An important lesson for Jewish Unity may be gleaned from Chacham Ovadia Yosef’s approach to the issue of Chalak, or Glatt Kosher Meat. On the one hand, Chacham Ovadia was insistent that Sephardic Jews should make every effort to purchase meat that is Chalak or Glatt by Sephardic standards (Teshuvot Yabia Omer 5: Yoreh Deah 3 and Teshuvot Yechave Da’at 3:56). Chacham Ovadia’s grandson Rav Yaakov Sasson explains the issue in the Halacha Yomit of May 11, 2015.
Sephardic Jews Should be Strict for Chalak Beit Yosef
One of the blemishes which render an animal forbidden for consumption as a Tereifah are “Sirchot” (adhesions that cross the lung from side to side and resemble scabs; if there are Sirchot on the lungs, this is a sign that there was once a hole in that area that was later sealed by this Sircha). When checking for Sirchot, there are specific problematic Sirchot that raise questions of whether or not the animal can be rendered kosher.
Maran Rabbeinu Yosef Karo zt”l follows Teshuvot Rashba (304) and rules strictly in his Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah, Chapter 39, Section 10); he writes that whenever Sirchot are forbidden, there is no difference if the Sircha is as thin as a strand of hair, or if it is thick and strong. Others claim if someone rubs the Sircha and if it is removed, they assume that there is room for leniency. From the Shulchan Aruch’s perspective, anyone who does so, is essentially feeding Tereifot to the Jewish nation.
Nevertheless, the Rama (ibid. Section 13), whose rulings are followed by Ashkenazic Jews, rules as follows: “Some permit mashing Sirchot and rubbing them off of the animal, and they claim that an actual Sircha (the forbidden kind and not merely mucus) cannot be disconnected even if one rubs it all days long. Thus, if it is indeed removed after being mashed, we rule leniently and assume it to be mucus and not a Sircha. Although this is a great leniency, this is already the established custom in these countries; one need not protest this custom, for they have on whom to rely.”
One of the most fundamental issues which Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l instituted for Sephardic Jewry all over the world, was not to purchase meat unless it was truly “Chalak” or “Glatt” according to the Beit Yosef’s standards. Since according to the majority of the Poskim, including the Shulchan Aruch, this issue borders on a possible Torah prohibition of consuming Tereifot.
We should clarify that Chalak Beit Yosef standards are stricter than the Ashkenazic standards for Glatt Kosher meat. Ashkenazic Jews regard meat as Glatt Kosher if one or two negligible and easily removable Sirchot are found on the lung. This does not meet the standard of Chalak Beit Yosef.
Chacham Ovadia championed adopting the Chalak Beit Yosef standard as another example of “HaChazarat Atarah L’Yeshona”, restoring the [Sephardic] crown to its original glory. Interestingly, after learning the Teshuva in Yehave Da’at with my friend Dr. David Serur in 1986, we met with Rav Yehuda Amital zt”l, the great Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion. We asked if it was absolutely necessary for a Sephardic Jew to strictly adhere to this ruling of Chacham Ovadia. Rav Amital responded that “one needs to decide if he wants to eat meat. If he wants to eat meat, then he has no choice other than to follow the lenient approach set forth by the Rama”.
However, it seems that the situation has changed significantly in the past thirty years, and Chalak Beit Yosef is much more available in areas where there is a large population of Sephardic Jews, such as Brooklyn, Queens, Deal and, of course (and L’Havdil), most of Medinat Yisrael. Thus, I doubt whether Rav Amital would make that statement today, considering current circumstances.
A Sephardic Guest at an Ashkenazic Home
Despite Chacham Ovadia’s firm stance regarding Chalak Beit Yosef, he champions a lenient approach for a Sephardic Jew visiting an Ashkenazic friend or relative and obtaining meat where Chalak Beit Yosef is not a realistic option. In such a case, Chacham Ovadia permits eating the meat even if it is not designated on the package as Chalak Beit Yosef, as long as it is Glatt Kosher by Ashkenazic standards.
