High Time to Modernize the Methods of Kosher SlaughterPosted by Jeff Pierce and Carmine Lippolis, ALDF Litigation Fellows on June 6, 2014
The Times of Israel announced recently that the Israeli Chief Rabbinate has adopted a more modern view of gender: women will serve alongside men as Israel’s “kosher supervisors.” These watchmen and watchwomen ensure that slaughterhouse workers follow the religious mandates of shechita, granting (or withholding) the kosher imprimatur on commercially sold meat.
While we applaud the Chief Rabbinate for opening this door to women, we would urge them to modernize not merely the supervision of kosher slaughter but also its execution. The Chief Rabbinate should finally declare as abhorrent to Jewish law the abusive practice of “shackle and hoist” restraint, and should refuse to import any meat from those employing this cruelty.
But don’t kosher requirements already mandate the humane treatment of animals? Not exactly: kosher requirements generally dictate only how the animal must die. Namely, like this: while the animal is still conscious, the slaughterer makes a single slice across the animal’s throat; the animal’s blood pressure drops so suddenly that straightaway he loses consciousness.
Kosher requirements generally say far less about how the animal must live. Like their non-kosher counterparts, most animals who become kosher meat spend their lives in appalling confinement. Similarly, kosher requirements generally say little of how the animal must be handled in the moments surrounding death. Instead, secular regulations have filled that vacuum.
In the U.S., the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 (PFDA) required that a slaughtered animal not collapse into the blood of those who went before him. Historically, the only method of kosher restraint was manual: the slaughterer would lay the animal on his side. But that didn’t comply with the PFDA. For the first time, kosher practitioners had to get the animal off the floor. Enter shackle and hoist. Ironically, the Jewish community opposed the PFDA because it essentially mandated cruelty.
The strong of heart may view this undercover footage of a shackle and hoist slaughterhouse in Uruguay, from which the U.S. and Israel import much of their kosher meat. In a 2010 article in The Los Angeles Times about that investigation, Temple Grandin, an expert on humane slaughter, said of shackle and hoist, “I’m getting fed up with it. It’s a really terrible practice and it needs to stop.” Grandin is joined by many influential Jewish groups who feel the same way. For example, the Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards (CJLS) denounced shackle and hoist not only for its blatant cruelty but also because it violates another tenet of Jewish law, tsa’ar ba’alei chaim, the mandate not to cause suffering to living creatures.
Okay, but the CJLS is an authority only within Conservative Judaism. What about an Orthodox authority? The Chief Rabbinate itself. In 2008, after PETA publicized the above-referenced investigation, Israel’s highest religious leadership insisted it would “phase out” shackle and hoist. According to the Jerusalem Post, then-Chief Rabbi Metzger set the end of 2011 as the deadline. It’s now 2014, and steers are still strung up by a chain, bellowing and kicking as their blood courses to the killing floor. Alternatives exist that comply with both the kosher mandate and secular food safety requirements.
With the power to declare what is and is not kosher comes a responsibility not merely toward those who consume but also toward those who are consumed. As the Chief Rabbinate welcomes women into the field of kosher supervision, we urge the Rabbis to live up to the promise of their predecessors and to eliminate the most repugnant method of kosher slaughter.