Ritual Slaughter of the Latke

by Raphael Finkel

 	It is well known that our tradition surrounds the most important 
	actions in  life with ritual. The importance of life-cycle 
	rituals and holiday-cycle rituals underscores their stature.  
	On the other hand, there is no particular ritual for, say, 
	hunting boars. The Jewish tradition has nothing much to say about 
	it, except that hunting bores. 
 	Eating has long held a fascination for the Rabbinic mind, not to 
	mention the Rabbinic stomach. We are all familiar with some of the 
	rituals involved with food: Washing the hands before going to the 
	supermarket, checking for the OU, reciting "Who brings the can 
	opener out of the drawer", and the injunction to leave a little 
	food in the can for the cat. In the Talmud, there is a dispute 
	whether searching diligently for the o u itself fulfills the mitsvo 
	of "bedikas hekhsher" or whether one needs to also know the rules 
	for affixing the OU, over which one recites "lehagboa hekhsher". 

	For example, did you know that according to Rashi, the OU must be in 
	the upper third of the label, and must be vertical, whereas according 
	to Rabbenu Tam, it must be sideways? 
 	This attention to detail is the hallmark of importance that we 
	attribute to food. I want to raise your consciousness (and maybe your 
	gorge) and explain to you the Torah-true Halakhic way in which latkes 
	must be prepared, according to Rambam's "Sefer", so called because 
	each chapter begins with the word "Sefer". In particular, Chapter 23 
	is called, "Sefer example you want latkes." Another chapter, dealing 
	with food poisoning, is "Sefer ways to can latkes". You may not be 
	surprised to hear that there is no mention whatsoever of Homentashen 
	in this standard reference. They just don't rate. In fact, the only 
	reference I could find to Homentashen in the whole Rabbinic 
	literature, which I read through yesterday (in the Cliff notes 
	edition), was in a chapter on spinach Homentashen in the justifiably 
	obscure responsa of Poppy, the seltzer man. 
 	Say for example you want latkes. The potato must be healthy.  Any 
	potato unable to swim upstream with the current is considered sick, 
	and you have to wait until it recovers before you can use it. 
 	You have to properly slaughter the potatoes. You need a knife sharp 
	enough, in the words of the Rambam, so that it can cut 30 bunches of 
	krokhmal in 10 strokes. I expect that's pretty sharp. 
 	You slaughter the potato with a quick double cut, holding the knife so 
	the blade is facing up, attacking the potato from underneath. 
 	If there are any eyes on the potato, they must be facing up, so the 
	potato doesn't see the knife coming. The stroke must sever at least the 
	main artery of the potato, although according to Rambam, this is 
	difficult with our modern potatoes, which have no arteries, and it 
	suffices to cut at least .357 inches beneath the skin. 
 	Any potato juice that come out within the first spurt is treyf; you 
	must let it pour on the ground and stomp on it, quoting meanwhile from 
	Deuteronomy, "thus be done to the manna whom the king delighteth to 
 	You then check the dead potato for health. If there is a hole between 
	the veena and the keyba, the potato is treyf and may not be eaten, 
	although it may be used for a paperweight. If you carve a dreydl out 
	of it, the dreydl is kosher, but the knife may only be used as a 
	screwdriver from then on. If there are any adhesions on the skin, the 
	potato is glat treyf and must be discarded. You must remove the eyes 
	(in Yiddish, this is known as "eyebering"); as long as they are not 
	removed, the outer part of the potato is treyf (literally, "the eyes 
	have it".)  Modern latke factories don't bother with the extremely 
	time-consuming removal of the eyes, so they sell the outer part of the 
	potato to non-Jews. 
 	You must be very careful if you are making a large batch of latkes not 
	to slaughter two potatoes from the same plant on the same day. The 
	Bible explicitly says, "You shall not slaughter it and its plant-mate 
	on the same day". The Talmud tells of a thief who stole two potatoes 
	and slaughtered them on the same day. As you know, the penalty for 
	stealing is that you must pay back double. But if you steal a potato 
	and slaughter it, you must pay back 5-fold. The Talmud records a 
	discussion about whether, when the thief slaughtered the second potato, 
	he was obligated to pay the 5-fold penalty or not, since he was by that 
	same act guilty of the "two on the same day" rule, and was thereby 
	sentenced to the harsher punishment of juggling 5 eggs and cleaning up 
	the mess. Let it be a lesson to you: Buy each potato from a different 
	store, you should never have a problem. 
 	If you peel the potatoes, you are obligated to donate one twelfth of 
	the potato peels to a Cohen, assuming you have peeled at least 20 
	potatoes and you have gotten at least 1/4 cup of peels from each. The 
	best way to do this is to put the peels in an envelope and mail it to 
	the first Cohen or Katz you find in the phone book. It is also 
	acceptable to stop people on the street, ask them if they are Jewish, 
	and if so, talk them into performing this important mitsvo "putting out 
	the peelings" themselves. 
 	I could go on, and I will. 
 	Remember to salt the potato and leave it to drain for at least 24 hours. 
	We do this in memory of Lot's wife Latke, who was turned to salt. Use a 
	lotta salt, in memory of Lot's daughter, Lotta. 
 	You may wonder why Sephardic Jews don't eat latkes. It stems from two 
	differences of interpretation. The Torah speaks about a "Poroh Aduma", 
	a red potato without blemish. The Sephardim consider red potatoes too 
	holy to eat, so they avoid latkes. On the other hand, the Ashkenazim 
	think only Swiss cheese is too holy to eat. They liken "Poroh Aduma" 
	with "Pereh Odom", the common person, and consider a red potato glatt 
	kosher. Kosher airline meals made with potatoes therefore always 
	specify "red potatoes". 
 	The other difference of opinion is the meaning of "you shall not yoke 
	them together". The Sephardim read this as a prohibition of mixing eggs 
	and potatoes. The Ashkenazim say, and I quote "Love and Knishes", the 
	authoritative cookbook, "So nu, use two eggs already. You want more, so 
	you should use more." 
 	Let me warn you about applesauce. Its proper preparation is just as 
	complex as latkes themselves. It is best to consult a competent 
 	One last warning. You may remember that the Megilla tells us that the 
	Persians cast latkes, which they called Pur, from which we get the name 
	Purim. You must fry the latkes to make them kosher. Let them burn a bit, 
	in memory of the burnt offerings. But don't do like the Persians. Don't 
	cast them. If you cast them, they'll turn out Pur for you, too. 

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