The Israeli Health Ministry and the Rehabilitation of Daniel Chwolson
[thanks to Rabbi Dr. David Fox, LA, for the lead]
The story has been told for well over a century. The Israeli Health Ministry just added a new twist to it.
Daniel Abramovich Chwolson (1819-1911) left many Jews confused. The distinguished Orientalist and professor at the University of St. Petersburg achieved a remarkable position of prominence in Czarist Russia. The price of entry into those circles was conversion, and the ex-yeshiva bochur from Vilna paid it. Unlike many other meshumadim, however, Chwolson remained fiercely committed to Jewish causes. He led battles against both blood libels and the denunciation of the Talmud. His assistance was solicited and gained for a variety of causes by stellar figures in the Torah world.
In the version I heard, someone asked the Netziv how to relate to such a person, who did so much good for the Jewish people, and yet was guilty of the ultimate treason. Do we see anything positive in him?
The Netziv replied with a story about a frum Yid who took sick, and was instructed by his physician to eat pork. He refused, and his condition worsened. “I never ate treif my entire life. I will die rather than do so!” The rov of the town was called in, who ordered the patient to eat. He responded, “Very well, I cannot disobey my rov. But I am not going to eat from an animal that was not shechted properly!”
It took much prodding, but the rov got the shochet to go along with the charade. The shochet dutifully slaughtered the pig, using perfect shechitah form. The patient was still uneasy. “Ask the shochet if he checked the knife before shechitah.” The shochet was called in, and assured the patient that he had indeed done the required pre-shechitah inspection of the blade.
“Fine. But did the shochet check the lungs to see that there were no adhesions?” Once more, the shochet was called in. This time he admitted that there was an issue. He had checked the lungs, and there was a bit of a suspicious growth on one lobe of the lung.
Attention then shifted to the rov, who had to decide whether the growth was a real adhesion, or some innocuous tissue. It took the rov several hours to pore over seforim, finding the right answer. He finally emerged, and said, “If the lungs had come from a cow, I could find an argument to call it kosher. But how do you expect me to pronounce the word ‘kosher’ on a pig?
“How then,” asked the Netziv, “do you expect me to use the word kosher in regard to Chwolson.”
And there the story rested – until the Israeli Health Ministry weighed in on any swine flu dangers associated with eating pork. As printed in Maariv, this is what they said:
האם קיים איסור על אכילת בשר חזיר?
לא. במשרד הבריאות מבהירים כי אין כל חשש מאכילת מזונות וכי “המחלה איננה מועברת במזון”. בארגון הבריאות העולמי מדגישים כי
אין חשש מאכילת בשר חזיר שבושל כהלכה
Is there a prohibition to eat pork? No! The Ministry of Health clarifies that there is no danger in food consumption. The disease is not transmitted through food. The WHO emphasizes that
there is nothing to be concerned about in eating pork that is cooked according to Halacha
The modern Israeli reader will understand that “kehalachah” has nothing to do with Shulchan Aruch. It means “properly” – in this case, cooked to the proper temperature. Similarly, “issur” does not imply to that reader a violation of Hashem’s Torah. The phrase simply means “no problem.”
Oh, the advantages of modernity! Had the Netziv only lived in our enlightened times, he could have let go of his wallowing in negativity, of looking for mud to sling at another human being, of the insistence on porcine references. Rather than the put-down, a modern liberated Netziv could have hammed up a comedic description of Chwolson that would have left the audience squealing in delight. I bet he could have been good enough that people would have paid to listen, thus bringing home the bacon for Volozhin.
More seriously, perhaps we should mourn that words so dear to us could morph into something so different in the space of a generation, that words have evolved (devolved, really) to get us to this point
We pay a dear price for this, on several levels. Next week, Muslims students at UC Irvine will run an anti-Israel hate fest. Nothing unusual there. Unfortunately, there is nothing so unusual in its star presenter being Gidon Levy of Haaretz. Not so long ago, a single Jewish turncoat could inspire stories that lasted decades. Today, journalists and university faculty galore work to undermine the legitimacy of Israel – quite the opposite of Chwolson.
Somehow, that is not too kosher.