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How We Worked


The Ritual Slaughterers
by Hillel Adler

Ożarów is a member of the Museum's World Jewish Communities


According to Jewish tradition, the responsibility of a shochet, or ritual slaughterer, confers great distinction on the man who discharges it. To become a shochet it is necessary, first of all, to have a deep knowledge of the Talmud and to come from an honourable family. In the second place, the ritual slaughterer must enjoy good health. Indeed, according to the precepts of the "Shulchan Aruch", which goes back to the 16th century, a ritual slaughterer must seize the fowl or the cattle firmly, never betraying the slightest hesitation by his gestures.

In Ozarow, the ritual slaughterers came from the same family going back several generations. This was a family living at the beginning of Jasna Street, to the left of the synagogue. In my day, the oldest of the slaughterers was Reb Yisruel the Shochet. He was a man of exemplary spirituality, who also assumed the role of cantor during services. People would come to hear him from the furthest corners of the village, when he intoned the Kol Nidre prayer in his deep, warm voice. Motel the Shochet and Wolf Koenigsberg were also noteworthy figures in this distinguished family.

Wolf, the son of Reb Yisruel, was the youngest of Ozarow's ritual slaughterers. He was married, but had no children. He decided one fine day to emigrate with his wife to Palestine. At first, he left to scout out the possibilities for eventual settlement. Being an astute man, he purchased a building in Tel Aviv in order to invest his money. Then he returned to Ozarow to liquidate all of his goods and to leave once more, this time for good. Alas, the war broke out. So Wolf the Shochet and his family became trapped in the Ozarow ghetto in the company of thousands of refugees who were pouring in from all corners of Poland. While all this was going on, there came knocking at Wolf's door one of his aunts and her daughter Ida, both knowing no one in Ozarow and desperate. Wolf and his wife offered them asylum.

In 1942, Wolf the Shochet divorced in order to marry his cousin Ida. As for Yessoucher, he was raised in a respectable family and studied constantly until he attained a level of erudition high enough to legitimately claim the status of shochet. But in the eyes of the rabbi and the fraternity of ritual slaughterers within the village, it was out of the question that the son of a mere tailor like Leibish-Meyer take his place among them. However, the young man did not lose confidence. Soon he met a young woman from a neighbouring village whom he married and went to live with there. In his new town things were more liberal, so Yessoucher the son of a simple tailor and an accomplished Talmudist, became a ritual slaughterer.

Itche-Chaskiel was the son of Moishe-Wolf and of Baile-Gittel, the bakers. He filled his parents with happiness, so great were his intelligence and his thirst for learning. One day he told them of his life's ambition to become a shochet.

He married Hena, the daughter of the ritual slaughterer of Cmielow who soon welcomed his son-in-law into his fraternity. The long awaited moment came when Itche-Chaskiel had to perform his first slaughter. His heart pounding with emotion, he recited the ritual blessing, seized his knife......and then disaster! The blade trembled in his hand. In a case like this, the Talmudic code was inflexible. Poor Itche-Chaskiel was never to become a shochet.


Abush Helfant, born in Ozarow, returned to settle there in 1935. He came from a line of ritual slaughterers and planned to practice this profession as well. However, the kehillah and the other slaughterers did no look on his arrival kindly. He found refuge with Kopel Orenstein, who placed his cabin at his disposal as a slaughtering place. So here was a new competitor setting up shop.

One night, Abush Helfant received a visit that was far from friendly. A certain Moishe Czarkis - one of Ozarow's Jewish thugs - suggested he shelve his ritual knife. When Abush rebuffed him energetically, on the ground that to comply would be a sacrilege, he threw himself on Abush firmly resolved to break his fingers. This assault gave rise to general condemnation, and the Mizrachi Zionist movement gave Abush their support so that finally, he was able to establish himself as a ritual slaughterer in Ozarow.


Ożarów 14


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