No Mitzvah Stands Alone
By Rabbi Yitzchok Adler, HKC Rabbinic Administrator
The work of a vaad hakashrut, a kosher supervision agency, is never done. Even after ingredients and foods have been certified kosher, there is a responsibility to the community that continues and lingers. A case in point is one that required address this past spring.
One of the local social service agencies that provides meals-on-wheels wanted to be able to provide kosher meals. The project was sent out for competitive bidding, and a non-kosher provider whose intention it was to subcontract for the preparation of these meals with a certified kosher provider won the contract. Convoluted, but so far so good.
The nature of this particular contract was to deliver two meals a day to the senior citizen customers, a meat meal that could be heated for lunch and a light dairy dinner that could be eaten later out of the refrigerator. Indeed, properly kosher food was being ordered and prepared; but the non-kosher provider was putting all the food together in one bag and delivering it in such a fashion that lunch items could not be distinguished from dinner items. Customers immediately began to question how cottage cheese could be a side dish for meatballs, or how milk could be the intended beverage to accompany a bologna sandwich. Alarms were sounded, and justifiably.
Since the non-sectarian social service agency was claiming to have secured HKC approval, the phone of the rabbinic administrator began ringing off the hook -- at the office and at home. Once the details of the problem were sorted and understood, a policy was immediately implemented requiring that each meal be packaged and sealed, individually and separately; and that each package be inclusive of everything intended for that meal.
Under normal circumstances, it would be reasonable to assume that the work of guaranteeing the kashrut integrity of a food item would be complete after that item is packaged, sealed and out of the commissary. Yet, a Jewish community has an obligation to itself that goes even further. That responsibility is founded on the Torah imperative (Vaykra/Leviticus 19:14), "v'lifnei evair lo teteyn michshol -- and before one who is undiscerning (blind) you may not place a stumbling block". Our covenantal bond to each other within the context of our faith community is to be supportive of each other in every way possible. The job of Jews caring about each other, and demonstrating substantial interest in each other's wellbeing, is never done. When Cain asked the rhetorical question (Genesis/Bereshit 4:9) "hashomer achi anochi -- am I my brother's keeper?", the Almighty intentional refrained from answering so as to avoid giving any credence to the query. Of course you are your brother's keeper! That is exactly what it means to be a worthy and virtuous member of an inclusive community.
The guidelines of the kosher diet were never intended to be freestanding; like all mitzvot, they are to be viewed as viable components of a larger whole with the rest of the whole. Observance of the rules of kashrut is equated with the pursuit of spiritual holiness. Just as holiness should not exist in isolation, so too should kashrut be applied as one factor among many that function in unison for the common good.