoshe MiSinai permits conditional divorces, polygamy, slavery of non-Jews, etc.

    There is no Halachic requirement to buy food just because a seemingly frum yid tells you it is Kosher. To decide that may not be a prudent course of action, therefore, is permitted.

    Ruth, it is true that Kashrut organizations are also businesses. The reason they would be useful in this case is a security principle called separation of duties. A crime that requires a conspiracy of multiple people, it is a lot less likely that one that requires only a single dishonest person. Forming a conspiracy is inherently risky because any of the participants can point out the other criminals.

  5. Ruth says:

    Kashrus organizations are also businesses and, as such, are every bit as subject to possible abuse as are proprietors of stores or restaurants. There have been scandals in the past, and there is no guarantee that there won’t be more in the future. We simply have to do our hishtadlus by following the halacha to the best of our ability and daven for siyata dishmaya for the rest.

    As far as I can see, the situation with the Monsey butcher was theoretically the best circumstance for ensuring a high standard of kashrus. The proprietor had a reputation as a ehrlicher yid, and the Rav Hamachshir was not in the business but was doing this as a service to his congregation. In spite of this, there was a failure. The people who ate the food were not responsible (and according to many opinions will not suffer timtum halev for an ones), and the rav was not responsible (and I imagine his congregants and caterers who relied on him realized that he was a shomer chinum (i.e. unpaid supervisor). The only one responsible was the one who perpetrated the fraud. Therefore, there is absolutely no point in beating up on ourselves or the rav, and probably very little point in giving more power to kashrus organizations (with its own potential for future fraud). I don’t think going beyond halacha is the message we were meant to glean from this tragedy.

    There may be another message. I heard of one case where a young man in Baltimore was affected. His mother (or mother-in-law) would bring her own meat from Monsey when she came to visit, distrusting the butchers in Baltimore. Now he has to kasher his pots. This lack of trust may be our problem, the idea that you aren’t frum enough for me, kosher enough for me. I think the message is that we just don’t know who is frummer, who is more kosher. Let us all try to judge each other favorably.

  6. Hirsch says:

    Ori Pomerantz:
    “It is merely making an exception when the witness has a material interest. Material interests can alter people’s perceptions.”
    Tal Benschar:
    “Well, remember, we are only talking about a commercial context, where the eid echad has a financial interest in saying it is kosher.”

    So- in other words are you saying:
    1) A frum yid does not have a chezkas kashrus bzman hazeh (when he is dealing with money)?
    2)A frum yid does not have a koach of eid echad neeman bisurin bzman hazeh (when he is dealing with money)?

    If your answers are yes- then where is your halachic makor for such a tremendous chidush, that we can say that the halachos of eid echad neeman bisurin and chezkas kashrus do not apply when the frum yid has a financial interest?

  7. joel rich says:

    Interesting discussion on chazakah – now just imagine if someone from outside the orthodox community suggested that the world has changed and a particular chazakah could or should no longer be relied upon.
    GCT

  8. Tal Benschar says:

    “but lemaaseh can we really say now that eid eched neeman bissurin no longer exists!?”

    Well, remember, we are only talking about a commercial context, where the eid echad has a financial interest in saying it is kosher.

    Presumably we will still rely on eid echad to eat from an individual’s house. Just not his store or restaurant. (In fact, the Rema already has such a chumrah, Y.D. 119).

  9. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Hirsch, I don’t think it’s overturning “Eid Echan Neeman Bissurin” completely. It is merely making an exception when the witness has a material interest. Material interests can alter people’s perceptions.

    If you go eat at somebody’s house, you can rely on their word that the food is Kosher. It is when you go to their restaurant, and are going to pay them for it, that you need hashgacha.

  10. david guttmann says:

    I think Rambam Hil Yesodei Hatorah 7:7 applies here too:

    ואפשר שיעשה אות ומופת ואינו נביא, וזה האות יש לו דברים בגו; ואף על פי כן, מצוה לשמוע לו, הואיל ואדם גדול הוא וחכם וראוי לנבואה, מעמידין אותו על חזקתו–שבכך נצטווינו: כמו שנצטווינו לחתוך הדין על פי שניים עדים כשרים, ואף על פי שאפשר שהעידו בשקר, הואיל וכשרים הם אצלנו, מעמידין אותן על כשרותן. ובדברים האלו וכיוצא בהן, נאמר “הנסתרות–לה’, אלוהינו; והנגלות לנו ולבנינו” (דברים כט,כח), ונאמר “כי האדם יראה לעיניים, וה’ יראה ללבב” (שמואל א טז,ז).

  11. Hirsch says:

    Isn’t it important to keep in mind the concept of eid eched neeman bissurin? Hashem commanded his children to relate to each other with achdus-Rashi explains that the inyan of eid eched neeman bissurin insures this achdus- Since it will cause us to freely eat in each other houses,establishments- with the knowledge that we are following the dicate of the Torah.

    Now–regardles of how,why,where,when an incident of people eating treif occured- The rule of eid eched neeman bissurin still exists.

