In many places, the Torah forbids the consumption of blood. In chutz la’aretz, this week’s parsha is Acharei, which is one of the places where this prohibition of blood is mentioned. In Eretz Yisrael, the reading is Kedoshim, in which there are nine references to blood, in the context of different prohibitions. This makes it an appropriate week to discuss the laws of preparing livers according to halacha.
Question #1: Just a sLIVER
May a liver be broiled whole?
Question #2: DeLIVERed Electronically
May I kasher livers on an electric grill?
Question #3: Special DeLIVERy
I was told that if I plan to fry the livers I receive from the butcher, I must tell this to him when I order them. Why?
Question #4: Not Chopped LIVER
How broiled does liver need to be before I cook it?
In ancient times, it was noted that liver could be used to treat night blindness. With time, it was discovered that liver contains an organic chemical called retinol, C20H30O, which was called a vitamin, because it helped life (vita-), and it was thought to be an amine (-amin). However, all amines contain nitrogen (think of amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins), and retinol does not. Consequently, the term “vitamin” was redefined to mean complex, organic substances, naturally occurring in plant or animal tissue, that are essential for metabolism.
Since retinol was the first vitamin to be identified, it was given the name vitamin A. (Today, retinol is called vitamin A1, and is usually extracted from fish liver oils.) As other vitamins were discovered, they were identified by subsequent letters of the alphabet. Eventually, some, such as vitamins G and H, were recategorized as part of the “vitamin B” group, whereas others, such as vitamins F and I, were dropped from the vitamin list and categorized differently, which is why the vitamin list is missing letters. Vitamin F contains nitrogen and is now categorized as an amino acid, and vitamin I is now categorized as an anti-inflammatory.
Our own liver has many important functions, including the manufacture of cholesterol and bile and also removal of cholesterol from the blood. However, our article will discuss neither human nor fish liver, but the kashrus of beef and poultry liver. As we all know, the meat of these animals can be consumed when they have had a proper kosher slaughter, shechitah, and, in the case of beef, after certain fats, nerves (the gid hana’sheh, the sciatic nerve) and blood vessels are removed via a procedure called nikur (in Hebrew), or traberen (in Yiddish, from the Aramaic word tarba, which means cheilev, non-kosher fat).
Poultry must also have its blood extracted, but the gid hana’sheh does not need to be removed from fowl, nor does any fat need to be removed.
In many places, the Torah forbids the consumption of blood. But all meat contains blood! After all, it is the hemoglobin in the blood that provides meat with its red color. And even poultry and other meats that are not red contain blood. So, how can we eat meat?
Chazal explain that the forbidden blood is extracted from the meat either by soaking and salting the meat, or by broiling. The salt or the fire extracts the forbidden blood from the meat, and whatever remains is not considered blood, according to halacha.
The blood of liver is usually removed by broiling. This article will examine when broiling works for kashering both meat and liver, and we will discover that there are early opinions that permitted preparing liver for the Jewish table without broiling it.
For most of mankind’s history, kashering meat and liver was always performed at home. However, in the last two generations, it became commonplace that the butcher takes care of it, and, within the past decade, meat is often kashered at the abattoir. Still, there are individuals who kasher their own meat, which allows them to follow certain practices that usually qualify as chumros, and which are impractical to follow on a commercial basis. (Our readership should be aware that, due to government regulations in certain countries, kashering meat on a commercial basis involves serious halachic compromises. In these countries, none of them in North America, arrangements should be made to kasher meat at home.) In addition, I have personally witnessed both meat and liver kashered inadequately or inappropriately in commercial facilities. However, a responsible hechsher will make certain that this does not happen.
Halachically, it is perfectly acceptable to broil meat to remove its blood, rather than salt it. However, usually, it is soaked and salted. We should be aware that someone whose health requires them to be concerned about the elevated sodium content that results from kashering should explore with their rav or posek the possibility of purchasing unkashered meat and broiling it, without salt. (Although we salt meat slightly when kashering it by broiling, this salt may be omitted for someone who must be concerned about sodium consumption.)
The Gemara (Chullin 110b-111a) provides a lengthy and fascinating discussion whether liver, which is the bloodiest organ in the body, can be kashered by soaking and salting. To quote the Gemara: Abayei said to Rav Safra, “When you go to Eretz Yisrael, ask them what they do with liver.” When Rav Safra reached Eretz Yisrael, he asked Rav Zereika, who answered him, “I boiled liver to serve Rav Asi, and he ate it.” (We would find this strange, but this will be explained shortly.) Many months, or perhaps years, later, when Rav Safra returned to Bavel, he reported his findings to Abayei, who answered him: “I know that preparing liver this way is not a problem. The question I wanted you to find out was whether the blood of liver can be removed while you are kashering other meat.” Abayei then quoted a Mishnah (Terumos 10:11) that preparing liver in certain ways prohibits food upon which the blood splatters, but the liver itself is permitted. This is because, while extracting blood from the liver, it does not absorb blood (provided that the blood can drain; removing blood from meat or liver always requires that the extracted blood drains as it is salted or broiled). However, extracting blood from the liver might prohibit other meat that is kashered with it.
