But before ruling the buffalo fit for the most pious Jew's table, the chief rabbi meticulously investigated the bovine's culinary history, anatomy and eating habits with the aid of Dr. Zohar Amar [no relation to rabbi Amar] and Dr. Ari Zivotofsky of Bar Ilan University.
Shmuel Friedman, head of the Agriculture Ministry's grazing division, also helped Amar reach the bottom of the water buffalo quandary.
As required by the bible [Leviticus 11], the water buffalo has split hooves and chews its cud.
Also, Amar knew, with Amar's and Zivotofsky's help, that Rome's Jewish community had an ancient tradition of buffalo eating [water buffalo milk is used to make the finest Mozzarella cheese]. He was also made aware that veteran Israeli shochets slaughtered water buffaloes here for popular consumption as late as the 1940's. But koshering the buffalo was not so simple. The souls of millions of Jews might suffer if the chief rabbi erred. Amar was cautious - and strict.
Amar wanted to know whether water buffaloes have upper front teeth. The Talmud says animals with them may not chew their cud.
The red deer has the teeth. Because of them Amar ruled the red deer is not kosher. Amar's decision torpedoed an attempt by farmers to market red deer meat in Israel.
As the Agriculture Ministry's Friedman explained, "trying to market meat without rabbinic approval is a no win situation. That's why we went to great lengths to get Amar's approval before allotting more grazing land to buffaloes."
But six months ago another piece in the water buffalo's kosher puzzle was solved. While touring the Hula Valley, Israel's largest grazing range for wild buffalo, Amar was presented with a water buffalo skull that lacked the incriminating teeth. This last piece of evidence seemed to clinch the decision to kosher the buffalo. But Amar wanted to cover all his bases.
The chief rabbi felt the skeleton was not good enough. He wanted a freshly slaughtered head, not a skeleton.
On Tuesday, three water buffalo heads were delivered to Amar's office in the Chief Rabbinate. The buffalo was declared kosher.
Amar's decision was a blessing for Buffalo Farm, located on Moshav Bitzaron near Gadera. Buffalo Farm began marketing buffalo milk and cheeses less than a year ago in supermarket chains across the country under the kosher suprevision of a local rabbi.
Buffalo Farm CEO Avi Zaltz said that Amar's halachic decision opened the way for the marketing of buffalo meat.
"We are negotiating with a few different people and we should start selling the meat in stores in a few months."
Zaltz said buffalo meat, which has a lower fat content than beef, was likely to cost more.