This is my attempt at blogging. I'm still learning about the blogging world, and this is my own personal study hall.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Bubby's better

Just FYI, Bubby's home. Finally. She hates doctors more than ever, and the only fear we have now is that she might, G-d forbid, decide not to take her medicine just because she's tired of it. Let's just hope she doesn't get tired of it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Kashruth Police - Update I

I have an appointment scheduled for August fourth, to speak with a very powerful leader in American Orthodoxy, regarding the establishment of Kashruth standards and policies in North America. I spoke to him a few weeks ago just briefly, and asked him I could call him to talk about it. He warned me at the time, however, that he might not be able to answer all of my questions, but he assured me that he would at least steer me in the right direction and point me to the right people to ask. While he holds a very influential position in terms of setting standards in many important aspects of the lives of American Orthodox Jews, he obviously does not control the day-to-day lives of individuals, or the conduct or standards of different organizations.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Kashruth Police

For a long time I've been wondering if the Triangle-K Hechsher is reliable or not. The reason for this is that I was told in high school, after years of eating Frito's and absolutely loving Funyuns, that it was no longer considered a reliable Hecsher, and I was given the following reason. Apparently there was some issue with the certifying rabbi passing away and his estate continuing to issue certification without actually dispatching anyone to check the manufacturing plants of the foods they were certifying as being Kosher.

This struck me as odd. I was young an naive and did not understand how presumably G-d fearing Jews could possibly cheat whole communities and attempt to deceive them for money-making purposes. I also did not understand how a major corporation could be fooled by some smooth-talking "rabbi" who claimed that his certification would be universally accepted, when in fact millions were rejecting it. Despite my reservations, my source was someone I deemed reliable and I accepted this rumor to be reliable enough to make me wary of the Triangle-K. (I have to admit, however, that it did take me a long time to give up Frito's barbeque corn chips, and even longer to give up Funyuns, which I still miss).

Over the years I have avoided any and all foods bearing the Triangle-K, treating them as if they had no Hechsher, and sometimes treating them as if they were actually Treif. This is in contrast to how I treated unlabeled foods, which could occasionally be deemed Kosher if a reliable rabbi said so personally. Even a plain K could be deemed Kosher if a local Va'ad listed the food in its newsletter. But for me, a Triangle-K was not only to be considered uncertified, but untrustworthy. Even if someone were to tell me that a certain product carrying a Triangle-K label were Kosher, I would be very hesitant to eat it, and I would feel very guilty when I did.

So I would only buy or eat products with a Triangle-K if someone very close to me, whom I considered very reliable, were to recommend it, AND if it were a very plain, minimally processed food, like frozen vegetables, and only certain brands that I was told were OK.

Lately, however, I have begun to wonder if this whole situation has not been resolved by now. After all, when I was first told of the alleged fraud of the proprietors of the Triangle-K label, it was nearly 10 years ago. This is quite some time. One would think that someone would have clued in the corporations to the problems with their Kashruth certification, and/or that someone would have sued somebody else over the problems and/or the allegations.

Recently I was in an uncomfortable position. I knew for a fact that Ocean Spray cranberry juices and other products carry a Triangle-K, and I even have close friends who eat and serve Ocean Spray cranberry products. These are people whom I trust, and at whose homes I eat. Until very recently I treated the fact that they serve Ocean Spray to mean that they simply were not aware of the questionable nature of the Triangle-K Hechsher, or that they knew something that I did not, and would simply not drink the juice or eat the product. Also, since it is something that is questionable, and not even close to being something I would consider a steadfast rule anymore, I would just not say anything, and continued to treat their home and their other foods as reliably Kosher.

So, here I was on a Friday, shopping for ingredients for some Shabbath dishes, looking for a can of whole berry cranberry sauce. I found a can of Ocean Spray, Triangle-K labeled, whole berry cranberry sauce. I called a reliable source - my mother - to ask what exactly was the deal with Triangle-K. My mother, to my dismay, replied that it was I who had informed her that Triangle-K was problematic to begin with. She also informed me that she often uses Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce WITHOUT a Hechsher at all, as that was sanctioned by either the local Va'ad or some rabbi she trusts (she didn't specify who told her it was OK, so I shouldn't really draw conclusions). In any case, she advised, the whole berry version WITH a Triangle-K could be no worse. So I bought it.

Since then I have done some research. Apparently, according to the Chicago Rabbinical Council (CRC), a nearly universally accepted and well regarded authority, any juices bearing a Triangle-K (or a half-moon K, which has been regarded as even less reliable by many as Triangle-K), other than grape juice or red grapefruit juice, are reliably Kosher. Canned vegetables under the Triangle-K (and half-moon K) are also acceptable, and the following quote comes from a letter released by the CRC in February of this year: "Canned FRUIT, except from China, does not need any supervision (except on Passover) as long as the only added ingredients are salt, sugar, corn syrup or water."