Chacham Ovadia cites the Devar Shmuel (number 320) who rules that one may rule leniently in such a situation due to a S’feik S’feika, a double doubt (one may rely on a S’feik S’feika, generally speaking, even regarding a Torah level prohibition). One Safeik is whether the meat satisfies the Beit Yosef standard, since meat labeled a Glatt by Ashkenazic standards might be Chalak even according to Maran. A second Safeik is that perhaps Rama and those who support him are correct. Thus, meat that is acceptable only for Ashkenazim, is viewed as possibly acceptable for Sephardic Jews.
Rav Yosef devotes considerable effort to defending and bolstering the approach of the Devar Shmuel. Chacham Ovadia did not veer from this ruling and it is codified by his son Chacham Yitzchak, in his Yalkut Yosef to Yoreh Deah chapter 39.
A Jewish Unity Lesson
Rav Ovadia Yosef elsewhere develops approaches to allow Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews to eat each other’s food even when their Halachic standards differ. Examples include permitting Sephardic Jews to eat food that meets only the more lenient Bishul Akum standard (Teshuvot Yechave Da’at 5:54) and permitting Ashkenazim to eat at a Sephardic home on Pesach despite the lenient approach Sepharadim adopt regarding Kitniyot (Teshuvot Yechave Da’at 5:32). In the aforementioned Teshuvot Yabia Omer, Chacham Ovadia disagrees with Rav Kook and permits Ashkenazim to eat animals slaughtered according to Sephardic Halacha, even though Ashkenazim follow Rama who adopted many Chumrot (stringencies) in regard to Shechita.
As much as Chacham Ovadia championed restoring Sephardic greatness and Sephardic fidelity to the rulings of Maran HaBeit Yosef, Rav Ovadia viewed the unity of Am Yisrael to be of paramount importance. Chacham Ovadia was very close with the great Ashkenazic Poskim in Yerushalayim such as Rav Zvi Pesach Frank, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Rav Eliezer Waldenberg. He even viewed Rav Waldenberg as his “best friend”.
As much as each group of Jews can and should take pride in the practices and customs of their particular “tribe,” we must always bear in mind the bigger picture that we are Am Echad, one nation. Whatever the differences, which we rightfully celebrate, that which unites us is far greater and far more important.
It is possible that if the Rabbanim feel that the local merchants are taking advantage of the Sephardic community and overcharging for Chalak Beit Yosef, that they may instruct Sephardic Jews to fight back and rely on the Ashkenazic standard for Glatt (along the lines of the aforementioned Teshuvot Yabia Omer). Precedent for adopting a lenient approach to fight price gouging may be found in Pesachim 30a, Sukkah 34b, Keritut 8a, Teshuvot Tzemah Tzedek 28, Kaf HaHaim 242:12 and Rav Meir Mazoz (Tehumin 35:91-102).
The Gemara presents cases where Rabbanim advised following more lenient opinions regarding Chametz, Hadassim and the number of Korbanot required of a Yoledet (a woman who gave birth to multiple children). In the contemporary context, Rav Mazoz argues for relying on the Heteir Mechirah (the sale of Israeli land by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate to avoid Shemitah prohibitions) rather than being forced to purchase poor quality products at unreasonable prices that satisfy the more strict approaches to Shemitah.
The Kaf HaChaim mentions an opinion that limits the permission where there is at least a one third price gouge. However, he does not subscribe to this limitation. Instead, he leaves it to the judgment of the leadership of the specific community that is being impacted. Accordingly, if a community deems butchers to be charging Sephardic Jews unreasonable prices for Chalak Beit Yosef meat, they may advise congregants to follow the aforementioned Yabia Omer and purchase meat that satisfies the more lenient Ashkenazic standard of Glatt Kosher.