An Interview With Rabbi Moshe Heinemann
STAR-K Rabbinic Administrator
The world of kashrus has played, and continues to play, a dominant role in the life of a Jew and the life blood of Judaism. This centrality is evidenced by the significant halachic treatment of kashrus in the Shulchan Aruch, by our Poskim, and in contemporary Torah journals, as well as the particular attention paid to the kosher consumer stretching from the aisles of the supermarket to the media portfolios of the marketplace.
Throughout the development of practical kashrus, the Torah’s halachic tenets have been interwoven with rabbinical safeguards, protective fences, known in the words of the Mishna as siyagim. Every halachic arena has been bolstered with the pickets of these fences. Some classic examples that are well known are: the prohibition of cooking poultry and milk, waiting six hours between meat and milk, stam yainum, and bishul akum.
Our Rabbis realized, that without protective measures built into the Torah’s system, there would be genuine concern that Torah statutes would be abused, adulterated, watered down or forgotten, chas v’shalom. Just as a dedicated farmer would exercise herculean efforts to save the life of a beautiful tree whose life has been placed in jeopardy by predators, weeds, or disease, how much more care must be expended when we deal with the preservation of the Eitz Chaim – The Tree of Life.
One of the most detailed and involved areas of kashrus is the production and processing of kosher meat. Because of its great scope, it would be impossible to do justice to the complete gamut of the kashrus directives for shechita, bedika, nikkur, and melicha in a few brief paragraphs, but we can get a clear appreciation of the careful detail that needs to be given to every step along the production trail.
The shochet, the ritual slaughterer, who has to be armed with both technical skill and great moral integrity, has to give painstaking attention to all aspects of shechita. The concerns start from the source. From where is the packing house getting their stock? Before the actual shechita, the shochet’s knife, the chalef, must be carefully checked to make sure it is smooth and razor sharp.
In order to avoid the inadvertent slaughtering of a b’chor, a first born animal born in a Jewish herd, the sources of the cattle must be known. After the animal is slaughtered every surface of the lung has to be double checked, internally and externally, making sure that the lung is free of lesions or disease. Then, when the animal is pronounced kosher, its various parts are separated and sent to different areas of the packing house. In order to avoid intermingling and confusion with non-kosher look alikes, the different parts of the forequarter of beef, veal or lamb have to be properly tagged. This system of labeling, branding, and tagging is critical to the kosher control maintenance in the packing house and beyond.
At the post-shechita stage, slaughtered meat is further processed at the plant site or at an independent processing facility, possibly under a separate hashgacha, or at local kosher butcher shops, where further processing will take place under the supervision of the local Va’ad or Rav. Whatever the option, identification plays an integral part of the process. How else would the mashgiach know when the shechita took place, if the meat is kosher, if the meat is glatt or not, or if the meat was kashered – were it not for tags, plumbas, and letters?
In the neighborhood butcher shop where the meat and poultry is prepared for retail sale, more often than not, the cut-up chicken pieces or cutlets are not showcased with plumbas, nor is the brisket, rib steak or flanken. Furthermore, today with both husbandand wife working, kosher households depend on the kosher butcher to make home deliveries. Many households employ domestic help whose duties include meal preparation. In addition, hotels and catering halls claim both kosher and non-kosher cuisine. In all of the above scenarios, beyond the Torah based kashrus requirements, an additional safeguard to protect us from the potential risk of advertent or inadvertent mixing, switching, or replacing kosher meat for a non-kosher look-alike was instituted. This siyag, protective measure, requires one to continuously identify or trace the trail of the kosher meat or kosher poultry. Failing to do so jeopardizes the kashrus acceptability of the meat, and this meat is designated as bosor shenisalaim min hoayin, literally, meat that is out of constant view of an observant Jew. Although the strict halachic context of the term bosor shenisalaim min hoayin refers to the suspicious possibility of kosher meat being switched with a non-kosher likeness, the contemporary usage of this term has far broader halachic applications. What are the parameters of this halacha? Is there any recourse once you lose visual contact with the meat?
These questions were posed to Rav Heinemann, Shlita, our Rabbinic Administrator, to clarify and elucidate this very important halacha for Kashrus Kurrents readers:
Q: How do we, in the broader halachic context, define bosor shenisalaim min hoayin?
RH: If a Jew left a piece of kosher meat or poultry, that has no distinct identification, unattended, in an area where a non-Jew has free access, and there is reason to suspect that the aino Yehudi may have exchanged the kosher meat with a non-kosher meat or poultry likeness, this piece of meat is deemed bosor shenisalaim min hoayin and may not be used.
Q: Could you list some of the circumstances that would arouse suspicion?
RH: 1) The kosher meat is of superior quality and the non-Jew would enjoy it more. 2) It is more convenient for the non-Jew to use the exposed kosher meat on the table at that moment and replace it later with non-kosher. 3) There is an outside benefit for the non-Jew to substitute the kosher meat.
Q: When a kosher meat or poultry order is being sent from the kosher butcher shop to a Jewish household for home delivery and the order is wrapped in plain wrapping paper and tape, can bosor shenisalaim min hoayin be avoided?
