Kosher food seminar is for the birds — and bugs

Kosher food seminar is for the birds — and bugs

Furry chicken stars as rabbis explain modern trends in supervision

Rabbi Chaim Loike, center, shows his star subject, a furry chicken, during a talk on kosher birds and eggs at the JEC.
Rabbi Chaim Loike, center, shows his star subject, a furry chicken, during a talk on kosher birds and eggs at the JEC.

A fluffy chicken with fur-like plumage rather than feathers stole the limelight at a two-part seminar on kosher foods held May 15 at the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth.

Rabbi Chaim Loike, a rabbinic coordinator at the Orthodox Union and an expert on birds and eggs, brought the flamboyant Silkie chicken as an example of the kinds of exotic birds that often fluster kashrut experts.

The audience roared with laughter as he described how two school boys identified the fluffy Silkie as a rabbit — though, he said, that might be because they were caught skipping class.

The program, titled A Night of Kashruth, also included a presentation by Rabbi Yosef Eisen on how to ensure that fruits and vegetables are bug-free.

The event, which drew around 80 people, was cosponsored by the Vaad Harabbonim of Greater Elizabeth, JEC-Elmora Avenue Shul, Adath Israel, the Elmora Hills Minyan, and the OU’s ASK-OU program. Funding in part was in memory of Albert Kronmen and in part from the Harry H. Beren Foundation of Lakewood.

Loike also brought along a pair of little green-and-red love birds to demonstrate that not every species of “predator”— a no-no under the kosher laws — can be identified by its sharp talons or fearsome beak. And he introduced a duck to a bowl filled with small goldfish to demonstrate how the kosher bird swallows its prey whole — unlike predators.

Loike said that ornithological definitions are changing so rapidly that one generation’s list of acceptable fowl could be a total anathema to the next.

Torah and food

Eisen, rabbinic administrator of the Vaad HaKashrus of the Five Towns and Rockaways in New York and a former OU rabbinic coordinator for food service, is an expert in bedikas tola’im, or insect inspection.

With the aid of an overhead projector, he showed how tiny enemies lurk in the folds of fresh lettuce or under the scaly tips of asparagus — “sometimes with their whole ganse mishpacha,” he said. Some rinse off easily in slightly soapy water, he demonstrated, while others cling more tenaciously and require a more vigorous onslaught. When a worm emerged from under a leaf like a lion bursting into a field of lambs, it was greeted by startled exclamations from audience members.

He said his goal was to empower people with simple, pragmatic guidance so they can utilize the bounty bestowed on them. “If I fail to do that, I might as well give up,” he said.

Despite the visual aids he used to make his points, he stressed that the Torah instructions were devised by and for people with normal sight, and referred to creatures that could be seen by the naked eye.

For those who might find the tasks he outlined onerous, he pointed out that most kashering processes that used to be part of household activity are now done commercially. Painstaking washing of fresh produce is one of the few chores family members can undertake together, he said, and it can be a pleasant bonding experience.

The speakers were introduced by Rabbi Jonathan Schwartz of Adath Israel, who had organized the event together with the other rabbis and professional staff of the JEC.

“It was a true community event in so many ways — bridging ages, shuls, and synagogues and bringing families together,” he said. “And what better way to do it than through two great unifiers of our religion — Torah study and values on the one side and Jewish food?”

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