Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Answering to a Higher Authority

Has anyone ever wondered why certain Hechsherim are trusted more than others? I certainly have. There has been a relitively recent explosion of Kashrus agencies who certify various food products as kosher. It wasn’t always that way.

Once upon a time there was only the OU. But a few decades ago new Kashrus agencies started sprouting up. Among them: The OK, Star-K, Kaf-K , and the cRc. These all are trustworthy. And there are many more like hem – far too many to mention. But along with the trustworthy ones there are some that have not enjoyed such trustworthiness. Like that of the Traingle K Hechsher of Rabbi Jehoseph H. Ralbag (pictured above - taken from BJT website).

Triangle K has been around a long time. It is one of the older Hechsherim. I believe it pre-dates all those mentioned above accept for the OU. It used to be just the letter K but since a letter from the alphabet cannot get copyright protection, the triangle was added to it. Rabbi Ralbag is a God fearing Jew and a huge Talmid Chacham. He has incredible Semichos and has published Seforim on Halacha. Nonetheless his Hechsher has always been a controversial one. I have never heard of any Orthodox Rabbi who endorses it.

Mega hot dog giant - Hebrew National - now has the Triangle K Hechsher. That happened a few years ago when they switched from an in-house Hechsher to a national one. But the same thing is true for Hebrew National that is true for the Triangle K. Outside of Rabbi Ralbag - I don’t know of a single Orthodox Rabbi who endorses it.

But in what turned out to be a fascinating article in the Baltimore Jewish Times - I was surprised to learn that not all Orthodox authorities are untrusting of Triangle K and Hebrew National products. From the article:

Rabbi Yitzchak Abadi, who studied in Lakewood, N.J., under the famed Rabbi Aaron Kotler and was once the exclusive halachic authority in the Haredi (fervently observant) stronghold of Lakewood, N.J., founded a popular Web site called kashrut.org . Rabbi Abadi’s son, Aharon, who now runs the Web site, declared that Hebrew National’s meat “is certainly kosher for all who do not eat only glatt.”

Although it is preferable to eat glatt when available, says Rabbi Abadi, it is a chumrah, a voluntarily accepted restriction. Those who don’t limit themselves to glatt are still keeping kosher.

I should point out that the word Glatt is misused. In its common usage it means that the product is more carefully supervised. It is done by more knowledgeable and more God fearing people who are more trustworthy than non Glatt supervisors. But that is not what Glatt means. That is what Mehadrin means. Glatt mean smooth. And it refers to the surface area of a lung.

A bit of explanation would be helpful here. The following is a very basic outline and is not meant to be comprehensive review of the laws of Kashrus.

First only meat from an animal that chews its cud and has split hooves may be eaten. But that is not enough. Of these animals the Torah tells us in Shemos (22:30) Basar BaSadeh Treifa Lo SoChelu – meat (one finds) in a field that is ‘torn’ you may not eat! This means that natural or any death to an animal that is not ritually slaughtered renders it not Kosher.

Ritual slaughter is outlined in the Shulchan Aruch. If done properly it is a very humane method of slaughter. Any misstep in this procedure renders the animal ‘torn’ and completely unkosher.

Once slaughtered properly all internal organs must be intact. Even a small puncture renders it a Treifa - not Kosher. Adhesions will sometimes grow on and around that hole. The Gemarah tells us that in the vast majority of cases most internal organs are intact and may be assumed to be so without checking.

The lung is an exception. It is almost always the first organ to be damaged in this way. So Chazal instituted it be checked. If the lung passes inspection we may assume the other organs are intact and the animal is rendered Kosher without any further checking. Within three days it must be soaked and salted for a predetermined period of time in order to remove all blood. Blood is biblically forbidden by the Torah for consumption. If this is not done - that too renders it unkosher.

The issue of Glatt comes into play during the lung inspection. If the lung has no lesions at all then it is smooth or Glatt Kosher. This is the standard of Rabbi Joseph Karo the author of the Shulchan Aruch. Only Glatt Kosher is acceptable according to Rabbi Karo. Middle Eastern Jews or Sepahrdim follow Rabbi Karo and retain this standard. But European Jews or Ashkenazim follow Rabbi Moses Isserles – who is known by his Hebrew acronym ‘Rama’. His Halachic Glosses dot the entirety of the Shuchan Aruch. The Rama is lenient.

The Rama says that although Glatt is preferable, certain types of easily removable adhesions may in fact be removed if the membrane on the lung is not broken upon removal. If that is done the animal remains Kosher. This is not Glatt Kosher meat. But it is completely Kosher meat. That is still the Halacha today even though it has been virtually abandoned by all the Hechsher agencies who now only accept Glatt Kosher. Except for mega companies like Hebrew National who do not require it. It would be virtually impossible to produce Glatt Kosher meat in the quantities they produce.

In my view if being Glatt is the only issue, then Hebrew National is as Kosher as could be and can be eaten by any Ashkenazi Jew. It is just not Glatt Kosher.

Just to be clear I am not now advocating buying Hebrew National products. I am not a Hechsher agency. I have no expertise or direct knowledge about Hebrew National or about the way any of the Hechsher agencies operate. Like most Orthodox Jews I rely on the good reputations of Hechsher agencies I trust.

But if not being Glatt is the only issue – and I don’t know that it is - I would eat it. Being Glatt Kosher is not a requirement of Halacha. The article in the Baltimore Jewish Times quotes Rabbi Abadi as endorsing Hebrew National as Kosher but not Glatt. I am certainly not in any position to approve or disapprove. I leave that for others to debate. But it does make it interesting. Maybe Hebrew National does answer to a higher authority...