About Kosher Laws
Kosher Meat, Poultry, and Fish
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What Are the Kosher Animals?
The Torah states that kosher mammals are those that chew their cud (ruminants) and are cloven-hoofed. The following animal species are among those considered to be kosher: cow, goat, and sheep; in addition to less common animals like addax, antelope, bison, deer, gazelle, giraffe, and ibex. In addition, meat and poultry require special preparation, which will be discussed below.
The Torah does not enumerate specific characteristics to distinguish permitted and forbidden birds. Instead, it enumerates 24 forbidden species of fowl (Vayikra 11:13–19 and Devarim 14:11–18), while all other birds are considered to be kosher. Nonetheless, for various reasons, in practice we eat only those birds for which we have an established tradition that the species is kosher.
In the United States, the only poultry accepted by mainstream kashrut organizations as kosher are chicken, turkey, duck and goose.
The Torah establishes two criteria to determine which fish are kosher: the fish must have fins and scales (snapir and kaskeset). The scales must be easily removable without damaging the skin. [Generally, scales on kosher fish are either thin, rounded and smooth-edged (cycloid) or narrow segments that are similar to teeth of a comb (ctenoid)]. All shellfish are prohibited.
Furthermore, the scales must be capable of being removed without tearing the fish’s skin (See Rema Yoreh Deah 83:1). It is not unusual for some fish to meet the first two criteria and not the third. Sturgeon, which is a very common type of fish, is a prime example. Although sturgeon does posses simanim, the scales are embedded and cannot be removed without tearing the skin.
Unlike meat and poultry, fish requires no special preparation. Nonetheless, the fish scales must be visible to the consumer in order to establish the kosher status of the fish. Therefore, filleted or ground fish should not be purchased unless properly supervised, or the fillet should have a skin tab with scales attached to the flesh. Furthermore, purchasing fish in a non-kosher fish store is problematic – even if the scales are intact – because the knives and tables are not kosher; rabbinic guidance should therefore be sought.
Rabbinic law prohibits consumption of fish and meat together.
Processed and smoked fish products require reliable rabbinic supervision, as do all processed foods.
With Rabbi Loike, expert on kosher species of birds.
Laws of Shechita and Koshering
The Torah requires that meat and poultry be slaughtered in a prescribed manner known as shechita. The trachea and esophagus of the animal are severed with a special razor-sharp, perfectly smooth blade, causing instantaneous death with no pain to the animal. Only a trained kosher slaughterer (shochet), whose piety and expertise have been attested to by rabbinic authorities, is qualified to slaughter an animal for kosher consumption.
After the animal has been properly slaughtered, a trained inspector (bodek) inspects the internal organs for any physiological abnormalities that may render the animal non-kosher (treif). The lungs in particular must be examined in order to determine that there are no adhesions (sirchot), which may be indicative of a puncture in the lungs. If an adhesion is found, the bodek must further examine it carefully to determine its kosher status. It should be noted that in addition to fulfilling the requirements of halacha (Jewish law), the inspection of internal organs ensures a standard of quality that exceeds government requirements.
In some kosher animal species, many blood vessels, nerves and lobes of fat are forbidden and must be removed. There are special cutting procedures for beef, veal and lamb known as nikkur (Hebrew for “excising” ), which must be performed by a specially trained individual.
The Torah forbids the consumption of the blood of an animal. The two accepted methods of extracting blood from meat, a process referred to as koshering or “kashering,” are salting and broiling.
Meat should not be placed in warm water before it has been kashered. If meat is cooked prior to kashering, it cannot be made kosher.
The meat must first be soaked for a half hour in cool (not ice) water, in a utensil designated exclusively for that purpose. After allowing for excess water to drip off the meat, the meat is thoroughly salted so that the entire surface is covered with a thin layer of salt. Only coarse salt should be used. Both sides of meat and poultry must be salted. All loose inside sections of poultry must be removed before the kashering process begins. Each part must be soaked and salted individually.
If the meat or poultry was sliced during the salting process, the newly exposed surfaces of the cut must now be soaked for a half hour and salted as well.
The salted meat is left for an hour on an inclined or perforated surface to allow the blood to flow down freely. The cavity of the poultry should be placed open, in a downward direction.
After the salting, the meat must be thoroughly soaked, and then thoroughly washed to remove all of the applied salt.
According to Jewish law, meat must be kashered within 72 hours after slaughter so as not to allow the blood to congeal. If meat has been thoroughly soaked prior to the 72 hours, an additional 72-hour time stay is granted to complete the first step of the salting process.
An alternate means of kashering meat is through broiling. Liver may only be kashered through broiling because of the large amount of blood in it.
The meat must first be thoroughly washed to remove all surface blood. It is then salted slightly on all sides and, when kashering liver, slits must be made in the organs. Subsequently, it is broiled on a designated liver-broiling perforated grate over an open fire, which draws out the internal blood.
The meat or liver must be broiled on both sides until the outer surface appears to be dry and brown. After broiling, the meat or the liver is rinsed off.
Years ago, salting of meat and poultry was performed in the home of the consumer. More recently, the kosher butcher performed salting in the butcher shop. Today, the entire process of slaughtering, bedika, nikkur and salting has shifted to the slaughterhouse. This allows for uniform consistency of high standards. Nonetheless, the kosher butcher plays a critical role in distributing the product. The butcher must be a person of integrity and the store should be under reliable rabbinic supervision.
From the time of slaughter, kosher meat and poultry must be properly supervised until it reaches the consumer. A metal tag bearing the kosher symbol, called a plumba, is often clamped onto the meat or fowl to serve as an identifying seal of supervision. Alternatively, the meat or fowl is packed in tamper-proof packaging with the kosher logo prominently displayed.
Because kosher meat and poultry have many processing requirements (shechita, bedika, nikkur and salting), which must be performed by specially trained individuals, the labor costs associated with kosher meat and poultry are significantly greater. This accounts for the higher prices of kosher meat and poultry.