Chalav Yisrael and Powdered Milk

When Yaakov’s family reached Egypt, they were now going to live in a country which raised large quantities of camels, horses, and donkeys, all of them non-kosher mammals that can be commercially milked. Since we know that the avos kept the entire Torah before it was given at Har Sinai, they now had to be concerned about the possibility that non-kosher milk might get mixed into the milk from their goats and sheep. Thus, although the halacha of chalav Yisrael was not created by Chazal until later, the concept must have already existed in this week’s parsha.

Question:

Dr. Levy asks me the following: “Friends of ours keep chalav Yisrael, but they will use foods made with non-chalav Yisrael powdered milk. But I know from my professional research that one can purchase powdered mare’s (female horses) and camel’s milk – they are specialty products that command a very high premium. So why is there any difference between using non-chalav Yisrael powdered milk, and non-chalav Yisrael fluid milk?”

The Mishnah (Avodah Zarah 35b, 39b) proscribes consuming milk that a gentile milked, a prohibition called chalav akum, unless a Jew supervised the process. Chalav akum was prohibited because of concern that the milk may have been adulterated with milk of a non-kosher species. As I wrote about extensively in a different article, there are three major approaches to define exactly when the prohibition applies.

The most lenient approach is that of the Pri Chadash (Yoreh Deah 115:15), who understands that one only needs to be concerned about chalav akum when the non-kosher milk is less expensive than the kosher variety, or it is difficult to sell. However, when kosher milk is less expensive, he contends that one does not need to be concerned that the gentile would add more expensive specialty non-kosher milk into regular kosher milk.

On the other extreme is the position of the Chasam Sofer, who maintained that the prohibition has a halachic status of davar shebeminyan, a rabbinic injunction that remains binding even when the reason why the takanah was introduced no longer applies and that the takanah remains in effect until a larger and more authoritative body declares the original sanction invalid (see Beitzah 5a). Since a more authoritative beis din never rescinded the prohibition on unsupervised gentile milk, consuming this milk involves a serious violation. The Chasam Sofer furthermore contends that consuming unsupervised milk violates a Torah prohibition of nedarim since the Jewish people accepted this ruling. All this is true, he contends, even when there is no incentive for the non-Jew to adulterate the product.

And there is an approach in between these two positions, that of Rav Moshe Feinstein and the Chazon Ish (Yoreh Deah 41:4) who contend that, in a place where non-kosher milk commands a higher price than kosher milk, it is still prohibited to use unsupervised milk. However, Rav Moshe understands that the takanah did not specifically require that a Jew attend the milking, but that one is completely certain that the milk has no admixture of non-kosher. However, when one is certain that the kosher milk is unadulterated, halacha considers the milk to be “supervised” and therefore kosher (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:47).

How can one be certain? The Mishnah recommended the most obvious way: have a Jew nearby who may enter at any moment. Of course, we realize that even this method is not foolproof, but it is as thorough as halacha requires.

Is there another way that one can be certain? Allow me to use my own example to explain Rav Moshe’s approach. Dr. Levy runs laboratory tests on some unsupervised milk and concludes with absolute certainty that in front of him is 100% sheep’s milk. However, no Jew supervised the milking. Is the milk kosher?

According to Rav Moshe’s explanation of the topic, this milk is certainly kosher since we can ascertain its source based on laboratory analysis.

In his earliest published teshuvah on the subject, Rav Moshe explained that when the government issues fines for adulteration of cow’s milk, the fear of this fine is sufficient proof that the milk is kosher. In later teshuvos, he is very clear that other reasons why we can assume that the milk is kosher are sufficient proof, including that normal commercial enterprises assume that standard milk is bovine milk (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:48, 49).

Being Stringent

Although Rav Moshe concludes that where one can rely that the standardly available milk is kosher there is no prohibition of chalav akum, he still rules in a different teshuvah that a chinuch institution must use only chalav Yisrael products even if all the children come from homes that do not use chalav Yisrael exclusively. He contends that part of chinuch is to show children that one follows a stricter standard even when halacha does not necessarily require one.

Powdered milk

With this introduction, I would now like to discuss the question raised above: Friends of ours keep chalav Yisrael, but will use foods made from non-chalav Yisrael powdered milk. But I know from my professional work that one can purchase powdered mare’s and camel’s milk – they are considered specialty items. So why is there any difference between using non-chalav Yisrael powdered milk, and non-chalav Yisrael fluid milk?

Those who allow use of non-chalav Yisrael milk powder follow the opinion presented by Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, Rav of Yerushalayim until his passing fifty years ago, and one of the greatest poskim of his era. Rav Frank assumed that the halacha follows the Chasam Sofer who requires Jewish supervision to permit the non-Jewish milk, and did not accept the heterim of the Pri Chadash, nor that of the Igros Moshe and Chazon Ish. Nevertheless, Rav Frank permitted powdered milk from an unsupervised gentile source for a very interesting reason.

The poskim permit using cheese that is gevinas Yisrael and butter (both these topics I explained in other articles) even when these products were made from unsupervised milk. Why did they permit this? Because the milk of non-kosher species is low in casein, it does not curd, which is the first step in producing cheese. In addition, the milk of non-kosher species is also low in milkfat (also called butterfat or cream), which makes it unprofitable to make butter from non-kosher milk. (I invite those curious about this aspect to read the highly entertaining responsum of the Shu’t Melamed LeHo’il, 2:36:2, on this topic.) For these reasons, even in the days of Chazal one could assume that a gentile would not add milk of non-kosher species when he intends to produce either cheese or butter, and therefore these items were excluded from the prohibition of chalav akum.

May powdered milk be treated like cheese and butter?

Rav Frank notes that there is a significant qualitative difference between cheese and butter, on the one hand, and powdered milk, on the other, in that there is an inherent problem with making cheese and butter from non-kosher milk, whereas one can powder any milk. (This is precisely Dr. Levy’s question I mentioned above.) Thus, one could argue that the leniency that applies to cheese and butter should not apply to milk powder.

However, Rav Frank quotes the Ritva (Avodah Zarah 35b) who pointed out that technically one could make cheese even from non-kosher species, but the cheese yield from these milks is very poor, and when the milk curds, most of it becomes whey. Thus, although it is theoretically possible to make cheese or butter from non-kosher milk, the halacha does not require one to be concerned about this. Rather one may assume that a gentile would not adulterate this milk. It is indeed noteworthy that while researching milk and cheese made the world over, I discovered cheeses made from the milk of cows, sheep, goats, water buffalo, and yak, all of them kosher species. I also found places where milk from several non-kosher mammals, such as donkeys, mares, and camels, are consumed. But I did not find a single populace making cheese from the milk of non-kosher species, verifying the Ritva’s observation that it is simply not worthwhile to make cheese from the milk of non-kosher species.

Rav Frank concludes that what permits the unsupervised milk used in cheese and butter is not that it is impossible to use non-kosher milk for this process but that it is unlikely. Thus, he reasons, although one could powder non-kosher milk, the prohibition of chalav akum was limited to fluid milk and other products available in the days of Chazal which could easily be made from non-kosher milk. Since powdered milk did not exist in the days of Chazal, and since we are certain that standardly available powdered milk is of bovine origin, the prohibition against chalav akum does not apply to milk powder just as it does not apply to butter and cheese.

We should note that the Chazon Ish took strong issue with Rav Frank’s position treating milk powder differently from fluid milk, the Chazon Ish contending that the lenience that applies to cheese and butter applies only because these products inherently are not made from non-kosher milk, a logic that does not apply to milk powder.

Thus, Dr. Levy’s friends who keep chalav Yisrael but use foods made with non-chalav Yisrael powdered milk follow the conclusion of Rav Pesach Frank, whereas those who are strict regarding milk powder follow the Chazon Ish’s approach. In Eretz Yisrael this has become one of the major defining factors for the difference between what is called mehadrin (stricter) kashrus standard, and regular non-mehadrin hechsherim. The regular hechsherim allow use of non-chalav Yisrael milk powder (at this point, always imported from the United States) whereas the mehadrin hechsherim use only pure chalav Yisrael products. The non-chalav Yisrael milk powder is usually noted on the label with the statement, in Hebrew א. חלב נכרי, which stands for avak chalav nachri, or gentile milk powder. (By the way, no Eretz Yisrael hechsher allows use of regular unsupervised fluid milk as kosher; all hechsherim, both mehadrin and non-mehadrin, have accepted the position of the Chasam Sofer.)

Now that we are all a bit more educated about the topic, we might want to read up on the topics of chalav Yisrael butter and cheese.

What Will the Neighbors Think? – Understanding the Halachos of Maris Ayin

When Yehudah’s friend the Adulami was unable to locate Tamar, Yehudah reacts: “What can I do? This will lead to an embarrassing situation.”

This sounds like a good week (parshas Va’Yeshev) to study the halachos of maris ayin.

Question # 1:  My boss asked me to attend a lunch meeting with a new client in a non-kosher restaurant. May I attend the meeting, or do I violate maris ayin if I am seen in a treif restaurant? If it is permissible to attend the meeting, may I order a cup of coffee or a fruit plate?

Question # 2: When I serve coffee after a fleishig meal, I like to put non-dairy creamer on the table in a small pitcher because the original container is unsightly. Recently, someone told me that I may not place the creamer on the fleishig table unless it is in its original container. Is this true?

Question # 3: Hyman Goldman would like to retire and sell his business, Hymie Goldman’s Bakery, to a non-Jew who will keep it open on Shabbos. Must he require the gentile to change the shop’s name?

Question #4: My not-yet-observant cousin is making a bar mitzvah in a Reform temple. We have a good relationship, and he is very curious about exploring authentic Judaism. May I attend the bar mitzvah?

Answer: Most of us are familiar with the prohibition of maris ayin, avoiding doing something that may raise suspicion that one violated halacha. However, most of us are uncertain when this rule applies, and when it does not.

Here are some examples of maris ayin mentioned by the Mishnah and Gemara:

A. One may not hang out wet clothes on Shabbos because neighbors might think that he washed them on Shabbos.[1] This is true even when all the neighbors realize that he is a meticulously observant individual.

B. Officials who entered the Beis HaMikdash treasury did so barefoot and wearing garments that contained no hemmed parts or wide sleeves, and certainly no pockets or cuffs, so that it would be impossible for them to hide any coins.[2] The Mishnah states that this practice is derived from the pasuk vihiyisem nekiyim meiHashem umiyisroel,[3] — Do things in a way that is as obviously clean in the eyes of people as it is viewed by Hashem. Rav Moshe Feinstein contends that some types of maris ayin are prohibited min haTorah![4]

C. Tzedakah collectors should get other people to convert their currency for them and not convert it themselves, because people might think that they gave themselves a more favorable exchange rate.[5]

A Curious Contradiction

The concept of it being a mitzvah to avoid a situation of maris ayin is a fascinating curiosity, because it contradicts another important Torah mitzvah – to judge people favorably. This mitzvah requires us to judge a Torah Jew favorably when we see him act in a questionable way.[6] If everyone were to judge others favorably at all times, there would never be a reason for the law of maris ayin. Yet we see that the Torah is concerned that someone might judge a person unfavorably and suspect him of violating a mitzvah.

Indeed, a person’s actions must be above suspicion; at the same time, people observing him act in a suspicious way are required to judge him favorably.

Entering a Treif Restaurant

May I enter a non-kosher restaurant to use the bathroom, to eat a permitted item, or to attend a professional meeting?

A prominent rav once gleaned insight on this shaylah from early poskim, who discussed the kashrus issues of Jewish travelers. In the sixteenth century, there was a dispute between the Rama and the Maharshal whether a Jewish traveler may eat herring and pickles prepared and served in non-kosher inns.[7] The Rama ruled that, under the circumstances, a traveler could eat these items on the inn’s non-kosher plates, whereas the Maharshal prohibited using the inn’s plates. However, neither sage prohibited either eating or entering the inn because of maris ayin; from this, the rav inferred that entering a non-kosher eating establishment does not violate maris ayin.

However, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that entering a non-kosher eatery is a violation of maris ayin.[8] Why does he not compare this law to the inn of the earlier poskim?

The answer is that in the sixteenth century, the inn functioned as a place of shelter and lodging, not only as a place providing food. Therefore, someone seeing you enter the inn would have assumed that you were looking for a place to sleep, and that you had no intention of eating non-kosher food there. Thus, the sixteenth-century inn is comparable to a twenty-first century hotel that contains non-kosher restaurants. There is certainly no maris ayin prohibition to visit a hotel, since a passerby would assume that you are entering the hotel for reasons other than eating non-kosher food. However, the primary reason people enter a non-kosher restaurant is to eat treif food. Therefore, Rav Moshe rules that it is prohibited to enter a treif restaurant because of maris ayin.

Likely? Or almost likely?

This leads us to a practical question. May one do something that could be interpreted in different ways, one of which involves violating the Torah and the other not? Is this activity prohibited because of maris ayin? For example, someone hanging up wet clothes on Shabbos may have just washed them, or he may have just accidentally dropped them into a basin of water or used them to mop up a spill. Yet the halacha is that this is prohibited because of maris ayin. This implies that since the most common reason for hanging out clothes is that they were recently washed, the activity is prohibited because of maris ayin.

Similarly, there are many reasons why one might enter a treif restaurant: to attend a meeting, to use the comfort facilities, or to drink a cup of water. On the other hand, the most common reason people enter a non-kosher restaurant is to eat non-kosher food. This is why Rav Moshe prohibits entering a treif restaurant.

However, Rav Moshe rules that under highly extenuating circumstances, such as when one is famished and there is nowhere else to eat, one may enter a treif restaurant. This is based on another principle of Chazal that when one suffers a great deal, one may override a rabbinic prohibition to alleviate the pain.[9] For this reason, Rav Moshe permits someone who is famished to eat kosher food in a non-kosher restaurant. Based on his ruling, one could presumably permit entering a treif restaurant to use the restroom, if it is the only one readily available.

The Company Cafeteria

Many workplaces provide a cafeteria where one can purchase (non-kosher) food or bring in one’s own food. Alternatively, some cafeterias have packaged kosher food available. In either of these situations, there is no concern for maris ayin, since people enter the cafeteria to eat kosher food also.

May I Attend a Meeting where they will serve Non-Kosher food?

Rabbonim rule differently on this issue; therefore, one should ask a shaylah of his own rav. Personally, I believe that the answer depends on how secure one is at one’s employment. If you feel that skipping the meeting might jeopardize your employment, then you may attend, since losing your job entails a great amount of suffering. However, if you feel that it will not jeopardize your employment, you may not attend.

Are there new Maris Ayin cases?

If a situation exists that could be a case of maris ayin, but is not mentioned by Chazal, is it prohibited because of maris ayin? There is actually an early dispute about this question, between the Rashba and the Pri Chodosh. A little explanation is necessary before we present this case: Chazal prohibited placing fish blood, which is perfectly kosher, in a serving bowl since someone might confuse it with animal blood.[10] Based on this Gemara, the Rashba prohibited cooking meat in human milk, even though human milk is halachically pareve.[11] Similarly, the Rama prohibits cooking meat in “almond milk” — a white, milk-like liquid made from almonds that probably looked similar to our non-dairy creamer or soy milk — because of its similar appearance to cow’s milk. One may cook meat in almond milk and serve it only if one leaves pieces of almond in the “milk” to call attention to its non-dairy origin.[12] The Pri Chadash disagrees with the Rama, contending that we should not create our own cases of maris ayin and one should prohibit only those items that were prohibited by Chazal.[13] The consensus of poskim is to prohibit these new maris ayin cases, following the position of Rashba and Rama.

