Producción de Carne Kasher: Shechita Flies South

Spring 2024

From time immemorial, no matter where in the far-flung Diaspora, the presence of a Jewish community has always meant that there was shechita in proximity. The position of community shochet was one of a klei kodesh and the shochtim of a community were subject to the supreme jurisdiction of the local rav and/or Beis Din.  

Here, in the U.S., it was no different. On November 15, 1660, a man named Asser (Asher) Levy acquired a license to serve as the first kosher butcher in the small Dutch-controlled hamlet of Nieuw Amsterdam – now better known as New York City.[1] Ever since, maintaining a reliable supply of kosher beef has been an integral part of Jewish communal life in the U.S. Previous Kashrus Kurrents articles have offered a glimpse into the challenges shechita has faced on these shores and the changes to the way kosher meat is supplied to our communities.[2]

Following in Israel’s Footsteps

One of the dramatic changes on the American kosher meat landscape is the phenomenon of Mehadrin kosher meat being imported from various countries in Latin America.

Shechita in South America for export has a long history. As early as the mid-1930s, after the Nazis y”sh outlawed shechita in Germany, frozen kosher meat was imported from Uruguay and Argentina.[3] While that market was tragically short-lived, Israel began importing beef from South America since shortly after its founding in 1948.

Palestine was a land of limited pastures and minimal livestock. Its location on the Mediterranean coast, with its long hot summers and sparse reservoirs, severely curtailed local meat production. With the steady influx of European immigrants, demand for beef soared. Before 1948, Jewish cattle dealers imported beef from Europe through land routes to Palestine to supplement the local supply. After the War of Independence, this avenue of import effectively closed.[4] Importing kosher beef from South America proved to be the perfect solution to meet the growing demand.

Today, Israel is the fourth largest consumer per capita of beef in the world – 195 lbs. per person, just behind the U.S., Australia and Argentina.[5] Beef imported from Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Poland and France currently constitutes 60% of Israel’s meat supply.  

The “Meat Law” and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel

According to an Israeli law called the Chok Habasar (the Meat Law), Israeli meat imports must not only be kosher but be certified by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel (the Rabbanut Harashit). There is an entire division of the Rabbinate dedicated to imported shechita: Machleket Shechitat Chutz La’aretz, or Shach”al. The responsibilities of Shach”al are vast and include:

  • setting standards for slaughterhouses and kosher staff
  • conducting facility audits
  • administering tests for shochtim and bodkim
  • staffing and verifying each team sent to shechita sites outside of Israel
  • overseeing the more than forty facilities conducting export shechita

Over the course of the seventy years that Israel has engaged in the import of South American shechita, a fully developed system of standards has arisen in the South American shechita world, based largely on the requirements of the Rabbanut Harashit.[6]

U.S. Meat Tradeoff: Quality vs. Cost

While beef in the U.S. is one of the highest quality meat products in the world, even non-kosher meat is more expensive here than imported beef. Kosher meat producers have the added challenge of finding domestic plants that are small enough to accommodate the kosher slaughter process. Consolidation of smaller slaughterhouses over the years has resulted in severely limited options for kosher beef companies.

A recent post on noted, “Market share for the country’s four biggest meat-packing companies – Tyson, JBS, Cargill and Marfrig – has skyrocketed to 85 percent today from 25 percent in 1977. The Big Four, as they’re commonly known, now have plants that can process more than 5,000 head of cattle a day.… Unable to compete, more than half of the country’s small and midsize processors have shuttered operations in the past 20 years alone.”[7]

This trend has adversely affected the price of kosher beef, since the largest plants are far too fast and complex for a kosher shechita, and the few remaining plants willing to process kosher can charge higher prices since they have less competition. To rely on domestic beef alone would mean that many kosher consumers in the U.S. would rarely, if ever, eat kosher beef.

Shechita in Mexico and South America: The Plusses and Minuses

There are two main regions in Latin America that export significant amounts of kosher beef to the U.S. – Mexico and South America.

Shechita in Mexico for the U.S. market is generally in smaller plants set up by American companies and hashgachos working in tandem with Mexican partners. This means that the kashrus systems are controlled exclusively by the U.S. hashgachos with accepted norms and standards.

