Misconception: Glatt Kosher means something like “extra kosher” and applies to chicken and fish as well as meat.
Fact: Glatt is Yiddish for smooth, and in the context of kashrut it means that the lungs of the animal were smooth, without any adhesions that could potentially prohibit the animal as a treifah, an issue only applicable to animals, not fowl or non-meat products.
In colloquial discourse treif refers to anything that is not kosher. The technical definition of treifah is based on Exodus 22:30 (“Do not eat meat from an animal torn [treifah] in the field”) and refers to an animal with any of a specific group of physical defects that are detailed in the Talmud (most of the third chapter of Chullin; 42a-59a) and codes (Rambam, Maachalot Asurot 4:6-9 and Shechita ch. 5-11; Shulchan Aruch, YD 29-60). Examples of these “defects,” which often go far beyond the health inspection of the USDA, include certain lesions, lacerations, broken limbs, missing or punctured organs, or the result of an attack by a larger animal. Such defects can occur in and thereby render both animals and fowl treif. Because most of these defects are uncommon, it may be assumed that most animals are healthy (Shach, YD 39:1) and hence there is no requirement to inspect every animal for them.1 An exception is the lung of an animal, on which adhesions [sirchot] and other problems may develop. While these problems are not common, they do occur more frequently than other treifot. Their relative prevalence led the rabbis to mandate that the lungs of every animal be examined, both manually while still in its natural position in the animal, and visually following its removal from the thoracic cavity (YD 39:1).2 Because a hole in the lung renders the animal a treifah, adhesions, i.e. pathologically arising bands of collagen fibers, are problematic either because they indicate the presence of a perforation that has been insufficiently sealed (Rashi) or because they can become loosened, thereby causing a hole to develop (Tosafot). In the U.S., lung adhesions usually do not occur on fowl; hence the rest of this discussion concerns only meat, not chicken.3
The Shulchan Aruch describes many types of adhesions in intricate detail (YD 39:4-13), the overwhelming majority of which render the animal a treifah. The Rama (YD 39:13) concludes the discussion about lung adhesions with a description of a method of peeling and testing many types of adhesions, thereby resulting in many more animals determined to be kosher. The Rama himself expressed certain hesitations about aspects of this leniency, but because it had gained wide acceptance and did have a firm basis, he ruled that it could be followed. However, he cautions that the peeling and testing must be performed by an exceedingly God-fearing individual.
Because this peeling is mentioned and approved by the Rama but not by the Mechaber (Rabbi Yosef Karo, the author of the Shulchan Aruch), Sephardim, who follow the Mechaber, are required to eat only glatt (chalak, in Hebrew) meat as defined by the Mechaber. The Mechaber is also the author of the Beit Yosef; therefore, such meat is termed “glatt/chalak Beit Yosef.” For Ashkenazim, there is a tradition that a small, easily removable adhesion is defined as a lower class of adhesion, known as rir, and that the presence of up to two such small, easily removable adhesions still qualifies the animal as glatt according to Ashkenazic tradition. Eating glatt is a worthy stringency that avoids potential problems raised by the Rama’s controversial leniency.4
It should be emphasized that the Rama’s ruling is certainly legitimate and, in theory, non-glatt meat, if inspected properly, is 100% kosher for Ashkenazim. Today, the OU (and most other kashrut organizations in the U.S.) will only certify meat that is glatt, albeit not necessarily glatt Beit Yosef. An important postscript is that the Rama’s ruling is defined as non-applicable to young, tender animals such as lamb, kid and calf (Rama, YD 39:13). Therefore, all lamb chops, veal or other meat from young animals must be glatt Beit Yosef, even for Ashkenazim.
From the above explanation, it is clear that referring to chicken, fish or dairy products as glatt is a misuse of the term. In addition, even when referring to meat, it only attests to the status of the lung, but makes no comment about the standards of, for example, the shechita.
Misconceptions about the meaning of glatt kosher are so widespread that, for many, the term glatt kosher has colloquially taken on the implication of a higher standard, similar to the term mehadrin. In addition, some caterers or stores may have only one kashrut sticker that they use on all products, and hence the sticker on the corned beef sandwich and on the omelet will both say glatt kosher. Although it is technically inaccurate to label chicken, fish, lamb, or dairy products as glatt, it is not uncommon to find such labeling. In the majority of cases, it is probably not being done to mislead; but in some instances it may be intended to imply that the product was processed under a superior hashgacha, as per the term’s informal usage.
This material is for study purposes only and should not be relied upon for practical halacha. One should consult his own competent halachic authority for specific questions.
Reprinted with permission from Jewish Action, Winter 5760/1999 the magazine of the Orthodox Union.
1. This does not imply that a blind eye may be turned to their presence. For example, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe Y D 1:19) in a response to Rabbi Moshe Melamed dated 5715 requires that f owl be opened by a Jew who is cognizant of treifot, although not necessarily an expert, and the p resumption [chazaka] that the animal is healthy cannot be relied upon to permit a non-Jew to open the fowl and remove the innards.
2. Nowadays, another problem that occurs with relative frequency and is there f o re also inspected for, is holes of the second stomach, the beit ha-kosot [reticulum], caused by animals eating nails and other sharp metal objects.
3. The lungs of fowl can have defects that render it treifah, but not the same kind of adhesions that occur in animals. There are those who feel that nowadays fowl lung problems are also becoming more prevalent and thus require a visual and tactile inspection of fowl lungs (Rav Moshe Sternbuch, Teshuvot v’Hanhagot 2:369).
4. The Chatam Sofer (Y D 39) rules that if the peeling is done by an expert and God-fearing shochet, then “yochlu anavim v’yisba’u — let the humble eat and be satisfied” (quoting Psalms 22:27). Nonetheless he advises that a shomer nafsho [a scrupulous person] should distance himself from this practice.