Based on this ruling, some contemporary authorities contend that one should not serve pareve, non-dairy creamer after a fleishig meal, since someone might think that something milchig is being served after a fleishig meal. They permit serving the “creamer” in the original container that clearly identifies it as a pareve product, similar to serving the meat cooked with almond milk, provided there are some almonds in the “milk.”

However, other poskim contend that today no maris ayin issue exists germane to these products, since the average person knows about the ready availability of pareve creamers, cheeses, ice creams, margarines, soy and rice milk, and the like.[14]

This leads us to a new discussion —

Maybe this is no longer Maris Ayin?

If something was prohibited as maris ayin in earlier generations, does it become permitted if there is no longer a maris ayin issue? Can we prove that the prohibition against maris ayin disappears if the issue is no longer a concern? Is it correct that although, at one time, one could not cook meat in almond milk, today one may cook meat in soy milk, since pareve milk substitutes are readily available? Similarly, may one serve margarine at a fleishig meal?

We can gather proof for answering this shaylah from the following case:

One may not hire a gentile to perform work on Shabbos that a Jew may not do. However, a non-Jew may operate his own business on Shabbos, even if he rents his facility from a Jew.

The Gemara rules that a Jew may rent his field to a non-Jewish sharecropper, since the gentile is not his employee. However, a Jew may not rent his bathhouse to a gentile, since the non-Jew may operate the bathhouse on Shabbos.[15]

How is a Bathhouse different from a Field?

Why may I rent the non-Jew my field, but not my bathhouse? What is the difference between the two?

At the time of the Gemara, it was common to rent fields, and thus someone seeing a gentile work a Jewish-owned field on Shabbos would assume that the gentile rented it. He would not think that the Jew hired the gentile to work for him, which would constitute a violation of the laws of Shabbos.

However in antiquity, it was uncommon to rent out a bathhouse. The person who owned the bathhouse hired employees to operate the business for him. Therefore, someone seeing a gentile operate a Jewish-owned bathhouse on Shabbos might assume that the Jew hired gentiles to operate his bathhouse on Shabbos, which violates halacha. Because of this, Chazal prohibited renting a bathhouse to a gentile, because it would result in maris ayin when people see the gentile operating the Jew’s bathhouse on Shabbos.[16]

Shulchan Aruch[17] rules that if it is common in a certain city for people to rent out their bathhouses, one may rent one’s bathhouse to a gentile, despite the Gemara’s ruling. There is no maris ayin, since people in this city will assume that the gentile rented the bathhouse from its owner. Thus, the maris ayin prohibition of the Gemara is rescinded in places and times when the concern of suspicion no longer exists. Similarly, we can conclude that nowadays, someone seeing non-dairy creamer served at a fleishig meal will assume that it is a pareve milk substitute, and that there is no issue of maris ayin.

Question # 3: Hyman Goldman would like to retire and sell his business, Hymie Goldman’s Bakery, to a non-Jew, who will keep the business open on Shabbos. Must he require the non-Jew to change the name of the shop?

First, some background to this shaylah.

Rama permits renting a business that people do not associate with a Jewish owner to a gentile.[18] Thus, a Jew may buy the regional franchise of a non-Jewish company and rent or franchise out the individual stores to gentiles. Acharonim dispute whether he may do this even where the Jew is sometimes involved in the management of the stores.[19] Similarly, a Jew who owns a shopping mall may rent the stores to gentiles, since people assume that each business is owned individually. However, if the rent includes a percentage of sales, he might thereby be receiving sechar Shabbos, profits from work performed on Shabbos. One should ask a shaylah, since the halacha in this case depends on the specific circumstances involved.

However, although a Jew may rent his facility to a gentile tenant, it is unclear whether he may sell the business to a gentile who will keep the Jew’s name on the business and have it open on Shabbos. Even if passersby realize that there are now exclusively non-Jews staffing Hymie’s, they may think that Hyman still owns the shop and is hiring gentiles to operate the business for him. I discussed this shaylah with several different rabbonim and received different answers.

Here is another interesting maris ayin shaylah:

“I will be working in a town with very few observant people. There is an observant woman in town who lives alone, who will be away the entire time I am there. She is very willing to let me use her house while she is away. Is there a problem that people may not realize that she is away, and they might think that we are violating the prohibition of yichud – being secluded with someone of the other gender to whom one is not closely related?”

Rav Moshe Feinstein discusses this almost identical shaylah. Someone wants to sleep and eat at a widow’s house when she is out of town. Is there a concern of maris ayin, because people will think that he is staying at her house when she is home, and that they are violating the prohibition of yichud? Rav Moshe rules that it is permitted, reasoning that since there are many ways to avoid yichud, we need not assume that people will think that he is violating the halacha.[20]

This is not Maris Ayin

Rav Moshe Feinstein notes that maris ayin does not include doing something permitted that people might mistakenly think is forbidden. Maris ayin means that someone thinks I violated something – he thinks that I misappropriated someone else’s money, washed clothes on Shabbos, ate something non-kosher, etc. However, it does not include doing something permitted that people might mistakenly think is forbidden.

Thus, Rav Moshe discusses whether there is any prohibition in traveling a short distance by car on Friday evening after candle lighting time, when you will certainly not come to desecration of Shabbos. He rules that one may do this, since there is no prohibition against doing work after candle lighting time, even if ignorant people think that there is.

Question # 4: My not-yet-observant cousin is making a bar mitzvah in a Reform temple. We have a good relationship, and he is very curious about exploring authentic Judaism. May I attend the bar mitzvah?

Rav Moshe rules that one may not enter a reform temple at the time people are praying there, because someone might think one prayed there, which is prohibited according to halacha. Alternatively, someone might erroneously learn from this person’s example that it is permitted to pray with them. Someone faced with the above predicament should discuss the issue with his rav, how to develop the relationship with his cousin, without entangling himself in any halachic issues.

Conclusion:

By examining the parameters of maris ayin, we become aware of the importance of the impression that our actions make. We cannot delude ourselves into thinking that it does not matter what others think of us. Our behavior must not only be correct, but also appear correct. In general, our lives should be a model of appropriate behavior and kiddush Hashem. Let others look at us and say, “He is a frum Jew – he lives his life on a higher plane of honesty, of dignity, and of caring for others.” — As Chazal say in Pirkei Avos: “Kol she’ruach habrios nocha heimenu ruach hamakom nocha heimenu, One who is pleasing to his fellowman is pleasing to his Creator.


[1] Mishnah and Gemara Shabbos 146b

[2] Shekalim 3:2

[3] Bamidbar 32:22

[4] Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:82

[5] Bava Basra 8b; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 257:2

[6] For further information on the mitzvah of judging people favorably, see Shaarei Teshuvah of Rabbeinu Yonah, 3:218.

[7] Yam shel Shelomoh, Chullin 8:44; quoted by Taz, Yoreh Deah 91:2

[8] Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:40

[9] see Kesubos 60a

[10] Kereisos 21b

[11] Shu’t HaRashba 3:257

[12] Rama, Yoreh Deah 87:3

[13] Yoreh Deah 87:6

[14] Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 3:59

[15] Mishnah Avodah Zarah 21a

[16] Avodah Zarah 21b

[17] Orach Chayim 243:2

[18] 243:2

[19] see Mishnah Berurah 243:14

[20] Shu’t Igros Moshe, Even HaEzer 3:19

The Milky Whey — Does Chalav Yisrael Apply Today?

clip_image002_thumb.gifQuestion #1:

Shirley mentions to her friend:  “I do not understand why people are concerned about using only chalav Yisrael. Do they really think that someone is adding pig’s milk?”

Question #2:

Muttie inquires: “My friend quoted his rav that it is more important to keep chalav Yisrael today than it ever was before. How could this be?”

Chazal (Bechoros 6b) derive from this week’s parsha a rule that whatever derives from a non-kosher species, such as eggs or milk, is also non-kosher, and thus milk of mares, camels, llamas, donkeys or sows are all non-kosher. Still, people find chalav Yisrael a perplexing matter. We have all heard various authorities quoted as saying that today use of chalav Yisrael is only a chumrah, whereas others rule that consuming non-chalav Yisrael foods is a serious infraction of halacha. The mission of this article is to provide appreciation of the issues involved. So, let us start from the beginning of the topic by understanding the origins of this proscription and then explaining the different approaches as to why it does or does not apply today.

Before we even begin our halachic discussion, we need some biological and food production information. The definition of a mammal is an animal that nurses its young with mother’s milk. (The Modern Hebrew word for mammal is yoneik, literally, that which nurses, meaning that the young suckles mother’s milk.) Hashem, who provides for all His creatures, custom-developed a formula that provides the ideal nourishment for the young of each mammalian species. This supplies the perfect “food pyramid” balanced diet with all the proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals that a young growing foal, cub, kitten, puppy, kid, lamb, infant or calf needs to thrive and mature until it is ready for an adult diet, which in many species is when it is ready to earn its own living.

There are thousands of species of mammals, yet each species’ milk is somewhat unique. The young of kosher animals require a certain protein, called casein, in higher proportions than do the young of non-kosher animals, and therefore Hashem made kosher milk with a higher proportion of casein. Non-kosher milk, of course, also contains significant amount of protein necessary for a young growing mammal, but most of this protein is categorized as “whey protein.” (When I use the term “non-kosher milk” in this article I will be referring to milk from non-kosher species.) Kosher milk also contains whey protein, but in much smaller proportion to the casein in the milk.

The Origins of Chalav Yisrael

The Mishnah (Avodah Zarah 35b, 39b) proscribes consuming milk that a gentile milked, unless a Jew supervised the milking, a prohibition called chalav akum. The Gemara notes that we are not concerned that the gentile is misrepresenting non-kosher milk as kosher — milk from non-kosher species looks different from kosher milk, and this would be easily identified. Rather, the prohibition is because the milk may have been adulterated with milk of a non-kosher species. The Gemara subsequently discusses how closely must the Jew supervise the milking, concluding that when the gentile has both kosher and non-kosher animals that could be milked, the Jew may be sitting in a place where he/she cannot observe the milking, provided that should he/she stand up he would be able to observe the milking. Since the Jew can rise to his feet at any moment, we may assume that the gentile would not risk milking his non-kosher animal and losing the Jew’s business. Therefore this milk still qualifies as kosher chalav Yisrael, meaning milk that was supervised by a Jew.

On the other hand, should the gentile have only kosher species in his herd, the Gemara implies that the Jew does not need to maintain as close supervision, but it does not define exactly how much supervision is required. Although the milking still requires the attendance of a Jew, the halachic authorities dispute the reason and purpose of the Jew’s presence. This dispute is what underlies the controversy alluded to above.

The most lenient approach

The most lenient approach to the question of chalav akum is that of the Pri Chodosh (Yoreh Deah 115:15), who understands that one needs to be concerned about chalav akum only when the non-kosher milk is less expensive than the kosher variety, or when the non-kosher milk is difficult to sell. However, when kosher milk is less expensive, he contends that one does not need to be concerned that the gentile would add more expensive, specialty non-kosher milk into regular kosher milk. The Pri Chodosh reports that he was living in Amsterdam at the time that he wrote his commentary (he subsequently relocated to Eretz Yisrael), and the vast majority of the Torah community there drank the milk sold by gentiles and did not consider it to be chalav akum. He further adds that he himself relied on this approach and drank this milk. The key point of the Pri Chodosh is that there is no requirement that a Jew actually observe the milking, nor is there even a requirement that one be absolutely certain that no non-kosher milk was added. It is sufficient that there be no incentive for the gentile to add non-kosher milk to his product, and the Mishnah and Gemara that required a Jew to supervise the milking did so only when the gentile had some motivation to adulterate the milk.

The Chasam Sofer’s approach

On the other hand, the Chasam Sofer (Shu”t Yoreh Deah #107) took tremendous umbrage at people who were lenient in the use of milk from gentiles. He maintained that Chazal required that a Jew actually supervise the milking and that, furthermore, should their reason no longer apply, the rabbinic injunction remains binding until a larger and more authoritative body declares the original sanction invalid (see Gemara Beitzah 5a). Since a more authoritative beis din never rescinded the prohibition on unsupervised gentile milk, consuming this milk constitutes a serious violation. The Chasam Sofer requires that a Jew be on hand to observe (or be able to observe) the milking, and if a Jew is not there, the produced milk is completely non-kosher because of the rabbinic injunction, even when there is no incentive for the non-Jew to adulterate the product.

Risk of Snake Bite

Chazal (Bava Basra 110a; Avodah Zarah 27b) invoke the verse uporeitz geder yishachenu nachash  to mean that someone who violates a rabbinic injunction deserves to be punished by being bitten by a snake, an indication that people should be exceedingly careful not to ignore rabbinic prohibitions (see Koheles 10:8). The Chasam Sofer writes that someone who ignores the rabbinic prohibition of chalav akum and drinks milk relying on the assumption that the gentile would not add non-kosher milk should be categorized as a poreitz geder, deserving of the punishment of yishachenu nachash.

Furthermore, the Chasam Sofer contends that even if the Pri Chodosh is correct that when kosher milk is cheaper than non-kosher milk the prohibition of chalav akum does not apply, since the Jewish people rejected this ruling of the Pri Chodosh, we are prohibited from consuming dairy products that a Jew did not supervise because of the laws of nedarim, vows. Since Jews did not use chalav akum even in places where non-kosher species are not milked, it is considered that they accepted a vow to prohibit unsupervised milk. As a result, the Chasam Sofer rules that it is prohibited min HaTorah to consume unsupervised milk, with the full stringency of a vow.

One in-between position

There is an approach in between these two positions, that of Rav Moshe Feinstein and the Chazon Ish (Yoreh Deah 41:4), who contend that in a place where non-kosher milk commands a higher price than kosher milk, it is still prohibited to use non-supervised milk. However, Rav Moshe understands that the takanah did not specifically require that a Jew attend the milking, but that one is completely certain that the milk has no non-kosher admixture. However, when one is certain that the kosher milk is unadulterated, halacha considers the milk to be “supervised” (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:47).

How can one be certain? The Mishnah recommended the most obvious way: have a Jew nearby who may enter at any moment. Of course, we realize that even this method is not foolproof, but it is as thorough as halacha requires.

Is there another way that one can be certain? Allow me to use my own example to explain Rav Moshe’s approach. Someone runs laboratory tests on some unsupervised milk and concludes with absolute certainty that in front of him is 100% sheep’s milk. However, no Jew supervised the milking. Is the milk kosher?

According to Rav Moshe’s analysis, this milk is certainly kosher, since we can ascertain its source.

In his earliest published teshuvah on the subject, Rav Moshe explained that when the government fines those caught adulterating cow’s milk, the fear of this consequence is sufficient proof that the milk is kosher. In later teshuvos, he is very clear that other reasons why we can assume that the milk is kosher are sufficient proof, including that normal commercial practice is that standard milk is bovine milk (Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:48, 49). One should note that the Chazon Ish also agrees with Rav Moshe’s approach.

