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May 21, 1982 - Image 2

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1982-05-21

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2 Friday, May 21, 1982

Purety Commentary

By Philip

An Old Jewish Experience Comes to Light in the Dispute
Over Kashrut Allegiance ... Korobka and 'Die Takse' by
Mendele Moher Seforim May Be Playing Vital Role Again

The Local Kashrut Controversy Needs a Just and Honorable Solution°

Some years ago, when there was less villification at the
United Nations, among the books under endorsement deal- .
ing with the various member nations of the world organiza-
tion was one by an eminent Jewish scholar who gave his
views on the Jewish experiences which enabled Jews to
survive all onslaughts. There were three basic reasons pre-
sented in that scholarly work: the author emphasizing that
Jewry survived because of adherence to observance of the
Sabbath as the day of rest, the love for Israel and the strict
observance of kashrut.
This allegiance to kashrut often becomes cause for
disputes. Rabbis have always reserved the right to differ in
all matters, perhaps also in Halakhic interpretations. To
assure adherence to kashrut without confusing the com-
munity, rabbis are obligated to thoroughly define the basic
tenets to avoid confusion as well as abandonment of the
obligation to kashrut resulting from aggravations.
Consideration must be taken of the roles of the
slaughterers as well as the butchers who are involved in the
pricing processes. These are not minor matters in the
enforcement and adherence to the dietary laws.

* * *

Much to Contend With
in Attaining Jewish Unity

Jewish unity may never be totally achievable. A people
that insists on the right to differ will insist on indi-
vidualism. It always rejects uniformity, and there is con-
stant talk about the need for unity. The fact that it is not
always attainable to the fullest must be respected.
Nevertheless, there are times when the attainment of
basic agreements becomes a necessity. Perhaps a period of
dispute over dietary laws may inspire interest in other
matters, while calling for an understanding that will
eliminate bitterness and hostility and work toward reach-
ing agreements and respecting conflicting views.
When unity is pleaded it now especially applies to
Israel. There is need for solidarity to assure Israel's secu-
rity. Even the crucial threats to Israel have not attained
unity in her defense. Even in Jewish ranks there is an
occasional divisiveness.
There is much to contend with, therefore, on scores of
other issues — and Jewry is confronted with challenges
that often appear insuperable. None is new in the people's
experience. None has ever been fully solved.
Dating back to Bible times, mixed marriage becomes a
heartache for the families affected, all-too-often a loss for
the Jewish people, religiously-socially a cause for great
It is not new, but it is often most depressing. It is
especially so now. With some studies listing mixed mar-
riages as having reached the 50-60 percentage mark, the
problem is becoming more serious with time.
It is especially appalling because there are endorsers of
mixed marriages in rabbinic ranks. This makes a solution
much more difficult to hope for.
With educational needs demanding priority in provid-
ing knowledge for the young and their parents, it is not to
be denied that the educational processes are often in disar-
ray. They need strengthening, protecting, correcting.
Many other issues are at hand to plague Jewry.
Therefore the need to aim for solution of problems
without rancor, as means of reaching an accord.
This applies to all needs. It does not eliminate the
enforcement of kashrut. It demands recognition of the diet-
ary law precepts and their treatment in the community, not
as a possession of a single group but as a treatment de-
manding respect and obviating disillusionment that could
drive some into the disrespect which can never be tolerable.

Kashrut Defined .. .

Excerpted from Encyclopedia Judaica

KASHER (or kosher; Heb. 1 7..? ), term originally
used in the Bible in the sense of "fit" or "proper" (e.g.,
Esth. 8:5; Eccles. 10:10; 11:6), and later in rabbinic
literature exclusively for objects that are ritually cor-
rect and faultless.
Most often it denotes food that is permitted in con-
trast to that which is non-kasher, or treife. It is also
used to indicate that scrolls of the Torah, tefilin, and
mezuzot are properly written, that tsitsit are correctly
spun, and that a mikva is properly constructed.

Witnesses competent to testify in accordance with
talmudic jurisprudence are also described as
"kasher." Recently, this word has been used popular-
ly in Anglo-Saxon countries to indicate that which is
proper and within the law.

