Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Silver Lining

Progress yet again and kudos to Rabbi Shimon Winegarten for the new ShemaKoli abuse helpline.

It of course gives you an idea how much confidence he has in the UOHC 'help' line. It also shows a sensitivity to men and women victims which hadn't occurred to our locals when launching their unisex line. Gender separation is just for the photographers,it seems. And you can bet that the person at the other end of this line will be marginally more sensitive than the one who was answering the UOHC line with his glorious track record in 'admissions' to 'his' schools.

Should we assume that the hours allotted to men and women point to the ratio of abuse victims amongst them? Or is it simply easier to find suitable female volunteers than men?

Friday, 22 March 2013

I Don't Wanna Be Your Sugar Baggy

You know the score on the wretched lids. Kedassia say they're sodden with starch and hence forbidden. But that is not quite enough. In their quest to ensure that no Jew inadvertently bumps into some chometz, they have gone one further by sending their star enforcer deep into enemy territory to declare that those who claim tinfoil lids to be kosher for Pesach are guilty of 'mis-of-information'. 

To those who don't know the local parlance, the words addressed to an English speaking audience in North West London are the polite way of saying what would translate round here as something along the lines of, any sheigetz who eats kugel out of a tin covered with one of those lids might as well  fress a hamburger for koireich. And as to caterers contemplating making use of those lids, just dare and we  may not allow you again into the hall we 'licence' off that school.

But Kedassia may have some cracks of their own that require papering over, assuming they can find a starch-free variety for the job. The above tests show that Kedassia sugar bags may have some starchy issues that need to be urgently addressed. No one is cholilo suggesting that the starch is of the forbidden variety, but given the prevalence of chometz in starch and following Kedassia's lead in outlawing the merest chance of starch even when other hechsheirim have given their approval, surely Kedassia should be addressing this most important issue as a matter of utmost urgency.

So for the sake of assuring the starch-free hordes, can Kedassia please issue a notice beginning 'It has come to our attention..." that the starch found on the sugar bags containing their seal of approval are good, kosher starches and the sugar may be consumed in the secure knowledge that it is kosher to the platinum standard we have become accustomed to courtesy of the world's favourite hechsher.

Wishing you all a happy and kosher (if you can afford it) Pesach.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Tinfoil Treife: Kosher Guy

Lids and covers, foils and tins, wraps and towels. There is not a tired old trick that hasn't been tried and it's high time to move on. The basics are simple enough. As most readers of this blog will know, our variety of Judaism - sorry, I must interrupt myself to apologise to those readers hopping mad that I dare impute different versions to our faith - but our particular version of Judaism has of late been preoccupied by the weighty issue of the kosherness or otherwise of lids of tinfoil containers.

For the purpose of this post I need not trouble you with anything more because if you are one of those genuinely troubled by this burning question and desperately seeking a resolution then I am afraid you have hit on the wrong site and you should contact your local TAG volunteer to attend urgently to your filter.

One characteristic of our Jewish strain very much connected to the shale of the day is an addiction to anything disposable. I'm not talking about disposable nappies which in Israel they often recycle as missiles in the event that a murder suspect is picked up by the police. Missiles, incidentally, to be launched at the police not at the suspect who is innocent until proven not to be frum in which case he is guilty until he starts reciting perek shira which exculpates him by association.

In this case I'm talking of disposable tableware. Chazal tell us that the arrival of the portion of manna was an indicator of one's piety. The righteous had it delivered to their door while the common folk had to go searching further afield for their daily crust. 'twas ever thus, appears to be the message in that. Another pointer to one's holy standing was the packaging of the heavenly bread. While the frummies had it delivered on a paper plate with plastic cutlery wrapped in a crumpled polythene bag that had previously shielded their hats from a downpour, to Guardian readers, assuming there were any amongst the Chosen, it arrived in a canvas tote emblazoned, No calves were worshipped in the production of this tortilla.

There is even some archaeological evidence that Moses handed out plastic cups after striking the rock, though some experts are convinced they were polystyrene.  Of course, never did we suffer anything like the devastation of Pompei because in our case we had the seichel to wrap everything in silver foil which stopped the lava in its tracks even before Shomrim managed to reach the scene in their Chrysler Grand Voyagers and Volvo XC90s. Which neatly brings us to the source of our minhag to cover anything from dining room chairs to tombstones in polythene because this is the clingfilm within which our forefather wrapped their bread of affliction in the Land of Mitzraim.