Being Stringent

Although Rav Moshe concludes that where one can rely that the standardly available milk is kosher there is no prohibition of chalav akum, he still rules in a different teshuvah that a chinuch institution should use only chalav Yisrael products even if all the children come from homes that do not use chalav Yisrael exclusively. He contends that part of chinuch is to show children that one follows a stricter standard, even when halacha does not necessarily require one.

Contemporary Problem

There is another major reason why some poskim who in general accept the lenient approaches regarding the prohibition of chalav akum feel that one should be stringent today. This is because of the common occurrence of a veterinary problem that affects dairy cows called displaced abomasums, which is often treated in a way that may render this cow’s milk non-kosher. I will discuss this topic a different time.

At this point, we can answer Shirley’s question, which I mentioned above: “I do not understand why some people keep chalav Yisrael today. Do they really think that someone is adding pig’s milk?”

Indeed, even in the time of the Gemara, it was probably unheard of for anyone to add pig’s milk or, for that matter, for anyone to use pig’s milk, since sows are almost impossible to milk. Although most non-kosher species do not allow themselves to be milked (have you ever tried to milk a cat?), camels, donkeys, and mares can all be milked and produce a palatable product. As a matter of fact, at times there was a large (non-kosher) market for mare’s milk, because of its reputed health benefits. (See Encyclopedia Talmudis Volume 15 column 178-179.) Contemporarily, there is extensive research at Ben Gurion University about use of some antibodies found in camel’s milk for treatment of a host of autoimmune diseases. I have been asked many questions about use of this milk, which is clearly non-kosher, but is permitted in case of a life-threatening ailment. (The shaylos that result from this last case will need to be dealt with at a different time.)

To answer Shirley’s question succinctly: although we can assume that the milk on your supermarket shelf is unadulterated cow’s milk, the Chasam Sofer still rules that Chazal prohibited consuming this milk, and this prohibition is in full effect today, even when the reason for the takanah no longer applies. In addition, other rabbonim have voiced other concerns about the kashrus of unsupervised dairy cows.

Stricter than Ever?

At this point, let us examine the second question I mentioned above: “My friend quoted his rav that it is more important to keep chalav Yisrael today than it ever was before. How could this be?”

One obvious reason for this rav’s position is that he holds, as does the Chasam Sofer, that using non-chalav Yisrael incurs a Torah prohibition of violating vows. Furthermore, he may feel that since being lenient on this issue is so rampant, one must demonstrate the importance of this mitzvah. He may also be concerned about the displaced abomasums problem, and holds that this prohibits the milk min haTorah.

In Conclusion

Notwithstanding the fact that the Chazon Ish writes the reasons why unsupervised milk is permitted, he never allowed its use; and Rav Moshe similarly advocates being strict, and himself did not rely on the heter. Similarly, it is well known that Rav Eliezer Silver traveled across North America by train taking his own chalav Yisrael milk with him as he went. (I have no idea why it did not spoil en route.) In conclusion, we allow each reader to clarify with his own rav whether his or her circumstances permit relying on using non-chalav Yisrael milk.

Observing a Colorful Lifestyle

clip_image002This week’s parsha describes how master artisans used three dyes, techeiles, argaman, and tola’as shani, in the manufacture of the Kohen Gadol’s vestments. These colors were also used to produce the curtains and coverings of the Mishkan, and the halachic conclusion is that these dyes are also used for dyeing the kohen hedyot’s belt (see Rambam, Hil. Klei HaMikdash 8:1, 11, 13, based on Yoma 6a, 12a). In addition, processing the ashes of the parah adumah (Bamidbar 19:6), purifying a metzora and decontaminating a house that became tamei all use tola’as shani (Vayikra 14:4, 49). As we will discover, correctly identifying the tola’as shani not only affects these halachos and those of the Beis HaMikdash, but also concerns a wide assortment of foods and beverages that we eat and drink.

At one point in my life, when I worked as a "rabbinic field representative" (aka  a mashgiach), I once made a surprise inspection of a company that produced juice drinks – let’s call it Generic Juices Inc. I was surprised to discover that the plant was bottling beverages containing carmine red coloring, and other drinks colored with enocianina, a coloring derived from grape skins. Neither of these products was on the lists of approved ingredients, and for good reason. Of course, this created a serious problem for the hechsher, the company, and most of all, the unsuspecting consumer.

Whether we like it or not, many of our foods are colored with a host of coloring agents; some derived from food items, such as beets, berries, sugar (caramel coloring), turmeric and annatto; whereas others are derived from inedible materials such as coal or petroleum, whose sources most consumers would prefer to ignore. Although processing colorants can compromise the kashrus of the finished product, few food colors are themselves obtained from non-kosher materials. However, two common food pigments originate from non-kosher substances: One is carmine red, also called cochineal, which is a very common color used to color fruits, yogurts, juice drinks, maraschino cherries etc., and the other is enocianina, colloquially often called simply eno, a red or purple color similarly commonly used in beverages, fruit fillings and confections. The origin of carmine is from a scale insect — I discussed the kashrus ramifications in an article that I sent out on Parshas Va’eira Suffice it to say that almost all kashrus organizations treat carmine color as non-kosher.

ENO – A GRAPE SKIN EXTRACT

After the juice has been squeezed out of the grapes, the remaining skin pulp is processed into a commercial coloring agent called enocianina. Although one could produce kosher eno from kosher-processed grape skins, grape skin color available today is almost always produced after the grapes have become non-kosher and thus we usually assume that eno is not kosher. However, the prohibition here is only the rabbinic prohibition of stam yeinam, grape juice and wine product handled by a gentile.

GENERIC JUICE DRINKS

Unfortunately, Generic Juices had already produced and shipped tons of product using either carmine or eno – and all of it bearing the kosher certification symbol on the label! Is the kashrus agency halachically required to insist on a recall of the product from the supermarket shelves?

RECALL

Companies hate having their products recalled, both for technical reasons, the major expense involved, and because it is a public relations nightmare. The policy of this particular hechsher was not to require the company to recall the product unless the product could not be used even after the fact, bedei’evid. However, if the product would be kosher be’dei’evid because of bitul, the hechsher would not require that the product be recalled. It was now the responsibility of the hechsher’s poskim to decide whether the product is prohibited or permitted after the fact.

Why should the finished product be kosher if the colorant added was not?

The basis for this question follows:

Coloring agents are used in very minute amounts. Indeed, when the Spaniards discovered carmine red, they sold the concentrated powdered pigment at a higher price per ounce than gold! Thus, the amount of coloring used to color a juice drink or maraschino cherry is significantly less than the amount that we usually say is bateil (nullified) in a finished product. Although one may never add treif product to a food and rely that it will become bateil, if non-kosher product was inadvertently added in minute quantities the finished product is usually permitted.

The primary criterion to determine whether the treif food is bateil is:

Can the non-kosher product be tasted, either because of its quantity or because it is a flavoring agent?

This test is passed with flying colors! None of these colors can be tasted in the finished product.

However, there is another criterion:

Is the treif product noticeable?

If one can see a treif ingredient floating inside a food, one may not consume the food without first removing the non-kosher item.

COLORS ARE NOTICEABLE

The boldness of a color announces its existence. Can we say that a color is bateil when we clearly see evidence of its existence?

Several great halachic authorities discuss this question, reaching widely different conclusions. Some prohibit consumption of the resultant product precisely because one can notice its existence (Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 100:1; Minchas Kohen, Sefer HaTaaroves 3:3, quoted by Darkei Teshuvah 102:30). They contend that bitul can only happen when the offending item leaves no trace. A colorant is by definition very noticeable and therefore not bateil. According to this approach, all of the juice drinks mentioned must be recalled since the non-kosher ingredient is very noticeable.

On the other hand, the Vilna Gaon argues that determining whether the food is kosher depends on whether one can taste the treif ingredient (Yoreh Deah 102:6). In our instance, although the color is noticeable, no one tastes the colorant, and therefore the finished product is permitted, assuming that the admixture was made in error. An earlier authority, the Minchas Yaakov (74:5), also espouses this position.

A COMPROMISE POSITION – IN WHOLE CLOTH

Some authorities concluded a position between these two positions, comparing our question to a Gemara that discusses whether someone who stole dye and cloth and now returns the dyed fabric fulfills his mitzvah of returning what he stole. The Gemara rules that this depends on whether the dye is considered to still exist after it has been used because its color is still noticeable (Bava Kamma 101a). Is the color on the cloth treated as if the dye itself still exists, or did the dye become bateil and no longer exists?

The particular issue in that Gemara remains unresolved, and therefore halachically is considered an unresolved doubt, a safek (Shu”t HaRan #70). Based on this discussion, several prominent authorities contend that a colorant that may involve a Torah prohibition is prohibited, because of the principle of safek de’oraysa lechumra, we rule stringently in a question involving an unresolved Torah issue; whereas one that involves only a rabbinic prohibition is permitted because of safek derabbanan lekula, we are lenient regarding an unresolved question involving only a rabbinic prohibition (Pri Chodosh, Yoreh Deah 102:5; Chasam Sofer, quoted by Darkei Teshuvah 102:30).

CONCLUSION

By this time, I presume most readers want to know what the hechsher did. The deciding posek ruled like the last position mentioned, and contended that the carmine coloring might be prohibited min haTorah and therefore the company must recall the beverages containing carmine. Since the grape skin extract only involves a rabbinic prohibition, he did not require the company to recall this product, contending that according to most authorities this product may be drunk since the eno is nullified in the final mix.

We should always pray that the food we eat fulfills all the halachos that the Torah commands without resorting to any controversial shaylos.

Can the Hechsher HACK It? What Is behind the Kosher Symbol?

clip_image002Question #1:

“My rav discreetly told me to avoid using a particular hechsher which I see is very popular. I am curious why this should be so. I know that there are negligent hechsherim out there, but don’t all reliable hechsherim follow the same Shulchan Aruch?”

 Question #2:

“Some of my friends use specific hechsherim, and do not use others. Is there something halachic behind these distinctions, or is this simply politics?”

 Answer:

“And Yaakov was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man realized that he was unable to defeat Yaakov, he struck the “kaf” of Yaakov’s thigh, which became dislocated as a result of the wrestling. And the sun rose as Yaakov passed Penuel and he was limping because of his injured thigh. Therefore, the descendents of Yisroel do not eat the sciatic sinew to this very day, for the man struck Yaakov on that sinew, dislocating it” (Breishis 32:25-26, 32-33).

 With these words, the Torah introduces us to the first kashrus mitzvah. Ever since, availability of kosher food has remained an ongoing concern. Nevertheless, modern life has changed who is responsible for overseeing and controlling the “kosher food chain.” Whereas in earlier generations, governance of the local kosher standard was the province of the town’s rav, modern production and distribution has placed much control hundreds or even thousands of miles away. Yes, it is true that the local rav or vaad hakashrus may still decide the standards maintained by the caterers, restaurants, and local bakeries who accept its authority, but even here, the local rabbinate is dependent on others for the halachic quality of the raw materials. Often local hechsherim do not have the ability, budget, or resources to perform their own independent review of the sources and instead rely on the organization overseeing the production.

 In addition, contemporary food manufacture has created new areas of responsibility for the local rabbinate. The old-time rav was chosen because of his Torah knowledge, his yiras shamayim (fear of G-d), and his common sense. These factors allowed the rav to successfully oversee the kashrus of the community. Today’s complex world of food production, however, requires additional skills and knowledge, including familiarity with modern manufacture, to ensure proper kashrus.

Although most consumers are very curious why some hechsherim are used and others are not, nevertheless, the average kosher shopper is almost clueless why a particular product is deemed usable or not. Most people make their day-to-day food shopping decisions on a sociological basis – they purchase items based on whether the kashrus of the particular product or hechsher is trusted by “their crowd.” The kosher customer is eager for more information.

The goal of this article is to appreciate the incredible work that hechsherim assume to provide us with kosher food. At the same time, we will analyze why different rabbonim have different standards even though all are following their understanding of the halacha. This will make us better educated consumers, which is always an advantage.

WHAT MAKES A HECHSHER?

In addition to the absolute requirement that everyone involved in reliable kashrus must be G-d fearing, we can categorize the dynamics involved in maintaining proper kashrus under three main headings:

I. Halachic Knowledge

Every person in the chain of a good hechsher must have adequate knowledge of halacha to fulfill his responsibility so that the hechsher can maintain quality kashrus standards.

II. Awareness of Modern Manufacturing

Kashrus in the contemporary world requires extensive knowledge of modern manufacturing procedures and the processing of raw materials.

III. Control of the Product

The hechsher must establish proper methods of control so that the desired standards indeed exist.

When the hechsher can successfully HACk these requirements, the product is reliably Kosher.

Let me explain briefly what these three categories entail.

 

I. HALACHIC KNOWLEDGE AND STANDARDS

The kashrus control department of a supervisory organization can be divided into three units:

(1) Deciders — Those in charge of making the decisions. Their responsibility includes all halachic decision making.

(2) Administrators — Those with the administrative responsibility to oversee the actual day-to-day running of the operation.

(3) Field Personnel — The field personnel, sometimes called mashgichim, who serve as the eyes and ears of the organization in order to maintain its kashrus standard.

A proper hechsher must staff each of these three units with personnel who have the halachic and practical knowledge necessary to adequately fulfill their roles. There must be a talmid chacham or talmidei chachamim available to paskin any shaylos that occur, scholarly and well-trained yirei shamayim administrators who understand what is involved in the factories from both a halachic and a technical vantage point, and well- trained erlich field personnel who oversee and check the actual facilities.

 

II. AWARENESS

Assuming responsibility for kashrus in the contemporary world requires not only extensive halachic knowledge, but also expertise in modern manufacturing and raw materials, much of it specialized information. For example, granting certificates that flavors are kosher requires a tremendous amount of technical, chemical and manufacturing background. Providing a hechsher for cholov yisroel products necessitates significant acquaintance with the details of factory operation and equipment. Checking a factory entails not only familiarity with all ingredients and understanding how the equipment works, but also what other products may be heated in the entire facility. Similarly, someone supervising a modern abattoir must be aware of how the equipment may affect the ability to perform proper shechitah and whether the equipment or the processing may conceal the possibility that the animal is treifah.

 

III. CONTROL

In addition to comprehending all of the above, proper kashrus means that a hechsher has proper means to guarantee that the desired standards indeed exist. Some of the items included under this broad heading are:

A. Does the hechsher have a system to ascertain that each facility it oversees is appropriately supervised? Does the visit guarantee that the kashrus standard is being kept by the company?

B. How often do field personnel visit a facility?

C. Are the field personnel properly trained and supervised? Is it possible that the factory will know of upcoming visits in advance and conceal evidence?

D. How does the hechsher guarantee that its symbol is not used on products that it does not supervise? Among many other things, this requires that the kashrus agency monitors the labels that use its emblem and keeps guard against unauthorized use.

APPRECIATE THE HECHSHER

We can now appreciate the extensive job that responsible hechsherim perform to guarantee reliably kosher products. Inadequate supervisory agencies lack these factors.

With this background, we can now explore the first question above:

“My rav told me to avoid using a particular hechsher although other people I know use it, and I am curious what might be wrong.”

