I am an Orthodox rabbi. Like all other Orthodox Jews, I observe the strict dietary laws of Kashrut (i.e., the kosher laws). Among those regulations are the rules set forth in the Torah at Leviticus 11, at 17:10-12, and at Deuteronomy 14:3-21. They are amplified by Talmudic law, which we Orthodox Jews believe include laws that G-d instructed Moses orally when Moses encountered G-d to learn atop Mount Sinai privately and uninterrupted for 40 days and 40 nights. Exodus 24:15-18.
Many know that Jews are forbidden to eat shellfish or any other seafood that lacks both fins and scales, certain delineated fowl, wild animals and other non-ruminants. Thus, beyond the ban on pork products, kosher law requires that any animal have split hooves and be of the sort that chews its cud; otherwise, the animal’s meat may not be consumed. Moreover, even if the animal’s characteristics conform to those requirements, additional rules apply. And, on top of all that, it is forbidden for a Jew to eat meat and dairy together. In fact, although we typically do not have to wait an extended period after eating dairy before we may eat meat, we must wait several hours after eating any meat product before we may eat anything dairy.
That means no milk shake along with a burger, no cream of chicken soup, no beef Stroganoff. And, for goodness sakes — OK, for G-d’s sakes! — we absolutely may not eat cheeseburgers.
I suddenly found myself thinking about those cheeseburgers late last week when the newsmedia reported that Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer suddenly went into a rant against Orthodox Jews at a closed-door meeting in Washington with Jewish groups. Since it was reported in the news, and since there is no institution in America more reliable to get its facts straight and correct than the mainstream newsmedia, I have no doubt that the report was correct. It also sounds like the Schumer we Orthodox Jews know, the Schumer who would lecture others about tolerating hate while he endorses a Jew-hater like Keith Ellison.
I have written previously about the emerging American Orthodox Jewish community, a politically, socially, and culturally conservative and intensely Republican-oriented community of Americans who rapidly are emerging as the future face of American Jewry’s majority, though still a few decades away from reaching that status. (If you have not read that analysis, it provides substantial background for issues discussed here.) American Jews of non-Orthodox orientations rapidly are disappearing demographically, as their liberal values and mores lead them to marry much later, to have demonstrably fewer children than replacement, and to rear their few children to assimilate into anything but Jewish. They and their next generations increasingly reflect oblivion to their Judaic heritage and rich Judaic theological core, and more of them than ever before are disenfranchising from passionately supporting Israel, content to relegate their ethnicity instead to the pursuit of constructing Holocaust museums.
In their stead, a new population comprised of Orthodox Jews is emerging in New York and other major Jewish population centers to replace them. We Orthodox Jews reproduce at more than 2.2 children per household, teach our children Hebrew proficiency and textual literacy in the works of Judaic heritage including but not limited to the Talmud, the Mishneh, the Shulchan Arukh (Code of Jewish Law), the Rambam Mishneh Torah, the Mishneh Berurah, and other core texts of Judaic heritage. We do not limit our Jewish identities to reciting Catskills jokes (though we know them all) or to building Holocaust memorials. And we proudly pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, sing “The Star Spangled Banner” robustly, and — for the comparatively fewer among us who still follow NFL football — despise those who kneel when the anthem of the finest country ever conceived by humans is being played or performed.
