This Is the Way We Salt Our Meat

In parshas Korach, the kodoshim part given to the kohanim is referred to as a “covenant of salt,” thus providing an opportunity to explain:

This Is the Way We Salt Our Meat

Question

“When I shopped in Israel, I noticed that all the chickens were split open. I like to roast my chicken whole and stuff the inside, but you can’t do this once the chicken is split open. When I asked the butcher for an explanation, he told me that all the mehadrin hechsherim split the chicken open before koshering. What does a split chicken have anything to do with kashrus?

Introduction to Meat Preparation

In several places, the Torah proscribes eating blood. Blood is the transporter of nutrients to the entire body, and therefore blood must flow through all parts on an animal. If so, how can we possibly extract the prohibited blood from meat and still have edible meat?

The Gemara and the halachic authorities provide the guidelines how to properly remove the forbidden blood from the allowed meat. The process begins during the butchering, when one is required to remove certain veins to guarantee that the blood is properly removed (Chullin 93a; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 65:1).

After these veins are removed, there are two methods of extracting the blood from the meat. One is by soaking and salting the meat, which is what we will discuss in this article. In practical terms, the first approach, usually referred to as kashering meat, involves soaking the meat for thirty minutes, shaking off the excess water, salting the meat thoroughly on all sides, and then placing it for an hour in a way that the blood can drain freely. A bird should be placed with its open cavity downward so that the liquid drains off as it is koshering, and similarly, a piece of meat with a cavity, such as an unboned brisket, should be placed with its cavity draining downward. One may stack meat that one is koshering as high as one wants, as long as the liquid can drain off the meat properly. After the salting is complete, the meat is rinsed thoroughly in order to wash away all the blood and salt. The poskim instruct that one should rinse the meat three times (Rama, Yoreh Deah 69:7).

Until fairly recently, every Jewish daughter and housewife soaked and salted meat as part of regular meal preparation. Today, the koshering of meat is usually performed either in the meat processing plant or by the butcher. Still every housewife should know how to kasher meat before it becomes a forgotten skill, reserved only for the specialist!

Case in point: A talmid of mine is doing kiruv in a community that does not have a lot of kashrus amenities, but happens to be near a kosher abattoir. Because of necessity, he and his wife are now proficient in the practical aspects of koshering their own meat, a skill that they were fortunate to learn.

Another case in point:

I know a very fine Jew who, following guidance of gedolei Yisrael, accepted a kabbalah before he married that he would eat meat only that was koshered at home. Someone wanted to invite him for a sheva berachos and serve him what she prepared for all her guests, but was unable to do so because she never learned how to kasher meat. (Instead, she prepared him fish.)

For these reasons, when I taught in Beis Yaakov, I made sure that the girls knew how to kasher meat, although, frankly, I was quite appalled to find out how little they knew about the process. In those days, most of their mothers still knew how to kasher meat, but today, even the mothers and teachers of Beis Yaakov students no longer necessarily know how.

On the other hand, I am reminded of the time some Iranian talmidim of Ner Yisrael spent Pesach at a university in Oklahoma to be mekareiv Jewish students. Although the students, natives of Shiraz, Tehran and other Iranian cities, were no longer observant, they all assisted in the koshering of the chickens for the Seder. Every one of them remembered exactly how to kasher meat!

Why do we Soak our Meat?

Before addressing the question that I shared in the beginning of our article, we need to understand more thoroughly the process of koshering meat. The Gemara (Chullin 113a) teaches:

“Shmuel said: The meat does not rid itself of its blood unless it is well salted and well rinsed.” The Gemara subsequently explains that the meat must be rinsed both before the salting and afterwards. We well understand why we must rinse away the salt after koshering the meat, since it is now full of forbidden blood. But why does one need to rinse the meat before koshering the meat? And why emphasize that it must be “well rinsed”?

There are actually many different explanations for this law. Here are some approaches mentioned by the Rishonim, as explained by the master of practical kashrus, the Pri Megadim (in his introduction to the laws of salting meat, Second Ikar, s.v. VaAtah):

(1) Soften the Meat

Soaking the meat softens it so that the salt can now remove the blood. If the meat is not saturated thoroughly with water, the salt will not successfully extract the blood from the hard meat, and the meat remains prohibited (Ran). According to this reason, the Gemara’s instruction that the meat is “well rinsed” requires not simply rinsing the surface of the meat, but submerging the meat. The later authorities interpret that one should soak the entire meat for a half hour to guarantee that it is soft enough for the salt to extract the blood (see Darchei Moshe 69:1, as explained by Gr”a, 69:4).