The rav who told you to avoid a certain hechsher may interpret the requirements of kashrus supervision differently from the way the hechsher does. Here are some specific reasons why your rav may recommend avoiding a particular hechsher or product:

(1) He may disagree with the kashrus standard that the rabbonim of the hechsher feel is adequate.

There are hundreds of examples that I can provide of disputes concerning kashrus standards. Here are some examples:

(a) The authorities of the last generation disputed to what extent one needs to supervise fish after the removal of its skin, most contending that any fish product left unsealed outside the control of a Torah observant Jew is regarded non-kosher. According to this standard, kosher whitefish salad requires an observant Jew to be present from the skinning of the fish until the sealing of the container. On the other hand, some supervisory agencies accept a more lenient approach that permits use of the fish with only occasional spot inspection of such a facility. Thus, although an otherwise recognized hechsher approves this product, your rav may tell you not to use it.

(b) Most large hechsherim in North America certify dairy products that are not cholov yisrael, relying on the psak of Rav Moshe Feinstein, the Pri Chodosh and others who permitted them. However, your rav may not accept this psak, or he may feel that you should be stringent about this practice.

(c) Your rav may not be comfortable with the approach used by the certifying agency to guarantee that the product has no problems of insect contamination, called tola’im.

(2) Your rav may feel that the method of control used by the particular hechsher is not as adequate as it should be. How often should one send a mashgiach to spot-check that a factory is maintaining the required standard? Obviously, this depends on the product and what else is manufactured at the facility. However, there is a wide discrepancy of standards concerning what is considered adequate supervision of a facility, and the hechsher may feel that their frequency of inspection is sufficient whereas your rav may feel that it is not.

Here is an example of such a circumstance: In the past, I was once responsible for the supervision of a variety of local businesses including a large bread and rolls bakery. I personally made sure that someone representing the hechsher could enter the bakery at any time of the day or night so that the owners and employees had no idea when we might make the next spot inspection. I also had access to the bakery’s computerized inventory so that we knew exactly what the bakery had in stock. Although these should be standard practices in all kashrus facilities, they are not, and your rav may feel that one should not eat from any factory where this approach is not followed. He may feel that a system must be in place whereby all raw materials are approved by a mashgiach before they are used, a practice followed in very few facilities.

INADEQUATE CERTIFICATIONS

Until now, I have been discussing situations in which there is dispute among different kashrus agencies, all of which assume fidelity to halacha and supervision. Unfortunately, I have often come across completely reckless “supervision agencies” which assume little responsibility to guarantee that the consumer is indeed eating kosher. Some of these situations would be humorous were they not so tragic.

Here are a few anecdotes, all drawn from my firsthand experience. Once, when checking a meat supplier, I visited a particular abattoir as a guest of the supervising rabbi. As we entered, the shocheit offered the supervising rabbi the opportunity to examine his knife, which is halachically correct etiquette. However, I noticed that the rabbi did not know how to check the knife properly, although he pretended that he did. Obviously, it was beyond his competence to give hechsherim on shechitah.

KOSHER ELASTICITY?

On another occasion, I visited a wine factory, whose kashrus reputation was far from pristine, to see whether one mashgiach could possibly maintain proper kashrus controls of the sprawling, three-story, city-block-sized plant. Indeed he could not, and I discovered many kashrus concerns. Shortly thereafter, I met the certifying rabbi who asked me for my impressions of the operation. I respectfully noted some of the shortcomings that I had observed, some of which he denied, while regarding another, he claimed that halacha permits it. When I pointed out that halacha permits such a product only bishaas hadechak (under extenuating circumstance), he replied “shaas hadechak is an elastic term.” You could well ask, were his unfortunate consumers aware that they were purchasing and drinking questionably non-kosher wine when they had better alternatives? Did they realize how rubbery their wine was?

MAGNIFICENT RESORT, MEDIOCRE KASHRUS

Another true and curious anecdote occurred when my shul was conducting a fundraising auction of donated items. One contributed item was a week in a well-known resort hotel, which, however had a poor kashrus reputation. In order to determine whether our shul could auction this prize, I called the hotel, seeking out the supervising rabbi, and reached the gentleman on the phone.

After identifying myself and explaining the reason for my call, I asked my colleague on the other end of the line what sources of meat the hotel used. He mentioned certain high production meat packers with less than sterling kashrus reputations. I then noted to the certifying rabbi that these packers do not butcher or soak and salt (kasher) the meat.

            “The hotel has its own staff of butchers, who butcher and kasher the meat.”

 

            “Do you have personal expertise in kosher butchering and removing veins and forbidden fat?”

 

            “No, I have never learned the trade.”

Further questioning revealed that both the rabbi providing the supervision and the mashgiach knew nothing about kosher butchering, and the butchers employed by the hotel were all either non-observant or non-Jews. Thus, there was absolutely no supervision on the proper butchering of the meat, one of the many reasons the hotel well earned its glamorous kashrus reputation!

 

On another occasion, I conducted the initial inspection of a factory on behalf of a well-respected hechsher to discover labels bearing the logo of a different supervisor. When I inquired whether the other rabbi was still certifying this facility, I was told that they had given up his certification many years before, notwithstanding that they were still using his labels!

 

At this point, we can answer the second asked above:

“Do people avoid certain hechsherim because of political reasons, or are there valid halachic reasons for avoiding them?”

 

Although there are indeed occasional political reasons why people shun certain hechsherim, usually, a hechsher is avoided for valid halachic reasons. Some organizations are disorganized, for example. I have seen many situations where although the people involved are erliche yiddin¸ they run their kashrus supervision in too haphazard a fashion to maintain a proper standard. Others send mashgichim to kasher plants without adequately instructing them what to do. Other hechsherim do not even bother sending mashgichim to check at all, and I have found more than one instance where the “hechsher” never bothered to send someone to check a plant even once!

 

WHAT IS A CONSUMER TO DO?

 

Just as you make yourself knowledgeable before buying a couch or a refrigerator, so you should try to be more knowledgeable about kashrus. Ask questions. If you feel you are receiving inadequate responses, keep asking until your questions are satisfactorily answered.

 

I have often discovered serious problems involving caterers that “everyone uses.” When invited to a wedding or other simcha, double check to ensure that there is proper supervision. Ask to meet the mashgiach, and ask him questions. Of course, your questions should give the impression that you know what you are talking about. Once you begin asking, it will not take long to become a knowledgeable and inquisitive consumer. Hopefully, you will not find the types of problems I mentioned above, but if you do, you will be able to write your own article!

 

If you are making a simcha, investigate the possibility of hiring your own experienced mashgiach.

 

Tour groups are especially notorious for lack of proper kashrus arrangements. Among problems I have discovered were tours advertised as glatt kosher chassidishe shechitah only, while the person overseeing all kashrus arrangements was married to a non-Jewish woman!

 

Your rav should be a good source of up-to-date kashrus information. A well-educated consumer asks. Often asking one’s rav forces him to research the matter more carefully and he discovers issues of which he was unaware. I have discovered this many times myself, not only in areas of food kashrus, but also in such diverse areas as tefillin and shofar manufacture, and the kashrus of mikva’os.

 

Based on the above information, we can gain a greater appreciation as to how hard it is to maintain a high kashrus standard. We certainly have a greater incentive to become better educated kosher consumers who better understand many aspects of the preparation of kosher food, and why it is important to ascertain that everything one consumes has a proper hechsher. We should always hope and pray that the food we eat fulfills all the halachos that the Torah commands us.

The Crisis of Unwashed Meat

clip_image002Devorah calls me: “During our summer vacation, I entered a butcher shop that has reliable supervision and noticed a sign on the wall, ‘We sell washed and unwashed meat.’ This seemed very strange: Would anyone eat unwashed meat? Besides, isn’t all meat washed as part of the koshering process? What did the sign mean?”

Michael asked me: “Someone asked me if I have any problem with the kashrus of frozen meat. What can possibly be wrong with frozen meat?”

Answer: This week’s haftarah foretells how, soon in the period of Moshiach, the nations of the earth will follow the Divine light shining on the Jewish people and bring their finest flocks to His altar. No doubt, the sheer quantity of all this livestock available in Yerushalayim will afford the Jewish people the finest choices of meat available for their tables.

Also today it is certainly ideal to have a steady supply of kosher meat with all possible hiddurim. However, in some circumstances this is not always feasible. This is where “washed meat” and “frozen meat” may enter the picture; both terms referring to specific cases whose kashrus is subject to halachic dispute.

Knowing that Devorah enjoys stories, I told her an anecdote that illustrates what can happen when kosher choices are slim.

I was once Rabbi in a community that has memorable winters. Our city was often covered with snow around Rosh Hashanah and on occasion it was still snowing in May. On many occasions, we could not use the sukkah without clearing snow off the schach, something my Yerushalmi neighbors find hard to comprehend.

One short erev Shabbos the weather was unusually inclement, even for our region of the country; the major interstate highway and all secondary “state routes” were closed because of a blizzard. The locals call this weather “whiteout” — referring not to mistake correction fluid, but to the zero visibility created by wind and snow.

Fortunately, I lived around the corner from shul and was able to navigate my way back and forth by foot. Our house too was, baruch Hashem, sufficiently stocked to get through Shabbos.

About a half-hour before Shabbos, in the midst of our last minute preparations, the telephone rang:

“Is this Rabbi Kaganoff?” inquired an unfamiliar female voice. I responded affirmatively, even though somewhat apprehensive. People do not call with shaylos late Friday afternoon unless it is an emergency. What new crisis would this call introduce? Perhaps I was lucky and this was simply a damsel in distress inquiring about the kashrus of her cholent, or one who had just learned that her crock pot may fail to meet proper Shabbos standards. Hoping that the emergency was no more severe, I listened attentively.

“Rabbi Kaganoff, I was given your phone number in case of emergency.” I felt the first knots in my stomach. What emergency was this when I hoped to momentarily head out to greet the Shabbos queen? Was someone, G-d forbid, caught in the storm! I was certainly unprepared for the continuing conversation.

“I am a dispatcher for the All-American Transport Company,” she continued. “We have a load of kosher meat held up by the storm that needs to be washed by 11 p.m. Saturday.” My caller, located somewhere in the Nebraska Corn Belt, was clearly more familiar with halachos of kosher meat than she was with the ramifications of calling a frum household minutes before candle lighting. Although I was very curious how All-American had located me, a potential lone washer in the Wilderness, the hour of the week required expedition, not curiosity. Realizing that under stress, one’s tone of voice can create a kiddush Hashem or, G-d forbid, the opposite, I politely asked if she could call me back in about 25 hours which would still be several hours before the meat’s deadline. I guess that she assumed that it would take me that long to dig my car out.

Later, I determined the meat’s ultimate destination, a place we will call Faroutof Town, information that ultimately proved highly important.

Why was a Nebraska truck dispatcher calling to arrange the washing of kosher meat? Before returning to our meat precipitously stalled at the side of the highway, I need to provide some halachic background.

EXORCISING THE BLOOD

In several places, the Torah commands that we may not eat blood, but only meat. Of course, blood is the efficient transporter of nutrients to the muscles and permeates the animal’s flesh while it is still alive. If so, how do we extract the prohibited blood from the permitted meat?

Chazal gave us two methods of removing blood from meat. One is by soaking and salting the meat, and the other is by broiling it. In practical terms, the first approach, usually referred to simply as kashering meat, involves soaking the meat for thirty minutes, shaking off the water, salting the meat thoroughly on all sides, and then allowing the blood to drain freely for an hour. At the end of this process, we rinse the meat thoroughly in order to wash away all the blood and salt. Indeed Devorah is correct that the salting of all meat involves several washings. She was correct in assuming that the sign she saw in the butcher did not refer to these washings, but to a different washing that I will soon explain.

BROILING MEAT

An alternative method of extracting blood from meat is by broiling it. This is the only halachically accepted method of removing blood from liver. In this approach, the liver is sliced or slit to allow its blood to run out, the surface blood is rinsed off and the liver is placed under or over a flame to broil. Accepted practice is that we sprinkle a small amount of salt on the liver immediately prior to broiling it (Rama, Yoreh Deah 73:5).

Halachically, it is perfectly acceptable to broil any meat rather than soak and salt it. However, on a commercial level, broiling is impractical and therefore the usual method used for kosher cuisine is soaking and salting. For most of mankind’s history, this was performed at home, but contemporarily the properly supervised butcher or other commercial facility almost universally performs it.

Although this explains why one must salt meat before serving it, we still do not know why Ms. Nebraska was so concerned that her meat be washed en route.

SEVENTY-TWO HOURS OR BUST

The Geonim enacted that meat must be salted within seventy-two hours of its shechitah. They felt that after three days, blood inside the meat hardens and is no longer extractable through soaking and salting. Should meat not be soaked and salted within 72 hours, they ruled that only broiling successfully removes the blood. Of course, if one does not want to eat broiled meat, this last suggestion will not satisfy one’s culinary tastes.

Is there any way to extend the 72 hours?

The authorities discuss this question extensively. Most contend that one may extend the time if the meat is soaked thoroughly for a while during the 72 hours (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 69:13, see Taz ad loc.), although some permitted this only under extenuating circumstances (Toras Chatos, quoted by Shach 69:53). On the other hand, some authorities ruled that a minor rinsing extends the 72 hours (Shu”t Masas Binyamin #108). It became standard to refer to meat that was washed to extend its time by the Yiddish expression, gegosena fleisch, hence the literal English translation, washed meat.

Also, bear in mind that this soaking only helps when the meat was soaked within 72 hours of its slaughter. Once 72 hours have passed without a proper soaking, only broiling will remove the blood.

WASHING OR SOAKING

At this point in my monologue, Devorah interrupted with a question:

“You mentioned soaking the meat and extending its time for three more days. But the sign called it ‘washed meat,’ not soaked meat. There is a big difference between washing something and soaking it.”

“Yes, you are raising a significant issue. Although most early authorities only mention ‘soaking’ meat, it became common practice to wash the meat instead, a practice that many authorities disputed (Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 69:28; Darkei Teshuvah 69:231- 237). There are also many different standards of what is called ‘washing’ the meat. Some hechsherim permit meat that was not salted within seventy-two hours of its shechitah by having the meat hosed down before the seventy-two hours have elapsed, and consider this washing as a renewal of the seventy-two hours. Thus, this meat is only permitted if it was washed within seventy-two hours of its shechitah or previous washing. If the meat was washed thoroughly, it is now ‘good’ for another 72 hours. If one is unable to kasher it by then, one can rewash it again to further extend its 72 hours. However, most authorities require that the meat be thoroughly wetted with a high-power hose so that the meat becomes moist even inside. This is unlike cases I have seen where someone sprays a light mist over the meat and assumes that the meat is ‘washed,’ or often simply takes a wet rag and wipes down the outside of the meat.”

“Why would anyone do that?” inquired Devorah?

“In general, people like to save work and water, and soaking properly a whole side of beef is difficult and uses a lot of water. In addition, if one hoses meat while it is on a truck, the water may damage the wood of the truck, whereas it is even more work to remove the meat from the truck. But if one does not hose the meat properly, most authorities prohibit it.

At this point, we can understand why Ms. Nebraska was concerned about the washing of the meat. She knew that if the meat went 72 hours without being hosed, the rabbis would reject the delivery as non-kosher. During my brief conversation, I asked her if she knew the last time the meat was washed. “It was last washed 11 p.m. Wednesday and needs re-washing by 11 p.m. Saturday,” she dutifully notified me.

