Today is February 22, 2018 / /

Kosher Nexus
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Most kosher meat producers have targets for the amount of heads of cattle that will end up being kosher after slaughter.

That target figure is first set by upper management and communicated to the cattle buyers. In general, the higher percentage of kosher heads, the costlier the cattle purchase will be, and buyers need permission to spend that money.

After that, shochtim (kosher slaughterers) and bodkim (the shochtim who check internal organs, especially the lungs, after slaughter) are told by their supervisor what the target is.


Shouldn’t determination of what is and what is not kosher be outside the purvue of cost-benefit analysis?

Not at all. In fact, halakha (Orthodox Jewish law) is full of cost-benefit analysis for this and for many other things.

Does this automatically mean that bodkim are passing through non-kosher cattle as kosher?


For example, for Ashkenazim (what most North American Jews are and the standard of basic kosher laws regularly followed), glatt kosher does not necessarily mean that an animal’s lungs are perfectly smooth. It means that there could have been certain sirchas (lesions) that are minor and than could be easily removed by the bodek. (As a very rough analogy, think a very old scab on your body that comes off with a light touch and without any significant damage to the tissue underneath it.)

Bodkim can remove a small number of these lesions and still have the animal be glatt. Other lesions can be removed and, in certain cases, the animal will be ruled non-kosher.

The number and type of lesion determines both the animal’s status as glatt or ‘regular’ kosher, on one hand, and, in more severe cases, kosher or non-kosher status.

In between these two groups of definitions is the bodek. The more time and care he spends checking and removing lesions, the higher the percentage of those cattle will be ruled kosher. In the same way, turning a completely blind eye to those lesions accomplishes the same thing.

The question is which option the bodkim were using in this case. (The suit against Hebrew National)

If a target or “quota” was indeed set, Triangle K and AER will probably tell you more care, not less, was used and that, combined with good cattle buying by the plant, allowed them to reach the higher rate of kosher heads.

The plaintiffs may allege otherwise.

But the problem for them is that the rules for determining what is and what is not kosher belong to Judaism the religion, not some amorphous “new organic”-type standard as claimed by the plaintiffs’ attorneys, and not to the US legal code.

In halakha, a cow that is by the opinions of dozens of historic important rabbis completely non-kosher can and should be ruled kosher if there is a minority opinion to follow that says otherwise and a poor person or a sick person needs the animal’s meat for sustenance. That is the halakha, the Jewish religious law.

The lawsuit brought by the plaintiffs if successful would make that cow non-kosher and would make actionable under US civil law the proper rabbinic decision to rule that cow kosher. And therefore, the lawsuit cannot stand.

In other words, despite the claims made by the plaintiffs and their attorneys, as long as the species of animal is kosher, there is no absolute standard of kosher after that except, perhaps, that an acceptable knife was used for slaughter – but even that requirement is somewhat porous in halakha, depending on need.

Ultimately, when you buy kosher meat you are choosing which butcher to trust, which store to trust, which local rabbi to trust and which national kosher certifier to trust, and by that I mean their honesty, the standards they accept or reject – and, in the case of the rabbis, their understanding of Jewish law and their skill at interpreting it and using it.

Until recently, a town’s rabbi did all of that for you. He approved the butchers and the shochtim (who also served as bodkim). If you lived in that town or were visiting it, you ate the meat the town’s shochet slaughtered. If you questioned the rabbi’s interpretation of Jewish law or argued that a particular stringency should be used that was not being used or that a particular leniency that was being used should not be used and you refused to eat the meat as a result, you were essentially violating Jewish law and were often ostracized.

But now Judaism is much more decentralized and any group of Jews can easily have their own kosher standards, sane or not. You don’t like the standards used by Hebrew National, Triangle K, and AER? Eat something else. No one will penalize you for doing so.

Regardless of what happens in this case, the plaintiffs’ lawsuit is ahalakhic, foolish, and ignorant of Jewish law and how it operates.

Hebrew National did not sell consumers pork disguised as kosher beef or beef killed with a gunshot to the head as kosher beef. It sold you kosher slaughtered beef as kosher slaughtered beef, and it never promised you anything more or different than that.

It never said it was selling beef slaughtered according to the exclusive interpretation of Jewish law promoted by a certain hasidic group or yeshiva head. It never said it would not use a certain halakhic leniency or promised it would use another.

You got what you paid for – unlike, many rightly argue, consumers of Agriprocessors’ (Rubashkin) products or consumers of Adom Adom or Soglowek products, who got horrific animal cruelty, itself a violation of Jewish law, in every bite.

To eat kosher meat you either have to trust the rabbis who supervise it or do your own kosher slaughter.

If neither of those are options for you, either stop keeping kosher or go vegetarian.