Oz Torah: Ask the Rabbi – Foodies & idolatry.





Q.  Is it ethically right for people to be foodies and say they can’t manage without their designer meals and culture coffee?

A.  It’s a sign of an empty life if all you can think about is decadent dining and fine wines.

I remember a kosher butcher who was consulted by a congregant who had decided to go kosher and wanted elaborate meat cuts. “Whatever for?” asked the butcher, “You’re only going to eat it!”

What you eat and drink certainly matters in life. You need food and drink in order to stay alive, and it’s good to eat well and nicely… but you don’t have to make a fetish of it and turn it into a new form of idolatry.

If you have money to spare, why not give more charity, endow more scholarships, buy more books, give more hospitality?

And whatever you eat, make sure it is kosher. Why do the food mavens seem to think they’ve got to eat treif?


Q.  If we do not believe in intermediaries, why does God bless the people by means of the kohanim?

A.  The appointment of the priests to bless the people using the words laid down by God is spelled out in Numbers 6, which says, “They shall place My name on the Children of Israel, and I shall bless them”.

God can and does use any agent He chooses; why otherwise would the Bible have angels?

The Sefer HaChinuch says that in Temple times the kohanim were regarded as particularly close to the Almighty.

Another view is that the kohanim are symbolic of humankind, and God has endowed human beings with the capacity of bringing blessing upon each other.


Q.  Do you agree with Harold Kushner’s thesis in his book, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”?

A.  This famous book was published over 40 years ago after the author’s son died from a terrible wasting disease.

Kushner recognised as a fact of life that good people suffer unjustly whilst bad people (at least sometimes or more often) seem to get off scot free.

The way the Talmud puts it is, “tzaddik v’ra lo, rasha v’tov lo” (“The righteous for whom things are not good, the wicked for whom things are good”).

One of the classical explanations is that this is the way it appears to our here-and-now human perception, but in the long sweep of history, including the World to Come, the reality may be different.

The argument that Kushner put forward was that we may be asking the wrong question. Instead of measuring a person’s destiny against their moral worth, maybe we should see things in terms of the physical laws of the Creation.

The way the world was made, God has contracted Himself to make room for His creation. The resultant world operates according to parameters which He cannot adjust or interfere with.

It is not that He lacks goodness or morality, but other principles function in Creation and in the final analysis God can only lament when the result seems morally unfair. What He does is to sit on the ground with us and share our pain.

An interesting argument, but as I pointed out in a radio broadcast at the time the book was published, it neither accords with nor satisfies the tradition of Judaism.

What Judaism has to say is that God knows what He is doing, and though we are often surprised and even disturbed at what we see, we trust that in the larger scope of things everything has its place.


Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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