Mexican beef can be delivered by truck, fresh to the kosher markets in the U.S., within days or a week of packaging. Additionally, Mexican beef can be sent bone-in, allowing for bone-in rib steaks and flanken, to which the U.S. consumer is accustomed. On the other hand, Mexican beef usually is produced from heat-resistant breeds, which tend to be leaner and tougher than tasty corn-fed American beef. Mexico is not approved for export to Israel at this time.

South American kosher beef, imported to the U.S. from Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil, is a whole different animal, quite literally. The animals are from the same type of European breeds grown in the U.S. and have a comparable, although somewhat inferior, quality profile. There has an advantage –due to the differences in how South American cattle are raised, the glatt kosher percentages they yield are often much higher than from animals in the U.S.[8]

Common elements in virtually all South American shechitos for export today include:

  • Shechita Munachas – The animal lies on its back during the shechita, restrained in a rotating shechita box. This allows the shochet to access the animal from the most optimal direction.
  • Bodek Sakinim Since the shechitos are conducted at a high speed, a separate shochet checks the knives before and after shechita to allow for a careful review of the chalafim.
  • Bodek Veshet To ensure that each animal is shechted correctly, a dedicated mashgiach checks each shechita to confirm its kashrus, along with the shochet.
  • Bodek Beis Hakosos V’Keres Due to a higher and broader incidence of treifos on the intestines of animals raised in South America, a highly trained bodek checks each beis hakosos and keres for any anomalies.
  • Automated Soak and Salt Systems With large quantities of kosher meat to kasher, South American plants are required to install automated systems for shriya (soaking), melicha (salting) and hadacha (rinsing).
  • Housing and Board Shochtim and mashgichim are provided with dormitory facilities complete with a beis midrash and kitchen facilities since they often stay for months during the shechita seasons. Minyanim and shiurim are taken care of in a manner that allows them to fulfill their kashrus responsibilities while maintaining their sedorim and shiurim during long overseas trips.

Tailoring South American Shechitos for U.S. Markets

Since the established shechitos in South America are primarily destined for the Israeli market, the kosher requirements are tailored to Israeli standards. American shechitos have a bit of work managing the expectations of plants importing to the U.S. Here are some of the differences:

  • Treifos and Kosher Percentages

Israeli shechitos use two grades of kosher – chalak and regular kosher. Chalak, the more stringent of the two, means that the animal was completely free of lung adhesions (sirchos).[9] Regular kosher in Israel indicates the use of leniencies acceptable to both the Beit Yosef and the Rama.[10]

In contrast, U.S. shechitos grade animals as Beit Yosef and “industry” glatt.[11] Beit Yosef for U.S. shechitos is similar to Israel; industry glatt means that the animal only had loose sirchos that were easily removed.[12] These stricter standards mean that the overall percentage of kosher meat bound for the U.S. is lower than what is produced for export to Israel. This presents a challenge for South American producers because a stand-alone North American shechita is less profitable.

  • Nikkur

In the U.S. and most European countries, the hindquarters are not processed for kosher use due to the presence of cheilev – forbidden fats. These portions are sold to the non-kosher markets.

By contrast, the forequarters, which contain various blood arteries, blood veins, glands, membranes and tendons, require intensive processing for kosher use. According to European custom – which European Jews brought with them to these shores – these components must be skillfully removed by a trained expert before the meat can be kashered (i.e., soaked and salted). The removal of forbidden fats (or deveining) is referred to as traiboring in Yiddish and nikkur in Hebrew. The skilled craftsman is known as a menaker.

The minhag Eretz Yisroel regarding nikkur follows the position of the Mechaber, which is that the meat needs to be merely cut and salted and not deveined. While some Ashkenazi hechsherim in Israel have introduced some basic nikkur over the years, American standard nikkur is far more extensive and costly.[13] Shechitos for the U.S. market have this added challenge which needs to be carefully overseen, as it is uncommon in South America.

The Challenges in Overseeing Distant Shechitos

Managing a shechita in remote locations brings many challenges. Rabbanim machshirim need not only be experts in the relevant halachos but also be capable of ensuring sufficient and well-trained kashrus personnel. The quality of the kashrus is directly dependent on the quality of the shochtim and mashgichim who are on site. For a hechsher to ensure that standards are being met, rabbanim machshirim need to dedicate significant time and effort not only to travel to the facilities to set up and review the shechita teams, but also to develop relationships to ensure that    all kashrus-related issues are resolved in a manner consistent with the expectations of the rav hamachshir.

