Lubavitcher Shechita – What, When, Why & Who?
August 22, 2019
Beis Moshiach in #1179, Chassidic Customs, Mivtza Kashrus

When did the Rebbe “take responsibility” for the shechita, and is Lubavitcher shechita necessarily always the best, highest level of kashrus?

By Zalman Tzorfati

The story is told about Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev who once landed in a small village. The local butcher asked him whether he was a shochet. When R’ Levi Yitzchok said yes, the butcher asked him to shecht a cow for him since the usual shochet, whom he worked with, did not live nearby and it would take a lot of time until he came and he needed the meat right away. In exchange for R’ Levi Yitzchok’s services he promised to pay him double what he usually paid the regular shochet.

R’ Levi Yitzchok told the butcher that he was willing to slaughter the cow but first he urgently needed some money, and he mentioned a large sum. “Can you lend it to me and I will repay you when I return to this village after raising the money I need. My appearance tells you that I will be successful in raising the money and no doubt, Jews will open their doors to me and be happy to donate tzedaka, so you have nothing to worry about.”

The butcher said that although he was willing to give him his cow to shecht, still, after all, he did not know him and although R’ Levi Yitzchok looked honorable, he could not give that sum of money to someone he did not know.

R’ Levi Yitzchok said, “When it comes to something minor like money, you do not rely on my appearance as a upstanding Jew, yet when it comes to shechita, which entails much more responsibility, you rely on my appearance without knowing me at all!”

FOOD AFFECTS THE NESHAMA

The Rebbe announced Mivtza Kashrus in the summer of 5735/1975. In a sicha the Rebbe said on 16 Tammuz, he issued an impassioned call to all Jews to especially strengthen the mitzva of kashrus. Among other points, he said that the precipitous decline and spiritual deterioration in the state of Judaism in recent generations was an external symptom caused by the lack of keeping the laws of kashrus and not observing the laws of family purity.

The Rebbe said that it says in holy books, and also mentioned in science books, that food that is digested in the body has an effect not only on the person’s body but also on his psyche and character traits. Therefore, eating and drinking non-kosher food has a most deleterious effect on man’s inclinations.

As is known, beyond being involved in Mivtza Kashrus, kashering kitchens and trying to get as many Jews as possible to eat kosher, Chabad Chassidim are particular to eat food with the highest level of kashrus. This is true of food in general and all the more so with meat where the concern is not only about superlative kashrus but about “Lubavitcher shechita.”

Today, there is an upsurge in the field of Lubavitcher shechita. Several companies compete in shechting chicken and cattle with Lubavitcher shechita under the hechsher of known Chabad rabbanim, and in winning market share among Lubavitcher consumers. It is safe to say that most Lubavitcher families are particular nowadays to buy only from such a shechita.

It was not always like this. There were times when people were very particular about only eating from the shechita of a Lubavitcher Chassid, but there were periods in time when even our Rebbeim relied on G-d fearing shochtim who were not Lubavitcher Chassidim.

TREMENDOUS RESPONSIBILITY AND HIGH LEVEL TRAINING

“The matter of shechita and the role of the shochet entails a tremendous responsibility and demands a higher level of yiras shomayim and training than other holy endeavors,” says Rabbi Sholom Dickstein, a shochet from Melbourne. “If it happens that a rav made a mistake with a psak halacha, it is always possible to check things out with another rav. Even if a mohel, G-d forbid, is slacking off on the job it will ultimately be discovered. But a shochet can produce a treifa and nobody will know but him. This is why a shochet needs to be exceedingly honest and G-d fearing.

“In Shulchan Aruch it says that a shochet needs to be a yerei shomayim meirabim. There are three explanations of what this means: 1 – that he be G-d fearing for a long time; 2 – that many testify that he is G-d fearing; 3 – that he is more G-d fearing than other people. But the chiddush of Lubavitcher shechita is that in order to be truly G-d fearing, you need to learn Chassidus in depth.”

IN THE BEGINNING

Lubavitcher shechita is actually one of the first areas that Chassidim were particular about and was one of the first points of contention in the disputes between Misnagdim and Chassidim. It started with the enactment regarding “ground down” knives (not just to have a sharpened edge), one of the great innovations of the Alter Rebbe. This enactment was established by the Mezritcher Maggid but it was the Alter Rebbe who implemented and promoted it.

The Misnagdim accused the Chassidim of starting a cult separate from Judaism and their proof was that Chassidim refrain from eating from the kosher shechita of Klal Yisrael and eat only their own shechita. This claim was added to the accusatory screed filed against the Alter Rebbe, and years later was part of the accusation against his son, the Mittler Rebbe.

