Today, boys and girls, we’re going to learn about Jews and their wacky Oral Tradition. In a disussion of Hilchot Shabbat (the Laws of the Sabbath), the gemara (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 75a) brings up an interesting case.
Let’s say you own a chicken. You know, the tasty fowl with an IQ lower than its shoe size1,2. Well, your son wants to play with the chicken. Or more accurately, he wants to play with the chicken’s head. Why? I don’t know. Maybe Toys ‘R’ Us was out of Tickle-Me-Elmo dolls. Maybe he drank some of Daddy’s “special juice.” In any case, he’s crying for the chicken’s head, and as luck would have it, the chicken’s head is (get this!) attached to the chicken, and the chicken is quite fond of its head and unlikely to enjoy your son playing with it. (“Come here little chicken, I just want to- OUCH! My eye!”) So you intend to remove the head to better facilitate its use as a plaything, but it’s the Sabbath, and it’s forbidden on the Sabbath to kill an animal.
“Well, that’s ok,” you say to yourself, “I don’t want to kill it. I just want to neatly remove the bird’s head so I can shut up my kid. Though he’ll probably lose interest in a matter of hours, like he did with the dog3 and the nuclear reactor4 I got for his birthday. The ungrateful little brat.”
Enter the Rabbis.
They say, “hold on, big fella. First of all, stop talking to yourself. People are staring. And also, can’t you tell that this is the classic case of pesik raisha?”
“Pesik raisha. Can’t you understand ancient Aramaic? Sheesh. The full phrase is ‘pesik raisha v’lo yamut,’ meaning ‘can you cut off the head and it won’t die,’ a rhetorical question. You see, were you to cut off the chicken’s head, it would become what is technically known as a Decapitated Chicken. As you may know, Decapitated Chickens5and in fact, decapitated fowl of all varieties, are wont to die, a condition which greatly impedes being alive. Thus, although your action wasn’t meant to kill the chicken, and you may even want the chicken to survive, it will definitely end up dead anyway, so killing it is forbidden. So go tell your brat to shut up because you can’t give him the chicken’s head until after the Sabbath. Though if you ask us, after the Sabbath you should take him to a therapist, because, frankly, this whole ‘playing with a chicken’s head’ thing is pretty darn messed up right here.”
“Oh boy! Thank you, Rabbis!” you exult. “Now can you please explain this whole ‘kosher’ thing to me? Why do we need to wait for hours between eating meat and milk? Why do we have to use separate dishes for milk and meat?”
“Beats us. You modern Jews are just plain crazy. Back in our day, we could eat Chicken Parmesan.”
“Golly indeed. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’ve got some threshing and winnowing to do.”
And like that (poof), they’re gone.6
- Yeah, I know. Chickens don’t wear shoes. Not yet, anyhow.
- Chickens are royally stupid. I’m not making this one up. Sometimes, when it rains, chickens will tip back their heads and try to drink, and in the process, they will drown themselves. Did you catch that? They are the only animal on God’s green earth that I know of that drown themselves while on solid ground. Even my cousin Melvin who will likely have “That boy just ain’t right” carved on his headstone, and who has eaten enough Play-Doh to support Slovakia for a year, generally keeps water out of his trachea.
- “Come here, little doggy, I just want to light you on fi- OUCH! My leg!”
- “Come here, little atom, I just want to pet- OUCH! I’m glowing!”
- Another great band name.
- Bonus points if you can correctly name the movie that that last line was referencing.