Focusing in on Cow Butts: The Sciatic Nerve

Comments by Rabbi Shlomo Nachman ben Ya'akov © May 29, 2018

           Please note: Kashrut is a complex topic with myriad minhagim. This page is for information purposes only. Check with your own rabbi to determin proper minhagim for your community.

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The reason the hindquarters are generally considered to be off limits is Genesis 32:33:

"That is why the children of Israel to this day do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the socket of the hip, since Jacob’s hip socket was wrenched at the thigh muscle."
Does this negate the entire back half of the cow? Yes and no.... Here is an excellent presentation from the "The Kosher Omnivore's Quest:"

Despite what many people believe, according to Jewish law all kosher animal butts are perfectly permissible to eat . The myth of hindquarters being treif (not kosher) is pervasive in both the Jewish and non-Jewish world. This was well demonstrated when Hebrew national changed its famous slogan from “We answer to a higher authority” to the very tongue and cheek “No ifs ands or butts”. Hebrew National further helped in the public’s miseducation by publicizing a now well known graphic of a cow whose front half is marked as kosher while the back is said not to be. But this myth is being slowly transformed and several small kosher operations selling backdoor cuts are steadily increasing their business. I predict that with today’s increasingly sophisticated kosher consumer base this market will continue to grow and the opportunity to get a kosher filet mignon or T-bone steak will eventually become an everyday experience.

Even though all butts originating from kosher species are permissible there is a catch when it comes to mammal tuchus in particular. In order for one to partake in this culinary delicacy it must first be purged of forbidden fats, tendons, blood vessels and the gid hanashe (sciatic nerve). This is a lengthy and time consuming process known as nikkur or trabering and can only be performed by specialty kosher butchers called menakrim. The front half of mammals must also be purged for kosher consumption but doing so to the forequarters is much simpler and requires less highly trained butchers.

While highly learned Jews do usually know that the back half of mammals are kosher they also often times wrongly believe that Ashkenazi custom forbids the trabering of these hindquarters. The truth is that well into the 20th century Ashkenazim in the U.S. were performing full nikkur on animals while in Israel and around the world many still do today. Specific Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jewish communities have discontinued the practice of nikkur at different times in history but this was only due to a lack of properly trained menakrim as well as the ease of selling the back half of an animal to the non-kosher market. Over the last 50 years the U.S. Jewish community has slowly transitioned into this category for much the same reasons. Although, trabering is still performed on a few select parts of kosher mammals; including the tail, liver and hanging tender as well as the entire hindquarters of wild animals such as deer and bison.*

Despite all this no national kosher certification in the U.S. is willing to supervise the nikkur of the more commonly eaten domesticated meats such as beef and lamb. This not only deprives consumers of access to some of the choicest cuts but also makes it harder to start small-scale kosher operations that could really benefit from the extra revenue generated from these premium pieces of meat. While I refuse to pass judgment on these organizations, which hold the monumental task of providing million with kosher meat, I do hope to see them do more to expand the availability of these products in the future.

But things are beginning to slowly change; three different companies have begun selling meat from the back end of the cow. The first and oldest of these is Aaron’s Gourmet, who alongside their exotic kosher menu of bison, turduken and venison also sell cuts from all parts of their cows and sheep. Of all three companies Bisra Kosher is the newest player in the world of kosher meat. It was started by Rabbi Avidan Elkind in order to serve his local Sephardi community, where eating from the back half is widely excepted. Along with selling varied cuts of beef Bisra also produces goat meat, specialty smoked delicacies and some great grass fed products too. Last but not least is KOL Foods who have very recently put out a test run of back end cuts from their 5 brisket rated AT beef.

All of these companies are very small players who have had to seek out smaller and lesser-known hashgachot to supervise their “backdoor” meat production, which has certainly hurt sales a great deal. While many companies regularly inquire about producing kosher hindquarters the large certifiers are showing no sign of changing their policy so it seems that the growth of this industry will be slow, but with so many kosher consumers not willing to settle for the same old thing I expect that soon enough we will be seeing more and more kosher meat coming in from the rear.

Source: The Kosher Omnivore's Quest in Exile

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