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Rabbi Narrishkeit and the Trefah Kitty
By Mark Hoolihan
Another tale from the life of the legendary Rabbi Narrishkeit, known throughout the land for his strong left hook, unending devotion to Torah and almost pathological hatred of gefilte fish.
The shtetl of Tsedudelt was small and poor, even poorer than most shtetls in a land known for its poverty. Some said the people of Tsedudelt were simple yet good people. Others merely called them simple, or words to that effect, which should perhaps not be repeated. But when the people of Tsedudelt had a problem, and they usually did, they could always go to their very own Rabbi Narrishkeit for help.
And so it happened one day that as Rabbi Narrishkeit was lecturing to some of the young men of the shtetl, there was a knock on the door. Rabbi Narrishkeit did not like to be interrupted, but he allowed the woman to come in. It was Sarah Rabinowitz, twice widowed and often considered an extremely simple person, even by the people of Tsedudelt.
"Rabbi, I have a problem" began Sarah Rabinowitz, even before Rabbi Narrishkeit said a word "I put some fresh meat out to soak, and it was still very bloody, I turned around just for a minute, to find my new kitten, the one with the deformed paw, licking the meat. Rabbi, does this mean my kitten is trefah?"
The men in the room laughed at this, but Rabbi Narrishkeit raised one finger to silence them. Then he slowly went over to his bookshelf, looking very thoughtful, and pulled a volume down. As the perplexed young men watched, he slowly leafed through the volume, finally coming to a page and reading it line by line. After some time he closed the book and looked up at the woman and said, "I'm sorry, but your cat is trefah, next time be more careful."
Looking rather distraught, Sarah Rabinowitz put her head down and walked out of the room. The young men began to giggle again and one of them asked, "Rabbi, why did you waste your time dealing with that silly woman and her stupid question." "Because" said Rabbi Narrishkeit, "If I didn't, she wouldn't come to me the next time when she had a real problem."
That was not the end of the story. Later Rabbi Narrishkeit told Sarah Rabinowitz that there was a way to make her cat kosher again, but he would have to perform the ritual over several days. No one knew what exactly Rabbi Narrishkeit would do, but those souls brave enough to try would look in on his window from time to time. They reported seeing Rabbi Narrishkeit quietly studying the Talmud as always, but with Sarah Rabinowitz's kitten nestled in his lap, pawing at his tzitzit and being fed bits of fish from time to time.
And this is exactly what Rabbi Narrishkeit was doing when there was a knock on the door. It was Avram the dairyman. "Rabbi" he said, "I have a problem, my cows were eating out of my garbage pile, and I think they may have eaten some scraps of meat. I know meat and dairy should never mix. Rabbi, are my cows trefah?"
Rabbi Narrishkeit again consulted his many volumes and came back to Avram the dairyman saying, "Your cows are not trefah, but just to be sure, next Passover you should mix some bitter herbs in with their fodder."
When word got round of Rabbi Narrishkeit's amazing ability to render animals kosher, it wasn't long before everyone worried that their animals might be trefah. The problem was that the people of Tsedudelt tried very hard to live by the principals of Torah, but few of them could even read Torah, much less understand all the rules of kashrut.
The next day Pelte the goat herder came to Rabbi Narrishkeit. "Rabbi" he began, "My goats eat everything, and they even broke into my wife's linen closet and ate some of her linens. Can I still sell their hair, or is it trefah?" Rabbi Narrishkeit again consulted his books, and told Pelte the goat herder, "It is doubtful your goats are trefah, but just to be sure, next sukkot you should feed them a little etrog."
The next day Nathan Shuster came to see Rabbi Narrishkeit and began to tell his story, "Rabbi, I have this fish you see" "Enough!" Yelled Rabbi Narrishkeit, "Your fish is pareve, fish is always pareve!"
"But Rabbi, you don't know what his fish did." Pleaded Nathan Shuster.
"I don't care" said Rabbi Narrishkeit "Your fish is fine, unless it's a gefilte fish, then you may have problems."
Rabbi Narrishkeit then told the people of Tsedudelt to bring all their animals to the center of town. Here he had the young men he taught set up a chuppah. "Rabbi, surely you don't want our animals to get married," teased young Perchik.
"This is not a wedding chuppah." Said Rabbi Narrishkeit, "It is a cleansing Chuppah, which will make all your animals permanently kosher."
And so, with Rabbi Narrishkeit leading the way, carrying Sarah Rabinowitz's kitten, the people of Tsedudelt led their animals under the Chuppah. Everything was going fine until a hush fell over the crowd and all heads turned towards a newcomer walking up to Rabbi Narrishkeit. It was one of THEM, a Russian from the village over the hill. The people looked frightened, but Rabbi Narrishkeit calmly invited the Russian into his house, and the Russian accepted.
"Rabbi" began the Russian, "We have heard that there is a problem with your animals and that your Jewish magic makes them better. Would you help us with our animals, we would like them protected from this evil trefah which we hear is infecting the land."
A simple farmer, trying to understand the world, thought Rabbi Narrishkeit. Then he remembered the pogrom of fifteen years ago, and his left hand began to form a fist. On the other hand, thought Rabbi Narrishkeit, maybe this is a good moment to teach a lesson, maybe a chance to have a connection between our two peoples. On the other hand, thought Rabbi Narrishkeit, as he looked at the Russian, if I mock him, no Russian may ever come to me with a problem again. And Smite! Rabbi Narrishkeit's famous left hook found its mark.
The people of Tsedudelt had many other problems in the years ahead, but they never worried about their animals again. And no Russian from the village over the hill ever bothered Rabbi Narrishkeit again. And that night, as Rabbi Narrishkeit sat studying the Talmud, with Sarah Rabinowitz's kitten nestled in his lap, playing happily with his tzitzit, he contemplated all he had done in the last few days. He thought that his words and actions had perhaps not been strictly in line with the teachings of the Torah. And for that he felt guilty, at least for a little while.
from the Febuary 2007 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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