Is Veal Kosher?
There has been a great deal of controversy about eating veal due to the manner in which the animals are raised. Many restaurants have been targeted by protesters for serving veal or specializing in dishes that use the meat. Members of my family were once unpleasantly surprised on a special wedding anniversary by protesters. They had the best table in the restaurant which was by a large bay window overlooking the street. Unfortunately, the view was not so enticing once a group of people appeared shouting insults at them and throwing fake blood on the window. The controversial issues related to eating veal have also been raised by those who keep kosher.
What Makes Meat Kosher?
Permitted Animals and Fowl
The first requirement for kosher meat is that it comes from an animal that is permitted to be eaten. Only meat from animals that are allowed by Torah law can be considered kosher.
A land animal is considered kosher if it has split hooves and chews its cud. It must have both of these traits in order to be kosher. Examples of kosher animals include cows, sheep, goats and deer, while pigs, rabbits, squirrels, bears, dogs, cats, camels and horses are not kosher.
Kosher fowl are determined by the Torah, which lists 24 non-kosher bird species instead of identifying kosher birds by signs. Yet there are signs that kosher birds have in common. They cannot be predators of scavengers. Additionally, kosher birds have a crop (part of the digestive system), a gizzard with a thin layer that can be peeled, and an extra toe. The eggs of kosher birds have one end that is narrower than the other.
Examples of kosher birds are the domestic species of chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys and pigeons while owls, pelicans, eagles, ostriches, vultures are not. Since it is hard to determine what is meant by certain bird names given in the Torah (I challenge you to identify a “peres,” a “duchifas” or a “bas-haya’anah”), we generally stick to birds that are known by tradition to be kosher.
For meat to be kosher, the animal must also be slaughtered according to Jewish law, a process known as shechita. This is the most humane manner of slaughtering animals and is the only method of producing kosher meat and poultry. Shechita is performed by a specially trained individual called a shochet. It is interesting to note that In the United States and Canada, the humaneness of the process of shechita is recognized by the Humane Methods of Animal Slaughter Legislation.
Following the slaughter the shochet examines animal to ensure the process was done according to Jewish Law. The shochet also examines the internal organs and lungs to make sure there are no abnormalities or defects such as lesions that would disqualify the animal from being rendered kosher. Certain parts of the animal such as non-kosher fats from some of the organs, and the sciatic nerve must also be removed.
Kashering the Meat
A final aspect of ensuring that meat is kosher is making sure all the blood has been removed. This comes for the admonition in the book of Leviticus which states: "You shall not eat any blood, whether that of fowl or of beast, in any of your dwellings." (Leviticus 7:26)
Once it was the responsibility of homemakers, to complete the koshering process for meat by removing the blood. Now, however, it is usually carried out at the butcher shop before the meat is bought. The kashering process for meat is not that involved but must be done properly so that no blood remains when it is cooked. Generally to kasher meat (melicha or salting) involves washing the meat carefully, soaking it in water, salting it and rinsing it well three times (for further details see this article.
Sometimes there may also be specific cooking procedures that must be followed for meat or fowl to be kosher. For example, liver cannot just be salted to remove the blood since there is too much blood within it for this to be effective. It must instead be slit lengthwise and broiled, slit side down, over an open fire. It is then rinsed three times.
Is Veal Kosher and Can Jews Eat It?
These are two separate questions. There are different Jewish laws that address different issues. The laws of kosher meat have to do with the species of animal, the manner in which it is slaughtered, and the removal of the blood from the meat. “Kosher" does not address the issue of conditions in which the animal is raised (Zelt, 2014).
Based on these requirements according to the strictly technical rules of Kashrut, since cows are kosher, if the animal is slaughtered properly and checked, and the meat is prepared based on Kosher Laws then it is kosher. Some may not feel comfortable eating veal because of the manner in which they are raised and some Rabbis may hold that it shouldn’t be eaten unless certain the animals can be determined to be raised humanely. But that is different from whether or not the meat itself is kosher.
There is another law however, which concerns causing pain to animals. The Torah prohibition falls under "Tzar Baalei Chaim" which means the suffering of animals. Based on this, some Rabbi’s including the great Rabbi Moshe Feinstein forbade raising animals in cramped and painful conditions. This would include calves used for veal.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein addressed the issue of eating white veal in 1982. According to the Humane Society at the time, veal calves were typically raised in crates that were so small the animals could not turn around and their necks were restrained to further limit their movements. The animals were also separated very young from their mothers and fed a dairy diet without iron so they would become anemic, making the meat extremely white.*
Due to the terrible conditions under which the calves were raised, Rabbi Feinstein stated that the process of raising calves to produce white veal was so severe that it would qualify as tzaar baalei chayim, causing animals to suffer. He concluded that the way the animals were treated would prohibit their use for kosher meat (Feinstein, 1984).**
Additionally, Rabbi Feinstein objected to eating veal based on another admonition found in the Torah. Specifically this involves the prohibition from muzzling an ox while plowing. This is because animals derive pleasure from eating and it is not allowed to prevent animals from that joy. Feeding calves a liquid diet that does not provide iron, making them sick, is akin to muzzling in that it prevents them from gaining enjoyment from eating.
