Posts filed under ‘Kashrut’

Congregation Machzikei Hadas D’Chasidei Belz Speaks out about Veal Calves

In this bulletin, the Belz community takes a strong stance against eating milk-fed veal, insomuch as to say it cannot be classified as kosher.  They provide statements of other rabbinic authorities regarding this matter.

August 11, 2011 at 7:52 pm Leave a comment

Veal and Foie Gras

Veal, the flesh of young cattle, is commonly produced (at least until recently) via methods that are shockingly cruel. The goal is to make the veal as pale in color as possible, and several means are utilized to this end. The calves are raised in pens that are too cramped for them to move, so that they should not be able to develop their muscles. They are fed a special iron-free food, which causes them to become anemic and to develop a craving for iron so strong that they will lick anything made of metal.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986), the great halachic authority of the United States, ruled that raising calves in this way transgresses the Biblical prohibition against cruelty to animals. He explains that although cruelty to animals is permitted for human needs, this is only for genuine needs of real importance:

“…Man is not permitted to do anything and everything that hurts animals, even if it is in order to profit from it; only something that is of genuine benefit to man, such as slaughtering animals for food, using them for labor, and suchlike.” (Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Igros Moshe, Even HaEzer vol. 4 responsa 92 part II)

Even financial benefits, argues Rabbi Feinstein, do not justify every case of inflicting suffering upon animals – only where the ultimate purpose of the animal’s death is an important one. In the case of veal, where the benefit is solely cosmetic, the cruelty involved is not justified.[1]

The production of foie gras, the French name for the liver of fattened geese and ducks, involves force–feeding the birds until their liver becomes grossly enlarged – up to eight times its natural size. Lately, there has been a strong outcry over the cruelty involved in force-feeding geese, with the Israeli Knesset prohibiting its production. Even though it is permitted to cause suffering to animals for human benefits, it would seem that such a horrendously cruel practice that is of such little benefit should not be permitted. Yet foie gras has long been a traditional Jewish food, as we shall later explore. How are to view this from a Torah perspective?

The practice of force-feeding geese is discussed in the Shulchan Aruch, the primary code of Jewish law, but this is not related to the issue of cruelty involved. Instead, it is due to the fact that force-feeding geese may damage the esophagus in such a way as to render the bird a nevelah, an animal that possess a fatal defect and is non-kosher.[2] This caused heated controversy over the permissibility of force-feeding geese,[3] but the discussion did not raise any considerations of tzaar baalei chayim. Still, ultimately the “technical” issues of kashrus and slaughtering a creature that has been rendered a nevelah may themselves relate to the cruelty involved in treating an animal in this way.[4]

Yet the bottom line is that force-feeding geese was done in Jewish communities for hundreds of years without anyone explicitly objecting to the cruelty involved. In order to understand why, we must take a closer look at the history of foie gras and how it differs from foie gras production today.

The production of foie gras started thousands of years ago with the ancient Egyptians.[5] Wild geese gorge themselves before migrating, and the Egyptians noticed that the livers of these birds were exceptionally tender and tasty. The Egyptians developed a process of force-feeding called gavage, in which they restrained the bird by the neck and pushed moistened balls of grain down its throat. They repeated this process several times a day for several weeks, until the bird’s liver was greatly enlarged.

Although this procedure was carried out by many people in ancient times, it was amongst the Jews of Europe that foie gras became especially popular. One of the reasons for this was that it was an especially healthy food:

“For people who subsisted on a diet of noodles, cabbage, and potatoes, fattened goose liver was a precious source of nutrients. The Jews regarded it as a health food and dutifully fed it to growing children, since they would benefit most from the additional calories.” (Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe, “A Goose for all Seasons,” Moment Magazine, June 2001)

Another reason for fattening geese was that, aside from the liver, there would be plenty of fat. This was important, as Jews did not have many options for cooking fat. Suet is prohibited, and butter cannot be used for cooking meat. Jews in Israel had used olive oil, but this was scarce in Europe. The solution was poultry fat, called schmaltz in Yiddish, which could be obtained in large quantities by force-feeding the birds. The fat was strained and stored for all kinds of uses, including frying, basting, moistening, seasoning, as well as an addition to cholent.

