Small Town Kosher

    May 2011          
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Raytheon And The Rabbi

By Ted Roberts

Can you believe it? Here in Huntsville, Alabama - the buckle of the Bible Belt - one of our fanciest, blue ribbon eateries, 801 Franklin, has conducted a Kosher banquet. Strictly Kosher. Moshgiach (inspector/monitor) and all. Chabad Rabbi Laibel Berkowitz was in charge.

This is no more surprising than if the Pope ordained that all of his worldwide flock top their head with Yarmulkes. (Interestingly enough, notice that he wears one. Why? An anachronism of the old days?) The restaurant, 801 Franklin - one of Huntsville’s finest - was the site of this feast - provoked by the need for Raytheon to host a group of Israeli service people for a program review. Rather than limit the menu to an apple decorated by lemon slices - a simple solution - the Raytheon folks served a bountiful Pareve meal centering only Salmon and fancy sides.

There were challenges as Kosher-Keepers can well imagine. The Parev nature of the meal offered some simplification, but challenges galore remained. What to do abut pots and pans and dishes? The Salmon, of course, couldn’t be baked nor broiled in an oven that was used last Tuesday to cook a pig - an animal that chews not his cud or possesses a split hoof. Nor could the observant Israeli guests use the dishes and silverware normally used by the restaurant. And, of course, the food, itself, had to be purchased from Kosher sources. Mainly, this turned out to be several fat salmon from Publix and Sam’s. The Rabbi koshered two of the kitchen’s burners, and pots were brought by the rabbi for vegetables and side dishes. He also brought from home his authentically Kosher convection oven. New, unadulterated. Plastic eating utensils and plates were used. The meal was as Kosher as lunch served in between sacrifices by the Levites of the first Temple.

To solve the many Kosher problems, 801 Franklin, represented by Jenny Morvis, Special Events Coordinator, sought out who else, but our local Chabad Rabbi, Laibel Berkowitz.

Consider also that this is a frequently occurring problem when Christians and observant Jews sit down to eat together. Due to the Kosher requirement, the Christian host does not slap down a filet mignon with au jus gravy on the Jewish plate. He knows it violates Judaic Kosher requirement. So often the Christians have a juicy chunk of meat (followed by ice cream dessert - also prohibited) while his Jewish guest eats something bland, but innocent, like a fruit plate on a new plastic plate. (OK, in the eyes of our bible, so long as the fruit and utensils didn’t mingle with Treyf (non Kosher) elements in the kitchen - and a Chasid, like Laibel, could check other subtleties.

But clumsy; one meal is delicious and glamorous, the other bland and dull - just a stomach filler - sort of humiliating to the Jewish guests.

Sounds simple. Feed five people a meal or two. It’s simple if they are from Kansas. Not so simple if they are observant Jews from Israel. Your hospitality is bounded by literally dozens of rules from the five Biblical books (plus Talmudic interpretations) that govern food preparation. Fortunately, Rabbi Laibel Berkowitz knew these edicts like you know that knife, fork, and plate are required. So, he presided over the meal preparation - even brought his own Kosher oven from home and inspected every step of the cooking.

Interesting examples of Biblical governance of food preparation: Leviticus 33:19 and Deuteronomy 14:24 state “Thou shall not boil a lamb in his mother’s milk,” a common Canaanite delicacy. In the rabbinical interpretation, this is extended to a separation of all meat and milk. Skip the details. You don’t have ice cream for dessert without violating the command of the G-d who made lambs and milk.

But Raytheon went all out - with acceptable food sources, Kosher meat, and even a Moshgiach (kitchen inspector), Rabbi Laibel Berkowitz to assure the ritual cleanliness of the meal. A mitzvah - a step beyond, as we say in Judaism. If nothing else, a generous gesture. And certainly well-timed in the spirit of brotherhood - a few weeks before Christmas.

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from the May 2011 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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