In the U.S.A., the kosher certifying agencies with which we are familiar did not start until the 1920’s and 1930’s, but their development can be traced back over 200 years. The need for kosher supervision in the United States dates back to Colonial times. As early as 1660, a Jew from Portugal applied for a license to sell kosher meat in New Amsterdam. The first recorded complaint was in 1771 against the Shochet Moshe. In 1774, the widow, Hetty Hays, complained that her shochet (ritual slaughterer) was selling non-kosher meat. This led to the first court license revocation against a kosher butcher in 1796.
As Jewish communities developed in the United States, they originally followed the European pattern of having community appointed shochtim. By this method, the shochet could easily be removed if he did not follow the strict guidelines set down by the community leaders. This method changed drastically in 1813, when the schochet, Avraham Jacobs, became the first independent schochet in the United States. He was followed by many more. Unfortunately, this change led to a rapid decline in the standard of kosher meat.
In 1863, a group of laymen and shochtim got together to try to form a kashrus organization that could control this situation. Regrettably, they were unsuccessful. It was not until 1897 that the shochtim themselves banded together to form a union called “Meleches Hakodesh.” Their goal was to improve kashrus standards, as well as the wages of shochtim.
By 1918, kosher products started finding their way into the American market. Abraham Goldstein, a chemist, was highly instrumental in both importing these products as well as in convincing domestic companies (such as Sunshine Biscuit Co.) to become certified kosher.
In 1924, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis (O/U), which had been established in 1892, decided to enter the field of kashrus. Mr. Goldstein was appointed as its first director. During the “food revolution” of the past 50 years, as more and more products are prepared in company plants and not in private kitchens, the “O/U” has been active as a non-profit organization in the kosher certification of these products.
Mr. Goldstein continued to head the O/U from 1924 until 1935. Feeling a need for another certifying agency, he started the O/K Laboratories. Today, the O/U, headed by Rabbi Menachem Genack, and the O/K, headed by Rabbi Don Yoel Levy, reliably certify many thousands of products and ingredients that we have become accustomed to using daily. As the complexity of manufacturing processes and the need for kosher certification has increased, so has the number of agencies and individuals interested in meeting this need. This has led to the rise of newer certifying agencies, such as VHM, the Chaf K, Kehilloh, Star K and others. Furthermore, individual rabbis have entered this field, often using their own kosher symbol or even just a plain “K” to designate a product’s kosher status.
This has caused a great deal of confusion. When there were only two or three certifying agencies, it was easy for consumers to judge their reliability. But today, it may take a great deal of detective work to ascertain the standard that a particular rabbi is using. Consequently, many people prefer to rely on only the well-known certifying agencies, rather than risk the chance that a product may not meet their personal standard of kashrus.
ne question often asked by people who are considering observing the laws of kashrus is, “Why does kosher meat have to cost so much?” We will attempt to answer this valid question by looking at the process of “shechita,” Jewish ritual slaughter.
Ritual slaughter of animals differs in many ways from common techniques of slaughter. In ritual slaughter, we find caution and detail in every act. In this rabbinically supervised slaughter, the animal is killed with a knife. In this act we emphasize Jewish respect for the dignity of life. Great care is taken to use a knife that has been properly sharpened. The blade must be flawless, without a nick, and perfectly smooth, thus assuring that the kill will be quick, clean and painless to the animal.
This entire process begins with the shochet (ritual slaughterer) inspecting the knife for possible flaws and nicks. He does this by running the edge of his fingernail and finger up and down the blade. The slightest nick means that the knife must be resharpened. After this, he recites a short Brachabefore beginning the actual Shechita.
This knife (chalaf) is usually about 6 inches long for chickens and 18 inches long for larger animals. The knife has no point at the end of it, and is of equal width from top to bottom. These precautions are necessary in order to guarantee that the neck of the animal will not be torn. The shochet must cut through the trachea and esophagus to the jugular vein very quickly and in a clean fashion. He must not kill the animal by stabbing it.
The animal’s neck is first washed thoroughly to remove any sand particles in the fur which could cause a nick in the knife during slaughter. The shochet’s hand must be very steady, and he must employ one continuous movement, carefully avoiding the spine. This cut only takes a few seconds and is a much more humane method of killing an animal than are such common practices as smashing the head, shooting the animal or scalding it while it is still alive.
Following the slaughter, the carcass is hung upside down so that the blood can drain properly. Then the shochet checks for adhesions on the lungs, which would indicate an abscess. If one is found, the animal is rejected as unkosher. Only about 30 percent of slaughtered animals can be used for kosher distribution.
At this point the traibering process is begun. The major blood vessels, nerves and forbidden fats will be removed.
The carcass is then divided into primal cuts. The next step is soaking the meat in water for 30 minutes. It is then salted for 1 hour, and then washed another 3 times.
A large slaughterhouse, when operating full time, may be able to slaughter 60 to 150 animals per hour. This process requires shochtim and rabbis on the premises for additional help in supervision. After the soaking and salting, a plumba (kosher seal) is either attached or stamped onto the meat or chicken.
Thus, the number of people needed to work in a kosher slaughtering and packing house is many times greater than in a non-kosher establishment and this considerably increases the price per pound of kosher meat. In addition, most butcher shops are relatively small businesses and must operate at a higher mark-up than do large chain supermarkets.
LAWS OF SHECHITA
There are 5 ways in which the slaughter becomes not kosher:
1) Shehiya. There must not be the least pause during the process of shechita.
2) Derassa. The process of slaughtering must be done by moving the knife back and forth — not through downward pressure. The knife, therefore, must be long enough to allow slaughtering without too much pressure. Moreover, the animal must be in such a position that undo pressure will not be placed on the knife.
3) Chalada. The shechita knife must be uncovered during the entire process of shechita. For this reason, the knife for shechita has a long and broad blade without a thin sharp end at the front or back.
4) Hagrama. The cut must be performed on the throat, between the level of the larynx and the lower part of the trachea and esophagus.
5) Ikkur. The trachea and esophagus must be cut through and not ripped out. The knife, therefore, must be very sharp and very smooth. The smallest nick in the blade will cause tearing. For this reason, the knife is checked for smoothness and sharpness before and after each shechita.
There are eight types of mortal injury that render an animal unfit to be eaten. They are:
1.dqexc Poisonous substance introduced into the body by an animal of prey hacking with its claws.
2. Organ walls perforated.
3. Complete organs or parts of them lacking.
4. Organs or parts of them having been removed.
5. Walls or covers of organs torn.
6. Shattered by a fall.
7. Pipes split.
8. Fracture in bones.