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.
In his article, Rabbi Yanklowitz writes that during shechita an animal’s “last minutes are then made most traumatic and painful”…and that… “the drawn out moments between the slaughter and final death are terribly painful and stressful for the dying animal”. He then goes on to state “Without stunning, an animal is completely conscious and continues to shake in extreme pain for minutes after the neck is cut.” These claims are much too general and while he can find some support in certain controversial scientific articles for some of his assertions, they remain highly inaccurate overall and are clearly driven by emotion rather than facts and science. This is especially true of the last quote, which crosses the line of controversy and enters a land of true fiction. The idea that all animals undergoing shechita shake in agony for minutes on end because of the pain caused by a kosher cut is simply untrue and lacking in any proof or backing. Rabbi Yanklowitz's inflammatory comments misinform the public, scream of unabashed anti-meat sentiment and lack the rigor of a rational and unbiased scientific approach.
According to the most comprehensive study ever completed on kosher slaughter, headed by the renowned animal welfare expert Temple Grandin, the opposite of what is claimed by Rabbi Yanklowitz was found. According to Dr. Grandin, when kosher slaughter is performed humanely the animal remains calm shows no signs exhibiting pain or stress and dies within seconds, not minutes. Even the famous Australian study that opposes shechita never made proclamations such as those made by Rabbi Shmuly. That study’s authors did voice legitimate concern about many different welfare issues that could arise after shechita but also never brought proof for their criticisms and even failed to properly differentiate between kosher and other forms of ritual slaughter. I’m not saying that kosher slaughter is perfect and admit that there are legitimate welfare concerns involved with it but these are a world away from the scenario Rabbi Yanklowitz portrays in his post.
There are specific cases, usually involving cattle, where an animal will remain conscious for an extended period of time after a kosher cut. This is usually the result of several physiological factors unique to cows coming together to create a rare scenario. But even in these instances, as long as humane practices have been used up till this point the animal will often times remain stress free. I would certainly agree, as does the Jewish legal text and the Orthodox Union for that matter, that in such cases the animal can and probably should be stunned. I would personally go a step further and say that I would probably support the stunning of any animal exhibiting signs of stress after slaughter and may even one day consider a universal post shechita stun mandate appropriate, not that it is my decision to make. But this idea that every shechted animal suffers terribly and should be shot immediately after because stunning is so perfect, is extremely controversial, lacks proper scientific proof and if claimed should be done so with the proper caveats and not portrayed as a clear and unmitigated truth.
Additionally, the fact that we don’t use stunning in kosher plants has tangible welfare benefits. One of them being that during kosher slaughter the myriad of problems experienced when stunning animals is avoided. For instance, because of ineffective stunning methods millions of chickens are literally boiled alive each year during non-kosher slaughter. Another example, one that I witness daily, is that animals will often times need additional shots when using the captive bolt method of stunning. Some will actually seem to lose consciousness even though the shot was ineffective and then need to be shot again minutes later, and unlike in the case of kosher it is universally agreed upon by all scientists that animals in which a first shot was ineffective experience excruciating pain. Another downside of stunning is that it allows for a very fast paced slaughter operation. These extremely high paced workflows increase stress and injuries for both animals and workers while driving down animal welfare standards. My point in bringing up these examples is not to say that stunning is a universally bad form of slaughter but rather to say that it has its flaws and also that those flaws might degrade certain aspects of animal welfare of kosher plants if implemented. Simply tacking on stunning to kosher might solve certain issues but could also create others.
Killing animals is a very complicated matter that we’re still learning allot about. Rabbi Yanklowitz tries to paint a very simple black and white picture of a complex issue with allot of grey areas. The reality is that whether you use stunning or not, slaughter can be cruel and painful to animals or it can be an ethical practice that works to minimize pain as much as possible. The root of the problem that causes inhumane slaughter in the kosher world and beyond is not lack of stunning but rather the lack of empathy and care towards the suffering of animals as well as lack of proper training, infrastructure, regulation and education. The only way to improve welfare during shechita is to reverse these trends in the kosher meat world. Incorporating stunning in the correct way is probably an important piece of that puzzle, especially when it comes to cows, but it is by no means a simple answer to all our woes. The kind of rhetoric that Rabbi Yanklowitz used in his article will only push those weary of stunning further away and confuse kosher consumers about the truth of what shechita truly entails. I believe that Rabbi Yanklowitz cares greatly for animals and does much hard work to improve their place in society and for that I applaud him, but I would encourage him to tone down his rhetoric, make sure his statements are based in fact and to find more productive ways to effect change for animals than this.
 Grandin, Rogenstein 1994 http://www.grandin.com/ritual/kosher.slaugh.html
 Adams, Sheridan 2008
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.