• U.S.

Religion: Issur Issued

2 minute read

In a big room in Manhattan’s Hotel Pennsylvania one night last fortnight met 200 of the city’s Orthodox Jewish rabbis. For ten hours these bearded men of God prayed and pondered. Before them was a question involving what is most dear and holy to pious Jews—kosher food. Long have the rabbis charged that in New York City’s poultry markets much trefah (unclean) fowl is foisted upon Jews as kosher. A mediator appointed by Mayor LaGuardia recommended that plombes (lead seals) be attached to kosher fowl as they are to kosher meats; that a tax of iff per fowl be levied to defray costs of vigilant inspection. The city poulterers rejected the plan, called the rabbis ”bearded racketeers.”

To the rabbinate then occurred the idea of laying upon New York’s 1,500,000 Orthodox Jews the first issur (ban) of its kind and the most extensive ever attempted in the U. S. This the rabbis debated in the Hotel Pennsylvania. Agreeing all but unanimously, they declared that no Jew of the community may buy an untagged fowl, that no Jew may even use a utensil in which untagged fowl has been cooked. Praying for strength to carry out the issur, the rabbis hoarsely chanted: “God standeth in the congregation of the mighty. He judgeth among the gods.”

Last week 300 rabbis and 800 Orthodox Jews crammed New York’s oldest synagog, little Beth Hamidrash Hagodol on the East Side. The issur, which the rabbis had voted to “declare, pronounce, issue and publish,” was read aloud by venerable Rabbi Israel Dusovitz. Beshawled and wearing phylacteries* strapped to his forehead, the rabbi parted a pair of curtains to reveal the Ark of the Covenant and the Scrolls of the Law which are shown to Jews only on the most solemn occasions. Holding aloft the issur, he invoked the blessing of God, exclaimed: “The issur is now in force.”

In force, the ban was 60% effective on New York’s kosher poultry business which amounts to $1,000,000 a week. In 110 of the city’s 132 markets, poulterers quickly capitulated to the rabbis, began tagging their fowl.

* Small leather boxes containing quotations from Scripture.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com