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'Can' do politics

Gene Weingarten on

WASHINGTON -- I may have a solution to most of America's political problems. I found it on a can of sardines.

I was searching the label for a phone number to reach a customer service representative. In my experience, these numbers are usually hard to find, tucked away near the agate listing of ingredients, wedged in near the really boring ones like "disodium guanylate." I certainly understand why. What company wants to make it easy for idiot pranksters who call to complain about the morality of canning and eating people from Sardinia? That was going to be my line of questioning, of course. But, alas, there was no customer service number on the can. Instead, the label said, in really small letters, "Bishul Yisroel."

I looked it up. Bishul Yisroel, it turns out, means "made with at least some Jewish input" and reflects a Jewish dietary law, not widely practiced, that prohibits Jews from eating anything that was prepared entirely by gentiles, even if it is otherwise kosher. As Yiddish-speaking grandpas in Brooklyn used to say, "This, I never hoid."

Me, I am a renegade Jew. (The preferred term is "non-observant," but in my case that is a comical understatement, like saying Donald Trump is "non-humble.") I do things that are discouraged by the orthodoxy. I have had extended live-in romantic relationships with three women in my life, all of whom were (1) skilled cooks and (2) gentiles. My point is that, to the custodians of a certain segment of the religion into which I was born, literally every cell of my body was constructed from sin.

However, it turns out that bishul Yisroel has some wiggle room! The nature of the constraints (and loopholes) associated with it are earnestly discussed online with Talmudic zeal. Intended to discourage contact between Jews and non-Jews, the dietary law is pretty effective, but there are ways around it with cunning, foresight and chutzpah. For example, if you get a Jew to throw one coal onto the fire of a meal being grilled, or if a Jew stirs the pot in which the food is being made, some scholars agree you have met the minimum bishul Yisroel requirements; the rest of the meal can be prepared by Eskimos, Bedouin tribesmen, etc. The whole system is subject to flexibility: If food was made entirely by gentiles, technically, the utensils have been made unkosher; but you can "kosher" them again. One way is to bury them in dirt in flowerpots.

So, this got me thinking. If the rules can be stretched a bit, maybe they can be stretched some more. Maybe concerned citizens can use their religion more ... effectively.

Bear with me here. As I was writing this last month, the greatest threat to America was a disastrously cruel health-care bill pushed by a Republican majority that feels itself cornered by its own campaign promises. It eventually failed, but for a while it seemed touch-and-go.

 

But consider this: There are nine Jewish people in the U.S. Senate. Not one is a Republican. So not a single Jew cooked up that bill! Some Jewish religious leaders could contend that as a result of this excess of gentility, this bill was treyf, or unkosher. They could not partake of it. It is religiously discriminatory. Add that to the floor debate and see what happens.

This whole strategy could get bigger and wider, and other religions could get in on the act. How far could it go?

Not a single member of the U.S. Supreme Court grew up Protestant. ...

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Gene Weingarten can be reached at weingarten@washpost.com. Follow him on Twitter, @geneweingarten. Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon Eastern at www.washingtonpost.com.

(c) 2017, The Washington Post Writers Group

 

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