There is a new type of meat, called Ben Pekuah Meat, that is about to enter the kosher consumer market, and it is stirring up some serious controversy, particularly in Boro Park. It seems that the Hebrew language Mishpacha had recently run an article on Ben P’kuah meat and has also published an alleged ruling of Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita. The Hebrew Yated had also run a piece on it. Two Rabbonim in Brooklyn have brought up the issue to this author, and have asked that the matter be investigated.
The meat is coming out of a company in Australia. But questions abound, both on the nature of Ben P’kuah and on the specific company producing it. What is this meat? Who are the people that are behind this initiative? What are the underlying issues?
BEN P’KUAH MEAT
A Ben P’Kuah or BP is an unborn calf that is found in the womb of its mother that was just slaughtered. The Gemorah in Chullin 69a states that such a foetus does not require its own slaughter. The Mishna in Chulin 74a records a debate between Rabbi Meir and the sages regarding a fully matured calf. Rabbi Meir holds that it does require its own slaughter, while the sages hold that it does not – on a biblical level. There are two types of BP – the first is that of a foetus that was not fully formed – to which even Rabbi Meir agrees that Shechita is not required. The second type is when it reached maturity. There, Rav Meir holds that Shechita is required – biblically. The sages disagree.
There seems to be three sources as to why the BP is exempt from Shechita. The Gemorah (69a) states that the verse “vekhol b’heimah” is the source. It is understood to mean that the entire animal can be eaten – even the foetus found inside. Later on (69b) the Gemorah returns to an original source called, “Behaima BaBehaima” that any animal within another animal is included in the original shechita. Finally, the Baal haMaor 70b understands it as falling under the rublic of “uber yerech imo – the foetus is considered a limb of its mother.”
THE CHAILEV AND VEINS
The Chailev and veins of a BP cow that is still in the cow are actually permitted (AH 13:2). The blood, however, still retains the prohibition of Dam Aivarim – blood absorbed into the limbs. There are essentially two reasons for the exclusion of the blood from the verse of “the entire animal” permitting it. 1] It is no different than any other organ of the slaughtered cow and 2] the verse only permits food that is generally eaten – blood is a liquid and is not in that category. There is a substantive difference between these two reasons. According to the first reason, ingesting the blood is a violation of a lav; according to the second reason, the ingestion of blood would involve the more stringent violation of Karais. After the calf’s legs hit the ground, the other items are forbidden on account of Maris ayin.
The repercussions of being a BP cow is that there is no concept of treifus. The animal does not need to undergo the rigorous inspection of lungs that regular cows have to go through.
DESCENDANTS OF BP COWS
One of the most fascinating and pertinent areas of the laws of Ben P’kuah cows is the fact that if a cow descends from two parents who are BP cows, the descendant cow also only requires Shechita miderabanan. If, however, a regular cow fathers a calf from a BP cow, the calf will remain non-kosher forever. In the Gemorah’s language, “ain lo takana l’olam.” The explanation is that it is considered to have a delay in the shechita process called “Shehiya.” How so? The cow is considered to be half-shechted and half regular. There is no greater delay in the shechita process than this and it is thus considered “shehiya.”
OTHER ASPECTS OF BEN P’KUAH
Many students of Chumash will recall the debate explained by many commentators between Yoseph and his brothers as to whether there is a prohibition of aiver min hachai regarding a Ben P’kuah. Yoseph held that before matan Torah, they are considered as bnei noach, and thus the original shechita of the ben p’kuah’s mother does not stop the biblical prohibition of aiver min hachai, eating the limb from a live animal. The brothers held that they were full-fledged Jews in this regard and that the mother’s shechita does remove the prohibition of aiver min hachai.
The Gemorah in Bava Kamma 106b discusses whether there is an obligation for a theif who steals a Ben Pkuah cow to repay 4 or 5 times the value of the cow, just like there would be an obligation if he had stolen a regular cow. There are also questions as to whether there is a prohibition of shechting a Ben Pkuah and its offspring on the same day. Another question is whether the Ben Pakuaj may be shechted on Shabbos or not.
WHO THEY ARE
This author has been in communication with the general manager of the company as well as the supervising Rabbi through email and telephone conversation. The company is based in Melbourne, Australia, and it has been, they claim, a project ten years in the making. The Rabbi associated with the company is Rabbi Meir Rabi, who has authored an article on the topic in the 35th volume of Techumim.
In this author’s opinion, the supervising Rabbi, Rabbi Meir Rabi, who authored the article in Tchumim, has made a serious error in his understanding of the nature of BP meat.