In the twentieth century, when foie gras production moved to the United States, Israel and other countries, its method of production became more industrialized. Geese were now kept in crowded and tiny pens, and the force-feeding was done with a metal tube which was attached to a pressurized pump and shoved down the bird’s throat. The pre-slaughter mortality rate for foie gras production in Europe has been discovered to be fifteen times the average rate on other duck factory farms.[6] The precise causes of these deaths have not been documented but are likely to be due to physical injury and liver failure.[7] Controversies rage over how much pain and harm is inflicted upon geese and ducks in foie gras production today.[8]

Having better understood the history of foie gras, let us now explore why, in all the halachic discussions of the topic, nobody ever objected on the grounds of tzaar baalei chayim. First, let us look at whether the process in Europe was less cruel than that of today. One might argue that the current method of feeding with a pressurized pump is more cruel, but this would not appear to be the case – the food is a soft mush that is squirted down in seconds, whereas in past times the food was harder and would often be pushed down with a stick.

But there is a highly significant difference between the foie gras of Europe in the past and the foie gras of today. In past eras, foie gras was not a luxury, but rather was a fundamental part of the diet and provided valuable nutritional and practical benefits. Today, on the other hand, there are no signifi cant nutritional benefits from foie gras that are not already obtained from other sources, and it is a delicacy rather than a staple. But since the concept of foie gras had long been accepted, this is probably why rabbinical authorities were not alert to the new problem.[9]

Today, some are of the opinion that causing pain to animals is permitted for any human benefit and that fois gras is therefore permissible.[10] Yet many authorities prohibit excessive cruelty to animals in cases where there is only trivial benefit to man, and there is a widespread custom to refrain from doing so even where it is technically permissible. Thus, it would seem that the reality today of foie gras production, where it is produced as a delicacy rather than being an important part of the diet, is not consistent with the Torah principles of how man should treat animals.[11]


[1] Unfortunately, because Rabbi Feinstein is contrasting the two extremes of using an animal to work in a field (a substantial benefit) and raising calves to produce pale meat (a trivial benefit), this leaves the gray areas in between as undetermined. This is further complicated by his apparent belief that milk-fed veal has no only cosmetic advantages, whereas there is actually a minor improvement in taste. Some have attempted to argue from Rabbi Feinstein’s prohibition of veal on the grounds that “there is no real benefit” that in a case of any tangible benefit at all, he would permit cruelty to animals. But one could just as easily argue from his statement that causing suffering to animals is only permitted in cases such as agriculture that it is not permitted for any lesser needs. [2] Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, Hilchos Treifos 33. The Rema in 33:9 notes that “it is the custom in our city (Krakow) to be lenient in the case of geese that are being fed by hand for increasing their fat, because there is an ordinance in the city which requires that geese be examined for perforations of the esophagus…” The Taz there recommends that one only feed the goose gently, using finely-ground food, to prevent any damage to the esophagus. [3] For further discussion, see Darkei Teshuvah ad loc.; Rabbi Binyomin Adler, Kashrus U’Tereifos B’Ohf 33:98-129; and Shailos U’Teshuvos Shevet HaLevi 9:153. [4] Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, Chazon HaTzimchanus VeHaShalom. See too Ritva to Avodah Zarah 11a. [5] A statuette of a fattened goose, dated to more than 4500 years old from the Ancient Egyptian Empire, is exhibited at the Louvre. [6] Welfare Aspects of the Production of Foie Gras in Ducks and Geese, European Union’s Scienti?c Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare, December 16, 1998, section 5.4.7. [7] Ibid. section 8.1. [8] See Guemene D, Guy G, et al., “Force-feeding procedure and physiological indicators of stress in male mule ducks,” in British Poultry Science 2001 Dec. 42(5):650-7. The paper concluded that “we observed no significant indication that force-feeding is perceived as an acute or chronic stress by male mule ducks, in our experimental conditions.” [9] It seems likely that this distinction has been unnoticed by many who have assumed that since the rabbis of Europe did not mention the problem of cruelty to animals, there is no need for us to raise it. [10] Rabbi Itai Elitzur, Tzaar Baalei Chayim bePitum Avazim, Techumin vol. 24 p 110-112. [11] See Rabbi Dr. Itamar Warhaftig, response to Rabbi Elitzur in Techumin ibid. Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef in Yabia Omer vol. 9 Yoreh De’ah 3 prohibits foie gras production due to problems with both kashrus and tzaar baalei chayim.

