by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths
Reb Shevach is a shochet mumche, an expert Jewish ritual slaughterer. He is flown out from Israel around the world to participate in the kosher slaughter of large animals (usually cows but sometimes sheep). He’s a leading expert and is used by the top and strictest kosher supervising agencies in the world.
If you’ve eaten glatt kosher beef in Israel, Eastern Europe, France, Belgium, or the USA, chances are Reb Shevach’s been involved.
On his last journey back to Israel, he brought me some examples of why a cow turns out treif (not kosher). First a little background is necessary…
Kosher slaughter involves 4 main criteria. The animal must be of a kosher species (having split hooves and chewing it’s cud – meaning cow, sheep, goat, buffalo yes, pig, horse, camel, rabbit no), it must be slaughtered in a kosher way (a single very sharp knife pull that cuts the esophagus, trachea, and both jugular arteries and veins), and it must be healthy – not an ill or dying animal, and certain parts of the animal may not be eaten (certain fats and a particular nerve are forbidden and must either be removed or that area of the animal discarded).
Cows have 4 stomachs. The first stomach, the rumen, is known in the Gemora as the beis hakoses. Cows, it turns out, are indiscriminate eaters. As they eat their grass, they’ll pick up rocks or nails or other sharp objects. If they eat such an object and it pierces the rumen (the beis hakoses) – meaning the cow has a HOLE IN IT’S STOMACH, the cow is treif – not kosher. If, however, it merely does damage inside the stomach, simply getting stuck there, the cow may be kosher – depending on the amount of damage.
One intentional procedure causes the same affect. Some farmers are giving their cows feed combinations that may cause bloat, and cows apparently aren’t good at burping and can explode. A solution to this is a rumen injector or trocar puncture tool. These are tools that punch anywhere from small to fist sized holes into one of the cow’s stomachs – a procedure that automatically renders the cow not kosher.
The 2nd major area that is checked nowadays is the lungs. If the lungs have adhesions to the chest cavity – meaning the cow has minor LUNG TUMORS, the cow is kosher. If the cow has MAJOR LUNG TUMORS that pierce the lung tissue, the cow is treif (not kosher).
And one of the worst cases, if the cow has eaten a sharp object that pierces the stomach through the diaphragm into the lungs, this cow is complete treif (not kosher).
To give a little perspective, Reb Shevach shares some statistics… on average
- 9% of cows slaughtered are “glatt / chalak”, kosher according to the highest standards with NO tumors or injuries of any kind.
- the next 18% of cows slaughter are “glatt / mehadrin”, kosher according to the highest standards but some minor tumors or injuries that are judged non-life threatening are found.
- the next 20% of cows slaughtered are “kosher”, major lung tumors are found but the digestive system has no life threatening injuries.
- approximately 50% of cows slaughtered are not kosher, meaning stomach injuries are found or stomach procedures have been performed (causing the same impact).
Let’s take a look at some examples (WARNING, GRAPHIC PICTURES OF COW ORGANS BELOW – do not view if you are overly squeamish).
These two pictures shows the beis hakoses – the rumen, pierced by a large staple or piece of barbed wire (two different cows). These cows were NOT KOSHER.
This is how the outside of the stomach should look, smooth and muscular.
This is a stomach that has been pierced, is infected and scarred. Reb Shevach felt this scaring against the diaphragm when checking the lungs. While some argue that checking the lungs is an extra stringency (it is), these STOMACH problems are found by checking the base of the lung cavity.
What caused that result? Let’s look… in this case we don’t see a nail or sharp object embedded, but we do see the result – a hole and wound.
Now here’s a cow in serious trouble. She’s got a 10 penny nail and a quarter inch bolt in her stomach! NOT KOSHER.
What happens to the poor cow? Swelling, infection, internal scaring…and not-kosher status.
Sometimes while the swelling and impact is obvious, the actually hole or object can be hard to find. If it’s not found, the cow can be declared kosher. But an expert like Reb Shevach knows that if the swelling is there, the damage will be found if one looks carefully…
Here’s another example. Reb Shevach had declared this cow not kosher for another hole, but when showing this to me he found one even he missed before. The first picture is the reason the cow was declared treif, the second picture is the hole even he missed the first time around…
Our last 4 pictures are book pictures. They show the rumen injector, a treatment for farmers to use when low quality or high corn content feed creates dangerous cow bloating. The solution, punch a hole in your cow’s stomach. It may work, but it means the cow is NOT KOSHER, and is something the shochet must check for.
Now you know why your kosher steak is more expensive… 50% of cows aren’t kosher, and 70% or more are not glatt kosher.
So while we don’t “eat kosher” or “glatt kosher” because we’re avoiding eating tumor ridden cows, think of it as a nice bonus.
A few extra statistical tidbits from Reb Shevach, who examines the organs of hundreds of cattle per week…
U.S. corn fed cattle are much larger and have a much higher rate of lung tumors than other locations.
Eastern European cattle (which are providing most of the kosher meat to Western Europe) have the highest percentage of foreign objects in the stomach, rendering them completely not kosher at a much higher rate than elsewhere.
South American cattle are older and smaller (and grass grazed) but have less problems than anywhere else, with less lung tumors and rarely foreign objects in the stomach.