Rabbi Eliezer MelamedThe writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper. His books "The Laws of Prayer" "The Laws of Passover" and "Nation, Land, Army" are presently being translated into English. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at: www.yhb.org.il/1
In this week's Torah portion, we learn about the prohibition of eating 'treifa' (the flesh of an animal attacked by a predator in the field), as it is written (Exodus 22:30): "Be holy people to Me. Do not eat flesh torn off in the field by a predator. Cast it to the dogs."
The intention of this verse is not to forbid the eating of an animal that was killed by a predator, because an animal that died without 'shechita' (the ritual slaughter of mammals and birds according to Jewish dietary laws) is already forbidden by the prohibition of 'neveilah', as it is written (Deuteronomy 14:21): "You may not eat any [mammal or bird] that has not been properly slaughtered."
Instead, the verse in this week's portion refers to an animal that was attacked by a predator but managed to survive. In such a situation, Jewish law says that although the animal remained alive, given that it will eventually die as a result of being attacked, it is considered a 'treifa', and even if it is slaughtered according to Jewish law, it is forbidden to eat its flesh.
However, one is permitted to gain benefit from it. Therefore, it can be cast to the dogs. Being attacked by a predator is only an example of a blow or a defect causing death; any beast, animal or bird that has a defect or blow to their body that will eventually take their life, are considered a 'treifa' and are forbidden.
Difference between 'Treifa', Old Age and an Ailing Animal
Concerning an animal or bird about to die as a result of old age, as they will die a natural death, they are not considered a 'treifa'. However, if the animal has a defect or blow to one of its limbs which eventually will cause its death, it is considered a 'treifa', and ritual slaughter, "shchita", is incapable of making its consumption permitted.
What Type of Blow Makes an Animal 'Treif'?
It is a 'halacha l'Moshe mi'Sinai' (law given to Moses from Sinai) that there are eight types of defects that cause an animal be 'treifa'. The Sages enumerated this into eighteen categories, while the Rambam further specified seventy types of defects which make an animal 'treifa'. The details of the laws of 'treifot' are explained in depth in the "Shulchan Aruch", section Yoreah De'ah, over some thirty sections (29-60).
The Tana'im (Mishnaic Sages) had differing opinions about how long a 'treif' animal could continue living and be considered in that category. Some said it could continue living up to thirty days, while on the other hand, others said up to two or three years. The opinion of the majority of the Sages is that an animal which has become 'treif' can live up to twelve months and not beyond (Talmud Chulin 42a; 57b). The halakha is that if an animal's being "treif" is in doubt, the sign is whether it lives more than twelve months – if it does, this is a sign that it is not a 'treifa', because the vast majority of 'treif' animals cannot live more than twelve months. However, when it is clear that the animal or bird has received a blow that makes it 'treif' by the above categories, even if it continues to live more than twelve months, it is considered 'treif' (Shulchan Aruch 57:18).
Who Decides: The Veterinarian or Halacha?
Q: What is the halakha in a situation where veterinarians say that an animal with a certain type of 'treif' defect can live more than twelve months?
A: From the words of the 'poskim' (law arbiters), it seems that the time period of twelve months is not the most important point – the fact is that some Tana'im believed that a 'treif' animal could continue to live two or three years, while others thought such animals could not live more than thirty days. Rather, the laws of 'treifot' were set by the Sages according to the principles they learned from 'halacha l'Moshe mi'Sinai, and anything they determined as being 'treif' is 'treif', and anything they determined as being not 'treif', is not. The reason for this is that the determining of halakha was transmitted to the Sages and the members of the Great Sanhedrin, as it is written (Deuteronomy 17:11): "You must keep the Torah as they interpret it for you, and follow the laws that they legislate for you. Do not stray to the right or left from the word that they declare to you." This is also what the Rambam has written (Laws of Ritual Slaughtering 10:12-13, contrasting what was explained by Chazon Ish, Yorah De'ah 5:3; Igrot Moshe, Choshen Mishpat 2, 73:4).
Must All Limbs be Checked in Detail?
Any animal slaughtered according to halakha is presumed to be acceptable, and l'chatchila (a priori), one is permitted to eat its meat without checking whether it has one of the seventy types of 'treifot' that the Sages listed. Although in a small percentage of animals there are defects which make it 'treif', as long as we are not aware of them – they are not forbidden. Only if there was concern about a particular organ must it be checked. This is what we learned in the Torah: "Do not eat flesh torn off in the field by a predator," in other words, only an animal which has been attacked by a beast of prey requires checking.
Reason for Checking the Lungs
According to the basic law, there is no need to check the lungs either, because animals slaughtered in agreement with halakha are presumed to be kosher, since in the vast majority of animals there are no 'treif' defects. This is the practical 'minhag' (custom) as seen by the fact that we drink cow's milk without worrying that perhaps its' lungs have a defect, causing it to become 'treif'.