In 2015, Rabbi Feinstein’s son-in-law, Rabbi Dr. Moshe Dovid Tendler, visited the Star K Kashrys Program at Bierig Brothers Veal Plant to determine if changes have been made in the industry. He found that there was currently a movement underway to allow calves more freedom of movement and to not separate them from their mothers for two weeks after birth. He stated that if these two practices were abolished and this could be established industry wide, there would be no longer a foundation for not consuming veal based on tzar baalei chaim (the suffering of animals).
Raising Animals for Veal: A Kosher Perspective
While Kosher veal producers may not yet be producing veal in the most humane manner possible, they are making moves in that direction. They recognize that the cramped conditions and liquid diet veal calves have to tolerate, do not fall in line with Torah practices and Rabbis have joined together to limit the inhumane practices to which veal calves are subjected. This has led to many reforms in the veal industry, kosher and non-kosher alike.
Those who produce veal humanely have an additional argument to support raising calves humanely for veal, in particular the male calves. The majority of veal is produced by male calves. This is because male calves do not grow into animals that produce milk or meat. Bulls are used only for breeding purposes and only a few are needed for a large herd of cows. This means the rest of the male calves are not necessary. On dairy farms, since cows must give birth to produce milk, there are an excess of male calves which are born but cannot be used to produce milk.
Additionally, due to the dangers involved in handling a bull, many dairy and meat ranchers prefer to buy semen from farms that keep several high quality bulls for this purpose. The cows are artificially inseminated meaning that the farm may not need to keep any bulls. Regardless of whether the farm keeps bulls for breeding purposes or not, the vast majority of male calves are not needed. Those who produce veal humanely say that male calves not raised humanely for veal are destroyed or sold to inhumane veal farms. They therefore, believe they have a responsibility to raise calves for veal and to do so humanely.
Humanely raised veal comes from calves that are pasture raised and drank their mother’s milk. This veal is sometimes called rose veal because it is a darker color as the calves are not deprived of iron, a practice that makes them sickly. The calves are also allowed to eat grain and grass as opposed to being fed a strictly liquid diet often composed of a chemical substitute for milk.
Humanely raised kosher veal is raised according to old-fashioned methods. The mother of calves that are used for what is called “free-raised veal”, are not given hormones and none of the animals are given unnecessary preventative antibiotics, practices normally used to increase growth in the adult animals and to prevent disease sometimes caused by population and crowding issues. The animals are not raised in confinement and live their whole lives with their mothers on open pasture.
Conclusions and Implications
The Jewish tradition's laws and ethical teachings regarding animals from a Torah point of view, emphasize vigilance toward proper and humane treatment and care of animals, regardless of whether they are to be used for food. Jews are clearly required to take action which prevents animal suffering. The concepts of the dietary laws of kashrut and tzaar baalei chayyim (the prevention of unnecessary pain to animals) must both be taken into account when considering whether Jewish Law prohibits the eating of veal. This is the case despite knowing that the animal and meat itself is generally kosher.
There has been progress regarding the treatment of these animals, especially in kosher plants. This is due to the general concern over the well-being of animals and ensuring they are treated humanely. Yet it is clear that the housing and feeding of calves used for veal is still not carried out in a manner that would be considered humane industry wide.
According to the letter of the kashrut law alone Jews are currently permitted to eat most animal products derived from animals raised in factory farm conditions. However, Jewish teachings posit that there is a higher ethical standard required which involves finding alternatives that are more in line with the spirit of the laws. In this way, it is possible to go beyond the letter of the law and engage in the highest ethical standards by ensuring that calves used for veal are treated in a manner to prevent suffering and with the utmost humanity.
*It is interesting to note that while the conditions in which an animal is raised do not automatically render the meat non-kosher if all other requirements are met, animals raised in such conditions are often found to have abnormalities that do, in fact, render them non-kosher. Animals which are raised in cramped conditions which limits their mobility and fed chemicals or derived of important nutrients are frequently found to be non-kosher, due to various problems and disease found in their organs (Bleich, 2007).
**It is important to note that not all Orthodox Rabbis hold that veal should not be eaten by Jews due to the inhumane manner in which the animals are raised. Some place no prohibition on eating veal that is raised, slaughtered and prepared in accordance with Kashrut Law.
Bleich, J. D. (2007). Survey of Recent Halakhic Periodical Literature. Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought, 40(4), 75-95.
Feinstein, Moshe Rabbi (1984). Igros Moshe, Even HaEzer IV 92.
Zelt, T. J. (2014). Jewish laws and teachings regarding the life of the factory farm animal. Towson University Institutional Repository.
© 2017 Natalie Frank