Thursday, September 07, 2006

Chicken scandal: Don't trust hats and payis

Received by email: [I think it was in the Yated]

I’d like to weigh in on a couple of thoughts from out in the boondocks. We live in a world where we like to believe that perception is reality. We judge people by the environment they are in, the clothes they where, the moves, the looks and the shprach.

Once again our greater Jewish community is shaken from those core commitments. A frum butcher, in a frum store, in a frum neighborhood, is blatantly accused of fooling customers by mislabeling treif chickens as kosher.

The story is not clear as who is to blame. It will be, but for the purpose of this writer it makes no difference whether it was the butcher, the distributor, the Mashgiah, the Rav HaMachshir or the landlord.

Until the scandal each one of them had something we know as a chezkas kashrus. So we were happy walking into a store seeing a sea of black jackets, a bunch of beards, barrels of pickles with exclusively haimishe hashgacha, and we bought to outrhearts content. No questions as to who is the Rav HaMachshir, who is the butcher, who is the distributor or the meat packer.

The ambience of kashrus had permeated the store with its every product bedecked with Hebrew letters and heimish names coronating it with the crown of kashrus.I say the greater community, and I don’t want to totally exclude myself, but maybe I’m like the fellow in one of Rabbi Krohn’s stories.


Well, Yated readers, I am not from “this community.” I don’t live in Monsey. I live out of town. And when I see Hebrew letters on a bag of popcorn, a thrill runs up my spine. WOW! How’s they do that!

And when my kids see a stranger with a yarmulke, or a stranger with a beard and payos, they get as excited as if one of the Gedolim flew in from Eretz Yisrael!

So in a world where Yiddishkiet is always hiding behind the apron of the secular, if not Baptist Society. I envied all of those who take kashrus for granted. I envied all of those of you whose hashgacha is not dependent upon the swiftness or the sharpness of the knife that slaughtered the chicken, but rather by the length of the payos or the frock or the bekeshe of the fellow who sold it.

So in my little town, I have to ask questions. “Where did this meat come from? Mr. Butcher, are you Shomer Shabbos? Where did you learn how to salt meat. Who was there at the delivery?

And when you answer, “The Mashgiach was there,” I respond. “Oh? The mashgiach? Who is the Mashgiach? And whose in charge of him? Was he there when the meat was unloaded? Did he see the seal?”

And when you tell me the name of the Rav HaMachshir, I have to ask what the fact that he knows how to teach, or give a great drasha or explain a Shach has to do with his ability to understand supply and demand and realize whether or not chickens are falling off the back of a truck.

What was the worst kashrus scenario that he dealt with? Did a butcher ever try to pull a fast one on him? Did the owner of the shop ever threaten him.

OK So they know me in town as a nudnik. But they respect me. I am the Ben Torah. I am the Yeshiva Man. The fruumie. I am not ridiculed by asking the questions. And believe it or not, the butcher, the mashgiach, the Rav haMachshir take pride in answering them. They know I take nothing for granted. And I can’t.

My butcher has no little payalach to impress me. He doesn’t where a black hat. He wears the cap of the local football team and doesn’t try to impress me with his piety. He just wants me to know that he is a simple butcher and follows the rules that his Rabbi set for him.

He does not have the keys to the freezer. He can’t get in there by himself. Oh. he’s frum allright. But he does not even want the keys. He sayss that’s the way it was with the last butcher and he said that’s fine by him. And if Let the Mashgiach open the vault.

So I am stuck in the world where I have to ask questions. I have to eat Heinz Ketchup and Hellman’s mayonnaise (two products that were left untainted by the vinegar scandal some 20 years ago). And unless some cousin flies in from Boro Park, I am stuck with Wise potato chips. Yep, I live with the Goyim. And I have to always be on guard when I walk into my butcher store.

But you know what. It sure beats eating treife chickens.

A Jew who takes nothing for granted somewhere in the Carolinas

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