Anatomy of the Recent Meat Slander

A righteous Holocaust survivor once conveyed to me that he nearly moved to Los Angeles over half a century ago, but as he walked up and down Fairfax Ave. and saw “kosher” signs prominently displayed in the windows of meat shops he suspected were selling anything but kosher, he determined that this was not a city in which he could raise his family. Now, he visits LA, and sees the plethora of reliably kosher establishments we host.

So we ask ourselves, how can it be? How can it be that the biggest supplier of so many of our restaurants and caterers (not to mention residential kitchens) could have been so double-faced as to repackage unsupervised meats as glatt kosher, in 2013? To many, it initially seemed almost surreal. Where do we go from here? So the finger-pointing began….

But Erev Yom Tov, as the initial feedback began to surface (faster than the speed of flour and water becoming chametz), I asked myself if this wasn’t somewhat hypocritical.

Concerned as we are about the spiritual pollution we may have ingested, we then go ahead and utter/hear/write/read allegations about the Rabbinical Council of California (RCC). Remarks were published and proliferated before the RCC had so much as an opportunity to properly address what had happened. Gratuitous at best, the spread of fabrications at worst.

Ever since the advent of the internet, whistle-blowing has taken on nobility. But in halachah, whistle-blowing in the public forum is a last resort, forbidden until all else has failed. This inconsonance has sadly become endemic on our “frum” websites.

Now that the RCC has responded, Rabbanim throughout the community have spoken, and hard facts have continued to emerge, the overwhelming consensus is in support of the RCC, and is absolutely forgiving for any oversight. It is now clear that the RCC has humbly been catering to our community with world-class standards, with protocols employed that would impress even the El Al security masterminds! (This is not the place to elaborate in the RCC’s defense, as they already have offered sufficient explanation.)

We, the consumer public, may never have realized their painstaking commitment to us, if not for this unfortunate episode. At least now, we can all be appropriately indebted. The objective of this article, though, is not to spill ink on further defending the RCC, but rather to express dismay at the liberty taken by the “frum” websites in the initial days of this discovery, on par for the level of reporting that has become acceptable (not to mention the free-flying comments at the bottom of each article).

To understand the hypocrisy, let’s compare and contrast the wrongdoings at hand.

The kashrus agency:

The RCC, by their own public admission, left room for improvement in the supervision of their kashrus supervisors — a human oversight.

The vendor and the kashrus agency slanderers:

To compare, both the proprietor of Doheny Meats and those who were quick to publish and post defamation about the RCC would seem to find a comfortable home in Rambam’s Hilchos Teshuvah (Laws of Repentance 4:1): “One who brings the masses to sin (hamachti es harabbim) is in itself a sin of such magnitude, that the Alm-ghty will hold back the paths of repentance!”

The former allegedly fed the public meat that was not glatt kosher, representing it as glatt kosher. The latter fed the public rechilus and hotzaas shem ra.

To contrast, we don’t know that Doheny actually sold non-kosher. It likely (and hopefully) was just non-glatt. If so, he would very possibly not be included in the Rambam’s machti es harabbim (although certainly not exempt from the need to yet repent his wrongdoing). For the slanderers (and the hosts of the slander), there is no such straw of reprieve to grasp at.

Yet, the Doheny saga has elicited the level of rage that the wrongdoing of slander will never compete with. Why? Because we are not numbed to kashrus scandals but we have unfortunately become numbed to reading “frum” slander, presented as kosher, but indeed halachically treif without question.

We have come remarkably far in the last half-century. Not only in the explosive numerical growth of the Torah community, as is oft discussed, but in the level of our community’s halachic adherence. No longer do we buy into meaningless “kosher” signs in the window. We insist on kosher, and we insist on glatt kosher! One is hard pressed to find matzah on Pesach that is not shmurah in yeshivishe circles.

In all realms of halachahshemiras halashon no exception — we have taken great strides. But I hereby posit that with the advent of blogs and internet news, we have taken some painful steps back. Is it not appalling that “frum” sites, where advertisements for McDonalds would never see the light of day, rechilus and lashon hara are frequent fliers? Nothing like a juicy scandal with dirt all around! The sites rush to tale-bear the newly emerged “facts,” lest these facts be given a minute of consideration and another site post the information first and grab the “first place” position.

We must take a stance, and express to these “frum” news agencies that we are not interested in ungrounded information. For the “frum” sites to parrot, or cut and paste, that which is authored in halachically insensitive publications — publications that bind their speech only to the First Amendment — is unacceptable! (In this recent episode, one of the “authorities” quoted as a supposed source of facts is in fact intermarried!) I assume Poskim would not stop short of paskening that advertising on sites that offer this potent form of spiritual pollution is mesaye’a lidvar aveirah (abetting the transgressor).

The good news is that before the Rambam closes the chapter, he rules that even the machti es harabbim CAN repent, if so determined. Let’s hope that the proprietor of Doheny Meats will now examine his ways, and we will have the opportunity to embrace him into our community. Let’s hope that the “frum” websites and blogs will examine their ways as well, and stop placing stumbling blocks in our paths of avodas Hashem.

I appeal to these “frum” websites that provide piskei halachah from Poskim, hashkafic insights from Gedolim, and encourage chassadim far and wide, to seek the guidance of Poskim on this most critical matter of shemiras halashon, and loyally adhere to these halachos, as they would to any other halachos. And I appeal to the sponsors of these sites to discontinue sponsorship until such guidelines are set, lest they be mesaye’a lidvar aveirah.

We want nothing more than the ultimate Redemption. The Midrash encourages us that avoidance of such rechilus is what earned us redemption from Mitzrayim, and it can earn us the ultimate Redemption as well.