© 2014 Temple Beth Torah, Fremont, CA

A Word from Rabbi Schulman - 4/18/14

April 18, 2014

A dear friend of mine once sent me an amusing article about Gefilte fish. Though the author is unknown, his or her peculiar point of view bespeaks a wisdom earned over years of keen observation:

 

"Many times I have been upset by people who seem to think that Gefilte fish is some kind of mixture you make in the kitchen rather than one of Hashem's creatures. This has led me to explain exactly what a Gefilte fish is. So once again , here goes:

 

Each year as soon as the frost on the Great Gefilte Lakes (located Upstate New York somewhere in the Catskill Mountains) is thin enough to break the surface, Frum (Orthodox) fisherman set out to 'catch' Gefilte fish. Now unlike your normal fish, Gefilte fish cannot be caught with a rod and a reel or your standard bait. The art of catching Gefilte fish was handed down for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. For all I know, Moses used to go Gefilte fish catching. I am sure that the great Maimonides when he wasn't busy playing doctor, spent his leisure time Gefilte fish fishing.

 

Enough already, you say, how was it done? Well you go to the edge of the lake with some matzah. Now this is very important!! It has to be Shmurah matzah (which Ultra Orthodox Jews eat for Passover) or the fish will not be attracted. You stand at the edge of the lake and whistle and say, 'Here boy!' The fish just can't resist the smell of matzah. They come en masse to the edge of the lake where they jump into jars and are bottled on the spot.

 

Again you must remember that there are two kinds of Gefilte fish. The strong and the weak. The weak are your standard fish which are in a loose 'broth' ( it is actually lake water). Now the strong are special. They seem to be in a 'jell.' These fish are actually imported from the Middle East where they are caught in the Dead Sea. They have to be strong to be able to swim through the 'jell.'

 

Last year a well meaning gentleman tried to correct me by stating that the fishermen should be saying 'Here Boychic!' I didn't have the heart to tell him Boychic is a Yiddish word and Gefilte fish don't understand Yiddish - only Hebrew and surprisingly, English. There has been a big debate as to whether to use Hebrew or English in the United States. With a big break from tradition, shockingly the English is accepted by almost all Gefilte fish fishermen. Some still insist on using the Hebrew and consider the use of 'Here Boy' as Reform and not accepted according to Jewish law. However the Congress of OU Rabbis ( who have to be present at the lakes where the fish are bottled) uniformly accept 'Here Boy!'

 

The time of the catch is very important! The fish cannot be caught before Purim is over or the fish or the fish are considered Chametz (unacceptable for Passover). Besides, the fish know when Pesach is coming, and will not respond to matzah before the proper time.

 

I am still a little bothered by which end of the fish is the head and which is the tail. However, this is a small price to pay for the luxury of eating this delicacy.

 

Wishing you a zisen Pesach - a sweet and happy Passover!

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