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.




Some Contemporary Bishul Akum Curiosities

Situation #1: THE GREAT CRANBERRY DEBATE

Avrumie calls me with the following question: “We are presently studying the laws of bishul akum in kollel, and someone asked how we can buy canned cranberries that are not bishul Yisrael, that is, not cooked by Jews. They seem to fulfill all the requirements of the prohibition.”

Situation #2: THE BISHUL YISRAEL QUIZZER

A different member of Avrumie’s kollel raised another question:

Is there a legitimate halachic reason why a hechsher would require the same product to be bishul Yisrael in one factory and not in another?

Situation #3: DRAMA IN REAL LIFE

Many years ago, I substituted for the mashgiach at a vegetable cannery that was producing products for a kosher manufacture who claimed his products were bishul Yisrael. After arriving at the factory first thing in the morning as instructed, a foreman directed me to push a certain button, which, I assumed, initiated the cooking process. Upon examining the equipment, however, I realized that this button simply directed the cans to enter the cooker. This would probably only make the first cans into bishul Yisrael, but not the rest of the entire day’s production. A different solution was necessary, such as momentarily adjusting the temperature of the cooker and then resetting it, which accomplishes that I had provided fuel and thereby had cooked the vegetables. When I notified the foreman of this requirement, he firmly asserted: “This is the only button the rabbis ever push.”

Having no connections at the factory, I called the rabbi responsible for the hechsher; he did not answer his phone at that time of the morning.

What was I to do? Let Jews eat non-kosher veggies?

INTRODUCTION TO BISHUL AKUM CUISINE

Modern food production and distribution affects us in many ways, including kashrus. One aspect of kashrus with many new and interesting applications is bishul akum, the prohibition against eating food cooked by a gentile. Chazal instituted this law to guarantee uncompromised kashrus and to discourage inappropriate social interaction, which in turn leads to the prohibition of idolatry (Rashi, Avodah Zarah Avodah Zarah 38a s.v. miderabbanan and Tosafos ad loc.; Rashi, Avodah Zarah 35b s. v. vehashelakos; see also Avodah Zarah 36b). This law has numerous ramifications for caterers and restaurants who need to guarantee that a Jew is involved in the cooking of their product. It also prohibits Jewish households from allowing a gentile to cook without appropriate arrangements.

SICHON’S FOLLY

In addition, the Gemara tries to find a source for the prohibition of bishul akum in the Torah itself. When the Bnei Yisrael offered to purchase all their victuals from Sichon and his nation, Emori, they could purchase only food that was unchanged through gentile cooking (see Devarim 2:26- 28; and Bamidbar 21:21- 25). Any food altered by Emori cooking was prohibited because of bishul akum (Avodah Zarah 37b).

Although the Gemara rejects this Biblical source and concludes that bishul akum is an injunction of the Sages, early authorities theorize that this proscription was enacted very early in Jewish history, otherwise how could the Gemara even suggest that its origins are Biblical (see Tosafos s.v. vehashelakos)?

Please note that throughout the article, whenever I say that something does not involve bishul akum, it might still be forbidden for a variety of other reasons. Also, the purpose of our column is not to furnish definitive halachic ruling but to provide background in order to know when and what to ask one’s rav.

BASIC HALACHIC BACKGROUND

When Chazal prohibited bishul akum, they did not prohibit all gentile-cooked foods, but only foods where the gentile’s cooking provides significant pleasure to the consumer. For example, there are three major categories of gentile-cooked foods that are permitted. We can remember them through the acronym: YUM, Yehudi, Uncooked, Monarch.

I. Yehudi

If a Jew participated in the cooking, the food is permitted even when a gentile did most of the cooking.

II. Uncooked

A food that could be eaten raw is exempt from the prohibition of bishul akum even when a non-Jew cooked it completely. This is because cooking such an item is not considered significant (Rashi, Beitzah 16a).

III. Monarch

Bishul akum applies only to food that one would serve on a king’s table. Chazal did not prohibit bishul akum when the food is less prominent because one would not invite a guest for such a meal, and therefore there is no concern that inappropriate social interaction may result (Rambam, Hil. Maachalos Asuros 17:15). Because of space considerations, I will leave further discussion of this important sub-topic for a future article. (Other aspects of the laws of bishul akum, such as the fact that smoked food is exempt from this prohibition, will also be left for future discussion.)

