Collective covenants, certified self-purifying

In his New York Times column for March 7, 2013, David Brooks reports that an upscale grocery store in Brooklyn is so very kosher that its dish sponges drain themselves to obviate the labor of wringing on the Sabbath. After touring this emporium of holiness under the guidance of a celebrity rabbi, Mr. Brooks walks back out the door and explains to his eagerly waiting readers:

Pomegranate [the store] looks like any island of upscale consumerism, but deep down it is based on a countercultural understanding of how life should work.

Those of us in secular America live in a culture that takes the supremacy of individual autonomy as a given. Life is a journey. You choose your own path. You can live in the city or the suburbs, be a Wiccan or a biker.

For the people who shop at Pomegranate, the collective covenant with God is the primary reality and obedience to the laws is the primary obligation. They go shopping like the rest of us, but their shopping is minutely governed by an external moral order.

The laws, in this view, make for a decent society. They give structure to everyday life. They infuse everyday acts with spiritual significance. They build community. They regulate desires. They moderate religious zeal, making religion an everyday practical reality.

One week later, the Forward reports that a dean at Yeshiva University has expressed his concern with the burgeoning sex-abuse scandal in the Orthodox community in this language.

[Rabbi Herschel Schachter, the dean,] went on to say that federal prisons are acceptable for Jewish convicts because they offer needed services, such as glatt kosher food.

But, he added, Jews must be more careful where state prisons — to which the majority of sex offenders are sent — are concerned.

Schachter told his audience that in state prisons “the warden in the prison can kill you. They can put you in a cell together with a shvartze, with a . . . black Muslim who wants to kill all the Jews.”

A spokesman for YU said: “As with all universities, our faculty members are afforded freedom of speech and expression. Not all statements made by faculty members are consistent with the views of the University.

“Any offensive or derogatory comments about any people or groups are inconsistent with the values or mission of Yeshiva University.”

The Yiddish word shvartze is to be translated as “nigger.”

Tell me again, Mr. Justice Scalia, that the Voting Rights Act is an anachronism. Tell me again, Mr. Brooks, about the decent moderation of spiritual commitments made in Kandahar or the Yearning for Zion Ranch or the vicinity of Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.