The authorities dispute whether one is required to submerge the entire piece of meat. Some contend that if part of the meat remained above the water, it will become softened by the water absorption of the lower part of the meat (Pischei Teshuvah 69:5). Others maintain that the upper part will not soften this way and one must submerge the piece of meat entirely (Yad Yehudah, Peirush HaAruch end of 69:10; Darkei Teshuvah 69:20).

(2) Remove the Surface Blood

A second approach why the meat must be rinsed well before salting contends that one must rinse blood off the surface of the meat because otherwise this blood will impede the ability of the salt to remove the blood that is inside the meat (Mordechai). This approach, as well as all the others that the Pri Megadim quotes, does not require submerging the meat, but merely rinsing the surface well. However, according to this approach, if the meat was submerged for half an hour and then afterwards someone sliced into the meat, one must rerinse the area that was now cut. Failure to rerinse the newly cut area will result in the salt not removing the blood properly (Pri Megadim)

Case in point:

Once, when I was inspecting a butcher shop, I observed that after the meat was completely soaked, the mashgiach noticed that one piece had not been properly butchered – the butcher had failed to remove a vein that one is required to remove. The mashgiach took out his knife and sliced away the offending vein. Was the butcher now required to soak the meat for an additional half hour or was it sufficient to rinse the meat before kashering it?

The answer is that one must rinse the newly sliced area well to remove any blood, but one is not required to soak the meat for an additional half an hour since the meat is now nice and soft and its blood will drain out freely.

(3) The Blood will Absorb into the Meat

A third opinion contends that one must rinse the meat before salting it because salting meat when there is blood on its surface will cause the blood to absorb into the meat. Like the second approach, this opinion also believes that the reason meat is rinsed before salting is to remove the blood on the surface. However, this opinion holds that not rinsing blood off the surface entails a more serious concern. If blood remains on the surface of the meat when it is salted, this blood will absorb into the meat and prohibit it. Therefore, if someone salted the meat without rinsing it off, the meat is now prohibited, and resoaking and resalting it will not make it kosher. According to the other reasons we have mentioned, one who failed to soak or rinse the meat before salting it may rinse off the salt, soak (or rinse) the meat properly and then salt it.

The Shulchan Aruch (69:2) rules that if one salts meat without rinsing it first, he may rinse off the salt and resalt the meat. The Rama rules that one should not use the meat unless it is a case of major financial loss.

(4) Moisten the Surface

Another Rishon, the Rosh, contends that the reason why one must rinse the meat before salting it is because the salt does not remove the blood properly unless the meat surface is moist (Rosh). Although this approach may appear similar to the Ran’s approach that I mentioned first, the Ran contends that the entire piece of meat must be soaked in order to soften it so that its blood will be readily extracted, whereas the Rosh requires only that the surface be moist at the time of the salting. Therefore, the Rosh does not require that the meat be soaked at all, certainly not for half an hour. On the other hand, if the meat soaked for a half-hour and then was dried or sliced, the Rosh would require one to moisten the dry surface so that the salt will work. In this last case, the Ran would not require re-rinsing the surface since the meat already soaked for half an hour.

In practical halacha, we lechatchilah prepare meat according to all opinions, and for this reason we soak all meat for half an hour before salting. We then drain off some of the water before salting so that the meat is moist but not dripping (Rama 69:1). If the meat is too wet, the salt will not do its job.

How thick must I salt the meat?

The Gemara states that one must salt the meat well, just as it mentions that one must wash it well. What does this mean that I must salt it well?

Some authorities require that the meat be covered with salt, whereas others rule that it is satisfactory to salt it sufficiently that one would not be able to eat the meat without rinsing it off.

The Rishonim debate whether salting meat well means that it must be salted on all sides, or whether it is sufficient to salt the meat on one side. There are actually three different opinions on the matter:

  • The meat needs to be salted on only one side, and this satisfactorily removes the blood (Tur’s interpretation of Rashba).
  • One should preferably salt the meat on both sides, but if one failed to do so, the meat is kosher (Beis Yosef’s interpretation of Rashba).
  • If the meat is not salted on opposite sides, one will not remove all the blood and the meat is prohibited for consumption (Rama).

