Kosher Slaughter Laws and an End to “Shackle-and-Hoist” Restraint

Posted by Carmine Lippolis, ALDF Research Fellow on January 23, 2015

In December 2014, the Polish Constitutional Tribunal invalidated a 2013 law in that country that required that animals be stunned prior to slaughter—which renders cows and other animals insensitive to pain before their killing blows are dealt. In enacting the now-invalid stunning mandate, Poland had joined Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and New Zealand in indirectly prohibiting kosher slaughter: the kosher ritual, or shechita, requires that animals be healthy and uninjured prior to slaughter, and thus, stunning renders the animals—according to interpretation—unfit for kosher consumers. Unfortunately, this apparent conflict has led countries, including the United States, to broadly exempt kosher slaughterhouses from all humane requirements and to permit cruel practices like “shackle-and-hoist.”


Shackle-and-hoist is a common method of restraining animals for shechita. In this horrific practice, a slaughterhouse employee places an iron shackle around one of the still-conscious animal’s rear limbs, then hoists the steer into the air where he hangs upside-down by a chain, desperately thrashing and bellowing until slaughter. This cruel method of restraint inflicts broken bones, snapped tendons, and intense pain and stress. In most slaughterhouses, shackle-and-hoist is illegal unless the animals are first rendered insensible to pain. Shamefully, when it comes to ritual slaughter, U.S. law not only permits shackle-and-hoist but also considers it “humane.” This absurd exemption exists despite the fact that the kosher ritual does not require shackle-and-hoist. Many Jewish groups and authorities have even condemned the practice as a violation of tsa’ar ba’alei chaim, the prohibition against causing unnecessary suffering to living creatures.

While the most humane choice is always plant-based alternatives to slaughtered animals, most experts agree that kosher slaughter, when performed correctly, is at least as humane as pre-slaughter stunning. What does this look like? In short, shechita is performed correctly when a shochet (a specially trained Jewish male) severs the animal’s carotid arteries with a knife that is surgically sharp and without imperfection, causing the animal to lose consciousness instantly. Dr. Temple Grandin, one of the foremost authorities on humane slaughter practices, insists that animals slaughtered under optimal conditions show little or no stress reaction to the ritual cut before losing consciousness.

Conditions in kosher slaughterhouses, however, are very rarely optimal. Indeed, despite the availability of more humane restraint alternatives, such as upright restraint pens, shackle-and-hoist remains the primary restraint method in South American kosher slaughterhouses, which produce most of the world’s kosher beef. In 2010, a PETA investigation uncovered horrific cruelty, including the use of shackle-and-hoist restraint, in a kosher slaughterhouse in Uruguay.

Religious groups reasonably view laws like Poland’s effective ban on kosher slaughter as oppressive. On the other hand, laws that grant kosher slaughterhouses the broad authority to shackle-and-hoist conscious animals wrongly assume that the kosher ritual is unachievable without cruel handling. The truth is, it is possible to promote humane handling and respect religion by holding kosher slaughterhouses accountable to basic standards of humane handling to the greatest extent practicable without requiring pre-slaughter stunning. Much of ALDF’s legal work is to address the glaring absence of legal protection for farmed animals. This means, at the least, prohibiting the most cruel slaughterhouse practices, like shackle-and-hoist restraint.

24 thoughts on “Kosher Slaughter Laws and an End to “Shackle-and-Hoist” Restraint

  1. Madhu Pillai says:

    Halal and kosher slaughter should be considered inhuman should be banned. Thank you Poland for showing the way.

  2. Elena Alfaya says:

    Does Dr. Temple have a PhD? Hasn’t he found out that he IS also an animal? He should try slaughterhouse methods on himself and then, he can say if it hurts or it doesn’t.

    1. Barbara Sundberg says:

      Elena, Dr. Temple is a woman and she is highly regarded in the world of animal care. You may have seen her on television or in documentaries. She is highly respected and has revolutionized the treatment of animals in preparation for slaughter. You should look up some of her works on-line or radio and television recordings. She is very interesting.

  3. Susan Vadencourt says:

    Again, religious nonsense rears its ugly head. Such cruelty must never be allowed whether based on ancient superstitions or beliefs or, indeed, any other heartless thought processes. No exceptions. No excuses.

  4. Why is it allowed to be inhumane and unjust to animals with these slaughtering methods. Should we not raise them humanely and then kill them swiftly and quickly, so as not to cause them long suffering pain prior and during their slaughter? How callous we have become as humans. Animals are in our subjection, but does this allow our cruel methods of slaughter upon them? The animals suffer immense pain and should we allow this, just because they will die and be consumed anyway? Where did our compassion as humans go? When did it end? Thank you for your time and consideration.