No one would challenge a basic fact — that in matters
involving religious precepts the rabbis must be the decid-
ing factor. But when rabbis differ there is cause for deep
regret that there is no Sanhedrin to modify, to adjust, to
seek accord.
When, therefore, there is a conflict involving kashrut,
how can it be resolved? Since, as has been admitted, there is
Halakhic flexibility in treating dietary rules to provide
relief for people with health problems, there certainly
ought to be a path towards cooperative processes in a dig-
nified community.This is where responsible lay leadership
can play an important role to give dignity to a basic Jewish
obligation. It is the proper selection of such dutiful repre-
sentatives that may present a major problem, yet it must be
Sought as means of avoiding obstructions to proper Jewish
respectability in relation to the adherence to kashrut that
is so vital to home-building.
An element that cannot be ignored is the butchers'
relationship to the issue. This is inseparable from the
entire problem, even if a butcher must act on orders stem-
ming from rabbinic regulations. The meat salespeople


(Editor's note: The fol-
lowing article in the
Encyclopedia Judaica
was written by Yehuda
Slutsky, senior lecturer
at Tel Aviv University on
the history of the Israel
labor movement.)
Korobka (deriving from
Russian basket, "box"; Yid-
dish takse), is a tax imposed
on consumption items,
mainly on kosher meat. It
was introduced among the
communities of Poland-
Lithuania in the 17th Cen-
tury to assist individual
communities in paying
their debts, as well as a
, means of achieving the in-
dependence of the indi-
vidual community from the
hegemony of the Councils of
the Lands.
In Russia, from the end of
the 18th Century, one of the
aims of the korobka also
was to help cover the taxa-
tion quota which the Jewish
communites had to pay in
continuation of the collec-
tive debt of the Councils of
the Lands. In the 19th Cen-
tury, the korobka mainly
served to pay for the
salaries of rabbis and other
religious officials and the
support of educational and
charitable institutions in
the individual com-
The Russian government,
however, turned the
korobka in to an instrument
for additional exaction of
money from the Jews. It was
generally leased for collec-
tion for a period of four
years to individual Jews
who paid fixed sums to the
regional government trea-
The sums were ap-
protioned according to a
list submitted by the
municipal council (on
which the Jews were sel-
dom consulted).
Surpluses were depos-
ited with the State Trea-
Regulations for the
korobka were drawn up in
1839. They restricted the
tax to meat alone and it be-
came a compulsory tax
levied upon all the Jewish
communities in the Pale of
Settlement, with the excep-
tion of the provinces of Rus-
sian Poland.

often interpret for the customer basic regulations. They
also have control of costs-and they cannot be ruled out of
consideration in the search for a cooperative spirit in mat-
ters of kashrut.
An old enigma emerges to hound the search for good-
will. It is the Korobka experience coming home to roost. A
very old practice of exhorting taxes for Kahal — communal
— financing was an aggravated matter in Jewish life. It
inspired a story by a famous Yiddish writer, Mendele
Moher Seforim who, under the title "Di Takse," "The Tax,"
exposed tragic controversies. That experience may not
apply to the current situation in the sense of taxation, but it
does relate to community-splitting which can evolve from
failure to reach an accord on a basic Jewish obligation.
Therefore the "Korobka" story is being shared with
readers in this issue as means of placing all cards on
table and of urging an effort to attain cooperation between
the rabbis, butchers and kosher meat buyers on a dignified
and realistically-workable basis. It is in such fashion that a
well-functioning community should operate, striving to
avoid divisiveness and confusion.

Infamous Tax on Kosher Meat

In 1844, when the Jewish
kahal autonomy was offi-
cially abolished, new regu-
lations were issued concern-
ing the meat tax. In them,
the korobka was allocated
for the Jewish communal
requirements, in the first
place to assure payment of
the government taxation
quota and of the debts of the
community, and the re-
mainder for the mainte-
nance of Jewish schools, the
support of Jewish agricul-
tural settlement, and the
requirements of charitable