Let us explain some of these rules a bit more extensively.

I. Yehudi

WHAT IS CONSIDERED COOKED BY A JEW?

Extensive halachic discussion is devoted to defining how much of the cooking must be done by a Jew to avoid bishul akum. In practical terms, the Rama permits the food if a Jew lit the fire or increased the flame used to cook the food even if he was not actually involved in cooking the food in any other way. On the other hand, the Shulchan Aruch requires that a Jew must actually cook the food until it is edible (Yoreh Deah 113:7).

II. Uncooked

A cooked food that can be eaten raw is exempt from the prohibition of bishul akum. For example, one may eat apple sauce or canned pineapple cooked by a gentile, since both apples and pineapples are eaten raw. Similarly, if the concerns of chalav akum and gevinas akum are addressed, one may eat cheese cooked by a gentile since its raw material, milk, is consumable raw.

Understanding this rule leads to several key questions. When is a raw food called “inedible?” Must it be completely inedible prior to cooking? Assuming that this is so; would the definition of “completely inedible” be contingent on whether no one eats it, or whether most people do not eat it uncooked although some individuals do?

BUDDY’S SPUDS

An example will clarify my question. My friend, Buddy, enjoys eating raw potatoes, contrary to general preference. Do Buddy’s unusual taste buds mean that spuds are not a bishul akum concern?

The halachic authorities reject this approach, most concluding that we follow what most people would actually eat raw, even if they prefer eating it cooked (see, for example, Ritva, Avodah Zarah 38a; Pri Chodosh, Yoreh Deah 113:3; Birkei Yosef ad loc: 1, 9; Darkei Teshuvah 113:3, 4). In practice, different hechsherim and rabbanim follow divergent criteria to determine exactly which foods are prohibited because they are considered inedible raw.

BOGGED DOWN WITH THE CRANBERRIES.

Avrumie’s kollel’s question involves this very issue: “Someone asked how we can buy canned cranberries that are not bishul Yisrael. They seem to fulfill all the requirements of the prohibition.”

Here is a highly practical result of the debate regarding what is considered suitable for eating uncooked. Are cranberries considered edible when they are raw? Someone who attempts to pop raw cranberries will keep his dentist well supported since the rock-hard berries defy chewing. Thus, there is a strong argument that cranberries require cooking to become edible and consequently constitute a bishul akum concern.

On the other hand, the deeply revered Cranberry Council provides recipes for eating raw cranberries by slicing or grinding them. Does the opinion of the sagacious Council categorize this fruit as an item that one can eat without cooking so that we can remove from it the stigma of bishul akum? The advantage of this approach is a savings for a concerned hechsher since it can now approve the esteemed berry as kosher even when no mashgiach is present to push the buttons that cook the fruit.

GEOGRAPHIC INFLUENCES

What happens if a particular vegetable is commonly consumed uncooked in one country, but not in another? For example: I have been told that artichokes are commonly eaten raw in Egypt, but not in Spain, although they are grown for export in both countries. (Not being much of a traveler or of an artichoke connoisseur, we will assume that these facts are accurate for the purpose of our discussion.) Do we prohibit Spanish artichokes as bishul akum, whereas the Egyptian ones are permitted? Assuming that this boon to Egyptian is true, what happens if you shipped the Spanish ones to Egypt? Do they now become permitted? And do Egyptian artichokes become prohibited upon being shipped to Spain? Indeed, I have heard that some rabbanim prohibit those cooked in Spain while permitting those cooked in Egypt, depending, as we said, on whether local palates consider them edible at the time and place of production. The subsequent shipping overseas would not cause them to become prohibited since it is cooking that creates bishul akum, not transportation. On the other hand, some contemporary contend that shipping a product to a place where it is not eaten raw prohibits it as bishul akum (Kaf HaChayim, Yoreh Deah 113:20).

CULINARY INFLUENCES

We have recently witnessed changes in the consumption of several vegetables that affect their bishul akum status. Not long ago, it was unheard of to serve raw broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, or zucchini, and therefore all these vegetables presented bishul akum concerns. Today, these vegetables are commonly eaten raw; for this reason, many rabbanim permit these vegetables cooked and do not prohibit them anymore as bishul akum.

