Earlier this week Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz wrote an article for his Huff post blog in which he argues for a mandate to stun all animals immediately after kosher slaughter. I do agree that post shechita (kosher slaughter) stunning is something that should be better incorporated into Jewish slaughter practices and also agree that it is halachikly (legally) permissible. Although, things certainly get quite complicated and controversial when discussing immediate post shechita stunning. Leaving the halachik conversation aside and also leaving aside the fact that post shechita stunning (though not immediate) is sometimes used in kosher slaughter of cattle in the US, I very much worry that creating such a mandate would actually inadvertently cause as many or even more welfare issues as it solves. But what I found disturbing enough to write this piece in response to his article was not so much Rabbi Yanklowitz’s call for stunning but rather the many unsubstantiated and verbose claims he made about the effects of shechita. Espousing these statements while pushing for a universal mandate, a step that the rabbinic authorities are unwilling to take, will not only serve to further miseducate an already confused public it will also push the Rabbinic leadership further away from what could be helpful stunning practices.
Every year on the day before Yom Kippur scores of Jews, most of them charedim (ultra-orthodox), all over the world perform the ritual of kapparot. This rite symbolically provides atonement and traditionally consists of taking a chicken and waving it over one's head three times while reciting the appropriate text. After which the chicken is shechted and the meat donated to the poor. This Jewish custom dates back to the Middle Ages and has always been surrounded by much controversy. In the past the main controversy surrounding it was the halachic (legal) legitimacy of the practice within Judaism. While that argument still stands, today the greater tension revolves around the animal welfare issues surrounding kapparot. This controversy plays out yearly on the week before Yom Kippur as protests break out on the streets as well as in social media and Jewish Magazines demanding an end to the medieval practice. But are these protests based on legitimate concerns or are people simply upset because the oft-maligned charedim are killing animals for food in the open instead of keeping it hidden like everybody is used to? So let’s look at the main animal welfare concerns surrounding kapparot and see what we come up with.
Two weeks ago I had the privilege of performing a shechita presentation for the excellent Ramah of the Rockies Summer camp for a thirds straight year. The kids that attend are always full of questions and so curious to understand where meat comes from. While most people do all they can to shield themselves and their kids from facing these questions I’ve found that children actually cope much more skillfully with animal slaughter than many of the adults I meet. But my short presentations can only do so much, to truly change the way society relates to animals we must begin exposing our children to the realities of meat production much sooner and more regularly.
Allot has happened since I came out with my original article supporting Urban Adamah and my follow up post tempering some of those words. This week the 15 hens in question were slaughtered in an unadvertised class that took place on the Berkley area farm. I'm personally glad to see that Urban Adamah was able to conduct their slaughter in peace and that the incident is finally coming to a close. I hope that the activists who have given so much energy to this fruitless pursuit that will find a better way to help animals in the future. While the protesters ultimately failed to force their will on Urban Adamah they did do people the disservice of ensuring that the farm will likely never be able to provide public slaughter education again. Education is of the utmost importance in improving our relationship with animals and changing the agricultural system and I am utterly saddened that the misguided protesters have taken this opportunity away from people. Now.... I think I've said enough on the matter so here are a few good articles and opinion pieces that have come out since last week.
After my controversial article criticizing the JVNA and supporting Urban Adamah came out last week, I decided to reach out to their executive director Jeffrey Cohan. While we disagreed on many issues relating to my article and the protest, we were able to have a respectful and positive conversation. One point he felt very unhappy with is that I used the words bullying, yelling and screaming to describe the organization's actions. After listening to his arguments I have come to see that the JVNA was not directly responsible for such behavior. I still do believe that JVNA deserved much criticism for throwing their hat into the ring with people that were partaking in aggressive and threatening actions as well as for doing nothing when protestors used their Facebook events page to defame and embarrass Urban Adamah. I also still believe that the JVNA should of engaged Urban Adamah in dialogue about the morality of their planned class rather than join a misguided and fruitless protests. Nonetheless I do feel that I was altogether much too hard on the JVNA who actually served as a voice of moderation within the protestors, and for this I would like to offer my sincere apology.
About the blog:
Welcome to The Kosher Omnivore's Quest! My old blog on kosher slaughter, kosher meat, and animal welfare. For new content check out my new website, The Kosher Cut™. There you'll find: blog posts about shechita and related topics, educational slaughter presentations, kosher slaughter training, and a selection of high quality professional kosher slaughter equipment.