JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review July 30, 2002 / 21 Menachem-Av, 5762

Kosher country: America's Jewish soul

By Rabbi Daniel Lapin

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | From Europe come disturbing new reports - reports that should impress on American Jews how fortunate we are to live in the United States.

What is one to make of the fact that five European countries have banned kosher slaughter - shechitah - for the stated reason that it is cruel to animals? Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Switzerland have now been joined by Holland, which banned the kosher slaughter of bulls. (It has since amended the ban, for now.) In Switzerland, kosher slaughter has been illegal for a century, but only this year an attempt to legalize it was beaten back by the government.

The movement to ban shechitah proceeds from various motivations, chief among them a total inability to appreciate the weightiness of a divine command, a mitzvah. As Jews have traditionally believed, G-d requires that if want to eat meat, it must be prepared in this way and no other. To Europeans, among whom secularism reigns, letting G-d into such decisions - or indeed into any significant decisions at all - seems utter madness. Hence it's no surprise that in G-d-free nations like Sweden, where the churches are all immaculately maintained museums, they bristle at shechitah.

Which brings us to a question that has occurred to many who eat kosher meat: Could it happen here?

As in Europe, "animal rights" is a concept on the rise in America. Every week the media bring stories of bizarre triumphs for the PETA crowd. Time magazine in a cover story promotes vegetarianism, already practiced by 10 million Americans disturbed by beef. Princeton University hires Professor Peter Singer, who believes the life of a human infant is no more precious than that of a baby chick. Some animal-rights activists are resorting to terrorism, firebombing cars belonging to executives of companies that practice vivisection, burning down university laboratories, breaking windows in homes, even sinking a private yacht.

Yet one hears not a peep against shechitah, and my prediction is that we needn't worry about the future of kosher slaughter in America. I say this because a part of America's soul is Jewish.

The scholar Michael Novak has written eloquently of the "Jewish metaphysics" of the American Founding, an expression of the unique faith that took root here, American Christianity, so different from its European cousin. One sees this in the literature of the American Revolution and that of the creation of our Constitutional government, a literature which in describing G-d's relationship to man, man's relationship to law, and the overall movement of history, used an idiom taken from Hebrew Scripture. When the Founders spoke of G-d Himself, whom they called Creator, King, Judge, Providence, their language was, in a broad sense, Jewish. Suggesting a design for the nation's Seal, Thomas Jefferson advocated "a representation of the children of Israel in the wilderness, led by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night." The Founders, like the Pilgrims, saw themselves as building a nation that would be "G-d's American Israel," and the theme shaped America's self-understanding long after. That's why even today Americans circumcise male babies at a rate that is, outside of Israel, higher than that of any nation on earth (about 60 percent). It is why American Christians stand by the Jewish State when the rest of the world reviles her.

Even to consider a ban on shechitah, Americans would first have to shed their appreciation for Judaism, and I see little immediate danger of that.

The organization I serve, Toward Tradition, has worked for 10 years to help our fellow Jews understand how much we have to be grateful for. But gratitude is not enough. If American Christians are our friends, we ought to reflect on the meaning of friendship. In Hebrew, a friend is a chaver, a word build on the etymological root that means "obligation." To be a friend is not merely to receive benefit, but to give it in return.

No, gratitude is not enough. It is, however, a good start.

One can't say or hear it often enough: Thank G-d for America.

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Rabbi Daniel Lapin is president of Toward Tradition and author of America’s Real War and the forthcoming Thou Shall Prosper. Comment by clicking here. A new pamphlet published by Toward Tradition, Enemies or Allies?, explains in detail what American Jews can do for American Christians. (For a free copy, email pamphlet@towardtradition.org.)


© 2002, Rabbi Daniel Lapin