At this point, I noted to Devorah that we now had enough information to answer her question. “The sign in the butcher stating that they sell washed meat means that they sell meat that was not kashered until 72 hours after its slaughter, but was washed sometime before the 72 hours ran out. It does not tell us how they washed the meat, but it is safe to assume that they did not submerge it in water. If they were following a higher standard, they hosed the meat on all sides until it was soaking wet. If they followed a different standard, hopefully, they still did whatever their rav ruled. Since you told me that it was a reliable hechsher, presumably they hosed the meat thoroughly.”

I then asked Devorah if she wanted to hear the rest of the blizzard story. As I suspected, she did – and so I return to my anecdote.

MOTZA’EI SHABBOS

By Motza’ei Shabbos the entire region was in the grips of a record-breaking blizzard. Walking the half block home from shul had been highly treacherous. There was no way in the world I was going anywhere that night, nor anyone else I could imagine.

At the very moment I had told the dispatcher I could be reached, the telephone rang. A different, unfamiliar voice identified itself as the driver of the stuck truck. His vehicle was exactly where it had been Friday afternoon, stranded not far from the main highway.

The driver told me the already-familiar story about his load of kosher meat, and his instructions to have the meat washed before 11 p.m. if his trip was delayed.

There was little I could do for either the driver or the meat, a fact I found frustrating. Out of desperation, I called my most trusted mashgiach, Yaakov, who lived a little closer to the scene of the non-action. Yaakov was an excellent employee, always eager to work whenever there was a job opportunity. I explained the situation to him.

“Rabbi,” responded Yaakov, “I was just out in this storm. Not this time. Sorry.”

I was disappointed. Not that I blamed Yaakov in the slightest. It was sheer insanity to go anywhere in this storm. In fact, I was a bit surprised at myself for taking the matter so seriously. After all, it was only a load of meat.

With no good news to tell the trucker, I was not exactly enthusiastic about calling him back. I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings. So I procrastinated, rather than tell the trucker he should sit back and wait for his kosher meat to expire.

An hour later, the phone rang again with Mr. Trucker on the line. “Rabbi,” He told me, with obvious excitement in his voice, “I’ve solved the problem.” I was highly curious to find out where he located an Orthodox Jew in the middle of a blizzard in the middle of nowhere. For a fleeting moment I envisioned a frum Jew stranded nearby and shuddered at the type of Shabbos he must have had.

The trucker’s continuing conversation brings me back to the reality of the unwashed meat.

“Well, Rabbi,” he exclaimed with the exhilaration Columbus’ lookout must have felt upon spotting land, “I discovered that I was stranded a few thousand feet from a fire station. And now all the meat has been properly hosed. Listen to this letter.” The trucker proceeded to read me the documentation of his successful find:

“On Saturday evening, the 22nd of January, at exactly 9:25 pm, I personally oversaw the successful washing of kosher load of meat loaded on trailer 186CX and tractor 2008PR. To this declaration I do solemnly lend my signature and seal,

“James P. O’Donald, Fire Chief, Lincoln Fire Station #2.”

Probably noticing my momentary hesitation, the trucker continues, “Rabbi, do I need to have this letter notarized?”

“No, I am sure that won’t be necessary,” I replied. I was not about to tell the driver that halachah requires that a Torah observant Jew supervise the washing of the meat. On the contrary, I complimented him on his diligence and his tremendous sense of responsibility.

At this point, I had a bit of halachic responsibility on my hands. Since I knew the meat’s ultimate destination, I needed to inform the rav in Faroutof Town of the situation.

I was able to reach the Faroutofer Rav, Rabbi Oncelearned. “I just want to notify you that your city will shortly receive a load of meat that was washed under the supervision of the ‘Fire Station K.’” Rabbi Oncelearned had never heard of the “Fire Station K” supervision and asked if I was familiar with this hechsher. I told him the whole story and we had a good laugh. I felt good that I had supplied Rabbi Oncelearned with accurate information and prepared him for the meat’s arrival. After all, it would be his learned decision that would rule once the meat arrived in town.

WHERE’S THE BEEF?

Of course, Rabbi Oncelearned now had his own predicament: Would he have to reject the town’s entire order of kosher meat, incurring the wrath of hungry customers and undersupplied butchers? Or could he figure out a legitimate way to permit the meat.

There was indeed a halachic basis to permit the meat under the extenuating circumstances because of a different heter, but not because of the Lincoln fire station hose.

FROZEN MEAT

It is common that meat is slaughtered quite a distance from where it is consumed – such as slaughtering it in South America, and shipping it frozen to Israel. Today, all mehadrin supervisions arrange that meat shipped this way is kosher butchered (called trabering) and kashered before it is frozen and shipped. This is a tremendous boon to proper kashrus, but it is a relatively recent innovation. Initially, these meats were shipped frozen and, upon reaching their destination several weeks later, they were thawed, trabered and kashered. Thus, the question developed whether this meat was fit to eat since it arrived weeks after its slaughter.

In truth, earlier halachic authorities had already debated whether meat frozen for 72 hours can still be kashered by salting, some contending that this meat can only be broiled (Minchas Yaakov, Responsum #14 at end, quoted by Be’er Heiteiv 69:8; Pri Megadim, Sifsei Daas 69:60), whereas others ruled that deep freezing prevents the blood from hardening (Aruch HaShulchan, Yoreh Deah 69:79; Yad Yehudah 69:59; Shu”t Yabia Omer 2:YD:4 and Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 6:46). Some frowned on making such arrangements lechatchila, but ruled that kashering this meat (by salting) is acceptable under extenuating circumstances (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:27; 2:21).

Rabbi Oncelearned consulted with a posek who reasoned that since the truck had been stuck in a major blizzard, unquestionably the meat had been frozen solid and that they could rely on this to kasher the meat after it thawed out. Thus, the firemen’s hose was used for naught, but I never told them. Please help me keep it a secret.

Someone meticulous about kashrus plans trips in advance to know what hechsherim and kashrus situations he may encounter. If one’s plans go awry, he should be aware that in extenuating circumstances, a rav may permit products that he would never allow in a normal situation.

Let’s Talk Turkey – …and Prairie Chicken and Muscovy Duck

clip_image002Last week I presented two questions that I did not answer:

Question #1: “While camping in Western Canada, we saw thousands of wild, roaming birds called “prairie chicken.” They were clearly different from the familiar, common chicken, but appeared so similar that I was tempted to bring one to a shocheit to prepare for us. Halachically, could I have done this?”

Question #2: “Someone told me that a variety of duck, called the Muscovy duck, is raised in Israel for its kosher meat and liver although the American rabbonim prohibit eating this bird. How could this be?”

Last week’s discussion prompts us to ask the following:

Question #3: According to the popular story or legend, Benjamin Franklin advocated that the United States choose the turkey, which is also native American, as its national bird, rather than the bald eagle. He preferred the turkey’s midos and felt that it better reflects American values. However, if turkey is indeed indigenous only to North America, how can it have a Jewish tradition that it is kosher?

IDENTIFYING AS KOSHER

We learned last week that whereas the Torah identified kosher animal and fish through specific attributes called simanim, it specifically listed the bird species that are non-kosher, implying that all other birds are kosher. Indeed, the Gemara records that someone familiar with all the avian non-kosher varieties may identify all other fowl, even those unfamiliar to him, as kosher, and teach this to others. Since it is not always practical to find someone familiar with all 24 varieties of non-kosher birds, the Mishnah provided four simanim. A bird with all four simanim is definitely kosher, whereas one with some of these simanim may or may not be kosher. Any bird without any of the simanim is certainly non-kosher.

WHAT ARE THE FOUR SIMANIM?

The Mishnah reports that any bird that is doreis is not kosher. There are several different ways to explain the meaning of the word doreis, most meaning that the bird uses its claws in a distinctive way when it preys or eats. The other three simanim describe physical characteristics of the bird, not feeding habits. They are:

(1)  The bird has a crop, an expandable food pouch for storing undigested food.

(2)  The inner lining of its gizzard (the pupek) can be peeled.

(3)  It possesses an “extra claw,” a term that is interpreted by different Rishonim in diverse ways.

SIGNS OF DOREIS

We find three distinctive features that demonstrate whether a bird is doreis. The first, recorded by the Mishnah, is that any bird that when sitting on a rope or stick, places two of its claws on one side of the rope or stick, and the other two on the opposite side, is definitely doreis and non-kosher. The second is that a bird that swallows its food in mid-flight is not kosher (Chullin 65a). The third is that any bird that has webbed feet and a wide beak is certainly not doreis (Baal HaMaor). Since this information will become significant as we proceed, allow me to explain these avian characteristics.

SEPARATES ITS CLAWS

The Mishnah teaches, “Rabbi Elazar the son of Rabbi Tzadok says, ‘Any bird that separates its legs is non-kosher’” (Chullin 59a). The Gemara explains that you stretch a length of rope for the bird to walk or rest on: A bird that places two claws of its leg on one side of the rope and two on the opposite side is non-kosher because this indicates that it is doreis. If it places three claws on one side of the rope and one on the other, it is probably kosher (Chullin 65a).

The morning I wrote these words, I visited someone who owns a pet cockatiel, a small Australian parrot, and noted that the bird clenched the sticks it stood on in the classic doreis position of two claws fore and two aft. I found this surprising since the cockatiel’s diet of seeds combined with its owner’s observations of its docile behavior make it difficult to imagine that this bird is doreis. However, one could explain this Mishnah in the following fashion:

The Mishnah does not clarify how often a bird needs to be doreis to be non-kosher. The Gemara describes a variety of bird called a “marsh chicken” that was assumed to be kosher until the Amora, Mareimar, noticed it being doreis (Chullin 62b). Rashi notes that we could observe a bird for quite some time without seeing it doreis and only catch it being dories after a while! Thus indeed, the marsh chicken was non-kosher the entire time although they did not know. For this reason, Rashi concludes that we do not rely on our observation that a bird is not doreis; instead, we do not consume fowl unless we have a mesorah that this variety does not doreis.

Thus, one approach to explain why the cockatiel spreads its foot across a rope or branch non-kosher style is that although the cockatiel is doreis, it does this so rarely that we may never notice.

WEBBED FEET

As I mentioned earlier, many Rishonim cite a tradition that a bird with webbed feet and/or a wide beak is definitely not doreis. Following this approach, someone discovering a bird that possesses all of the following body simanim: it has a crop, a gizzard that can be peeled, an “extra claw,” webbed feet, and a wide beak, can assume that this bird is kosher.

It is noteworthy that while many early authorities quote Rashi’s opinion that we do not rely on our observation to determine that a bird is not doreis, they also quote the tradition that a bird with webbed feet and a wide beak is not doreis (Rosh, Chullin 3:59 and 60; Issur VaHeter 56:18; Shulchan Aruch 82:2, 3). Obviously, they understood that a bird possessing webbed feet and a wide beak has a mesorah that it is not doreis, and is kosher if it has the other body simanim — even though no one recalls a specific mesorah on this bird. In other words, Rashi did not declare that no birds can be eaten without a mesorah — he only contended that we do not rely on our observation that a bird is not doreis. This is indeed the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling on this subject, as well as many later halachic authorities, both Ashkenazic and Sefardic (Yam shel Shelomoh; Pri Chodosh; Pleisi, Kuntros Pnei Nesher, located after his commentary to Yoreh Deah 82; Shu”t Sho’eil Umeishiv 5:1:69).

MESORAH IS ABSOLUTE

I am unaware of any authority who disagrees with the above conclusion prior to the time of the Rama (Yoreh Deah 82:3). The Rama, however, records an accepted minhag prohibiting consumption of any bird without a known mesorah that it is kosher. Most authorities assume that as a result of this ruling Ashkenazim do not consume any fowl lacking a known mesorah to be kosher, although some contend that no such minhag exists (Yam shel Shelomoh, Chullin 3:115; Pleisi; Shu”t Sho’eil Umeishiv 5:1:69). (It should be noted that the Taz cites Rashi as the source for the Rama’s minhag. Although the obvious interpretation of the Taz’s comment is that he feels that Rashi rejects the approach that webbed feet and wide beak are valid proof that the bird is not doreis [Minchas Yitzchak 2:85], his comments can be interpreted in a different way.)

MUSCOVY DUCK AND THE CIVIL WAR

By definition, a non-migratory bird native to the Americas, Australia, or New Zealand cannot have an ancient mesorah ascertaining that it is a kosher species since no one resides there who could possess such a mesorah. Does this mean that according to the Rama, any bird native to the Americas cannot be eaten? Some poskim indeed held this position regarding the Muscovy duck, a bird that, notwithstanding its name, is a Mexican native. (No one is certain why this duck is named after frigid Moscow, when it is indigenous to a much warmer climate.)

A rav in Civil War era New Orleans, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Illowy, who was extensively involved in kiruv rechokim over a hundred years before the field became popular, discovered that members of his community were raising this duck for food and that the local shochatim were shechting it. Rav Illowy notes that the Muscovy appears to have all the simanim of any common duck, including the webbed feet and wide beak that indicate it is not doreis. Nevertheless, he maintained that since this bird has no mesorah, it cannot be eaten as kosher. He then sent the shaylah to Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch and to Rav Nosson Adler, both of whom agreed with Rav Illowy’s decision.

Notwithstanding this psak, the Muscovy apparently became a popular food in many kosher communities, both in the Union and the Confederacy, and eventually in Europe also. Later its liver became popular when prepared as foie gras, a delicacy once made exclusively from goose liver. (Nowadays foie gras is commonly produced from the liver of the mullard, a crossbreed of the Muscovy with the pekin, an established kosher variety of duck.) Indeed several prominent later authorities, including the Netziv, Rav Shmuel Salant, and Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank ruled that the Muscovy duck is indeed kosher since observant Jews had been consuming it (Shu”t Har Tzvi, Yoreh Deah #75). How could they permit a bird that clearly has no mesorah?

The Netziv ruled that, since observant Jews were already consuming Muscovy, they can be considered kosher for three reasons:

1. They are fairly similar to varieties of duck that possess a mesorah that they are kosher and could perhaps be considered the same min as far as halacha is concerned. One should note that the halachic definition of a min is highly unclear, although one matter is certain: It has little relationship to any scientific definition of what is considered a species.

2. They will freely breed in the wild with varieties known to be kosher ducks, even when other Muscovies are readily available. This factor is significant because the Gemara rules that two species, one kosher and the other non-kosher, will not reproduce together (Bechoros 7a). Although there is debate over whether this rule applies also to birds or only to land animals, several authorities contend that it also applies to birds (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #74; Shu”t Avnei Nezer, Yoreh Deah #75:4 and many others). According to this approach, since a Muscovy readily mates with varieties of known kosher duck, one may assume it to be kosher.

3. The Rama’s minhag prohibiting consumption of fowl without a mesorah applies only to a newly discovered bird and not to a variety that observant Jews are already eating (Shu”t Meishiv Davar 2:22).

ANOTHER NATIVE AMERICAN

Of course, this leads to our discussion of the turkey, also a native American that appears to have found its way to the Jewish pot since its introduction to Europe in the Sixteenth Century. The Kenesses HaGedolah, authored in the Seventeenth Century, is the earliest source I found discussing the kashrus of the turkey, and it is apparent from his comments that Jews were already eating it. Although one would imagine much discussion on the kashrus issues of this bird, every other teshuvah I have seen discusses not whether the turkey is kosher, but why, and each is written hundreds of years after turkey consumption became commonplace in the kosher world.

