One question often asked by people who are considering observing the laws of kashrus is, "Why does kosher meat have to cost so much?" We will attempt to answer this valid question by looking at the process of "shechita," Jewish ritual slaughter.
Ritual slaughter of animals differs in many ways from common techniques of slaughter. In ritual slaughter, we find caution and detail in every act. In this rabbinically supervised slaughter, the animal is killed with a knife. In this act we emphasize Jewish respect for the dignity of life. Great care is taken to use a knife that has been properly sharpened. The blade must be flawless, without a nick, and perfectly smooth, thus assuring that the kill will be quick, clean and painless to the animal.
This entire process begins with the shochet (ritual slaughterer) inspecting the knife for possible flaws and nicks. He does this by running the edge of his fingernail and finger up and down the blade. The slightest nick means that the knife must be resharpened. After this, he recites a short Bracha before beginning the actual Shechita.
This knife (chalaf) is usually about 6 inches long for chickens and 18 inches long for larger animals. The knife has no point at the end of it, and is of equal width from top to bottom. These precautions are necessary in order to guarantee that the neck of the animal will not be torn. The shochet must cut through the trachea and esophagus to the jugular vein very quickly and in a clean fashion. He must not kill the animal by stabbing it.
The animals neck is first washed thoroughly to remove any sand particles in the fur which could cause a nick in the knife during slaughter. The shochets hand must be very steady, and he must employ one continuous movement, carefully avoiding the spine. This cut only takes a few seconds and is a much more humane method of killing an animal than are such common practices as smashing the head, shooting the animal or scalding it while it is still alive.
Following the slaughter, the carcass is hung upside down so that the blood can drain properly. Then the shochet checks for adhesions on the lungs, which would indicate an abscess. If one is found, the animal is rejected as unkosher. Only about 30 percent of slaughtered animals can be used for kosher distribution.
At this point the traibering process is begun. The major blood vessels, nerves and forbidden fats will be removed.
The carcass is then divided into primal cuts. The next step is soaking the meat in water for 30 minutes. It is then salted for 1 hour, and then washed another 3 times.
A large slaughterhouse, when operating full time, may be able to slaughter 60 to 150 animals per hour. This process requires shochtim and rabbis on the premises for additional help in supervision. After the soaking and salting, a plumba (kosher seal) is either attached or stamped onto the meat or chicken.
Thus, the number of people needed to work in a kosher slaughtering and packing house is many times greater than in a non-kosher establishment and this considerably increases the price per pound of kosher meat. In addition, most butcher shops are relatively small businesses and must operate at a higher mark-up than do large chain supermarkets.
LAWS OF SHECHITA
There are 5 ways in which the slaughter becomes not kosher:
1) Shehiya. There must not be the least pause during the process of shechita.
2) Derassa. The process of slaughtering must be done by moving the knife back and forth not through downward pressure. The knife, therefore, must be long enough to allow slaughtering without too much pressure. Moreover, the animal must be in such a position that undo pressure will not be placed on the knife.
3) Chalada. The shechita knife must be uncovered during the entire process of shechita. For this reason, the knife for shechita has a long and broad blade without a thin sharp end at the front or back.
4) Hagrama. The cut must be performed on the throat, between the level of the larynx and the lower part of the trachea and esophagus.
5) Ikkur. The trachea and esophagus must be cut through and not ripped out. The knife, therefore, must be very sharp and very smooth. The smallest nick in the blade will cause tearing. For this reason, the knife is checked for smoothness and sharpness before and after each shechita.
There are eight types of mortal injury that render an animal unfit to be eaten. They are:
1. Poisonous substance introduced into the body by an animal of prey hacking with its claws.
2. Organ walls perforated.
3. Complete organs or parts of them lacking.
4. Organs or parts of them having been removed.
5. Walls or covers of organs torn.
6. Shattered by a fall.
7. Pipes split.
8. Fracture in bones.
TRAIBERING (NIKKUR DEVEINING)
Before kashering meat, we must remove the blood vessels, nerves and fats that are forbidden to eat. This includes the sciatic nerve השנה דיג. (ג"כ תישארב) Generally, traibering is done on the forequarter because there are so many areas in the hindquarter that would have to be removed that it is not economically feasible. In Israel, however, many people specialize in traibering (Nikkur) the hindquarter. But in America the hindquarter is generally sold for exclusively non-kosher use.
