Glatt or not? Parashat Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17)


The Torah says that the laws of kashrut separate us from the nations and make us a holy people by precluding us from eating detestable things (Deuteronomy 14:2-3, 21). Inasmuch as kashrut is a defining aspect of Judaism and the Jewish people, it seems worthwhile to look a bit more closely at kosher rules. In doing so, we consider not only the Written Law found in the Chumash but also the Oral Laws that have come down through the Talmud.

With mammals, the Torah states that the animal must be a ruminant that both chews its cud and has split hooves. Classically, we associate cows and sheep as the permitted mammals, eating beef and lamb. Deer also would be permitted, making venison potentially kosher. Goats, too. For that matter, even giraffes.

To determine whether an animal’s meat is kosher to consume, we next must be assured that it is slaughtered properly. Among other things, the shochet (slaughterer) must use a chalef, a specific kind of rectangular knife whose blade must be at least twice as long as the neck width of the animal; it must also be exceptionally sharp and free of any nicks. The knife must achieve a rapid, smooth slice that severs the trachea and esophagus promptly. If the slaughtering errs, the meat is forbidden even though the mammal was a permitted species. 

Even if the slaughter is successful, as it usually is, the shechted animal’s lungs next must be inspected. If the lungs are found to have adhesions, particularly larger ones, that finding can render the animal non-kosher. The bodek (internal organ inspector) can determine which lung adhesions disqualify the slaughtered animal from being kosher. The simplest lung inspection result is when the slaughtered animal’s lungs are found to be smooth. (Glatt is Yiddish and chalak is Hebrew for “smooth.”) If smooth, with no adhesions, then the properly slaughtered meat is acceptable. It still will need to be soaked and salted, drained of its blood.

A quarter-century ago, kosher consumers were not as particular about whether meat was from an animal found to have had smooth lungs. If it had adhesions, consumers knew the inspectors would not have let the meat to market unless those adhesions were meaningless. But careful inspections take time, and time is money. Nowadays, with higher hourly rates, bodeks need to move faster, often operating from huge centralized plants that distribute across the country. The financial reality is that lungs with adhesions may not be getting as careful a look as they require and as they used to command, while glatt meat always is fine because it poses no added time demand. Hence, the new primacy of glatt kosher meat.

The rule on permitted fowl differs from that governing mammals. In the mammals’ case, we follow the two rules: chews its cud and split hooves. However, regarding birds, the Torah offers no “rule” but instead lists a wide variety of forbidden birds by name. Any fowl not on the list is deemed kosher. However, uncertainty exists about the exact identities of certain biblically prohibited birds, because some of those listed Hebrew names are esoteric. Therefore, for birds, the kosher rule is that the fowl is a permitted type only if the Jewish society has an unbroken tradition that, yes, this is a permitted bird. In America, such permitted fowl include chicken, ducks and geese. Turkeys, though, are tricky. After all, how could there have been a tradition regarding the kashrut of turkeys? Therefore, there were and still are some kosher consumers who avoid turkey. However, the greater majority note that kosher consumers in America always ate turkey, treating them as part of the chicken family, and that became this land’s tradition.

With this background, a few mysteries may be resolved. Buffalo meat, bison and yak can be kosher. Goat could be kosher, hence the kosher status of goat’s milk and cheese, but its meat tends to be tougher, so less desirable. Deer can be kosher, but they typically run too fast to be caught for shechitah (slaughter), and we may not eat animals that have been killed any other way. Goose is exceptionally fatty, so it is a less cost-effective buy except during Chanukah season when fried foods like potato latkes are in vogue. And the giraffe would be easy to slaughter, although fiercely violent, but the chance that its lungs will be found to have disqualifying abrasions is intimidating because giraffes are much more expensive than cows and harder to mitigate financial losses arising from an invalidated slaughter or bad lungs. Nevertheless, it is a myth that the absence of kosher giraffes is because slaughterers (shochtim) do not know where to slice. It is simply that, because of the steep financial risk, most slaughterhouses just don’t want to stick their necks out. 


Rabbi Dov Fischer, an adjunct professor of law at Loyola Law School, is the founding spiritual leader of Young Israel of Orange County. He blogs at rabbidov.com.

