When this writer was a teenager, a friend who attended a non- Jewish high school in England told her that a classmate had approached her, and suddenly asked how to kasher meat. The classmate explained her unexpected question: "My mother used to buy her meat from a kosher butcher, but now she says it's too expensive, so she's decided to buy it from a general butcher. But now she needs to kasher it..."
Had either the mother or the daughter given this book even a cursory glance, this situation would never have happened. "Let's Learn About Kosher food" was originally published in Hebrew under the title "Kashrus Hamozon." It is an illustrated guide, in story form, to which foods are or are not acceptable from the kashrus point of view, and to what must be done to ensure that kosher food be served satisfactorily in every way.
The story line is that a class of girls of bas mitzva age has completed studying the book "The Kosher Kitchen" and the girls are assigned the project of preparing a banquet for themselves and their mothers. They make everything on their own, to give themselves a chance to practice the laws of kashrus. They go on outings to a supermarket, a farm, the seashore and so on, to gain a better understanding of the topics they studied, and they themselves stage an exhibition on the laws of milk and meat.
There is added interest in that each girl has a personality of her own that can be followed through from page to page. The girls can be identified by hair color, braids, curls and the like, and among them there's the one who is always dropping things, the ones who go in for wild ideas like pushing each other around in supermarket carts, and so forth. However, beneath the typical pre-teen type of behavior, the book is extremely serious, and the halochos can be learned from the dialogue between the girls.
The various chapters deal with:
* Buying kosher food - and recognizing the pitfalls that can occur if food is not supervised
* Kosher animals - avoiding situations that can make an animal treif, like letting an animal eat a sharp object
* Immersing new utensils - which utensils do or do not need to be dipped into a mikve
* Kosher fish - which fish are kosher and which are not, and what happens when the skin is removed
* Tithing fresh produce (in Eretz Yisroel) - trumos, maasros - rishon, sheni, oni
* Orla fruit (from a tree up to three years), neta revai (fruit of the fourth year) and chodosh (grains that take root after the date for bringing the Omer sacrifice and are harvested before the next year's Omer date)
* Ensuring that foods do not contain insects - the various types of infestations that may attack foods of different types
* Food prepared by non-Jews - here the Israeli origin of the book is apparent because most of the shop signs in the illustrations are Arabic
* Separating challa - this chapter includes other issues that may arise when baking, like sifting flour and checking eggs for bloodspots
* Kashering meat - something that most youngsters of today rarely or never see done at home, while for youngsters of yesteryear, this was a familiar sight. It even discusses opening chickens. How many housewives nowadays know how to do that?
* Broiling liver - and other meat
* Good manners - what a lovely surprise to find a chapter on this subject
* Laws of milk and meat
* And the fact that the girls plan to publish a book on kashrus - and here we are again!
The book carries letters of felicitation from well known gedolim that were sent on the publication of the Hebrew edition. It also carries a list of sources and review questions. An error that crept into translation on the tithing page is to be corrected in the next edition.
This book is not a halocha book in the usual sense. It is aimed at children, but is clear and detailed, and there are probably few adults who would not find something to learn. It is clearly a labor of love. The characters are likeable, and perhaps as important as - or more important - the actual nitty-gritty of halocha is that the girls clearly feel great joy in their observance of the mitzvos. Hopefully, this joy is infectious - and that alone makes the book worthwhile.
It is important, though, that the book be studied with a teacher or knowledgeable parent, if at all possible. It is incredibly precise and yet it is impossible to be confident that the intricacies of halocha are completely absorbed from byte-size balloon statements.
One subject that is conspicuous by its absence, at least to the Israeli reader, is shmitta - but maybe that needs a book all of its own, considering the different approaches to it.