Posted on | June 17, 2007 | By Eliahu Levenson | 103 Comments
Among my regular Jewish activities, I work as a mashgiach. I thank Hashem for the opportunity to work within the needs of the Jewish community, and I involve myself with a considerable amount of kiruv. I’ll give you some examples.
This Shabbos I oversaw a luncheon in a non-observant (conservative in this case) temple. Here I want the people to notice that I will attend to the kashrus of their center, but they will never see me in their sanctuary during a service (that’s also kiruv). When I’m asked by the curious, “How do they conduct a bar (or bas) mitzvah at this conservative temple,” I reply that since I won’t enter their sanctuary during a service, I don’t know the answer to their question.”
While working such an event, I consider it one of my personal missions in life to help the Jewish attendees realize that Jews are to wash “al netilas yadayim” before eating bread. In this vein I make sure the caterer always prepares a complete and noticable washing station. I also place an easy-to-read sign that I made on my computer that contains the rules and brachos (in Hebrew, English, and transliteration) for washing.
At most conservative events, usually very people wash, and sometimes nobody washes at all, but at least people see the washing station, can read the informative sign, and can wonder about it all (that’s kiruv too).
At this particular Shabbos event no one at all was washing. I was disappointed. I actually get a thrill when I see a non-observant Jew wash before bread. That may not be YOUR definition of excitement, but for me it’s as good as a Disneyland adventure.
So no one is washing on this day, when suddenly a young girl, 12 or 13, began walking in a beeline toward the washing station. I was impressed with this young lady, as she was even carrying HER OWN empty cup. I observed from across the room as she stopped at the washing station, peered at the sign, took the water pitcher, and filled the cup she was carrying. Then she lifted the cup to her mouth, took a drink, and walked away. I was devastated.
Another of my favorite mashgiach activity, when in conservative temples, takes place with most Saturday lunches. The host or hostess of an event will usually ask the caterer to pack up any unused food for them to take home. They expect that they will put the food into their cars as soon as the event is over and drive it home.
NOT on my watch however. They are welcome to whatever food the caterer wants to give to them, but that food is not leaving the building until SHABBOS (not the event) is over. If the people want that food, they’ll have to come back for it.
Sometimes they become somewhat angry. That’s okay. To me, it’s a Kiddush Hashem, as well as an important teaching opportunity. The hosts might say, “Why are you letting us take the flowers home if you won’t let us take the food?” I answer, “I don’t have any control over the flowers, I only have control over the food. If I could stop you from taking the flowers, I’d do that also.” Or I might have occasion to say it somewhat akin to: “If you wish to violate Jewish law, that’s your personal choice, but I’m not going to participate in that choice by allowing you to take that food before Shabbos is over.”
I remember once someone called the headquarters of the kashrus agency where I work to complain about me. When informed of the complaint I asked, “So what did I do this time?”
“They said you helped their grandfather make the bracha over washing and motzi and he was greatly embarrassed that he needed the help.”
Well, I realize that it is a big aveira to embarrass a Jew, and I do attempt to be low key and tactful when I try to assist, but somehow I just don’t think this is the kind of embarrassment Hashem had in mind by this prohibition. (See Vayikra 19:17)
I also practice kiruv to the orthodox. It is my own opinion, perhaps the only such opinion in the world, that orthodox Jews need kiruv as much or more than non-observant Jews, and that includes the so-called FFBs.
I remember requiring at an orthodox event that a group of orthodox men desist from opening or using Canadian Club Premium scotch whisky. Oh they were MAD at me, but I stood my ground and they yielded…begrudgingly.
“All scotch is kosher,” they would say.
“Canadian Club Premium is a blend. Single malt is just scotch, but a blend has addititives, and in this case part of the additives include non-kosher wine,” I would respond.
“But Rabbi Moshe Feinstein allows up to 20% of non-kosher wine in a mix,” one man retorted (these are orthodox Jews remember, and much better equipped to look for argumentative ways to try and defeat me).
