Tractate Hullin and my family

The People of the Book, we Jews have been called, and not without good reason. We worship God as we know Him by virtue of Her actions and thoughts as recorded in our Holy Books: the Tanakh (Bible) and Rabbinic Literature. Rabbi Louis Finkelstein, mid-20th century leader of Conservative Judaism, once memorably said, “When I pray, I talk to God; when I study (the Holy Books), God talks to me.” More prosaically, as the old saw goes: Jewish boys should grow up to be doctors, lawyers, or accountants (for those who have a stutter or can’t stand the sight of blood). But a Rabbi? — What kind of job is that for a nice Jewish boy?! In the world of very traditional Jews, however, no career carries more prestige than to “sit and learn.” In fact, sitting atop the Yeshiva world’s educational structure is the Kollel, a special academy of learning for married men, whose very career consists of “sitting and learning.” Nor is Conservative Judaism a stranger to this value hierarchy. Outstanding Rabbinical School students are guided not to plum pulpits, but to PhD programs and eventual professorships, that is to say, to lives of learning.

In that spirit, two weeks ago I joined Daf Yomi (Daf = a folio, that is, a front/back page of Talmud; Yomi = daily), a Jewish world-wide effort of Talmud study, whereby each day thousands learn the same page of Talmud. Currently, Daf Yomi is learning Tractate Hullin, which deals principally with matters of ritual slaughter, in Hebrew Shechitah; you may be familiar with the term Shochet (or Shoychet), which designates a ritual slaughterer. The tractate consists of nearly 150 folios and the daf yomi learning will conclude the day before Pesah — just in time for the siyyum bekhorim, the formal conclusion of study calling for a ritual meal. To become a Shochet, one must be very well versed in Tractate Hullin.

My great-grandfather Rabbi Isaac White, who slaughtered and sold fowl a century ago at his store at 18th and Grand, no doubt knew Hullin by memory. It brings me pleasure to learn deeply in his field. Here is a photo of one of Isaac’s children, my great-Aunt Dora, posed in front of the butcher shop. Many thanks to Arlene Shalinsky, for gifting me the photo of our common relative.

Great-Aunt Dora White
Great-Aunt Dora White