Meat At Last! And the Unsung Heroes Behind it

Meat At Last! And the Unsung Heroes Behind it 1

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for

They are the unsung heroes of Klal Yisroel.  They work hard, all day, to ensure that the Jewish nation will not stumble.  They ensure that the Jewish nation has sustenance.  They ensure that we grow – and continue to strictly follow our yerushah – our heritage – our birthright of Sinai. And perhaps we do not appreciate what it is that they do.

They are the shochtim that ensure the top-quality kashrus of our meats, and of our chickens.  The Nine Days are over, and we are now about to partake in meat.  But before we do so, we should consider the following thoughts:

Let’s recall the gas lines of Hurricane Sandy – when the supply did not meet the demand of gasoline.  Let’s recall the fate of ancestors and relatives in Poland.  One of my Rebbeim, Rav Dovid Kviat zt”l, told me that in his home town in Poland, only the gvirim, the wealthy, could afford to give out kichel at their son’s Bar Mitzvah.


The Shochtim of Klal Yisroel ensure, on a regular basis, that there is enough of a meat supply – so that we can properly honor the Shabbos – so that we can properly honor the Yomim Tovim, and so that we can have a hot cholent at a kiddush.  They make sure that people enjoy the food at our chasunos, at our bar Mitzvah celebrations, and at our Yeshiva dinners.  Many of them start their shift at 4:00 AM.  That is correct – 4:00 AM.


The Gemorah in Shabbos (133b) tells us that we must emulate Hashem.  Mah Hu Rachum, af attah Rachum.  Just as He is merciful and kind, so too must you be merciful and kind.  Rav Yitzchok Blahzer zt”l explained that Rav Yisroel Salanter zt”l would apply this admonition across the board.  Hashem brought the Slav, the quail, to Klal Yisroel in the Midbar to feed a hungry nation.

The Shochtim do the same.


They do so at great personal sacrifice.  They leave their wives, their children, their entire families – and travel hundreds of miles to the shlochthaus.  Some live in a dormitory.  Some live in off-factory housing.  There they stay all week long – performing the same tedious repetition work.

Others commute daily – travelling hundreds of miles each day.  They must all be very alert and careful.  Every thirty days they re-study the Sefer entitled the Simla Chadasha written by Rav Alechsander Sender Schorr zt”l (1673-1737).  It is one of the only Seforim that has replaced the Shulchan Aruch as the most authoritative work on its subject matter – in Ashkenzaic and Chassidishe circles.  It must be carefully reviewed because the Shulchan Aruch states (YD 23:1):  “Any shochet who does not know the laws of shechita – one may not eat of his slaughter.”

They are also subjected to regular testing.  The Simla Chadasha even goes so far as to write (1:17):

“If he knows all the laws of proper slaughter – just in one law he errs and says that something is permitted when it is actually prohibited, it appears to me that, whether he received written authorization or not, we should prohibit his slaughter for a few days previously, in order to be stringent on biblical prohibitions.”


The posuk in VaYikrah (11:44) tells us, “And you shall be holy – for I am Holy.”  Included in the idea of holiness is what is written next – “To separate between the impure and the pure.”  Our sages received a tradition that this refers to kosher slaughter – that a person is obligated to separate and investigate greatly to ensure that the animal is being slaughtered properly.

There are many verses that discuss this concept, that it is forbidden to eat animal or fowl meat that was not slaughtered properly. It is not, however, clearly explicit in the Torah, what exactly constitutes a kosher and proper slaughter.  The Talmud (Chullin 28a) fills in the gap for us.  “Rebbe says:  ‘And you shall slaughter as I have commanded you’ (Dvarim 12:21) – this teaches us that Moshe Rabbeinu was orally commanded in the laws of kosher slaughter.


During shechita itself – these dedicated and unsung heroes must carefully avoid something called a shehiya – even a slight pause – because this is one of the five conditions of shechita that was taught to the nation of Israel by Moshe Rabbeinu.  [Shehiya, Drassah, Chalada, Hagrama, Ikkur – ibid].

They must take great care to both sharpen their knives and ensure that there is no defect in it. Many halachic authorities write that they must be fearful of the Rav or Rosh haShochtim – in order to ensure the kashrus.  Imagine, being a restaurant owner, or the owner of a camp – with an unremitting health department inspector that is every day at your door.  One mis-step and it could be disastrous.


For this reason as well – they do not have job security either.  A shochet could be sent home if he has a bad day.  If a shochet is chassidish (which most of them are) that means no staying up for a Mitzvah Tantz at your nieces wedding – if you have work the next day.  But, this is all necessary – so that our meat supply remain pure and holy.

There are also grave spiritual risks as well.  The Simlah Chadasha (1:7) cites three repercussions for a Shochet who messes up:

  • He shall be reincarnated as a dog (See Sefer HaGilgulim of the AriZal).
  • The sins of the masses are counted as his.
  • He is not given a chance from heaven to do Teshuvah – to repent.


And then there are the bodkim too – the examiners.  They too are heroes.  Each batch of chicken must be inspected nowadays – because of the proliferation of diseased tendons by the hock bone.  At the front of the chicken the skin must be ripped open and the gathering of tendons – the tzomes hagiddin must be inspected.  If it is done at the top, the bodek examines all nine of the tendons – very tedious work.  If lower down, he must examine all seven – because two disappear into the bone of the chicken.  If the sample ones have problems then the entire batch must be examined.  In Eretz Yisroel the issue is so prevalent that all chickens are examined.

Let’s get to the meat bodkim.  Did you every feel the inside of a cow lung?  Or did you ever blow up a cow lung with air to ensure that there is no leakage?  Both of these must be done for cows.  It is Rabbinic law – not to rely on the majority of cows that do not have lung issues – because lung issues are prevalent.


They receive no regular thank you, they are not honored at dinners, they are away from home, under a very rigorous atmosphere, while we sit at home having comfortable delicious meals. They have given up on many aspects of modern society.  They do not check the news, because that would entail some sort of internet access – something that is justifiably questionable.

So the next time, we have that new pulled beef recipe from second brisket layered with potatoes and onions, or our encroated Malawach dog, or that London Broil, or even our regular cholent, let’s think about the unsung heroes that have made it possible for us.  The next time we eat out at a fancy restaurant, let’s put our thoughts to the self-sacrifice of these remarkable individuals.

Meat At Last! And the Unsung Heroes Behind it 2

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