In case anyone is interested, I have heard several other rumors since beginning my research. One is that the Triangle-K allowed Little Debbie's cakes to be certified Kosher without Kashering their equipment after the OU had refused to do the same because that condition was not going to be met. The person who told me this also told me that he heard that this was a decision of the father and that the son was somewhat better. Another point that was made to me is that the Triangle-K certifies Wonderbread (and many other products that are deemed as not reliably Kosher by most Orthodox Jews), and several other breads that are dairy. There are two problems with this - one is that it is patently Asur (forbidden) to bake bread that is either dairy or meat, because of the confusion it might cause. This is a rabbinic decree that is centuries old. The other problem, which is WHY the first problem exists, is that they certify dairy hot dog buns.

My goal is not to find out what's good and what's bad under the Triangle-K label, but to get to the bottom of the controversy. This looks as though this may turn into an ongoing project, and I will post my updates as regularly as I am able.

John G. Roberts & Co.

Just a quick question. Did anybody notice during the president's speech that he nominated John G, whose family members include wife Jane and kids Jack and Josie? John G, Jane, Jack and Josie. This is the man who was nominated by a man who goes by Dubya. Rednecks. Go figger.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Please Daven

I apologize for not posting frequently lately. I'm in the middle of working on two posts - one which may not make it, and one which will likely be a long-term research project.

In the meantime, please Daven (pray) for my Bubby (grandmother). Her Hebrew name is Rachel bat Perel (I'm breaking from my preferred transliteration style for the sake of simplicity, and I hope never to have to do this again).

She was hospitalized last Friday with a heart arythmia (sp?). She hates doctors and, even though she wasn't feeling well, decided she would wait until after July 4th to see someone. Fortunately my mother and my aunt were able to convince her to see her doctor, and he ordered her to go straight to the hospital. They gave her medication and realized that she had bleeding ulcers, which she had neglected to mention, of course, and the medication made them bleed excessively. She spent a couple of days in the ICU (under protest) and yelled at the surgeon for implying that she might need his services. (Did I mention that she hates doctors?)

Anyway, she's in a regular room in the hospital now, but could still use some prayers. If you have any messages for Bubby, please feel free to leave them. Anything inappropriate will be deleted, of course, but please don't make me do that.

Thank you.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

"Da' Mah LeHaShiv LeApikoros" (Eng: "Know what to respond to [one who attempts to challenge your faith]") ~ Pirqei Avoth

I was posting a comment on my friend Shu's blog, and I began telling a story, which I realized I should post on my own blog. I was saying that in general, poor, crack-addicted, wannabe missionary types tend to have a fairly dark complexion, if you catch my drift, but that I once had to fend off a very WASPy wannabe missionary on a flight to Edmonton. Here is the story.

I had basically debunked his entire belief system and for some reason he kept coming back for more. I should have started earlier, I think, but I spent the first hour or so trying not to get into a fight with the guy so I just tried to get him to agree to disagree. When it became clear that he would not be satisfied just to disagree, I went on the offensive, so that I would not appear to be defensive, as I thought that looking defensive might make him feel superior. By the time we landed he was wishing he had agreed to disagree when he had the chance. He avoided me while we were getting our luggage, staying on the other side of the conveyor belt. I think it was because he had two or three little WASP children, with almost platinum blond hair and ice blue eyes, all under the age of 8 or 9, and he (or more likely his wife, who was also there - and also very very WASPy) probably didn't want the evil Jew to make them question his idolotrous faith.

I'm sorry if anyone out there thinks that this was wrong of me, by the way, but frankly the guy started it (actually I'm not sorry, because he had started it) - he began the entire conversation by whipping out a King James Bible and trying to prove to me that Yushkie was the Messiah, because I was learning Gemara in the seat in front of his. I had sat down in my seat, minding my own business, and he sat in his seat behind me. I got settled and pulled out my Gemara, and he asked if I was studying Talmud. I said yes, and then he whipped out the King James.

I think I tried hard enough not to make him feel like his religion was a sham, but when we would not let up after an hour, I felt it was appropriate to finally respond politely but with strong confidence. I knew what I was talking about and he did too, to an extent. He knew which passages to quote and which ones to avoid, and which partial verses to cite out of context, and even used the famous mistranslated verse from Isaiah, and I took advantage of every hole in his argument. He failed, thank G-d, and I am also thankful that he had probably never met a Jew before and will probably never meet one again, which means that he will never, I hope and pray, have the opportunity to try his skills on a weaker minded Jew.

I think that my story (and Shauli's too) shows that we are constantly under attack, for one reason or another, from one segment of the world's population or another, and we have to be ever vigilant and educated. We need to stay one step ahead, which is really not as difficult as it might seem. If we know the fundamentals of our religion, we can easily counterpoint any attack. Baruch HaShem.