The Shulchan Aruch concludes that one should preferably salt the meat on both sides, but if one failed to do so, the meat is kosher. However, the Rama rules that under normal circumstances one should consider the meat non-kosher. Under extenuating circumstances, or in case of great loss, the meat is kosher (Taz).

Stacking the Meat

According to all opinions, if one stacks two pieces of meat, one atop another, and salts only one of the pieces, the blood was not removed from unsalted piece. Even if one contends that salting meat on one side of a piece will draw out all the blood in that piece, it does not draw out the blood from a different piece that the salted piece is lying on.

Similarly, if one is koshering two organs, such as the heart and the lung, salting one piece does not draw the blood out of the other piece. This is true even if the two organs are still connected together (see Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav end of 15).

Salting a bird only on the outside is similar to salting a piece of meat on only one side, because there is an open cavity in the middle. For this reason, one is required to salt a bird on the inside of the open cavity also and cannot simply salt the outside of the bird.

Splitting a Bird

At this point, we have enough information to address our opening question:

“When I shopped in Israel, I noticed that all the chickens were split open. I like to roast my chicken whole and stuff the inside, but you can’t do this once the chicken is split open. When I asked the butcher for an explanation, he told me that all the mehadrin hechsherim split the chicken open before koshering. What does a split chicken have anything to do with kashrus?”

How does one kasher a chicken or any other bird? If one salts the outside of the chicken, one has salted the bird on only one side, since the inside cavity was not salted. The Shulchan Aruch answers that one places salt on the inside cavity of the chicken.

The Pri Megadim records a dispute among earlier authorities whether one is required to cut through the breast bone of a bird before koshering it. The Shulchan Aruch rules that one is not required to cut through the breast bone of a bird before koshering it, but can rely on placing salt inside the cavity. The Beis Hillel adds that cutting through the breast bone of the bird to make the cavity most accessible is not even considered a chumrah that one should try to observe. However, the Beis Lechem Yehudah rules that one is required to cut through the breast bone before koshering. His reasoning is that one who does not cut through the bone must rely on pushing salt into the cavity and that people tend to not push the salt sufficiently deep into the cavity. The Pri Megadim agrees with the Beis Lechem Yehudah, and mentions that he required his family members to cut through the breast bone to open the cavity before salting poultry, because it is impossible to salt properly all the places in the internal cavity without splitting the chicken open. (Although the Pri Megadim uses the term “split in half,” I presume that he means to open the chicken’s cavity. There seems no reason to require one to cut the entire chicken into two pieces.) Furthermore, several of the internal organs – including the lungs, kidneys, and spleen — are often not salted properly when salting without splitting open the cavity. It is for this reason that mehadrin shechitos in Eretz Yisrael all cut through the bone before salting the chickens, although one can note from the Pri Megadim’s own comments that this was not standard practice.

Most hechsherim in the United States follow the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch and Beis Hillel and do not insist on splitting the chicken open before salting it. One hechsher I know requires that the kidneys be removed and discarded before sale because of the concern raised by the Pri Megadim that they cannot be salted properly without opening the chicken. (In our large scale manufacturing today, the lungs, heart and spleen are always removed anyway, and usually not sold for food.)

By the way, we can also understand some of the reasons why someone would take on a personal chumrah to eat meat or chicken only if it was koshered at home. Among the reasons that he would be makpid is better control of the koshering, guaranteeing that the chickens are split before they are salted, and making certain that the chickens are placed with their cavities down.

Conclusion

At this point, I would like to return to our opening explanation, when I mentioned the mitzvah of salting korbanos that are burnt on the mizbeiach. As I alluded to above, although both items are salted in a similar manner, the purpose is very different. The salting of our meat is to remove the blood, this blood and salt is then washed away, whereas the salted offerings are burnt completely with their salt. Several commentaries note that salt represents that which exists forever, and can therefore represent the mitzvos of the Torah, which are never changed. In addition, the salt used for the korbanos must be purchased from public funds, from the machatzis hashekel collection, demonstrating that this responsibility to observe the mitzvos forever is communal and collective (Rav Hirsch).