With the intention of establishing uniform standards in one of the most complex aspects of kosher certification – nikkur, the deveining of meat, also known as treibering when the fat is removed as well – the Orthodox Union Kashrut Division Wednesday presented a Nikkur Seminar to representatives of a wide spectrum of the Orthodox world, including many from the yeshivish and chassidish communities. Some six hundred pounds of meat, delivered to the OU that morning, lay on table, to be treibered by Reb Shimon Mendlowitz, the proprietor of Monsey Glatt, and a butcher of great skill.
Speak to the Children of Israel, saying: Any fat of oxen, sheep, or goats – you shall not eat…You shall not consume any blood, in any of your dwelling places, whether from fowl or from animals. Any person who consumes any blood – that soul will be cut off from his people.” (Leviticus 7:22-23, 26-27)
The seminar was presented as part of the OU Kashrut Harry H. Beren Ask OU Community Lecture Series, made possible by a grant from the Harry H. Beren Foundation of Lakewood, NJ. The Beren grant to OU Kashrut was recently renewed by the Foundation for a second year, in itself an unusual action, and at a higher rate than the initial grant. This was a tribute, the Foundation declared, to “the exceptional manner in which the OU has perpetuated and memorialized the name of the unforgettable Mr. Harry H. Beren, z”l.”
“The purpose of the seminar was to have everyone dealing with meat fully knowledgeable about the nikkur process,” explained Rabbi Yosef Grossman, OU Kashrut Rabbinic Coordinator and Director of the Beren Programs. According to Rabbi Grossman, the 75 participants included congregational rabbis, poskim, dayanim from chasidish communities, mashgichim, and va’ad hakashrut members.
Rabbi Menachem Genack, Chief Executive Officer of OU Kashrut, told the group, “If everyone is not trained in the technical aspects of nikkur, we cannot maintain a standard. Everyone in kashrut represents the entire community, not just one’s organization,” he said. “What we do in kashrut represents all of us,” thus requiring the knowledge that leads to uniformity.
In an interview following the seminar, Rabbi Moshe Elefant, Chief Operating Officer of OU Kosher, explained that the “mission of the Orthodox Union is to serve the community. Our basic function is to provide kosher certified food, but educating the community and its rabbis on the intricacies of kosher law is very much part of our mission.”
“Nikkur is a very important part of the certification of kosher meat, but it is an area that few people, including rabbis, are familiar with,” Rabbi Elefant explained. “Knowledge is power. Awareness of these laws will sensitize and educate the rabbis and help us in our quest of raising the standard of kosher certification and help assure that the high standards of nikkur are understood and practiced.
The seminar featured a variety of experts, both from within and outside the Orthodox Union. OU Posek Rabbi Yisroel Belsky was joined by Rabbinic Coordinators Seth Mandel and Abraham Juravel, who certify the meat industry. Rabbi Juravel explained that there are different minhagim, or customs, in the nikkur process, with a particularly significant custom being nikkur Yerushalayim, or the way it is practiced in Jerusalem.
Following an overview of the anatomy of the cow by Rabbi Belsky, accompanied by manual issued to participants that included diagrams and photos to go along with selected Hebrew texts, the demonstrations began. Reb Mendlowitz — assisted by Rabbis Mandel and Juravel who provided commentary — expertly wielded his knife on the ribs, shoulders, brisket, chuck and tenderloin sections of the animal, cutting off layers of non-kosher fat (chelev) to expose the veins, which he then removed.
“The Rambam says that on the front half of the animal certain fats and certain vessels in the animal are forbidden, some because of blood and some because of chelev, forbidden fat. Both have to be removed,” Rabbi Mandel explained later. “The skill is to know where these veins, arteries and pieces of fat are and how to take them out. It requires a lot of training. The OU believes that many rabbis now do not have sufficient background in treibering, so our thought was to present this seminar so that the rabbis could see it done on actual pieces of meat. Different communities have different customs regarding some of the fats and some of the vessels, but there is agreement by everyone that they most be removed.”
The message got through, loud and clear. A rabbi representing the Tov outreach organization, which gives seminars on kashrut, said admiringly to fellow participants following the seminar, “The only organization in America that is capable of attracting such a diverse audience is the OU. Where else can you have such an open exchange of ideas and get so much knowledge?”
A fellow participant, Rabbi Meshulem Halberstam of Congregation Shaarei Zion in Brooklyn, responding to a question of whether he found the session helpful responded, “Extremely so, extremely so. I heard about this wonderful opportunity to learn these laws, so I came. I hope to have occasion to attend many more sessions like this one.”