A similar change might occur because of sushi production. When fish was not eaten raw, cooked fish was a bishul akum issue. Once normal people consider certain varieties of fish as food even when eaten uncooked, those fish varieties remain kosher even if a gentile cooked them. I therefore refer you to your local rav to determine whether a raw fish suitable for sushi is still a bishul akum concern. Similarly, when it becomes accepted to eat raw beef liver, there will no longer be a prohibition of bishul akum to eat it broiled by a gentile – provided, of course, that a mashgiach guarantees that it is kosher liver and was prepared correctly.

KOSHER CANNING

We are now in a far better position to analyze the issues that faced me that morning many years ago. I had been instructed to supervise a bishul Yisrael production, but I was not permitted to adjust the heat. Were the vegetables kosher or not?

The basic question is: Must a mashgiach participate in the cooking process in a modern cannery?

In the mid-80’s, when I was the Rabbinic Administrator of a local kashrus organization, I participated in a meeting of kashrus organizations and prominent rabbanim. At this meeting, one well-respected talmid chacham voiced concern at the then-prevalent assumption that canned vegetables do not present any bishul akum problem. At the time, virtually no kashrus organizations made any arrangement for canned vegetables to be bishul Yisrael, even when such foods were inedible unless cooked and of a type one would serve at a royal feast. Was all of klal Yisrael negligent, G-d forbid, in the prohibition of bishul akum?

STEAMING OUR VEGGIES

Indeed, many prominent authorities contend that contemporary commercial canning is exempt from bishul akum because of a variety of different factors. For example, in most canning operations, vegetables are cooked, not in boiling water, but by high temperature steam. Some authorities contend that Chazal never including steamed products under the prohibition of bishul akum because they categorize steaming as smoking, an atypical form of cooking which Chazal exempted from this prohibition (Darkei Teshuvah 113:16).

Others permit bishul akum in a production facility where there is no concern that social interactions between the producer and the consumer may result (see Birkei Yosef 112:9, quoting Maharit Tzalon). The Minchas Yitzchak (Shu”t 3:26:6) rules that one may combine these two above reasons to permit most canned vegetables today. Still others maintain that since a modern facility uses a cooking system that cannot be replicated in a household, Chazal never created bishul akum under such circumstances.

HONEST KASHRUS

Of course, someone marketing a product as bishul Yisrael is advertising that he is not relying on these heterim for his product; therefore it would be strictly prohibited to sell these vegetables as bishul Yisrael, although whether they are kosher or not would depend on your rav’s individual pesak.

SO WHAT HAPPENED IN THE CANNERY?

I presume that my readers have been patiently waiting to find out what happened to our ill-fated cannery.

A bit later in the morning, I was finally able to reach the rabbi whose number I had been supplied. He agreed that the production was not bishul Yisrael.

One would think that the hechsher would reward an alert mashgiach for correcting a kashrus error. Well, for those eager to develop a better world, let me tell you what ultimately resulted. A different rabbi was assigned to the job, someone less likely to call the overseeing rabbi so early in the morning. I guess that I was right that I did not have the right connections.




What Makes Meat Kosher?

 

“I know that I only eat from certain hechsherim. However, my sister-in-law, who is a very frum person, was told by her Rav that she can use a certain hechsher that I was told not to use. Don’t all the rabbonim follow the same Shulchan Aruch?”

“I have been told that it isn’t possible that there could be such a high percentage of glatt kosher to accommodate everyone purchasing it, and that the term is used incorrectly. Is this true?”

“Is there such a thing as non-glatt kosher veal?”

These are common questions, and indeed, explaining the distinctions between different kashrus standards could fill volumes. This article will be devoted exclusively to issues of kosher meat. By the time we finish this reading this article hopefully the answers to the above questions will be clarified.

THE BASICS OF KOSHER MEAT

There are several mitzvos involved in the preparation of kosher meat and poultry. Only certain species may be eaten, and these must be slaughtered in the halachically-approved way, shechitah. Even then, the animal or bird may still have defects that render it non-kosher. Finally, there are non-kosher parts that must be removed, specifically the gid hanasheh (the sciatic nerve), non-kosher fats called “cheilev,” and the non-kosher blood. After all these have been removed, the meat is finally ready to be prepared for the Jewish table.

