One day the neighborhood butcher came to the study of Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz (1730–1805), the famed rabbi of Frankfurt, with a halachic (Torah law) query. A defect had been discovered in the lung of a slaughtered ox, raising the possibility that it might be treif, forbidden by Torah law to be eaten. It was a complex borderline case, and the rabbi spent many hours studying the rulings of the great halachic authorities of previous generations, several of whom were inclined to forbid the meat under such circumstances. Finally, Rabbi Pinchas issued his ruling: the ox was kosher.

Later, one of his disciples asked him: “Rabbi, why did you go to such lengths to render the ox kosher? After all, the Shach (Rabbi Shabtai HaKohen, a great 17th-century halachist) deemed it treif. Would it not have been more advisable to simply throw away the meat rather than risk transgressing such a serious prohibition?”

Rabbi Pinchas smiled and replied: “You know, for every man there comes the day when he must stand before the heavenly court and account for his life. I imagine that when that day comes for me, I shall have to defend the decision I arrived at today. The ‘prosecution’ will undoubtedly call a most prestigious witness to testify against me: the Shach himself will question how I permitted the eating of meat whose kashrut is in serious doubt. I shall have to respond by citing the opinions of his lesser colleagues who ruled that the ox is indeed kosher, and by explaining why I preferred their rulings over his. You can be sure that the prospect fills me with trepidation.

“But what if I had ruled that the meat is treif? Then I would have to contend with another accuser—the ox. He will take the stand against me and bellow his rage: ‘How many hungry mouths might I have fed!’ he will cry. ‘How many hours of Torah study and prayer might I have sustained! How many good deeds might I have energized! And this man consigned me to the garbage heap, while there were grounds for rendering me kosher.’ To be sure, I could call on the great Shach to defend me. But, all things considered, I would rather take my chances against the Shach than confront an angry ox in court . . .”