We won’t get into the technical explanation about the chiddush of “ground down” knives, mainly because today, this hiddur has been adopted by all and you won’t find a shochet or slaughterhouse using a knife which isn’t “ground down.”

As the Mittler Rebbe said (Igeres 30 in his Igros Kodesh) that even the Misnagdic groups “whose belief is in the Rav Ha’Chassid of Vilna, eat also from a ‘ground down’ knife.”

However, despite the enactment about knives being accepted by one and all, our Rebbeim continued to encourage having special shechita for Chabad Chassidim. In many letters and instructions that our Rebbeim gave to Chassidim in towns and villages, they instructed them about eating only from the shechita of a Chassidishe shochet. The main reason, beyond the sharpness of the knife and expertise in shechita, was the importance ascribed to the shochet himself.

TRAITS OF A CHASSIDISHE SHOCHET

“Great care must be taken to ensure that the shochtim who are appointed are careful and quick and known for fear of heaven even more so than the shochet in the time of the Talmud,” paskens the Alter Rebbe in his Shulchan Aruch in the laws of shechita.

The Mittler Rebbe wrote an “awesome warning,” to all the shochtim and bodkim in Chabad communities, about constantly learning and reviewing the halachos and about the character of the shochet that he must be G-d fearing and not, G-d forbid, one who is suspected of rejecting the yoke of the ways of Hashem.”

The Rebbe Rayatz said in a sicha, “A shochet is not… someone who holds a knife and kills animals … A shochet is the heart of the community and spirit of life of the community, to arrange established times to learn Torah etc. and in addition, he is also involved in the craft of slaughtering but not that this is his main work.”

The image of a shochet as an elevated person, disengaged from the vanities of this world and completely immersed in Torah and avodas Hashem; a spiritual leader who is also concerned about the spiritual parnassa of the people in his community and those around him; this is what stands at the very core of Lubavitcher shechita. These are the expectations of shochtim in “Lubavicher shechita.” The Rebbe added another expectation, an understanding and conduct in a way of Ahavas Yisrael:

“And one should add regarding the trade of slaughtering itself, that the shochet ‘needs to check [the knife] against skin and nail’ and to ‘check it with the tip of his tongue,’ we can say that the idea in avoda is that the shochet has to check himself so that he doesn’t have nails that jab [others] … and he needs to check his speech, the content of what he says and the style, that they be the way they ought to be.  Without that he is nothing more that a man with a knife who kills animals and then the animal complains: Why are you taking my life? How are you better than me?”

SHECHITA TRAINING IN TOMCHEI TMIMIM

The demand for Chassidishe shochtim who are immersed in Torah and avodas Hashem in Nigleh and Chassidus was a factor that led to the study of shechita becoming part of the curriculum when the Rebbe Rashab founded Tomchei Tmimim. Hundreds of tmimim in Lubavitch developed the expertise to be shochtim and bodkim.

The title shochet-and-bodek was used because, in the past, it was customary for the shochet to also check the kashrus of the animal after the shechita to allay any concerns of it being a treifa. Today too, every shochet must also know how to check and you cannot get a certificate as a shochet without being expert in bedika. Nowadays, usually, shochtim work in rotation with one shechting and one checking.

The decision to prepare talmidim of the yeshiva to serve as shochtim and bodkim led to the reality that most cities and towns in Russia had Chassidishe shochtim. It was a given that when Chassidim and Misnagdim lived in small towns and there was room for one rav and one shochet, that the Chassidim always asked to choose the Chassidishe shochet while the position of rav was left to the others.

With the rise of the communists to power, it turned out that the fact that many Chassidim were shochtim enabled the continuation of kosher meat and the Rebbe Rayatz sent many emissaries to shecht chickens for Jews throughout Russia.

A SHOCHET IN GALOSHES?

It wasn’t enough that shochtim belong to Anash Chassidei Chabad; the main concern was for G-d fearing shochtim in the full sense of the term. In addition, our Rebbeim required that Chassidishe shochtim review the halachos of shechita and learn Chassidus on topics connected with shechita on a nearly daily basis, beyond the obvious need for exceptional G-d fearing conduct.

One of the famous stories in connection with this is about the shochtim of Nevel who went to the Tzemach Tzedek and complained about one another. The Tzemach Tzedek listened and did not react. But when one of the sides claimed that the other shochet wore galoshes which was considered a modern fashion item at the time, the Tzemach Tzedek immediately reacted strongly and wondered how a shochet can wear galoshes.

In the Tzemach Tzedek’s time there was once a dispute between one of the gedolei Yisrael and one of the great Chassidim. During the discussion, the rav said to the Chassid that the Tzemach Tzedek was not known to be stringent in the laws of shechita and about the shochet.

