Shechitah, the prohibition to consume blood, and koshering meat

The prohibition of eating blood applies to cattle, beasts, and fowl, but not to less developed species such as fish. The different ways of kashering meat and the need for kashrut supervision even in vegetarian restaurants.

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

Judaism חנות בשר
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פלאש 90

The Prohibition of Eating Blood and its Meaning

Along with the heter (halakhic permission) to eat meat outside the framework of a korban (ritual offering), we were forbidden to eat the blood, as written in the Torah: “When God expands your borders as He promised you, and your natural desire to eat meat asserts itself, so that you say, ‘I wish to eat meat,’ … you need only slaughter (shechitah) your cattle and small animals that God will have given you in the manner I have prescribed. You may then eat them in your settlements in any manner you desire. Be extremely careful not to eat the blood, since the blood is associated with the spiritual nature, and when you eat flesh, you shall not ingest the spiritual nature along with it” (Deuteronomy 12: 20 -23). In other words, blood has a special purpose, to sustain the soul of the animal, and thus, even though the Torah permitted us to eat meat, it did not permit the blood to be eaten.

The Species Included in the Prohibition

The prohibition of eating blood applies to the developed species: cattle, beasts, and fowl (Leviticus 7: 26; Keritut 21b). But on the less developed species, such as fish and grasshoppers, there is no prohibition of blood. In other words, the prohibition of blood applies to the species requiring shechitah, and not to species that do not require shechitah.

One of the reasons for the mitzvah of shechitah is to minimize the pain of species whose meat we consume, and the mitzvah applies to species whose brain and nervous systems are more fully developed, and therefore, also feel more pain. But the less developed species, such as fish and grasshoppers feel less pain, and therefore, there is no obligation to perform shechitah on them and there is no prohibition of eating their blood.

Blood Absorbed in the Flesh

Blood absorbed naturally in the flesh is permitted to be eaten. Therefore, it is permissible to eat a piece of raw meat. Nevertheless, since while cutting meat blood is liable to splatter on the area cut, it must be washed, and only then may it be eaten raw without additional kashering (S. A., Y. D., 67, 1-2).

Meat that has Not Been Kashered

When cooking meat that has not been kashered – the entire piece of meat is forbidden to be eaten because of the blood excreted and re-absorbed in it when cooked. And if this piece of meat is cooked in a pot of stew for instance, since we cannot estimate how much blood it contains, we are machmir (stringent) and consider it as if it is entirely blood, and if the entire cooked dish is not pi shishim (sixty times greater) than the piece of meat – the entire cooked dish is forbidden (S. A., ibid, 69:11).

Therefore, meat must be kashered before cooking. However, in the opinion of the vast majority of Rishonim and Achronim, the kashering of meat is intended to prevent a rabbinical prohibition of our Sages, since blood that is cooked or salted is forbidden only by Divrei Chachamim (rabbinical ordinance) because it is inherently altered, and not suitable for sprinkling on the altar.

Ways of Kashering Meat from Blood

Basically, there are four ways to kasher meat from blood absorbed in it: 1) melicha (salting); 2) tzliya (roasting); 3) chalita (scalding) in boiling water; 4) chalita in vinegar wine. Melicha and tzliya are intended to draw the blood from the meat, while chalita in boiling water or vinegar is intended to lock in, or solidify blood in the meat, to the point where the blood absorbed in the meat can no longer move from its place, even in cooking. Since there is no prohibition of blood absorbed in meat, after chalita, the meat may be cooked.

However, the Geonim forbade kashering meat by means of chalita, lest chalita not be done properly. This is because chalita in boiling water depends on being able to constrict the meat with a strong stroke of heat, but if the water is not sufficiently boiled, or if the meat is not placed into the water at once, or the boiling water is lower in volume than the meat – they will not be able to constrict the blood in the meat. And as for chalita in vinegar, there is concern that the vinegar will not be strong enough. There is also concern that the vinegar will evaporate a bit, and this is a sign that chalita was unsuccessful and the blood was not solidified, and thus, the meat and vinegar are prohibited, and may go unnoticed (Chulin 111a; S. A. 67:5; 73:2).

Therefore, someone who wants to cook meat is obligated to kasher it first by means of melicha or tzliya.

Melicha (salting) and Chalita According to Rambam

Melicha and tzliya are designed to remove blood from meat. Melicha does this by a process called osmosis. In other words fluids, including blood, seek that their salinity content be equal, and when blood “senses” a lot of salinity on the surface of the meat, it is drawn to the salt, and leaves the meat.

However, even after melicha is completed, red fluid may still flow from the meat. According to Rambam and Ra’ah it is blood, since melicha draws blood only from the outer parts of the flesh, but on the inner parts, blood still remains. In their opinion, so that the blood is not emitted from its place and prohibit the meat, after melicha it is obligatory to perform chalita on the meat in boiling water, so that the blood is constricted and will not be emitted, and consequently, will not be prohibited.

