Teaching the Knack of Nikkur: Rabbi from OU Kosher Instructs a New Generation of Mashgichim

17 May 2007


On the first day of Rabbi Abraham Juravel’s class there were 12 students. On the second day there were five students.

Rabbi Juravel was happy. “If you’re not ready to work in this environment, this is not the place for you,” he said.

The place he was referring to is a meat processing plant in the Montreal area. A Rabbinic Coordinator at OU Kosher and an expert in meat, Rabbi Juravel was introducing students to the complex world of nikkur, the de-veining of meat, also known as treibering, when the fat is removed as well. Rabbi Juravel was visiting in Montreal in early May as an expert brought in by the Vaad Ha’ir of Montreal to oversee a course in nikkur it was offering and, in Rabbi Juravel’s words, to “get the program off the ground.”

Why did Montreal bring him in?

“We knew he had a tremendous amount of knowledge in nikkur, that he had given similar instruction at a program at the Orthodox Union, and we felt that with his expertise and knowledge it would be advantageous to see him in action and to get trained by him,” explained Rabbi Saul Emanuel, Executive Director of the Montreal Vaad.

The trainees, in turn, are members of the Montreal Orthodox community. They include rabbis and students, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, all of whom – on the first day at least – wanted to pursue a course in nikkur and melicha (salting) so as to serve as mashgichim in local plants.

Cliff’s Notes would not suffice. The course runs 12 weeks, through July, and will be devoted to briskets; necks/chuck; shoulders; ribs; plates (located near the abdominal wall); skirts (the diaphragm) and hangers (a part of the diaphragm); tongues; sweetbreads (a gland); brains; hearts; livers; spleens and tails; plus review classes. There will be lectures on the halacha (Jewish law) of nikkur and melicha, taken from Yorah De’ah in the Shulchan Aruch, the section of the compendium of Jewish law which deals with kashrut – much of which will be new to the students, Rabbi Juravel said, and none of which is easy.

Oh yes, there will be a final exam. The passing mark is 100, because Rabbi Juravel explained, “even a 95 might render the meat treif (not kosher).”

Rabbi Juravel is part of a team of OU rabbinical experts who take to the road under a variety of programs to bring kosher education at all levels to the Jewish world. Programs take the rabbis to yeshivot to meet students from the early grades to high school seniors; to synagogues to address congregations and answer their questions; to plants and factories to instruct the staff; even to Wall Street firms to bring a taste of kosher (pun intended!) to up-and-coming young professionals who may know little about their Jewish heritage.

Programs on OU Radio, www.ouradio.org, enable the rabbis to provide kosher knowledge to audiences worldwide, tuning in on the web. Rabbinical groups and mashgichim from every segment of the Orthodox world visit OU headquarters where they are instructed by senior staff, starting with Rabbi Menachem Genack, Chief Executive Officer, and Rabbi Moshe Elefant Chief Operating Officer of OU Kosher. The Harry H. Beren Foundation of Lakewood, NJ provides funding for a wide variety of these programs, including a seminar on nikkur in January, at which Rabbi Juravel served as one of the star instructors, and which came to the attention of the Montreal Vaad’s Rabbi Emanuel.

“We feel a responsibility to share our knowledge and standards with as broad a base as possible in the Jewish community across the board – whether to the local vaad, to schools and shuls, or to the consumer,” declared Dr. Simcha Katz, Chairman of the Kashrut Commission, which oversees the work of OU Kosher. “We see ourselves as an educational resource to the community.”

Rabbi Genack added, “The nikkur seminar in January was an extraordinary event. Rabbi Juravel, together with Rabbi Seth Mandel, literally gave a guided tour through 600 pounds of meat which was delivered that morning to the OU. The audience, which included a wide range of Jewish learning– congregational rabbis, poskim, dayanim from chasidish communities, mashgichim and vaad hakashrut members – was spellbound as our experts showed how to do nikkur and treibering, the OU way – meaning the most accepted way. No wonder the Montreal vaad called on Rabbi Juravel to work with its program.”

Rabbi Juravel will return several times to Canada to monitor the course and to give the final exam, leaving instruction in the good hands of a menaker (a local butcher who treibers). On the second day of the program, however, he provided his own hands-on direction to the five remaining students.

“I showed them the various parts of the animal before it was cut into pieces,” he recalled. Then, cutting began, with the chuck/neck, shoulder and brisket being the first to undergo the knife. As the plant workers cut up the carcass and were removing veins and trimming the meat, Rabbi Juravel provided commentary.

“I showed students the meat before and after nikkur, and pointed out the differences and where the veins were which were removed,” he said. “They also saw where the neck had to be trimmed due to blood on it from the shechita (slaughtering). Before each piece was put on the belt to go to melicha (for salting), it had to be checked by a mashgiach to make sure the nikkur was done properly. That day I served as the mashgiach. I checked every piece of meat and because of that, I was able to show the trainees what to look for. After ten shoulders, I had the trainees check them, and they did find some veins that were left and still had to be removed. Of course, I rechecked it after they did.”

The mashgiach, Rabbi Juravel made clear, does not do the cutting himself, nor does he even have to watch it being done. Rather, he must examine the finished piece and make his determination if the nikkur was done properly. “I can walk into a refrigerator and see whether it’s done properly or not,” Rabbi Juravel said with pride. Twelve weeks from now, his students in Montreal should be able to do the same thing. That’s why Rabbi Juravel was there; that’s why he was brought in to oversee the program; and that’s why OU Kosher once again was able to fulfill its constantly expanding mission of bringing kashrut education and OU standards to the Jewish world.