The recent decision of Ben and Jerry’s is corrupt, based on flawed presumptions, and has the real potential to open a Pandora’s box that could bring serious harm to Israel, its development, and its continued dominance on the world’s financial and industrial stage.
In other words, this is not simply about ice cream.
Ben & Jerry’s decision to let politics overwhelm and direct its food product distribution choices should not be answered by us demanding we do the same.
Many in the Jewish community have indeed urged that we cease all rabbinic relationships with Ben & Jerry’s, or even their conglomerate, Unilever.
It is critical, however, that we first have a dispassionate discussion of both the potential long term costs and unintended consequences such a demand – as understandable as it may be – would have to the food industry in general and the kosher consumer in particular.
As Torah Jews, our compass must always be the Torah. Moshe understood the danger of making decisions while in a state of anger – righteous and correct as the anger was in that instance (see Bamidbar 31:22 with Sifri and Rashi).
With all of the above in mind, let’s take a collective breath and share some points that I would urge the reader to consider.
“Eizehu chacham? Haro’eh es ha’nolad,” the Gemara says – Who is wise? One who could see into the (potential) future.
Foreseeing potential results is the first step in leadership. While perhaps the following can be avoided, they need to be said aloud.
You’re Betting on Someone’s Else’s Dime
It is easy to take a bold stand when it is not your parnasa or mortgage on the line.
The kosher consumer needs to be aware that it is not at all uncommon to be in a kosher grocery store in Los Angeles and pick up a product made three days ago in Philadelphia, that is certified by a rabbi in Connecticut, who in turn sent a mashgiach living in Baltimore.
Moreover, it is not uncommon that one product itself is made up of many other ingredients – all needed to be certified – and all this offers dependable income to many small town rabbis and Chabad houses all over the United States.
A product as large and vast as Ben & Jerry’s keeps many other businesses alive, including the many rabbanim who frequently visit them and their many, many associated companies. I know many whose car payments and/or tuition is paid for by kashrus visitations.
Would one feel comfortable – in lieu of posting on Twitter – to call these wives directly and explain why her sacrifice for the klal is still not enough?
When Rav Shlomo Kluger and other chasidic leaders came out forcibly against the new invention of machine matzos in the mid 1800s, they did not only focus on the laws of chametz. They also raised their distress for all of the people who would lose their jobs making hand-matzos (see Moada L’Beis Yisroel, Breslov, 1859).
This concern is a matter of Jewish law – as one of the reasons we postpone the reading of the Megillah when Purim falls out on Shabbos is so the needy could receive their matanos l’evyonim.
While Rav Yosef Shaul Nathanson and the non-chasidic leaders explained how this halachic concern would not apply in that case (Bitul Moadah, 1859), it remains a stark reminder as to the countless and eclectic Rube-Goldberg effects even an innocuous communal decision.
Be Careful What You Wish For
“Rabbi, can you believe hashgacha X won’t give certification to a restaurant simply because it’s in a sports bar?”
“Rabbi, how can you certify a place that plays kol isha?”
“Rabbi, can you believe agency X forces the pizza shop to close at 10 p.m. so that it not become a hangout?”
“Rabbi, how could X give a hashgacha to ‘edibles’?”
The list goes on and on.
In the winter of 2018 a kosher certifying agency pulled out of an event that many argued was one from which rabbis should be distanced. And yet, some of the same well-meaning people who argued that such a move was beyond the province of a kashrus organization are now advocating for Ben & Jerry’s to lose its hashgacha.
Either we want our hashgachos to stick to kashrus issues only, or we do not. We certainly can’t have it both ways.
But this goes beyond communal restaurants. Taking this point one step further, we all agree that Eretz Yisrael – its safety, survival and ability to thrive – is an important element of our lives. But so is yichud Hashem. Indeed, this is one of the 13 Ani Ma’amins, literally written on our door-posts and bound to our arms and head. So, do we remain silent on certified X-mas cookies? To be clear, I am not advocating for removal of certification on such cookies, and indeed I look forward to CVS’s candy canes every “winter.” Rather, the point is that there are many Torah Jews – as are their concerns – and once this proverbial cat is out of the bag, the demands will be many, varied, and impossible to predict, as no decision for a national product lives in a vacuum.
When I mentioned this concern to a colleague his response was, “But this case is different…” Perhaps. But I assure the reader that other kosher consumers have their “but this case is different”s – perhaps your favorite chocolate Easter bunny.
You Touch It, You Own it
Years ago there were legal issues at a kosher plant that were unrelated to Yoreh De’ah. Many wanted to point fingers at the certifying agency. Some even laid the groundwork to start an “ethical kashrus agency.” Now, no one would point fingers at an organic certifying board, or a satellite HR department. But for some reason kashrus agencies were viewed as part-and-parcel with anything deemed wrong at the facility. The defense was as obvious as it was true: kashrus agencies deal in kashrus and have zero to do with day-to-day operations that do not relate to that topic.
Should a vaad now pull hashgacha on moral grounds, the above-mentioned very real protection may become severely weakened. This in turn would lead to an untold strain on the industry and your local kosher market.
The Responsibility of Kashrus
Ben & Jerry’s will not be going away even if not certified kosher. Unaffiliated Jews will now be eating an unchecked product. Who has the courage to take on that spiritual responsibility?
Once at an event for kashrus workers, a director at a major vaad began his panel discussion by reminding the audience that the kashrus industry is a miracle. We are but a tiny minority of this country, and yet so much of what we find in stores across the United States is marked as kosher. It is an important reminder not to rock the boat, or to feel so secure in our present reality as to use it as a tool for a public revenge ploy.
Should we not heed this advice, any major company would then think twice before going kosher. “What if we keep all of their rules but break some unwritten Jewish value, and they pull certification?” they may ask. Would these companies be willing to risk such a PR nightmare?
Rav Nota Greenblatt once shared with me how someone who disagreed with Rav Moshe Feinstein published a sefer that looked and was typeset just like an Igros Moshe, and was written to mimic Rav Moshe’s way of writing while disrespectfully arguing how Rav Moshe was wrong on everything. When Rav Nota challenged Rav Moshe to protest this breech in kavod hatorah, Rav Moshe laughed him off. “The day I bang on the bima and protest this sefer will be the day everyone goes out and purchases this sefer.”
Rav Greenblatt then turned to me and asked, “Do you know this sefer, its name or its author?” “No,” I honestly responded. Rav Nota smiled, “That was the wisdom of Rav Moshe.”
While we must make noise about this decision, our dollars and voices may be our best instruments.
Bringing undue attention to our gigantic kashrus framework in this country, however, may only come back to harm us – and Israel – in the long run.