Thoughts by Susan Suna
The Mishna on Amud b sites the dispute between Beit Shamai and Beit Hillel as to whether or not on Chag one can give the Kohen the Priestly gifts of Challah and הזרוע הלחיים והקיבה (foreleg, cheeks including the tongue, and the fourth stomach known also as the maw) which were separated before or on Chag. Beit Shamai doesn’t permit it while Beit Hillel does. Following Beit Hillel’s ruling, the Rambam states that one can bring these gifts to the Kohen on Chag.
Most of us today who benefit from purchasing pre-packaged meat in the supermarket have overall lost touch with the Mitzvah of giving הזרוע הלחיים והקיבה to the Kohen. However, we were at a wedding over 20 years ago where tongue was served and the Yisrael who wanted to eat it went looking for a Kohen to see if he would gift him the portion of tongue.
While this is a cute anecdote, the Rif, Rambam and Chinuch all list the Mitzvah of giving the Kohen הזרוע הלחיים והקיבה as obligatory today in Israel and Chutz l’Aretz. So what happens today when our meat production is industrial and not based on individuals shechting for themselves and giving their local neighborhood Kohen the gifts? Rav Eliezer Melamed points out that with mass meat production the amount of meat in the Priestly gifts would be beyond what one or even a group of Kohanim could eat even over a reasonable period of time. He recommends that at the beginning of each month the owner of the slaughterhouse gives a loan to the Kohen and they agree that the wholesale value of the Priestly gifts from the animals slaughtered that month will be payment against the loan. This way even without directly receiving the Priestly gifts, they are considered belonging to the Kohen.
While this is the ideal there are other slaughterhouses that pay a small fee to the Kohanim knowing that they will not sue for the true value of their gifts. Rav Melamed clearly states that this is a transgression and they are in essence stealing from the Kohanim the true value of their Priestly gifts. Other slaughterhouses circumvent the Mitzvah entirely by partnering with a non-Jew who isn’t obligated to give the Priestly gifts.
While the obligation to fulfill this Mitzvah is on the owner of the animal and the Shochet, and one can buy meat if they don’t know whether the Priestly gifts have been given, Rav Melamed encourages מידת חסידות and buying meat where the Priestly blessing was given properly or buying meat that wasn’t obligated in the Priestly gifts as it was owned by a non-Jew.
In 2005, Rabbi Yaakov Epstein researched the issue in Israel and found that a number of Jewish-owned slaughterhouses do have an agreement with a group of pre-screened Kohanim, with whom monetary compensation is offered in place of the Priestly gifts. He also stated that the Israeli Rabbinate gives all slaughterhouses a document to use when entering into an agreement with the Kohen for the Priestly gifts based on the loan mechanism described above. Although the Rabbinate did not state the percentage of slaughterhouses that use the agreement.
Shiur: Beitzah Daf 12, Yehudit Epstein & Dena Rock