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The Meat of Kashrus

Chany Rosengarten

Today, chickens come packaged in neat Styrofoam trays, shrink-wrapped in plastic with a kosher seal on top. All a balabusta has to do is tear the packaging and pour on her favorite sauce. But it wasn’t always like that. What caused the kashrus revolution? And what of the women — in Russia, India, Jerusalem, and beyond — who continue to kasher their own chickens and meat?

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

For centuries, the simple words “chicken for supper” meant far more than remembering to remove the carcass from the freezer. Women the world over would not prepare a meal without first koshering — soaking, salting, and rinsing the poultry they put in the pot. In fact, the Gemara says that a husband should not bring home meat on Friday, lest his wife be too busy to kasher it. Imagine! On busy Fridays, our grandmothers still needed to kasher the meat before adding onions and spice.

Some of us need not dig into our imagination, as our mothers or grandmothers still own a kashering board. If they had the luxury, they had a separate, treif kashering sink. Otherwise they kashered in the bathroom, or even in pails on the kitchen floor.

Until well into the twentieth century, kashering was standard practice for anyone desiring a piece of meat. A woman would grab a clucking chicken under its wings and bring it to the shochet. In later years, the housewife only needed to go to the chicken market, where a shochet slaughtered on demand. After examining the lungs, and plucking the feathers for use in her pillows, the housewife would set out her kashering boards and begin the process. The meals of the second night of Yom Tov were traditionally held past midnight, because after nightfall, women still had to make a trip to the shochet, pluck, kasher, and cook a fresh bird.

Revolution in the Slaughterhouse

When did this all change?

Interestingly enough, it was during the 1950s, when the non-Jewish world was painting icons of a perfect housewife (complete with heels and frilly apron), that things began to change. It started as a slow trickle, gathering momentum until almost every Jewish family bought ready, kashered poultry and meat.

Mr. Mendy Bauman of Glatt Mart tells how butchers kashered a shoulder of meat or a couple of chickens at the back of the store to accommodate a customer’s special request. The woman’s name was scribbled on a piece of butcher paper prepared for her. Most people were reluctant to take advantage of this service, if only because of the hitch in price they would incur.

Today, Mendy Bauman doesn’t come across people who refrain from eating commercially kashered meat. Twenty years ago, a company called All City Poultry, which shechted and sold not-kashered chicken for people who wanted to kasher themselves, closed down.

Mrs. Henchu Gruber remembers the change. “My mother loathed to pay a nickel for the boy who plucked feathers in the slaughterhouse. She did it herself. I paid the nickel, to make my life easier. When ready kashered chickens became available, I bought readymade. Why should I work harder? Nevertheless I still kashered chickens on Erev Yom Kippur and Erev Pesach, because my husband wanted me to.”

But was the shift simply a matter of practicalities? Rebbetzin Rochel Leah Einhorn thinks not. “The generations needed a change. And rabbanim gave haskamos because they saw the need. People were less aware of what constitutes a halachic question. People were ready to make life easier. If they sell take-out meat today, why not sell kashered meat?”

Relinquishing home kashering boards in favor of the butcher’s might have be a halachic step up for some women, and perhaps that’s why rabbanim encouraged it, but the halfway house situation was disastrous. Dov Bauman, Mendy’s son and manager of Glatt Mart, says that in the old days, you took meat home to kasher and then brought it back to the butcher to be ground. Some people bought raw meat and returned to the store several hours later for the grinding. Dov’s grandparents weren’t fooled, and they noticed that the meat was not kashered. A policy change was instituted: blanket kashering, done in the plant right after slaughtering, seemed ideal.

Glatt Mart was established in 1977, and many rabbanim were involved in setting up and fine-tuning the koshering line, ensuring that the method was acceptable to everyone. There were major issues; people were reluctant to try “newfangled things.” In addition, many stores simply weren’t equipped. Floods on the floor, for example, are a reality in bulk koshering. “If a butcher had sawdust over their floors, he couldn’t kasher,” says Mr. Bauman.

“The homeowner stopped kashering meat for the same reason he no longer milked a cow but bought milk in the store. Nobody wants to do more work,” Bauman adds.

Today, Glatt Mart boasts ready-cut meats in an attractive showcase, its kashrus guaranteed by a vaad, a mashgiach, and a staff of workers. A far cry from Dov Bauman’s grandparents, who raised their own chickens. The shochet would come each day and ask how many chickens were on order. They Baumans then plucked, singed, dissected, and kashered the chickens as a service for the customers. The family business has gone a long way.


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