For those who question whether the turkey was commonly eaten in this earlier era, I refer them to the comments of the Magen Avraham (79:14), who assumes that a passing reference to a “red chicken” by the Shulchan Aruch refers to the turkey, providing us with fairly clear evidence that in his day the turkey was commonly found in Jewish domiciles. The Magen Avraham makes no reference to any controversy regarding the kashrus of this bird, which was already a well established member of Jewish households.

TURKEY VS. DUCK

From a strictly anatomical perspective, the Muscovy duck can rally better proof to its kosher status than can a turkey. Whereas the Muscovy duck needs to contend only with the ruling of the Rama that it bears no mesorah, it certainly has the wide beak and webbed feet that the Rishonim accept as proof that it is not doreis. Thus, according to all authorities prior to the Rama, one could consume Muscovy based on its possessing kosher simanim. Rav Hirsch and the others who prohibit it did so because they accepted the minhag recorded by Rama not to rely on simanim.

On the other hand, the turkey is faced with more of an uphill battle anatomically.

It does not have webbed feet or a wide beak – thus, to permit it because of simanim we must ascertain that it is not doreis — and Rashi rules that we do not rely on observation to determine that a bird is not doreis. Yet, the common practice of hundreds of years is to consider it kosher!

TALKING TURKEY

I have seen numerous attempts to explain why indeed we consume turkey, of which I will share only some. Many authorities thought that the turkey had a mesorah from India as a kosher bird (see Kenesses HaGedolah 82:31 and several others quoted by Darchei Teshuvah 82:26). Of course, this was based on a factual error — the Yiddish and Modern Hebrew name for turkey is “Indian chicken,” and it is so named in many other languages, based on the same confusion that resulted in the islands of the Caribbean being called the “West Indies.” Notwithstanding that these names merely reflect Columbus’s impression that he had discovered an area near India, the confusion led some to conclude that the Indian Jews possess an ancient mesorah that the turkey is kosher.

Others contend that the practice of eating turkey predates the Rama’s ruling that we consume only birds that have a mesorah. Thus, one could say that it was grandfathered into kosher cuisine.

Still others contend that although we usually do not rely on our observation that a bird is not doreis, since thousands of Jews have raised turkeys and never seen them doreis, we can be absolutely certain that they do not and we can therefore assume them to be kosher because of simanim (Darchei Teshuvah 82:26 quoting Arugos HaBosem).

A different approach is that although the Rama required mesorah to permit the consumption of fowl, once observant Jews have accepted to eat a certain variety of bird, one may continue this practice (if it is not definitely non-kosher). Once Klal Yisroel has accepted a bird that appears to be kosher, we assume that it is kosher even if we do not, and cannot, have a mesorah on its kashrus (see Taz 82:4). The Netziv justifies the consumption of the Muscovy duck because of the fact that turkey is accepted to be kosher even though it has no mesorah either!

To answer our original questions, the Muscovy duck has not escaped contemporary controversy, some rabbonim and hechsherim, particularly in Eretz Yisroel, permitting it; others forbidding; while still others will consider it kosher but not mehadrin. I have been told that the North American hechsherim do not treat it as kosher.

Regarding the prairie chicken, it is assumed to be non-kosher, or more accurately, without either mesorah or acceptance that it is kosher, and therefore I am unaware of anywhere that it is slaughtered as a kosher bird.

TURKEY VS. EAGLE

Did Benjamin Franklin really want the turkey to be the symbol of the United States of America?

In a letter to his daughter, Ben wrote:

“For my own part I wish the eagle had not been chosen the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his living honestly… He is therefore by no means a proper emblem for the brave and honest… The turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America… He is… a bird of courage and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat.”

To reinforce good old Ben’s argument, we note that whereas the turkey seems to have all four simanim of a kosher bird, the eagle has none (according to Rashi’s opinion). The Ramban explains that the Torah forbade the non-kosher birds because the Torah wants us to avoid the bad midos that they exhibit. One could assume that the kosher species may exhibit admirable traits that the Torah wants us to emulate. Certainly, the courage to observe mitzvos in times of adversity is a virtue worth emulating that we should contemplate the next time we eat turkey.

On the Wings of Eagles – or Perhaps I Have the Wrong Bird

clip_image002In am sending you this article in honor of Parshas Shmini.

….

Question #1: My chavrusa and I are studying Chullin, and we recently discovered a Tosafos who states that a nesher is not an eagle; yet every Chumash I have seen translates kanfei nesharim as the “wings of eagles.” Are all these translators ignorant of this Tosafos?

Question #2: While camping in Western Canada, we saw thousands of wild, roaming, land birds called “prairie chicken,” that are clearly different from the common, familiar chicken, but appear similar enough that I was tempted to bring one to a shocheit to prepare for us. Halachically, could I have done this?

Question #3: On a tour in Israel, I visited a kibbutz where they raise a variety of duck, called the Muscovy duck, for its kosher meat and liver. Yet I was told that several prominent rabbonim prohibited eating this bird. What are the halachic issues involved in the kashrus of this bird?

To answer these questions accurately and thoroughly, we need to explain the background how one identifies kosher and non-kosher species, and the differences in halachic practice that have developed.

The Torah describes the exact indicators that render fish and animals kosher, providing us with relatively clear simanim, indicating signs, to determine whether a species is kosher or not. However, regarding birds the Torah simply inventories a list of non-kosher varieties, implying that all other birds are acceptable for the Jewish palate (Vayikra 11:13- 19; Devarim 14:11- 19). Indeed, the Gemara notes that there are countless kosher bird species (Chullin 63b). After analyzing the Torah’s list, the Gemara concludes that 24 varieties (or possibly, categories) of bird are non-kosher, the remaining species all being kosher (Chullin 61b). Thus, someone who can identify all 24 species of non-kosher fowl could indeed shecht and eat any other species of bird he discovers. Furthermore, the Gemara rules that a hunter who recognizes all 24 non-kosher species may teach other people which species are kosher (Chullin 63b).

On this basis, why do we restrict ourselves to eating only familiar species? Also, is there any way that a non-hunter can identify whether a bird is kosher?

KOSHER BIRD SIMANIM

Are there any signs that indicate whether a variety of bird is kosher?

The answer is yes and no.

The Mishnah, indeed, lists four simanim that identify a bird as kosher. However, before introducing and explaining the four simanim, I need to clarify a major difference between the function of simanim in identifying kosher birds as opposed to those of fish and land animals. Any animal that possesses both simanim, that is, it has both fully split hooves and chews its cud, is kosher; any animal possessing one siman but not the other is definitely non-kosher. In the case of fish, the Torah rules that any species that possesses both fins and scales is kosher; and the Mishnah teaches that there are no species possessing scales that do not possess fins. Thus, any species of fish possessing scales is kosher, and any without scales is not.

In the case of birds, however, a bird containing all four kosher simanim is definitely kosher, and a bird that possesses none of the four simanim is not kosher. Concerning birds that possess some of the four signs but not all, some are kosher and some are not. The Gemara teaches that of the 24 species mentioned by the Torah, only the nesher lacks all four simanim. (Rashi explains that any bird variety lacking all four kosher simanim is considered a sub-category of nesher. We will see shortly why I have not translated the word nesher.) The peres and the azniah, two of the 24 non-kosher varieties, each possesses only one of the kosher simanim and lacks the other three. The oreiv, usually identified as the raven (see Tosafos, Chullin 62a s.v. mipnei who discusses whether this identification is accurate) and the zarzur each has two kosher simanim and lack the remaining two, and the remaining 19 types of non-kosher bird each has three of the simanim and lacks only one. (This follows the approach of most interpretations of this passage of Gemara.)

However, there are many varieties of kosher bird that only possess some kosher signs and lack others. For example, geese contain only three of the four kosher simanim, and yet are 100% kosher!

Any bird possessing some, but not all, of the simanim is still kosher if it is not one of the 24 species listed by the Torah. Since this is true, how can one tell whether a bird containing some kosher signs is indeed kosher? Only if one knows all 24 types of non-kosher birds mentioned in the Torah, could one thereby identify the remaining kosher varieties. This is exactly what the expert hunter of the Gemara does. Furthermore, he may educate others that a specific species is kosher. However, those of us without access to his expertise would not be able to consume birds unless we had a mesorah, an oral tradition, that this is a kosher bird, in which case one could eat it even if it does not have all four kosher simanim (Chullin 63b).

IDENTIFYING KOSHER WITHOUT A MESORAH

According to the Mishnah, someone who finds a variety of bird for which he has no mesorah may still eat it based on the following rules:

“Any bird that is doreis is not kosher. Any that possesses an “extra claw,” and has a crop, and whose gizzard can be peeled is kosher (Chullin 59a).” I will shortly explain what these simanim are.

According to Rashi, the Mishnah is teaching that if we can identify a bird that has all four of the simanim, that is, it is not doreis, it possesses an “extra claw,” has a crop, and has a gizzard that can be peeled, the bird is definitely kosher. The Gemara records that all the varieties of dove mentioned by the Torah as korbanos have these four indicating simanim. Thus, according to Rashi’s understanding of the Mishnah, one may only eat a variety of bird that has no mesorah if it possesses all four simanim. (It should be noted that most other Rishonim interpret the Mishnah differently, and indeed rule that, under certain very specific circumstances, one may eat certain birds based on some, but not all, of the simanim.)

Although a bird may have only some of the four simanim and still be kosher, any bird with all four simanim is unquestionably kosher according to the Mishnah.

What are the four simanim?

DOREIS

I. Any bird that is doreis is not kosher. Thus, the kosher siman is that a bird is not doreis.

People often mistranslate the word doreis as predator. However, this is inaccurate, since chickens, which the Mishnah teaches are kosher, are technically predators since they feast on worms and insects.

The Rishonim debate what the word doreis means; here are five different interpretations:

A. The bird lifts its prey from the ground with its claws when feeding (Rashi, Chullin 59a s.v. hadoreis).

B. It grips and restrains its food while eating (Rashi, Chullin 62a s.v. vehani milei).

C. It preys on smaller birds or rodents, which it devours while they are alive (Rabbeinu Tam, cited in Tosafos Chullin 61a s.v. hadoreis).

D. It poisons with its talons (Ran, Chullin, page 20b in Rif, as explained by the Aruch HaShulchan 82:5) (A talon is a claw, but the word “talon” is typically used only for predators.)

E. It pounces on its prey with its talons (the above-quoted Ran, as explained by the Shach, Yoreh Deah 82:3).

Thus, by observing a bird’s feeding and clawing behavior one may be able to determine that it is non-kosher.

It must be emphasized, that although all birds that are doreis are non-kosher, the inverse is not true. There are varieties of fowl that are not doreis, yet nevertheless are not kosher.

The Gemara does not state that a bird must be doreis frequently to qualify as such. Rather, it implies that a bird is non-kosher if it is ever doreis (Chullin 62b). Thus, it may be difficult to easily identify a bird as a non-doreis, a fact with major ramifications.

INDICATIONS OF DOREIS

The Mishnah records an alternative method of verifying whether a bird is doreis: Rabbi Elazar ben Rabbi Tzadok rules that any bird that splits its talons, two before and two behind, when it grips a rope, is doreis and therefore not kosher (Chullin 59a, as explained there by the Gemara 65a). (Note that the halachic authorities all quote this opinion as definitive [Tosafos Yom Tov ad loc.].)

It is noteworthy that an early halachic authority cites a different mesorah for identifying a bird that is not doreis. Any bird with a wide beak and webbed feet is not doreis (Baal HaMaor). The Rishonim quote this approach and it is recorded in Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 82:3).

Tosafos raises a question: How did Chazal research that not one kosher species anywhere in the world is doreis? How can the Gemara confidently say that none of hundreds of kosher bird species is doreis? Tosafos rules out the explanation that this was an oral tradition communicated to Moshe Rabbeinu at Har Sinai (halacha leMoshe miSinai) because if that were true, the Torah need not have mentioned all 24 varieties of non-kosher bird in order to identify all non-kosher varieties. Instead, it could have succinctly taught that all birds that are doreis are non-kosher, and in addition, listed the remaining small list of non-kosher birds that are not doreis.

Tosafos concludes that Noah, who knew which birds are kosher and which are not, observed that none of the kosher varieties were doreis (Chullin 61a s.v. kol of). Thus, the siman that a doreis is not kosher is an oral tradition dating back to Noah.

BODY SIMANIM

So far, we have identified one siman that identifies some non-kosher birds, which is based on avian feeding behavior. The other simanim are all anatomical features, two internal and one external. One of these simanim is the crop such as is found in doves, chickens, and most, but not all, varieties of bird that we are accustomed to consider kosher.

What is a crop?

The crop is a very interesting part of a bird’s digestive system. It is essentially a storage bag for undigested food that Hashem provided for smaller birds to enable them to survive in the wild. A brief description of the life of a small bird will help us understand the chesed Hashem performed for these birds.

Smaller birds always need to worry that they are potential lunch for larger ones. As such, they must be careful to expose themselves to harm very briefly before returning to their safe hideouts. What happens if a small bird finds a plentiful supply of seeds that would keep it satisfied for a while, but the seeds are located in a place where a leisurely feast could easily render the bird into an available dinner for a predator?

Hashem came to the rescue of the smaller bird and provided it with a crop! The crop does not digest the food, but functions as an expandable storage pouch allowing the small bird to gobble its food quickly. Once the gizzard and crop hold as much as they possibly can, the bird escapes to its safe cover, secure from predators. At this point, the gizzard grinds the seeds inside it, and when empty receives more from the crop. This way the bird gradually turns into nutrition what it quickly gobbled without having to reach for a bottle of Tums to recover from the huge indigestion that afflicts humans when they eat too much at one time.

REASONS FOR A CROP

Although we cannot be certain of the reasons for the Torah’s mitzvos, the commentators conclude that we should attempt to understand why the Torah commanded us concerning the mitzvos. Perhaps the crop is a siman of kosher birds since smaller birds that eat seeds usually possess this organ in order to protect themselves from predators. Thus, although man usually lauds the large, impressive birds such as the eagle, falcon, and condor, the Torah is teaching that its message is better conveyed through the smaller birds that protect themselves by fleeing. We find this idea in a Midrash, which points out that the only bird kosher for the mizbayach are doves, which are hunted by larger birds of prey.

ONE CAN PEEL ITS GIZZARD

One of the four simanim of a kosher bird is that one can peel off the inside of its gizzard. We are all familiar with a chicken’s gizzard, although many of us know it by its Yiddish name, the pupek. The hard muscle of the pupek grinds the food, which begins its digestive process. A bird swallows its food whole, which means that its gizzard must accomplish what humans achieve with their teeth and saliva.

How does the toothless bird “chew” the seeds it eats? Hashem, who provides food even for the young raven (Tehillim 147:9), provided all birds with the ability to digest their food in incredible ways. The bird swallows pebbles which are held in the gizzard. The powerful gizzard muscles grind the food with these pebbles.

The special lining of the gizzard protects the gizzard itself from becoming damaged by these stones. In birds containing all four kosher simanim, this lining of the gizzard can be peeled off the gizzard (obviously, only post-mortem).

