Beware of Treif "Kosher" Meat


When we first came to America, I asked the Rav of the Shul where I Davened, where can we buy trustworthy Kosher meat. The Rav answered: "There is no such thing as Kosher meat in America."
It is sometimes hard to believe how many levels of observance we find among Jews when it comes to defining what is Kosher and what is not. Some Jews consider any meat kosher as long as it comes from a kosher animal, regardless of how it was killed or processed. Others will not eat any meat unless it meets the most stringent of all requirements. (The term "meat" in this article follows the Hebrew meaning of "Bassar" which includes all forms of beef, chicken, turkey, etc.)

The common denominator to all Jews is that everyone considers his own level of observance the most perfect and most accurate of all. Anyone who is more stringent is a fanatic. Anyone who is less stringent is careless.

The root of the problem is that most meat eaters - Rabbis and non-Rabbis alike - have an uncontrollable desire to eat meat. Therefore, they will do whatever they can to make life as easy as their conscience will allow. Shrewd and dishonest merchants take advantage of this uncontrollable desire and perpetrate an unbelievable amount of fraud. The best illustration of the magnitude of the fraud, was given by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik who said: "The total quantity of glatt kosher beef sold in America is greater than the number of cows being kosher-slaughtered."

In the olden days an observant Jew would not touch any meat unless he first owned the animal alive, and then observed the Shochet as he performed the Shchitah. Some would also require checking of the knife before the Shchitah. Today, on the other hand, most observant Jews buy dead meat in the market, having no idea what the real history of the meat is. The only thing they rely on is the presence of a "kosher symbol" on the package.

Some will argue that on Yom Tov it is a Mitzvah to eat meat.   אין שמחה אלא בבשר ויין - There is no happiness except with meat and wine. They don't realize that this was said about the service of the Kohanim on the Altar in Beit HaMikdash, not about filling the stomach with meat and wine. 

Others will argue that "My great Rabbi eats meat, so it must be permissible." They don't realize that great Rabbis don't do things for themselves. Great Rabbis have a duty to defend the Jews when they don't follow the will of God. They do things which might be questionable in order to try and convince God that if they do it, then, maybe it is not so bad that others do it, and therefore, the others should not be punished for doing those things.

Uncontrollable Desires

The permission given by the Torah to satisfy the desire to eat meat, is similar to another permission given by the Torah to satisfy another strong desire. In Dvarim, Parashat Ki Tetze (ch.21.11), a soldier who goes to war and captures a beautiful non-Jewish woman is permitted to take her and mate with her to satisfy his bodily desire. Both actions - eating meat and mating with a non-Jewish woman - are equally hated by God. In the desert, after coming out of Egypt, all instances when the Jews ate meat ended up in disasters. Those who ate meat died because they ate it. Later, just before entering the Land of Israel, those who mated with non-Jewish women (Bnot Moav) also died.

The Torah recognizes that sometimes the bodily desires overcome a person's ability to serve God with holiness. For such a person, whose heart is far from God, the Torah prescribes conditions which must be followed before mating with a beautiful captive non-Jewish woman, or before eating meat. Only if a person is incapable of overcoming the desire, and then fulfills all the conditions prescribed by the Torah, only then is such a person permitted to satisfy the desire.

What Does the Torah Say?

For meat to be kosher it has to conform to a well defined set of rules in three stages. Stage 1: while the animal is alive. Stage 2: the process of killing it and preparing it for distribution. Stage 3: after it leaves the slaughter house. Those who eat any meat as long as it comes from a kosher animal observe one of the requirements in Stage 1, and don't particularly care about stages 2 and 3. On the other hand, those who are the most stringent of all, require the meat to comply with all the requirements of all the stages. The majority of Torah-observant Jews consider meat kosher if it complies with some of the requirements in each of the stages.

This article is not intended to serve as a comprehensive summary of all the laws which apply to kosher meat. Some of these laws are known to all; other laws are known only to a select few. In Stage 1, everyone knows that the animal has to be one of the kosher species. In Stage 2, everyone knows that the animal must be slaughtered in a kosher way by a trustworthy certified Shochet. In Stage 3, very few people know that the meat must never be left alone without constant supervision by a trustworthy Jew. Each of these stages, however, has a long list of additional requirements which are not known to all. Therefore, practically all meat eaters delegate the responsibility to ensure that the meat is kosher, to hundreds of kosher certifying agencies and Rabbis around the world.