I. Chailev fats from the bull, calves, lamb, and steer are forbidden, as are the main tributary veins and arteries going through the neck and shoulders. We also traiber some membranes. Traibering must be done before soaking and salting. We do not use parts of the animal that touch the chailev.
II. The following cuts are always from the commonly used part of the animal: Deckel Roast, Apple Roast, Pepper Steak , Top of the Rib, Minute Steak, T.V. Roast, London Broil, Shoulder Roast, Cross Piece, Chuck Roast, Delmonica Steak, Cube Meat, Neck Meat, Brisket Strip, Brisket and Kaleche.
In order to kasher meat, it first must be soaked and salted. The first step in soaking is to wash off all of the blood. Soaking is done to enable the pores to open. The following are some important points in the process of soaking:
1. First the meat should be rinsed of all surface blood, then it can be soaked. The water should be at room temperature. In a vessel not normally used for cooking food, the meat should be soaked for half an hour. The water should then be shaken off so as not to dilute the salt. Then the meat should be salted and left to stand for one hour.
2. Kashering must be done within 72 hours of shechita, while the meat is fresh (not frozen). After that time, it can be koshered over an open fire. (Sprinkle a little salt on it before kashering on the fire.)
3. The salt used for kashering should be medium coarse.
4. After salting, one should rinse the meat 3 times.
1. First wash the liver, then place it on the fire (on a grill not normally used for broiling already kashered meats). Sprinkle it lightly with salt. Broil, then remove from the fire and wash it off.
2. Non-kashered meat or liver which were soaked for 24 hours are not kosher. An example of this would be a chicken defrosting in a refrigerator with liver inside.
3. If liver was cooked inside a chicken, it needs miyya lehia (60 times more chicken than liver). Therefore, care should be taken to remove the liver that comes inside a whole chicken. Note: even chickens which are already kashered, the liver inside is NOT. In case of doubt, ask a competant Rabbi.
The Torah states that "meat from an animal that has been torn in the field may not be eaten" (Exodus 22:30). This means that all animals intended for Jewish consumption, besides being of a kosher species and ritually slaughtered by a trained shochet (slaughterer), must be wholesome. Any lesion, rip, broken bone, illness, puncture or defect sufficient to kill the animal usually renders it traif (non-kosher). Although some defects may be visible while the animal is still alive, others require careful checking of the animals internal organs to be sure it is free of any defects and diseases which could cause it to be non-kosher. It is particularly common to find adhesions to an animals lung which indicate a puncture in the lung wall that would render the animal traif.
Until about 500 years ago, only meat from animals free of adhesions ("glatt") was used. Later, however, there were halachic (legal) authorities who permitted eating meat of animals with small adhesions on particular sections of the lung in case of dire need. If the adhesions are small, easily removable, and the lungs prove to be airtight (by inflation under water), the animal may be declared kosher, but not glatt.
Adhesions are not common in chickens in the U.S.A. and Canada. Therefore, all chicken meat here is considered glatt kosher.
Nowadays, one cannot even be sure that the "glatt kosher" meat one buys is truly "glatt." Since only a small percentage of animals are truly "glatt" (sometimes only one in 20), there is a shortage of true glatt kosher meat. Therefore, most suppliers have "watered down" the term "glatt" to include those animals which only have a few small adhesions, and some have diluted the term even more. Accordingly, it is possible that non-glatt meat of a shochet who is scrupulously precise with the glatt terminology may have fewer adhesions (i.e. be more glatt) than the boldly advertised "glatt kosher" meat of another. Even if the glatt label is accurate, that alone does not guarantee the meat to be of the highest kosher standards, since glatt does not, for example, refer to the quality of the shechita itself. Meat should only be bought from a source certified as kosher by a reliable rabbinic authority, whether the meat is glatt or not. When there is any doubt concerning the reliability of any particular kosher establishment, a reliable rabbinic authority should be consulted.
