Surprising Instructions From the Rebbe

When my father came of age, a match was suggested for him with my mother, Bracha Pevsner. Her older brother R. Avrohom Boruch Pevsner, the chassidic mentor – mashpia of the Chabad community in Minsk, went to ask for approval of the Rebbe Rayatz, as is customary amongst Chassidim. “Avremel Smargoner?" asked the Rebbe, "Nuhe’s a penimi!” The reply was brief, but the Rebbe's approval was clear: Avremel Smargoner is man of integrity, a genuine, "inward" person; a penimi. Indeed, those few words made for an apt summary of my father’s character.

A short time after the wedding, in the year 1927, my father heard that the kosher slaughterer in the town of Tcherepovetz, Siberia, had passed away. Since the community was left bereft of a shochet, many had resorted to eating non-kosher meat, and members of the community were looking for someone to take his place.

Many had resorted to eating non-kosher meat

My father traveled to his brother-in-law R. Boruch Duchman—they were married to sisters—in Medved, near Leningrad, and studied the art of kosher slaughter with him for three months. The people of Tcherepovetz were still waiting, so he rushed his studies and learned the laws of shechita as condensed in the work Simlah Chadashah, along with the commentary of the Levushei Serad. He spent most of his time at the town slaughterhouse, where they slaughtered the numerous chickens and cows that arrived from the merchants in Leningrad. This was in the regime's early days, at a time when limited private enterprise was still allowed under the New Economic Policy, so such activity at the slaughterhouse was not yet the major risk it would become in a few years.

After he completed his studies, and before traveling to Tcherepovetz, he went to the Rebbe Rayatz. When he entered the room for his private audienceand told the Rebbe that he had learned shechita, the Rebbe asked him, “What have you studied?”

My father told him the truth, that he had only managed to learn the relevant laws from the Simlah Chadashah with the commentary of the Levushei Serad. The Rebbe smiled and said, “A tendetner—standard—shochet.” The condensed laws, in other words, is what a typical shochet knows.

Then the Rebbe asked my father from whom he was planning on receivinghis certification,1 and my father said that he wanted to ask Rabbi Shimon Lazarov, the Lubavitcher rabbi in Leningrad. The Rebbe said that he should also receive certification from Rabbi Katzenelenbogen, the official chief rabbiof Leningrad.

At that precise time, a difference of opinion had developed between the Rebbe Rayatz and Rabbi Katzenelenbogen regarding a meeting of rabbis that the Yevsektsiya (Jewish section of the Communist Party) wanted to conduct in Leningrad. The Rebbe's request, therefore, came as surprise to my father, but he didn't dare say so to the Rebbe directly. Instead, being that his study of the laws of shechita had been limited, he said that he was afraid that Rabbi Katzenelenbogen would test him on source material that he hadn’t studied, and he would not know the answers.

“You will know,” the Rebbe replied.

Still, my father struggled to understand why he was being asked to seek out Rabbi Katzenelenbogen's endorsement. “But Rabbi Katzenelenbogen is a misnaged, an 'opponent,'” he said, referring to the Rabbi's establishes opposition to the Chassidic lifestyle and its teachings.

The Rebbe said, “Indeed, but he is an erlicher Yid; a pious, upstanding Jew.”

My father accepted the undertaking, but then, seizing the opportunity, cried to the Rebbe that he had been married for two years and had not yet been blessed with children. The Rebbe raised his hands and said, “You will have children; you will have children.”

After this audience, my father went to Rabbi Katzenelenbogen, where he saw the fulfillment of the Rebbe’s words. When he spoke to the rabbi about his learning, my father was able to impress him with his knowledge. Rabbi Katzenelenbogen examined the knife three times and upon finding it flawless, he wrote him an approving endorsement. Before he left, the rabbi warned him not to learn any Chassidus...

My father later also received certification from Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin, who was a Rabbi in the city of Kalintzy, Ukraine, at that time. And, as he had initially intended, he was also certified by Rabbi Lazarov. The NKVD later confiscated these certificates when they came to our house to conduct a search.

Kosher slaughterers often dislike having their knives inspected by others, and the implicit questioning of their honesty, or proficiency; my father, however, had the contrary attitude. When he would encounter someone who knew how to check a knife, he would happily give him his knife for inspection.

He would happily give his knife for inspection

My father would often encourage the yeshivah studentsand young men in Samarkand to master shechitahat the very least, the ability to slaughter chickens. “One can never know where he will end up,” he would explain. “Who knows, you might eventually find yourself residing in a location without a shochet. If you know what to do, you will be able to slaughter for yourself as well as assist others in eating kosher meat.”

My parents lived in Tcherepovetz for a number of years. My father told us that on the outskirts of the city, located high on the Siberian steppe, he found many deer that he was able to slaughter, thus providing kosher meat for the Jews of that area.