RH: 1) If the delivery man is, himself, a Shomer Shabbos and the order is delivered directly to the housewife or family member, the order can be sent out as is without additional identification. 2) If the delivery man is not a Shomer Shabbos, the meat order has to be marked with distinct and distinguishing simanim to avoid bosor shenisalaim min hoayin problems.
Q: When is meat considered adequately identified?
RH: Preferably lechatchila, the piece of meat or poultry should be sealed twice with kosher identification on the seal (two simanim), or be sealed with a foolproof seal that would qualify for two simanim. Any seal which makes it difficult to open the closed package without tearing or breaking the closure, tape, or packaging qualifies as a siman. An example of a foolproof siman would be the new frozen chicken products which are encased in a totally fused specially printed Chill Pack Bag that has to be ripped open to take out the products.
Q: Must a mashgiach be present at all times in a hotel kitchen during kosher meal preparation or throughout the function?
RH: The “glatt” kosher method of hotel hashgacha is for the mashgiach to be present at all times. If the mashgiach has to leave the kitchen, he can only leave if (a) none of the kitchen help knows that he stepped out, (b) he leaves for a brief interval with the intention of immediately returning, and (c) he does not leave the hotel premises.
Q: Assuming there are no bishul akum problems, can a maid prepare meals for a Jewish household without being supervised by a member of the household?
RH: There are different scenarios that have to be considered. (a) If the meat, chicken or fish have simanim on them (e.g. a plumba, a sealed casserole, fish with skin on) and these simanim will remain throughout their total preparation and cooking process the maid would be permitted to cook it. (b) If the maid knows that members of the household constantly come in and out of the kitchen at no set time or schedule, this would serve as a deterrent for any foul play, and the maid would be permitted to cook. (c) If there is no distinct identification on the meat and the maid is alone in the household, you would be forbidden to eat any food item that requires identification prepared by the maid, unless the food can be identified through a member of the family’s t’vias ayin.
Q: What is t’vias ayin?
RH: If a Yehudi can recognize that this is the original piece of meat or poultry which was previously known to be kosher, and can be clearly identified without any question.
Q: Can a recent Baal or Baalas Teshuva eat at their parents’ home if the parents are still non-observant?
RH: If the parents agree to keep kosher for their child, the Rov or Rabbi should be consulted to work out the details of each specific circumstance.1
Q: What foods halachically require identification?
RH: All foods that require kosher certification. That includes, among others, meat, poultry, fish, wine, cheese, bread, cake, and milk. Those products that have a more severe halachic prohibition (m’doraisa), require two simanim (e.g. meat, fish, poultry, wine, etc.). Those that have a less stringent prohibition (m’drabonon), require only one siman (e.g. cheese, bread, cake, milk, etc.).
Q: Can you buy cryovaced, boxed, or bagged kosher chicken or meat provisions from a non-kosher supermarket or buyers warehouse?
RH: Yes, if they come appropriately sealed as outlined above.
Q: Do meat flavored sauces, or food items mixed with cheese or fish require simanim (sent from caterers or take-out)?
RH: If the meat, fish, or poultry is not batel (nullified) in the sauce or food item, two simanim would be required. Even if it is batel, it requires a siman identifying the sauce as kosher.
Q: How would a deli meat or tuna fish sandwich sent by a caterer or take-out be wrapped if they require two simanim?
RH: Wrapping the sandwich in a plastic wrap, sealing it on the bottom with a heat seal or label and labeling the top of the plastic only qualifies for one seal. An example of a second seal would be an additional band wrapped around the sandwich plus the sealed and labeled plastic. Another method would be to place the bill into the paper bag holding the sandwich and staple the bag and bill shut.
Q: Would plain unmarked sealing tape qualify for an acceptable seal?
RH: No, because there is no distinctive marking on the tape. In order for plain sealing tape to suffice, the mashgiach would have to sign his name across the tape and onto the box. If the box would be opened the signature would tear.
Q: Would a specially made box used to box fish sticks that has the name of the company and the hechsher clearly printed on the box qualify for a siman?
RH: No, the flaps of the box would have to be sealed to qualify for a siman. Sealed plastic over-wrap would qualify for a second seal.
Q: If a mashgiach forgot to seal a cholov Yisroel milk silo, but the weight of the poundage that was recorded elsewhere corresponds to the weight in the silo, would that qualify for an adequate siman?
RH: Yes, b’dieved.
Q: What is the halacha if only one of the two simanim remains intact?
RH: If the remaining siman is foolproof, it would be fine lechatchila. If the remaining siman is not foolproof a competent halachic authority should be consulted.
Q: Is there any halachic recourse to permit the use of questionable chicken or meat if there are no obvious simanim? (e.g. The plumbas fell off or the simanim are no longer recognized.)
RH: This meat can be used if the meat can be identified through t’vias ayin. If it was sent through an aino Yehudi, if the weight is the same as on the bill and it has a saltier taste indicating that it was kashered, one may rely on this b’dieved.
Q: Who can make this identification?
RH: The person who is the identifier must be a Shomer Torah U’Mitzvos; otherwise he has no halachic credibility and would not be believed in this instance.
1 Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:54