This article will discuss the weak links in this long chain. These weak links frequently result in kosher observant Jews eating non-kosher meat which carries prominent "kosher" certification.

While the Animal is Alive
Let's examine some of the rules which apply at the beginning of the chain, in stage 1.

In the desert, after coming out of Egypt, all instances when the Jews ate meat (the term "meat" also includes fowl) ended up in disasters. Tens of thousands of Jews died because they ate meat. How is it possible, then, for a Jew to have a desire to eat meat?

In BaMidbar, at the end of ch.10, we learn that the Jews in the desert have reached a high level of holiness following the conclusion of the construction of the Mishkan (Holy Temple) and they started the journey towards the Land of Israel. Then, in the next chapter, ch.11, we learn about the beginning of the decline and all the trouble that followed:
"The Erev Rav (rabble) amongst them aroused their desire and the children of Israel also cried and said: we want to eat meat."
The Erev-Rav desire to eat meat was the beginning of the decline which led to all the trouble that followed. The people in the desert were given meat to satisfy this desire, and those who ate it died. Then, Miriam talked Lashon HaRa against Moshe Rabbeinu; the spies complained about the Land of Israel; the Jews were punished by having to remain in the desert for 40 years; Korach challenged the authority of Moshe Rabbeinu; the people complained about lacking water (Mei Meriva) and Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon were punished. It all started with the desire to eat meat.

In Dvarim, Ch. 12.21 we find:
"If the place where God chooses to place his name (Beit HaMikdash) is too far from you, then you may kill from your own cattle and from your own sheep ... and eat..."
Kli Yakar explains that "far" means far from the heart. The desire to eat meat arises when Beit HaMikdash gets far away from the heart of the Jew. The desire to eat meat is a result of becoming less religious. To a truly religious person this can never happen. But, when a person feels far and removed from Beit HaMikdash, this Erev-Rav desire wakes up. "When God is far from you, you immerse yourself in the desire to eat meat" says the Kli Yakar.

For such non-religious people, the Torah provides a permissible way to satisfy this desire. Several conditions are prescribed by the Torah, all of which must be fulfilled before eating meat:
  • In Dvarim, ch.12.21, It says: "VeZavachta MiBekarcha UmiTzoncha ... VeAchalta". You are allowed to slaughter FROM YOUR cattle and FROM YOUR sheep ... and then you can eat." The terms "cattle" and "sheep" are qualified by "from" and by "your". "From" means part of of what you own and not all of what you own. If you own a few animals you are allowed to slaughter some of them but not all of them. "Your" means that the animal must be yours when you slaughter it. If you meet both of these requirements, then, you are permitted to eat the meat. 

  • The Gmara, in Chulin p.84a, explains this concept. "Is it possible that a person will take (meat) from the market and will eat? As an answer to this question we learn that you are allowed to slaughter FROM YOUR cattle and FROM YOUR sheep."  Rashi explains: "If he has in his herd he can take and if not, he cannot buy in the market." The Gmara and Rashi are very clear and explicit - the only way for a person to eat meat is to own a live animal (more than one) and then slaughter it. If he does not own a live animal, he is not allowed to buy dead meat in the market.

    A thorough search of all the commentaries on this Gmara did not reveal a single opinion that disagrees with Rashi on this subject. In other words, they all agree.
  • According to the Gmara, in Chulin p.84a, most people, those who are not wealthy, are permitted to eat only vegetables and fish. For a person to eat meat, the Gmara says "Yishpetu Lo" - servants (in the plural) who work in his kitchen will cook it for him. In other words, a person must be so wealthy that he has at least two servants who do the cooking for him, before he is allowed to eat meat. 

  • In the next step on the way to eating meat, the Kli Yakar (Dvarim, ch.12.22)  teaches us that the owner of the animals must have such a strong desire to eat meat that he will take the trouble to run after an animal and catch it while the animal tries to escape.

  • Then, the animal must be slaughtered and its blood must be drained.

  • Then, the meat must be "koshered" in water and in salt. It must never leave the supervising eye of a trustworthy Jew and it must be securely protected from any possibility of being exchanged with non-kosher meat.

