A video clip has recently gone viral, in which a reporter interviewed the Ben and Jerry of “Ben and Jerry’s” ice cream.
In the video, Axios’ Alexi McCammond discusses Ben and Jerry’s recent boycott of West Bank territories controlled by the Israeli government, which has gotten much media attention.
And she asked them a question:
“You guys are big proponents of voting rights; why do you still sell ice cream in Georgia? Texas, abortion bans. Why are you still selling there?”
There is a long pause.
Ben appears to blank out awkwardly. Apparently, he is caught off guard and has no idea how to respond.
He then shrugs, and says “I dunno”, and chuckles.
Next, he tries to save face, saying, “I don’t know what that would accomplish.” Then he backpedals, probably realizing that the same argument can be made regarding his boycott of the West Bank. He repeats, “I don’t know, I think you’re asking a really good question. I’d have to sit and think about it for a bit.”
Well, if he doesn’t know, who does know?
Apparently, the boycott- which could potentially damage many livelihoods, as well as Israel’s international reputation and standing- was done without enough thought.
But, I think I can answer the question that Ben cannot.
You see, Ben Cohen, and Jerry Greenfield, are actually Jewish. Hard to say they would be motivated by anti-Semitism; as they themselves pointed out during the interview.
But, sadly, castigating Israel has become very in-vogue lately and is seen by many, even many Jews, as the “in” thing to do.
Ben and Jerry may not have thought much before proceeding with their actions, but they may actually be instinctively projecting their herd mentality. Or more precisely, herd ethics. That is; a sense of ethics that is, in fact, born of a herd mentality. In other words, it’s not a subject which they delved into deeply, with consideration of all the pros and cons, and discussion with experts, but rather was quickly decided, based on popular opinion.
Now, the question should be asked: How should a matter of ethics be determined? How do you prove what is right and what is wrong?
And this, my friends, is no inconsequential matter, even from a practical perspective. Much of society’s actions in the world, whether on the macro or micro level, is based the protagonists’ understanding of morals, ethics, and ‘rights’. Wars have been fought, laws have been passed, millions of lives were impacted, and trillions of dollars and other currencies have changed hands.
Let’s take the issue mentioned by the reporter quoted above: Since the famous or infamous (depending on whom you ask) Roe v. Wade supreme court ruling in 1973, there’s been an ongoing debate about abortion ‘rights’. This debate recently received new attention with an abortion ban in the state of Texas, and ensuing legal battles.
And while a big part of the debate has been defined by the legal aspect, which can arguably be decided definitively by experts in law, the real debate; what you might call the ‘soul’ of the debate, was always really about the ethical angle.
And how do you determine that? What constitutes ‘proof’ or ‘evidence’ that something is right or wrong?
More recently, a young sick girl in England named Alta Shula Fixler was essentially forcibly euthanized by the UK government; against her parents’ wishes, and in spite of an international effort to spare her life.
The judge who rendered the decision to go ahead with this action, Justice Alistair MacDonald, stated in essence that the UK government has greater moral authority to determine what is best for a two-year-old child, than the child’s own parents.
Now, to some of us, this story may seem like it came straight out of horror movie. To others, though, the argument seems plausible. So how do you prove your case?
In fact, a relatively recent trend has been “moral relativism”. In 2011, Paul Ryan, later to become Speaker of the House, argued that moral relativism was the biggest problem facing the American nation.
What is moral relativism? It is a belief, sometimes held consciously and sometimes subconsciously, that morality is determined by every society’s individual beliefs.
While logically this is clearly absurd, Scientific American defends the position, saying studies show it’s not a danger to society.
Of course, this doesn’t solve the problem of its intellectual insolvency.
Interestingly, while society can hardly agree on a single individual etic or moral, it does overwhelmingly believe that right and wrong do exist. Even atheists believe that certain things are wrong and unethical, and are often quite militant and ‘woke’ about those beliefs.
Never mind that ethics contradict the very essence of atheism; after all, what creates the concepts of right or wrong if the entire existence is a purposeless, random accident?
We must conclude that the concept of ethics are built into the DNA of man; even if logically their belief system doesn’t coincide with it, deep inside they still contain that essential sense.
(Someone made the argument, in a comment on YouTube, that conscience doesn’t contradict atheism, because you can feel a sense of ethics “to yourself”, even without believing in a Higher Power.
This is of course meaningless. If you yourself are a random accident, as these people believe, what meaning can you lend to existence?)
Now, assuming ethics do exist, how is mankind expected to know what they are? And, if they are not expected to know, doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of the existence of ethics in the first place?
For believing Jews, however, this was never a problem. We have a clear tradition passed down from generation to generation. Not a tradition of one individual claiming to have received a doctrine, in a manner impossible to confirm or prove. Rather, a tradition unique of its kind. A tradition not found among any other religion or belief system known to the world. This is a tradition of a mass revelation.
As in, an event with over 1 million people present. Subsequently handed down meticulously, with a record of every step in the process. Every generation is accounted for. And the lives and accomplishments of the bearers of the tradition are documented.
And in this tradition, tenets of right and wrong, meritorious and shameful, are clearly laid out.
God did not leave us hanging, so to speak. Just as He instilled in us, in our core, a sense of values and ethics, so too, He provided us with the manual to know what in fact is right and wrong.
So, my humble suggestion to Ben Cohen, Jerry Greenfield, and all other Jewish people in search of moral clarity is simple. Please take a look in your own backyard, at your own precious heritage, before proceeding mindlessly whichever way the popular wind blows.
You may not receive accolades from the mainstream media and larger society. But at least when someone questions your values, you will be secure in the knowledge that you are following the truth.
By Rabbi Pinchos Fried