Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

5 Iyar 5762 - April 17, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family
A Kosher Yid
by Chava Dumas

Nowadays, if we want to buy a kosher chicken, we just go into the supermarket or butcher shop and pick one out, either packaged or fresh, with an assortment of supervisions from which to choose. We so rely on others to provide us with certain staples that I wonder how many children today actually understand what consitutes the kashrus we all take for granted.

A visiting non-religious Israeli relative was once staying with my parents in New York. My mother explained to him straightaway the rudiments of running a kosher kitchen, which cupboards and drawers were meat and dairy, the different sponges and sinks. Our cousin, who grew up in a totally secular home in Haifa, politely nodded his head, seemingly in understanding. However, a few days later, my mother discovered a package of pork sausages in the refrigerator! When questioned, Ofir apologized profusely. Mom then clarified for him the kinds of animals that are kosher.

Soon after that incident, my Dad detected an uncertified frozen chicken in the freezer. Mom made inquiries and Ofir shook his head in confusion and confessed, "...but I checked the whole thing, and there weren't any unkosher ingredients."

It was at this point that a much stricter surveillance was kept over Ofir, who, anyway, didn't stay much longer...

If we ask our own children what renders a fine fowl fit to be eaten by Jews, they will probably answer, "It has to bought at Hacker's [Jerusalem certified butcher, an apt name, no?]!" or "It has to have a good hechsher."

Well, there's a lot more to it than that. Since the entire kashering process has been removed from most homes today, not only are our children usually ignorant of the steps involved, but they are missing the opportunity to learn valuable lessons that once prepared them for life.

There could be a connection between this lack of "home- schooled" learning and the rising rates of marital problems that plague even religious circles. I am not suggesting that if you want to improve your marriage, you should get chickens instead of counseling, but we have to realize that our deeds affect our thoughts and our actions infuence our outlook. Everyone jokes about the hazards of living in a fast-paced, `throw away' society with its disposable mentality. But it's true. If things that break just get replaced ("Lady, it'll cost you more to fix it than to buy a new one!"), and everyone and everything has to be fast, efficient and instantly ready, where do we learn about eternal values, patience, making an effort to work things out?

A generation ago, when people had live poultry roaming around in their yards [we remind you of Chava's article "Life Among the Chickens" from Parshas Ki Sissa], pecking and squawking, young people had a chance to help care for animals. Families made sure the livestock had proper food and plenty of fresh air and sunshine to ensure good health and development -- just as the children themselves needed [lehavdil], and every week they were part of the most commonplace event in Jewish lives around the world -- bringing a chicken to the shochet. A privileged youngster had his turn to take the selected specimen for slaughter. Returning home later, there was still much preparation to do before their bird was anywhere near ready to eat, and everyone understood how much was involved in making their main Shabbos meal. Each step along the way had its own subliminal message for the participants to internalize:

Firstly, it was clear that good things take considerable time and effort.

The duration of time that it took to pull out the feathers, pluck by pluck, gave a person a chance to think, almost meditatively, of how one must work to remove what is secondary to reach the hidden essence underneath, pushing aside the outer fluff to see the core. And nothing was ever wasted. The feathers would become stuffing for pillows and blankets. Every little bit has value.

Opening up and examining the internal organs for any signs of unfitness is like self-introspection -- our own internal check to determine if our behavior is acceptable for a "kosher" Yid. Salting to wrest the blood from the flesh: shouldn't we be doing just that with our bad character traits -- extracting them from our own personalities lest they render our actions treif? If we find something questionable inside our bird, within ourselves, mustn't we seek the wisdom of the Rav to help clarify the matter? In addition, there are blessings for the shochet to enunciate in accompaniment with his holy work. The practice of kashering is a parable for life's methods of giving us chances to grow, self examine and bless.

If you are wondering what inspired these thoughts, well, about four years ago, one of our future egg- layers turned out to be a very loud rooster that made a maddening ruckus at all hours of the night, not just at the crack of dawn. Though our neighbors were quite tolerant, we knew some sort of solution was needed immediately. Our children had a very practical approach that stood in sharp contrast to the American-born sentimentality towards pets that my husband and I both shared. They enthusiastically suggested that we eat him for Shabbos! Not wanting to interfere with their realistic view of the world (did we really want them to have that Western attachment to animals that prompted some people to say kaddish for a deceased dog?), my husband and I discussed our options.

We'd raised a healthy, free-range `organic' chicken; it seemed like a reasonable thing to do, all queasiness aside.

So I called the Rov of our community to inquire about a reliable shochet. I was told that one lived just up the street in our neighborhood. I called the shochet's wife and she said her husband would be available in the afternoon. And so it was that we placed our fat, unsuspecting rooster in a cardboard box, put him in a carriage with our toddler, and headed up the block to witness the making of our dinner.

I will spare you all the (gory) details that our children took in stride, while I cringed on the side. Seeing my pale face and slightly moist eyes, our honorable neighbor explained how the act of being slaughtered according to Jewish Law consitituted a great rectification for our feathered fowl. It was its privilege to be eaten by Jews who would use the energy of the food to do mitzvos... in fact, there was nothing better than this in the world for our rooster. He spoke with such sincerity that I felt comforted.

The deed done and the innards [lungs, etc., a great lesson in anatomy] duly inspected, we returned home to finish the process we had undertaken. Our children watched with wide- eyed wonder while we worked to prepare our bird: plucking, washing, salting, rinsing the raw flesh. Each step consumed more time before we were finally able to place our kosher chicken in a pan to simmer beside the potatoes, squash, onions and carrots. Yes, it certainly was easier to buy our meat read-to-cook -- one-two-three presto! But the sense of awe and appreciation we had that Friday night when we sat down to eat cannot be duplicated -- unless we are at least familiar with the process and remind ourselves that someone, somewhere, went through all that work for us, and we send them a little heartfelt thank-you as well.

Now you know that we were privy to all those details described above, and I can understand if no one runs off to start koshering their own chickens! ("Hey, honey, I read an article in Yated that advocated we do this ourselves!) But there are those who do so, with fear of Heaven their motivation, completely aware of where their food comes from, their efforts actually teaching the members of their household core values by osmosis.

Maybe we can look around in our fast-paced, `modern' lives, to find hands-on opportunities for our children to absorb these concepts of deliberation and self- examination of our actions, and patience and acceptance of the time it takes to make something work out well -- all lessons that are vital in forming a constructive, positive attitude towards building a strong, enduring relationship with their future spouse.

Any suggestions?


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