=============== (c) Copyright by Rabbi Natan Slifkin 2007, All rights reserved. This essay may be further distributed free of charge, provided that the header and footer information is preserved intact.


August 11, 2011 at 3:03 pm Leave a comment

Why can halacha allow animals that were mistreated to be considered kosher?

למה ההלכה לא אוסרת לאכול בעלי חיים שפוטמו באכזריות ?

תוכן השאלה:
קשה לי להבין מדוע בעלי-חיים שעברו התעללות הינם כשרים לאכילה.
אנו הרי מצווים לא להתאכזר לבעלי חיים,וכאשר אנו קונים בשר שהחיה עברה התעללות(לדוגמא: אווז מפוטם) כדי לשבח את הבשר, זה סיוע לדבר עברה, ודירבון להמשיך בדבר.
הרי הדבר קיים בנושאים אחרים, כגון- שאסור לראות תוכנית טלוויזיה שצולמה בשבת (ובכלל אסור להנות משום דבר שיהודי חילל בגללו שבת). אז מדוע הדבר שונה בנושא זה?
אשמח אם תכתוב לי מקורות התשובה.

תוכן התשובה:
שלום וברכה
זו שאלה מעניינת.
נראה כי הסיבה לכך נובעת מהעובדה שאין איסור פורמאלי על עשיית דברים בבעלי חיים לטובת בני האדם. ההלכה מקפידה מאוד להבחין בין בעלי חיים לבין בני אדם, ומתירה לבני אדם להשתמש בבעלי חיים בכל דרך.
נכון הוא שמצד המוסר ועשיית הטוב והישר צריך אדם שלא להתאכזר לבעלי חיים, ואנו מכירים אגדה בגמרא על מחלה ארוכה של רבי יהודה הנשיא בגלל יחסו הלא טוב לבעלי חיים, אולם מבחינה הלכתית פורמאלית הדבר לא קיים.

כל טוב ויישר כוח על הרגישות

התשובה התקבלה הרב יובל שרלו
בתאריך כ”ח אייר תשס”ז


August 10, 2011 at 6:13 pm Leave a comment

Rubashkin, Agriprocessors, Postville and PETA

Here is a link to FailedMessiah’s excellent summary of the Rubashkin scandal.

August 8, 2011 at 8:30 am Leave a comment

Milk from a Possibly Treif Cow

Milk from a Possibly Treif Cow

 Halacha states that milk from a tereifah animal – meaning an animal which suffers from a mortal wound, as understood by Chazal – is non-kosher. (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 81:1) This prompts a good question: How can one know whether or not the milk he consumes is from a tereifah cow?

There is another halachic axiom that “Rov beheimos kesheiros”- “Most animals are presumed to be kosher” (and one need not suspect that they are tereifos – Chulin 12a [v.Rashi d.h. Pesach] and Shach s.k. 2 on YD 39:1). Thus, one can safely assume that the milk from a randomly-selected cow is kosher, unless data to the contrary is provided.

In contemporary times, when dairy farms and milk processing have become industrialized and are subject to the demands of a mass-production society, there may be additional factors to consider. Let’s take a look.

