Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Fifth Child

I thought there were only four sons, the four sons of the Mah Nishtana. The first three, The Wise Son, the Wicked Son, and the Simple Son, all ask questions. Only the last, the Son Who Doesn't Know Enough to Ask, is silent.
I recently learned that there is another son that doesn't ask any questions. This is the Willfully Blind Son, who doesn't ask questions because of unwillingness to reconsider a prejudice.
The writer of the following article, which appeared in the New York Times Friday Erev Pesach, is surprised by a sign at a pet store, and she assumes that she has chanced upon some sort of absurdity. It must be either a joke or muddleheaded religious tomfoolery.
This is an intelligent woman, a person with a good liberal education.  One would expect an erstwhile philosophy major to be curious about something foreign to her experience.  But instead of seeking out an explanation, instead of simply asking a question- a question that any fifth grader at an Orthodox Jewish school could have answered- she prefers to hold fast to her prejudice.

Had she asked, the hypothetical child would have told her that there is are several verses in in the Bible, e.g., Exodus 12:19 and 13:7, that prohibit even possession of Chametz on Passover.  A more advanced child would have said that we are not allowed to benefit from Chametz on Pesach, and feeding our pets is a benefit. The latter rule, though, is not explicit in the Torah, so it probably would be meaningless to her.

But instead of asking, she prefers that it remain a joke, because a joke doesn't threaten her comfortable presumptions.
Willful blindness.

April 6, 2012, 11:20 AM
Keeping Your Pets Kosher for Passover
Dear Diary,
Reader Tales From the City
Two signs seen at an Upper West Side pet store:
“Passover Holiday Feeding Suggestions”
Tropical Fish
Dried bloodworms
Dried worms
Dried krill
Frozen shrimp
Millet sprays
Oyster shells
Striped sunflower seeds
Small Animals
Millet spray
Alfalfa hay
Alfalfa cubes

Next sign: “Approved by the Chicago Rabbinical Council for Passover”
                  Dogs – Science Diet
                  Cats – Science Diet
                  Dog Treats – Science Diet

My questions:
How do you know your fish is Jewish? What are the signs?
Was your fish or bird born Jewish, or did they convert for your sake?
Does your dog know he’s Jewish? Does the cat?
Do your pets participate in the Seder?
Aren’t shrimp and oysters traif anyhow?
Is this for real, or did someone forget to take down the April Fool’s joke?
How did Chicago get so far ahead of New York on this?
Happy Passover!

In any case, no, it's not a joke. On Passover, we're not allowed to possess leavened products.  We're certainly not allowed to feed them to our animals,  and we're not even allowed to give them away as gifts to non-Jews.
There are still people who take the Torah very seriously, who make an effort to study and understand it in order to faithfully comply with both the letter and the spirit of the law.  We've always been around, and we always will be.



  1. Her presumption are that Judaism is a philosophy and not a religion. Specifically, a social-justice philosophy [she does a lot of work with the UN, especially UNICEF]. Similar to this guy: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/154682

    And no, there is no reason to be don these people l'kaf z'chus. Nor are they tinokos she'nishbu. Apikorsim are apikorsim, kofrim are kofrim, and there is a clear halacha of moridim v'aim ma'alim.

    Unfortunately, these people are the representatives to the public of "Jews". See the list of Fifty Top "Rabbis": http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/04/02/america-s-top-50-rabbis-for-2012.html

    Of course, many of these maisisim claim they are Frum, but that's an old story.

  2. While I don't disagree with anything you wrote, one interesting thing about her post is how it treats animals (especially pets) as quasi-people. Whereas halakha, and probably until well into the 20th century, most people, view them as property.

    Part of why she thinks it is strange is that she cannot understand why a pet would have to keep kosher -- is it Jewish? Whereas once you view an animal as property, it is not at all strange that the Torah tells a Jew how to deal with his property, as it does in many other cases.

  3. I am shocked that you printed such a picture please remove it! Thank you.

  4. Anonymous of April 11 5:33 PM:
    What a pernicious gnat of a man that MJ Rosenberg is. He's malicious, a fierce and bitter enemy of our lifestyle.

    Interesting analysis.

    Anonymous April 11 8:16 PM:
    I didn't see it as pritzus, more as art- like the difference between stam kol isha and opera, but I can see that it might be offensive. So I'll remove it.

  5. I think anonymous at 8:16 was not commenting from a religious viewpoint but rather from an EPA perspective.

  6. Why would Eicosapentaenoic acid, a component of fish oil and human breast milk, offend a reader?

  7. Thomas Bowdler, UCApril 12, 2012 at 4:09 PM

    That's "human chest milk" in these here parts, Mister.

    Rabbi Thomas Bowdler

  8. >>>This is an intelligent woman

    The fact that it appears in the NY Times automatically = not intelligent.