25-5770 Mitzvah N-87
Negative Mitzvah 87– This is a negative commandment: do not eat trayfa
Hafetz Hayim – As Scripture says: “You shall not eat any flesh in the field that is trayfa, torn of beasts” (Ex. 22:30). The term trayfa stated in the Torah means an animal which a wild beast of the forest has torn, and so likewise a fowl that was clawed by a bird of prey, such as a falcon or anything similar, in such a way that the animal or fowl cannot survive, because of that attack. Even if a person acts in advance and ritually slays it with a proper kosher shechitah, it is forbidden as trayfa. This is called d’rusha (clawed). Then there are seven other kinds of trayfa animals, which are forbidden by a law given orally to Moses at Sinai. These are: a creature with a perforated vital organ; one with an internal organ removed; one that fell from a height; one with an internal organ, etc. missing originally; one with a severance of the spinal column; one with the flesh covering the stomach torn; and one with most of its ribs broken. Whenever an animal or fowl develops a wound, such that it cannot live another twelve months because of this wound, whether it received the wound from a wild beast or a human being or by the hand of Heaven [natural causes] or it fell from the roof – it is forbidden. So too, flesh from a living creature is likewise called trayfa; and whoever eats an olive’s amount of it should receive whiplashes by the law of the Torah. If an embryo put out its forelegs from the womb of the animal, that limb is forbidden, in the category of flesh that has gone out of its bounds.
This applies everywhere and always, for both men and women.
As I wrote in the last lesson, 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. Trayfa is one of the categories of food that Jews are forbidden to eat.
Let me first deal with the technical definition of trayfa. Jewish Law defines meat as “trayf” if it has a major defect or has a major injury that makes it unlikely to be able to survive on its own. If the animal has been attacked by another animal, a predator or even another animal of the same species in some kind of territorial or mating conflict, or if the animal had a wound from an accident, and so the animal is so injured that it will not heal of its own, or that it dies, that meat is forbidden to be eaten because it is “torn” [trayfa]. We are permitted to eat meat only if we kill it ourselves according to the laws of shechitah [ritual slaughter]. Road kill or any other injured or dying animal is not allowed. (Becoming a vegetarian is beginning to look better all the time, isn’t it?)
Further, even ft the animal is killed properly, there needs to be an inspection of the carcass to make sure that there are not any hidden reasons the animal might not survive. Deformed or missing organs, hidden injuries etc. all make an animal not permitted for human consumption.
I need to pause here to reflect a moment on the issue of “oral law given to Moses at Sinai”. Tradition from the Rabbinic period tells us that there are two Torahs. One was a written Torah that, as described in Exodus, was given to our ancestors at Mt. Sinai. The other Torah is an “oral” Torah, also given by God to Moses during the 40 days Moses was on Mt. Sinai. This Oral Torah fills in the obvious gaps in the Written Torah. Both of these law codes are therefore divine and binding. Modern scholarship, however, tells us a different story. After the return of the Jewish Exiles from Babylonia during the time of Ezra, the Torah was redacted into its final form and read to the people for the first time in public. That made the text of the Torah fixed for all time. From that moment on, Sages and Rabbis began to explain the law, fill in the missing details and adapt the Torah to fit with current legal and social needs. These discussions and rabbinic pronouncements were codified in the Mishna, and later in the Talmud. The authority for these adaptations and changes in the laws of the Written Torah was then declared to be as old as Written Torah and that both came from God at Sinai. (Since there are parts of both the Written and Oral Torah that were ancient even in ancient times, this seemed like a good way to frame both laws as authoritative because they were the word of God.) When you see this phrase, “oral law given to Moses at Sinai” you can either believe this as true or you can understand this as referring to a law that was added by later Sages.
There is a third category of trayfa that forbids us to eat any limb that is taken from a living animal. This applies to baby animals once their forelegs have emerged from the womb of its mother. It does not matter if the removal causes the death of the animal or not, the meat is forbidden.
In the modern world, trayfa has come to mean any food that is not kosher. It has gone far beyond meat, into every aspect of food preparation. Any food item that cannot be certified kosher, is thus trayf and forbidden to be eaten by Jews. The difficult part is that the qualifications of what is permitted, what is certified Kosher, have become so strict that foods that were once permitted, are now declared trayf. Sometimes this makes a lot of sense, for example, nobody will certify Kosher a hot dog bun that has milk in it. The milk does not make the bun trayf, but since its purpose is to be eaten with a meat hot dot, it just does not make sense to permit the buns to be kosher. Sometimes things get absurd, when one authority declares food by a rival authority trayf. Sometimes a food company will put an unauthorized kosher mark on food that was not certified, and sometimes one authority will refuse to permit a perfectly kosher food to carry certification because of a dispute over pay or benefits. This is not to say that Jews should just give up on keeping Kosher, it just means that those who keep kosher should be prepared to do some homework. In some cases, there is no other alternative for a vendor to charge more for food that has been certified kosher. In other cases, there is no functional difference between how the two foods are processed and there should be little difference in price. Sometimes, the costs of production of a food item changes so that the foods being produced have to change to a cheaper ingredient that may not meet Kosher standards. Many food additives are functionally dairy or from trayf sources. Today it is almost impossible to keep up with the rapidly changing food industry.
This is why it seems everyone has his or her own standards of what they will accept as kosher and what they will not eat as trayf. No matter how kosher your home may be, you will always find someone that is more strict than you and who will not eat in your home. It is impossible to please everyone. So don’t try. Keep a level of Kashrut that you and your family can live with and if that is not enough for everyone, well, you are off the hook for serving them dinner. Never let anyone, other than YOUR rabbi, take control of what you serve in your kitchen.
Finally, while food may be Kosher, we also have to look at the ethics of how food is produced. It is one thing to say that the laws of Kashrut have been followed and the food is not trayf, and permitted to be eaten by Jews. It is another thing to turn a blind eye to food processors who mistreat employees, violate secular laws and cut corners on the production line, who hire illegal immigrants and treat them like slave labor or engage in deceptive advertising or not giving the consumers what they are paying for. The food may be permitted, but the ethics of the owner/manager may not be kosher at all. That is why we are seeing a new area of Kashrut called “Magen Tzedek” where the business practices are as kosher as the food being produced. This new certification should be coming to a store near you soon.