On Root / How Now, Dead Cow: Are You Kosher?

And what slaughterhouses, illicit cronyism and the gym have in common.

If it bleeds, it leads, goes the journalistic maxim. And this past week, in the response of the Tnuva fresh-foods giant to a class-action suit alleging unlawful cruelty to animals in their slaughterhouse practices, much blood was spilled.

Amazingly, Tnuva didn't try to whitewash the blood-red of their Adom Adom, "Red, Red" meat brand (which is etymologically connected to "blood," dam). They admitted that, even when following the rules – which they weren't - "slaughtering by its very nature causes the animals great suffering."

But which rules? A question that immediately arose was whether their slaughtering practices were kosher, that is, abided by the rules of Jewish ritual slaughter and meat preparation.

The well-known word "kosher" is actually the Yiddishized pronunciation of the Hebrew kasher (accent on the second syllable). The Hebrew root k-sh-r has a core meaning of "fit," and as we shall see, is used in contemporary Hebrew in a variety of contexts regarding "fitness."

Surprising to many, Tnuva stated that "kosher slaughter practices do not conform to international animal welfare standards."

Some respected religious opinions hold that "unnecessary cruelty to animals renders any meat so produced unkosher." And yet, after the exposé, Israel's Chief Rabbinate decided not to withdraw Tnuva's kashrut ("kosher-ness") certification.

Situations like this give us the Hebrew phrase: kasher aval masriach, it may be kosher – but it stinks.

Fit to be tried

There are a number of things an observant Jew would look for to determine whether meat is kasher, but the main one is simply an official hechsher (the "k" softening to a "ch"), - certificate of kashrut.

In English, "kosher" can colloquially be used in all sorts of broad contexts to mean "acceptable" or "by the book." In Hebrew kasher is used mainly regarding ritual fitness, especially of food, utensils and restaurants, but can also be used regarding a business deal or political maneuver that either does (or does not) receive a stamp of approval, and thus would be either kasher (or lo kasher).

To be "fit" in general for particular tasks or positions, the appropriate adjectival form from this root is kashir. Thus one would be deemed kashir to stand trial, serve in the army, or hold a particular office.

The kosher room

Ironically, there is a Hebrew word that would be spelled kosher, but it is pronounced more liker ko-share, rather than ko-sure – and means physical, rather than ritual, fitness. If a soldier in the army is "fit for battle," he or she is in the category of kosher kravi.

If you are flabbily lo bekosher, "out of shape," you might go to a cheder kosher, literally "a fitness room," that is, a gym or an exercise center. There you might spend your time on the machshirim, the (work-out) machines.

But that term machshir can mean any sort of apparatus, instrument, tool, appliance or implement.

Unkosher connections

In a different type of fitness, when applying for a job, you will be examined for your kishurim, what you have been trained to do, or what you are fit for - your "skills."

But be careful, for there is a Hebrew double entendre lurking here - some places might be more interested in your kishurim (spelled with the other "k" letter in Hebrew, from the word kesher) – which means your "connections," who you know. Having 'useful friends' is known in Israel by the thoroughly un-Hebrew word of protektzia, the notorious "vitamin P" needed to get things done here.

Without said connections, you need to rely on your kishronot – "talents." A school might have an 'erev kishronot, "talent evening," to showcase those in their community who are muchsharim, "talented."

Even though the word hachsharah, which is in the causative form, can mean to "kosherize," to make food kasher,or ritually fit, there are many types of hachsharot, "preparation" or "training" programs, making people "fit," giving them tools and skills, or developing their talents, inborn or otherwise.

While the results of the Tnuva animal abuse trial are as yet unclear, it looks like they might be needing several types of hachsharot, whether in compassion, sensitivity, actual kosher food and animal welfare standards – or just plain PR.

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Ariel Shalit