(Published in Hamaor / September 2009)
Approximately 18 years ago the London Board for Shechita introduced a new, and higher level of Kashrut for some of their butcher shops, called Chalak Beit Yosef. Primarily this was done on the encouragement of the then Sefardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, the Rishon Lezion Hagaon Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu Shlita, and with the enthusiastic support of the former Ab Beth Din of the Sefardi Beth Din, Dayan P Toledano, one of the ecclesiastical authorities of the London Board of Shechita. Although the original intent had been to satisfy those Sefardic customers, who were particular for this superior level of Kashrut, it has become very popular with Ashkenazim too.
Today the London Board certifies five outlets with Chalak Beit Yosef meat and the demand is growing. Lately, however, there have been questions from various quarters about this practice and the purpose of this article is to explain what is meant by Chalak Beit Yosef and why others find it necessary. Interestingly, since 1905, the London Board for Shechita always provided for two levels of Kashrut. In 1991 the higher level was referred to as Machzikei Hadas, but this was a totally different type of operation than the Chalak Beit Yosef. The Machzikei Hadas story began in 1890 when several frum immigrants were dismayed by the standard of Kashrut prevalent in the London Board for Shechita. They proceeded to set up a different Shechita and subsequently a community with a much higher standard of religious observance. They brought in their own Rav, Horav Abba Werner zt”l and a 15 year battle began with the London Board for Shechita. Eventually a compromise was reached and in 1905 the Machzikei Hadas came under the London Board for Shechita, albeit as a separate entity with designated butchers and selected Shochtim running their operation, while nominally under the supervision of the Chief Rabbi. For thirty five years this situation continued, with the more particular Yidden buying the Machzikei Hadas Shechita, and it was only at the beginning of WWII when Dr Schonfeld zt”l persuaded his father-in-law, the Chief Rabbi H Hertz zt”l, to allow him to open up a new Shechita for the Union called Kedassia. Eventually to compete, the London Board for Shechita raised its standard, to that of the Machzikei Hadas, and so in early 1990’s the Machzikei Hadas brand was discontinued and replaced by a new standard called Chalak Beit Yosef.
But what is Chalak Beit Yosef and how does it differ from the term “Glatt”, which is more familiar to Ashkenazi consumers worldwide?
To begin with it is necessary to define the term Chalak Beit Yosef. Beit Yosef is the name of the commentary that the author of the Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Yosef Karo zt”l, wrote in the 16th century, on the Tur, which was the precursor of the Shulchan Aruch written by Rabeinu Yaakov ben Asher in the 14th century. Rabbi Yosef Karo wrote his commentary on the Tur to provide the sources from the Talmud and to augment the decisions of the Tur with the then current rulings of other Poskim. Eventually Rabbi Karo condensed his commentary into a more concise Halachic digest, which he called the Shulchan Aruch, and which to this day remains the standard Halachic text on which Judaism relies.
The term Chalak means smooth, and so the complete term Chalak Beit Yosef means smooth according to the opinion of the Beit Yosef. What this is referring to is the stringency of the Shulchan Aruch (the Beit Yosef) that the lungs of a slaughtered animal be perfectly smooth. To explain this in a more comprehensive manner, although an animal can be shechted perfectly by the most G-d fearing Shochet it must also be free of various blemishes that can render an animal Treifa. One of these blemishes is a perforation in the lung – the smallest hole renders the animal Treifa and immediately after Shechita the animal must be opened and inspected to see that there is no perforation. But, beside the possibility of perforation, the lung must be inspected to see if there are no adhesions, either from the lung to the cavity or from one lobe to another. These adhesions, called a Sircha, render the animal Treifa. There is a dispute among the early commentators as to why. Some authorities maintain that these adhesions are a sign that the membrane covering the lung was perforated, and that they are a type of scar tissue which has formed subsequently, but they do not protect the lung sufficiently and therefore the animal has become Treifa. Others maintain that these adhesions are not indicative of a hole having been there but that a hole will form on the lung. And if a condition has arisen that will definitely make a hole the animal is considered Treifa immediately. No matter what the reason is, all authorities agree that an animal that contains a Sircha is Treifa. And it is incumbent on the Shochet to examine the animal immediately after Shechita to see if there are any Sirchas and to determine if the animal is Kosher or Treifa.
