Jewish Tax: Kosher Steel

At least the following five thoughts threaten to spring to mind upon reading the Newsweek article below:

  1. Separation of priesthood and business

    A Catholic priest seizing a business opportunity to create a company, and becoming president of that company, and pocketing whatever salary he chooses to bestow on himself, is an impossibility.  The Catholic church does engage in business activity, but an individual priest acting on his own initiative for his own enrichment does not.  Below, however, we read of Rabbi Jonah Gewirtz doing just that, even while describing his work as "for the glory of God" and even while expecting the work to be "done by angels."  Here we see one striking difference between Catholicism and Judaism.

  2. Stainless steel does not corrode

    The steel products that might come into contact with food would be made of stainless steel, which is highly resistant to corrosion, and certainly is in no danger of suffering corrosion in the short interval between manufacture and purchase when it sits safely packaged on a retail shelf thus, it is unclear why such stainless steel products need any protective coating at all, and it is capable of being doubted that they do have any.

  3. Wash before using

    If steel products that might come into contact with food, such as knives and forks and sauce pans and frying pans, have on them a protective coating which might contain "a tiny bit of animal fat," then if the steel products were washed before first use, this coating would be removed.  A consumer of average prudence would so wash any such steel product before applying it to food, and the kosher-keeping Jew could be particularly sure to do so.  My recollection of unpacking products intended to be applied to food is that instructions already warn that such products should be washed before first use.  Thus, there does not appear to exist any problem requiring solution by extracting large sums of money from steel manufacturers.

  4. This is big business

    The dollar amount mentioned in the Newsweek article suggests that the sums of money involved in kosher accreditation are not nominal.  In one year, a single rabbi plus colleagues anticipates extracting $700,000 US from American steelmakers for bestowing on them the right of labelling their steel as kosher.  As this rabbi might be expected to under-estimate revenues in order to keep from looking greedy, and in order to not invite a flood of competitors, the true revenues might be expected to be even higher.  As the fees can be increased from year to year, and as enterprises other than steel manufacturing can be added to the list of contributors, then one imagines that kosher accreditation is possibly a highly remunerative field.

  5. Molecular religion

    Human beings shed themselves into the air around them.  They exhale organic molecules into the air.  When they talk, a cloud of saliva droplets, some containing mouth cells, is sprayed in front of them.  Their skin cells rub off and go floating in the wind.  Thus, in a short trip on a crowded bus, it is conceivable that a passenger inhales billions of organic molecules, even hundreds of entire cells, which constitute body parts of the other passengers.  Does any religion consider this a consumption of meat?  Of course not!  Does any religion consider this to be cannibalism?  Not likely!

    Or, a spectator sitting in the back row of an aquatic show ends up with a microscopic droplet of water in his mouth from the spray of the killer whale landing with a splash.  The water in the pool is saturated with killer whale excretions and cells.  Does any religion hold that spectator guilty of eating killer whale?  Does the Orthodox Jew break kosher whenever he watches an aquatic show?

    When we pet a cat, we end up with cat molecules in our mouth so does an Orthodox Jew break kosher by petting a cat?  When we wear a mink coat, we end up with mink molecules in our mouth so does an Orthodox Jew break kosher by wearing mink?  Examples in this vein can be multiplied endlessly.

    Reflection on the nature of the invisible-to-the-naked-eye world which modern science has demonstrated the existence of forces us to the conclusion that religious observance was never intended to function at a microscopic level, that religious injunctions do not apply to stray molecules, that dietary laws are silent on the subject of the organic soup in which every human being is immersed.  No religion concerns itself with prohibiting absorption into our bodies of substances in amounts so minuscule as to be detectable only in a sophisticated laboratory.

    A hypothesis that cries out to be considered, then, is that when a religion does begin to be concerned with stray molecules, begins one might say to show a preoccupation with stray molecules, then that religion is in the process of being hijacked by extortionists.

Hey, Have I Got an Alloy for You!

There are all sorts of kosher products, from soda to pickles.  But kosher steel?  As meshuga as it sounds, steelmakers like U.S. Steel are moving to get some of their products certified as kosher (or halal for Muslims).

Why?  Why not? as Rabbi Jonah Gewirtz of Silver Spring, Md., might say.  Three years ago Gewirtz discovered that container and steelmakers protect their products from corrosion with a lubricant containing a tiny bit of animal fat.  When that steel comes in contact with food, it violates Jewish and Muslim food laws that prohibit impure materials.  Working in an alliance with Muslims and Seventh-day Adventists (they are vegetarians), Gewirtz lobbied the steel industry.  Steelmakers were cautious, and so were some rabbis who thought the animal fat wasn't a problem.  But most of the nation's container and steelmakers are now switching to synthetic or vegetable-based lubricants.  Said Muhammad Chaudry of the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America, "The guy upstairs must be with us."

Gewirtz had some earthly advantages working for him, too.  The steel industry could have lost business to plastic makers.  "Our customers ... wanted to be sure they were buying steel products from a certified producer," said a Weirton Steel Corp. spokesman.  How do steel companies get certified?  Easy.  Gewirtz and his colleagues formed a nonprofit Maryland company that will charge steelmakers a fee for kosher certification.  Gewirtz, who is president, estimates annual revenues of up to $700,000.  "Nobody gets rich," he says, and adds that he's reminded of a Talmudic saying: "They who do something for the glory of God find their work being done by angels."  But watch your costs anyway.
Newsweek, 23-Mar-1992, p. 49.