Many followers of Yeshua who observe the Torah know that eating unclean animals such as pork, shellfish, rabbit, etc. is a violation of Elohim’s commands.
What is usually given less thought is the possibility that the meat from clean animals that we buy from the grocery store may not be fit for consumption according to biblical standards.
In this post, I will go over the things I believe we should consider when buying meat as well as my humble conclusions based on my research into this topic.
The commandment not to eat blood goes as far back as Genesis 9:4 even before the covenant at Mt Sinai
But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.
This prohibition is repeated with an explanation of the penalty for violating this command in Leviticus:
For as for the life of all flesh, its blood is identified with its life. Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, ‘You are not to eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.
In addition to blood, we are commanded to abstain from a certain type of fat called chelev.
Chelev is present on many inner organs as well as certain cuts of the meat and must be removed before the meat can be cooked.
This was the exact type of fat that was offered to Elohim upon the sacrificial altar. Because of this, some suggest that this prohibition was only for animals that were offered as a sacrifice. But the following verse seems to disagree:
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘You shall not eat any chelev from an ox, a sheep, or a goat. Also, the chelev of an animal which dies and the chelev of an animal torn by animals may be put to any other use, but you certainly are not to eat it. For whoever eats the chelev of the animal from which an offering by fire is offered to the Lord, the person who eats it shall also be cut off from his people.
From this verse, we can see a general prohibition on eating chelev as well as a more specific prohibition against eating chelev from animals that were sacrificed. The main difference between the two is that the penalty for eating chelev from a sacrificial animal is to be cut off from the people.
In the story of the mysterious figure wrestling with Jacob in Genesis, we are told:
Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the gid hanasheh (sciatic nerve) which is on the socket of the hip, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip in the gid hanasheh.
Here, unlike most other commands, we are not directly commanded not to eat it. It just says that we don’t.
However, this to me is a pretty clear indication that we are expected to avoid eating it.
Blood in Kosher Meat vs Standard Meat
So the main question is… Should we buy our meat certified kosher or does standard meat meet biblical requirements?
Firstly, I think it’s important to understand that it is not possible to remove all the blood from an animal. We simply must meet the standard that was laid out in the bible.
Meat that is certified kosher must meet several requirements regarding the removal of blood…Some of which are biblical… others are not:
- The animal must be ritually slaughtered (not mentioned in the bible)
- The animal must be drained of its blood (biblical)
- The meat must be deveined to remove any residual blood (not mentioned in the bible)
- The animal must be soaked in water and salted to remove extra blood (not mentioned in the bible)
From the bible, we know that all the blood should be drained out from the animal. So the question arises: Do regular slaughter practices meet the biblical standards for draining the blood?
As a matter of fact, they do. At least they do here in the USA.
The research I was able to find on this question all confirmed that the amount of blood drained from the animal that was standardly slaughtered is equal to the amount drained during a kosher slaughter.
So there appears to be nothing about the ritual slaughtering process that drains any more blood than standard slaughter.
But what about soaking and salting the meat…Does this process actually remove more blood?
This was difficult to research because almost no research has gone into this. But I did come across a Dutch Jewish journalist who had standard meat tested against certified kosher meat (https://youtu.be/VFCbvR27920).
The meat was inspected under a microscope and determined that the meat that was soaked and salted contained no less blood than the regular meat.
One could argue that one video found on the internet is hardly conclusive. And I would understand if someone decided to buy their meat certified kosher until further proof was found.
However, for me, I look at the fact that salting and soaking are not mentioned in the bible…I also consider the fact that when I visually inspect the meat, there’s no visible difference in the amount of blood.
So I use the Youtube video linked above to simply confirm these other two facts.
Should any further research present itself that proves otherwise, I would certainly reconsider my conclusion.
Until then, regarding the question of blood, I have concluded that meat that is not certified kosher does meet biblical standards.
But there is still the question of how it’s cooked.
With chicken, turkey and fish, for example, these should always be cooked thoroughly as a matter of food safety.
But what about beef, lamb, and goat? Should we be eating steaks that are cooked medium-rare?
I believe the answer is a definite no. Cutting into a piece of meat that is dripping blood from the center I think should speak for itself. For this reason, I consider it necessary to cook all meat until the pink is completely gone, i.e. well-done.
Chelev in Kosher Meat vs. Standard Meat
The first thing to remember is the prohibition on chelev only applies to beef, lamb, and goats, so we don’t need to worry about fat from fowl or fish.
Something else to note is that chelev does not include the marbling that is found within the muscle itself so that is not a concern either.
So with this in mind, there are definitely certain cuts of beef, lamb, and goat (more on this below) that we can buy from standard meat processors.
But when buying from standard processors, unless one is experienced with meat and chelev and knows exactly what to look for, removing all visible fat from the edges of the meat is highly recommended.
As for ground beef, unless processing the meat yourself and you know what to look for, I believe it’s a good idea to buy this certified kosher as there is no sure way to know whether or not chelev was included in meat that has been pre-ground. And obviously, there would be no way to separate it out if it was.
Sciatic Nerve in Kosher Meat vs. Standard Meat
The first thing to note is that chicken, turkey, and fish are all exempt from this prohibition because, according to kosher authorities, none of these animals have circular hip joints.
Regarding cows, lamb and goats, unfortunately, due to the sciatic nerve, certain parts of these animals do not meet biblical standards (more on this below).
Being that the sciatic nerve is extremely difficult to remove it requires a highly skilled shochet (a person trained in kosher meat processing).
Because of this difficulty and the difficultly of removing chelev from certain cuts, kosher processors tend to avoid the back half of the animal and instead sell this area (the hindquarters) to “gentile” processors.
More on the Hindquarters
As mentioned above, the back half of the animal (hindquarters) is generally avoided altogether by kosher meat processors.
Unless one is willing to undergo the training necessary to remove the chelev and sciatic nerve from the back portion of the animal, then we also should probably avoid these cuts as well.
From the diagram above, we can see that the cuts that we can work with include:
- Shank (front only)
- Fish and fowl are ok to buy from standard processors.
- Before cooking cuts of meat from the front half of cows, lamb, and goats, cutting off any visible fat (marbling is exempt) should be fine.
- Avoid cuts from the back half of the animals unless trained to remove sciatic nerve and chelev.
- Always buy ground beef certified kosher.
- Cook all meat until no visible blood remains.