I’m writing this post on an Apple computer (my second one). On my way to work this morning, I was reading through emails on my Apple Iphone. I’ve owned two Apple Ipods.
Until about a month ago, none of this bothered me in the least. Then reports of conditions at Apple contractors in China started emerging in the press.
First I read a scathing review of the recent Steve Jobs biography in New York Review of Books, which includes with the following passage: According to a study reported by Bloomberg News last January, Apple ranked at the very bottom of twenty-nine global tech firms “in terms of responsiveness and transparency to health and environmental concerns in China.”
Then I listened to a recent episode of This American Life and I started feeling concerned. This was followed by a two-part series on the economy of the IPhone in the New York Times, which you can read here and here. The last article is by far the most disturbing.
I recently wrote the following short piece that will appear in the Febuary issue of Shma:
“And you shall bring no abhorrent thing into your house or you will be under the ban like it. You shall surely despise it and shall surely abhor it, for it is under the ban.”
Simply read, this verse bans the abhorrent from the Jewish home. In doing so, it asks us to define the abhorrent; that which is so despised that it has no place in Jewish life and must be put under ban. The Rabbis of the Talmud have traditionally identified the abhorrent with idol worship. In their reading, anything that is contaminated through the worship of a foreign God cannot be consumed by Jews.
In the 13th Century, this views is radicalized by the anonymous author of the Sefer ha-Chinuch. Building on the traditional view, the Chinuch writes that any object “that was gained through theft, violence or exploitation, or from any disgusting element” is considered abhorrent. He continues that “man’s heart is inclined towards evil, which desires [items paid for by any means] and brings it into the home; and this inclination towards evil is called idol worship” Idol worship is not what we initially thought: it is anything, any consumer good, which is produced through exploitative means is now identified as abhorrent and banned.
In this era of globalization, in which 30 million people live as slaves, and millions more work in sweatshops around the world, the Chinuch’s identification of the abhorrent as exploitation forces us, as consumers, to ask uneasy questions about our consumption habits. Knowing what we know, can we continue to naively purchase goods, globally produced, without the fear that we are bringing the abhorrent into our homes?
Here is my question: are Apple products abhorrent? Is it forbidden to bring there products into our homes and offices? Should we place them into cherem as the Chunich suggests?