Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

3 Nissan 5764 - March 25, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Meat Production in South America

By Y. Epstein

"Out of sight, out of mind," was once the common phrase in the chareidi sector on the matter of shechitoh performed abroad. No one would hear of importing meat shechted outside of Eretz Yisroel. "It was a breakthrough that began about ten years ago," HaRav Yisroel Zicherman, the rov of Shearis Yisroel's department of foreign shechitoh, told Yated Ne'eman.

"Until then all of the meat was shechted by the Rabbinate," he recounted. It was Maran HaRav Shach zt"l who laid the foundations for the meat importing industry. "HaRav Chaim Shaul Karelitz contacted me at HaRav Shach's behest and suggested I look into the matter. This was following the Shmittah year. The objective was to import meat with a mehadrin hechsher inexpensively so that bnei Torah would be able to afford meat."

Many of us may not remember how back then only the wealthy could afford to buy meat for the holidays. A kilo of kosher lemehadrin meat in those days cost well over NIS 60 -- about three times what is costs today.

Also, conditions among the non-Jews better meet the demands of kashrus, HaRav Zicherman explains, because outside of Israel chumros can be maintained without having to address issues of hefsed merubeh. "It's simple. Every question regarding the meat and every treifoh goes straight to the goyim--velaYehudim hoysoh oroh."

Only in 1993 did Israel lift the ban against importing meat when the industry was privatized. South America was the place of choice. "The cattle graze in natural pastures and are of excellent quality," reports HaRav Zicherman. Shechitoh began in Argentina and Uruguay, where the herds are healthy and do not receive injections. In Eretz Yisroel the cattle are fed a calf-fattening formula consisting of vitamins, soy and other substances. This might be the reason fresh meat tastes different and might be slightly healthier.

"Ever since then, the driving principle has been to shecht in the place where we can, from a halachic standpoint, meet the highest standards. We do not forget that this meat is intended for a sector that keeps mitzvos painstakingly and with hiddurim. We fulfill all of the different shittos. South America is preferable over Europe and other regions."

A great deal of effort goes into the meat by the time it reaches our table, tender and tasty. "The importers set up koshering facilities there which meet high standards. The koshering facilities were set up in accordance with our planning and the koshering is done at a very high level from a halachic standpoint.

Why not shecht in Eretz Yisroel?

"We wouldn't gain anything from shechitoh in Eretz Yisroel. The price of fresh meat shechted in Eretz Yisroel is two-and-a-half-times higher than the price of frozen meat. If the price of meat is NIS 35-37 per kilo [about $3.65 per pound], meat from Eretz Yisroel costs between NIS 80 and NIS 100 a kilo [$8-10 per pound]. Obviously this is a very substantial difference."

One Importer Brings Another

How do Shearis Yisroel personnel reach the places where the choicest cattle is located? What must happen before the shechitoh?

"We work through meat importers. They are certified by the Chief Rabbinate's imports department and are permitted to import meat. Not every importer is authorized to import meat, of course. Hacker Brothers and Taam Man are the two importers permitted by Shearis Yisroel when they want to shecht. They do the preliminary fieldwork and we step into the picture from a halachic standpoint."

The importers also work through importers. "We import through an importer who deals with kosher meat," says Mr. Hacker. "We don't want to be in kosher meat, hand and foot."

Perplexed? So were we until Mr. Hacker clarified the matter. "We deal exclusively with glatt meat. The importer we work with takes the meat that is kosher but not glatt. Treif? That goes to the goyim. In other words we have to work with an importer who will take the kosher meat and that way we can handle the expenses."

When the Hacker brothers went into the import business they spoke with Maran HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv shlita and he insisted that they deal only in glatt meat. Hacker is also a licensed importer, which simplifies a procedure that is not as complex as might be expected in the State of Israel. "You need a license from the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and the Chief Rabbinate," says Mr. Hacker.

Sounds complicated, bureaucratic.

"Not at all. Today it's almost automatic. We see to it that all of our shochtim come from Eretz Yisroel," says Hacker.

"We follow the path blazed by Maranan Hageonim Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin and Rav Yosef Chaim Zonenfeld zt"l who said this is particularly important due to their expertise and thorough knowledge of the work. This is what all gedolei hador told us: bring all of the shochtim and mashgichim from Eretz Yisroel rather than using shochtim from abroad."

"Every meat factory we work with needs our permission," says HaRav Zicherman. "I travel to every new factory to provide guidance and perform the necessary changes to adapt the factory to meet our demands, which are indeed strict. It can be an enormous [task] to change a line, to ruin it, to stop it. We are careful to perform the checks on cows when the line is not in motion. We check the koshering device, i.e. the salting, the dismembering and packaging arrangements. Everything must meet our demands, which are very involved. Even before arrival, assembling the staff [is a major task].

"Our staffs are fixed in most cases. We screen people well because of our unique demands. Before departure and when a new shochet joins the staff we contact our rabbonim, Maran HaRav Eliashiv and HaRav Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman, shlita, and they give the men a briefing. Before each departure we bring the shechitoh plan to our rabbonim, obtain their approval and then set out."

