April 12, 2024
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A Tisha B’Av Lesson From Hacham Ovadia Yosef and Chalak Beit Yosef

An important lesson for Tisha b’Av may be gleaned from Hacham Ovadia Yosef’s approach to the issue of chalak, or glatt kosher meat. On the one hand, Hacham 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). Hacham Ovadia’s grandson Yaakov Sasson does an excellent job explaining the issue in the Halacha Yomit of May 11, 2015.

Sephardic Jews Should Be Strict for Chalak Beit Yosef

One of the blemishes that render an animal forbidden for consumption is “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 certain problematic sirchot that raise questions about whether or not the animal can be rendered kosher or non-kosher.

Maran Rabbeinu Yosef Karo, zt”l, rules strictly in his Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah, Chapter 39, Section 10) and 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, as opposed to those who rub the sircha and if it is removed, they assume there is room for leniency. Anyone who does so is tantamount to feeding treifot to the Jewish nation.

Nevertheless, the Rama (ibid. Section 13), whose rulings are followed by Ashkenazi Jews, rules as follows: “Some permit mashing sirchot and rubbing them, and they claim that an actual sircha (the forbidden kind and not merely mucus) cannot be disconnected even if one rubs it all day 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 that 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 Bet Yosef’s standards, for according to the majority of the poskim, including Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch, this issue borders on a possible Torah prohibition of consuming treifot.

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.

Hacham Ovadia championed adopting the chalak Beit Yosef standard as another example of “chazarat atara l’yoshna,” restoring the [Sephardic] crown to its original glory. Interestingly, after learning the teshuva in Yechave Da’at with my friend Dr. David Serur in 1986, we met with Rav Yehuda Amital, zt”l, the great co-rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion. We asked if it was absolutely necessary for a Sephardic Jew to strictly adhere to this ruling of Hacham 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 30 years, and chalak Beit Yosef is much more available in areas where there is a large population of Sephardic Jews such as Brooklyn, Queens and Deal and, of course (and l’havdil), most of Medinat Yisrael. Thus, I do not believe Rav Amital would make that statement today, considering current circumstances.

A Sephardic Guest at an Ashkenazic Home

Despite Hacham Ovadia’s firm stance regarding chalak Beit Yosef, he champions a lenient approach for a Sephardic Jew visiting an Ashkenazi friend or relative, where obtaining meat that is chalak Beit Yosef is not a realistic option. In such a case, Hacham 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.

Hacham Ovadia cites the Devar Shmuel (number 320) who rules that one may rule leniently in such a situation due to a sfeik sfeika, a double doubt (one may rely on a s’feik s’feika, generally speaking, even regarding a Torah-level prohibition). One safek is whether the meat satisfies the Beit Yosef standard, since meat labeled as glatt by Ashkenazic standards might be chalak even according to Maran. A second safek 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. Hacham Ovadia did not veer from this ruling and it is codified by his son Hacham Yitzhak in his Yalkut Yosef to Yoreh Deah Chapter 39.

A Tisha B’Av 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 Sephradim adopt regarding kitniyot (Teshuvot Yechave Da’at 5:32). In the aforementioned Teshuvot Yabia Omer, Hacham 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 Hacham 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. Hacham Ovadia was very close with the great Ashkenazic poskim in Yerushalayim such as Rav Tzvi 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.

By Rabbi Haim Jachter

 Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a Rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a Dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.


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