Ynet reports on a renewed controversy in the kosher world – scotch whiskey. It seems Rabbi Moshe Landau, the chief rabbi of Bnei Brak, a Chabad follower, has decided that scotch whiskey is not kosher because some brands are aged in oak barrels originally used to age non-kosher wine. This issue was decided long ago by people far greater than Rabbi Landau. The barrels do not impart the taste of wine, in part because the barrels are fired with an open flame well before any whiskey is stored in them. Even so, most kashrut agencies discourage use of those brands that claim to be double aged or sherry cask aged, to avoid any hint of doubt. But, Rabbi Landau disagrees, not, it seems, from any special knowledge or new evidence. So, if Ynet got this story right, all scotch whiskies will be non-kosher. Brands impacted by this include Chivas Regal, Johnny Walker and Grant’s. While other kosher supervisions disagree, you can bet Rabbi Landau’s action will quickly cause many to ban scotch. This won’t work in America or Britain, but it will in Israel, Montreal and perhaps Antwerp. The sad thing is, the actual reason for banning non-Jewish wine no longer exists. We do this, in effect, because we are stuck with it.
Monthly Archives: January 2006
[Photo: Don Wiss.]
The New York Times ran this report on online digital camera dealers who use bait-and-stuff tactics worthy of the worst scams of yesteryear. Don Wiss, a Brooklyn-based camera enthusiast, has spent many hours tracking down the addresses of these online hucksters and taking pictures of their buildings. Many appear to be in haredi areas of Brooklyn, for example 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and the best of them all, 10. Mr. Wiss has received death threats because of his work. And, as always, haredi rabbinical leaders are silent, absent without leave.
[Here’s pic #10. Click it to enlarge.]
TypePad, the blogging service used to host this blog, is experiencing what (if they ever notice) is sure to be called "degraded service." Degraded service is TypePad-speak for glitchy behavior, which often includes the inability to post comments, the inability to post stories, the inability to edit, or any combination of the above. In this case, only some of TypePad’s functions are acessible. Others bring up Proxy Server errors. When will this be resolved? Who knows. TypePad has had two major failures in the past four months, along with dozens of minor problems stretching back almost one year. Their so-called Status Blog shows all services up and running, so they have not yet realized that they have a problem. (I called their corporate office and left a brief message. Perhaps they’ll pick it up after their morning coffee.) All this would be acceptable from a free service, but TypePad is not free. One must wonder how long it will be before Blogger or Yahoo or some other entity opens a premium service on dedicated servers with realtime tech support that works. When that day comes, my guess is TypePad will simply fade away.
UPDATE: It’s 2:15 am CST, January 31. TypePad has "disabled" the stats (the internal counters that measure web traffic to individual blogs) in order to take the load off its (supposedly new and state of the art) servers. This is a common TypePad ocurrance. In this case, stats have been down for more than 16 hours. TypePad only recently began admitting that it frequently disables stats to relieve server load. Those of us relying on TypePad’s stats have been damaged by this apparently long-standing but until recently hushed up practice.
A friend is launching a large group blog with dozens of contributors. No tech person he spoke with recommended TypePad. No wonder.
UPDATE #2: It’s 9:45 am CST on the 31st. Entering the TypePad application to do anything other than post takes more than three minutes. It should take no more than 10 to 15 seconds. What does TypePad have to say about all this? Their "status blog" notes no problems. As is almost always the case,TypePad is asleep at the switch.
NY State To Issue “Guidelines” On Circumcision – YU Rabbi J.D. Bleich Supports Rabbis, Not At Risk Children
New York Newsday has an AP report on the new New York State guidelines on metzitza b’peh, the oral suction used by many haredi mohels during circumcision to suction blood from the open wound:
The new state guidelines would stop short of a ban, but include precautions that could reduce the chances of infection, said New York State Department of Health spokesman Robert Kenny.
Rabbis will likely be asked to inform their congregations about the potential risks of the procedure and parents advised to seek prompt care from a pediatrician if their baby develops a fever or rash.
Steps would also be taken to "ensure that mohels have full knowledge of their health status" before they perform the ritual, Kenny said.
He declined to discuss details of the guidelines, saying they were still being developed. Several religious leaders who support metzitzah b’peh have suggested that mohels be asked to rinse their mouths with alcohol, undergo regular testing for disease and refrain from doing circumcisions if they have a cold sore.
