Mehadrin Hechsharim in Israel: The Inside Scoop August 7, 2012 12:52 pm
By Rabbi Dovid Stein , Star-K Israel Representative
Of the many supervisions that are found in Eretz Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael’s Mehadrin supervision is amongst the least understood. What exactly are the differences between Mehadrin and non-Mehadrin hechsherim? Is it true that the Rabbonim who supervise the non-Mehadrin products in Eretz Yisrael do not even eat from their own hashgacha? How does theMehadrin slaughtering process for kosher meat vary from the non-Mehadrin process? Whatdifferences are there between Mehadrin and non-Mehadrin milk and dairy products?
Let’s begin at the beginning…
In Eretz Yisrael there are two types of hechsherim-Mehadrin and non-Mehadrin. The non-Mehadrin supervision is usually performed by the local Rabbanut, the official local and regional government offices of the Israeli Rabbinate. The Rabbonim who give this type of hechsher often do not eat from this certification, themselves. They certify these products because they feel it is important that there should be a complete, inexpensive variety of kosher products available, so the consumer will not be tempted to buy non-kosher products. Therefore, the Rabbanut is willing to bend over backwards with kulos, lenient halachic positions, to make sure that all food products have a hechsher.
Many people, however, prefer to eat only food that can be eaten without compromise, lechatchila, hence, the Mehadrin hechsherim were developed. Interestingly, the only time the word mehadrin is mentioned in the Gemora is in connection with Chanukah candles. It also refers to how much additional money one spends to enhance a mitzvah. That addition is known as hidur mitzvah. But lately, the term mehadrin has been used in the Orthodox vernacular to mean ‘scrupulous’. The Mehadrin hechsherim ensure the kosher consumer that their products are supervised in an uncompromising manner. According to Israeli law, the only body that is permitted to write the word “kosher” on a product or eating establishment is the Rabbanut or an organization that the Rabbanut sanctions. The word “Mehadrin” is not bound by Israeli law.
Furthermore, any Rabbanut hechsher is mandated to take ingredients from all Rabbanut supervisions for any city or municipality whether the particular Rabbanut is well versed in kosher supervision or not. A Mehadrin hechsher is not bound to this mandate.
THE SCOOP FROM THE COOP
In practice, there are many differences in the Mehadrin shechita process, in order to ensure that the proper standards are maintained. These differences are evident even prior to slaughtering, when the chicks are being raised. When they are approximately ten days old, they are inoculated. Special care is taken not to puncture any vital organs, which would render the bird non-kosher. It is common practice for Mehadrin hechsherim to send a mashgiach to the farm to ensure that the inoculations are done properly. There is no mashgiach supervising the inoculations of non- Mehadrin schechted fowl, since it is assumed that the inoculations will not render the birds treif.
There are differences between the quality of Mehadrin and non-Mehadrin shochtim, as well. Care is taken that the Mehadrin shochtim have impeccable credentials and skills. To qualify for a non-Mehadrin shechita, the shochet only needs to be certified to be acceptable. Additionally, Mehadrin knives are checked very carefully. Even a minute structural change will cause a Mehadrin knife to be rejected. The Mehadrin shochet exchanges his chalaf, slaughtering knife, frequently. Typically, the knife is not used for a very long period and is usually checked every fifteen minutes. This ensures that the knives are kept in top form and minimizes questions to disqualify chickens. After the shechita, if there is even a very small pegima (nick or blemish), the birds of a Mehadrin production are rejected. Non-Mehadrin knives are checked for pegimos before shechita and after shechita. If a pegima is found after shechita, the birds will be disqualified only if the pegima is big enough to render it halachically treif. Since there is a considerable financial loss if a bird is treif, the Rabbonim of the mashchetot (slaughterhouses) tend to be lenient.
The pace of slaughtering differs significantly. According to Mehadrin supervision, the birds should be shechted more slowly, usually twelve birds a minute or less. Any shaila in the shechita will disqualify the bird. Non- Mehadrin supervision allows a quicker shechita, and any shailos are decided according to the Shulchan Aruch’s lenient position. There are two complete teams of Mehadrin shochtim that work interchangeably. One team works for thirty minutes and then rests for thirty minutes. Usually not more than 25-35 birds are shechted per minute. The non-Mehadrin shochtim usually work for forty minutes and then rest for twenty minutes. There is one substitute for every two shochtim. A non-Mehadrin team shechts approximately 100 birds per minute.
After the chicken is slaughtered and defeathered, an internal check is made. There are Mehadrin mashgichim on the line who check every lung for disease, 1 as well as the tendons for torn ligaments, tzomes hagidin. Sometimes intestines and gizzards are also checked. On the non-Mehadrin line there is a mashgiach who does not have time to check everything. It is assumed that the birds are not treif. The kidneys are usually taken out of a Mehadrin bird, as mandated by the Pri Megadim. The mashgichim ensure that the birds are completely clean from blood inside and out, and that there are no blood clots (tzirirus dam). Non-Mehadrin birds’ kidneys are not removed, and often their lungs are not taken out. The level of cleanliness from blood is considerably less than in the Mehadrin shechitos.
Kashering – During kosherization, when the chickens are soaked and salted, care is taken that Mehadrin birds are soaked for a complete half hour. The water is relatively clean and not too cold. Soaking in cold water is questionable. Non-Mehadrin birds are usually soaked for 30 minutes, but it cannot always be guaranteed. The water is often bloody and can be very cold, which is not optimum for kashering. There is an additional Mehadrin mashgiach that makes sure that the birds are salted completely, whereas there is usually no mashgiach standing constantly at the salting table of the non- Mehadrin salting to make sure that the chickens are adequately salted.