BY HAND OR BY BLADE?

The Gemara discusses eight varieties of bird that have uncertain kashrus status. In all eight cases, the birds were not doreis and may have been kosher. However, these birds’ gizzards can be peeled only by a knife, and not with one’s fingernails. The Gemara was uncertain whether this qualifies as a kosher siman. Since we cannot positively identify these eight varieties of bird as kosher, and we have no mesorah identifying them as such, we must treat them as non-kosher (Chullin 62b).

AN EXTRA CLAW

One of the four simanim that can identify a bird as definitely kosher is the possession of an “extra claw.” Where is this extra claw located?

The Rishonim disagree, some understanding that this claw points in the opposite direction from the other claws of the birds; whereas others explain that in addition this claw must protrude at a higher point on the leg than the other claws. A third approach understands that the claw is on the same side of the bird’s leg as the other claws but protrudes outward farther than the others.

Although these differences seem rather technical for those of us who are not habitual bird watchers, there is a significant nomenclature concern that results from this discussion. Is a nesher indeed an eagle?

Chazal tell us that of the 24 non-kosher birds identified by the Torah, only a nesher lacks all four kosher signs. This means that only a nesher is doreis, does not possess an “extra claw,” is crop-less, and has a gizzard that cannot be peeled. Any bird that has some of these simanim, but not all, may indeed not be kosher, but it is not a nesher.

IS THE NESHER AN EAGLE?

“Everyone” knows that a nesher is an eagle. However, Tosafos notes that an eagle possesses a talon that is opposite the other claws on its leg, and on this basis he concludes that a nesher cannot possible be an eagle since a nesher should not have this sign (Chullin 63a s.v. neitz). Those of us distressed to discover that the United States national bird is not a nesher will find solace in the explanation offered by the Aruch HaShulchan – that the kosher siman is that the opposing claw must also be raised higher than the other claws — whereas an eagle’s opposing claw is directly opposite the other claws (Yoreh Deah 82:3). Thus, our national pride indeed possesses no signs of kashrus!

All of this does not explain whether we can eat prairie chicken or Muscovy duck. To answer this question, we will have to wait for the sequel. (Click here to view the article.)

This is the Way We Bake Our Bread! – Some Practical Questions about Hilchos Challah

clip_image002Shaylah #1: Mrs. Ginsburg calls me with the following question:

“I like to separate challah with a bracha, but I do not have a bowl big enough to hold the minimum amount of dough necessary. Instead, I have been mixing the dough in two bowls, and draping a cloth over them. Someone told me that this is not a satisfactory method of combining the doughs and that I have been reciting invalid brachos as a result. What is the correct way to separate challah?”

Shaylah #2: Mrs. Bracha, Mrs. Ginsburg’s friend, was curious why Mrs. Ginsburg was trying to combine her two doughs. “After all, let her just ‘take challah’ on each bowl separately. Why all this hassle?” Which of the two good ladies is correct?

Shaylah #3: In preparation for Shalach Manos, Mrs. Lowenstein is baking her challahs in small batches and placing them in her freezer. Should she separate challah from them?

AM I BAKING CHALLAH OR “TAKING” CHALLAH?

In the last question, I used the word challah to mean two completely different things – our special Shabbos bread, and the consecrated portion that we separate from dough. Indeed a very strange misnomer has occurred in both Yiddish and English that often creates confusion. Whenever someone mixes a large dough or batter intending to bake it, he or she is required to separate a special portion called challah. In the time of the Beis HaMikdash, a generous portion was separated from each dough and given to a kohen. Only a kohen or his family and only when they were tahor could eat the challah, which had special sanctity. Today, since we are all tamei and cannot rid ourselves of this tumah, no one may eat the challah; therefore we separate a small piece, which we burn or dispose of respectfully.

On the other hand, the word challah also came to refer to our special Shabbos bread . To avoid confusion, I will refer to the special Shabbos bread as “bread,” rather than challah, and the word “challah” will refer to the consecrated portion separated from dough or bread to fulfill the mitzvah.

Indeed, it is a very important mitzvah for a woman to bake bread for Shabbos, rather than purchase it from a bakery (Bi’ur Halacha, Orach Chayim 242 s.v. vehu), and it is an even bigger mitzvah to bake enough to separate challah with a bracha (Rama, Orach Chayim 242). However, as we will see in discussing the questions raised above, these mitzvos can sometimes become complicated.

The Torah teaches us the mitzvah of challah in Parshas Shlach (Bamidbar 15:18-21). I quote some of the pasukim:

(18) Speak to the children of Israel and say to them, upon your entry to the land that I am bringing you there.

(19) And it will be when you eat from the bread of the land, that you should consecrate a special portion for Hashem’s sake.

(20) The first of your kneading bowls is challah; you should consecrate it just as you consecrate part of your grain.

Note that Pasuk 19 refers to separating challah when you eat bread, whereas Pasuk 20 mentions taking challah from your kneading bowls. This leads us to a question: Why does the Torah tell us to separate challah from bread if we already separated challah when we were kneading it? The two references imply that sometimes we must separate challah when kneading dough, whereas at other times we are not obligated to do so until it is already bread. Stay tuned to find out how this applies.

HOW TO SEPARATE

Before answering Mrs. Ginsburg’s question, we need to explain the basic method of challah taking.

The simplest method of separating challah is as follows:

1. Separate a piece of the dough that will become the challah portion, but do not intend that it should become challah yet. The custom is that the piece should be at least as large as a small olive (Rama, Yoreh Deah 322:5).

2. Touch the piece to the rest of the dough.

3. Recite the bracha Asher kidishanu bimitzvosav vitzivanu lihafrish challah. Many people have the custom of adding the words min ha’isah to the end of the bracha. (Others end the bracha with the words lihafrish terumah, lihafrish terumah challah, or lihafrish terumas challah instead of lihafrish challah.)

4. Declare that the piece is challah. If saying this part in Hebrew, simply say “Harei zu challah.” One can just as easily say in English: “This is Challah.” Technically, one does not need to declare the portion challah verbally; it is sufficient to simply think which piece becomes challah. (This last case is useful when someone serves you bread or cake and you are uncertain whether challah was separated. Simply have in mind now to designate part of the bread as challah and leave that part uneaten.)

5. One should treat the separated portion, which is now challah, as non-kosher and destroy it. One may wrap it up carefully in two layers of aluminum foil and burn it in one’s oven or on top of the stove. In our ovens, one may burn the challah while using the oven for cooking or baking, so long as one is careful that it does not unwrap. Even if it does unwrap, it will not prohibit anything baked in the oven at the same time; however if it touches the oven itself, that part of the oven will require kashering. Because of the latter concern, some people prefer to wrap it carefully and respectfully place it in the garbage.

MINIMUM AMOUNTS

To answer Mrs. Ginsburg’s question how she should separate challah, we must first appreciate that there is no mitzvah to take challah if one is baking only a small amount of dough. Referring back to our Pasuk, we will see why this is true.

When the Torah required separating challah from “your kneading bowls,” to whom was the Torah speaking? Obviously, the generation living in the Desert, who were eating man. The Torah (Shemos 16:32) tells us that each individual gathered one omer of man each day in the Desert. Since the “bowl” used by the Jews in the Desert contained one omer, we know that this is the size bowl that the Torah is describing.

How big is an omer? The Torah (Shemos 16:36) teaches that this was one-tenth the size of an eifah, but that does not help us if we do not know the size of an eifah. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 324:1) rules that an omer contains 43.2 eggs. By the way, the gematria of the word challah is 43, and the last letter of challah is a hei, whose gematria is five. This is a good way to remember that the minimum size of separating challah is a dough the size of 43 and 1/5 eggs (Shach 324:2).

However, today we are uncertain how much dough this means since eggs vary tremendously in size. For our purposes, I am suggesting an estimate. We will assume that less than eight cups of flour does not require separating challah, and that one should not recite a bracha before separating challah unless one uses at least five pounds of flour. Any amount in between requires separating challah but without reciting a bracha. These figures are estimates and your Rav may give you different amounts.

If you ask me why I gave the first measurement in cups and the second in pounds, the answer is very simple. Cups are a less accurate measure than pounds, but more commonly used. If a woman knows that every time she uses eight cups of flour she should take challah without a bracha she is unlikely to miss taking challah when necessary. On the other hand, a bracha requires a more accurate measure, and most poskim require a bracha over dough made from five pounds of flour, although many poskim rule that one should recite a bracha even if using less.

WHY SEPARATE CHALLAH WITHOUT A BRACHA?

One recites the bracha only when certain that the dough is large enough to fulfill the mitzvah. If the batch is too small to fulfill the mitzvah, then a bracha would be levatalah, in vain. On the other hand, if one is required to separate challah, then one may not eat the bread without separating challah. Since it is uncertain exactly how much flour requires challah, we separate challah on any dough without a bracha when it is questionable whether one is required.

Preferably, one should try to recite a bracha before performing a mitzvah. Therefore, it is preferred to make a batch large enough to separate challah with a bracha. However, if one does not need such a large amount and it will go to waste, one should make a smaller dough and separate challah without a bracha (assuming that the batch contains at least eight cups of flour). It is preferable to bake fresh bread for every Shabbos rather than bake a double-batch one week and freeze half for the next week, unless the frozen bread tastes as good as the fresh variety.

We have now answered Shaylah #2, the dispute between Mrs. Bracha and Mrs. Ginsburg whether one should try to combine doughs to recite a bracha on the mitzvah. Indeed, one should.

Furthermore, one may not deliberately make small doughs to avoid taking challah altogether (Gemara Pesachim 48b; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 324:14). Therefore, someone making small batches should combine them into one larger batch in order to fulfill the mitzvah.

BATCHING TOGETHER

How does one combine different batches of dough or bread?

There are two general ways to combine different doughs into one “batch” in order to perform the mitzvah of separating challah. The first is by actually combining two doughs together; the second is by using a vessel to combine doughs or breads into what is now considered to be one batch.

HOW DO WE COMBINE DOUGHS?

One can combine two doughs by touching them together sufficiently that parts of one dough will join the other dough when separating them (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 325:1 and Taz). This sticking together is enough to make the different batches considered as one.

Thus, Mrs. Ginsburg could combine her two doughs by touching them until the doughs stick together. Although this is often a simple way to combine two doughs, Mrs. Ginsburg pointed out that this approach is impractical when her doughs are mixed in two separate bowls. However, a simple solution is to wait until after the doughs rise and then to place them both on the board or tray for braiding. At this point, she should touch the doughs together until they stick to one another and become considered one dough.

“Does this mean that I can never take challah until my dough is removed from the bowls?” asked Mrs. Ginsburg. “I would prefer to separate challah while the dough is still in the bowl.”

Indeed, there are two possible ways she could take challah from the dough while it is still in the bowl, although each approach has its potential drawbacks.

A. If the dough rises in the bowls until it is high enough that one can touch the two doughs together, one may separate challah from one dough for both of them after sticking the two together. Of course, this is only possible if both doughs rise until they are higher than the top of the bowl.

B. A second approach involves placing the two bowls in a sheet or tablecloth in a way that the two bowls are touching while inside the sheet or cloth (Mishnah Berurah 457:7). Then fold the sheet or cloth over the bowls until it covers the doughs, even partially. I will explain shortly why this combines the doughs together. For reasons beyond the scope of this article, I prefer method “A” to method “B.”

HOW DO WE BATCH BREADS?

Another method of combining either dough or bread from small batches into one large batch to fulfill the mitzvah of challah is to place them together in a basket or other vessel (Mishnah Challah 2:4; Gemara Pesachim 48b).

Why does a basket make two or more different batches into one batch? Refer back to the Pasukim that I quoted earlier:

Pasuk 19: And it will be when you eat from the bread of the land, that you should consecrate a special portion for Hashem’s sake.

Pasuk 20: The first of your kneading bowls is challah; you should consecrate it just as you consecrate part of your grain.

I noted above that Pasuk 19 refers to separating challah when you eat bread, whereas Pasuk 20 mentions taking challah from your kneading bowls, which implies that we already separated challah when it was dough. Why does the Torah teach us to separate challah from bread when we already separated challah when it was being kneaded? The answer is that sometimes a dough is too small to require separating challah, but placing the baked bread (from two or more such doughs) in a basket will create a batch large enough to perform the mitzvah!

AN EXCEPTION — A MIX THAT DOES NOT WORK

If one does not want to combine two doughs, for example, if one dough is whole wheat flour and the other is white, or one is bread dough and the other pastry, then combining the two batches does not work (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 326:1). These batches remain separate unless one actually mixes the two doughs together. Thus, even if one touched together hamantashen dough with bread dough and the two combined have the requisite amount to separate challah, they do not combine.

At this point, we can answer Mrs. Ginsburg’s shaylah, about combining two batches of dough mixed in separate bowls. I have suggested two methods whereby one can combine the two batches into a five-pound batch and recite a bracha before the separating:

1. Take the different doughs and touch them together until the edges stick to one another. Do this either while the dough is in bowls or any time afterwards before the bread is baked.

2. Place the doughs or breads together inside one basket, cloth, or vessel. Since they are all inside one container, this combines them into one batch. Preferably, the dough or breads should all touch one another (Mishnah Berurah 457:7).

We can now analyze Mrs. Lowenstein’s question whether her freezer combines the breads into one batch that requires her to separate challah?

DOES ANY VESSEL COMBINE BREAD INTO ONE BATCH?

Previously, we discussed how one can combine to batches together for mitzvas challah by placing them into one basket. Does putting breads or hamantashen from many small batches into the freezer together create a mitzvah of separating challah?

The Gemara (Pesachim 48b) teaches that a table with a rim around it combines small batches of bread together to create a mitzvah of challah. Thus, it seems that a basket is simply an example. However, many Rishonim imply that the mitzvah of challah is created by a vessel only while in the process of baking bread, but not afterwards (Rashi, Pesachim 48b; She’iltos #73; Eimek Shei’lah who explains these opinions meticulously). However, the Rosh (Beitzah 1:13) implies that if a large quantity of bread is mistakenly placed into one vessel later, it will become obligated in challah at this point, and therefore he recommends combining all the doughs together earlier and separating challah. Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 457:1) implies that he rules like the first opinion, unlike the Rosh.

Although some poskim suggest that a freezer will combine just as a basket combines, most contemporary poskim rule that this is not a concern for a variety of reasons. These reasons include: 1) This takes place long after you finished making the bread. 2) You have no intent to combine the doughs together. 3) A freezer may not be considered a vessel at all because of its size and weight. 4) The doughs are all bagged before they are placed inside the freezer (see Machazeh Eliyahu #l11; Shu’t Nimla Tal).

We can now answer questions 1 and 3 that we posed at the beginning. 1) One should indeed try to combine different batches of dough or bread in order to separate challah from them, and in order to be able to recite the bracha. 3) Although a vessel or tablecloth will combine different doughs into challah, a freezer does not create a concern that requires separating challah, nor does it combine batches for challah taking.

Having discussed the halachic details of this mitzvah, it is worthwhile taking a glimpse at the following Medrash that underscores its vast spiritual significance: “In the merit of the following three mitzvos the world was created – in the merit of challah, in the merit of maasros, and in the merit of bikkurim” (Breishis Rabbah 1:4). Thus, besides gaining us eternal reward, this easily kept mitzvah helps keep our planet turning.

