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Is it still kosher – by Yitz Grossman

Story found by Yitz Grossman.

In her book All for the Boss, Ruchoma Shain, the daughter of Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Herman, one of the early Torah pioneers in the United States, recounts her father’s dedication to keeping mitzvos. Many guests would eat at his table every Shabbos and Yom Tov, and Mrs. Herman was always busy preparing food for everyone. 

“It was on the eve of Hoshana Rabba. Papa went to shul, where he stayed to learn the entire night. Midnight approached and Mama was still busy kashering twenty-four chickens in groups of six. 

“I sat watching Mama as she was kashering the chickens. 

“The warm and quiet kitchen and the continuous movement of Mama’s hands lulled me to sleep. In my sleep I felt pulled, and I heard a sound coming from afar: ‘Get up Ruchoma, get up!’ 

“I fought the webs of sleep in order to wake up to find Mama hunched over me. ‘What time is it?’ I asked sleepily. 

“‘It’s now the middle of the night,’ Mama answered, and she continued: 

“‘I just put in place all the pupiks that I finished kashering, and I noticed that one of them might have a sha’aleh.’ Mama’s words sank with a sigh: ‘They are all mixed up now, so that if this pupik is treif, all of the chickens will be considered…’ Mama stopped speaking out of fear of the fruition of the terrible thought. 

“‘Run to Papa at Tiferes Yerushalayim, and ask him to go to Rav Skander to ask the sha’aleh. Don’t forget to tell Papa that I have no idea which chicken out of the twenty-four the pupik belongs to,’ warned Mama. 

“Holding the pupik in a small wet bag, I hurried down the dark foggy street, as my footsteps echoed the worry in my heart. (In the year 1930, Mama wasn’t afraid to send a girl at my young age by herself in the middle of the night, because the streets of the East Side were entirely safe.) 

“As I approached the lit shul, I heard many voices excitedly learning. I hurried into the hall, sticking my head through the turning door. Papa sat in the front of the shul with a sefer open in front of him. One of the people recognized me and hurried in my direction. 

“‘I have to tell something to my father,’ I said quickly. 

He hurried to Papa, tapped him gently on his shoulder and whispered something to him. 

“Papa ran to me with a questioning look on his face. ‘Oh, Papa, Mama just finished kashering all the twenty-four chickens, and she combined all the pupiks, and she found a sha’aleh on one of them, and she doesn’t know which chicken it belongs to, and she said that you should go immediately to Rav Skander to ask a sha’aleh.’ I said all this in one breath. 

“Papa grabbed his hat, and together we flew through the quiet, sleepy streets. We reached Henry Street within a few minutes. Papa lifted his eyes to the first floor on which Rav Skander lived. Light shone through from the living room. We ascended on our tiptoes, and Papa knocked gently on the door. Rav Skander opened the door himself. ‘Shalom Aleichem, R’ Yaakov Yosef.’ He shook Papa’s hand warmly. 

“‘My wife kashered a chicken and found a sha’aleh on this pupik,’ Papa stated the fact. I stared at Papa in shock. I wanted to say that this pupik got mixed up with twenty-four others. Papa’s warning look made me swallow the words in my throat. 

“And so, while Rav Skander studied and checked and turned over the pupik from side to side, the fate of twenty-four chickens was sitting on a scale. 

“I shuddered as I stood there. What will be if it is treif? All of Mama’s hard work will be for nothing. What will our guests eat on Yom Tov? It had cost so much money. Mama’s pale, tired face floated in front of my eyes and clouded my vision. 

“I glanced at Papa. He stood there erect and straight, like a soldier waiting for the verdict of the general. After what seemed like an eternity, Rav Skander lifted his glance and announced ‘Kosher, Kosher.’ The words of relief and salvation rang in my ears. 

“After this Papa said: ‘Rebbe, if you would have paskened that this pupik was treif, I would have thrown out twenty-four chickens. My wife doesn’t know which chicken this pupik belongs to.’ 

“Rav Skander gave Papa a scolding look: ‘Ach, ach, R’ Yaakov Yosef, why didn’t you tell me? If a big loss is involved, I study the sha’aleh differently.’ 

“‘I never look for heteirim,’ Papa replied. This saying was on his lips and practiced in his actions. 

“With the pupik packed once again in the small brown wet bag, Papa and I hurried down the steps. 

“‘Run home fast, and tell Mama that the pupik is one hundred percent kosher Make sure Mama goes to sleep. I am going back to shul.’ 

“Flying like a bird through the calm streets, my feet were echoing the pace of the words: kosher, kosher, kosher. 

“As I broke into the doorway, I couldn’t control myself and called out loud, ‘Mama, Mama, kosher! It’s kosher!’ 

“Mama heard me and hurried towards me. I fell into her arms, almost making her lose her balance. ‘It’s okay Mama, it’s one hundred percent kosher!’ Mama burst into tears.” 


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