As a result of a diet that is heavy in grain, dairy cows sometimes suffer from displaced abomasum (hereafter referred to as “DA” ). This condition signifies that the fourth stomach section – the abomasum – has moved out of position, due to built-up gas or fluid. DA impedes a dairy cow’s maximum functionality, and it is often addressed by veterinary intervention. (See Metabolic Diseases of Dairy Cattle-Displaced Abomasum, BJ Harris and JK Shearer – University of Florida-IFAS Extension.)

Although there are several treatments available to rectify DA, one common treatment involves piercing the three walls of the abomasum by making three unaligned holes, allowing for the release of excess gas when the holes are momentarily aligned. Some poskim have questioned this procedure, suggesting that it might render a cow a tereifah (as a punctured abomasum, or keivah, makes an animal a tereifah – YD 48:1). Other recognized poskim, including those whose opinions are consulted by the accepted national kashrus agencies, have ruled that as a practical matter, there is no concern. Among the arguments for this latter position is that the incisions in the three layers of the abomasum are not aligned, such that there is not a direct puncture flush through the abomasum. Furthermore, the Shach (YD 57:48) rules that an animal of questionable tereifah status can be proven and established to not be a tereifah if it lives for 12 months subsequent to the condition that may render it a tereifah. This may well apply to DA cows, whose halachic status is at worst a questionable one. Some poskim additionally argue for leniency regarding DA cows’ kosher status because the puncture for treatment of DA is totally sealed upon completion of the treatment. (For a complete discussion of the halachic implications of DA treatments, see Rabbi Y. Belsky and Rabbi M. Heinemann in Mesorah v. 10 pp.62-78, Rabbi M. Genack in Tradition 29:2, and Rabbi J.D. Bleich in Contemporary Halachic Problems vol. 5.)

Producers of cholov Yisroel milk are also exposed to the problem of DA cows. Segregating non-DA cows from a herd is an arduous task that requires a large measure of diligence. Mashgichim, veterinarians, farm managers and workers must all be vigilant and cooperate in order to effectively segregate non-DA cows from a large heard.

It must be noted that the halachic status of DA cows is not a very new issue. Surgery on DA cows has been performed for many decades, and prominent poskim (see above) have addressed the issue over the years.

Irrespective of the status of an animal which underwent surgical correction of DA, there is a broader halachic consideration, for an unknown, widely-varying minority ratio of cows in grain-fed herds develops DA, and one needs to question whether or not this divergent minority of DA cows impacts the larger milk supply.

Statistics indicate that 1-9% of cows in a random herd are affected by DA. (Documented mean DA rates are 1.4%-5.8%. See Causes and Prevention of Displaced Abomasum in Dairy Cows, Dr. Randy Shaver – Department of Dairy Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison.) The incidence of DA depends on several factors, including environment and diet, and there is no set method to calculate the DA risk ratio. Research by this author of two farms in one region of Upstate New York indicates that one farm had a 4% population of DA cows, whereas another farm had less than 1%. The overall national average population of DA dairy cows is 4%, but the truth is that the statistical ratio of DA cows in milk herds which factor in for halachic purposes is somewhat less than this figure, as not all DA cows undergo surgery, and many farmers permanently remove DA cows from their herds as a result of such cows’ poor productivity and long-term stability for milking.

How do the above statistics affect the halachic considerations?

On a d’Oraysa (Biblical) level, we hold in all cases that Min b’mino batel b’rov – the status of a mixture of identical objects goes according to the majority. However, when dealing with min b’mino mixtures of liquids, there is a din d’Rabbonon (rabbinic law) which states that the mixture is kosher only if the amount of heter (kosher substance) present is sixty times the amount of issur (non-kosher substance). In cases of safek (doubt) as to whether there is bittul b’shishim (nullification by sixty), we are lenient, as the entire requirement of shishim is d’Rabbonon. (See YD 98:2 and Taz. Ibid. s.k. 3.) In light of the fact that the presence of DA cows in a given herd can vary greatly, such that a random tanker or silo of milk may be assumed to contain less than 1% or up to 9% milk from DA cows, there is a safek of bittul b’shishim, which would permit any milk. Furthermore, even if one were to assume that the average bottle of milk contains 4% milk from DA cows that underwent surgery, the milk would nonetheless be permissible, as there is a machlokes (halachic dispute) as to whether such DA cows are kosher, and since the matter is one of safek, and the need for bittul b’shishim is only d’Rabbonon, the result is that the milk is deemed kosher.