The apportionment of the
taxation tariff, the methods
Of its collection, and super-
vision over the funds was
assigned to the non-Jewish
municipal administration,
in consultation with "weal-
thy Jews and permanent
residents" Authority was
granted to the tax lessees to
prevent the ritual slaughter
of animals without paying
the tax, and the police were
called upon to assist them in
this task.
Soldiers and graduates of
high schools were exempted
from the payment of this
In the provinces of
Russian Poland, a tax on
kosher meat, which was
directly transferred to
the State Treasury, was
introduced in 1809, in
addition to the tax on
meat for the require-
ments of the community.
The Jews derived no
benefit from it; this tax
was abolished in 1863.
The system of leasing the
meat tax encouraged
exploitation and corruption
by the lessees, who raised
the price of kosher meat in
order to increase their in-
comes. The maskilim con-
demned such practices in
their periodicals and writ-
ings, and the ba'al-takse, as
the lessee was called, be-
came a frequent target of
their attacks.
(The comedy by Mendele
Mokher Seforim, "Di
Takse" (1869), is based on
such incidents in the com-
munity of Berdichev.)
The korobka system also

gave rise to illegal shehita
to evade its payment and
make possible cheaper
prices for kosher meat.
The meat tax was shar-
ply criticized by gov-
ernmental as well as
Jewish circles. Its oppo-
nents argued that it was
unjust to impose a tax
based on the necessity of
carrying out a religious
observance (kashrut)
and this was a typical in-
direct tax whose brunt
fell on the poorer classes.
The exemption of the
Jewish intelligentsia
from its payment, and the
fact that with the spread
of Haskalah many Jews
(especially in the prov-
inces of southern Russia)
did not observe kashrut,
only aggravated the, bur-
den on the observant
Jewish masses.
While poverty and dearth
were felt through the
Jewish communities, mil-
lions of surplus rubles from
the korobka funds were
being deposited in the gov-
ernment bank (in January
1887, these surpluses to-
taled over 3,000,000 rubles,
and in the year 1905, for the
provinces of Kiev, Podolia,
and Volhynia alone, there
were reserves of over
1,500,000 rubles).

Funds Kept
From Community
It was only in exceptional
cases, such as fire or flood,
or to support the establish-
ment of a large institution
(a hospital, a school or the
like), that allocations were
granted for the com-
munities from these
On the other hand, many
allocations were granted for
state purposes, such as the
construction of general
schools, to which the ad-
minission of Jews was re-
stricted, payments to the
special police of various
towns, for street paving,
road construction and sani-
tation purposes.
The Jews, who shared
the burden of general tax
payment, were thus com-
pelled in addition to con-
tribute a special Jewish
tax. For continuation of
the korobka system, it

was argued that the tax
was easily collected and
that its abolition would
remove the finincial basis
of the Jewish community


The first public debate in
a Jewish forum took place at
the conference of Jewish
community leaders held at
Kovno in 1909. The expert
on the korobka, H.B. Sios-
berg, considered it a fine for
the observance of a religious
precept and called for its
conversion into a progress-
ive income tax which the
government should recog-
nize as compulsory.
The scope of the korobka
system is indicated by the
annual payments made by
the lessees shortly before
World War I. The annual
payment for the lease then
amounted to 370,000 rubles
in Odessa, 147,000 in Vilna,
100,000 in Riga, over 50,000
in Berdichev, 42,000 in
Dvinsk, 325,000 rubles in
the whole of the province of
Volhynia, and 108,000 ru-
bles in the whole of the prov-
ince of Kovno.
During this period, sev-
eral communities intro-
duced a community-
sponsored collection of the
tax, without the inter-
mediary of lessees. In Vilna,
for example, its collection
was delegated to a special
commission appointed by
the community and all pro-
fits were handed over to the
charitable institutions of
the town.
After the outbreak of
World War I, when re-
strictions were intro-
duced against the con-
sumption of meat ("meat-
less days," etc.) and the
price of meat rose, '
decline in korobka re
nues fell sharply, and the
financial resources of
many communities col-
In a large number of
communities, the meat tax
was then replaced by a pro-
gressively assessed tax
which was determined by a
variety of data (amount of
rent paid, size of living
quarters, etc.). Following
the 1917 Revolution, the
meat tax was abolished
with the rest of the anti-
Jewish legislation.


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