As we Orthodox Jewish Americans grow in number and increase proportionately within the American Jewish population, with strong politically conservative Republican affiliations, we face a fascinating new bigotry — from “our own.” Try telling a non-Orthodox Jewish employer that you cannot work late on Friday because of the Sabbath or that you must stay home during the Torah festival of Sh’mini Atzeret. Lev. 23: 36, 39; Numbers 29:35; Deut. 16:15. If Hollywood long has stereotyped Native Americans and African Americans — and, yes, this Orthodox Rabbi says that Hollywood should be ashamed of the tone-deaf way it has portrayed and stereotyped the Black American community for nearly a century — Hollywood likewise has brutally abused and mistreated religious Christians, devout Catholics… and — wow! —
They mock us, and they hate us and our beliefs. Think of Coen Brothers movies like The Big Lebowski and A Serious Man. Think of Woody Allen’s gratuitous mockings, going back even to Take the Money and Run. Really? Yes, they treat 19th century Orthodox Jews with a modicum of respect — even as they portray the rabbi as a mumbling nincompoop — when giving us the likes of Fiddler on the Roof, because that was the Old World. Those poor Old World Jews were backwards anyway and getting massacred in pogroms, so give them a break. But the contemporary Orthodox Jew and the Orthodox Judaism religion is an easy target for a Hollywood that otherwise is terrified to unsettle any possible snowflake on the terrain other than the landscape of G-d-fearing Christians, Catholics, or Jews. So they honor Oprah, and cheer for Roman Polanski, and then they give accolades to Mrs. Maisel, another disgrace that finds humor in a Jewish protagonist who buys meat from a “Jewish butcher” who sells pork, eats and drinks at a comedy nightclub on Yom Kippur Kol Nidre night, and then arrives home to join other family members who mock their father when he tells people at their 1950s family dining table that he saved several Jews from Nazi Germany and helped them arrive safely in America. Boy, is that hilarious! Get the jokes?
In addition to my being a practicing rabbi, I also have been a practicing complex-business litigator for two decades and have been a law professor during much of that time. Back in 1998, after four very successful years at Jones Day, I was hired by the Los Angeles office of another of the nation’s leading law firms. The firm, nationally headquartered in San Francisco, was very well known for its socially and culturally liberal bent. I had a family to support, and I just cared that all the people there seemed incredibly nice, whatever their viewpoints. (Litigation is litigation, just that it be conducted with dignity, compassion, and honesty. As I learned during my college years at Columbia, either you learn sincerely to accept and even love every person in your orbit despite different political, religious, and other viewpoints, or you miss out on much of the beauty of G-d’s world.) In my job interview for that position, the non-orthodox Jewish managing partner of the office articulated openly the one hesitation that caused pause before hiring me: “I am concerned, Dov. You are an Orthodox Jew. We have gay attorneys who practice here. Will you be able to get along with them?”
Who asks a question like that in Twenty-First Century America of anyone other than of a religious person? What kind of obnoxious undercurrent of bigotry does that question presume? That, because I wear a yarmulka and do not eat cheeseburgers, I would not treat another human being who does eat cheeseburgers with any less respect? How does one answer a bigoted question like that: “Well, some of my best friends are Gay”? (BTW — Some of them are… ) And, yes, some of my best friends are Jews. (Then again, so are my worst enemies.) As a rabbi, I have counseled LGBTQ+ people among others. As a law professor, I have had LGBTQ+ students whom I deeply respected and valued among others and, again, some of whom I befriended after their law-school days ended, thereupon mentored professionally, even helped to succeed in their careers and personal lives. So what kind of question is that? What does it presuppose?
That same non-Orthodox Jewish managing partner “read me the Riot Act” — really laid into me viciously — a few months later, in February 1999. We Orthodox Jews, especially those of us with children, often do not vacation during Christmas Week. That just is not our season. We quietly, off the record, feel left out. That week’s TV episodes do not speak to us. The shopping malls are filled with music that we Jews mostly seem to have composed, and so are the amusement parks, but it is not our season. So we heartily and cheerfully wish our neighbors “Merry Christmas!” (and not the vanilla “Season’s Greetings!”) because we honor those who acknowledge The Creator, and we take our winter family vacations in the third week of January. By then, the malls are back to usual, and the lines at Disneyland even are shorter, though still as exorbitantly overpriced. Consequently, all the yeshivas (the Jewish parochial schools) are in session in late December and give the kids off-from-school the third week of January. So, as I always would do when I was at Jones Day, I communicated to my fellow attorneys that I would be available to work double-time if needed and to fill in for them, deal with any unanticipated client emergencies, and to help cover their caseloads while they vacationed over Christmas, and I took my winter family vacation the third week of January, just like all the other Orthodox Jews in my social and cultural orbit, while the yeshivas closed for a week.
Well, that non-Orthodox Jewish managing partner laid into me when I returned: “What is wrong with you? Is there something mentally wrong with you? Do you not realize that the courts close, the cases slow down, law-and-motion practice goes on hiatus — all in late December? Don’t you understand that attorneys vacation then — not three weeks later, when all the cases heat up again? What in the world is mentally wrong with you?”
