Judaism: A Story for the Nine Days
For a short summary of stringencies and customs for The Nine Days (note that Ashkenazim and Sephardim do not keep these stringencies for the same number of days), click here and for a more thorough review, click here.
Tisha B'Av: The Poel Mizrachi Kitchen
Things were not looking good for Avraham Mavrach. It was already the first of the month of Av, and the secretary would not let him present his urgent question to the Chief Rabbinate. The rabbis were in an important meeting, the secretary explained, and could not be disturbed.
The Kosher Kitchen
Mr. Avraham Mavrach was a founding member of the organization called HaPoel HaMizrachi, established in 1922 for religious pioneers in Eretz Yisrael. One of the most important decisions made during the first assembly of the Poel Mizrachi was to open kosher kitchens for new immigrants and workers. This was necessary since the religious workers could not eat in the Histadrut kitchens, where non-kosher food was served and the Sabbath was desecrated.
As Avraham later described in the now defunct, national-religious Hatzofeh newspape
"The religious pioneers suffered greatly. They could not afford to eat in a restaurant and enjoy a hot meal, and on Shabbat they missed the Jewish milieu and an atmosphere of holiness. Therefore we established the kitchens of the Poel Mizrachi to provide the religious workers with inexpensive and tasty meals, and also to serve as a social center.
"The workers would read, hold meetings, discuss, attend classes and lectures. They organized Torah classes in the evenings, and they would dance on joyous occasions. The kitchens were filled with singing; especially on Shabbat and the holidays, they sang the zemirot with holy yearnings and great emotion.
"It is not surprising that these kosher kitchens also attracted many non-religious workers."
Although the food was sold at cost, not all of the diners could afford to eat everything on the limited menu. However, the meat portions and soups were a necessary staple for the hungry manual laborers.
The Problem of the Nine Days
It was regarding these meat meals that a serious problem arose. During the Nine Days of Av, eating meat is prohibited for Ashkenazim due to national mourning over the destruction of the Temple. The administrators of the Jerusalem branch of the Poel Mizrachi met to find an alternative for the meat meals, especially for the manual laborers.
Unfortunately, they were unable to think of an appropriate substitute. Some of them despaired. 'Why should we assume responsibility for this?' Lacking a better alternative, they wanted to close down the kitchen for the duration of the Nine Days.
One member, however, refused to give up - Avraham Mavrach. He suggested turning to the Chief Rabbinate; perhaps the rabbis would find a leniency that would permit the new customers to eat meat so that they would not go back to eating in the non-kosher kitchens.
The other members laughed at this suggestion. "Do you really think that the Rabbinate will agree to the slaughter of sheep and oxen during the Nine Days in the holy city of Jerusalem?"
In fact, no one was even willing to accompany Avraham to the Chief Rabbinate. So, on the first of Av, he went alone. The Rabbinate secretary, however, refused to let him interrupt the meeting in order to speak with the rabbis.
"But it is an urgent question," Avraham explained. "I come as a representative of the Poel Mizrachi." At Avraham's insistence, Rabbi Samuel Weber, chief secretary of the Rabbinate, came out of the meeting and listened to the problem.
Rabbi Weber suggested arranging for the completion of a Talmudic tractate every day, and then serving meat at the se'udat mitzvah (a meal celebrating the fulfillment of a mitzvah at which one is always allowed to eat meat).
Avraham responded that such an arrangement would be nearly impossible to implement.
Rabbi Weber then disappeared into the Rabbinate chambers. After a few minutes, he beckoned Avraham to follow.
Rav Kook's Decision
As he entered, Avraham saw Rav Kook at the head of the table, with Rabbi Yaakov Meir to his right and other prominent rabbis seated around the table. Rav Kook asked Avraham to approach the table.
Avraham stood before the rabbis and explained the purpose of the kitchen, describing the great benefit it provided to the members of the Poel Mizrachi and the workers who remained faithful to their heritage.
"I am aware of the importance of the kitchen," Rav Kook responded. He then sank into deep thought. The other rabbis waited in silence for Rav Kook's decision.
Rav Kook turned to Avraham. "Do you think that some of the workers who eat there will end up going to a non-kosher kitchen?"
"Yes," Avraham responded. "They ate there beforehand."
"If that is the case," Rav Kook pronounced, "your kitchen is serving a se'udat mitzvah. 'Let the humble eat and be satisfied' (Ps. 27:22)."
Astounded, Avraham remained frozen to his spot. Rav Kook smiled. "Do you have another question?"
Avraham replied that he was uncertain about the Rav's decision. Did this mean that everyone could eat meat there? Rav Kook repeated his words, and explained that everyone - even those who would not be tempted to eat at a non-kosher kitchen - could eat meat in the kitchen because it would be serving a se'udat mitzvah.
Despite his amazement, Avraham managed to steal a glance at the other rabbis in the room. It seemed that they, too, were surprised by the Rav's decision, but they raised no objections.
Se'udat Mitzvah for All
Rabbi Zvi Kaplan wrote an article analyzing this unusual halakhic decision at length. For those workers who would have eaten in the non-kosher kitchen, it is clearly preferable that they disregard the custom of not eating meat during the Nine Days rather than violate the Biblical prohibition against eating non-kosher food. But how could Rav Kook permit meat to those who would not have eaten non-kosher food?
Rabbi Kaplan noted that at a se'udat mitzvah during the Nine Days, permission to eat meat is granted not only for those performing the mitzvah (such as a brit milah or completing a tractate of Talmud), but for all who are present.
Every Jew is responsible to make sure another Jew eats kosher food. A meal that accomplishes this goal certainly qualifies as a se'udat mitzvah. The simple meals provided by the Poel Mizrachi kitchen in those years saved many Jews from eating non-kosher meals.
Rav Kook therefore was able to permit all present to eat, since, as he explained, "your kitchen is serving a se'udat mitzvah."
(Silver from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Mo'adei HaRe'iyah, pp. 539-543. Sent to Arutz Sheva by Rabbi Chanan Morrison of Mitzpeh Yericho, author of "Gold From the Land of Israel". His website, ravkooktorah.org, is dedicated to presenting the Torah commentary of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook).)