The Jewish population of Israel is continually increasing and so surely is the chicken population and the quantity of meat consumed. This means more Shochtim need to be trained. It was about April 1969, that the Ministry for Religious Affairs decided to arrange a course on Shechitah for the settlers in Hebron and the nearby Kibbutz of Kfar Etzion.
Kfar Etzion is a re-established Kibbutz in the Etzion block which is situated about halfway between Bethlehem and Hebron. One day prior to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, this block of settlements was overrun by the invading Transjordanian army. During the Six Day War it was liberated by the Israel Defence Forces. A few months later the sons of the original settlers returned to the site and informed the Israeli government that they were already there and intended remaining. A few days later the Government formally authorised their return. It would have been difficult for the Government to have done otherwise. Most of the other settlements in this block also returned at a later date and the new thriving city of Efrat was built in the area. At the time of our course, the settlers in Kfar Etzion were living in various nissen huts erected by the Jordanian army and it was in one of these huts that our course took place.
Although this course on Shechitah was basically intended to train new Shochtim in these liberated areas, it was also open to our Yeshivah students who wanted to learn about Shechitah purely for the sake of the knowledge. I was in this latter category.
The kibbutz Kfar Etzion is situated a few kilometres off the main road linking Jerusalem and Hebron. The Egged bus which went between Jerusalem and Beersheba via Hebron, in those days made a detour into Kfar Etzion. Each day a bus left from Jerusalem at one o’clock and arrived at Kfar Etzion soon after half past one. On its return journey to Jerusalem it would call in at Kfar Etzion at about half past four. It was on this bus that our Shechitah instructor, Rabbi David Nesher, travelled from and to Jerusalem.
Only four students including myself, from our Yeshivah, showed interest in this course. One day we all set off to Kfar Etzion to meet Rabbi Nesher. At the time we needed to be at Kfar Etzion, there was no Egged bus going from Hebron to Kfar Etzion. We therefore walked down to the main road and took an Arab bus to the Kfar Etzion junction and there we waited for the Egged bus from Jerusalem to take us into Kfar Etzion. We returned to Hebron by a similar method.
After Rabbi Nesher had explained to us what the course involved, one of our Yeshivah students decided not to continue, thus just leaving three Yeshivah students from Hebron, in addition about four participants from Kfar Etzion.
There are many laws in the Torah connected with kindness to animals. Amongst them is Shechitah. Throughout the generations, Shechitah has been known to be the most humane method of killing of animals and birds and during the past hundred or so years, large numbers of non-Jewish experts, including Nobel prize winners have testified to this fact. To avoid any pain to the animal or bird, the knife used by the Shochet must be very sharp and free from even the minutest notch. To get the knife to such a state, a Shochet may spend hours sharpening it on a series of stones.
Let me mention here in passing, that at a later date, I went with a Shochet to a shop selling live chickens in Hebron, in order to kill some chickens. At the time I saw the knife used by the Arab to kill chickens. What a difference it was from our knife!
Before we could begin our course, we each had to obtain a knife, a series of sharpening stones and a textbook on Shechitah. For this money was required. Rabbi Levinger therefore put in a request with the Ministry of Religious Affairs for a budget to cover these items plus our travelling expenses, including the amounts for each item. He also wrote that we would need to buy chickens but did not put an estimated value for these chickens. Not putting in the amount for chickens was as a mistake. The request was quickly granted but because no sum was put for the chickens, this was not included in our grant. I cannot remember how we solved this particular problem, but we did. Rabbi Nesher then obtained these items for us. There was the Shechitah knife, three sharpening stones, namely a white stone, a black stone and a green stone (which didn’t look particularly green!), and the textbook “Bet David” which dealt with the practical laws of Shechitah.
For the next couple of months or so, we would travel a couple of times each week to Kfar Etzion. As I have already explained, we would take the Arab bus to the junction of Kfar Etzion and then meet up with the Egged bus going into Kfar Etzion. Since the Arab buses did not seem to run according to a timetable - I would be surprised to learn that they even had one - it would occasionally happen that we would have to wait some time for an Arab bus and hence we would miss our Egged bus connection. In such a case, we would have to walk from the junction into Kfar Etzion. This would take us about half an hour. At least this was good exercise!
The hardest part of a Shechitah course is learning to make the knife notch free. In the first lessons we would practice the sharpening movements on a dry stone. In such movements one uses the entire stone when running the entire knife over it.
