Wednesday, July 04, 2012

// // 11 comments

Fences and Kosher Meat

by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths

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Kosher meat.  Kosher meat is meat from a kosher animal that’s been slaughtered according to Torah instructions, checked for certain problems, had forbidden parts removed, then soaked and salted. 

Kosher animal. Split hooves and chews it’s cud, meaning cow, buffalo, bison, deer, gazelle, antelope (there are a few others) – but generally today just cow.  Or kosher fowl, identified by Torah and mesorah, including chicken, duck, goose, turkey, dove / pigeon, quail, and a few others – but generally today chicken and turkey.

Slaughtered per Torah instructions.  A trained expert slaughterer performs the slaughter by a single razor sharp knife draw across the neck, causing instant death.  A single nick on the knife that can cause any tearing of flesh (and accompanying pain to the animal) renders the slaughter invalid.

Forbidden parts removed.  A few particular veins, nerves and fats are not permitted or are designated for donation to the Holy Temple (not currently in existence) only – and are therefore not permitted to be eaten.  These parts must either be carefully removed, or a whole part of the animal simply avoided (common in industrial meat processing, selling the back half to non-Jews who have no such restrictions.)

Checked for certain problems.  In regular kosher, certain organs are checked for disease or damage (the liver, the intestines, the stomach).  If perforations or disease is found, the animal is not kosher.  In glatt or mehadrin kosher, the lungs are also checked for tumors.  If none are found, the animal is rated “halak”, the highest level of kosher.  If small ones are found that can be removed and the lungs are not damaged in doing so (they remain whole and inflatable), the animal is “glatt/mehadrin kosher”.  This is considered an extra stringency, a fence around the Torah, but has become the norm among the orthodox Jewish community over the last 40 years.

Soaked and salted.  The Mishna directly describes the procedure for washing, soaking and salting the meat (for removal of blood, a forbidden food).  The Gemora, Shulchan Aruch and Rema add details and timings to fully understand this procedure and it’s application. 

There are concerns with the full industrialization of the Kosher meat industry.  In past generations, the quality of the shochet, the ritual slaughterer, was the ultimate concern in the production of kosher meat.  Why?  Besides a mistake (such as improperly drawing the knife or improperly sharpening the knife) causing the loss of a chicken or a whole cow, if the shochet found a problem after slaughter (while checking the organs, for example) – then he has to inform the family or customer that his animal is not kosher and he’s up for a total loss.

Because of this, it was always critical that the shochet be Yira Shemayim, a religiously observant man with a fear of Heaven, meaning he would fear the sin of giving people non-kosher meat more than the loss of income or reputation from either stating a mistake or declaring an animal non-kosher after slaughter. 

Today in industrial kosher meat production it’s not the shochet who checks.  In assembly line fashion, one shochet prepares knives, one slaughters, one checks knives, one checks the outside of the animal (some cows are given surgeries to improve their health – that may render them non-kosher), one checks inside organs, one checks lungs.  It is these shochet-bodkim, the ritual slaughterers that check for problems, who declare an animal non-kosher and must be Yira Shemayim.

Today there are various rumors of problems in the kosher meat industry.  Word from experts doing the jobs is that most of these problems involve volume and corresponding pressure (to declare animals kosher).  Production lines may run as fast as 50 – 100 cows per hour.  When the lines are set up well, the workers are doing all the prep work, and multiple checkers have properly divided the work, a line can move up to 70 cows per hourly and still maintain glatt kosher standards. 

If a line is moving faster than this and/or all the other factors aren’t aligned perfectly… then there is no way all the checks are being performed thoroughly.

The difference is between the glatt or mehadrin checks, which require extra thoroughness and extra time, and the regular kosher checks – which are more straightforward (though still require proper attention). 

This means in cases where the rumors are true, in a reasonable percentage of the cows a consumer may end up with kosher instead of glatt kosher meat – according to the strictest halachic (Jewish law) definition.

The good news is, that’s what fences around the Torah are all about.  That’s exactly why we apply extra stringencies such as glatt kosher – so when things don’t work out as well as they should…we’re still kosher! 

The bad news is we expect better of our kosher meat producers.  We expect when buying glatt kosher that we’re getting full glatt kosher standards, according to the strict definition (that’s what glatt kosher is all about) every single time.

Is this a real problem?  My experts, some of the most experienced glatt kosher ritual slaughterers in the world, say absolutely yes.  And it’s not some “weak” companies or brands or “weak” hashgachot (supervising agencies).  But it’s not a problem, G-d forbid, of people being served non-kosher.  By the standards of a few generations ago, our kosher products are of a good level and rarely face real questions of kosher versus treif (not kosher).  Rather it’s kosher according to the strictest definition versus kosher according to a general or permissive definition.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stay vigilant and demand better.  The only way to keep the standards high and keep the pressure on for 100% compliance is to make sure the kosher providers know we expect it. 

Be an informed customer.  Ask your rav and ask the supervising agencies, are they supervising the volume and pressure on the shochetim (the ritual slaughterers) and the bodkim (the checkers)?  Don’t be afraid to make some calls to make sure your kosher meat is the level you expect and are paying for.  But also don’t freak out about some people with extreme opinions running around saying “it’s all treif, burn your pots!”

