We Jews just love to beat ourselves up. We can't even get depressed without feeling guilty about it. This weekend is Tisha b'Av, the one time of year when Jews get to have a good old-fashioned bitching session. We weep and wail and curse at the miserable treatment of Jewish people throughout history: the destruction of both Temples, the expulsion from Spain, the Nazis.
Historians–at least, those historians who sport peyes and streimels and use the Chumash as a source text–say that all of these Jewish catastrophes happened on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av. That's today, for those keeping track. The rub, though, is that Judaism is pretty clear on why these things happened: because Jews screwed up. The first temple was destroyed because Jews worshipped idols, slept around, and killed people. The second temple was destroyed because Jews were feeling too much hate toward their neighbors. The Holocaust happened because…well, whatever we did wrong there, it must have been pretty bad. I guess it takes a Chief Rabbi of Israel to explain such a thing. Pretty rough, this idea of Jewish karma. "Shit happens. But when it happens to you, you must have sinned." So how might we avoid sin and the catastrophe it brings? Surely the wisdom of our "elders" can help us out here, right? Not necessarily. Jewish scripture is clear: God will punish us for repeating the sins of our elders. Which brings me to the Agriprocessers scandal, in which the Orthodox Union certified a splendidly profitable but ethically abominable slaughterhouse run by Orthodox Jews.
Anyone who opposes the pointless torture of animals will agree that Orthodox Jews ought not use meat hooks to rip out the throat of cattle before leaving the animals to slowly bleed to death. Anyone who cares about this country's problem with illegal immigration will agree that Orthodox Jews ought not forge immigration documents in order to ruthlessly exploit undocumented Mexican workers, including children (one federal official called the mistreatment of workers at this Orthodox-certified facility "medieval.")
You don't have to be a Jew to recognize that the whole affair is a hillul hashem–a pitiful public disgrace in which Judaism and Jewish values are humiliated before all Americans, Jews and non-Jews alike. Orthodox Union President Stephen Savitsky might as well have purchased a 30-second spot during the Super Bowl, and broadcast himself shitting atop a copy of Pirkei Avot, the Talmud's foremost work of Jewish ethics. For non-Orthodox Jews, the coincidence of this year's Tisha b'Av and the Agriprocessors scandal should serve as a wake-up call. Judaism tells us that a good, safe, and honorable future for the Jewish people is ours to make. To create that future, we must honor the principles of the Jewish tradition; in so doing, we must not defer to the false authority of those who claim to be our "elders," but whose behavior desecrates the same Jewish tradition they claim to uphold. Let's start with this: After this year's Tisha b'Av, boycott kosher meat certified by the Orthodox Union. Just stop buying it altogether. Instead, buy the humane, eco-kosher meat recommended by the Shalom Center. It'll be better for you, and it may be better for the future of the Jewish people.