The men selected leave their families for a month. "Just one month, never more," stresses HaRav Zicherman, "to avoid the tension and anxiety caused by spending a long time away from home. Throughout this time period we do not leave the meat unsupervised even for a moment. Not until the last crate is packed. But it takes time until the shechitoh begins. We don't start the shechitoh right away."

Is this to allow the shochtim to rest from the journey?

"That's one of the reasons. In addition to allowing the men to rest we spend two days executing thorough checks to see that all of our instructions have been carried out."

You leave the "no-worries" attitude back home in Eretz Yisroel.

"That's right. We generally arrive on a Monday. Shechitoh does not begin until Wednesday morning."

But once the work begins the pace is intense, right?

"With several limitations. First of all we never shecht more than five days a week and not for a full day. Our men shecht for six-and-a-half hours [including breaks for tefilloh, etc.] and that's it. The second half of the day is dedicated to learning. We think it's very important to rest from the hard work and recharge the batteries. Not just the physical, but also, and perhaps primarily, the spiritual batteries. There's pressure on us to work faster and faster, but we are able to meet the demands."

How can you recognize meat from your shechitoh? Crates can move.

"We put an inner seal and an outer seal on every package to make our meat recognizable. After the shechitoh the sealed crates set off on a long journey by sea that lasts 6-8 weeks."

Meat Fraud

But there are many more stages before the meat is loaded onto the ship. Shearis takes care of halachic matters, but ensuring the quality of the meat requires specialists of a different sort.

"We have been in the meat trade for six generations," says Hacker. "Over the years we have accumulated a great deal of knowledge about different kinds and breeds of cattle. Only somebody who is involved in this field can identify a cow's breed and age. We sell only meat without water injections."

Why are you opposed to injecting water?

"Because, as Maran HaRav Eliashiv put it, injecting water into meat is fraud with a hechsher."

It takes a trained eye to tell whether a piece of meat has water in it. Today meat is injected with more than just plain water to increase the meat's volume. But to tenderize meat means adding chemicals. "Not just any chemicals," says Hacker, "but carcinogenic chemicals when they exceed accepted levels."

Shuki Poter of Taam Man has a different assessment. At his factory a very small percentage of meat is processed to improve the taste and quality, but not to add bulk. "With regular, unprocessed meat 58 percent of the original cut remains in the pot after cooking, while with our meat 70 percent-80 percent remains. The slight amount of water we infuse, along with harmless, natural ingredients, improves the cut and remains trapped inside. This tenderizes and improves the meat."

Identifying meat from zebu, a breed of cattle Maran HaChazon Ish forbade vehemently because it carries no kashrus tradition, is no simple matter. "Zebu meat is tough and has to be tenderized," says Hacker. One has to be very familiar with the territory to select breeds that are tender and clearly kosher according to all opinions. "We decide which breeds we want to shecht and make this determination with the importer. One of the family members travels abroad in time for the shechitoh and every night he checks the cows to decide which ones to shecht and which ones will go straight to the goyim."

At Hacker only young calves are selected rather than milking calves. What's the difference?

"Milking calves are very young. A calf is considered a milking calf until the age of three months. They are shechted at the age of two-and-a-half months. We only shecht calves that are at least 12 months old and no older than 14 months old."

How can you tell their age?

"The family member who travels abroad for the shechitoh checks the calves' ages based on their teeth. Calves have milk teeth. They grow new teeth at the age of 15 months. This requires special expertise."

Hacker has never dealt with zebu. "It's because the meat is tough. If you don't inject water or chemical substances you can't use zebu."

How do the shochtim feel about being far from home and doing such hard work?

"Our staff has a very special atmosphere," says HaRav Zicherman. "An atmosphere of a beis medrash. Every day one of the rabbonim gives a shiur in addition to the regular Daf Yomi shiur. The tefillos are held regularly, of course, and just like in a yeshiva there is rischo deOraisa when kushiyos arise, and everybody analyzes them together."

Food Fit for Bnei Torah

How do bnei Torah, people of refinement, feel when they shecht a cow?

"If they approach shechitoh with the knowledge that it is a mitzvah from the Torah and they know the animal reaches its tikkun when the brochoh is recited over the shechitoh and all of the mitzvos associated with shechitoh are fulfilled, it's a good feeling," says Hacker. "And even more than that: we know which sector the meat is designated for and it's a good feeling to strengthen bnei Torah and their families.

"One of the roshei yeshivos of our generation once told me, `I was feeling really depleted. The responsibility for the yeshiva rested on my shoulders and sometimes this is very hard. I felt I was growing weaker and weaker. During that period I began to eat meat every day. You can't imagine how much it strengthened me. I could feel my strength returning.'

"Hearing a story like this and knowing without Shearis that rosh yeshiva would not have eaten a serving of meat every day reinforces the feeling that the work we do is a holy mission. This feeling stays with us in our holy work, and it really is holy work. Someone who happened to come to the site during the shechitoh said he feels like he is at kollel. As I child I was already told that when a cow is shechted it fulfills its tikkun."

Are the cows or the calves afraid of shechitoh?

