Sunday, February 11, 2007

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Shechita

by Akiva at Mystical Paths

(This was a shared post from a week ago with A Simple Jew, other topics of last week delayed it here till now. Hopefully you didn't read it there. :-)

A Simple Jew asked:

When we are dealing with shechita, we are concerned primarily with the fact that the shochet has knowledge of the myriads of halachos of shechita, and that he is a person of exceptional Yiras Shamayim. While I can understand that a chassid who is sensitive to these considerations would only want to eat meat shechted by another chassid, I don't understand how a chassid can only limited himself to eat meat shechted by a chassid from his own group ( i.e. a Lubavitcher only eating Rubaskin meat) when there is always the possibility of meat from another group being on a higher level.

Take this hypothetical, lets say that one determined that a certain slaughter house employed a shochet who was a chassid and whose knowledge of halacha and Yiras Shamayim was on a higher level than that of the Chabad shochet. Would you seek to eat the meat from this shochet, or would you continue to eat only Rubashkin meat since this is the community standard?

I answered:

Wow, what an interesting cultural question. To understand the answer, and (assuming you buy the answer) whether such an approach makes sense today, we have to look back a bit, as well as understand some practical details.

What''s a shochet? A ritual slaughter is the only answer. He's trained to religiously slaughter kosher animals, in the proper way, and is skilled in maintaining and validating the condition of his equipment per religious requirements. That's all. Most people trained with these skills made their living this way.

So, in da olden days, you'd go to the market, pick a chicken (or duck or goose) or two, take them over to the shochet, who'd do his thing and get paid for it. If there was a problem with the cut itself, or something in the appearance of the animal, the shochet would send you to the rav to rule on it's kosher status. When _you_ kashered the meat, if you saw certain internal problems, _you_ would go to the rav to rule on it's kosher status.

So why is it important the shochet be Yirat Shamayim, G-d fearing? Because he's paid to do his job, yet has to stand up and say "I did it wrong, lets go to the rav and see if your meat is now not permitted." His fear of heaven has to overcome his need for that income and potential damage to his reputation. In the case of a chicken, there's some risk. In the case of a cow, the money involved is substantially higher.

Now the Baal Shem Tov came along and he did something unusual regarding shechita. He declared that halacha requires the latest knife technology, and therefore sharpening was no longer enough. Honing was also required. (One makes the knife cut better, the other takes off minute jagged edges, making the knife cut smoother and not tear - more here at Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharpening). So now the shochtim of the chassidim were actually maintaining their knives differently. Many towns only had one shochet, in larger cities each community would have one. So using the shochet that held to your standard was critical both to meet the standard, and to maintain the shochet himself!

So I had to use my shochet to maintain my community standard and support the shochet's parnosa to keep that standard around. Fast forward 300 years and things are completely different.

Nowadays, in the meat factory setting, someone shechts the animal, someone else checks the knife (for chickens, the shochet slaughters 10 animals, then the knife goes with the batch for checking, and he picks up another knife from the stack), someone else checks the animals, someone else rules on any questions, and someone else is responsible for packing/tracking/guarantee of no change. The shochet must be trained to do his job properly, smoothly and well, with maximum care to the animal and the cut. This requires training but is not hard. The knife checker's job is more serious, if he calls a knife bad, 10 animals are declared non-kosher, the knifes must be very carefully checked (but fast fast, it's a business). Same for the animal checker, checking the animal's health against halachic standards, is harder as the meat must move down the line for processing. Now the mashgiach, the halachic ruler, his job is hard. He needs to know all the details of all the above, and be ready to declare monitary loss, and do it at high speed.

Today we find very funny mismatches. For example, the Lubavitch meat plant in Iowa sells under 3 brand names. The shochets are the same (and they rotate between slaughtering and knife checking). But the animal checkers and the mashgiach, that changes depending on brand. These are the people who replaced the old role of YOU and the RABBI. They are the ones who uphold the community standard. Which standard? DEPENDS ON THE LABEL. In the Iowa plant's case, they sell under KAJ - Kahal Adas Yeshurun, which is Litvish, Weissmandl/Nitra, and Crown Heights Beis Din, which is Lubavitch Chassidic. (The 3 brands are Aaron's Best, Supreme Kosher, and Shor HaBor.)

So, for example, the question today would not be "Would you seek to eat the meat from this shochet, or would you continue to eat only Rubashkin meat", it is "do you eat meat from the Chabad shochet and Chabad meat company with a Litvish mashgiach?" (if eating Aharons Best) Conversely, I had a neighbor who was a Chabad shochet who slaughtered literally all the cattle for Best Kosher (which is not glatt or mehadrin). HE wouldn't eat the meat he slaughtered, exactly because the checking and processing standards were below the level he held.

So, to personally answer your question, I would eat from any G-d fearing shochet who was backed by checking, a mashgiach, and company standards that meet my community standards. And in many ways, it's now the standard of the mashgiach and the company that have the most impact.

Posted at Mystical Paths. Read it elsewhere? Stop by the source.

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