Hearing this, the Chassid immediately corrected him and said, “You are mistaken. It is true that the Rebbe was sometimes lenient when it came to a specific detail in the laws of shechita if he found a basis for it and relied on the poskim but when it comes to the shochet himself, chalila to be lenient and look for leniencies, since the quality of the shechita is a general and constant issue.”

In letters of the Rebbe to shochtim we find the instruction that the shochet not allow three days to pass without in-depth study of Chassidus. For example, the Rebbe writes to a shochet in London (12 Teves 5712): “Surely it is superfluous to rouse him about exertion in having set times to learn Nigleh and Chassidus, especially when coming to a new place where the people look at him as one of the products of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and that he is a model of a Chassidishe shochet.”

THE REBBE RENEWS LUBAVITCHER SHECHITA

Many chickens passed under the knife since the time that every family took a chicken from the yard and brought it to the local shochet for him to shecht for their Shabbos meal. Industrial shechita began before the last world war but it greatly developed afterward with the development of technology and the centralization of the food industry and manufacturing.

The one who renewed the emphasis on being particular for Lubavitcher shechita in our generation is the Rebbe, of course. One of the Rebbe’s first references to the subject of Lubavitcher shechita was in a yechidus with Rabbi Yitzchok Hendel who, in his role as rav of the Chabad community in Montreal, was responsible for giving a hechsher on meat and shechitos done for the community.

Until then, there was one Lubavitcher shochet in the city from whom most Lubavitchers bought their meat. However, there were some Lubavitchers who ate from the shechita of a shochet who belonged to a different Chassidic group and were not particular to eat from the shechita of the Lubavitcher shochet.

With the growth of the Chabad community, Rabbi Hendel decided to open a line of meat products with Lubavitcher shechita under the hashgacha of the Vaad Ha’Rabbanim and under his personal hashgacha.

In order to establish and expand the system of Lubavitcher shechita, it was necessary to include other shochtim. Since there weren’t enough Lubavitcher shochtim in the city, Rabbi Hendel considered including a Chassidishe shochet who was not a Lubavitcher. It should be noted that Chabad in Montreal had founded an official Chabad organization that supervised the entire process of preparing meat, from the shechita till its sale to the public, and the intention was to appoint that shochet as a bodek.

Rabbi Hendel brought up the idea in yechidus that took place around Shavuos at the end of the 1950s.

THE LUBAVITCHER REBBE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE SHECHITA

During the yechidus, the Rebbe said to Rabbi Hendel that he needed to begin to institute a Lubavitcher shechita in Montreal. R’ Hendel asked: What does that mean?

The Rebbe said: Lubavitcher shechita is shechita that the Rebbe, my father-in-law, would eat.

R’ Hendel understood that the Rebbe was at that very moment introducing a new standard of conduct for Chassidim and so he said that he still did not understand precisely what this meant. The Rebbe clarified: When people say that meat is Lubavitcher shechita, it means that the Lubavitcher Rebbe is responsible for the shechita and the Rebbe can be responsible for the shechita only when all the shochtim are G-d fearing. The Rambam writes (Hilchos Yesodei Ha’Torah), “What is the way to love Him and fear Him? When a person contemplates His deeds and sees from them His wisdom etc.” Someone who wants to learn about the greatness of Hashem and meditate upon it, must learn Chassidus.

R’ Hendel asked: If the shochet that we have here in Montreal learns Polish Chassidishe sefarim (and he named sefarim that the shochet learned) is that okay?

The Rebbe gazed at R’ Hendel and said: These sefarim are indeed good explanations of the Torah but learning them does not constitute meditating on the greatness of Hashem. Lubavitcher shechita is shechita by Chassidishe shochtim who learn Chassidus themselves and influence the community members in the ways of Chassidus.

During the yechidus, the Rebbe also said: If you know the shochet and know he is G-d fearing, you may eat of his shechita. However, in order to say that it is Lubavitcher shechita, the shochet has to learn Chassidus.

ARE OTHER SHECHITOS NOT MEHUDAROS?

Despite our being particular as Chabad Chassidim to insist upon Lubavitcher shechita, obviously, aspersions should not be cast on other fine shechitos when they are conducted according to all the rules and hiddurim by G-d fearing shochtim and bodkim.

What the Rebbe told R’ Hendel in yechidus shows us the Rebbe’s view of Lubavitcher shechita. The Rebbe does not invalidate shechita that is not Lubavitcher shechita, and he does not say that a Jew who does not learn Chassidus cannot be G-d fearing, G-d forbid. The Rebbe is saying that there are definitely shochtim who are G-d fearing who do not learn Chassidus and you can even eat from their shechita, but this is not called Lubavitcher shechita.