“Rabbi Moshe Feinstein made that teshuva about a mix of water containing up to 20% non-kosher wine. If you want to substitute scotch for water, then you had better ask Rabbi Feinstein, because I think it’s a stretch…unless there is more to the teshuva I am not aware of. Water damages the taste of wine which I believe is the basis for its Rabbi Feinstein’s bedieved acceptance. Do you really think that the scotch also damages the taste of the wine, or might the scotch even improve the taste?”
Do not now go out trying to figure ways to drink non-kosher wine. Halacha is a very technical field only to be decided by the experts. Consult your rabbi first and I hope he chews you out.
These guys weren’t finished with me yet. After all, Jews are a stiff-necked people. They named another kosher certifying agency that they said ALLOWS ALL SCOTCH, even when blended with non-kosher wine.
Here’s what I answered: “Gentlemen, whether that is true or not, this synagogue is not under the hashgacha of the certifying agency you are mentioning. This synagogue is under a different hashgasha that DOES NOT
permit such a blend.”
One of the main areas (not the only area) where kiruv is desperately needed amongst even orthodox Jews is that of accepting authority. Often we are too zealous to challenge rulings we don’t like. Rulings can be investigated and studied, but there is a process, and Jews need to be patient and pursue their ideas in a correct fashion, and swallow their pride if they don’t get their way.
All of this brings me to the one person who needs kiruv the most, in my humble opinion. It isn’t the non-observant, and it isn’t the observant, it’s ME, just ME. I’m always feeling inadequate in my Judaism and I know I need to search for ways to improve. My wife, Leah Hudis Esther, is tactful, but not shy in letting me know if she thinks I could or should be improving in one way or another. That is my definition of looking out for me, and I like her for that. I’d like to think that others are looking out for me in that way as well. That’s kiruv.
Let me make myself the subject of scrutiny for the sake of understanding. I think I am sometimes in danger of getting a swelled head (what, ME?). I think it’s fair to say that I usually (not always) have the upper hand when debating and discussing much due to the knowledge and experiences I have gained over the years. Although fair to say, it also places me at risk of being arrogant, condescending, and lacking in proper humility.
Hashem also does kiruv. It is no accident that I am a mashgiach. I am fully aware of Hashem’s guiding hand hidden in the background. Occasionally, I find myself washing and checking lettuce for bugs. For a mashgiach, it goes with the territory. Deep inside me however, I have an awareness that I consider this kind of work to be beneath me. It isn’t beneath me, and that’s the point. I feel it is, but I know it’s not, and this part of the job is a great help in reminding me that I am nothing more than a humble servant before Hashem. I cannot stress how important it is for us to understand this.
When I realize how valuable this activity is for my personal development I smile and thank Hashem for HIS kiruv.
Let’s switch gears for a minute, because I think this is a topic you would like to hear about. Checking lettuce has had other effects on me as well. When my wife, and/or myself, prepare a head of romain lettuce, we wash and agitate the lettuce in water with soap. We then rinse each individual leaf thoroughly, both front and back. Finally we check each leaf, againfront and back, very carefully, over a Logan Futura light box that we keep in our kitchen. You see, I have learned first hand that there are bugs in lettuce…often lots of them. You wouldn’t even know many of them were there if you didn’t know what you were looking for.
Knowing about the bugs in lettuce and what it takes to get rid of them has changed our lives in other ways as well. When friends invite us over for a meal, where kashrus is not in question, we will go to the meal. We will eat their main courses and their desserts. My wife and I however will not eat their salad, unless, we know that they know how to properly eliminate the bugs. (Note: Straight iceberg lettuce in bags that have a reliable hechsure would not be a problem.)
End of tangent.
Finally, whilst still on the subject of kiruv, I don’t want to leave out the non-Jewish world. Non-Jews need kiruv too. Call it Noachide kiruv, but it is kiruv nonetheless. Everybody needs kiruv.
BTW, to all those non-Jewish chefs and non-Jewish catering and service people, please be apprised when you are speaking to me that the word is MASHGIACH, not MOSHIACH!