A BEEF OVER BACON

I’ve never met Angela Montgomery. I know nothing about her, other than the fact that she recently filed a lawsuit against a Detroit area Denny’s restaurant after she found bacon in her vegetarian omelet and that she is a “practicing Jew.” Far be it from me to say that a “practicing Jew” might just need a little more practice (we all do), but from what little I know, I believe that the Latin “caveat emptor” especially applies to “practicing” Jews who dine at non-kosher establishments. To be even more specific, intending no malice to canines and meaning no disrespect to the same, “If you sleep with dogs, you are going to wake up with fleas.” As one, who by my own admission, knows next to nothing about non-kosher restaurant chains, I was not aware that Denny’s ever claimed to be a vegetarian restaurant. Had Angela Montgomery or anyone for that matter been served bacon mixed in with her vegetarian omelet in a vegetarian eatery… As they say in Yiddish: “Doss heist a lawsuit” – that’s what you call a lawsuit. Excuse me if I am wrong, but I would think that Denny’s serves fowl, beef, pork and mutton along with an assortment of dairy dishes.

Mistakes happen, even at restaurants. Would I swear that it never happened, that a delivery truck delivered treif (non-kosher chickens) to a kosher restaurant and these non-kosher chickens were inadvertently cooked and served to unsuspecting observant Jews who came in for a meal? Not on your life! Would I swear that a vegetarian who orders a tuna salad sandwich at a Denny’s or similar was never mistakenly served a chicken salad sandwich, in that the tuna salad and the chicken salad are stored in identical containers placed side by side in the same refrigerator?  Not on your life! For those of us who maintain kosher kitchens in our homes, has it ever happened that without thinking, we grabbed a dairy bowl and filled it with chili or that without thinking, we grabbed a meat bowl and scooped ice cream into it? Mistakes happen! That’s why the Shulchan Aruch or Code of Jewish law devotes pages upon pages replete with commentary addressing when dairy inadvertently gets mixed in with meat or when forbidden (treif) inadvertently gets mixed in with kosher. Succinctly stated, Judaism regards it as damage control. Angela Montgomery apparently regards it as a lawsuit.

Angela Montgomery claims to be a practicing Jew. It might very well be that when it comes to Yom Kippur, Angela Montgomery is somewhat out of practice. Recall if you will, that the efficacy of Yom Kippur is limited to the sins Jews commit both intentionally and unintentionally against HaShem. It would seem to me that unless one flaunts eating treif in front of observant Jews, consuming a vegetarian omelet containing bacon is what Yom Kippur is all about. As to Angela Montgomery’s claim, “It’s like the most vile, disgusting creature on the planet Earth that’s not supposed to go in your body, and I ate it. To me, that’s poisoning, I was poisoned.” I’m not aware that a Yom Kippur service, or a rabbi or even lawyer could provide Angela Montgomery any assistance in that realm. Perhaps consultation with a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist would be the best route to take for Angela Montgomery.

ACCEPT ME FOR WHAT I AM

Every so often, a new prayer book or High Holiday Machzor makes a debut. As leader of a congregation who replaced a tried and true High Machzor a few years ago, far be it from me to speak out against new texts. What I do take issue with however, is the reason for the change.
Reform, Conservative and Orthodox movements have been known to come out with new Siddurim and Machzorim because they feel that the Siddurim and Machzorim they have been using up until now no longer “speak” to their members. Is it possible that the exact opposite is the case? Perhaps the Siddurim and Machzorim they have been using up until now “speak” to their members loud and clear. It’s just that the members of Reform, Conservative or Orthodox Judaism have suddenly become uncomfortable with the message. And so, the message is rewritten.
Rephrasing a quote that Cesar A. Cruz once made about art, it can be said that “religion should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable”. While I’m no psychologist, I can’t help but feel that the vast majority of those who attend religious services would only agree with the first half of this aphorism. Put differently, the vast majority of congregants or parishioners look to religion as well as religious services along with the texts that are part and parcel of those service to rubber stamp their behavior and lifestyle…. if they look at all. It seems that while it is the G-d given right of those who attend religious services to change the message conveyed by their House of Worship either through clergy or text, it also appears to be true that G-d help the clergy or text that seeks to change those who attend those very same religious services!
When it comes to religion, there is a great irony in today’s society. On the one hand, there are untold numbers throughout our culture who espouse “accept me for who I am”. Yet, when it comes to reciprocity on their parts, particularly when it comes to religion in this country, the notion of accepting the church or synagogue for what it is, seems to suddenly disappear.
Isn’t it strange, that Americans who are conditioned to “telling it like it is” and demand from others to “give it to them straight”, suddenly change the rules when it comes to church or synagogue attendance? Maybe I’ve had it wrong all these years, but I was always under the impression that the very purpose of September 13th through September 23rd of this year is to show that what makes us humans is our ability to change and improve our habits as well as our behavior.
Something to think about these High Holy Days… And beyond.