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Lori’s Kosher Deli


As noted in this space, some Catholic thinkers have been favoring us with some serious theologizing as they make their respective cases for how to respond to the Obama Administration's contraception coverage mandate. And then there's the Most Rev. William E. Lori, Bishop of Bridgeport, CT. Yesterday, His Excellency showed up at Rep. Darrell Issa's religious-opponents-only hearing on the mandate to deliver himself of the Parable of the Kosher Deli, an exercise of the analogical imagination fit to make David Tracy wish he was a Protestant.

The parable imagines a new government order requiring kosher delicatessens to sell pork. The Orthodox Jews are up in arms, and the thing limps along in rough parallel to the current tale of the mandate. Yes, the government adjusts the policy a bit, but this now affects the kosher meat suppliers, and they're not happy. You get the idea. What's interesting about Lori's little jeu d'esprit is not how inept the analogy is, however, but how a proper Parable of the Kosher Deli would prove the opposite of what he's seeking to demonstrate.

In fact, the rules of kashrut forbid Jews from eating pork, not selling it or otherwise being involved in its provision. No doubt, a mandate to sell pork would be resisted by the deli owners, but the point here--and it's not a trivial one--is that Orthodox Jews have no objection to non-Jews eating pork, or to doing anything to help them to do so.

So let's imagine a more accurate analogy--one in which, for reasons of scarcity, say, places of employment were required to provide food stamps for their employees to obtain what they needed to eat. And let's say that, as in the real world, such stamps did not cover all foodstuffs: no to Twinkies but yes to pork. Would our deli owners have any objection to providing stamps that their employees could take next door to Paddy's Irish Pub and order a ham sandwich, or for that matter a traif plate of corned beef and cabbage? Of course not.

And that's the point. Orthodox Jews understand the requirement to keep kosher as a religious duty required only of their kind. The Catholic bishops feel that contraception is an evil in the world at large that they cannot be complicit in. And so rather than simply say, fine, you take your health care coverage and avail yourself of whatever legal services you're entitled to, they say, "Sorry, because some of those are sins for us, we won't pay for you to commit 'em."

Tags: contraception mandate


  1. While the kashrut does not forbid Jews from selling pork or otherwise being involved in its provision, to provide ham sandwiches would cause the deli to cease being a kosher deli. Using the same spoon in a kosher meat dish and a kosher dairy dish defiles the spoon and both dishes, making all 3 defiled (un-kosher, if you will). Using the same counter or instruments for such unclean items as pork products would render anything and everything they come into contact with unclean, effectively removing any kosher-ness from the essentially the entire restaurant. It’s still a deli, it just isn’t kosher.

    So the analogy is a bit more apt than the author of this column is willing to concede.

  2. Fair enough…up to a point. The ham-selling deli would no longer be a kosher deli in the sense that it would be unable to obtain a rabbinic rabbinic certification that all food sold on the premises was kosher. However, it could set up a separate charcuterie counter and, with suitable rabbinic oversight to certify that there was no mixing of utensils etc., it would be able to sell its traditional fare at no peril to its kosher status (or to the souls of its Jewish owners). In point of fact: For many years, the Orthodox of West Hartford bought their meat at the kosher butcher and delicatessen sections of the (late lamented) Waldbaum’s, which also sold lots and lots of pork, rather than at the kosher Crown Supermarket, which was certified as such only by a board of Conservative rabbis. Anyway, if the bishops really want to think of themselves as put-upon deli owners, they would consider offering two types of insurance coverage—one for their contraception-using employees and the other for the contraception-averse.

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