In this recent op-ed in the NY Times, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld discusses the revelation that Agriprocessors, Inc., the largest kosher meatpacking plant in the US, engaged in illegal and abusive employment practices. Child labor, physical abuse, over-long shifts, and hiring illegal immigrants all allegedly took place.

Rabbi Herzfeld rightly calls for an immediate halt to such practices, and chastises some of his co-religionists who have taken a wait-and-see approach.

One thing in the article, however, struck me. Herzfeld argues that there is precedent in Jewish tradition to declare food un-kosher if the employees that prepared it were treated unfairly. It is hypocritical, he says, to call something kosher when it is “being sold and produced in an unethical manner.”

This makes sense on one level. But let’s tease out the implications. If the people overseeing the food’s preparation are treating the workers poorly—indeed, sinfully—and thus voiding the kosher status, doesn’t that call into question whether anything can be ultimately kosher? If the sin of the plant supervisors towards their employees taints the kosher-ness of the meat, what about their less visible sins? I mean, where do we draw the line regarding where sin begins and ends? What if the plant manager treats the employees well, but in his or her heart harbors racist prejudices towards them? What if he entertains lascivious thoughts about them? And what about the rest of his life? Does the sin in his home life have no bearing? Or only the sin that takes place within the plant?

The practices at Agriprocessors are justifiably condemned and should be halted. But from a theological perspective, the article falls short. Its view of sin is simply too shallow and too delineated. Sin is not only external, but internal. And deeply so. It is pernicious, subtle, and often hard to spot. So even if all the apparently unethical practices at Agriprocessors were stopped tomorrow, the place would still be drenched in human sin. Because there would still be human beings there.

The idea that our problem with sin is much more an internal problem than an external one is not new. Check out what Jesus said about it:

“Don’t you understand that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach and then passes out into the sewer? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these things defile a person. For out of the heart come evil ideas, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are the things that defile a person; it is not eating with unwashed hands that defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:17-20)

Many Christians miss this point. They are working on getting a few “big” sins under control. Unfortunately, the problem is a lot bigger than that. The problem, according to Jesus, is what’s already in our hearts.

Suffice it to say, I’m going to keep eating my bacon, and clinging to the cross.