In other articles, I discussed some of the contemporary issues concerning kosher animal, bird, and fish species. This article will discuss some halachic issues that occur after the shechitah.

THE BEDIKAH

Immediately following the slaughtering, the shochet (ritual slaughterer; plural, shochtim) checks visually to verify that he performed the shechitah correctly. This is a vitally important step – if this inspection is not performed, the animal or bird cannot be eaten.

Next, the animal or bird must be examined to ensure that it is not a treifah. Although in common usage the word “treif” means anything non-kosher for any reason whatsoever, technically the word refers to an animal with a physical defect that renders it non-kosher. The word treif literally means “torn,” and indeed the most common cause of a treifah is tearing or damage to the internal organs.

Organs where treifos are infrequent do not require inspection. In these instances, one may rely on the principle of “rov”- since the overwhelming majority is kosher, one need not check for treifos. However, an organ that has a high percentage of treifos must be checked to ensure that it is kosher. Thus, established halachic practice of over 1000 years is to check an animal’s lungs because of their high rate of treifos.

How high a percentage of treifos is needed to require examination? A dispute over this issue developed in the early nineteenth century between two great poskim, Rav Efrayim Zalman Margolies, the Rav of Brody (Shu”t Beis Efrayim, Yoreh Deah #6) and Rav Yaakov, the Rav of Karlin (Shu”t Mishkenos Yaakov, Yoreh Deah #16 & 17). The Beis Efrayim contended that it is not necessary to check for a treifah if we do not find that Chazal and early poskim required it, whereas the Mishkenos Yaakov contended that if a certain treifah occurs in ten per cent of animals one is required to check every animal for this treifah. (The halachic source for this figure of ten per cent is beyond the scope of this article.)

Reliable hechsherim tend to follow the Mishkenos Yaakov’s ruling and check for treifos that appear frequently. Thus, it is standard to check the stomachs and intestines of chickens and the lungs of turkeys for irregularities, and reliable hechsherim usually check the second stomach of cattle (the reticulum, called the beis hakosos in Hebrew) for damage that results from swallowed nails.

Geography can sometimes be a factor. For example, treifos are not found commonly in the lungs of chickens raised in North America, and therefore the hechsherim there do not check the lungs. On the other hand, it is far more common to find these problems in chickens raised in Israel. Thus, many poskim require chicken lungs in Israel to be checked for treifos. (I have heard different theories why there is a greater rate of treifos in the lungs of Israeli chickens, including that the heat and desert climate damage the lungs or that there are exposure to certain viruses, but the truth is that no one really knows.)

GLATT KOSHER

Before explaining the concept called glatt kosher, we must first discuss adhesions, a type of lesion that develops on the lungs of animals. An animal or bird with a tear in its lung is not kosher and this is one of the many types of treifah.

The Gemara rules that an animal with an adhesion (sircha) on its lung is also non-kosher (Chullin 46b), because this demonstrates that the lung once had a tear that was subsequently covered by the adhesion (Rashi ad loc.). A second reason given is that the adhesion would have eventually torn off and damaged the lung (Tosafos). Even though the animal was slaughtered before the adhesion tore off, the animal is considered non-kosher since it ultimately would have died as a result of the adhesion.

If the adhesion is between two adjacent sections of the lung, the animal is kosher, because the lung protects the adhesion from tearing.

Did the Gemara prohibit all adhesions or only ones that are difficult to remove? Is there a concern that even a thin adhesion might be covering a tear in the lung or will ultimately cause the lung to tear?

This halacha question is disputed by the Rishonim. The Rosh (Chullin 3:14), who was the foremost posek in Germany (Ashkenaz) in the Thirteenth Century, ruled that any sircha that is removed easily without damaging the lung is kosher. These easy-to-remove adhesions are called “ririn.” Based on his ruling, the custom amongst Ashkenazic Jewry was that a shochet who found a sircha on a lung would attempt to remove the sircha. If it could be removed without damaging the lung, the shochet declared the animal kosher. If the lung was completely clear of any adhesions, even ririn, the animal was declared “Glatt Kosher.” “Glatt” means “smooth” in Yiddish – in other words, the lung was smooth and had no adhesions at all.

