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Kosher In Cow Town

Libi Astaire

During the first half of the 20th century,Kansas Citywas second only toChicagoas the meat-packing capital of theUnited States. Yet the kosher meat industry was fraught with intrigue and controversy, racketeering and Mob activity. Even Rav Moshe Feinstein got involved, with a scathing response to a less-than-kosher operation.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

cowsI can still remember those twice-yearly treks to the kosher butcher shop. While my mother discussed the prices of chickens and briskets, I eyed the candy display, where a mysterious candy bar called Halvah was on show. Just as I couldn’t imagine what a candy bar made from sesame seeds could taste like, I never dreamed that there might be a “mystery” surrounding the meat my mother was selecting for our Rosh HaShanah or Pesach meals.

Kosher meat was holy, elevated, special — even though, in my mother’s words, it cost an arm and a leg and the brisket shriveled up to almost nothing after it was cooked. To my innocent eyes, it was as far away from deception, controversy and — do I dare mention it? — the Mafia asKansas Citywas fromJerusalem, or evenNew York.

Those childhood memories of Kansas City, Missouri, of some 50 years ago might have remained sacrosanct forever, if it hadn’t been for a surprising teshuvah from Rav Moshe Feinstein ztz”l that was sent my way.

 

He’s No Shochet The teshuvah that Rav Moshe wrote was in response to a question posed by Rabbi Mordechai Menachem Mendel Burstein, a prominent Kansas City Orthodox rabbi who arrived in that city during the late 1920s and was active in the fight to maintain kashrus standards during the time when the Kansas City stockyards and meatpacking plants were second only to those in Chicago in terms of volume. Rabbi Burstein passed away in 1962, the same year that he received Rav Moshe’s responsum, which is dated 17 Shvat 5722. Rabbi Burstein’s question, which can be found in Igros Moshe and was reflective of possible dubious shechitah practices in the stockyards, asks:

“Is it sufficient for one person, who isn’t a shochet u’bodek [ritual slaughterer and checker], to be present when shechitah is being done, instead of having two shochtim u’bodkim, as is customary?”

Rav Moshe replied:

“In your city there has been a takanah [religious ordinance] for 60 years that there will be two shochtim u’bodkim, and now one butcher has arisen who doesn’t have even one. He’s taken a person who isn’t a competent shochet to stand over him, and with this he thinks he has fulfilled the takanah.… Someone who isn’t a shochet u’bodek is nothing because he doesn’t know what to look for during the shechitah. It’s also possible that he doesn’t know the quality of the knife or won’t feel a slight defect. Therefore, what value can this person’s being there have, even if he is a yerei Shamayim?.… His going against the takanah must be protested forcefully…”

 

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