There is a rule that “Kol d’parish mi-ruba parish” – “Anything that separates out (of a series of sources among which the minority are not kosher) is governed by the status of the majority”. Thus, if there are nine kosher butcher shops and one non-kosher butcher shop in a common area, and an unidentified piece of meat that must have come from one of these shops is found in the public market nearby, the meat is deemed kosher, representative of the majority. (YD 110:3) The same logic may apply to milk from herds with DA cows, for even if we assume the worst – that DA cows are definitely tereifos and the DA cow population is spread out evenly at a 4% ratio – milk which is purchased at the consumer level may nonetheless be said to emanate from the majority of cows, which are kosher. Even though every container of milk derives from large dairy silos which contain blends of milk from hundreds or thousands of cows, the rule of kol d’parish may establish that the product before us is considered to be a blend from the (kosher) majority. (Kol d’parish applies when there is a known source of issur – non-kosher substance. Because a definitive presence of DA cows is not known in any given herd, it is reasonable that the simple rule of ‘Azlinan basar ruba’ – ‘We go according to the majority’ (Chulin ibid.) – may apply instead of Kol d’parish. This approach would yield the exact same result in our case as does Kol d’parish.)

There is also a maxim that “Kol kavu’a k’mechtzah al mechtzah dami” – “The fixed presence of a non-kosher substance creates a 50/50 chance (that an unidentified item taken from the source area is non-kosher)”, such that if one were to enter and purchase meat from one of the butcher shops in the above case and not recall in which shop he made his purchase, the meat purchased has a 50% chance of being non-kosher and can therefore not be eaten (YD ibid.). This rule does not apply to milk from DA cows, as it requires that a Yisroel have knowledge of the definite presence of the non-kosher source at the time the purchase was made (in the case of butcher shops) or at the time the milk was extracted (YD 110:5). In the case of DA cows, there is no knowledge on the part of a Yisroel as to a specific cow’s DA status and that it underwent surgery, for such cows are not recognizable, except to veterinarians (who can detect a cow’s DA surgical history based on scar tissue). The inability to identify a specific source of issur precludes the rule of kavua. (Shach ibid. s.k. 28), Furthermore, even if a DA cow would be clearly-identified as such to a mashgiach or Jewish consumer at the time of its milking, the rule of kavua would not apply to the milk when it is drunk, for milk from DA cows would never present itself to the dairy or consumer in its pure, original form. Because the milk of each cow is blended with milk from hundreds or thousands of other cows at the dairy itself, milk from this hypothetical known DA cow would be diluted to the point at which the regular rules of bittul would apply. Therefore, the din of kavua is inapplicable.

What about tereifah non-DA cows? Isn’t there surely a certain proportion of cows among the herds that are tereifos, especially cows with sirchos – lung adhesions – which are common? (Shach s.k. 2 on YD 39:1)

The truth is that even if, upon shechitah, an animal is determined to be a tereifah as a result of sirchos in its lungs, its milk is kosher. (YD 81:2) This is so because of a s’fek s’feika l’kula – a double doubt in favor of leniency – for there are two factors which combine to permit this animal’s milk: 1) There is a chance that the sirchos developed after the animal was milked, such that the sirchos were absent during the milking, which means that the animal and its milk were kosher upon milking. 2) Every time an animal is ruled to be a tereifah due to sirchos, its status as a tereifah is not definitive, as we are not truly expert in sirchos and are therefore strict in determining tereifah status based on them; thus, cases which are deemed non-kosher based on sirchos may actually be inherently kosher. (See YD ibid. Tur ibid. from Rosh, Be’er Hetev ibid. S.k. 8 and Aruch Ha-Shulchan YD 81:27.)

