The Crisis of Unwashed Meat
All the water in Egypt turned to blood. We also use
water as part of the process in removing blood from meat, and, therefore, this
week we will discuss:
Devorah 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
should be aware that, although today we usually have a steady supply of kosher
meat with all possible hiddurim, sometimes circumstances are more
difficult. This is where “washed meat” and “frozen meat” may enter the picture,
both terms referring to specific cases whose kashrus is subject to halachic
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 by Sukkos and, in some years,
it was still snowing in May. There were several times that 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 called this weather “whiteout” — referring not to a fluid for
correcting errors, but to the zero visibility created by the combination of
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, 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
“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
“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
Why was a Nebraska truck dispatcher calling to arrange
the washing of kosher meat? Before returning to our meat 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?
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, the meat is rinsed thoroughly 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’s
shop did not refer to these washings, but to a different washing that I will
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 in a way that allows the blood to drain
freely. Accepted practice is that we sprinkle a small amount of salt on the
liver immediately prior to broiling it (Rema, Yoreh Deah 73:5).
it is perfectly acceptable to broil any meat, rather than soak and salt it.
However, on a commercial level, customers want to purchase raw meat and,
therefore, the usual method used for kosher cuisine is soaking and salting. For
most of mankind’s history, kashering meat was performed at home, but
contemporaneously, the properly supervised butcher or other commercial facility
almost universally performs it.
Although this explains why one must kasher 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 contended 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
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 permit this only under extenuating circumstances (Toras
Chatos, quoted by Shach 69:53). On the other hand, some authorities
rule that even 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 helps only 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. If the meat was
soaked thoroughly, those who accept this heter allow a delay to kasher
the meat for another 72 hours. If one is unable to kasher it by
then, one can re-soak it again to further extend its 72 hours.
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 this time elapsed. Some spray a light mist
over the meat and assume that the meat is ‘washed,’ or simply take a wet rag
and wipe 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
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 address her question. “The sign in the butcher shop
stating that they sell washed meat means that they sell meat that was not kashered
within 72 hours of 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 our snowed-in
By Motza’ei Shabbos the entire region was in
the grip 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 experienced.
The trucker’s continuing conversation brought me back
to the reality of the unwashed meat.
“Well, Rabbi,” he exclaimed with the exhilaration
Columbus’s 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 a 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
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 Townof 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.
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 lechatchilah, but ruled that kashering
frozen meat 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. When in doubt what to do, one’s rav is available for guidance
how to handle the situation.