In the next stage, Rabbi Nesher would turn around from us, make a number of minute notches on our knives by knocking the blade against the edge of the stone and we then had to run the our nail along the blade of the knife and tell him how many notches he had made. We would then wet the stones and sharpen our knives on them. One would begin using the white stone which was relatively speaking the roughest of the three. We would then continue with the black stone and finish the work on the green one. It is unfortunately not easy to obtain good stones and since our green stones were very narrow, one could easily make a notch on the knife in the final stage of sharpening by knocking it against the edge of this stone. All the hard work would then go waste and one must start again. A good lesson in patience and perseverance!
After we had done all this work, we would dry the knife and test it for notches on our nail. If we found a notch we would have to continue the sharpening process. One would dry the knife before testing on one’s nail, since only the greatest experts (such as Rabbi Nesher) are able to test a wet knife. It is difficult for anyone not acquainted with Shechitah to appreciate the amount of work that has to be done on a Shechitah knife to bring it to the required state of sharpness.
During one of the early lessons, one of the participants jokingly went with the knife near his friend’s neck as if to slit it. Rabbi Nesher was furious and said the knife could easily slip and any further act like this would mean the end of the course for that person.
After several weeks in learning how to sharpen a knife, we were ready to begin practicing the Shechitah of chickens in the presence of Rabbi Nesher. Before each lesson, we would go down into Hebron and buy some live chickens from an Arab and take them by bus to Kfar Etzion. In those days, people took all sorts of things on Arab buses, including live creatures.
Before killing a chicken, one removes some feathers from that part of the neck and then holds it in one’s left hand so that the neck is exposed. One needs a strong grip on the chicken otherwise it might jump away or kick. On one occasion, it even kicked the knife out my hand. Maybe the chicken knew what was in store for it! Again I had to sharpen it to remove the resultant notches.
When we came to kill our first chicken, Rabbi Nesher reminded us that we were taking a life and should act accordingly. Sometimes a chicken will swallow as you are about to kill it and in this way one will not slit its vital organs in the correct place, thus making it unfit. This in fact happened on the first occasion when I did Shechitah. I was however successful on other occasions.
We also did Shechitah on pigeons. In this case, since one might tear something in the neck when pulling out the feathers from its neck, one wets one’s finger and presses down on these feathers.
Whilst we were doing the course, Rabbi Nesher killed a lamb and showed us how you open it and check the lungs. The hindquarters which contains a lot of chalev, he cut off and threw to the dogs to eat. They had a good feast that day.
When we had completed the course, Rabbi Nesher examined us. He gave each of us a knife to sharpen. When I had finished my knife, I gave it to him to inspect and he asked me what I thought of it. I was non committal with my answer and he then said that I had made an excellent knife.
During the course, he told us that we had to learn the section on Shechitah from the book “Bet David.” I, at the same time also studied the Shulchan Aruch with the Pitchei Teshuvah. When he examined me on the laws of Shechitah, I would also quote from the Pitchei Teshuvah. For some reason, he did not like this, and he only wanted us to learn from the “Bet David.”
Each week, Rabbi Nesher would travel to the Bet Shean to supervise Shechitah there. At the end of the course he said we should travel up there and have a “field day” in Shechitah. It was a hot summer’s day when I made the very long and tedious journey to there and was able to do Shechitah on a number of chickens. It was a factory where live chickens entered in one door, they were killed, de-feathered, their innards removed, salted and then out the other door went the packed up chickens for the shops.
As I said earlier, I did this course not to be a Shochet but to learn Shechitah in a practical way. That summer, a group of students came to learn in the Yeshivah. One day I showed them the open neck of a chicken and the exposed oesophagus and windpipe which one cuts during Shechitah. At a reception at the end of their stay, they did an imitation of some of the settlers. They had no difficulty in finding a suitable mime of me - how I demonstrated to them this anatomy of a chicken!
Whilst on the subject of chickens, I must of course relate the events concerning “Shalom Goldman’s chickens.” It is an integral part of the history of the Memshal!
One of the Hebron settlers was a young man from the United States by the name of Shalom Goldman. He was a student at the Hebrew University and would come down each weekend to Hebron. Shalom was violently anti-Germany and any time that a Minister or other official from West Germany would come to Israel, he would organise a demonstration. On one occasion he was arrested for tearing down a German flag but when it came to trial he was acquitted on the grounds that it doesn’t follow that because Israel maintains diplomatic relations with a country, that country is a friendly country. Incidentally, this point was proved several years later when West Germany capitulated to Arab blackmail against strong Israeli objections and released the terrorists responsible for the massacre of the Israeli sportsmen at the Munich Olympics.
Shalom Goldman would of course boycott German products. Ironically he had in his possession a first class Shechitah knife made in Germany. Rabbi Nesher would have loved to own that knife and said we should remind Shalom that it was made in Germany. Shalom replied that it was pre-war to which Rabbi Nesher replied that that was even worse!