Rabbi Rabi seems to understand the BP animal as a new, different type of creature. He cites (in footnote 6 to his Tchumim article) the Meshech Chochma in Bereishis 18:8 as being of the opinion that BP meat is not fleishig. Rabbi Rabi then claims that Rav Moshe Shternbuch writes the same thing in his response Vol. IV #319. He further writes that he was told by Rav Shternbuch that according to all opinions the meat is pareve and that he was also told this by Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita.
However, it seems to this author that the Meshech Chochma is only saying that milk from a BP cow is not considered dairy, because it has the halachic status of a pre-shechted cow.
Milk from a shechted cow is only forbidden by Rabbinic decree, on account of maris ayin, but is biblically permitted. The Meshech Chochmah makes no mention of any possibility of the meat being considered pareve. Nor is there any such indication in Rav Shternbuch’s writings.
As far as the next two citations that Rav Shternbuch said that it is considered pareve as did Rav Chaim Kanievsky, there is no such indication in the rishonim or acharonim on the relevant Gemorahs, nor in the response, nor in the Poskim. It is difficult to conceive that such a view would have escaped mention in the nearly 1600 years since the Gemorah was written.
It is especially difficult to accept that Rabbi Shternbuch would say that all would agree that this is the case. I am conjecturing that Rabbi Rabi incorrectly understood both of these Gedolim.
This matter is so obvious that there is almost no need to show it, but Rabbi Akiva Eiger in his glosses to the Shulchan Aruch (YD 87:6) clearly shows that the only issue is the milk – not the meat. Rav Elyashiv zt”l in Kovetz Haaros al HaTorah (page 308) clearly indicates this too.
Although this is a substantive error, it would not, however, forbid Ben P’kuah meat. Why then bring it up? The reason is that a BP meat operation must ensure that no non-BP cow can mate with the BP cows. True, DNA testing is in the process, but a claim of DNA proven is only as good as the weakest link in the chain. Someone else assuring me that DNA testing was done – is not necessarily foolproof and only boils down to one person’s assertions. Let us also realize that a BP cow can also ruin the cows in a regular herd from being kosher in the future. This is a grave responsibility when commercially producing so many BP cows.
This is not to say that theoretically DNA may not be used Halachically to ascertain crucial information. Indeed, a shiur delivered by Rabbi Shmuel Fuerst from Chicago carefully delineates the parameters of when DNA can and cannot be used.
How does the Australian religious community view Rabbi Rabi? A website called J-Wire reports as follows: “Rabbi Meir Rabi took over the reins of authorising foodstuffs from Rabbi Shlomo Rudszki, a former chief minister at Melbourne’s South Caulfield Hebrew Congregation. However, many members of the community do not recognise his Kosher VeYosher certifications and the dominant Kosher Authority has told J-Wire that whilst they are still checking Nestles and Peters ice cream products, there has been no decision made and they state that the products classified as Kosher by Rabbi Rabi are yet to pass their tests.”
However, inquiries have not found anyone that is aware of this claim, including Rabbi Rudski’s own children.
There is an organization called “Kosher Australia” belonging to the wider Orthodox community. They do not recognize or accept Rabbi M. Rabi. Their official position is that Nestle’s and Peters are not under an accepted hashgacha.
His website, kosherveyosher.com, lists an approbation from the London Beis Din. However when the London Beis Din was contacted for verification, the following reply was received.
“Dayan Abraham has asked me to send you a copy of a letter which he sent to Rabbi Rabi, over a year ago. In the light of this letter, he regards Rabbi Rabi’s continued use of his letter of recommendation to be dishonest. Regards, David Frei, Registrar, London Beth Din”
When speaking to the London Beis Din representative this author was told that the Dayan of the London Beis Din felt that Rabbi Rabi was undermining kashrus in Australia by his private hechsher and had requested, actually demanded, that he remove the letter back in 2007, 2010 and also in November, 2014. Rabbi Rabi completely ignored it.
Another fundamental question deals with how the entire operation of a Ben P’kuah shechita would be any cheaper. The animals must land on the ground in order to eventually sire progeny. Thus they are subject to a very rigorous deveining process. After consulting with industry experts, it seems that the differences in processing would not amount to a significant savings. Why then is the company embarking upon the entire idea. One industry expert suggested that perhaps it is a marketing idea designed to get buyers.
The author contacted the managing director of the company, Stephen Bloch, as well as the Rabbi, Rabbi Meir Rabi, and the following exchange of conversation took place:
Q: Where is this BP operation happening?
