Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Chicken over rice

I'm a frequent enough patron of the halal food truck near where I work that they recognize me and know my order (falafel). I don't eat the meat, but I find myself wondering about it as an intellectual question. I don't have enough information to answer the question, and even if I were to answer it in the affirmative, I'm not sure I would actually act on it -- as a flexitarian meat-reductionist, I don't feel like I need to give myself more opportunities to eat meat. But it's still an interesting question to ponder.

As I understand it, kosher meat and halal meat both must be slaughtered by a particular process and the processes are similar, and both must have the blood removed. So the question is: can someone who keeps kosher eat halal meat (from a kosher species)?

The most obvious answer is "No, of course not!" This is because kosher meat must be slaughtered by a Jew, a requirement that is obviously not met by halal meat. But what if we weren't concerned about this particular requirement? This change might be motivated by a sense of inclusion: Muslims are "people of the book" (as it were), and their slaughter is also performed in the name of the One God, and not idolatry. Or it might be motivated by the opposite sentiment: outside of Hazon conferences, liberal Jewish communities generally don't do their own slaughter, and so the Jews who slaughter the meat that we eat are far outside our communities, and are so alien that it wouldn't make much of a difference if they were Muslim. Or some linear combination of both reasons. So if this requirement were to be lifted, would it be ok to eat halal meat?

For beef or lamb, the answer is still no. In mammals, the gid hanasheh (sciatic nerve) and cheilev (the fats that would have been offered on the altar) are not kosher and must be removed. (This is done by the butcher before selling the meat.) Halal meat has no such rules, and therefore must be under the presumption of containing these forbidden parts. Most of us casual meat-eaters can't look at meat and identify what part of the animal it comes from (especially when it's in shwarma form).

But what about halal chicken? Gid hanasheh and cheilev don't apply to birds, and my recollection is that the regulations for slaughtering birds are less strict than for mammals. So the question is whether the procedure for slaughtering halal birds would qualify under the rules of slaughtering kosher birds, and likewise for the procedures for removing blood from halal/kosher meat. I can't answer these questions; I haven't studied shechitah in any depth (beyond the Mishnah, and that was a long time ago), and don't know the specifics of halal slaughter. (And if I'm going to study any masechet in the next few months, it's going to be Kiddushin.) So can anyone with more knowledge on the subject weigh in on this question?


  1. Mishneh Torah, Laws of Shechita 4:9
    הלכות שחיטה פרק ד

    ט [יא] נוכרי ששחט--אף על פי ששחט בפני ישראל בסכין יפה, ואפילו היה קטן--שחיטתו נבילה; ולוקה על אכילתה, מן התורה--שנאמר "וקרא לך, ואכלת מזבחו" (שמות לד,טו): מאחר שהזהיר שמא יאכל מזבחו, אתה למד שזבחו אסור; ואינו דומה לישראל שאינו יודע הלכות שחיטה. [יב] וגדר גדול גדרו בדבר זה--שאפילו גוי שאינו עובד עבודה זרה, שחיטתו נבילה.

  2. Yes, Adderabbi, but BZ says if we ignore that one.
    (BZ: I don't see why davka that one and not gid hanasheh while we're at it).
    Also - not all Halal eaters would condume Kosher meat, since a blessing is not said over every animal.

  3. (BZ: I don't see why davka that one and not gid hanasheh while we're at it).

    Gid hanasheh is much more explicit in the Torah than any of the specifics of shechitah (a point overlooked by those who observe "biblical kashrut").

  4. For larger animals there is the issue of checking lungs for scabs/blemishes. Even if you don't require glatt meat, you still need to be able to remove the scabs. But for chickens that's not an issue. The larger issue for chickens as far as I understand it is that kosher shechita requires a single cut to sever everythiing in the neck, while I believe the Muslim equivalent is a little more lenient. But of course I am not an expert in shechita and know even less about the Muslim equivalent.

    Finally, this discussion is only useful for home cooking of raw purchased Halal meat. In any restaurant setting you need to be concerned about utensils, mixing milk with meat, and bishul akum depending on your standards.

  5. This is something I've thought about a lot (mostly after passing that amazing smell on the street).

    I don't think individual observant Jews deciding to eat halal meat would bring about world peace, but if kashrut and halal could merge into a single common denominator...? Mashiach!

  6. The Rambam text actually seems somewhat progressive in that it recognizes the existence of a category called גוי שאינו עובד עבודה זרה - not all sources do, e.g. those that use נכרי and עכו"ם interchangeably.

    So another question to ask is: What values are at the root of the requirement that the slaughterer be Jewish? Is it (like wine) about a concern for idolatry? (Though the Rambam denies this, that interpretation would be supported by the rest of Exodus 34:15, which he quotes.) Is it (like counting a minyan) about membership in a sacred community? Is it that non-Jews aren't considered trustworthy to do the shechitah correctly? (The Rambam explicitly rejects this one.) Is it that even what Plaut calls "secular slaughtering" retains some essence of Temple sacrifice (which was, of course, performed by Jews)?* Is it just plain racism? Is it something else?

