Remembering Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse (Daf Yomi Pesachim 76)

Embed from Getty Images

“It is merely an aroma, and an aroma is nothing significant.”

I have one last comment on yesterday’s Daf Yomi reading before I move on because I received a lot of feedback. Everyone, including me, agrees that the execution of a woman accused of adultery by the forced swallowing of molten lead probably never in actuality occurred. Or maybe it did not occur very often, although even once is horrific enough. But the words and image are there on the page and even if they are only there to instill fear in a young woman from straying from the fold, they represent intimidation and fear.

What is interesting is how different the comments are from men and women. Several men commented that the threat of death by molten lead was not so horrific because it was a warning designed to prevent bad behavior. They pointed to a judicial process based on the testimony of two witnesses to the transgression and two required warnings before a young woman was convicted of adultery. Women were for the most part just horrified, even though most commented that they doubted this horrible execution ever occurred.

I am left wondering if generations of men sat in yeshivas reading these words without perceiving the harm they pose to the well-being of women. Living one’s life under a haze of threats if one strays away from what a patriarchy considers good behavior is not a fully lived life. The threats themselves are damaging. That is the point. They confine women to a narrow range of behavior and rob them of the agency to be who they are. At least today, we have forums that allow women to have their voice. And let’s not attempt to silence them with centuries old rationalization.

I will have a hard time forgetting the images I read about yesterday, but we move on today to a more mundane discussion. And that is the miracle of committing to this Daf Yomi cycle. There is always another day, another reading to tackle and another lamb to sacrifice. We are told today that if the drippings of the Paschal lamb fall onto an earthenware receptacle, it could violate the prohibition against cooking. The scenario we are provided with is gravy that falls onto the earthenware and heats it up. The earthenware could heat the gravy in return which starts bubbling up and splashes the Paschal lamb. The lamb is then cooked from the heat of the earthenware rather than the flame, and we have a disqualification on our hands.

We are told that fatty kosher meat that is roasted side-by-side with lean non-kosher meat is prohibited, even if the two meats never come into contact with each other. This is forbidden because the fatty meat omits an aroma that is absorbed by the non-kosher meat. And just like the lamb’s gravy that bubbled up and splashed back on the roasting sacrifice, the aroma from the non-kosher meat could be transferred back to the kosher one. There is a debate on whether an aroma can cause the meat to be forbidden and we are told that an aroma is ‘nothing signficiant.”

The mention of the aroma of fatty kosher-meat brought back memories of Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse which was a favorite of my father’s when he was alive. Sadly, the restaurant which was located on the Lower East Side for almost 50 years, has not survived the pandemic and closed for good last month. My father, who had a heart condition, would joke that after a meal there he would have to head straight to the cardiologist. There was a jar of schmaltz (chicken fat) and juicy green pickles on every table at Sammy’s. My father would take great glee in my horror when I watched him smear schmaltz over thick slices of bread.

Every night at Sammy’s was like a bat mitzvah with singing and dancing. The waiters were famously grumpy. The meat was indeed fatty and often over-cooked but that wasn’t why you went there. To be honest, it has been years since I last visited Sammy’s because without my father’s joy to be served such cardiac-inducing food, there was really no point. But it was comforting to know that it was always there holding down the fort, the last vestige of the Lower East Side that my family visited regularly in order to stock up on pickles and bialys and knishes. On special occasions, we would have dinner at Sammy’s before we headed home to suburban New Jersey.

Sammy’s somehow survived the Lower East Side’s gentrification and hipsters all these years, but not the economic reality of being shut down during the pandemic. The basement restaurant was a little too hot with bad ventilation, and its décor resembled a motor vehicle office with fluorescent lights and close ceilings. But it was a place with a specific aroma, and it was indeed very significant.

About the Author
Penny Cagan was born in New Jersey and has lived in New York City since 1980. She has published two books of poems called “City Poems “ and “And Today I am Happy." She is employed as a risk manager and continues to write poetry. More information on Penny can be found at
Related Topics
Related Posts