A: In Australia. Original shechita is performed in a private location. They have opted to set up a private location where all the equipment is required, built according to Dr. Temple Grandin.
Q: Has she been at the site?
A: No she has not been. We have an independent auditor that monitors the process.
Q: Are the owners, or the majority shareholders, religious Jews?
A: Some are. Some are not. But why should that make a difference?
Q: Because some people, particularly in New York, only purchase meat items from Sabbath observing Jews. They would not eat from a hechsher of which the owner of the establishment might be in a position to have any position of possible control over things.
A: We understand and appreciate that. And there have been numerous problems in kashrus even with such a system with shomer Shabbos owners. We, however, have a system in place that ensures the absolute integrity of the meat. On our website, we have the auditor’s report and a foolproof system in place. The auditor monitors everything and we even use DNA tracking to ensure that it is only this meat that is being used.
Is the auditor is an observant Jew?
No. He is not. But it is a guaranteed system. And creates a mirsas.
Q: Mirsas is a halachic tool that works regarding other foods, but it is not an effective halachic tool in regard to meat. Is there a Posaik that has signed off on this idea that a gentile auditor is equivalent to a mashgiach?
A: We do not use it as a mashgiach. It is no different than the simanim that all hashgachos use. I have in my possession the identifying material, plumbas stickers of hechsherim, of numerous hasgachos that were just left at the place and they never bothered to pick them up. Our integrity, our system, will inspire much more confidence.
Q: I too, have such a collection – from the top hechsherim as well. But let’s get back to this concept. Let’s assume even, for the sake of argument, that your system is one hundred times better than a regular hechsher. But do you have a posaik, other than yourself, that has signed off on this idea that a goyish auditing firm can be acting in the role as mashgiach in your foolproof system? Do you have a gadol or posaik that has seen this system and has approved of this system where the hashgacha is overseen by a gentile auditor?
A: We do. I have to speak to him whether I can use his name.
Q: Okay. I have two more topics to bring up.
[The next phase of the conversation was a debate as to the reading of the Meshech Chochma. Rabbi Rabi claimed that the Meshech Chochma must hold that it is pareve because otherwise the rabbinic prohibition of using Ben Pekuah milk would have kicked in. The author responded that if he held that it was pareve he would have said that and one cannot build an entire edifice based upon a question, and that there are numerous answers to that question. Perhaps there was no prohibition of maris ayin in the time of Avrohom Avinu because there were no other Jews, and this is just one possible answer.]
Q: I had contacted the London Beis Din and they said that they have repeatedly asked you to take down their letter on your hechsher’s website, and yet you refuse to do that. Don’t you feel that you are morally obligated to comply with their request?
A: Rabbi Rabi- Well, it depends on why they are requesting that they take it down.
Q: Let’s assume the worst possible reason for the sake of argument. Let’s assume that your competitors in the field of kashrus had actually gone as far as bribing the London Beis Din to get them to ask you to take it down. Don’t you feel a moral obligation to take down the letter?
A: No, I do not.
Q: I think that this is a serious error on your part – in terms of public relations.
A: Stephen Bloch- This actually has nothing to do with us, it is not on the Ben Pekuah site – it is on the Rabbi’s own website.
Q: Still, it does reflect on your company as well as long as he is your endorsing Rabbi.
A: Rabbi Rabi: I responded to the Dayan of the London Beis Din and said that I would be willing to take down the letter if he would provide the same letter to me on his own letterhead rather than that of the London Beis Din.
Q: Still, if I were you, I would comply as soon as possible with the request of the London Beis Din and not use a letter that they do not wish you to use.
Subsequent to this conversation, Rabbi Meir Rabi sent some written communications allegedly from Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita that purport to show that Rav Chaim Shlita holds that BP meat is, in fact, pareve.
This author has sent inquiries to Rav Chaim to verify the accuracy of this, as well as to Rav Shternbuch. We will print it in the future as soon as we hear the information.
There is also a letter that was signed by numerous Gedolim in Eretz Yisroel against the commercial production of Ben P’kuah meat because of numerous problems associated with it. The problems are that milk from a Ben Pkuah cow is forbidden midrebanan, it will lead to leniencies in other shechitas, and it is virtually impossible to have adequate supervision. The letter is signed by Rav Chaim Kanievsky, Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, Rav Nissim Karelitz and others as well. The letter signed by the Gedolim comes out against any commercial production of Ben Pekuah meat.
There has never been a commercial production of Ben Pekuah meat in recorded history since the time of the Gemorah. There are numerous reasons for this.
The author can be reached at [email protected]