In summary: Before eating meat a person must
a) own the animal alive;
b) is prohibited from buying dead meat in the market;
c) must be so wealthy that he has at least two servants who do the cooking for him;
d) must run after the animal and catch it;
e) get the animal slaughtered correctly;
f) process the meat in water and salt and keep a permanent supervising eye on it.
Only then, if all of these conditions are complied with, and the desire can still not be controlled, is a person permitted to eat meat.

Is the Shchita Kosher?

Long ago, the Rabbis determined that for a product to be labeled as kosher it needs to be supervised. Business owners and employees cannot be trusted as supervisors wherever there is a possibility that a financial conflict of interest will undermine the quality of the supervision. A business owner who can profit from replacing something kosher with something not kosher cannot be trusted. An employee who fears for his job if he opens his mouth, cannot be trusted either.

When fraud or negligence are not prevalent and not financially beneficial, an occasional visit by a supervisor is sufficient. On the other hand, when each and every food item can be the subject of fraud or negligence, a permanent full-time independent supervisor is mandatory.

In the field of kosher slaughtering, the Rabbis have determined that every Shochet must be permanently supervised by an independent supervisor who does nothing but observe each individual Shchita operation. This is known as the rule of: "בשנים שוחטים" - Shchita must be done in a team of two - one does the act of Shchita and one supervises to make sure it was done correctly. Each cow and each chicken is a new and different entity. The fact that one chicken was slaughtered correctly does NOT mean that the next chicken will also be slaughtered correctly. That's why the Shchita of each individual animal must be independently supervised.

Nowadays, a kosher slaughter house in which every Shochet is individually supervised by an independent supervisor is practically unheard of. In two famous slaughter houses which I have personally visited, an independent supervisor NEVER looked at the Shchita operation. One kosher supervising agency sends a supervisor once every few weeks to observe the general operation, BUT NOT the Shchita by the individual Shochatim. Another supervising agency sends a supervisor for a few hours ONCE A YEAR. What happens between these visits? Nobody knows.

So, how do those in charge of the remote-control supervising agencies "comply" with the requirement that Shchita must be done in a team of two?  Two Shochatim are placed on two parallel lines. Every Shochet is busy doing his own Shchita on his own line having to comply with the minimum speed and quantity required of him by the owner of the slaughter house. Since there are two Shochatim working at the same time, the "team of two" requirement is considered complied with. Never mind that each Shochet is busy doing his own work and has no time to look at what the other Shochet is doing.

In one glatt-kosher slaughter house I have observed a Shochet of cattle working completely alone. He was surrounded by goyim helping him, but, not a single Jew near him. A second parallel line did not exist at this place.

Had I not seen it with my own eyes, I would have never believed how un-reliable and un-trustworthy kosher Shchita and supervision can be.


Fraud is most prevalent at the end of the supply chain, in stage 3.

In the US, 20 states have laws that prohibit mislabeling of kosher food. In May 2002 the US 2nd circuit court of appeals has affirmed a lower court decision to declare the NY kosher laws as unconstitutional. The NJ state supreme court, in 1992, has also struck down the state's kosher fraud laws as unconstitutional. In February 2003 the US Supreme Court refused, without comment, to get involved in an appeal to reinstate the NY kosher laws. Following this refusal, anyone who calls himself a rabbi can now set his own standards and label any meat as kosher. If some group wants to trademark a pig symbol and market their product as "kosher pork" that's perfectly legal. In response to these decisions, the state of NJ, for example, has issued new regulations that PERMIT RETAILERS TO SET THEIR OWN STANDARD OF WHAT IS DEFINED AS KOSHER. There is no legal authority that can tell the retailers what those standards should be.

In Israel, the Customs Authority does not allow a representative of the Rabbinate to be present when foreign meat is unloaded from the ships. Cartons of non-kosher meat often arrive in Israel as kosher and are distributed to the markets.

Aside from errors and disagreements as to what is the definition of "kosher", the most prevalent problem is outright fraud. A kosher meat distributor in NY ordered 12 truck loads of glatt kosher meat from a well known kosher slaughter house in the mid-west. The supervising rabbi at the source locked the trucks with 12 new locks that he special-ordered from a locksmith. He then mailed the key to the supervising rabbi in NY. When the shipment arrived, there were 18 trucks waiting to be unloaded. All of them were locked with brand new locks, and all the locks could be opened with the same original key that, supposedly, only the supervising rabbi in NY had. One in every three strictly kosher families in NY that bought this meat had the pleasure of eating totally Treif meat.

