Monday, September 26, 2011

Saturday 10/8 is Eat-a-Cheeseburger Day

Saturday, October 8, 2011, is the 2nd annual Bill Henry international Eat-a-Cheeseburger Day. This day honors Bill Henry (né Herskovitz) for a decision that quite possibly saved an eight-year-old boy from a life of "Jewish chauvinism and exclusivism".

That boy grew up to be Henry Herskovitz and in 1954 young Henry was hungry from fasting on Yom Kippur. Eight-year-olds aren't required to fast and so the fact that his father Bill bought him something to eat is not remarkable, that he bought him a cheeseburger is.

Under Judaic religious law or halacha, cheeseburgers are treif, i.e. they're not kosher. Observant Jews aren't supposed to eat them and some Jews can get pretty worked-up about cheeseburgers. You see, keeping kosher is about Jewish self-segregation. But you don't have to believe me, you can believe Rabbi Yaakov Luban.

Rabbi Luban is a "specialist in communal [kosher] issues" and Executive Rabbinic Coordinator of the Orthodox Union's kosher certification division, the world's largest kosher certification agency. In "Playing with Fire", Rabbi Luban writes:
Thousands of years ago, the Rabbis of old recognized that Jewish identity is the key to the survival of Klal Yisrael ["the Jewish People, as a whole"]. To this end, they enacted three sets of food laws to limit socialization: bishul akum, pas akum and stam yainom (cooked food, bread and wine prepared by gentiles). This was based on the realization that bonds of friendship are established by eating together, and breaking bread with a stranger is the first step to developing a closer relationship. For thousands of years of exile, the biblical and rabbinic laws of kosher have formed a natural fortress that prevented the assimilation of the Jewish people into many different cultures of the world. Today, with spiraling assimilation wreaking havoc at a frightening rate, the prophetic vision of Chazal [an acronym, meaning "Our Sages of Blessed Memory" in ref. to the Talmud] is all the more apparent. It is significant that even for secularized Jews, a kosher kitchen often remains the last bastion against intermarriage and assimilation.

More than two thousand years ago, the Rabbis prohibited eating certain foods cooked by non-Jews in order to limit socialization which might lead to intermarriage between Jews and gentiles.
Okay, so maybe I've taken a little interpretive license with this otherwise true story but, still, I like to believe that Bill Henry's decision to buy his boy a cheeseburger on the "Sabbath of Sabbaths" wasn't an accident but a mitzvah that helped set his son on the path of becoming a mensch, a fighter for human rights, justice, and, peace for all. So, what the heck? If you're not fasting on Saturday 10/8 then join people across the globe in eating a cheeseburger (really, any non-kosher food or beverage will do) in honor of our shared humanity and in memory of Bill Henry, a dad who truly loved his son enough not to try to turn him into a bigot.

P.S. If you're going to buy that cheeseburger at a fast food restaurant (Yuck, don't do it!) then skip McDonald's. With 153 restaurants in Israel, they're big-time violators of the global boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Try Burger King instead, they pulled out of Israel last year.

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Saturday, September 03, 2011

Jews and Torture Update II

In my "Jews and Torture" post, back in 2007, I wrote:
Michael Mukasey's nomination as US Attorney General was placed in apparent jeopardy when he refused to state in Senate confirmation hearings that the form of torture known as waterboarding was illegal under US law. His nomination was rescued by two Jewish Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Diane Feinstein and Charles Schumer, who joined with all nine Republicans in an 11-8 vote to send the nomination to the full Senate where they were joined by Joseph Lieberman, another Jew who voted against his caucus. Mukasey was confirmed by a 53-40 vote--"the narrowest margin to confirm an attorney general in more than 50 years."
Recently I had occasion to look at the voting records of the three Jewish Senators who pulled Mukasey's nomination out of the fire. They only highlight how remarkable it was for them to cross party lines to support Mukasey. According to the Washington Post's database, during the 110th Congress, Feinstein voted with her caucus 94% of the time, Lieberman 87%, and Schumer 97%.

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