Up until now this appears to be a simple and straight forward procedure. Shecht the animal, open up the lung cavity – no Sirchas – Kosher, any Sircha – Treifa. However, it is not as simple as that. Although the Talmud rules that the majority of animals are kosher, (and it is a good thing too! Otherwise we could not drink any milk because the milk of a Treifa animal is forbidden but we rely on the majority), in practice the vast majority of animals we Shecht do have some type of adhesion and so how are we able to consume the meat? The answer to this is that there are different types of adhesion and the Beit Yosef himself distinguishes between different types and different areas of the lung, some of which make the animal Treifa and others which do not. Short of reprinting the Shulchan Aruch into Hamaor, the minutiae of these differences are too complex to deal with in an article. But there is one rule which is important to mention and which defines the bulk of cases which are relevant to this topic. The Remo, the 16th century Ashkenazic commentator on the Shulchan Aruch, refers to a practice which was introduced in the time of Geonim to see if a Sircha could come off the lung without making a hole. If one could do so the animal would be considered Kosher because that would not be considered a proper Sircha but only a “Rir” – a mucous adhesion unconnected to the lung. Much Halachic literature has developed on this topic.
First of all the (Beit Yosef) Shulchan Aruch himself accepted that there was a condition knows as a “Rir” but limited it to specific cases:
a) If it came off with the slightest touch it would be a “Rir”, but if it required any rubbing or rolling between fingers to snap it would be considered Treifa (Sircha).
b) Only if the animal belonged to a Jew and the inspector was known publicly to be a God fearing individual. And the Beit Yosef refers to this as a “leniency”. Nevertheless the Remo did allow a Sircha to be rubbed or rolled between the fingers and if it snapped would be considered a “Rir” not a Sircha. The Remo concludes that although this is a great leniency there is “upon whom to rely on” and this has become the current practice among Ashkenazim, this is called Kosher.
In the last two hundred years a newer modified type of removing Sirchos has developed which is called “Kiluf”, i.e. peeling the Sircha gently, and if it comes off without leaving a hole in the membrane the animal is considered kosher. Whether this is a modified form of “Miuch and Mishmush”, rubbing and rolling the Sircha, or is a newer type of removal is a dispute among the authorities. One thing is certain: in all of the above practices the lung must be subsequently checked (by water – to see if it bubbles, similar to checking a tyre) to ensure that there is no hole after the “Rir” has been removed. This above leniency, which was challenged by the Rashba, was condemned by the Shulchan Aruch as Treifa and a Shochet who relies on it says the Shulchan Aruch has fed Treifos to Jews! And so the practice developed that Sefardim who relied on the Beit Yosef insisted that they would not avail themselves of this Hetter while Ashkenazim,who followed the Remo, did. Actually even among Ashkenazim there were those who were careful not to rely on this leniency and insisted that the lung be smooth which they call Glatt. However, if the “Rir was very small and would come off without any significant effort the lung would be considered Glatt but not Chalak Beit Yosef. This leniency – that if the “Rir” came off with only minimal effort it would still be considered Glatt, is brought in the Sefer “Daas Zevach”, Chapter 22, from a famous Ashkenazi Shochet R’ Michel Meradomsk and is conclusively ruled on by the Sefer Beis Dovid, the authoritative decision maker in Ashkenazi circles. However, he also refers to a ruling of the Shlah Hakodosh, that with up to three “Rir” one can rely on this Hetter, and in many Ashkenazi circles this is the custom. Those who are particular for Chalak Beit Yosef insist that the lung be completely smooth and do not rely on this Hetter.
As mentioned before, even today, many Ashkenazim insist that they want only Chalak Beit Yosef and the London Board for Shechita is to be commended on providing this service so that they can provide meat at the highest standard for the complete London community.