"Wait a minute", will some of the readers say. "How about the seals on the individual cartons?" Every carton of kosher meat is sealed with an adhesive tape that identifies the source and the supervising authority. Well, all adhesive tapes are printed by commercial tape printers. Anyone can take a sample of an old tape peeled off a used carton and have a printer print new rolls of the same tape. Printers don't get involved in the contents of what they print, and it costs only a few dollars per roll...

When my son visited a glatt-kosher slaughter house in the mid-west, he went to the supply room and asked the Mexican worker in charge of the supply room for a roll of carton-sealing tape. The Mexican worker gave him the tape and didn't even ask who my son is. Now my son has in his possession an original tape which bears all the right symbols and Hechsherim. How trustworthy can an adhesive sealing tape be when any stranger can obtain an original roll, and when the person in charge of supplying the rolls is not even Jewish?

A well known kosher slaughter house in the US used to load unlabeled cartons of meat on their trucks, driven by non-Jewish drivers. The drivers carried with them pre-printed labels of various Hechsherim. When they arrived at their destination, the driver would ask the distributor or store owner which Hechsher he wants. He, then, went back to the truck, and pasted the right labels on the cartons.

Well, if the seals on the cartons are no good, how about the labels on the individual packages? Early in 2005 one of the largest and most trusted Glatt-Kosher meat retailers in Brooklyn NY was caught printing forged Glatt-Kosher labels and placing them on meat packages obtained from a distributor who sells non-kosher meat. All families who bought meat from this retailer were instructed by their Rabbis to re-kosher their kitchens. Today, anyone with a good computer scanner can duplicate and forge brand-name labels, and it will take an FBI laboratory to tell the difference. In other words, the labels and seals on packages are useless as evidence of kashrut.

Here is another example to demonstrate how useless kosher-labels are. In 2011, the following packages of pork, labeled as Beit Yosef Shchita (the highest grade of Glatt-Kosher meat) were photographed in a supermarket in New york. Who knows how many packages of treif beef were similarly labeled and sold?

Every kosher slaughter house has a certain percentage of chicken which are rejected as non-kosher. In Israel, these rejected chicken are sold to the Arabs. A shrewd Arab dealer in the Gaza strip printed forged copies of individual bags bearing the Kosher symbol of the Badatz in Jerusalem. He then bought the rejected chicken, packaged them in his own Badatz bags, and sold them in Israel as extra-kosher chicken. It took two years to discover this fraud.

A few years ago, a large shipment of supposedly "glatt kosher" meat was distributed to the ultra-frum neighborhoods in Israel. Each piece was stamped with the stamp of the supervising rabbi, to make sure that scanners and printers didn't help "kosherizing" the meat. Somebody decided to investigate and back-track this shipment, and discovered that the supervising rabbi loaned his stamp to the distributor in exchange for a few thousand dollars. Following this discovery, the religious papers in Israel carried large ads advising all kosher families in Israel to re-kosher their kitchens.

Here is another news bit from Israel: "Police arrested a Palestinian and an Israeli Jew on charges of selling thousands of pounds of non-kosher poultry wrapped in packaging stamped "kosher" to stores in Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv and a neighboring suburbs."

In 2006 Kashrus Magazine and published the following alert: "Unauthorized Turkey/Meat Products Bearing KAJ Logo. - January 18, 2006 - Turkey or Meat products bearing this symbol - "Khal Adath Jeshurun - KAJ-Canada" are not authorized by KAJ-Breuer's as they do not shecht in Canada and they do not currently use such a symbol."

In September of 2006, a huge kashrut fraud scandal was exposed in Monsey, NY. "All meat and chicken purchased from Shevach Meats in the Hatzlocha Supermarket in the last 6 months may not be eaten," said the Monsey Rabbanim. Needless to say, the owners were known to be very frum. The Monsey Rabbanim issued a joint instruction to all those who bought such meat and chicken to re-kosher all their meat dishes. This store also served as a distributor to the caterers in town. What did the guests eat when they went to a catered event?