For shechitos near communities like Buenos Aires which have a vibrant Torah presence, replacing staff due to illness or other emergencies is less of a challenge than in remote shechitos in the Argentinian hinterlands, which could be a twelve-hour drive from the closest kehillah. The same is true for those in Uruguay or Brazil.

STAR-K Meat Policy and Assurance

All meat in STAR-K certified Mehadrin products must meet the standards and guidelines of STAR-K’s Rabbinic Administrator, Rabbi Moshe Heinemann shlit”a. STAR-K’s established policy is not to use any new meat or poultry product until Rav Heinemann has personally visited the plant – or sent a representative of his choosing – and approved the item for use.

With the advent of shechita south of the border, STAR-K rabbanim now travel many times during the year to difficult-to-reach locations to plan and oversee STAR-K shechitos. They also regularly visit STAR-K certified facilities south of the border to help them comply with American kashrus standards and to provide their staff with the necessary guidance to ensure the integrity of our meat certification. Consumers can be assured that when they purchase a STAR-K certified meat product, a highly trained rav from STAR-K has carefully reviewed the actual shechita before it was approved for use

[1] “Keeping Kosher in 17th Century New York City,” Tenement Museum, accessed December 29, 2023.

[2] See these excellent articles by Rabbi Moshe T. Schuchman: “A Cut Above: Shechita in the Crosshairs, Again,” Kashrus Kurrents, Fall 2012, and “Kosher Meat in the Marketplace,” Kashrus Kurrents, Fall 2016,

[3] I.M. Levinger, Shechita: Religious and Historical Research on the Jewish Method of Slaughter, and Medical Aspects of Shechita (Part II of “Edut Ne’emana), ed. Michael L. and Eli Munk (Brooklyn: Gur Aryeh, Institute for Advanced Jewish Scholarship; distributed by Feldheim, Jerusalem, New York, 1976).

[4] Efrat Gilad, “Settler Histories and Sustainable Meats, History Workshop,” October 25, 2021,

[5] Niall McCarthy, “The Countries That Eat the Most Meat,” Statisa, May 5, 2020,

[6] Until the early 1990s, importing meat to Israel was in the hands of the Government Trade Administration, which only imported kosher meat. Generally, this meat was frozen prior to being soaked and salted, and relied on various leniencies to soak and salt this meat within three days of defrosting (as opposed to the normal requirement of kashering within three days of slaughter).

   Since the passing of the Chok Habasar in 1993, private companies compete for market share; now they not only kasher their meat in advance, but also separate out the chalak or Beit Yosef meat for consumers who demand Mehadrin standards. Often, their teams, which by law must be approved by the Chief Rabbinate, are also approved by one of the numerous Badatz-type kashrus organizations who co-certify the chalak meat for the Mehadrin markets.

   This development changed the realities for communities in Israel who require chalak meat, and made beef truly affordable for the first time in Israel’s history. Until then, communities that required Mehadrin had to make do with chicken, turkey and plant-based meats for their daily proteins, unless they had the means to afford beef. Beef used to be a treat for Shabbos, and in many Chareidi households, often served only on Yom Tov.  

[7] Eric J. Wallace, “Small Processors Face Big Obstacles in Ultra-Consolidated Meat-Packing Industry,” Modern Farmer, December 19, 2023,

[8] In general, cattle in the U.S. are fattened for longer periods to produce higher weight animals. This is not the practice in South America, resulting in cattle that are healthier and more likely to pass kosher inspection.

[9] See Y.D. 39. The Beit Yosef does not permit the removal of any lung adhesions that would otherwise cause an animal to be considered non-kosher, while the Rama allows for the removal of such adhesions. In contrast, Beit Yosef allows lung adhesions on the flanks of the animal, while the Rama forbids these adhesions.

[10] This is the custom of Moroccan Jewry, which as part of the Sephardic tradition accepted the rulings of the Beit Yosef. When the Rosh was exiled from Germany to Castile in Spain, his leniencies were accepted there as well. When the Castilian Jews were exiled in 1492, they brought these customs with them to Morocco.

[11] Both glatt and chalak mean smooth.

[12] Meat with firmly attached sirchos cannot be called glatt.

[13] For more details on nikkur, see Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, “Making the Cut: Assuring That Glatt Really Means Kosher,” Kashrus Kurrents, Winter 2016,