Glatt Kosher – Consumer Alert

Please be careful to verify that any product (that needs certification) is certified by an agency which you trust. Unfortunately, unscrupulous vendors have been selling products – including meat – with subpar supervisions imitating the markings of reputable Kashrus agencies. These vendors change the symbols enough so that they don’t run afoul of the law, but nevertheless attempt to mislead the consumer. For example, non-glatt meat is being sold at Wegmans and Costco.  This meat sports a certification which looks similar to a reputable Israeli certification, even though the meat is under a different (non-Glatt) supervision.   Please make sure to carefully check any product to make sure that it is up to your standards.

Why Glatt?

Most people have heard criticism of “Glatt”, jokes about “Glatt” vegetables, and questions about what “Glatt” is.  We will try to answer your questions as well as share some interesting historical facts about Jewish life in America.

Glatt Kosher – What is it?

The meat of an animal which has a puncture in its lungs is rendered “treif” – unkosher.  The puncture may be due to an injury, disease, diet, or any other cause.  Being that a hole in an animal’s lung is rather common the rabbis instructed us to check lungs for such holes.   Many animals have lung adhesions which attach the lung to the chest wall or other areas in the chest cavity.  An adhesion may indicate that there is a hole in the lung, but often there is no puncture at all.   Some of these adhesions can be peeled from the chest cavity with ease, while some are very challenging to separate.

According to the opinion of the Bais Yosef, followed by Sefardic Jews, the lungs must be free of adhesions, as well as holes.  According to the Rama, whose rulings are generally followed by Ashkenazic Jews, the adhesion may be peeled and checked for the presence of a puncture.  The lung is inflated and placed in water; the presence of escaping bubbles indicates that there is a hole and the animal is treif.  If there are no bubbles the animal is considered “non-Glatt, Kosher”.  Until the 1950’s almost all Askenazic Jews ate meat that was reliably certified kosher but “non-Glatt”.  Only extremely pious individuals observed “Glatt”.   In addition to the issue with the lungs other uncommon ailments would also render an animal as “non-Glatt”.

History of Kosher in America

For the most part there were few Yeshiva-trained Rabbonim with “semicha” in America until the influx of European Jewry in the 1940’s.  While there were a few extraordinary “talmidei chachomim” (Torah scholars) even in some small towns, most American religious functionaries had very little training.  Those who were honest called themselves “Reverend” as they did not have either “semicha” or much Torah knowledge.  Some of the “Reverends”  fought valiantly to uphold “halocha” to the best of their ability, some were well intentioned, and some were mere charlatans.  Upton Sinclaire in his classic, “The Jungle”, describes the corruption in the Chicago meat packing industry in the early 1900’s.  He describes one of these Reverends stamping random sides of non-kosher meat with his Kosher stamp.  Shamefully his description of all forms of corruption in the meat packing industry was accurate.  His book so shocked the nation that the United States government enacted a number of laws to protect both consumers and workers.

As American Orthodoxy was maturing during the 40’s and 50’s a number of Rabbonim tried valiantly to put an end to the abuses of Halocha.  The meatpacking industry was controlled by the Teamsters’ union, which was riddled with unbridled corruption.  The union bosses decided who was qualified to “shecht”, and the union officials refused to accept direction from the Rabbonim.  A car accident was “arranged” for one of the leading Rabbonim, and a Philadelphia Rav was threatened with having the butcher knives used on him.   Some leading rabbonim advanced observing “Glatt” as a way of avoiding the sub-standard meat purveyors.  More and more of the leading Rabbonim from across the spectrum decided to promote “Glatt” to accomplish their goals without running afoul of the union goons.   As organized crime was involved the rabbonim had to make the changes quietly.  Very few people knew why the major Rabbonim began to call for their Kehilos (congregations) to observe Glatt.  The major Kashrus agencies also made the changeover to Glatt.  Before long most of the Orthodox community made the changeover to Glatt, though without knowing what was behind the change.  The criminal union officials were not overly concerned as the “shochtim” and “mashgichim” who were their members who were not accepted by the rabbonim could still get jobs in the sub-standard kosher market.

There were reputable Rabbonim who still accepted “standard kosher” meat if they knew that all of the people involved were observant Jews who were free of corruption.  My father was a “shochet” and his foster-father was a butcher.  I remember that in the 50’s my father would either use “Glatt” meat or standard-kosher meat if it was from a small slaughterhouse where he and his foster-father knew that everyone involved was 100% trustworthy.

Glatt Kosher in America – Twenty-first century

The percentage of animals that are truly Glatt varies greatly by specie and locale.   Animals that are the highest level of Glatt – no lung adhesions whatsoever – are much more common in Eretz Yisroel than in the USA, and even slightly more common in South America than in Eretz Yisroel.  Being that it would be prohibitively expensive to limit Glatt meat to only animals that are 100% free of adhesions a logical system was put in place:

An animal that has no adhesions or very minor adhesions and do not conceal a puncture – are classified as “Bais Yosef Glatt”.  This meat is accepted by both Sefardim and Ashkenazim.

An animal that has what is viewed as a minor adhesion is classified as “Glatt”.  This is fine for Ashkenazim.  Sefardim should ask their Rav for guidance regarding eating this class of meat.

An animal with a significant adhesion that was proven by the bubble test not to be masking a puncture is classified as “non-Glatt Kosher”.  It would be permissible for Ashkenazim to eat this meat if they know that everyone involved in producing the meat is 100% reliable.  Currently, most reputable kashrus agencies do not permit non-Glatt meat.

Glatt veal, mutton, chicken, and vegetables –

Due to the thin walls of the membranes of the smaller animals air bubble test is not valid for them.  For that reason, they must always be Glatt.   When using the term “Glatt” for these items it is merely signifying that the people who “shecht” and supervise the animals are certified as reliable by the major kashrus agencies.  There is a certain lung ailment that effects some chickens in Eretz Yisroel (Newhouse Disease).  Some people use the term Glatt in Eretz Yisroel to signify that the chickens were checked for this ailment.  Many people feel that using the term “Glatt” for fish, fruits’ and vegetables is an abuse of Kashrus by the marketplace.

Chassidic Shechita –

While people who strictly follow a “Chassidus” might choose to rely on people who follow their “Minhogim” (customs), there isn’t anything more kosher about Chassidic Shechita.  The term “Chassidic Shechita” simply means that the Shochet follows those Minhogim that are important in his community.

From the City of Brotherly Love –

Some Ashkenazim are adopting the practice of only using Bais Yosef Glatt.  I think that while well-intentioned this is not a good idea.  The supply of Bais Yosef Glatt is very limited.  If all Ashkenazim adopt the practice of using Bais Yosef Glatt it will cause a shortage which will raise the price exorbitantly.  Unless you have Sefardic guests it is better to use regular Glatt so that there will be a sufficient supply of Bais Yosef Glatt for our Sefardic brothers.