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Consumer Demand Drove Adoption of Glatt Standard

In an August 18 opinion article, Marc Shapiro takes the Orthodox Union to task for, over the last 30 years, having “adopted a new standard in kashrut, one that defines only glatt kosher as acceptable” (“glatt Kosher Meat Is Not All It Is Cut Out to Be”). The era that Shapiro laments as having passed, however, was unfortunately one frequently rife with fraud.

What he terms “regular kosher” meat — in other words, non-glatt — is unquestionably kosher when reliably supervised and regulated. But there were ongoing problems with both the production and the distribution of kosher meat. Discerning kosher consumers began to demand glatt kosher meat, which was more carefully controlled — not because they wanted glatt per se, but because they wanted to be assured that the meat was indeed kosher. Thus it was consumer demand that made glatt the dominant standard in the marketplace, not some fiat by the O.U.

Since “glatt kosher” is a phrase that is often used but not always understood, let me elucidate it further. As Shapiro notes, the term glatt in America has also become a consumer phrase meaning unquestionably kosher, even beyond the context of meat. glatt is actually the Yiddish word for smooth, and indicates that an animal’s lungs are smooth and have no adhesions.

The Torah forbids consuming treifa meat. A treifa is an animal with one of 18 possible anatomical defects, the most common of which is a puncture in its lung.

Therefore, even a properly kosher slaughtered animal has its lungs inspected to make sure that there is no puncture or adhesion that may result in a puncture, or might be the result of a puncture. Each lung is visually inspected, and is then inflated and placed in water to find any holes, much as you would do to a tire with a leak.

While the discovery of a puncture renders the animal unquestionably a treifa, there is a disagreement regarding the permissibility of adhesions between the “Beit Yosef,” the forerunner to the “Shulchan Aruch,” and the Rama, Rabbi Moses Isserles. The “Beit Yosef” rules that virtually any adhesion is treif, while the Rama ruled leniently, permitting certain adhesions.

The glatt standard of the “Beit Yosef” is generally relevant only to Sephardim, and is sold with the designation “Beit Yosef glatt.” In prewar Europe, this was known as *kalbene *glatt**, because young calves have no adhesions.

However, there is another reason for glatt, and the demand for it. The Talmud interprets a verse in Ezekiel as saying that the prophet never ate meat concerning which a decision had been rendered as to its kosher status — even if the determination was that it was indeed kosher.

Non-glatt meat always requires such decisions to be made, because the adhesions that are removed must be carefully evaluated by the bodek, or onsite kosher examiner, as to their status. Meat classified as glatt does not require such evaluations, as any adhesions that might be present are minor, uncomplicated and obviously kosher.

The glatt standard currently in use permits such minor adhesions, or ririn. Despite Shapiro’s assertion to the contrary, this was the standard of glatt for centuries in Europe, and is so codified by the “Beit David” and the “Simla Chadasha,” the two primary works on the laws of shechita, or kosher slaughter.

Mixing meat and dairy, Shapiro also criticizes the OU-D designation, as if to imply this is part of a further rightward move by the O.U. The OU-D designation was created so that the consumer could easily identify dairy products and not have to rely on reading, and at times interpreting, ingredient listings. Products that contain no dairy ingredients, but which are produced on dairy equipment, are also designated OU-D so as to ensure that they will not be eaten at a meat meal. There is no hidden ideology here, just honest information.

Shapiro, in short, misses the forest for the trees. The O.U.’s kashrut supervision program, with 400,000 products certified worldwide, has made it relatively easy for the kosher consumer to keep kosher in the ever-changing global economy and despite the increasing complexity of the world of food technology. The ubiquitous O.U. symbol makes it possible to find reliably kosher products throughout the length and breadth of the United States and around the world, and at no additional cost.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik once commented that the O.U. symbol on a product testifies to the vitality of the American Jewish community, and we at the O.U. are proud of the sea change we have brought about in the availability of kosher products and the maintenance of kosher standards in America.

Rabbi Menachem Genack is the rabbinic administrator and CEO of O.U. Kosher.

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