The Benefit of Melicha without Chalita

However, in the opinion of the vast majority of poskim, it is not necessary to perform chalita on meat after melicha. Since we find that even after melicha, blood still secretes from meat, this ostensibly poses a problem for these poskim. There are two main explanations for this:

First – this liquid that secretes from the meat is not considered blood but “chamar (wine) basar (meat)” (Rashba, Terumah, and Chinuch). In truth, it is hard to define what blood actually is, since blood has red and white cells, and presumably, the red ones are referred to as blood, but they also are not in a permanent state, for melicha drains some of its fluids, and the question is, how to define what remains. According to this explanation, the red liquids remaining in meat after melicha are not considered blood, but mohel (water-based juice).

According to the second explanation, which apparently is most commonly accepted by the majority of Rishonim, even if the chemical composition of the mohel secreted from meat after melicha is similar to blood, as far as halakha is concerned, it is not judged as blood. This is necessarily so, since it is impossible for the prohibition of blood to apply to blood that cannot be humanly extracted from meat, for the Torah was not given to the ministering angels. Therefore, on the red liquids that remain in the flesh after melicha and tzliya the prohibition of blood does not apply. And after melicha was performed according to halakha, there is no longer any prohibition on the blood left in the meat and may be cooked, and if it flows out, one is permitted to drink it.

The Minhag Regarding Chalita

In practice, the common minhag (custom) is not to take concern of Rambam’s opinion, and not to perform chalita on meat in boiling water after melicha (Rema, Bach, Lavush, and Pri Chadash). Only among Olei Teman (Yemenite immigrants) are there some who are machmir to perform chalita on meat as Rambam said.

Some poskim say that the obligation of chalita according to the opinion of Rambam is only when melicha was done to the meat for only eighteen minutes, but if the meat is put in salt for an hour as is customary today – all the blood is secreted or solidified in the meat, and even according to Rambam, it is not necessary to perform chalitaon the meat in boiling water afterwards, and even if red liquid is flows from it, it is not prohibited (Aruch HaShulchan 69: 36-40). Even Yemenites who are customary to be machmir and perform chalita on meat may rely on this b’sha’at ha’tzorech (in time of need).

However, chalita according to Rambam is an important hidur (embellishment of a mitzvah), and all members of the various ethnic communities who wish to embellish the mitzvah, especially Olei Teman, should do so, as Rambam wrote. And this is our custom in the kitchen of our Yeshiva in Har Bracha, where we try to perform chalita on meat before cooking it, in order to also fulfill the mitzvah according to the opinion of Rambam, and the minhag of many Olei Teman.

Vegetarian Restaurants without a Kashrut Certificate

I received a number of questions about the previous column, where I explained that it is forbidden to eat in a non-Jewish vegetarian restaurant that does not have a kashrut certificate, because of the prohibition of bishulei goyim. Indeed, Rabbi Prof. Dror Fixler wrote on the basis of certain opinions, that there is no prohibition of bishulei goyim in the food of these restaurants (Techumin 39). However, the principle of the matter goes according to the majority of Rishonim and Achronim, that many foods in these restaurant are included in the prohibition of bishulei goyim, which applies to all foods that are not eaten raw and are served on a king's table – since flour, grain, and legumes, and some of the hearty vegetables such as potatoes are not eaten raw. They are also served on a king's table (i.e., it is not a disgrace to serve them before distinguished people).

I also added that even when it comes to a cooked dish of foods that people are used to eating raw, like most fruits and vegetables, there is concern that even restaurant owners who claim that all of their products are vegetarian, may deceive their customers and mix into the food gelatin produced from skins and bones of animals, which are meant for thickening and hardening of foods. Even more, there is concern that glycerin, an animal fat derived from neveilot (kosher animals that died without shechitah) is mixed in, for it is extremely inexpensive, and beneficial for adding taste and thickness to foods.

Regarding this, readers asked: How can I raise such a concern, when the principle of vegetarians is that there is no animal product in the food? How can it be that they mix in animal gelatin or glycerin? However, the concern does exist, as we know from our own kashrut system: although in general, religious and traditional Jews are careful to eat kosher – when they are engaged in the food trade, there is concern that greed or economic hardship cause them to go astray, and deceive.

Therefore, while in principle, we rely on an individual who attests to the foods he has prepared as being kosher, when he sells them, we do not rely on him without a certificate of kashrut (see, Rambam, Laws of Prohibited Foods, 11:25-26; Rema, Y.D. 119:1; Aruch HaShulchan 119:3-4). Thus, as long as there is no system of supervision that gelatin and glycerin and similar items are not mixed in products, their kashrut cannot be relied on in even for foods that do not have the prohibition of bishulei goyim.

There were others who justifiably maintained that one should also be concerned about the prohibition of shratzim (vermin), which, if the vegetables and fruits are not checked as required, may have shratzimin them. And even according to the lenient opinion regarding tiny shratzim not visible to the naked eye, there is concern that if the restaurant staff are not aware of the prohibition of shratzim, they may not even remove visible shratzim from the vegetables and fruits.

There is another concern as well, which Rabbi Prof. Fixler also mentioned, that even when it comes to foods that clearly do not fall under the category of bishulei goyim, one must check that they do not mix into the food, wine, or wine vinegar, which is prohibited because of stam yainum (wine which might have been poured for an idolatrous service).

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.