Glatt Kosher vs. Just Plain Kosher
‘Glatt Kosher.’ It’s a term you’ve heard applied to the full spectrum of kosher cuisine—from hamburgers and hotels, to potato chips and pizza parlors. Its meaning? Most people say: Kosher, without compromise! Yet a closer look at this term reveals it is a recent rubric—whose real meaning alludes only to the glatt, or smooth, condition of the lungs of slaughtered animals.
What is ‘glatt kosher?’
And what is not?
Well before the Jewish food scene—over three millennia—we were instructed, “And flesh that has been torn (treifah) in the field, you shall not eat.” — Exodus 22:30.
Here the Torah prohibits us not only from consuming flesh torn from an animal—but also from consuming any animal whose organs are torn or otherwise damaged.
Such defects include injuries or diseases affecting all major organs, which might be missing, punctured, torn, maimed, injured, or otherwise mutilated. Included in these are the brain, the heart, the spine, the jaw, the esophagus, the trachea, many other organs—and the lungs.
The name of these nefarious defects? Treifos.
Enter the ‘bodek,’ the kosher-inspector of treifos and other kosher concerns.
The bodek’s daunting task is lessened, somewhat, by the chazzakah, the assumed status, of kashrus. One need not check every limb and part of an animal for these flaws, which are ‘eino motzui,’ not common enough to be suspect.
But a higher frequency of bad apples—if ten percent of the animals or more evince a certain flaw—is considered as ‘motzui,’ a common occurrence, and the bodek must beef up his efforts.
And while the incidence of smoking among animals is still low, the lungs of animals, large and small, are prone to defects, which fall into ‘motzui’ territory. Following schechitah, slaughter, these lungs must be checked.
What sort of problems will they find? A hole in the lung, explains Rashi, or, more commonly: adhesions, called: ‘sirchos.’
“Adhesions show there is a hole in the membrane around the lung, and that fluids have seeped out there, and gelled.” So explains Rabbi Moshe Klarberg, the OU’s Senior Rabbinic Coordinator of Meat. “The adhesion is proof positive of an existing hole. In the end, this adhesion will likely become detached from the animal, and the animal will die.” Treifah. This analysis of the sircha is the view of Rashi.
But there is another view as well. “Tosfos understands that, initially, there exists no hole beneath the sircha. But if the adhesion is removed—a hole will inevitably occur. This is also the view of the Rashba,“ Rabbi Klarberg explained.
And so, the lungs are checked for adhesions. First, the bodek opens the diaphragm to pass his hand over the lung’s various lobes, to gauge proper formation, and the presence of any adhesions. He removes the lungs entirely from the cavity and examines them externally, as well.
Now, an adhesion is not necessarily a reason to throw out an animal. The Rema says that there are those who permit ‘mishmush’ and ‘mi’uch’ of an adhesion, to dissolve it. These words sound like what they are: a sort of massaging and mashing with the fingers. Following this manipulation, the sircha is seen to have been a mere ‘rira,’ a seepage. “The animal was never a treifa in the first place,” Rabbi Klarberg explained. However, the Rema says that this widespread custom is a great leniency, requiring a bodek with great fear of Heaven, who knows how to mash the adhesions with ease.
Having mitigated the offensive sircha, the lungs are inflated to confirm that there is no underlying hole, in a bath of lukewarm water. This will sound familiar to car owners as the way to sniff out the source of blowouts. No bubbles? No puncture.
With neither a substantive sircha, nor an underlying puncture, the lung and animal are pronounced kosher—but not GLATT kosher. So, don’t reach for your credit card just yet.
Thus far our bodek has exerted much effort to mash and massage the sircha. Better for everyone, though, would be if the sircha were very-easily peeled off and detached. The effectiveness of peeling as a way of ridding an object of halakhic concern was noted in the episode of the Rhineland cow, some hundreds of years ago.
The commentator TaZ relates an episode of a cow of that locale, which was slaughtered and found to be missing critical sections of the lung. One bodek there took a sharp knife and cut away the upper membrane, peeling it off gently, to reveal the required parts. This was the precedent for the effectiveness of peeling as a way of addressing sirchos, as well.
“If the bodek can peel away a sircha easily, he will have a lung that is better than the one permitted by the Rema,” says Rabbi Nosson Goldberg, OU rabbinic coordinator of several meat establishments, and seasoned supervisor of shechitos in small towns across the backroads of our great country. “Sometime around the 1890s, this lung became known by the Yiddish expression ‘glatt,’ or smooth, in responsa written by esteemed shochtim. This level of observance, and this expression, became accepted by the Ashkenazi Jewish world.”
But despite the prevailing custom in all Jewish communities that the peeling of sirchos was permitted—this practice was not preferred universally. Rabbi Klarberg noted that 19th century authority Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin frowned upon the practice of peeling sirchos, especially as the bodkim of the time used ‘a strong fingernail’ to remove them. The Tiferes Yaakov, a sage of the same era, was also skeptical of the peeling of sirchos.
Sephardic Jews have increased the demand for product which follows the viewpoint of Rabbi Yosef Karo, medieval authority and author of the Beis Yosef on the Tur, and of the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law. Rabbi Yosef Karo said that that NO adhesions are permitted: one cannot risk their removal, for adhesions do not cover an existing hole. Rather, they develop, and afterwards can detach, and create a hole. We dare not toy with these adhesions, lest we give the animal the appearance of kosher status. This is the (aforementioned) view of the Rashba. “Those authorities require only ‘chalak,’ or totally smooth lungs. This standard is known as ‘Chalak Beit Yosef,’ smooth, as per the Beis Yosef,” Rabbi Klarberg said.
(But even the Beis Yosef would agree that adhesions that are so tenuous as to separate with ease, via the simple passing-through of the hands of the bodek, are likewise acceptable, and are considered ‘ririn.’)
Exit the popularity of plain-kosher meat. Enter: the ‘glatt kosher’ meat purveyor.
‘Glatt Kosher’ as a butcher-shop’s term was coined by a Brooklyn butcher named Lamm, in the earlier part of the 20th century, said Rabbi Goldberg, as per OU Posek Rabbi Yisroel Belsky z’l. Mr. Lamm’s shop was under the impeccable supervision of the old Bostoner Rebbe of Williamsburg. The kosher butchers’ union was trying to muscle their way in to Lamm’s shop, to make it a Union establishment. When they approached Mr. Lamm, he dismissed them, saying: “This store is not kosher; it’s GLATT Kosher. My ‘glatt kosher’ workers cannot be in that union.”
While the days of over-the-counter butchers have passed, and product in white butcher’s paper has given way to shrink-wrapped, factory-cut fare, the word ‘glatt’ has remained. Yet, says Rabbi Klarberg, many consumers are unaware of the true etymology of this word, and assume that glatt kosher means—what we all think it means: “super-kosher.”