The Crisis of Unwashed Meat
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 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.
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.
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.
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.