"Our priority is to protect the public health, and increase the awareness of the potential health risks associated with this practice," Kenny said.
The guidelines are likely to displease some doctors.
Dr. Jonathan M. Zenilman, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, said that while infections have been rare, the potential for harm is substantial enough to justify a ban.
"This is something that is pretty much counter to all of the infection-control measures that we have," Zenilman said.
Asking mohels to police themselves could be ineffective, he warned. As many as 70 percent of all adults have herpes simplex 1, and it is difficult to detect periods when the virus is contagious.
Which is exactly what the problem is. But haredim, led by Satmar and Agudath Israel, have done everything in their power to stop the city and state from regulating circumcision or limiting the practice of MBP, including threatening to marr Mayor Bloomberg’s inaguration by busing in thousands of haredim wearing striped death camp uniforms to protest.
The AP notes the problem:
It is unclear how the Hasidic community will react to the guidelines, which would be voluntary.
Rabbi David Niederman, of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, has argued for no government action, saying there is too little medical evidence to justify a public warning on a ritual performed safely thousands of times a year.
"Parents have been alarmed unnecessarily," he said, adding that he has already begun receiving calls from worried mothers.
He said religious law contained provisions that would allow oral suction to be abandoned, but only if there was proof it could cause permanent harm.
"We are not fanatics," Niederman said. "If there is evidence that this practice is not safe, we will not do it. We will be the first ones to act. That is embodied in the same Torah that tells us to make a bris for a child."
Right. Niederman is already on record comparing MBP to Shabbat law, and has stated continually that there is no evidence of danger, even when many medical experts disagree. Further, Niederman heads the Satmar religious court (beit din) charged by agreement with the city with investigating the cases of herpes related to Rabbi Yitzchok Fischer. The beit din agreed to present its findings to the city by December 1, 2005, but did not do so. And it has not done so since. This is hardly an indication of concern for children. And, if that is not enough, we have the threatened "Holocaust card."
This might lead one to think the haredim are acting badly. But, thankfully for them, a convenient shill exists to protect them, somewhat, from the wrath of (for want of a better description) normal people:
Rabbi J. David Bleich, a professor of both Jewish and
secular law at Yeshiva University, said the debate over metzitzah b’peh
began in Europe during the mid-19th Century, when suspicion arose that
it was spreading tuberculosis.
Ever since, there has been disagreement over whether the practice was
recommended by the Talmud for medical reasons, or ordered as a
requirement of a covenant with God.
A majority of reform and modern orthodox mohels decided on the former,
and now clean a circumcision wound with sterile gauze, a sponge or a
But a century and a half of debate hasn’t resolved the argument, and
Bleich suggested that actions by health authorities wouldn’t settle the
"Whatever changes are going to come are not going to come because of
government pressure. If you want to change the way rabbis are doing
things, the way to do it isn’t to threaten them."
Rabbi Bleich, who early in this controversy suggested that washing the mohel’s mouth out with schnapps or whiskey just before the bris would solve the problem – a contention laughed at by infectious disease experts, yet still noted anonymously above – coveniently forgets to mention that doctors proved disease transmission through MBP in the mid-1800’s. When the practice was banned, generally by the leading non-hasidic rabbis of the day – the death rate dropped dramatically.
Rabbi Bleich, widely considered an expert on issues of halakha and medicine, seems much more concerned about protecting rabbis than protecting children. This is both an indictment of Rabbi Bleich, and of the institution that pays his salary.*
[Please click on the Circumcision Controversy link below to see previous posts on this issue. As always, scroll down to the bottom of the new page and read the posts from bottom to top.]
*One might recall that another YU rabbi, Mordechai Willig, spent a considerable amount of effort protecting the now-convicted child molester, NCSY’s Rabbi Baruch Lanner. In the process of doing this, Rabbi Willig abused his power while showing disregard for the safety of minors. He was outed and forced to apologize to Rabbi Lanner’s victims and their families. But YU took no disciplinary action against him. Again, with vulnerable children facing possible death or maiming, a YU rabbi has spoken out – not in favor of the powerless victims, but to protect abusive rabbis. Hardly a track record for YU to be proud of.
