24-5770 Mitzvah N-86
Negative Mitzvah 86– This is a negative commandment: do not eat N’velah
Hafetz Hayim – As Scripture says: “You shall not eat anything that dies of itself” (Deut. 14:21). The term N’velah denotes any domestic or wild animal or fowl, that dies of itself or that was not given proper shechitah (ritual slaughter). Whoever eats an olive’s amount from it should receive whiplashes. If someone eats an olive’s amount of the flesh of a stillborn kosher animal, he violates the prohibition on N’veah. It is forbidden therefore to eat the newborn young of an animal until the start of the night of the eighth day, when it is no longer in doubt of being able to survive. If it is know that its months or gestation have been completed, it is permissible immediately at birth.
This applies everywhere and always, for both men and women.
Dietary laws are a big part of Judaism. We are not permitted to eat anything we want at anytime we want. We can only eat kosher food and only after it has been prepared properly. N’velah is one of the categories of food that Jews are forbidden to eat.
On the one hand, we already have an aversion to eating something that is already dead. If we did not do the killing, humans have an assumption that there is something wrong with the dead animal. We know, for example, that other animals mostly only kill the damaged or sick animals from the herd, leaving the healthy animals to live to breed again. That is all part of the law of evolution. Human beings, however, are not to be scavengers. Animals killed by another animal (see the next mitzvah) or animals that die from disease or accident, are not permitted as food. This, as the Hafetz Hayim points out in his summary, is the direct law from the Torah.
The difficulty comes when we don’t know if an animal is in the process of dying by itself from a disease. The case cited above is of a newborn animal. We don’t have any way of “knowing” the reason behind a stillbirth of an animal. We have to assume that there is something wrong with the fetus and therefore the fetus would be N’velah and forbidden to be eaten. If the animal gives birth and the birth is normal, we wait eight days to make sure that the newborn is viable before we slaughter it and eat it. If the animal has any serious birth defects, it will, by the eighth day, be apparent and we will know if we can eat it or not. Most of the time we really don’t know when an animal will give birth because we usually are not there at the moment of insemination. We can only guess as to when the proper time for birth will be so we don’t really know if the animal is born premature or not. In the rare instance, when we know exactly when the animal should give birth, and we therefore know that the newborn is “full term” then we no longer have to wait the eight days, since we can assume that all is normal.
(OK, I will pause here to acknowledge the irony that we are worried that a calf or lamb etc. is viable and disease free so that we can immediately kill it for food. If we want to use the milk from the mother animal after she gives birth, we will need to use the offspring for food so that we can continue to milk the mother and use her milk for other purposes. If you did not really know this, it is because we have become so good at removing ourselves from the reality of farm life. If you are a vegan, I am sure that you know this and have become vegan exactly because you do not support this kind of animal husbandry. If you are a vegetarian, you may not know all the details as to why we kill young animals for food, but you are opposed to killing animals in all cases. As we explore the details of the kinds of animals, the rules of slaughter and the preparation of Kosher meat, I understand that some of my students may want to consider alternative meatless lifestyles. Judaism does permit this but I will deal with those issues at a future date.)
I also should add to the Hafetz Hayim, that even grown animals that are slaughtered for food, must have their lungs and liver inspected after Shechita (Kosher slaughter) to determine if they were already “dying” from some disease prior to the Shechita. This must be done by a qualified Rabbi so that abnormal spots and defects in these organs can be distinguished from normal spots and thus the “fitness” of the carcass is determined. There are certain defects, especially in the lungs of large animals, that do not cause it to be rejected as Kosher meat. However, there are some extra pious Jews who do not trust anyone with the inspection of the lungs, and who insist that the lungs of the animals they use for meat should be smooth, without any defect. This is obviously a higher standard and would cause Kosher meat to be more expensive. The Yiddish word for “smooth” as in “smooth lung” is “glatt”. A “glatt” Kosher animal has to pass a more rigid examination of its lungs than a “normal” Kosher animal. Most Kosher meat today is inspected with the glatt standard, and is more expensive than regular Kosher meat (which often is more expensive than regular non-Kosher meat.) Please note, that the “glatt” designation should apply only to large Kosher mammals. Chickens, fish and eggs cannot be “glatt” and if you are paying more for them, you are being ripped off. One can make a case that the entire “glatt” standard should be rejected and we should return to a simple Kosher standard, but the super pious and fundamentalists seem to have cornered the Kosher slaughter market and standard Kosher meat is becoming harder and harder to find in stores.
We will speak more about this super-Kashrut standard when we talk, in the next lesson, about Treif.