THE KOSHER BUTCHER SHOP
Once an animal has been correctly slaughtered and the meat has been certified as kosher, the person principally responsible for its kashrus is the butcher. Consequently, it is necessary to select a butcher who is himself G-d fearing and Torah observant. These are the qualities that the rabbis who certify the kashrus of butcher shops look for. They also examine the butchers knowledge of the laws of keeping kosher, especially those laws that pertain to fresh meat. The butcher must also possess the knowledge and skills required to remove from meat the forbidden parts, fat and blood vessels ("traibering".) Butchers must also know the laws of soaking and salting meat (kashering it), and the laws for storing meat not yet soaked-and-salted. If a butcher has no supervision and is accountable to no one, how can one be sure that the butcher either knows the laws or follows themor, for that matter, that he only purchases kosher-certified meat?
Butchers who refuse to allow rabbinical supervision are open to suspicion of fraud, since great profit can be made from selling non-kosher meat as kosher. Some "self-supervised" kosher butchers boldly proclaim that their meat is cheaper. Certainly it is cheaper if the butcher does not take the costly man-hours necessary to traiber meat or to soak and salt it, and if he does not have to pay for rabbinical supervision. If your butcher is this type, you are possibly being misled into regular violation of Torah law and you are also paying exorbitantly for the butcher's deceipt!
A butcher who declines supervision may think that he knows what he is doing, but he actually may not. He may have previously worked with an expert and now be under the impression that he knows all about kosher butchering but a certifying rabbi would be needed to ascertain whether the butcher knows how to traiber all cuts of meat, not just the few cuts he may have practiced under a fully-trained butchers supervision. The rabbi would check that the butcher knows what equipment and utensils to use and how to keep from rendering the meat unkosher in the process of kashering (something that is rather easy to do). The butcher would need to demonstrate that he knows meat cannot be stored for longer than 3 days without being kashered, or at least washed down.
Meat and poultry require soaking in water and thorough salting before they are kosher for eating. But meat cannot be soaked and salted until after the forbidden fats, and blood vessels are removed. If the meat is soaked and salted before it is traibered, it is questionable. Special incisions must be made in the neck of poultry prior to soaking and salting to aid in the removal of blood. If the butcher waits more than 3 days before kashering the meat, the meat can only be kashered by broiling in the same manner as liver. Ground beef must be kashered before grinding. Storing any meat or poultry that has not been kashered in a bag or container which does not allow for free drainage of blood, renders the meat permanently non-kosher, if they haven't been kashered yet.
The rabbi must also test the butcher to see if he knows how to store and treat liver and other organ meats properly. It is necessary for the butcher to prove that he is aware that the kosher stamp on the carcass means the meat is kosher but does not preclude further treatment. This assumption is made by too many butchers and consumers.
How can the kosher consumer know how conscientious a butcher is unless a reliable rabbi has certified the butcher as competent and trustworthy? After all, many consumers are not aware that many butchers do not kasher meat as a matter of course. In fact, even butchers who kasher at a customers request frequently do not kasher steaks and lamb chops because they assume that the consumer will broil them anyway, and will kasher them in the proper broiling process. The butcher, however, has both the legal and moral obligation to inform his customers. Rabbinic supervision provides the basis for a consumers confidence in a butcher.
The trustworthiness of some butchers is suspect because of their practice of selling certain brands of chickens processed in warm water. Most authorities feel this cooks the blood so that it cannot be extracted by soaking and salting. Some plants where chickens are processed are "one-man operations." The same person slaughters the chickens, supervises his own slaughtering work, inspects the chickens after slaughter, and oversees the processing of the chickens. In reliably certified plants, these jobs are performed by at least four people. Finally, unlike the widely accepted brands of kosher poultry, the chickens from non-recommended plants are not always kashered prior to distribution. Since the chickens are not marked with the date of slaughter, the consumer has no way of knowing if the chickens can still be kashered.
In recent years, there have been several major scandals concerning chicken marketed nationally. In most instances, non-kosher chickens were substituted and fraudulently sold as kosher.
Certification by appropriate rabbinic authorities keeps such chickens from being foisted upon an unwary public. Rabbinic supervision ensures the consumer that the butcher, who is ultimately responsible for the kashrus of meat, is fully qualified and under supervision, which keeps him from purposely or inadvertently defrauding his customers.