Rav Kaduri, ztz"l, passed away tonight. Details …
Matthew Wagner of the Jerusalem Post has written a wonderful article on the life of Rav Kaduri, ztz"l. (Wagner is clearly the best writer covering Orthodox Judaism working in the English language. If the JPost had a normal syndication policy, Wagner would be much more widely known.)
Iowa’s Secretery of Agriculture, Patty Judge, accepted a $10,000 campaign contribution from Rabbi Sholom and Leah Rubashkin during her run for the Democratic nonination for governor last year. That amounted to just under 10% of what she raised. An additional $35,000 was given by other large farm interests, including others she regulated. Some had been under investigation in recent years for environmental violations. Judge regulated these donors as well. 35% of her campaign war chest came form these interests.
Judge is best known to the Jewish community for excoriating Rubashkin after viewing the undercover video of his slaughter operation. (Please see link on left sidebar of this page.) But, less than two weeks later, after being given a private tour of the closed plant, led by Sholom Rubashkin, and watching three or four animals slaughtered by a hand-picked schochet, she declared the plant operations "humane."
During that tour, Patty Judge heard Rubashkin say the following:
Rubashkin noted that muscles on the barely recognizable heads continued
to twitch more than an hour after the heads had been separated from
"Look. It’s breathing. It’s calling for help,"
Rubashkin said, referring sarcastically to PETA’s claim that videotaped
movements of cattle after their throats had been cut constitutes
evidence they were conscious and suffering.
Judge’s office denied that Judge had given a free pass to Rubashkin, or that her judgement of what she saw in any way effected what took place at the plant before being exposed by PETA in late November, 2004. But, at the same time, Judge refused to personally clarify her remarks, and stood by in silence as Rubashkin and his rabbis used them like this:
Officials at the Orthodox Union, the world’s largest Kashrut-certifying organization, expressed satisfaction at Secretary Judge’s comments. “We are gratified that a personal inspection tour of AgriProcessors by Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture, Patty Judge, made it clear that kosher slaughter there is done humanely,” declared Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Executive Vice President of the Orthodox Union, and Rabbi Menachem Genack, Rabbinic Administrator of the OU Kosher division. "Clearly, humane slaughter goes on at the AgriProcessors plant, in conformity with the laws of Torah which make it clear that humanity to animals is a religious requirement in Judaism.”
In a statement issued several days earlier, Rabbis Weinreb and Genack declared:
“After carefully studying the [PETA] video, Rabbi Menachem Genack and Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, one of the OU’s distinguished poskim (rabbinic decisors), traveled to Postville, Iowa to review the procedures at the AgriProcessors plant. They found that these procedures meet all OU standards to the highest degree, and that the shochtim (rabbinic slaughters) are all highly proficient, skilled and knowledgeable. Nevertheless, the OU and AgriProcessors, Inc. have worked together to make certain changes, namely that the trachea will no longer be removed following shechita (kosher slaughter), and that any animals that appear to have survived the procedure will be promptly stunned or shot.”
“This was the first time I had an opportunity to see kosher slaughter," Secretary Judge said. "I was glad to see how it works." She said she saw three cattle slaughtered, and that they were rendered insensible and unconscious within “two or three seconds” after the shochet’s cut.
Judge accepted the $10,000 contribution from Rubashkin not long after.
The OU’s statement, quoted above, makes it clear that throat-ripping, the practice of ripping out the trachea of the just-schechted animal with a hook while it is still alive and fully concious, had been stopped. It does not note that it made this decision only after the USDA released teaching guidelines for its FSIS inspectors telling them to stop the line and shut down any plant doing it.
This appears to be another indication that Rubashkin and his family, including his brother-in-law, Rabbi Milton "Yehoshua" Balkany, and perhaps certain officials closely linked to the OU, have been using their political influence and liberal campaign donations to thwart the release of the USDA’s investigation of AgriProcessors. The investigation is widely belived to be damaging, not only to Rubashkin, but to the kosher industry as well, and to specific rabbis and supervising agencies whose lobbying to remove USDA restaints on humane slaughter directly led to Rubashkin’s shop of horrors.
As more evidence of influence peddling appears to surface, the pressure on the Bush administration rises. To keep a FSIS investigation under wraps for more than one year after its completion, to refuse to relaese any information related to this investigation under the Freedom of Information Act because the investigation – completed, according to the FSIS in early January, 2005 – is still "open," and to otherwise stonewall journalists can only lead one to believe that the Bush administration has something to hide. That something? Follow the money.