"I have no doubt the cows feel fear," says Hacker. "There is a halochoh that forbids letting a cow see another cow get shechted because it causes the lungs to shrink.

"Once I drove to one of the kibbutzim in the Negev. At this kibbutz I bought a cow and loaded it onto the truck. It was very hard because the cow was resisting. She really refused to get on. I had to use an electric prodder to get it on board. I use a special, relatively weak, battery-powered prodder which does not have a charge powerful enough to cause treifos.

"Shechitoh according to halochoh prevents cruelty to animals. Through the use of a sharp knife shechitoh immediately cuts off all the cow's nerves," says Hacker. "When a cow is killed with a hammer [like the nonkosher factories do] the killing is quick, but the nerves remain alive."

To prevent the cows from seeing shechitoh, every animal is placed in a separate cell. But there is no way to prevent them from hearing the moaning. "Apparently hearing is not the same as seeing," says Hacker. The fact is the lungs do not contract after hearing moaning.

The lungs are one reason that some use zebu. Its lungs are very strong, meaning fewer treifos are found.

The Zebu and the Hump

How did the recent zebu scandal break out? To find out we asked HaRav Yitzchok Mordechai Rubin of Jerusalem.

"Somebody came to me with a halachic question that had nothing to do with meat," said HaRav Rubin. "To look into the matter we searched for sources, and then I realized that throughout the years meat has been imported from South America an animal clearly against Maran HaChazon Ish's opinion was also imported."

How could such a thing take place?

"The kashrus committees erred because in the book Pe'er Hador the zebu [in halochoh] is described as an animal with a single horn, which does not apply to the zebu we know. It's distinguishing feature is the large hump rising up about 20 cm near the head. I brought the question to HaRav Nissim Karelitz and he confirmed that the zebu has a hump."

But the zebu, which is often crossbred because of its sturdiness, is not so easy to identify. "As a result of the crossbreeding the hump shrinks or disappears entirely," says HaRav Rubin.

But there are still ways to identify it. "I raised the issue before Maran HaRav Eliashiv and HaRav Karelitz. HaRav Eliashiv clarified the matter by consulting all of the kashrus committees and a clearer picture took shape."

Last week Yated Ne'eman printed a notice explaining that the cows shechted in Argentina and Uruguay are kosher and this meat is permitted lechatchiloh. Shearis Yisroel meat comes from these two countries, but meat from Brazil and Paraguay is relatively problematic in terms of this issue.

Packinghouse or Surgical Ward?

If you picture a meat factory as a place with blood splattered everywhere, you should visit Taam Man's facilities. "We shecht in very advanced factories. The most recent of them is in Salto, Argentina." This is a very large facility whose meat is exported to 12 countries.

The meat is cut while still fresh into pieces as large as 700 grams (1.5 lbs). "One really could make the mistake of thinking he has arrived at the operating room of a large hospital," says Shuki Puter. "The butchers wear white with cloth masks over their mouths. Their heads are covered with disposable head coverings and they wear special washable shoes with a disposable covering. Before entering they have to wash their shoes."

The factory has a precision climate-control system. This is where Taam Man prepares its aged meats. The meat is aged in special vacuum-sealed bags for 21 days in a refrigerator kept just above freezing and only afterwards is it frozen. The quality, says Puter, is truly superb.

Is Our Meat Kosher?

by Mordecai Plaut

One of the most talked-about topics of the past week has been the kashrus of the meat that we eat. We will try to summarize the background of the issue.

According to the Shulchan Oruch (Yoreh De'ah 79:1) no mesorah is required to establish that an animal is kosher. Since the simonim are given explicitly in the Torah, an animal simply needs to chew its cud and have fully split hooves, as the posuk (Vayikra 11:3, and Devorim 14:6) says. The Pri Meggodim (Yoreh De'ah 80:1), the Kaf HaChaim (80:5), and Pischei Teshuvoh (80:1) all state that the presence of the simonim establish a species as kosher.

However the Shach (Yoreh De'ah 80:1) mentions the notion of a mesorah for animals. The Chochmas Odom (36:1) cites this Shach.

According to the Chazon Ish, our community has accepted as a minhag to be strict in the matter of a tradition even for animals that display the simonim. This is in order to strengthen the matters of ma'acholos assuros. The details and limits of this minhag are not well known, and have not been discussed and debated in the halachic literature. Not all communities accepted this minhag, but the bnei Torah did.

The issue came up in the time of the Chazon Ish when the then Chief Rabbi of Israel, HaRav Yitzchok haLevi Herzog was asked by the French rabbinate about the zebu (Bos indicus), a type of humped cow originally from India that spread to Sri Lanka, China and north Africa and then worldwide. Rabbi Herzog maintained that no mesorah is required. Nonetheless, Rav Herzog deferred to the Chazon Ish, according to our information, and did not allow the zebu to be imported to Israel.

For some of the background we have relied on an article written by Rabbi Ari Zivotovsky entitled "Kashrut of Exotic Animals: The Buffalo," and in The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, Fall 1999/Sukkot 5760, Number XXXVIII, published by The Rabbi Jacob Joseph (RJJ) School of Staten Island.


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