The Rashba (Shu”t #304), who was the foremost posek in Spain (Sfarad) at the time, disagreed with Rosh, declaring that it is forbidden to remove adhesions, and that an animal with any adhesion is non-kosher even if the adhesion can be easily removed. He also declared that any shochet who removes sirchos in order to declare the animal kosher should be removed from his position if he has been warned to cease this practice and continues to do so.

(It is an interesting historical note that when the Rosh fled the persecutions in Germany for Spain, he became a houseguest of the Rashba in Barcelona. Eventually, the community of Toledo engaged the Rosh as its rav upon the recommendation of the Rashba.)

Shulchan Aruch follows the ruling of Rashba and declares that a shochet who removes sirchos is considered to have fed treif meat to Jews (Yoreh Deah 39:10). The Rama, however, points out that the custom in Ashkenaz was to permit meat from animals with easy-to-remove sirchos. The Rama explains that although the basis for the practice is tenuous, one should not rebuke those who are lenient. Clearly, the Rama himself is not advocating being lenient in this matter and preferred that people be strict. Furthermore, the Rama is only lenient when one knows that the bodek, the person checking the lung, is a G-d-fearing person who will be careful to remove the sircha gently (Yoreh Deah 39:13). Moreover even among Ashkenazic poskim, many were hesitant to be lenient.

Because of all this, the Gr”a ruled that one should not use non-glatt meat, that is meat from animals that have thin adhesions on the lungs.

Since Sefardim follow the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch over the Rama, they are not permitted to use non-glatt meat. Ashkenazim are permitted to follow the Rama and use non-glatt kosher meat, although it is preferable to be strict.

There is an additional reason to be strict. Based on a pasuk in Yechezkel (4:14), the Gemara concludes that a meticulous person does not eat meat that had a shaylah, even if it was paskened to be permitted (Chullin 44b). Because of this Gemara, hechsherim that cater to Bnei Torah attempt to certify only products that have no shaylos whatsoever. These hechsherim are usually referred to as “Mehadrin,” although it is important to note that there is no universal mehadrin standard. I have found hechsherim that refer to themselves as “mehadrin” or as “heimishe” that are indeed excellent, but I have also found hechsherim purporting to be “mehadrin” or “heimishe” whose standards are at best mediocre.

It should be noted that the lenience of removing adhesions from the lungs applies only to mature beef cattle. On birds and other animals, any lung that has a problematic adhesion would automatically be non-kosher. Thus, any poultry, veal and lamb that is kosher is by definition glatt kosher, and using the word “glatt” is superfluous. However, since consumers often assume that “glatt” means a higher standard of kosher, it is not uncommon to find these items advertised as “glatt kosher.” I have even seen dairy or pareve products sold as “glatt kosher,” which is a totally meaningless usage of the expression.

DIFFERENT DEFINITIONS OF GLATT

The Beis Dovid, a commonly used halacha work on the laws of shechitah, contends that adhesions that can be removed easily are not only considered kosher, but even qualify as glatt kosher (Section 2 pg. 72, #8:5, quoting Shu”t Daas HaZevach). Many hechsherim follow this opinion and consider such meat to be glatt kosher. However, other poskim dispute his conclusions and feel that this meat should not be used by Sefardim who are halachically required to use only glatt meat. Those who are strict in this shaylah often refer to their hechsher as “Glatt Beis Yosef.” However, this term (Glatt Beis Yosef) also has no precise definition. An experienced shochet/rav hamachshir once told me that it probably only means that in the opinion of the hechsher, the Beis Yosef himself would prefer eating this meat than some other kosher meat on the market.

Thus, two hechsherim may be called “glatt” and may not be using the same definition of the word.

KOSHER VEAL

As mentioned above, the heter of non-Glatt meat only exists in reference to mature beef cattle, but that lambs, kids, and young calves that have any sircha should be treated as non-kosher (see Rama Yoreh Deah 39:13). The logic behind this is that if a young calf already exhibits some signs of an adhesion, it is probably a kashrus problem and the animal should be considered treif. Thus, we would conclude from this that all veal should be either glatt or treif.

