High Time to Modernize the Methods of Kosher Slaughter

Posted 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.

11 thoughts on “High Time to Modernize the Methods of Kosher Slaughter

  1. Jaysen McCleary says:

    I believe if the Jewish community was more aware of this horrific process that it would change quickly.

  2. cathern murphy says:

    In every aspect of killing animals for food , a gentle humane way is the only way to slaughter a living creature. All life must be respected and honored. from the moment of birth ,to the moment of death . For to consume a creature that has been abused from moment of life to death , lived in abuse ,is to take part in this abuse . Be it acknowledgement or consumption. I personally am a vegetarian , but have not always . To me animals taste like death smells .

  3. sophia says:

    No sentient being should be caused pain or suffering, without it consent.Since it follows that animals cannot give there consent. we as a civilized society should not be the cause of their pain, fear, suffering, and ill dignified treatment.
    If one allows oneself a true spiritual vision one is able to see clearly that to make ones stomach a graveyard for animals, to feed on another sentient being, they flesh, the blood, their organs their bone sis kind of a cross species cannabalism. It is deeply undignified .NOT ONLY IS ONE E ATING THE ANIMALS SUFFERING , THE VIBRATIONS OF PAIN AND FEAR. BUT THE BODY OF A ONCE LIVING BEING
    I urge people to consider becoming at least vegetarian slowly over time .There are such wonderful substitutions for meat, and delicious foods .and so much better for ones health, the eco system of the planet, and these poor souls that have suffered.

    1. Laureen says:

      Sophia, you are so right. I do not particularly enjoy walking past the meat section of any grocery store, hundreds of parts of dead animals lying around. It is so repulsive.

  4. Laureen says:

    Religions are all just crazy, they do crazy, dangerous things, cruel horrible acts against other living beings, horrible cultures, what is wrong with all of you?? How can you believe in such awful things?? As a whole, human beings are just repulsive. I cannot believe that we have been allowed to run around on earth for so long doing the things that we are doing!!!

  5. Deborah says:

    This practice of shackle and hoist is Barbaric, inhumane, insensitive and no Religion should ever permit or allow cruelty
    . This is the TIME for CHANGE…

  6. Lauren Smith says:

    Barbaric and cruel….there are plenty of substitutes that taste fabulous less this savage brutality!!!

  7. Margo Bliss says:

    This is just wrong! Please find and adopt a humane way to kill animals.

  8. Jen says:

    ‘the animal’s blood pressure drops so suddenly that straightaway he loses consciousness.’

    Numerous scientific studies have indicated that there may be a delay before the animal fully loses consciousness, after having its neck cut. Particularly in cattle, neck cutting can result in carotid occlusions and delay time to loss of consciousness.

    I’m intrigued that you haven’t mentioned stunning in this article. Captive bolt and electric stunning will induce instantaneous insensibility when they are properly applied, considerably reducing pre-slaughter stress, including that which may be induced by use of the shackle.


    1. Jen, stunning is forbidden by Jewish law and the book “Slaughterhouse” by Gail Eisnitz documents that under current mass production, frenzied conditions things often go wrong with stunning.

      Bottom line: Jews should be vegetarians to be most consistent with Jewish mandates to preserve human health, treat animals with compassion, protect the environment, conserve natural resources, and help hungry people.

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