Based on the above, even if every milk cow would be slaughtered and found to be a tereifah due to sirchos, its milk would be permissible (with the possible exception of milk produced within three days of shechitah – see YD ibid.; this would not be a factor, however, in practical dairy situations.)

Furthermore – and this applies to tereifos of all types (such as punctured or missing organs) – the general chezkas kashrus (presumption of kosher status) of all animals (kosher species, of course) allows one to consume milk without concern for the possible presence of tereifos. (See YD 39:2 with Shach s.k. 8.) Unless one has information to counter an animal’s chezkas kashrus, its milk and meat are permissible.

One may think it logical to ask why we don’t take a totally different approach and reason that since a certain percentage (possibly 10% or more) of cows in the general cow population is comprised of tereifos, and since all milk processed in modern dairies is a mixture of the milk of large herds which on average have some tereifos (likely 10% or more, reflective of the general statistics), why not assume that all milk contains an admixture of 10% or more from tereifos? In short, shouldn’t all milk made from mixtures of large herds be assumed to be non-kosher? Should we not assume that 10% or higher of all milk in dairy silos is from tereifos and thereby renders all milk with which it is blended non-kosher?

The Shulchan Aruch and Remo (ibid.) rule otherwise, stating that a mixture of milk from one known tereifah animal and a herd of 60 cows that are assumed to be kosher is permissible; we do not treat the mixture as containing additional tereifah milk from the likely additional percentage of tereifos in the herd. The Shach (ibid. s.k. 6, quoting the Issur V’Heter and Toras Chattas) and the Gro (ibid. s.k. 11) explain that we can assume the balance of animals in the herd to be kosher, as Rov beheimos k’sheiros, and the Sifsei Da’as (ibid. s.k. 6) specifically notes that we do not suspect that the 60 animals presumed to be kosher are possibly really tereifos, as Rov beheimos k’sheiros is the governing principle. The rationale for this is that each animal’s kosher status is established at the time it is milked, prior to the milk from the herd being mixed together. We therefore view each animal at the moment it is milked as kosher, based on Rov beheimos k’sheiros, and its milk is considered to be kosher when it is subsequently blended.

To illustrate this principle, let’s travel back in time to the pre-industrial era, when a glass of milk derived from one cow rather than from a milk mixture of hundreds or thousands of cows. In this scenario, a dairy farmer who regularly drinks the milk of his own herd will likely consume over the course of his lifetime milk from hundreds of cows. Even though we may assume that at least 10% of cows are tereifos, and on a statistical level the farmer must have consumed some milk from tereifos, we do not view it this way from an halachic stance, as Rov beheimos k’sheiros dictates that each cow had kosher status when it was milked; every cow’s kosher status is determined individually, not collectively. So too in the case of contemporary milk production is the kosher status of every cow established when it is milked, regardless of the fact that its milk will be mixed with milk from hundreds or thousands of cows. Halacha does not look at the aggregate milk mixture and proclaim that the mixture is statistically 10% or more from tereifos; rather, the kashrus of the milk mixture is fixed beforehand, for the status of the milk of each cow which contributed to it was established as kosher upon milking. Therefore, the milk of each cow is ruled to be kosher as its exits the cow, and the fact that a given ratio of milk in any mixture may be 10% or more from tereifos is inconsequential from an halachic perspective.

The kashrus of milk once again attests to the many and complex halachic considerations that factor into what would appear to be of the most simple foods.

A full treatment of the many issues related to the status of DA cows is beyond the scope of this article, which is intended only as a brief introduction to the issue for the general public.


August 8, 2011 at 6:33 am Leave a comment