The story that Rav Zereika tells us is unclear. Was the liver that Rav Zereika cooked to serve Rav Asi already broiled? If it was, what new halachic idea was he teaching Rav Safra? Both of them were major Torah scholars, and Rav Safra presumably asked Rav Zereika a question that was now answered, even if this was not the issue bothering Abayei.
To resolve this question, Rabbeinu Tam explains that liver does not require salting or broiling, unless you want to cook it together with other meat (Tosafos, Chullin 110b s.v. Kavda). This appears to also have been Rashi’s approach. The reason is because the liver is basically blood, yet the Torah permitted its consumption. The assumption of Rabbeinu Tam is that the blood in the liver is permitted. This would explain the conversation of Abayei and Rav Safra.
The Tur (Yoreh Deah 73) cites this opinion of Rabbeinu Tam, but does not accept it.
Most authorities disagree with Rabbeinu Tam and understand that Rav Zereika soaked and salted the liver first, the same way we kasher meat, and then cooked it. Abayei’s question was whether it is permitted to cook liver that has been salted this way with other meat, or whether this will prohibit the meat with which it is cooked. According to the latter alternative, liver may be soaked and salted to serve as chopped liver, or may be broiled and eaten without any other ingredients. The reason we do not soak and salt liver is because, usually, we want to cook or fry it subsequently with other ingredients, and that is prohibited (unless you hold like Rabbeinu Tam).
Later, the Gemara (Chullin 111a) cites different authorities who would not eat liver prepared by soaking and salting, but only by broiling.
It is unclear what the Gemara concludes, as evidenced by the dispute among rishonim what to do. Practical halacha accepts that, whereas meat is usually kashered by soaking and salting, liver may kashered only by broiling (Rema, Yoreh Deah 73:5, Shach and Taz). The Rema does not rule like Rabbeinu Tam, and, furthermore, prohibits salting liver to remove its blood, out of concern that someone will forget that he kashered the liver this way, and will mistakenly cook it with other ingredients.
For how long a period of time must you broil liver until it is kosher?
The halacha is that, once most people consider the liver minimally edible, all the blood has been removed (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 76:5). “Minimally edible” is defined as half the time it usually takes to grill this piece of liver until it is fully cooked (Rema ad locum).
Not chopped liver!
If you do not intend to cook the liver after broiling, most authorities permit broiling an entire beef liver without cutting or slicing it, provided the prohibited cheilev is fully removed (Rema, Yoreh Deah 73:3). This is not relevant to kashering of liver at home, since a beef liver is much larger than most households want to broil as one piece, and, particularly, since broiling the whole liver will probably burn the thinner parts of the liver before its thicker parts are sufficiently broiled.
However, should you intend to cook the liver after broiling, most authorities rule that, before broiling, one must make incisions into the liver and place the sliced side down while broiling so that the blood drains properly (Taz, Yoreh Deah 73:5; Pri Megadim; Gra; Be’er Heiteiv; Darchei Teshuvah). An alternative, easier option is to cut the liver into slices and broil them until edible.
According to many authorities, broiling an entire unsliced beef liver and then cooking or frying the liver makes the food and the pot or pan non-kosher (Shu’t Mahari Asad, Yoreh Deah #115, quoted in Darchei Teshuvah 73:23. Note that the Darchei Teshuvah there quotes Shu’t Ateres Zekeinim, Yoreh Deah #6, who allows the individual posek to decide whether everything is non-kosher. Darchei Teshuvah also quotes Yad Yehudah, Peirush Ha’aruch 73:9, as ruling stringently in this matter, but I have not found where Yad Yehudah says this.)
Rule of 72
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 the only way to successfully remove the blood is by broiling (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 69:12). It is also prohibited to keep meat for 72 hours without salting it, figuring that you will broil it to extract its blood. This is prohibited, because of concern that someone will forget that the meat is past its “good by” 72-hour timetable and wrongly attempt to kasher it by salting (Rema, Yoreh Deah 69:12 and Shach). Furthermore, it is prohibited to cook the meat if it passed 72 hours, even after the meat was broiled. (If, be’di’eved, it was cooked after broiling, the meat may be eaten [Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 69:12]. Although the Maharshal prohibits the meat, the Bach, Taz, Gra and many others agree with the Shulchan Aruch that the meat is permitted.)