Anyone for a Giraffe Burger?

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For that matter, what about a venison (deer meat) roast!

Reb Yehudah, a respected Israeli talmid chacham, calls me with the following question: His grandparents have retired and moved to Israel. Now they have invited the entire family over for a Chanukas HaBayis where Zeide is proudly planning to serve barbecued “buffalo steaks” that he brought from America. Reb Yehudah cannot figure out how his grandfather can serve buffalo, or more accurately, bison meat, and Zeide, a frum man all his life, cannot figure out what the problem is — after all, he specially purchased meat with the finest hechsher. I was called upon to mediate.

Before discussing the halachic issues regarding giraffe burgers and buffalo steaks, we will need some background information:

SOME BASIC ANIMAL FACTS

The Torah writes: “Hashem spoke to Moshe and to Aharon saying to them.’Speak to the children of Israel saying, these are the beasts from which you may eat. From the animals that are upon the ground: Whatever has a split hoof that is separated completely and ruminates (chews its cud) among the animals: Those you may eat'” (Vayikra 11:1-3). Thus the Torah defines any land animal with a totally split hoof that chews its cud as kosher. These two signs, or simanim, indicating that their proud owner is kosher, are possessed by sheep, goats, the many varieties of deer and antelope, as well as the entire bovine family, including Western domesticated cattle, Indian zebu cattle, Asian  water buffalo, African cape buffalo, European bison (also called the wisent), American bison (colloquially and inaccurately referred to in North America as buffalo), and Himalayan yak. On the other hand, although a camel chews its cud and has a split hoof, since its hoof is only partially split and not fully separated it is not kosher (Vayikra 11:4). Although I have read articles claiming otherwise, visual inspection of giraffe feet shows that they have fully split hooves.

ANIMALS VERSUS BIRDS

There is a major halachic difference between land animals and birds in determining whether it is a kosher species. Unlike kosher animals, which are identified by the above two simanim, birds are determined to be kosher if they are omitted from the Torah’s list of 24 non-Kosher birds. Since so many thousands of bird species exist, it is obvious that most are kosher. The question is how does one identify the non-kosher varieties?

SIMANIM VERSUS MESORAH

The Gemara (Chullin 61b) specifies four indicating features (simanim); any bird species that contains all four features is kosher. However, many Rishonim contend that we do not rely on our understanding of these simanim and only eat fowl for which we have an oral tradition, a mesorah, that they are kosher (Rashi, Chullin 62b s.v. Chazyuha). The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 82:2) rules that one may rely on simanim, while the Rama (82:3) cites the custom not to eat any species of bird without a mesorah.

In addition to our basic background about identifying kosher species of land animals and of birds, we need to distinguish between two categories of kosher animal.

BEHEIMAH VERSUS CHAYAH

Kosher land animals are divided into two categories, beheimah and chayah. Although beheimah (pl., beheimos) is often translated as domesticated species and chayah (pl., chayos) as wild species, these definitions are halachically inaccurate, as we will see.

There are three halachic differences between a beheimah and a chayah.

CHEILEV — FORBIDDEN FAT

1. The Torah forbade consuming certain fats called cheilev, most of which protect the stomachs and kidneys (Chullin 93a). Eating cheilev is a very serious halachic prohibition, similar in severity to eating on Yom Kippur (Mishnah Kereisus 2a)!

The prohibition of cheilev applies to all species of beheimah, but does not apply to chayos (Mishnah Chullin 89b). Thus, someone eating the fat protecting the kidney of a properly slaughtered kosher sheep or calf has violated a prohibition similar to eating on Yom Kippur for consuming cheilev, whereas the greatest tzadik may eat the cheilev of a deer, which is a chayah. Thus one may enjoy a sumptuous venison roast without concern that he is eating any forbidden fat!

KISUY HADAM — COVERING THE BLOOD

2. Another mitzvah that is affected by whether a species is a chayah or a beheimah is the mitzvah of kisuy hadam, covering the blood immediately after shechitah. This mitzvah applies to chayah species (and to fowl), but not to beheimos (Mishnah Chullin 83b). Prior to covering this blood, a bracha is recited, as we do when fulfilling most mitzvos.

Thus, if a species is a chayah, one is required to cover the blood spilled during shechitah, and one may eat its cheilev fat. If it is a beheimah, there is no requirement to cover the blood, but eating its cheilev is strictly forbidden. So, after performing shechitah on our deer, one recites a bracha and then covers the blood with dirt or sawdust.

KOY — AN ANIMAL WITHOUT A SENSE OF IDENTITY

The Mishnah (Bikkurim 2:8- 11) discusses a species called koy (sometimes pronounced kvee), whose status is unclear. Although it is certainly a kosher species, we do not know whether it is a beheimah or a chayah. Due to this uncertainty, it has the stringencies of both categories: its fat is forbidden and one must cover its shechitah blood, but without a bracha. We omit the bracha because we are uncertain whether the Torah required covering its blood. If there is indeed no mitzvah, reciting a bracha before covering its blood would be a bracha livatalah, a bracha recited in vain. As a result, we cover the blood, which may be a mitzvah, but do not recite a bracha, since perhaps it is not.

KORBANOS

3. A third mitzvah affected by whether a species is a chayah or a beheimah is korbanos. One may not offer chayos on the mizbeiach in the Beis HaMikdash; only beheimos are kosher for this purpose (Zevachim 34a; Rambam, Hilchos Issurei Mizbeiach 5:6). Thus, although deer are kosher, we may not use them as korbanos.

We have established that one can have kosher venison roast and need not be concerned about its cheilev and that, as a self-respecting chayah, it is not acceptable as a korban. Serving venison on Pesach will be a welcome change of pace and a conversation piece, although one may not eat roast venison at the Seder since the custom is not to eat any roast meat then (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 476:2).

Since there are several halachic differences between beheimah and chayah, we need to define which species are beheimah and which are chayah. After all, no one wants to eat kidney fat of a beheimah thinking that it was a chayah!

WHAT IS A CHAYAH?

The Written Torah did not indicate the defining characteristics distinguishing beheimos from chayos, leaving these rules to the Torah sheba’al peh, the Oral Torah. The Gemara (Chullin 59b) mentions several characteristics, mostly dependent on the animal’s horns: A branched horn defines its species as chayah, whereas non-branched horns may indicate either a chayah or a beheimah depending on whether they grow in layers, are grooved, and whether their tips are curved or straight (Rashi ad loc.; cf. Rabbeinu Chananel). Therefore, any species possessing branched horns or antlers like those found on most deer is a chayah, whereas those with straight horns may be either chayah or beheimah depending on the other criteria. Since all antelope (a general category that includes several dozen species) have un-branched horns, one would need to examine the horns of each species to determine whether it is a beheimah or a chayah. (Technically speaking, the difference between deer and antelope is that deer have antlers that shed and re-grow annually, whereas antelope have permanent un-branched horns.) (There is one halachic opinion [Shu”t Beis Yaakov #41, quoted by Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 80:1] who contends that a chayah without horns is not kosher at all, but this approach is rejected by other halachic authorities [Pischei Teshuvah].)

Note that whether a species is categorized as a beheimah or as a chayah has no bearing on whether it is domesticated or not. Reindeer, although domesticated, are clearly a chayah since they have branched antlers, whereas there are non-domesticated species that are almost certainly beheimah according to halacha.

BUFFALO

The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 28:4) rules that one does not perform kisuy hadam for a buffalo; this determines it to be definitely a beheimah. (He is presumably referring to the Asian water buffalo, which was domesticated in Southern Europe hundreds of years before the Shulchan Aruch. He is certainly not referring to the American bison.) If there was any uncertainty regarding its status as a beheimah, the Shulchan Aruch would require kisuy hadam without a bracha – after all we would not ignore this mitzvah, particularly since it is easy to perform. However, the Rama (ad loc.) rules that the status of the buffalo is uncertain and contends that one should cover its blood but without a bracha. According to both opinions, the cheilev is forbidden — according to the Shulchan Aruch, definitely, as the cheilev of a beheimah, and according to the Rama, because of doubt.

A SECOND INTRODUCTION

According to everything that we have so far explained, the North American bison, which ruminates and has clearly split hooves, is clearly a kosher species. Referring back to our opening question: What made Reb Yehudah, our Israeli talmid chacham, think that bison is non-kosher?

The controversy that erupted in Reb Yehudah’s family originated in how to interpret the words of the major halacha authority, the Shach. Commenting on Shulchan Aruch’s definition of the differences between a beheimah and a chayah, the Shach (Yoreh Deah 80:1) writes “I did not elaborate… since today we only use what we have received with a mesorah.” He then concludes with a reference to the laws of kosher birds. The Shach’s comparison of the laws of animals to that of birds implies that accepted practice is to eat only land animal species that have a mesorah that they were eaten, and not to rely on the simanim that they are kosher, even when these simanim are obvious! This seems to run counter to the Gemara’s ruling that simanim are adequate to determine their kashrus.

The Pri Megadim, the major commentary on the Shach, discusses this difficulty and concludes that the Shach meant something else: since the defining distinctions between chayah and beheimah are sometimes unclear, we do not eat the cheilev of any species unless we have a mesorah that it is indeed a chayah. In practical terms, this means that the only land animals whose cheilev we permit are deer, since they are the only chayah species for which we have a definite mesorah. Therefore, according to the Pri Megadim, if someone moves to an area where he encounters a new species that has branched antlers like a deer, has split hooves and chews its cud, he may eat the meat of this animal (after properly shechting it) but he may not eat the cheilev even though it is certainly a chayah.

ANOTHER INTERPRETATION OF THE SHACH

Not all halachic authorities interpret the Shach as the Pri Megadim does. The Chazon Ish (Yoreh Deah 11:4, 5) explains the Shach literally and also understands the rulings of other authorities (Chochmas Odom; Aruch HaShulchan) as agreeing with his interpretation. In his opinion, Shach is referring to a minhag, established in his generation or earlier, to not eat any animal species for which there was no mesorah. Chazon Ish suggests several reasons why such a minhag may have begun, including the possibility that people would not know how to check whether this unfamiliar animal is a tereifah (has some flaw that renders it non-kosher) or that they may assume that it is a chayah and permit its cheilev when it is not.

On the other hand, several other prominent poskim (Kaf HaChayim 80:5;

Darkei Teshuvah 80:3) were unaware of such a minhag, and, in addition, many authorities question why early poskim never clearly mention such a practice.

CONTROVERSIAL RESULTS – 1950 IN MADAGASCAR

In 1950, there was an attempt to import Madagascar beef from a variety of cattle called zebu into the new State of Israel. The zebu, the common cattle of India, has some noticeable differences from the common European beef cattle, including a large hump between its shoulders, and a very large hanging fold of skin under its throat called a dewlap. It definitely ruminates and has fully split hooves.

A dispute developed between the Chazon Ish and Rav Herzog, first Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel, regarding whether this meat could be considered kosher and imported into Eretz Yisroel, Rav Herzog contending that there is no need to have a mesorah that a species of beef is kosher, and the Chazon Ish objecting. To avoid a major dispute within the fledgling country, Rav Herzog did not allow the beef into the country.

1990’S IN SOUTH AMERICA

A few years ago, a major controversy developed in Eretz Yisroel regarding the origin of the kosher beef raised in South America. Land in Israel is scarce, whereas much of South America is perfect for raising beef cattle. In recent years, even the hechsherim with the highest standards have arranged for shechitah in South America, significantly lowering the price of beef.

A question arose regarding the common breeds of South American beef cattle because they include animals crossbred from different varieties, including the zebu. Rav Elyashiv, who usually rules according to the Chazon Ish, contended that one should not slaughter these cattle for kosher use without verifying that they are not descended from zebu cattle. Other Eretz Yisroel poskim were not concerned about this possibility, contending that even if a minhag exists not to eat zebu, the practice does not include beef varieties that look like European cattle, even if their ancestral background may include zebu.

GIRAFFE BURGERS

Certainly the Chazon Ish would not approve of giraffe meat, even though giraffe has fully split hooves and ruminates. Contrary to a common misconception, a giraffe has perfectly split hooves, and also chews its cud. Other than the Chazon Ish’s concern about mesorah, there is only one halachic reason to ban giraffe meat – the opinion of the Beis Yaakov, quoted above, that a chayah must have horns. Although a giraffe has boney protrusions on the top of its head, some might argue that these are not true horns, thus concluding that a giraffe is non-kosher according to this opinion of the Beis Yaakov. However, since most authorities reject this approach, the giraffe can safely be regarded as a kosher species because of its simanim.

Actually, to the best of my knowledge, no one has ever shechted a giraffe because of several practical concerns. Giraffe meat is so tough that even non-Jews are not tempted to eat its meat. Also, giraffes are very expensive zoo animals, and are extremely powerful creatures difficult to convince that they should cooperate with the shocheit. However, there is no truth to the persistent rumor that no one knows where to shecht a giraffe. The area of its neck appropriate for shechitah may run up to seven feet long, certainly many times the length of the corresponding shechitah area of a dove.

BUFFALO BURGERS

At this point, we will return to our original discussion. Reb Yehudah, an Israeli avreich, has been invited to a bison barbecue hosted by his grandfather. Reb Yehudah follows all of Rav Elyashiv’s rulings, and certainly those of the Chazon Ish, to the letter. Someone like him may not eat from a species such as bison, which obviously cannot have a long-standing mesorah since it is a native American. Reb Yehudah could not comprehend how someone could provide a hechsher to a product that the Chazon Ish would prohibit.

On the other hand, not all chareidi Eretz Yisroel poskim accept the Chazon Ish’s ruling in this matter. Rav Vozner (Shu”t Shevet HaLevi 10:114), in a responsum addressed to some chassidic poskim, ruled that one may slaughter and eat species that do not have a mesorah. He was uncertain whether the Chochmas Odom and the Shach ever meant that land animal species require a mesorah. However, Rav Vozner ruled this way only for chutz la’aretz and alluded to the possibility that one should be stringent in Eretz Yisroel out of deference to the Chazon Ish.

CREATING SHALOM

With this background, I will explain how I mediated the family feud that had developed between Zeidi and Reb Yehudah. Reb Yehudah called me first. I explained to him that although Rav Elyashiv and the Chazon Ish would clearly prohibit bison because of minhag, many prominent poskim dispute that such a minhag exists, contending that one may eat a species identifiably kosher. Thus, someone who follows Rav Elyashiv or the Chazon Ish in halachic decisions should indeed not eat a species that has no mesorah. On the other hand, one who follows other poskim is entitled to rely on those opinions who consider these species to be kosher based on simanim.

I then spoke to Zeidi, who was perturbed that his grandson did not consider him kosher enough and that “Yehudala” was going off the deep end with his chumros. I explained that although American poskim rule bison to be kosher, once the Chazon Ish holds that a minhag exists to eat animals only with a mesorah, the people that Yehudah lives among will not be lenient against the Chazon Ish’s position. I assured Zeidi that Yehudah was not hunting (no pun intended) for chumros, but that in his circle this was accepted halacha. Although Zeidi was disappointed that Yehudah would never enjoy “buffalo,” he accepted my explanation and served beef steak, presumably not zebu, in addition to his buffalo burgers.

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