However, at this point the modern meat industry has created a new problem by attempting to convince the consumer that quality veal should be very light-colored, almost white. Since meat is naturally red and not white, this is accomplished by raising calves in drastically unnatural circumstances such as not feeding them a normal diet, not providing them with any iron in their diet, and not allowing them to exercise. This approach decreases the hemoglobin in the blood which gives the meat its red color. The result is that “white veal” or the misnomer “nature calves” often have a notorious high rate of treifos in the lungs as a result of the conditions in which they were raised. (It is known in the industry that if the grower improves the ventilation and sanitary conditions of his pens, the rate of kosher product increases.) For this reason, non-scrupulous meatpackers have plenty of temptation to bend the rules that define the kashrus of veal. (One shochet recently told me that he once shechted 114 “nature calves” that had been raised in non-sanitary conditions and had only one kosher!)

I was once scheduled to visit a veal shechitah to see whether it met the standards for the Vaad HaKashrus I headed at the time. Before visiting the plant, I called the rav giving the hechsher to find out his standard for accepting kosher veal. When I asked him if he “takes sirchos” on veal, he replied, “Of course we do, otherwise we would never have enough marked kosher!”

What an astonishing reply! At least he saved me a long trip. Yet, there are hechsherim that allow purchase of “kosher” veal from shechitos like this!

(I have heard very complicated halachic reasons to permit this standard. Suffice it to say that I consider the reasons unacceptable.)

REMOVING BLOOD

As mentioned above, before meat is ready for the pot, it must have several items removed. The non-kosher blood is removed from the meat either by broiling or through soaking and salting. Liver must be kashered by broiling. Except for certain extenuating circumstances, when kashering meat by salting it must be soaked for a half-hour and salted for an hour, with the salt covering all sides of the meat thoroughly. I have personally witnessed meat kashered inadequately in commercial facilities, usually because the workers are not given enough time or proper facilities to do the job correctly. However, any responsible hechsher will make certain that this does not happen.

In earlier times meat and liver were always kashered at home. Today, most housewives assume that the meat they purchase is already kashered. Thus, they often do not know how to kasher meat themselves, although concerned Jewish homemakers would do well to learn how to kasher meat and liver properly.

SEVENTY-TWO HOURS

Over a thousand years ago, the Gaonim established a new requirement in the processing of kosher meat. They ruled that if the meat was not soaked within seventy-two hours of its slaughter, the blood could no longer be removed by the soaking and salting method but only by broiling. Thus, it is paramount to kasher meat, or at least to soak it, within a few days of the shechitah. Many poskim are lenient to permit meat if it was soaked within the seventy-two hours, but different hechsherim have very different definitions as to what is considered properly “soaked.” In general, a mehadrin hechsher will not permit meat to be used unless it has been kashered within seventy-two hours of the shechitah, whereas a non-mehadrin hechsher will permit it. Similarly, a mehadrin hechsher will not allow the use of meat that has been frozen before it was kashered, whereas non-mehadrin hechsherim will allow the kashering of meat that was frozen for more than seventy-two hours.

TRABERING

The Torah prohibited certain fats, called cheilev, which are predominantly attached to the stomachs and the kidneys in the hindquarter. These non-kosher fats and the gid hanasheh are cut out of the meat in a process called “trabering.” This Yiddish word’s origin derives from the Aramaic word for non-kosher fat, tarba, and thus means, removing non-kosher fat. (The Hebrew word for the process is “nikur,” excising.)

Removing the gid hanasheh and forbidden fats from the hindquarters is an extremely arduous process that requires much skill and patience. Since most of the forbidden fats and the entire gid hanasheh and all its tributaries are in the hindquarters, the custom in many places is to use only meat from the forequarters, thus considerably simplifying the trabering process.

OTHER DIFFERENCES BETWEEN HECHSHERIM

There are also subtle distinctions between hechsherim, which might cause one Rav to approve a shechitah and make another Rav uncomfortable. When is a shechitah line considered operating too quickly for the shochtim and bodkim to do their jobs properly? When is a plant considered understaffed? Are the tags that identify the meat as kosher kept under proper supervision? Are the shochtim yirei shamayim (G-d fearing)?

Thus, it could indeed happen that one rav considers a shechitah acceptable and another rav feels that it is not. The differences may be based on the interpretation of halacha, or they may result from a rav’s inclination as to how a plant should be run.

Based on the above information we can better understand many aspects of the preparation of kosher meat and why it is important to use only meat that has a proper hechsher. We can also gain a greater appreciation as to how hard rabbonim and shochtim work to maintain a high kashrus standard.

We should always hope and pray that the food we eat fulfills all the halachos that the Torah commands us.