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Who paid you to write this stuff???
The truth is, most meat is actually Treif and there is no fear of heaven by the owners of the Slaughterhouses. It is big business as usual, more production equals more profits. There is little or no concern for halacha when such huge amounts of money are involved. That is besides all the meat that comes from the Arab slaughterhouses...
There is so much incorrect and inaccurate information in this article.
Instead of speaking the truth, you are encouraging poor uninformed Jews to eat treif. Woe to you and the judgement you will have to face on the Day of Judgement!

Shiloh said...

glatt = $$$$$$$$. That's what it's all about. Why do we need more then what the Torah describes to us of what to eat? Just think in a world when we followed actually what was told to us, what would result, first we would stop transgressing the Torah from adding to it, secondly we could go into any Jews home and happily accept food from them and NOT offend them because they don't keep the manmade extra stringincies, third, the prices would go down quite quickly (by not having to forward the costs to the consumers for the ponzi scheme and guaranteed employment when you make up fake rules claiming it's from God), fourth, the quality would improve as not salting the meat.

So when we follow the Torah of Moshe, we end up with a much better world, but do we want that, no, we want to replace God with that of men. You wonder why we have troubles now people????

josh said...

Shiloh, yes, glatt = $$$$ But if you read the article, you'd know because not all cows are glatt, and there are more people involved in the process. Granted that the badatzes get a lot of dough (who do you think is going on all the glatt kosher package trips overseas) but really, do you really want an assembly line sochet to be unhappy about his work? He'll stop caring about doing the job properly.

Reb Akiva, this a great post (as have been the previous articles on the subject). It's one of the reasons that mpaths is one of the last blogs I still bother to visit. Yashir koach.

Anonymous said...

You are a true coward for not posting my comment yesterday.
You are misleading people about kashrut. Your article is full of halachik fiction.
You should have pity on your soul.

mg said...

Reb Akiva,

Just curious. Did you write this post as a response to the following article from the blog, "Hazak Weematz"?
from.http://hazakweematz.blogspot.com/2012/07/memories-of-shochet-horror-stories-from.html

Akiva said...

Angry Anonymous - I guess you're a vegetarian then, or shecht your own? Regardless, if you have other DATA, facts and/or experts, I'd be glad to examine it and share it. Otherwise, enough with your hysteria.

As far as "halachik fiction", please dear brother - correct me. What exactly did I misrepresent in halacha in my article?

As far as publishing your comment, apparently Blogger comments automatically decided YOU ARE SPAM. Unfortunately they have a flaw that sends me an alert a comment arrived without telling me if it was marked spam or not, so I didn't notice. However, given your tone the classification has a point.

Akiva said...

mg - Yes, that was the inspiration for this article. I know the author of that blog, his rav and his positions. I also know the Rebbe he refers to in that article, and have spoken to him about his experience (which was exposing a disreputable glatt kosher meat producer in NY, and having his life threatened over doing so).

But I'm anti-hysteria. There are problems, there is a lot of money involved and as Angry Anonymous says, the slaughterhouse businessmen are doing business, not working for yiras shamayim. That's exactly why the shochtim-bodkim and supervising agencies have to stand strong.

This article addresses the industrial aspects and problems that occur there. It does not discuss incidents of disreputable distributors or disreputable stores - which do also happen but are NOT systemic (as far as my information says).

Mervyn said...

The problem currently begins before the cattle get to be slaughtered.

Today most industrial cattle farmers feed the cattle an unnatural diet of corn to faten them up. Corn makes the cattle ill and therefore the farmers pump the cattle full on antibiotics. The farmers also use steriods to speed up the growth cycle.

Is it not time that in order for meat from cattle, chickens etc. to obtain a Hechsha, that the animals are raised in the way Hashem created them to be?

Free range organic, grass fed, no drugs and unatural diet etc.!!!!

Anonymous said...

The best comment here is from Mervyn who is giving the whole truth about the cattle. Second, was shocked to read about arab slaughterhouses & that 'kosher' meat comes from there? Third, how utterly disappointing that we live in a time where beards, peyos, etc. is all a mask if the $$$ trumps all. It is truly frightening. Fourth, and as usual, Shilo, the non-believer in Torat B'al Peh is still trying to spew his heretical views on Torah, even to mock the salting of meat. Unbelievable. Not accepting the Oral Law and just the Written Law is really not accepting Torah at all. We're in big tzoros but only because of Hashem's Mercy and Goodness will He send us Moshiach ASAP, to save us. We need t'shuvah!

Shiloh said...

Last Anon, So I promote Torah for the entire world to keep, not like the wicked Erev Rav 'jews' who have attempted to keep it to themselves, thus preventing the geulah. There is wisdom in the traditions of men and the extra judaic resources, but that by no means proves that they are from Yehovah actually it's so easy to prove they are not. I'll stick with Him if you don't mind.

Why do you hide behind the big annon label.

Y said...

It is forbidden to knowingly buy a stolen item from a thief. Then shouldn't it be forbidden when we know for a fact that the standard practices of factory farming violate the halacha on animal cruelty?

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