This is why there was never any instruction to insist on Lubavitcher shechita to the point that it is necessary to kasher keilim if meat that wasn’t Lubavitcher shechita was cooked in the keilim of Lubavitchers. G-d forbid to say that this meat isn’t kosher. This is just about a hiddur.

This can already be seen from a letter that the Alter Rebbe sent to Anash in Vilna following complaints from there to the effect that Chassidim were impugning the local shechita in Vilna. The Alter Rebbe wrote to his Chassidim that although “shechita with knives that were ‘ground down’ is a great and tremendous mitzva, which our Rebbeim… adopted and literally, literally gave their lives for this, money should be no object in seeing to it that there be a full time shochet.  However, if at times they are seated at a seudas mitzva with the people of their city, chalila to separate from them; to consider them eaters of neveilos, is beyond mention. And I have never restricted myself from utensils, even those used that same day, and the content and essence of the matter is impossible to explain properly in a letter.”

EXTREME CARE

Does the fact that meat is Lubavitcher shechita necessarily attest to its mehudar kashrus? Does the Rebbe take responsibility for the kashrus of every animal and chicken that is shechted by a shochet who learns Chassidus?

Rabbi Sholom Dickstein, shochet and bodek in Melbourne, Australia: “Obviously, what the Rebbe said does not give an automatic guarantee to any shechita called Lubavitcher shechita. When the Rebbe says that Lubavitch takes responsibility, that means when the shechita is done properly.  The Rebbe himself said that Lubavitcher shechita means that the shochet is a yirei shomayim. It is necessary to be extremely particular about all of the accepted chumros and hakpados. It is necessary to do everything so we do not, G-d forbid, cause any obstacle to go out from under our hands. It’s only that after these efforts are made, since we are still human and mistakes happen, that here is where the umbrella of the Rebbe’s taking responsibilty comes in.

“Personally, this is why I shecht only for Lubavitcher shechita since I know that only with this shechita is there this guarantee that after I do all that I can, no obstacle will go out from under my hand.”

R’ Mordechai Kalmanson, the son of Rabbi Yisrael Shimon, the Rebbe’s shochet, said that every year when he went to the Rebbe after he shechted the chicken for kapparos, the Rebbe spoke with him about the state of shechita in the world and there were years that the Rebbe spoke about the importance of Lubavitcher shechita.

THE CHASSID THAT REVEALED HIMSELF WITH MESIRUS NEFESH

Many stories are told about the battles between Chassidim and Misnagdim that generally ended with a Rav a Misnaged and a Chassidishe shochet. A story like this happened in the time of the Tzemach Tzedek.

A Chassid was asked to serve as a melamed in a certain town. Before he went, he had yechidus with the Tzemach Tzedek. The Rebbe told him that mesirus nefesh was needed for Chassidishe shechita. The Chassid did not understand what this meant because he was not a shochet, but he filed the line away.

Years later, the Chassidishe shochet in the town died and the position became a huge point of contention. The Chassidim in that town were simple people and once, in the course of one of the arguments, the Rav, a Misnaged, made a comment that the Chassidim did not have the right to say who the shochet should be since they did not know how to learn.

The melamed heard this and he suggested to the Rav that they have a learning competition. He suggested that they open the Maharsha’s commentary (which was then printed separately) at random and each one have a turn to explain it.

After several attempts in which the Rav was stumped and the melamed explained the Maharasha nicely, the Rav gave in and agreed to give the position of shochet to the Chassidim. Afterward, the Chassidim grabbed the melamed and wanted to take him to task. How was it that he revealed his scholarship to all and acted as someone proud of his learning?

The melamed told them about his yechidus with the Tzemach Tzedek that he had long since forgotten. “When I heard the Rav’s haughty claim, I recalled what the Rebbe said that for shechita you need mesirus nefesh and I realized that the time had come.”

IT’S NOT POLITICS

In a talk that Rav Hendel gave in Crown Heights shortly before his passing, he addressed some of the arguments that people make about the insistence on Lubavitcher shechita:

One of the main issues in the field of kashrus is the matter of shechita, Lubavitcher shechita.  People think that the entire issue is political, and that there are various interests and reasons that have no connection to kashrus.  Let it be known that all of these arguments come from the yetzer hara, and what is behind it is the matter of the expense in that Lubavitch meat costs more money, or it requires extra effort to get hold of, or other reasons that hold the person back from acquiring Lubavitch meat.

“There are those who argue, what is Lubavitch shechita? Kosher is kosher.

“The Rebbe once said that he himself is responsible for Lubavitch shechita.  It is necessary for the shochet to be a Chabad Chassid, and the hechsher on the meat has to be under Lubavitch supervision.”

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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