In 2009, the chief rabbinate in Israel published the following alert: "meat suspected as non-kosher (treif) was found. Making things worse, the meat had forged stickers and labels attesting to its kosher integrity... In one of the locales they found packages from the well-known Tibon Veal Company, with the product marked Soft Ribs. The stickers are not from the Tibon firm but forgeries...  the slaughter house in Argentina revealed the products are indeed forgeries and in no way represent legitimate kosher packages from the company."

In April 2012 "Pri HaAretz" catering company in Israel was caught serving Treif meat in an official dinner at the home of the President of Israel. An employee of this catering company was seen on video recordings buying the Treif meat from an Arab meat distributor. This company has full-time Kashrut supervisors, yet, the supervisors had no idea where the meat is coming from.

In England, the most kosher beef anyone can buy is supervised by "Kedassia". This beef is delivered by a distributor who also delivers pork and possibly also treif beef all intermixed in the same truck. The Kedassia stamp (in Hebrew) can be seen on one of the beef pieces which hangs in the same truck next to pork. (Photographed in London, July 2011). How do we know if the "Kedassia" stamp is original or a forgery? What prevents a distributor who also sells pork from making his own "Kedassia" stamp? If glatt-kosher beef, treif beef, and pork are delivered in the same truck, how do you know what you get when you buy a piece of meat or ground meat in the store?

Many strictly kosher consumers will not buy meat if the Hechsher on it comes from a rival supervising agency. But, if the meat rubs shoulders with pork - no problem at all...

To be 100% sure that meat is kosher, we must perform or observe the entire process ourselves. If this is not practical, we tend to delegate the Hashgacha to an individual Mashgiach or to a kosher-supervising agency. Can a full-time Mashgiach be really trusted?

My son was once asked by his friend, who is a full time Mashgiach in a kitchen, to substitute for him. My son agreed and did his job applying the same standards he keeps at his own home. After three days, the owner of the business asked my son not to come back, saying that a good Mashgiach needs to know how to close his eyes from time to time. How many Mashgichim do we know who are willing to risk their livelihood to protect the consumers? Professional Mashgichim know that the first rule of survival in this business is "keep your mouth shut".

So, if an individual Mashgiach cannot be trusted because of his conflict of interest, how about a large kosher-supervising agency?

One of the largest kosher supervising agencies in the world was involved in a different kind of a scandal. Kosher consumers discovered that one of the presumably kosher supervised products contained treif gelatin. (Gelatin was listed as one of the ingredients) They protested to the company and were shocked to discover that the supervising agency knowingly allowed the treif gelatin in the product, fearing that if they don't allow it they might lose the company as a client. The "official" reason for allowing the gelatin in the product was that it contained only a small quantity. The food engineers refused to give up the gelatin - it was an essential ingredient for better taste, therefore any reliance on hallachic nullification was outright fraud. The (non-Jewish) company owners did not like it when they discovered that their customers were betrayed by this kosher supervising agency. They fired them and hired a different agency. Following this event the kosher supervising agency published a letter in which they announced "a change in their policy" to no longer rely on nullification of treif ingredients. Who knows how many other companies and products were certified as kosher by this agency, before they "changed their policy", even though the products contained small amounts of Treif ingredients?

These are only a few examples to show how a financial conflict of interest diminishes the value of delegated supervision. As stated above, professional kosher supervisors know that the first rule of survival in this business is "keep your mouth shut". Does it mean that the entire concept of kosher supervision is flawed? No. It means only that any product under delegated supervision has the Halachic status of "Safek" - doubt. And, the Halacha is very clear on the subject of Safek. "Safek DeOraita LeChumra, Safek DeRabbanan LeKula" - any doubt that involves a Torah prohibition renders the product non-kosher; if the doubt involves only a Rabbinic prohibition, the product is kosher. So, a chicken with a kosher sticker on it is Safek DeOraita - a Torah prohibition. A box of cereal under kosher supervision is Safek DeRabbanan - Rabbinically permitted.

Next time you buy meat or plan to eat meat in a catered event, remember that a single truckload can yield a profit of more than $50,000 to the dishonest distributor or retailer. You may choose to trust whoever you want, but you have no idea what is really going on in the supply chain. Being frum is not a sufficient qualification for anyone who can profit from fraud. Even a full-time Mashgiach cannot always be trusted, because if he decides to do his job honestly he will lose his job. The need to earn money creates a very powerful conflict of interest.