    * If so, would this apply to chicken and other non-dove/pigeon birds, which weren't sacrificed?

  7. maybe it's "you are what you eat", like toveling dishes

  8. Are you concerned about "treif" meat or pork falsely sold as halal? Do they have any third party verification in the Muslim community? What about puscharts?

  9. DafKesher- your second comment is the point. If it's a halakhic question, then it's a halakhic question. If you want a source, then you want a source.

    Rambam (as well as other Rishonim) often distinguished between "aku"m" and monotheistic gentiles. Remember that he lived in an Islamic milieu. He actually wrote several treatises (Iggeret ha-Shmad, Iggeret Teiman) where he discusses the halakhic status of gentiles of monotheistic faiths (he ruled, though, that Christianity is not monotheistic).

    Regarding the underlying values, I'd suggest looking up the commentaries on the Rambam to find the Talmudic source. I don't see, though, why it needs to be divorced from the values of kashrut in general, which were to keep the Israelites separate.

  10. 1. Thanks for the Mishna Torah quote, Adderabbi. In the first line I'm intrigued that it says "even if it's a katan" --- does that imply that the schita of a non-Jewish adult would be less kosher than the schita of a non-Jewish child, or have I completely misunderstood?

    2. My understanding of halal is they don't soak and salt their meat, so it wouldn't work since that's d'oraita and has nothing to do with the status of Muslims within halacha.

    3. Rambam is pretty clear and I wonder whether he is so specific in that last line that adderabbi quotes because the rule is different from halal rules, which (at least some schools of thought that I researched after watching Little Mosque on the Prairie) accept the slaughter of any People of the Book, which means that some observant Muslims will not only buy kosher meat but will buy ordinary supermarket meat and eat hunted meat that had the blessing said on it after shooting.

    4. My understanding is that halal rules have had same policy dilemma that Orthodox faced of risking assimilation due to being able to eat out too readily, and so there has been strictures on eating only halal, not kosher or christian-slaughtered, but my impression from reading some of the apologetics is that it's the same kind of increased strictness that emerged in Orthodoxy when vegetarian food became easier to find in regular restaurants.

  11. Janet - indeed, Rambam indeed obviates the possibility that the shechita of a non-Jewish child would be better than the non-Jewish adult. This is based on an earlier ruling that the shechita of a child is acceptable as long as there's an adult watching over him. The idea is that a child's mind is considered incomplete, so the adult presence "supplies" intent.

    One might have thought that the problem with non-Jewish shechita is that we never know whether the non-Jewish shochet *really* has some sort of idolatrous intent, in which case the shechita of a minor, with its defective intent, would still be acceptable. Rambam indicates here that this is not the case - the disqualification is formal and categorical - no non-Jewish shechita: even a minor, and even a monotheist.

    I agree that the last line seems to be specifically excluding Muslims.

  12. but, and I think there is precedent for this, could you buy meat from a halal butcher and salt and soak it yourself? I recall something to that effect in a paper I read about the karaites and saadia gaon.

  13. janet writes:
    My understanding of halal is they don't soak and salt their meat

    My understanding was that they do, and (though I know this isn't an authoritative source) Wikipedia confirms. So my question was more about whether the processes were compatible.

  14. If you don't raise the animal yourself and personally oversee the slaughter....can you really trust its Kosher?

  15. A view from the Muslim side:

    I remember when I was really young, my dad took me to a Muslim scholar, and asked him whether Kosher meat for Chicken and Beef is acceptable for Muslims to consume, and the scholar said yes it is, when you consider the manner of cutting, and draining the blood.

    In addition, as Muslims we have the comfort of knowing that Jews also believe in one God alone, and associate no partners.

    Not sure if that would answer your question, but as a Muslim I have no issue eating Kosher meat. There are some folks who will deny even the permission we have from the Quran on being able to consume meat from the people of the book, but they are a rarity. They will mix politics with religious rituals.

    The general consensus is that yes Kosher is Halal.

    On the issue of invoking blessing on hunted meat. This refers to wild game (only the permissible ones, not all meats are permissible), as for your regular daily poultry and meat such as beef, the butcher is very particular, provided it is a halal franchise.

    For the average Muslim the issue and difference arises when consuming meats from Christian sources, because technically the Quran permits it, yet your average Christian on the street might not be familiar about halal/kosher rites and would be consuming industrially slaughtered meat.

    The safe way about this is if the franchise says "halal" then it is halal, but if it does not advertise halal, then you should stick to your comfort zone.

  16. Great question, BZ. The rest of you have lost me. From what i can decipher (I don't know Hebrew or the Mishnah), if I decide that I am at peace with the fact that the chicken is not killed by a Jew, then there is no reason in the Torah not to eat Halal chicken, right?

  17. Here's an answer. Based on this, it appears that (even independently of who does the slaughtering) halal slaughter does not necessarily fulfill all the requirements for kosher slaughter.