Cheap Glatt at stake in kosher game of chicken

Rabbis out to prove cheap, Glatt kosher chicken not contradiction of terms.

of hanegev chicken kosher 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
of hanegev chicken kosher 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Concerned that exacting kosher stringencies have pushed meat and poultry prices beyond the reach of many poor haredi families, a group of rabbis is out to prove that a cheap, Glatt kosher chicken is not a contradiction of terms. But these rabbis might be headed for a kosher meat war, complete with mudslinging by competitors fearful of being cut out of the market. Rabbi Baruch Roshgold, a widely respected expert on the Jewish laws and practices of shkhita (ritual slaughter), has put his name behind an innovative method which he says cuts costs without compromising kashrut standards. "Maybe this is the reason God brought me into the world and gave me all my shekhting experience," Roshgold told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. "So that I can show there is a better way that is not only cheaper, it is of even higher quality than any of the mehadrin labels on the market." Over a year ago Roshgold, who has personally trained many of the nation's most well-known ritual slaughters over the past three decades, joined forces with the Israeli branch of the Orthodox Union (OU) and kosher supervisors in the Chief Rabbinate to implement the slaughter method. Today they are producing about 150 tons of Glatt chicken a month. Marketed under the brand-name "Fleisch OU," the special slaughter method is based on probability, a recognized principle in Jewish law. A sample of 1,500 chickens out of a total of about 10,000 is thoroughly checked to determine what percentage are treif [not kosher] due to mucous in the lungs or ripped leg tendons, the two most common problems suffered by chickens. If more than one percent of the chickens examined are found to be treif, none of the 10,000 is used by Fleisch. Instead, it is directed to regular Chief Rabbinate kosher supervision. If, however, 1% or less is found to be treif, the remaining chickens are assumed to be of high quality and are, therefore, not in need of labor-intensive examinations of the lungs and legs. Rather, a cursory examination as the chickens go by hanging upside down on a production line is deemed sufficient. In contrast, Glatt kosher supervisors such as the Edah Haredit's Badatz, She'arit Yisrael, Rabbi Rubin, Belz and others check every chicken's lungs and legs thoroughly. The resulting price difference is significant: For instance, on an arbitrary day at the end of 2008 in a supermarket in Petah Tikva, a whole chicken under one of the more stringent kosher supervisors cost about NIS 26 per kilo, compared to just NIS 20 per kilo for a Fleisch chicken. This was just NIS 3 more expensive than a chicken under regular Chief Rabbinate supervision. The discrepancy is even more pronounced for items such as drumsticks. Instead of paying about NIS 46 for a kilo of Glatt kosher drumsticks under the supervision of one of the stricter supervisors, Fleisch's drumsticks cost just NIS 28. Fleisch might be fighting an uphill battle in a market in which high prices are associated with a high level of kosher supervision, while low prices are seen as an indicator of lower kashrut standards. Sources in the kosher slaughtering world who insisted on remaining anonymous were skeptical of Fleisch's kashrut level. However, none of the sources who spoke with the Post had actually seen Fleisch's slaughter method in action. All of Fleisch's chickens are labeled with a telephone number and an invitation to see the slaughter process in person. This week the Post visited Fleisch's operation at the Of Hanegev slaughterhouse near Netivot, together with a group of senior American-born OU rabbis living in Israel. The group included Rabbi Berel Wein, Rabbi Shalom Gold, Rabbi Aharon Borow, Rabbi Moshe Gorelik and Rabbi Jay Karzen. They were positively impressed by the slaughter method. Shuki Batist, Fleisch's marketing director, said its marketing strategy was very cautious. "We barely advertise and we are careful to market our chickens only in haredi supermarket chains," he said. Sources close to Fleisch, who preferred to remain anonymous to avoid entering into conflicts with others in the kosher meat market, said Fleisch's detractors were motivated primarily by personal business interests. "If you can buy a Glatt kosher chicken for just a few shekels a kilo more than a regular Rabbinate chicken, why wouldn't you?" asked one source. "There are private butchers in Jerusalem who received telephone calls claiming that Fleisch chickens are worse than regular Chief Rabbinate chickens. "But so far no one has listened. And soon we will be expanding to cattle at well," the source said.