Of Treifos and Trust
Rabbi Adlerstein’s non-response to the “Monsey chicken story” resulted in the largest comment thread in recent memory — thanks to people responding to the story. Something about fools rushing in comes to mind, but still more apropos and timely is a Mishnah in the first chapter of Maseches Yoma, the Tractate concerning Yom Kippur and its Temple service.
מסרוהו זקני בית דין לזקני כהונה, והוליכוהו לעליית בית אבטינס; השביעוהו, ונפטרו והלכו להם. ואומרין לו, אישי כוהן גדול, אנו שלוחי בית דין, ואתה שלוחנו ושלוח בית דין; משביעין אנו עליך במי ששיכן את שמו בבית הזה, שלא תשנה דבר מכל מה שאמרנו לך. הוא פורש ובוכה, והן פורשין ובוכין
The Elders of the Court would hand him [the Kohen Gadol] to the elder Priests, and they would take him to the upper floor of the House of Avtinus. They would make him swear, and they would depart. And they would say to him, my master the Kohen Gadol, we are the representatives of the Court, and you are our representative and the representative of the Court; we make you swear by He Who rests His Name upon this House [the Temple], that you shall not change a thing from all that we have said to you. He would separate and cry, and they would separate and cry.
As Yom Kippur arrived, after instructing the High Priest on what he should do, the Elders of the Sanhedrin, the High Court, would make him swear to perform the service faithfully. This arose because of the Tzadokim (Sadducees), who would ignore the Oral Law and perform the service incorrectly. Since followers of Tzadok had previously become the Kohen Gadol, it was necessary to force the Kohen Gadol to make an oath to perform his duties in accordance with the Halacha.
Then it says that both he and they — the Kohen Gadol and the Judges — would turn away and cry. The Gemara (19b) explains: he would cry, because they suspected him of being a Tzadoki. And they would cry, because in the words of Rebbe Yehoshua ben Levi, those who doubt the innocent are punished bodily.
We should ask: what do they have to cry for? Wasn’t there a past history of wrongdoing by previous High Priests? Wasn’t this an entirely rational precaution on behalf of the community? Of course both of those things were true — but nonetheless, that is small comfort for the need to suspect an innocent person.
When I grew up in a New Jersey suburb, we rarely locked the door. Living in Baltimore, we use the locks, we use the deadbolts, and we have little signs from Security Link dotting the lawn. Does that mean we are safer? I don’t think so. Not at all. Those who live in communities where the idea of a stranger entering your home is unfathomable are the ones who live in safe places today.
So yes, in the wake of this story, Kashrus certification and Kashrus standards will be irrevocably changed. For hundreds of years we operated under the presumption that an apparently upstanding, observant individual could be trusted, and kosher certification was as much a precaution against inadvertent mistakes as anything else. Now we know that such trust can no longer be invested even in those who appear to be entirely trustworthy. Does that mean that we are now safer, and less likely to be fed non-kosher food? I don’t think so. Not at all.
The world is in a terrible state when we need to suspect everyone, even the innocent.