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Zeroah, Lechayayim, and Keivah

By Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Administrative Rabbinic Coordinator

Q. Is it true that every time an animal is shechted, you have to give the tongue to a Kohen?

A. The Torah says that from every cow, sheep, or goat slaughtered, you must give three parts to a Kohenzeroah – the muscle on the upper two bones of the animal’s right forearm; lechayayim – the jawbone and some surrounding part such as the tongue and cheeks; and the keivah – the fourth stomach (which is valuable in cheese-making).  They do not have kedushah, and that means that once they were given to a Kohen, anyone can eat it.

One reason this is not required at most slaughterhouses is because these parts must only be given to a Kohen from an animal owned by a Jew, and typically the Jewish meat purveyor only takes ownership of the animal/carcass after it is slaughtered and deemed kosher.

A more basic reason why zeroahlechayayim, and keivah do not have to be given in the United States is because the common custom is to follow the opinion in the Gemara (Chullin 136b) that this mitzvah does not apply in chutz la’aretz.  For this reason, you will find tongue, cheek meat, etc. for sale at kosher butchers, and those parts are not required to be given to a Kohen.

There are two other separations required for meat which do apply even out of Eretz Yisroelbechor and ma’aser beheimah.  A firstborn male animal is a “bechor”; it has kedushah, must be given to a Kohen, and then brought as a korban.  Nowadays, when we cannot bring a korban, the Kohen would not be allowed to use the animal until it developed a defect or wound that qualifies as a “mum”.  To avoid the potential pitfalls of someone using the bechor before it develops a mum, the common practice is that when an animal is pregnant for the first time, it is sold to a non-Jew since – as with zeroah, lechayayim, and keivah – the mitzvah does not apply to animals owned by non-Jews.

The mitzvah of ma’aser beheimah is to separate one of every 10 cows, sheep, or goat, and bring it as a korban.  The Mishnah (Bechoros 53a) teaches that the mitzvah applies even out of Eretz Yisroel and even if there is no Beis HaMikdash.  When there was a Beis HaMikdash, the ma’aser beheimah would be brought as a korban, but nowadays when we have no Beis HaMikdash it must be left to live out its life until it develops a qualifying defect/mum that allows the person to slaughter and eat it.  As with the bechor, keeping an animal around until that happens means there is a good chance someone will mistakenly use it before they are supposed to.  Therefore, the Gemara ad loc. says that Chazal decreed that people should not separate ma’aser beheimah when there is no Beis HaMikdash.  Chazal thought it was worthwhile for us to forego the mitzvah of ma’aser beheimah, rather than perform the mitzvah and not treat the animal with the appropriate kedushah.  Thus, effectively, the mitzvah of ma’aser beheimah does not apply nowadays.

This article first appeared in the Let’s Talk Kashrus column, Yated Ne’eman, April 5, 2024.