    So I feel compelled to ask: The occurence of people discovering their “kosher” meat was really treif is shocking and awful, but lemaasa can we really say now that eid eched neeman bissurin no longer exists!? In regards to the Mishnah in Yoma- we see they obviously still sent the kohen gadol to do the avodah even though in reality he could have made a shevuah sheker. But the Rabannan were not choshed on him going that far–

    My point is that I do not understand it can be said that: “Now we know that such trust can no longer be invested even in those who appear to be entirely trustworthy.” It almost seems like chas v’shalom throwing out an essential halacha and yesod (as rashi explains the sevara of eid eched neeman bissurin) of klal yisrael?

  12. Barzilai says:

    Tzvi, I think your comment on the previous thread refutes your comment on this thread. The difference between then and now is the honest and open discussion of precisely what happened, without surmise or rumor or speculation. The failure or guilt of particular parties only fuels some people’s base desire for schadenfreude or cynical triumphalism, but identifying and publicizing the problem can, we hope, yield heightened awareness and vigilance.

  13. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “and therefore correcting past procedures would be admitting that God needs correction and isn’t perfect.”

    I don’t think that Rabbonim are infallible, or that the Frum community is perfect. However, here, the constructive thing to do is to focus on improvements in the kashrus system. On the individual level, some Rabbonim have mentioned about reflecting if we are too materialistic(a combination of the Ramban in Parshas Kedoshim, and why teshuva is needed for “shogeg”–actually, here, an “ones”). There are probably a number of lessons that one can learn.

    I certainly agree that there is no benefit in judging the Rav Hamachshir. Even if he would not be a respected Talmid Chachom, we were not in his shoes. Also, he certainly feels terrible as it is, so there is no use in belaboring the point of his responsibility or non-responsibility in the incident.

    As far as the Halacha itself, this is a classic case of how this type of chazaka(assumption) is a halachic consideration, and does not clarify the facts(“mevarer the metzius”). The Rambam says that even two witnesses is considered a proof merely because of Torah law and chazaka(Yesodie Hatorah, 7:7). In the case of the chezkas kashrus in Monsey, we simply see in 5767 that we can’t apply the chazaka in such a fashion.

  14. Tzvi says:

    So yes, in the wake of this story, Kashrus certification and Kashrus standards will be irrevocably changed.
    The rav in my shul said that after the last kashrus scandal in the NY metro area nothing happened and after this scandal nothing will happen. The fact is you said it yourself – the Rav was 100% within the bounds of Halacha and therefore he cannot be criticized b/c criticizing him would be criticizing God, and therefore correcting past procedures would be admitting that God needs correction and isn’t perfect.

  15. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Every period in history has its good points and bad points.

    During the time of the first temple, you could bring sacrifices to Solomon’s beautiful temple. However, idolatry and bloodshed were common.

    During the time of the second temple, sacrifices were still possible in most periods. However, Jews were under despotic foreign rulers who were not answerable to their subjects. As your quote shows, it was a lot harder to distinguish Orthodox Jews from heretics.

    During Mishnaic time you could study with such sages as Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi and Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai. However, you would have had to do it under Roman rule persecution, risking your life to study Torah.

    Today we are so rich by historic standards that very few of us worry about starvation. For a young child to die, or for a woman to die in child-birth, is a rare tragedy rather than something to be expected. Books are so cheap that you can get the entire Talmud for less than a month’s wages, or read it online for practically free. If you want to hear a shiur by a sage who lives in a far away city, just browse to http://www.torahmedia.com.

    Maybe part of the price for this bounty is that we need to be more suspicious of people, since reputation isn’t as valuable as it was in a small village where if you are caught cheating everybody around you will know it for the rest of your life. When I look at my children, and think about the C-Section my wife will have in two weeks because natural childbirth is dangerous for her and the babies, I find this price incredibly low.

  16. Jewish Observer says:

    “Now we know that such trust can no longer be invested even in those who appear to be entirely trustworthy”

    – not necesarily. maybe this is no more than the 1 in a million messup which was always bound to happen

  17. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    I hate to say this, but the culture of eating out and relying on a hechsher is in the same category as not locking your door. When your friends and family whom you know and know their standards of kashrus prepare food, you can eat it. When there are commercial issues,money seems to blind the eyes of even the most otherwise frum person. And cook as much as possible from scratch. I don’t always do it, but doing otherwise is a calculated risk. In our house, though, we do most of our own cooking, and restaurants? But when you have a simcha, it’s an unsettling thought.

  18. Moe says:

    “Now we know that such trust can no longer be invested even in those who appear to be entirely trustworthy.”

    I think we can still trust good people. As tragic as the experience is, it’s still anecdotal. How often does this happen?

  19. Bob Miller says:

    What, then, is the key to restoring the older, better situation?

  1. September 29, 2006

    […] A second follow-up to Rabbi Adlerstein’s non-response to the “Monsey chicken story:” In the comments thread, I wrote that there is a butcher here in Baltimore who carries no hechsher (Kosher certification). I also said that “I imagine that when the deli owner retires, this situation—at least in Baltimore—will retire with him and likely never return ad biyas go’el.” […]