The hefker table
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The hefker table

I don’t even know where to begin with this one.

According to Google, the word “hefker” means “property that is ownerless and can therefore be legally acquired by the person who first takes possession of it. There are two categories of ownerless property: 1. property that has never been owned before, such as wild animals and birds, fish of the river and ocean, and wild or forest plants; and 2. property that has ceased to belong to its former owner.” There are also a whole bunch of other meanings from all sorts of Jewish sources, mishnahs, gemaras, and the like. In my house, those sources are referred to as “everyday reading material.” Or, in my terms, what happens when your boys stop reading Sports Illustrated.

In any event, one day a few years back, son #2 told us that he had eaten some danish from the “hefker table.” Naturally, I asked him what a hefker table was, and he just said it was a table by the beis (the beis being the study hall at Yeshiva University for religious rather than secular studies). Apparently, the hefker table becomes the place where restaurants and bakeries leave random leftovers for the boys to eat. If there are catered events at the university, caterers might also leave those leftovers on the table as well. Perhaps they are for boys who cannot afford food in the cafeteria, or perhaps for boys who have used up all of their money in the cafeteria, or perhaps for boys who want a snack after a long day of learning biblical statutes in poor lighting.

I vividly remember one afternoon when we were going into the city to take son #1 and son #2 out to lunch, and son #2 called us, all excited, “Mom, there is a whole pizza on the hefker table and it looks like it is almost fresh! Should I take it?” The answer to your question is yes, I let him take the pizza. And, no, we didn’t get sick from it. And, yes, husband #1 was thrilled beyond words that he didn’t have to pay for lunch that day.

And no, I was not raised to eat pizza that was taken off of something called a “hefker table.”

When son #1 went off to a yeshiva in Far Rockaway, he discovered that there was a hefker table there as well. Joy to the world! On this table they even have shoes and clothes and the like. Oy vey. I began to wonder if this hefker table thing was located all over the place, by every yeshiva all across the land and abroad. According to son #3, there is not a hefker table in his yeshiva, so maybe these tables have not made it abroad just yet. Son #2, who is no longer at Yeshiva University, for reasons that could fill many columns but will not for now, is at a different yeshiva down south (is Baltimore south?) and, Baruch Hashem, there is a hefker table there as well.

Being the inquisitive journalist that I am, I wanted to research the origins of the hefker table. Interestingly enough, when you look up “hefker table,” it autocorrects to “heifer table.” I would think that finding a cow on a table would be quite a unique experience but, alas, that is not what it is.

After giving it much thought, I decided that the first hefker table actually dates back all the way to the beginning of time. The Garden of Eden. God was building the world and filling it with beautiful things. Food, drink, animals, chocolate…anything you could imagine. And there, in the center of it all, was a table. And on the table was, you guessed it, an apple. One beautiful red delicious apple. “Hey, Adam,” Eve shouted across the Garden, “There is an apple on the table. The snake who sits next to me in home ec told me about it.” Adam was all excited about the prospect of not having to kill his own dinner that night, and he had eaten a heavy lunch, so an apple sounded perfect. And that was the very first hefker table.

It was also the beginning of the demise of mankind, but that is another story altogether.

So there you have it. Now you know that my sons have been raised to eat things that they don’t know where they came from or who handled them before off a random table. And the answer to your next question is yes, their father is very proud of them, because free is free.

Banji Ganchrow of Teaneck is slowly getting used to not having a hefker table of snacks in her house, but it still makes her very sad to see an empty table.

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