It'll soon be Pesach when our demand for disposables reaches its peak for anything from the most capacious dustbin liners to the longest tablecloths. While plastic is the greatest contributor to our landfill fest silver foil and tin foil also make a respectable contribution. Pesach is of course also the time when we don't stop fretting over what you can and cannot eat, drink, touch, smell and even God would find it a challenge to guess what else. Years ago it was the question of machine matzos and before that it was the pre-Pesach chometz trade. Even earlier that was the banning of legumes since when the definition of a legume keeps on widening by those who could barely tell apart a soya bean from a haricot.

In more recent times, having banned sunflower, rapeseed and cottonseed oils, the rabbis have found it necessary to supervise drinking water and almost ban that other commodity which sustains our people. Yes, paper plates need a hechsher too and it was thus only a matter of time before their attention turned to the humble tinfoil lid. Like taxes to The Beatles bans are to them: if you tie a string we'll ban your street/if you dare to sing we'll ban your tweet. It is all in a good cause, however, and we should bless our good fortune that we live in an age when the rabbis needn't join the dole queue for having run out of things to ban.

Yet we cannot deny the rights of those who choose to squeeze glass in the hope of extracting a sand particle to confuse it with a grain of wheat and thus find something new to ban. To paraphrase him whom we shouldn't mention on a nice Jewish blog, I disapprove of what you ban but I will defend to death your right to ban it. If some people wish to dissect a humble lid I will defend their right to act in accordance with their principles as vehemently and trenchantly as they would deny me to act according to mine.

But let's have a look where this principled debate, so integral to the future of our moral and spiritual well-being, is taking place. Where have the rabbis been engaging their brains, sharpening their pens and expounding their reasons? If they have been doing so at all they have been very good at covering their tracks since nothing in writing has appeared from anyone other than a notice from the distributor and a line in the KLBD list.

Aha, you say, this must belong to the oral rather than the written law. Up and down Dunsmure and Cazenove Roads scholars are no doubt tugging at their beards and curling their peios in deep contemplation on the origins of the foil cover, while from the windows of the shuls extended to the very edge of the pavement emanate the lab results of the lowly lid. Or perhaps our fearless press, always primed for a screeching headline on the smallest transgression of one of them and a howling protest on another perceived slight to one of us, have taken up the cudgels to explain to their readers the opposing sides of the great lid debate.

But I'm afraid you'd be wrong. This debate, for what it is, has hardly taken place at all. The warring sides did not spar at Yeshivas Horomoh and there was no disputation at Rabinow koilel. Yiddish was not enriched by the vocabulary of scientific test results and the pulpits of the Shabbos Hagodol droshos are unlikely to resound to the crinkle of tinfoil. Sforim shelves are unlikely to be burdened by volumes of responsa on this topic, the Jewish Tribune has not as much as mentioned it while the Hamodia has dedicated not a column inch in its multi sections to the great issue of the day.

Which leads us to the uncomfortable conclusion that we are no longer capable of holding a civilised and reasoned debate in any form or manner. We can cloak ourselves in mourning one week on the passing of some great unknown and then whip ourselves into a frenzy the week after over the engagement of the son of the hairy to the great niece of the scary. We can holler in unison over planning by-laws and rant over a bus lane and it goes without saying that there must be a uniform view and opinion on the size of blouses and the length of wigs.

But when a difference emerges amongst our own on matters that concern no one but us it'll be either violence and intimidation or we fall into a stunned silence. The shtiebel that will host Rabbi Scharf and his bans will not offer a platform to the LBD even if represented by a Rabbi Padwa. The koilel that will debate the starchiness of lids will not countenance an opinion that the starch may well be a Kosher le'Pesach red herring. The obsessive followers of hechsheirim have no interest in being shown their folly and the scholars who have multiplied the size of an olive to the equivalent of a cantaloupe will ignore the sources when it does not suit their prohibitionist mindset.

And so we come to a situation where the only venue that will host both sides to this debate in a civil manner is an English language shiur for balei batim, in a not quite solidly chareidi shul, often inviting speakers with more than a whiff of kiruv to them. Only there will it not be below the banners to present their arguments, insofar as one can call them that, and only there will the same platform be afforded to the opposing view without the host being accused of selling out.

This should tell you all you need to know about contemporary chareidi society and a lot more.

Welcome to the Shul of Frum.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Rav Domb z"l (1915-2013)

At his Sunday shiur, 25 March 2012