Now we know why we have the Halachic rule of "Bassar SheNitaleim Min HaAyin" - meat that was exposed to the possibility of fraud. All such meat is Hallachicly Treif, even if fraud did not occur. Yet, most consumers and many Rabbis don't seem to care. They prefer to close their eyes, rely on the assumption that the majority of the meat is hopefully kosher, and hope for the best. Just like in the infamous game called "Russian Roulette". Players point at their head a revolver with only one bullet and pull the trigger. Most of the chambers in the revolver are empty, so most of the time nothing happens. But, occasionally, the bullet is correctly aligned with the barrel and then it is too late.

The Past and the Future

When God created the world, all creatures were vegetarians. Nobody ate meat. Nobody killed an animal in order to eat it; not even the animals who are known today as wild, meat-eating, animals. This continued for 1656 years up until the Mabul - the great flood. Noach's ark was full of wild animals, yet they did not eat other animals. 

Except for Noach, the people in the generations before the Mabul were extremely wicked. They were so wicked that God decided to punish them and kill them. Yet, as wicked as they were, they did not kill animals for food.

Sefer HaZohar teaches us that after the Mabul God wanted Noach to become the Moshiach. Noach, however, made wine, drank it, got drunk, and exposed his body while drunk. God decided to punish Noach and take away his high level of holiness which he had. God punished Noach by giving him a desire to eat meat and by giving him permission to eat animals. The desire and the permission to eat meat were a punishment that God gave Noach because he spoiled God's plan to make him Moshiach.

Following the desire and permission to eat meat, Noach's and all his descendents' punishment had both a spiritual and physical dimension. In the spiritual dimension the level of holiness that Noach had (which qualified him to be Moshiach) was lost. In the physical dimension the life span of humans was shortened from many hundreds of years to 120 years.

The prophet Yeshayahu (in ch.11 and ch.65) teaches us twice that when Moshiach comes, the world will return to its original state in which animals do not eat other animals. Even the lions will become vegetarians. The practice of killing animals for food will completely stop. This is the will of God; this is how God created the world; and this is how we all need to conduct ourselves.

Why Did'nt Great Rabbis Prohibit Buying Dead Meat in The Market?

Here is what the Lubavitcher Rebbe says:
מתי אין ללמוד מהגדולים שבדור?
בתחילת פרשתנו מדובר אודות מעשה זמרי וקנאות פנחס. ומצינו, שכאשר אירע מעשה זמרי היו נוכחים שם משה ואלעזר והזקנים, ופנחס הי' הצעיר שבחבורה (במדב"ר פ"כ, כה. ועוד), ומכל מקום דווקא פנחס אמר את הדין ש"קנאים פוגעים בו". ואמרו לו: "קריינא דאיגרתא איהו להוי פרוונקא [הקורא את האיגרת הוא יהי' השליח]" (סנהדרין פב, א).
ומובא במדרש (במדב"ר פ"כ, כד) שהטעם שענין זה נעשה על ידי פנחס דוקא ולא ע"י משה הוא כדי שיבא פנחס ויטול את הכהונה.
ומזה יש ללמוד הוראה בעבודת השי"ת:
כאשר ישנם ענינים כאלה שהגדולים שבדור שותקים ואינם אומרים דבר, הנה לא כל פעם מורה הדבר שלא צריכים לעשות מאומה ואפשר להתחמק מזה.
אלא יש לדעת, שאם יכול לעשות משהו בדבר, עליו לעשותו, ומה שגדולים ממנו אינם אומרים מאומה, אולי הסיבה לכך היא רק "כדי שיטול את הראוי לו", היינו, שמלמעלה רוצים שהוא דווקא יתעסק בדבר זה. ולכן אין אחרים מתעסקים בזה, מפני שזהו ענין שהוא דווקא צריך לפעול בו.
ובמילא, כאשר בא ענין לידו שאין מישהו מתעסק בה, אין לעשות חשבונות, אלא יש לעסוק בו במסירות נפש ומלמעלה יתנו לו את כל הכחות הדרושים שיוכל להצליח בדבר.
(ע"פ לקוטי שיחות ח"ב עמ' 342)