THE SCOOP ON DAIRY
There is a difference of opinion whether Chazal decreed that milk from a herd of cattle that belongs to a mechalel Shabbos, a nonobservant Jew, falls into the category of cholov akum. Both the Chazon Ish, zt”l, and Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, ruled that this milk is permitted. Based on this psak, most Mehadrin and non- Mehadrin milk is milked without a mashgiach present on the premises of non-observant farms. The only difference between Mehadrin and non- Mehadrin is that Mehadrin milking is not done on Shabbos. There are some Mehadrin hechsherim, however, that send a mashgiach to the chaliva (milking), although it is not for the entire chaliva, and often not even from the beginning of the milking. Tnuva Yerushalayim, which carries the hechsher of Aida Hachareidis, takes milk only from shomer Shabbos farms.
Due to an increase of non-Jewish workers on many farms, kibbutzim, and moshavim, a question was recently posed to the Poskim whether the milking of an aino Yehudi on a non-shomer Shabbos Jewish farm constitutes cholov akum (non-supervised milk). If it does constitute cholov akum, who, on the farm is going to vouch for the fact that the aino Yehudi did not milk the cows? The members of the farm are not Sabbath observant. The questioners reasoned that a mechalel Shabbos may be a Jew, but he certainly does not have halachic credibility to vouch for the fact that the non-Jewish workers are not doing the milking. If their milking renders the milk cholov akum, we would not be able to drink any milk from a mechalel Shabbos farm. To avoid this problem, Mehadrin hechsherim (as in the case of Tnuva, the largest dairy company in Israel) send a mashgiach to the farms once a week to make sure that an aino Yehudi is not doing the chaliva. As mentioned earlier, Tnuva’s branch in Yerushalayim takes milk only from shomer Shabbos farms.
Regarding dairy products, in general, there are many differences between Mehadrin and non-Mehadrin. According to the Rabbanut Harashit, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, no liquid cholov akum may be used even in a non-Mehadrin hechsher, but powdered cholov akum may be used in non-Mehadrin products, based on a psak from Rabbi Zvi Pesach Frank. There are other powdered milk byproducts made from cholov akum, which are also used in non-Mehadrin hechsherim. Mehadrin products never use non-supervised powdered milk.
Furthermore, the cultures used to coagulate the milk in cheese and yogurt are often from cholov akum in non-Mehadrin hechsherim and from cholov Yisrael in Mehadrin ones. There can be a dramatic difference in Mehadrin and non- Mehadrin ingredients in manufactured products, as well. Regular beef gelatin can be used in non-Mehadrin products such as marshmallows, yogurts, and ice cream. Flavorings and colorants differ between Mehadrin and non-Mehadrin products, also.
THE SCOOP ON FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
There are a number of critical halachic issues pertaining to fruits and vegetables grown in Eretz Yisrael. There is a Torah prohibition to eat insects. Since there is a greater prevalence of insect infestation in Israel than in many other countries, there are requirements that have been set by both non-Mehadrin and Mehadrin hechsherim regarding Israeli produce. The Chief Rabbinate, the Rabbanut Harashit, has mandated that all restaurants and caterers, both non- Mehadrin and Mehadrin, purchase leafy vegetables from sources that grow produce in controlled environments such as the former Gush Katif hothouses. Mehadrin establishments also require that canned vegetables be purchased from insect controlled sources; non-Mehadrin does not have this policy.
Other halachic differences that pertain to fruits and vegetables are the requirements of separating terumos and ma’asros. It is a daunting task to control the tithing of the fruits and vegetables. It requires constant vigilance of the kashrus organizations and their mashgichim. Mehadrin hechsherim do their best to ensure that all terumos and ma’asros under their certification have been separated. Non-Mehadrin hechsherim are generally more lenient. Another halachic problem that needs to be addressed is orla. Fruits produced during the first three years of a tree’s growth are prohibited and are called orla. The problem with orla fruits is further complicated with new agricultural advances. Today’s trees now give edible fruit in their second year of growth. Furthermore, the older and taller the tree, the more time and money it takes to pick. It makes economic sense, to uproot some trees every few years and replant again. This restarts the orla count. Other fruits that are commonly replanted are grapes, where shoots are being continuously put into the ground.
How do the Mehadrin and non-Mehadrin certifications deal with orla? There are many opinions in approaching this issue. The most lenient approach is that of the Chazon Ish, zt”l, who says that since the majority of fruits grown in Israel are not orla, the halacha gives us the right to assume that the fruits sold in the market place are from the kosher majority. This is a leniency for the consumer, and the position taken by the non-Mehadrin certifications. Mehadrin certifications would not certify a product based on assumptions, but would take the strictest opinion that states if the total orla volume of fruit in the marketplace is less than 1/2%, the fruit is permitted. This is based on the halacha that if orla is co-mingled with kosher fruit, it is nullified in a 200 to 1 ratio (1/2%).
THE SCOOP ON WINE
Wine addresses the same issues in Eretz Yisrael as in Chutz La’aretz. However, it is harder to tell a non-observant Yehudi than an aino Yehudi not to touch the wine. Mehadrin hechsherim are more insistent to use Shomer Shabbos workers and to have a mashgiach making sure that the wine is properly double sealed. Non-Mehadrin standards regarding wines are more lenient.
Hopefully, this discussion has shed some light on the differences between Mehadrin and non-Mehadrin hechsherim, whether you are planning a trip to Eretz Yisrael, or you are trying to support our fellow brethren there by purchasing Israeli food products. Betei’avon!
1. The reason why lungs are checked in Israel is due to the prevalance of Newcastle Disease. Since this disease is not common in the United States, we do not have this requirement here.
Source: Star-K Kosher Supervision