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Filet Mignon

By Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Administrative Rabbinic Coordinator

Q. There was an ad in my local paper for glatt kosher filet mignon.  Is that legitimate? 

A. The first steps in obtaining a kosher piece of meat are choosing a kosher species (e.g., cow, sheep, deer), performing shechitah, and checking that it is not a teraifah.  But that is not all.  Kosher meat contains several items which must be removed before we can eat it.  The most well-known of these is blood, which is removed through salting/melichah.  And before melichah there is a step known as traiboring (Yiddish) or nikkur (Hebrew).

Nikkur involves the removal of four groups of items from the carcass: [1] large blood vessels where blood collects and will not be drawn out by melichah, [2] certain repulsive items (mius), [3] the gid hanasheh, a series of nerves in the animal’s hind legs, and [4] certain fats (known as chailev) which are forbidden.  The first two of these are found all over the animal, but the third and fourth (gid hanasheh and the d’oraisah examples of chailev) are almost exclusively found in the animal’s hindquarters (i.e., the back half).  Due to tedious work required to remove chailev and the gid hanasheh, and the seriousness of mistakenly eating from them, the common practice in the United States is to sell the entire hindquarter to non-Jews and not consider it “kosher”.  [Some chailev is in the forequarters and is removed during nikkur].

All major hashgachos in the United States follow this practice, but there is a slight nuance in why they do so.  Some feel that there is a formal minhag not to use the hindquarters, while others believe that it is just an admirable decision based on a cost-benefit analysis.  Regardless, it is the policy of all major hashgachos.  Therefore, since filet mignon is one of the many cuts of meat which are from the hindquarters, you will not find beef filet mignon with a mainstream hashgachah.

Nonetheless, there are some individual Rabbis who do not follow this position, and they will certify filet mignon.  Presumably, the advertisement you saw for glatt kosher filet mignon was from meat certified by one of these Rabbis.  The fact that this Rabbi chooses to go against the consensus also raises concerns that he may be taking other positions which are not up to generally accepted standards.

The above is true in the United States and many other countries.  It is, however, noteworthy that in certain communities in Eretz Yisroel (and elsewhere) they have a long tradition of performing nikkur on the hindquarters.  Someone who is part of one of those communities should follow their practices, including as relates to filet mignon.

An interesting addendum to this discussion is that Rav Elyashiv ruled that the practice not to use hindquarters is specific to cows, sheep, and goats.  These animals are classified as “beheimos” whose chailev is forbidden, and we avoid much of that chailev by limiting ourselves to the forequarters.  But deer are considered “chayos” and their chailev is permitted.  Therefore, after removing the gid hanasheh (which is forbidden in chayos as well), the hindquarters are acceptable for use.  This means that one can potentially eat filet mignon or other cuts of meat (e.g., T-bone steak) from the hindquarters of venison (deer).

This article first appeared in the Let’s Talk Kashrus column, Yated Ne’eman, July 14, 2023.