72 and liver
Since we rule that liver can be kashered only by broiling, there is no halachic concern that someone will mistakenly attempt to kasher it via salting. Therefore, it is permitted to leave liver for 72 hours without broiling it.
Assuming that someone waited more than 72 hours after slaughter before broiling liver, may he cook the liver after broiling it? We mentioned above that, concerning other meat, you are not permitted to cook the meat if 72 hours have passed since shechitah, even if you broiled the meat first. (We noted above that if the meat was cooked, it is permitted to eat it.)
What is the halacha if you broiled liver more than 72 hours after shechitah? May you now cook it after broiling? This issue is disputed. The Kereisi Upeleisi, Chachmas Odom, Aruch Hashulchan all permit cooking the liver after it was broiled, whereas the Shach seems to prohibit it (see Mateh Yehonasan to Yoreh Deah 69:12), as do the Shu’t Tzemach Tzedek (#121, quoted by Minchas Yaakov 4:3), Pri Megadim and Darchei Teshuvah (Yoreh Deah 69:224).
At this point, we can address another of our opening questions: “I was told that if I plan to fry the livers I receive from the butcher, I must tell this to the butcher when I order them. Why should this be true?”
This question is based on the fact that kashering liver in certain ways makes it prohibited to cook or fry afterwards, at least according to some authorities. The person who told you that you need to tell this to the butcher is under the impression either that the butcher may kasher livers more than 72 hours after shechitah, or that he does not need to slice the beef livers when he broils them whole. As I mentioned above, since both of these matters are dependent on a dispute among halachic authorities, the local hechsher may be more lenient than your friend feels that you should be. However, the butcher can provide you with the more mehudar broiled liver, in which case everyone permits you to cook it afterward.
To kasher liver, we follow these steps.
1. Slice off any fat of the animal that is attached to the liver. This fat may be cheilev that, at times, is attached to the liver.
2. Slice the liver so that its blood drains properly. At home, it is usually easiest to cut the liver into slices, although, halachically, it is adequate to slice deeply into the liver both horizontally and vertically, and broil it with the sliced side downward so the blood drains.
Livers of chickens and other fowl do not require slicing. Since they are small, broiling extracts the blood properly even without slicing the livers. Just check that the gallbladder, which attaches to the liver, has been removed.
3. Rinse blood off the surface of the liver.
4. Place the liver onto racks or coals to broil.
5. Salt the liver somewhat as you place it to broil.
6. Broil the liver until it is minimally edible, which is about half the amount of time you would broil it to eat it without further cooking.
7. After the liver has broiled sufficiently, you may remove it from the fire or heat and rinse off the blood that is now on its surface.
8. Liver is now kosher. Should you desire to cook it, you may do so immediately; there is no requirement to wait until the liver cools off from the broiling.
At this point, we are prepared to consider a different one of our opening questions: May I kasher liver on an electric grill?
Let me explain the question. Since we rule that you may kasher liver only by broiling, this means that its blood can be extracted only via direct heat. Does this require the drawing abilities of an open fire, or is heat sufficient to extract the blood?
Proof of the halachic ruling in this case may be brought from a passage of the Noda Bi’yehuda in his commentary Tzelach (to Pesachim 74a). The Tzelach mentionsthat he was asked frequently whether liver may be kashered on the bottom of a hot oven after the coals have been swept out. The Tzelach rules that this is problematic because the blood cannot drain when it is extracted from the liver. Thus, the liver lies broiling in the blood, which prohibits it. (Shu’t Har Hacarmel, Yoreh Deah #14, quoted by Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 73:1 permits this, but the Pischei Teshuvah himself is uncomfortable with this.)
However, the Tzelach rules that if the liver was placed inside an oven in a way that blood extracted by the residual heat in the oven has a place to drain, the liver is perfectly kosher. Thus, we see that it is acceptable to kasher liver on an electric grill, as long as the blood can drain off while the heat extracts it. In other words, no flame is required to extract the blood.
There is a very interesting comparison between two halachos that involve salt; one, the extraction of blood via salt, and the other, salting korbanos that are burned on the mizbei’ach. Although both items are salted in a similar manner, the purpose is very different. Whereas the salting of our meat is to remove the blood, and this blood and salt are then washed away, the salted offerings are burned completely with their salt. Several commentaries note that salt represents that which exists forever, and can therefore represent the mitzvos of the Torah, which never change.