To contemporary kosher consumers, the term “glatt” connotes much more than its specific technical definition regarding lumbar adhesions to a cow’s lungs. However, exactly what it means is unclear. Does it mean “very kosher,” adhering to a standard stricter than bare minimum requirements, similar to the “mehadrin” label used frequently in Israel? Or does it have a more halakhic definition?
R. J. David Bleich recently revisited the issue of force-fed veal, which R. Moshe Feinstein declared non-kosher decades ago but was largely ignored. R. Bleich dismissed R. Feinstein’s objections as counter-factual but expressed concern over animals that are fed non-kosher food their entire lives. While the majority of authorities permit such an animal, a significant minority forbid. Can such an animal be considered “glatt“?
R. J. David Bleich writes: (Contemporary Halakhic Problems, vol. 6 pp. 321-322):
Assuming that there is no problem of issur hana’ah [an item forbidden from benefit] resulting from biblically prohibited cooked milk and meat [which the animal ate all its life], a kashrut supervisory authority would be justified in relying upon the position of Shakh since it appears to be accepted by the majority of latter-day authorities. However, certification of veal raised under such conditions as glatt kosher is more problematic.
The term glatt, or the Hebrew halak, in its literal meaning refers to the fact that the lungs have been found to be “smooth,” i.e., no adhesions are present that might compromise the kashrut of the animal. The reason for that standard is that the presence of an adhesion requires a determination that the adhesion is not of a nature that would render the animal non-kosher. Such a determination usually requires adjudication between conflicting halakhic opinions and also presents issues with regard to the method employed in removal of the adhesions prior to examination for a possible perforation.
The Gemara, Hullin 37b, cites Ezekiel 4:14; “…I have not eaten of neveilah or treifah from my youth until now,” and offers a remarkable interpretation. Neveilah and treifah are forbidden to all Jews. It would have been unthinkable for Ezekiel to have violated those prohibitions. Hence, his almost boastful comment would have been entirely superfluous. Accordingly, the Gemara understands Ezekiel to have exclaimed, “I have not eaten of an animal with regard to which a scholar ruled,” i.e., Ezekiel, as an act of piety, refused to eat meat whose kashrut was the subject of any doubt even if it was ruled to be kosher by a competent scholar.
The term glatt in common parlance has acquired the connotation that food described in that manner is not in the category of behemah she-horah bah hakham, i.e., it is not foodstuff whose kashrut was subject to question and whose acceptability is contingent upon a permissive determination by a scholar. That expanded connotation of the term glatt is entirely understandable since the piety adopted by Ezekiel and emulated by others was assuredly not limited to lumbar adhesions. Adhesions of the lungs are simply the most common problem requiring an opinion of a scholar with regard to the kashrut of the animal. Adjudication of a controversy between Rema and Shakh certainly entails a “ruling of a scholar” which those who adopt a glatt standard of kashrut would be unwilling to entertain.
Perhaps this also explains the existence of glatt kosher chicken and turkey. The fowl must be so unquestionably kosher that such a determination does not require the ruling of a scholar. It still leaves me puzzled over glatt kosher pizza and sushi. However, I suspect that this definition of “glatt” is R. Bleich’s own and not that of the major kosher supervision agencies. Personally, I find it an elegant expansion of the term’s original meaning and more halakhically based than the alternative “very kosher.” I am not aware of any other attempts to define the term’s contemporary meaning. Of course, non-glatt meat is perfectly kosher, assuming it is produced properly. However, it must be appropriately labeled to avoid misleading consumers.
(See also this article: What’s the Truth About… Glatt Kosher by R. Ari Zivotofsky)