  5. Mary Roberts says:

    I am 100% against the practice of shackle and hoist. Time to move into the 21st century however overdue. These are God’s creatures just as humans are. This process is cruel. Cruelty is not rewarded in God’s world.

  6. Sallyann Chandler says:

    I am in tears….people need to stop eating meat, bottom line!!!…cleansing yourself with a “kosher” rating is a lie…you’re a bunch of hypocrites and quite disgusting!!

  7. karrie says:

    All slaughter houses on the planet should practice humane methods and if need be forced to do so . Period.

  8. Tina ma says:

    It is in inhumane to murder peaceful animals, period. But to render them dead without stunning is a downright blasphemy. How can these monsters sleep at night.

  9. Raven says:

    Absolutely disgusting…using religion as an excuse yet again…

  10. Grace Vitale says:

    Shackle and Hoist sounds absolutely, positively, excruciating. This would be excruciating for any animal and especially one that weighs as much as a cow. If the idea for slaughtering an animal for kosher consumption is to not cause any unnecessary stress or pain, this practice should absolutely be outlawed. it should be outlawed no matter what religion a person is. This is just cruel and unnecessary, not to mention all the chemicals that go into that meat when an animal is terrified before being killed. If the idea is to keep the meat clean, that certainly does not do it.

  11. Alice says:

    Stop trying to tip-toe around this, ALDF. There is no humane way to kill a sentient being for food or worship or whatever nonsense people want to claim. “Religion” also used to condone throwing rocks at people until they died. … the law should stop giving these people a pass to commit cruelty.

    I am the most irreligious person I know, and when even I think something is immoral, you KNOW there has to be something terribly wrong with it.

    1. Michele says:

      I agree with you wholeheartedly. I don’t think that too many people understand what it means to be a sentient being. I am not religious either, but like you I am compassionate. Religion is no excuse for cruelty of any kind, whether against animals or humans.

  12. Janet in Cambridge MA says:

    It is wrong to give any religion an exemption for inhumane slaughter. (Isn’t that an oxymoron?) But there is no good or legitimate reason that they should get off simply because it’s “tradition.” It’s 2015.

  13. lynette mayo says:

    PLS. We need a petition to sign !!!

  14. FelineCool says:

    There is nothing humane whatsoever about kosher or halal slaughter. Or the murder of any living breathing creature.

  15. Sandy Girouard says:

    They know it’s wrong, we know it’s wrong, everyone knows it’s wrong. It’s just a matter of ignoring all the ugliness, or facing it. It’s murder to kill a creature with feeling. They know fear, happiness, sadness, and a lot more. It’s their world too.

  16. Chris Roberts says:

    So wrong !

  17. Marcia Mueller says:

    Religion and custom should not be excuses to justify this kind of cruelty. It needs to stop, and the “religion card” and the “culture card” should not be listened to or allowed. What about real morality would stopping this abuse damage. In fact, stopping cruelty would make any religion better.

    1. Bill Foreman says:

      I have two points. First, here is another story about slaughter without stunning that is separate and in addition to the Polish court’s invalidation of Poland’s stunning law. Second, I believe we should not in any way imply that either shechita or zabiha, or any other medieval slaughter practice, is at all humane. Such practices should be categorically condemned.

      “Cattle take up to two minutes to lose consciousness after their throats are cut, while sheep are awake for only 20 seconds, according to the European Food Safety Authority.”

      That quote directly contradicts the quote from Dr. Temple Grandin in the above article, which implicitly defends shechita and says “shechita… caus[es] the animal to lose consciousness instantly.” I don’t know what sources the European authority relies upon, but they at least put Dr. Grandin’s theory in dispute.

  18. Joan says:

    Leave it to the United States not to enact the most basic of humane practice. This is despicable.

  19. Richard A. Sorgen says:

    If you read “Slaughterhouse” by Gail Eisnitz, you will learn that “stunning” is a quite imperfect act due to the speed with which the stunning employee must operate. The gun is placed wrongly or must be applied multiple times. A captive bolt creates massive fractures in an animal’s skull and severe cerebral hemorrhage – in a sentient animal. How humane is that ?

  20. Dale Mountan says:

    “Do it in the name of heaven. You can justify
    it in the end”.
    A line from a song in the movie Billy Jack.

    Religions have an excuse to do horrible things.

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