Just outside the gates of the Memshal were some bunker-like structures. Most of them had big metal gates in front of them. Shalom Goldman decided that he was going to start chicken breeding in Hebron and one day he arrived with ten fully grown chickens and several sacks of food. He said that these chickens were in the nature of an experiment. He put them in one of the bunkers and then affixed a chain and padlock to the door.
Several weeks later, having satisfied himself of the feasibility of this project, he purchased one hundred newly born chicks, which he had vaccinated, and when they were a few days old brought them to Hebron. He also purchased a feeding trough and water bucket and put these chickens into another bunker. At this stage he went into partnership with another settler, Gershon Ellinson, and whilst he was away in Jerusalem during the mid-week, Gershon would go in daily and feed the chickens.
Chickens grow very rapidly and after a couple of months when they were already quite large, Shalom was ready for the second stage of his enterprise. This was to have Shechitah done on about fifty of them and to kasher them so that they were ready for sale. During all this process I was the Mashgiach Kashrut.
The first thing that had to be done was to catch the chickens and this is easier said than done. They are able to fly across a room very fast when they want to! After having caught the chickens, one of the settlers who was a shochet killed them. I would also check the knife and on one occasion, I disqualified the killing of a chicken since the finger of the shochet pressed on the top of the blade of the knife during the Shechitah.
The next stage in the preparation of chickens is to pluck them. Since we didn’t have a suitable machine available, this had to be done by hand. We first of all approached an Arab who did plucking but he wanted quite a lot of money for doing this, which would have made the project uneconomical. We then decided to enlist Arab children living near the Memshal to do this. Naturally we got them to agree to do this work at a much lower rate but it was necessary for Shalom to continually supervise them to ensure that they performed the plucking efficiently. I remember him looking at a chicken which a boy had plucked and telling him that there were still more feathers to remove.
The plucked chickens were then brought inside the Memshal, where they were opened, cleaned and ritually salted. They were then packed in polythene bags, weighed and sold in Hebron and Jerusalem. I understand the Minister of Religious Affairs also took one. When I mentioned to Rabbi Nesher that we were also selling them in Jerusalem, he was rather startled. There are religious limitations regarding bringing into Jerusalem things killed elsewhere.
One day it was noticed that a number of chickens had been stolen, despite the fact that the gate of the bunker was locked. An Arab boy living in the area explained how this was done. It was possible to push the gate open a little bit. An Arab had indeed done this and put some food by the small opening. This food attracted the chickens to this opening and the Arab then grabbed them and pulled them out.
When this boy pointed out this Arab to us, he received a good hiding from him. At first the Arab denied having taken any chickens but when we threatened to take him to the police, he managed to produce some of them.
Soon after selling the first batch of chickens, Shalom arrived in Hebron on his motor-bike and on the back were strapped several boxes containing one hundred chicks which had been born that day. He did not want to expose these chicks to the bunkers at such a tender age, but instead decided to utilise a room in what was then the new Yeshivah dormitory block, which was as yet unoccupied. In order to prevent the young chicks from escaping, he first of all partitioned off a section of this room using cardboard boxes. Within this section he then set up a feeding trough and water bucket and transferred the hundred chicks to this area. He then had to return to Jerusalem but he asked one of the settlers to feed the chicks the following morning.
When the settler went in the following morning. He found that two of the chicks had died - one by drowning in the water, the other from unknown causes.
After about a week, Shalom transferred these chicks to the bunker. Everything was in order for a few weeks. However, one day on going to the bunker, I found that several chickens had died during the night and this was repeated over the next few days. I contacted Shalom and he immediately came to Hebron. He took one of the dead chickens for a post-mortem examination at Rehovot and also a live one, which I understand died on the journey. As a result of this analysis, Shalom obtained a certain medicine which was to be mixed with the chickens’ feed. Fortunately this treatment was successful and the chickens stopped dying.
A few weeks later, the room in the Yeshivah dormitory which had been used for Shalom’s chickens, had to be prepared for occupancy for the family of a Yeshivah student who had just got married. Shalom was most annoyed that he was to lose this room. He felt one hundred chickens deserved the room more than a newly-married couple. But this was a case where the needs of two took priority over the needs of a hundred. The room naturally had to be cleaned from the fowl presence. Anyone trying to remove all traces of chickens’ occupancy will soon realise how much work is involved!
To add to all this aggravation, Shalom also had some trouble with the bunker he was using for his chickens. Around this area, the army would perform target practice. Thus Shalom received instructions to remove his chickens from these bunkers but he did not do so. Soon after this he claimed that his chickens had been injured by the army and he made quite a fuss about this that it even reached the daily papers.
During this period “Shalom Goldman chickens” graced the Shabbat tables of many people. Even day, this episode is well remembered in the annals of life in the Memshal.