I grew up in a modern Orthodox community in New York City, loving Jewish spirituality and Jewish community.
By the time I entered my 20s in the 1970s, I had seen enough of the small-minded power plays enacted by rabbinic leaders, and by my own teachers and rabbis.
One of many examples: It is 1970 and I am in the girls’ typing room in my modern (sort of) Orthodox high school. I am writing an article for the school paper opposing the war in Vietnam. Two rabbis come by. They look at what I’m writing, then confer. The next day, I’m called into the office of the principal (a rabbi) to discuss my (unladylike — un-tzenusdik, or immodest) — subversion. The article does not run.
As I grew older, I saw no recourse as someone committed to the freedom of the individual. I left Orthodoxy.
But I did not leave Judaism. It was a struggle. Part of being brought up Orthodox was the powerful message that any other Jewish path was inauthentic. I found my path — a community of progressive Jews. I continue to observe the traditions of Judaism: kashrut, Shabbat, the chagim. My children spent 13-plus years in day schools.
I have always insisted on approaching those who adhere to Orthodoxy with the same respect that I hoped and assumed that they accorded to me.
Sadly, my optimism about co-existence has been greatly challenged by recent events in the Main Line Jewish community.
I was a long-term customer of Main Line Kosher Meats, which shut its doors on Dec. 7. I supported them because their food was delicious and because the owners treated me like family. And I supported them because, as a Jew, I feel obligated to support fellow Jews.
Suddenly, the business is gone. Why? Because of politics, as last week’s Exponent indicates.
Reading the article, I felt ashamed to be a Jew. Let me explain: When Main Line approached Rabbi Tzvi Alutsky for hasgachah (kosher supervision), he declined because his rabbi, Isaac Leizerowsky, “advised me not to do it for a lot of kashrut violations they had in the past.”
That’s hearsay, and sounds a lot like lashon harah (derogatory speech) to me.
Rabbi Aaron Felder, president of Community Kashrus of Greater Philadelphia, said that four rabbis met and “decided not to work with” Hanni Nitzan, whose family owned the business. But he wouldn’t give the reason why and said there are lots of other alternative sources for kosher food in Philadelphia.
But here’s what you seem to be missing, Rabbi Felder. Main Line Kosher provided two unique services:
• Meat of a quality superior to that found in local supermarkets where factory-farmed and slaughtered brands hold an almost exclusive monopoly.
• Home-cooked meals that surpassed the prepared meals at the supermarkets that often consist of fried and processed foods. I’ve heard of a customer who lives far away and had depended on Main Line Kosher to prepare healthy meals for her aging mother. I can’t imagine how that daughter will provide kosher food to her mother now.
So a group of rabbis made it impossible for Main Line to continue. They also made it harder for progressive, well-intentioned Jews like me to keep kosher in a secular world.
To all of those rabbis, I say: Thanks a lot, guys. I hope you can sleep at night. I’m not sure where halachah stands on this, but if you haven’t violated the letter of the law, you have, indeed, violated the spirit of it.
So, dear rabbis, I implore you in the future to think of the consequences of your actions: Are you strengthening adherence to halachah or are you weakening it? And do you actually care?
Despite all this, I will still do what I must to abide by the practices of kashrut – even though this has now become much more difficult. I also still believe in the principle of klal yisrael, the community of all Israel. But I’m starting to wonder if all my fellow Jews feel the same. l
Ruth Bienstock Anolik, who lives in Penn Valley, is an adjunct professor at Villanova and Temple universities.