Geesh. I responded defensively that I properly had done my advance paperwork, taking the third week in January as I had all my working life. Still, the explosion continued until a brief pause for breath offered me an opening to egress from the office. That very afternoon I began a process of dissociating myself emotionally and psychologically from that law firm, culminating with my move to a much greater firm, Akin Gump, a few months later. (Meanwhile, that office managing partner no longer was in that position shortly after, when a young Native American law associate, with whom all we mid-level associates were friendly, generated an office-wide uproar contending that the same managing partner soon after had insulted her and her Native American culture. Hindus call it “karma.” Jews call it “Midah k’negged Midah.” A Dead White Male named Shakespeare called it “Measure for Measure.” And the law firm mandated (person-dated?) that we all stop working one day weekly for several weeks thereafter to attend compulsory “sensitivity training.”
Which brings me to Chuck Schumer and his rant last week against Orthodox Jews.
I have been trying for years to figure out what explains George Soros, Bernie Sanders, Chuck Schumer, and all these other sorts, all part of a disappearing community that share a remarkable readiness to sell out Jewish interests and even pure self-preservation concerns, all in pursuit of personal gain. Take Bernie Sanders — puh-leeze. Remember how Hillary Clinton reminded voters night and day that if, G-d forbid, she were elected, she would be the first woman President? Well, did it ever occur to anyone that Bernie Sanders never exuded that if, G-d forbid, he were elected, he would have been the first Jewish President? People like Sanders and Schumer have no connection with the Judaism of the Torah. Rather, they use their Jewish ethnicity when it suits them politically, even as transparent cover to lecture and condemn Israel and to support Israel’s strongest antagonists in Washington. Thus, Chuck Schumer — in a classic case of the blind leading the blind — led the chorus to support Chuck Hagel as Obama’s Defense Secretary despite Hagel’s years of anti-Israel screeds. What was that about? Likewise, when the Democrat National Committee recently sought to name a new chair to replace Debbie Wasserman Schultz (another Big Whopper, she!), Schumer decided to push for selecting the biggest anti-Semite in the Democrat Party, Keith Ellison. Indeed, if anti-Semitism were as troubling to the mainstream media as any among the various Hillary basketful-litany of phobias, they would have had Ellison driven to the same hole in Frostbite Falls, Minnesota to which Al Franken finally was exiled. Yet Schumer vigorously supported the Jew-hater.
Even on the Iran Deal, which has imperiled America’s security and of course poses an existential threat to Israel, Schumer cynically assured Obama’s successful passage of the Iran Sell-Out by negotiating one way behind closed doors and then telling the morons among his non-Orthodox New York Jewish constituency that, look, with passage assured, he would cast a symbolic vote against the deal. You know that Schumer vote “against” Obama’s Iran Deal was pre-arranged, choreographed, and staged because he soon after glided in as the Democrats’ leader in the United States Senate. He never sought to persuade other Senate Democrats to oppose the deal.
So I look at Sanders. I look at Soros and at the self-haters among Jews at “J Street,” a Soros-funded toxic outgrowth of Jewish assimilation unhinged, where people of Jewish background claim that “as Jews” they are bidden to criticize and condemn Israel, continually lecturing her to endanger her security and safety. I look at Schumer. And I ask myself: How can people be so destructive to their own co-religionists, and so repeatedly take positions that are so inimical to basic core positions of Jewish self-respect? I ask myself: This just makes no sense. It is insane. What is it, what is the secret thing that can explain what makes people like them, frankly, crazy?
As I ask, I suddenly realize: We Orthodox Jews do not eat cheeseburgers. The Torah forbids them. The Talmud forbids them. Rabbi Maimonides, the Rambam, forbids them. The Code of Jewish Law forbids them. They are perfectly OK for non-Jews to eat, but Jews are forbidden by the Torah from eating them. But Schumer, like so many of his ilk, wolfs them down.
There must be something that McDonald’s puts into its cheeseburgers that makes these Jews crazy. That has to be the explanation. Which leaves me asking the question with which I began: What the hell does McDonald’s put into its cheeseburgers?