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.
It's been years since I first watched the famous undercover Peta video portraying a botched "kosher" slaughter at the Rubashkin's agriprocessors facility. The clip depicts workers not only being cruel and sloppy in their treatment of animals but also shows them conducting a halachikly forbidden act called na'a'nua. Na'a'nua is preformed by violently tugging on the trachea of an animal in order to pull free adhesion in the lung so that they will not be found during a later inspection. This practice makes properly checking the lungs impossible and is strictly forbidden under Jewish law and doing such painful thing to a live and conscious animal makes this act of kosher fraud all the more heinous and despicable.
7. Kosher Slaughter (aka shechita) solely entails the draining of blood.
One of the aims of shechita is to drain blood but it’s not the sole purpose of the practice. The legal literature even states that if an animal mysteriously releases no blood during slaughter the meat is still considered kosher. Although it must undergo salting to be eaten raw, something not normally required.
6. For kosher production animals must be hung upside down to facilitate bleed out.
When an animal is shechted the heart quickly pumps the blood out of the body regardless of what position it’s in. This myth likely partially originates from the practice of hanging certain animals upside down during shechita. But this method of animal restraint, known as shackle and hoist, only gained prevalence because of USDA regulation and not kosher law. Additionally shackle and hoist is rarely practiced in the U.S. today.
Despite what many people believe, according to Jewish law all kosher animal butts are perfectly permissible to eat . The myth of hindquarters being treif (not kosher) is pervasive in both the Jewish and non-Jewish world. This was well demonstrated when Hebrew national changed its famous slogan from “We answer to a higher authority” to the very tongue and cheek “No ifs ands or butts”. Hebrew National further helped in the public’s miseducation by publicizing a now well known graphic of a cow whose front half is marked as kosher while the back is said not to be. But this myth is being slowly transformed and several small kosher operations selling backdoor cuts are steadily increasing their business. I predict that with today’s increasingly sophisticated kosher consumer base this market will continue to grow and the opportunity to get a kosher filet mignon or T-bone steak will eventually become an everyday experience.
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.