However, in the times of the 'Gaonim' (Babylonian Torah scholars 600-1000 C.E.), the directive requiring the checking of the lungs of all animals spread, seeing as 'sirchot' (adhesions), namely, growths on the lungs beneath which are a perforation which makes it 'treif', are prevalent. In truth, this directive is not a unique, because unlike other kinds of 'sirchot' – those on the lungs are prominent and evident to anyone who opens the animal's body. And as we have learned, whenever a concern arises it must be checked; therefore in practice, anyone who saw a 'sircha' in a lung would have to check it. The innovation of the directive of the 'Goanim', then, is not to be satisfied with checking what one sees in any case, but to methodically check both lungs.
The Differences of Opinion
There are two major disagreements between the 'Amora'im' and 'Rishonim' concerning the law of 'sirchot', which are reflected in the practices of Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews.
All agree that if a 'sircha' is found in certain area of the lungs, it does not make the animal 'treif'. According to the Ashkenazi custom, this refers to isolated instances where the 'sircha' is hidden between the folds of the lung. As for the custom of the Sephardim, it refers to many more instances where the 'sircha' adheres to sections naturally attached to one and other. According to the Sephardic custom, there is absolutely no way to permit a 'sircha' located in an area that causes the animal to be 'treif', whereas according to the Ashkenazi custom, it is permitted to remove the 'sircha' by squeezing, manipulating, and peeling, and if it turned out that there was not a perforation underneath it – the animal is kosher. In this fashion, the majority of 'sirchot' are found to be kosher.
The Custom in Different Countries
The disagreement concerning the ruling of 'sirchot' of the lungs is equivocal – some of the 'Rishonim' were stringent, while others were lenient. Nevertheless, in practice, we have found that the decision was practical: in every country where Jews could sell the meat of an animal that became 'treif' to a non-Jew, they were stringent in the law of 'sirchot'. And in every place where the Jews could not sell 'treif' meat to the non-Jews, they relied on the lenient opinions, permitting the squeezing and manipulating of the 'sirchot' in order to check if underneath them there was a perforation.
Islamic clerics learned the mitzvah of 'shechita' from us, and according to their custom, they are permitted to eat meat slaughtered by a Jew. However, they do not follow the laws concerning 'treifot', and thus, it was possible to sell them slaughtered animals with 'sirchot' on their lungs. For the Christians, the custom of 'shechita' was strange and alien, and consequently, they did not agree to buy from the Jews slaughtered animals found to be 'treif'. Since the financial loss in the Christian countries was huge, because the price of an animal could reach the equivalent of an entire year's salary, or at least several months, the Jews in these countries relied on the lenient opinions.
Indeed, there were some important Jewish communities living in Islamic countries whose custom was to check the 'sirchot', such as North Africa, Persia, and Yemen. It seems that the Jews of Yemen and Persia suffered from excessive hatred, and could not rely on the non-Jews buying their 'treif' meat; consequently, they acted according to the rule that in a situation of tremendous financial loss, it is possible to rely on the lenient opinion. In North Africa, in deed, there was an extremely heated argument between the veteran Jewish community who were stringent, and the Jews expelled from Spain who came from a Christian country and were accustomed to being lenient. In the end, the expelled Jews prevailed and the halakha was determined according to the lenient opinion.
Levels of Kashrut: 'Glatt Chalak' and Kosher
In practice, there are three levels of kashrut in the meat of animals: 1) kashrut according to the Rama (Rabbi Moshe Isserles), whereby the 'sirchot' are peeled, and only if it turns out that there was a perforation underneath, the animal is 'treif'. 2) Chalak 'Bet Yosef', according to which 'sirchot' are "out" and they are not checked at all, but in certain areas of the lung 'sirchot' do not make the animal 'treif'. 3) Glatt according to the Rama: in addition to the stringencies of the 'Bet Yosef', there are 'sirchot' in areas which according to 'Bet Yosef' are not 'treif', but according to the Rama, are.
Practically speaking, the kashrut of meat is presently divided into two levels: 1) kosher – namely, according to the custom of Ashkenaz, Morocco, and Yemen, where they would check 'sirchot'. 2) 'Chalak', in which the stringencies of both the Shulchan Aruch and the R'ma are kept, because if only the stringencies of the 'Bet Yosef' are kept, there would be animals that are not 'chalak' according to the R'ma, and sometimes even 'treifot'. This was the directive of the Rishon L'Tziyon, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz"l – that for 'chalak' kashrut, the stringencies of both the 'Bet Yosef' and the R'ma must be kept at the same time.
In practice, the older an animal is, the more 'sirchot' are likely to be found in its' lungs. In actuality, it turns out that from calves, approximately 10% percent of slaughtered meat ends up being 'treif', about 40% kosher, and around 50% 'chalak'. In older cows, 35% are 'treif', about 55% are kosher, and 10% 'chalak'.
Today, according to Jewish custom, there is a rationale to act stringently and eat 'chalak' ('glatt'), for we have found that in every country where it was possible to be stringent without great monetary loss, Jews would act according to the stringent practices. Also today, the difference in price between kosher meat and 'chalak-glatt' is not so great. However, someone whose family custom is to be lenient, is permitted, if he so chooses, to continue in his custom, for there are reliable authorities for him to depend on.
Several other halakhic questions arise from this ruling, such as eating meat as a guest in someone's house, or in a restaurant, which I will deal with next week.