Pico-Robertson Live in the ‘hood: Little sukkahs, on the hillside, little huts made of …


You rise from your 300-thread cotton sheets and walk along your Carrera marble floors through the hand-crafted French doors that give out to a spectacular patiooverlooking the city. Off to the side is a small, frail- looking structure that looks like an old hut, with palm leaves on top.

You make your way into this little hut, and you say a blessing. There is art from your children on the vinyl walls, as well as a picture of the kabbalist Rav Kadoori. Over a Persian rug is a 2-by-8-foot table with 10 folding chairs, and on a beige tablecloth sits two covered challahs, a jar of honey, a Kiddush cup, and a Chumash. In the corner there is a wooden stand with an oriental lamp, and hanging from the thatched roof are fake fruit and other decorations that your kids made.
 
You have entered one of the great rituals of Jewish life: The sukkah.It may also be the least comfortable.
 
I have eaten in sukkots in Crown Heights where rain fell on my soup. I’ve slept in sukkot and my lower back was mad at me for a week. The sitting can be tight, there is rarely enough space to move around, and if you’re in my hometown of Montreal, you better bring your scarf and gloves.
 
So what is it about this odd ritual that has such a hold on the people who experience it?
 
The first, most obvious thing is that it’s really a lot of fun. This is not a very noble thing to say about a holy ritual, but it’s true. You get to feel like a kid again, like when you used to assemble play kits, or get silly with your siblings under a makeshift tent in the living room.
 
Once you enter the sukkah, you feel blessed. Don’t ask me to explain this. It’s just a vibe. A glow. An energy field — you walk into a sukkah and you’re happy to be alive.
 
The coffee tastes better. The kugel and the spicy Moroccan fish are incredible. You sing like Bocelli. Your kids don’t get on your nerves as much. Even your shmoozing is happier; you’re more likely to bring up the new Cirque du Soleil Beatles show than the enraging U.N. representative they had on “The O’Reilly Factor.”
 
Am I exaggerating? Of course, I am. (I’m Sephardic). But a sukkah will do that to you. It makes your heart overflow; you feel more generous, more grateful.Maybe that’s because the sukkah itself overflows. A rabbi once said that the sukkah is “the only mitzvah that you can walk into with your muddy boots.” It envelops all of you. Other mitzvahs connect to one part of the body — you eat matzah with the mouth, you put on tefilin with the hands, you read Torah with the eyes — but the sukkah wants every part of you!
 
The sukkah loves your beautiful voice and wonderful humor, but it also embraces your warts and wrinkles and “muddy boots.” It understands human nature: You can’t separate the good from the bad. This little hut does not discriminate.In fact, the sukkah might be the most egalitarian, unifying mitzvah of all. The origin of this holiday is agricultural — a way of thanking God for the blessings of the land. Every “species” of the land that we commemorate — the lulav (palm), the etrog (citron), the willow and the myrtle — represent, according to our Midrash, a different part of the Jewish people. Our little sukkah embraces them all.
 
Which makes you wonder: If something is so much fun and so magical, so overflowing with unconditional love and embracing of every part of every Jew, why are there not more Jews putting up their own sukkah? I can’t speak for all Jews, but in my new neighborhood, they embrace the sukkah like a Chassid embraces another l’chaim.
 
Pico-Robertson is where the sukkah rocks. You can feel it in the air. From the frantic rush to purchase sukkah kits at the local mitzvah store, to the last-minute scramble to get schach (palm leaves to cover the sukkah), to kids everywhere bringing home sukkah decorations from school, to seeing so many sukkot being put up on the front lawns, you are reminded that in this part of the world, you simply do not hide your Judaism.
 
And in a few days, all the sukkot of the Hood will have sprouted. If you want to see how cool this looks, you should really rent a helicopter.
 
But for now, just use your imagination and picture , as you fly above, hundreds and hundreds of cozy little huts speckling the landscape. Inside each of these little huts there will be thousands of songs that will be sung, thousands of blessings and l’chaims that will be made, and thousands of stories that will be told.
 
After you land, feel free to pop into one of these little huts — and don’t forget your muddy boots.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is the founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.