Oct 8, 2009

Rabbi Michael Siegel's Response to Nathan Popper Article in the Forward

Mr. Popper's Misplaced Pen

As we conclude the holiday period, and its focus on Teshuvah and the one true judge, I was saddened to read Nathaniel Popper's rush to judgment in his article: "Pushing for Better Wages, Not Necessarily Giving Them".  Clearly, Mr. Popper had a story that he wanted to write: one that is more expose then news story, more scandal than actual journalism!  While such a disingenuous approach may sell newspapers, it certainly does not bring honor to such a storied periodical as the Forward or the Jewish community at large.

In fact, Mr. Popper diverted attention away from the important social justice issue the paper sought to cover in the first place. Had Mr. Popper wanted to tell the story objectively he would have noted that Magen Tzedek has inspired a renewed interest in setting an ethical standard for synagogues.

I take great pride as the Senior Rabbi at the Anshe Emet Synagogue that over the years our lay leadership has taken these ideas so seriously and are presently working toward implementing them on every level.   

Of course, this was not the story that he wanted to write.

Had Mr. Popper wanted to tell the story objectively he might have shown interest in the fact that members of Anshe Emet have been so inspired by the ethical ideals of Magen Tzedek that they have gotten involved in this national Conservative Movement effort on every level.  One member has arranged for Pro Bono legal counsel, another, a past President of a major Kosher meat company now advises the Magen Tzedek Board.  There is the strategic planner who has offered her expertise to us on every level.  Finally, there is the young business woman who left the banking world so that she could be the Project Manager of Magen Tzedek. 

Of course, this was not the story that he wanted to write.

Had Mr. Popper wanted to tell the story objectively he might have noted just how difficult these issues have become in a changing economy when more and more synagogues are struggling just to keep their doors open.  As National Co-Chair of the Hekhsher Tzedek Commission, I am proud that Magen Tzedek is turning its attention to institutional employment standards in the Conservative Movement. Is there any other stream of Judaism that is attempting to apply Jewish ethical standards in the marketplace, and in our institutions with the same courage and transparency as the Conservative Movement?   Is there any other stream of Judaism that has shown the same commitment to giving voice to both Jewish ethics and Jewish law?  This is why an international expert like Joe Regenstein has devoted thousands of hours creating standards.  This is why organizations like the Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism have lent their full support from the beginning. 

Of course, this was not the story that he wanted to write.

Instead, Mr. Popper took the Conservative Movement to task for not implementing the Magen Tzedek standards in synagogues before the seal has even found its way to one Kosher product! Clearly, the author had another objective in mind: one that continues this newspaper's recent tradition of defaming the Conservative Movement and playing the role of gadfly on the American Jewish scene.   

Mr. Popper, please know that in the year to come we will take Magen Tzedek to market, and we will continue our work to ensure that our congregations adhere to the best in our Jewish ethical tradition. Our people are fully aware that such a process takes time, requires painful choices and comes with real costs. 

We do this for only one reason: because it is our obligation as Jews to bring the ethical light of Torah to the world in which we live. 

Rabbi Michael S. Siegel


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Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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