Rabbi Joe Black, a popular Reform Rabbi in the western States, sat me down in his office and explained that there could be no such thing as a Jewish hunter, emphasizing, there could be no such thing as a kosher kill in hunting since Jews don’t hunt. “We are not individualized, we are an agrarian society,” said Rabbi Black of our people. “We pray and live in a community, that’s how we operate. Hunting was never a Jewish past time and we are an organized society,” described Rabbi Black of our people.
Rabbi Black also informed me that he doesn’t have too many preschool moms coming to him with hunting questions. Well, I informed him, I am determined to break the mold and present an intriguing spread and proposition.
Why Kosher? Two decades after my and my husband’s suburban-Chicago, Jewish upbringing, I plopped myself down in Colorado. Within a few years of my arrival, and that of three children, my husband began traipsing across the Eastern Plains of Colorado shooting all sorts of animals that he would then bring home to eat. “You only hunt to eat,” are the words of his sport.
When Chanukah (annual eight-night celebration with candles and food) arrived in late 2017, my husband came back on the fifth night with half a pronghorn antelope that he nabbed and split with a hunting mentor. A friend texted me that evening, “Is that kosher to serve for Chanukah?”
I couldn’t help but wonder, could we sausage and case the meat, then serve it with latkes (the traditional Jewish Chanukah food of celebration) for the holiday? And, then, I really got to thinking, is there a proper way to kill, by new unchartered, modernized kosher principles, some of the most exciting game in the Rocky Mountains for Shabbat—the traditional Jewish Friday evening dinner? My answer is yes! Traditional Jewish law will say no due to slaughter and butcher procedure. But, my answer is still yes!
What to hunt? Kosher animals are defined by those that “chew the cud” which means they use a special digestive process that contains a fermentation in conjunction with a separate stomach to process the animal’s intake of nutrients. An animal must also have a completely split hoof. These two definitions must be present for the animal to be deemed ritually clean and able for kosher consumption.
Animals for the taking include antelope, cow, deer, elk, gazelle, goat, moose, ox, sheep and even giraffe (he isn’t hunting giraffe!). Rabbit, camel, pig, these do not match the criteria, and therefore, they are off the menu, in case we did come across camel in the plains of Colorado.
The Kill. A kosher animal must be slaughtered in a very specific manner and the slaughterer must be highly trained in both the act of the slaughter and all the specific laws that must be followed. Additionally, the slaughterer must be of high moral character to ensure that the act of slaughter occurs with the utmost level of respect for the animal and for the laws of kosher slaughter. For modernized purposes, I’m deeming the slaughterer a well-trained, licensed hunter, who has pulled the proper tags, is hunting in the correct GMU, is following all known rules and has passed all training and hunting courses.
The slaughterer must then use a wicked sharp knife that is at least twice the length of the animal’s neck to slice the throat, but not before making a blessing for a fast and furious kill to ensure the least amount of pain to the animal. For modernized purposes, I’m looking for a kosher animal that is DOA when the hunter arrives for retrieval. Animals killed in the field usually make it a few hundred yards in a walking dead phase before succumbing to their wounds. This is a very short time frame.
In Colorado, typically an animal is going to go down with bow and arrow, muzzle, rifle or revolver. With 10 big game species in the state and the world record for Rocky Mountain Elk populations, (I know, I had to document them for Cowboys & Indians with this same photographer a couple years back), the ungulates are the most popular come autumn, so I would like a clean, nice, one-shot kill for my stew.
The kosher inspection is as important as the animal and the kill. The highly-licensed and practiced inspector (shochet) checks each individual kill for disease or oddity. The meat is then salted to draw out the remainder of the blood that was not already bled from the immediate kill. For modernized purposes, there’s a handful of excellent butchers up and down the Front Range of Colorado that do a lovely job inspecting the meat and packaging it from salamis to ground chuck, stew, steak, loin—they do it all, and very nicely wrapped, labeled, sealed and sometimes, even seasoned.
The Modern Kosher Hunter
A girlfriend of mine recommended I speak with her brother about the one shot and raising the next generation of respectful, clean, hunters. Jake Roach, like my husband, and myself, has an admirable and respectful practice to his hunt, and he often brings along his trained son Weston, 10 years of age. Roach also runs a hunting outfit back in my home state of Illinois for white tail come season and teaches and models the modernized, minimal pain and shot game.
“You always want to take down an animal with the most minimal amount of pain, and to do that, you go for the shoulder and heart, too high, the head, no good, too far back in the loins, not what you desire,” explained Roach.
My husband’s mentor implied these same spiritually sound practices to their game to make it clean and simple and to honor life. “It’s respect for the animal, the animal leads a natural life before being humanely taken, no waste, etc. It captures the good things about hunting,” described Randall Cherry.
To me, there is something kosher and less savage to this methodology of a wild animal living a beautiful natural life with a quick end for my family and community consumption.
Julie Bielenberg is a travel journalist and editor and you can find out more about her and see some of her great writing by searching @slowandgotraveler & @juliebielenberg and checking out her website http://slowandgo.org/
Tremendous props to Chad Chisholm for his tremendous photography. Reach Chad at http://www.creationize.com/
Colorado Game Recipe
I use deer, elk or antelope steaks or loins, cubed
Ingredients for a Four-Person Colorado Game Stew
- 3 pounds Colorado game meat salted and peppered and cubed
- 1 pound potato cubed and peeled (Yukon gold, purple, etc)
- 1 cup flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 1 leek, sliced white part
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 cups beef broth (some people use onion broth)
- 1 ½ cup dry red wine
- 3 ounces tomato paste
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cups parsnips, 1 inch pieces
- 2 cups carrots, 1 inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon dry red wine
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- ½ cup chopped fresh dill
- pinch of sugar
- salt and pepper, to taste
Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil. Add onions, garlic, potato, carrot, parsnip and sauté until softened and then transfer onions to a slow cooker that already has oil heated at the bottom.
Dredge the cubbed meat in flour, salt and pepper mixture, and then sauté in pan with oil. Sear and then transfer to slow cooker.
If you have time, I love this tip from Nevada Foodies. “Carefully deglaze pan with beef broth and red wine stirring with wooden spoon until all crispy bits from bottom of pan are scraped up. Stir in the tomato paste and pour broth over meat.”
Add all additional ingredients to the crock pot and you can either squeeze some lemon (I use Meyer lemons from my family in California) or squeeze lemon in after cooking. Set it for at least four hours and if you want, add more fresh clippings of herbs.