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.
I watched an excellent and utterly tragic documentary over the weekend called Blackfish (now on netflix). It reveals the exploitation of killer whales and the reckless endangerment of workers by Seaworld and the marine mammal theme park industry. It does this within the backdrop of the story of Tilikum, a captive whale that’s killed at least two people and still performs at Seaworld Orlando today. Blackfish is reminiscent of the dolphin hunting and exploitation documentary The Cove, but focuses its attention squarely onto the mistreatment of whales being kept in captivity. Both films highlight something very important to my work with animals, venturing beyond the barnyard. While the vast majority of interest in animal welfare is directed towards farming, which admittedly does causes the most horrific and widespread problems, many complex and distressing zoological issues exist throughout society. In every place that we interact with our carnal brethren there is great potential for us to cause them needless harm. We have a duty to meticulously inspect each and every one of these interactions to ensure that the creatures with which we share this planet experience no needless suffering at our hands.
To make kosher meat, the first thing you need is a knife. But not just any knife will do; you need something called a chalef. The name chalef comes from the word lehachlif, which means “to change or transform.” With this very powerful instrument, we are able to change a living animal into something completely different: food. This knife is very long, has a flat end, and must be completely sharp and smooth. To ensure that the chalef is perfect, the shochet (kosher butcher) carefully checks it for nicks using his fingernails and re-hones it if even the smallest imperfection is discovered.
It often amazes me how little most of us know about what is entailed in killing animals, and even more so, how little even well-versed Jews know about kosher slaughter (aka shechita). This lack of understanding often leads to either idealized or vilified views of kosher and other forms of slaughter. In order to eat animals ethically, it is essential that we understand the end of our animals’ lives. Therefore, I will attempt to explain and demystify this topic in many of my coming posts.
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.