Lessons in Memory of my brother Dale Alan Konigsburg
March 29, 2004- Number 5764-24
Kashrut III: From Slaughter to Table
The Torah notes at the very beginning of the book of Geneses, that human beings were supposed to be vegetarians. G-d tells the first human’s created that they should only eat plants. It is only after the story of Noah and the flood that there is clearly a concession made for humans in order to eat meat. Rabbi Mark Gellman, who writes stories about stories in the Bible, in one of his stories, notes that humans could talk to the animals in the Garden of Eden, but since Noah ate the first hamburger, the animals were so angry that they are still not talking to humans.
Humans, not just Jews get the first rules for eating meat. It is a rule about animal cruelty that forbids all human beings from taking and eating a limb from a living animal. Judaism would take this law of cruelty and take it much further.
The rules for the slaughter of meat come from the laws of sacrifice. Each time we eat meat, even if we are not giving the meat to the alter, we are still taking a life and we must remain cognizant of that fact. Just as animals killed for the alter had to be killed and prepared in a special way, so too does all meat, even for ordinary purposes, have to be prepared properly. Only animals that the Torah says we can eat can be killed for food. For fish and birds, the method of slaughter is pretty easy. One simply decapitates a bird or removes the fish from water. For larger mammals, the process is more complicated. The jugular vein must be cut quickly, with a knife that is perfectly smooth with a proper “double cut” that requires the cut to run both ways. This drains the blood quickly, causing almost instant death and a minimal amount of pain to the animal. This method also removes most of the blood from the animal quickly. Since blood is forbidden to Jews, This kind of a slaughter makes sure that the most amount of blood is no longer in the animal.
This is such an important procedure that it is not left for amateurs. Only a trained Shochet, a person who is certified in ritual slaughter can perform “Shchitah”. Such a person should be trained in Talmudic law and should be pious in his other dealings. Nevertheless, such a person in the Jewish community of Easter Europe in the 19th century, was always looked upon with suspicion since no Jew wanted to make a living by the slaughter of animals. Remember, before refrigeration, the best way to keep meat fresh was to keep it alive until you were ready to eat it. In many other communities, the male or female head of household had to be the one to kill the family animals to eat. Still Jewish households never killed their own animals. Only the Shochet was permitted to slaughter animals.
Once the animal was killed, the carcass had to be inspected. Certain organs and the lungs were examined to check for diseased animals. Certain defects were permitted as “natural” others would make the mean unacceptable even though the slaughter was done properly. An animal that dies on its own or would soon die on its own was considered treyf, and unusable in the Jewish community. While certain imperfections of the lung are permitted, if the lung was smooth, it became “Glatt” (Yiddish for smooth) a higher standard of Kashrut that normally allowed an imperfect lung.
Another Geneses story tells us that after Jacob wrestled with an angel, he walked with a limp, and from that time on, Jews do not eat the sciatic nerve in any animal. It is a special skill to remove this nerve and it is not always possible to do it. Thus it is rare to find any kosher meat that comes from the hindquarter of an animal. As the animal is cut up into pieces, the parts are washed of any remaining blood and must eventually be soaked and salted to remove the last of the blood from the capillaries of the animal, this is what makes Kosher meat so salty. The meat may be soaked again to remove as much salt as possible. Liver and heart can not be salted to remove the blood, since there is some much more blood in these organs. Liver and heart must be broiled to remove all blood from the meat. Any meat that is not soaked and salted can be broiled instead, but broiling is a requirement for liver and heart. Now the meat is ready to be prepared for cooking and serving.
In recent years, in Europe, there has been much talk about stunning the animal before slaughter. This is said to be “more kind” to the animal. A few countries in Europe have passed laws requiring stunning the animal before killing it. This has stopped Kosher slaughter in those countries and threatens the entire system. Stunning the animal is not permitted by Kosher standards
Next week: Kashrut IV: The Strange Story of Separating Milk and Meat.