While kashrut, at one time, embodied humane methods of slaughter, today the methods seem outdated. Are there any movements within Judaism that advocate "modified" versions of kashrut that incorporate today's standards of humane slaughter?
Let me preface my response by stating that I am neither a physician nor a veterinarian, nor do I claim any special knowledge not available to and shared by other interested persons. With that as the starting point, I will try to respond to your question, and to the question implied within it.
Kosher slaughter was established based on principles in the Torah (five books of Moses), and developed based on the most humane methods available. The stated goal of the process, and of the method used by the Shochet (ritual slaughterer), was to assure that there was absolutely no unnecessary pain or discomfort to the animal. In short, without being too graphic; when done properly it causes an immediate loss of blood to the brain with attendant unconsciousness of the animal within a very tiny window of time, so that there is an absolute minimum of pain, no suffering, and virtually no awareness of what is happening.
There are extensive requirements for the training of the Shochet, for the quality and state of the tools and utensils involved, for the health of the animal, for the conditions under which ritual slaughter may be done, and for other aspects of the process; violation of any of which renders all of the meat and products from that animal un-Kosher (not fit for sale or use as Kosher).
The method of Kosher ritual slaughter is ancient, as you say, but I am not too sure that your assumption that newer methods are more humane has any basis in fact. Again, I am no expert, but what I have read over the last ten to fifteen years has led me to believe that these newer methods are no better, and in many cases, far worse, than the traditional methods for Kosher slaughter.
Any internet search will turn up lots of information on methods of slaughter; a quick reading about any or all of them will show that none of them is perfect or foolproof.
Let us leave aside the forms of slaughter where no concern is given to the feelings of the animal, and there is no thought for humane methods – those are simply cruel, in my opinion, and have no place in this discussion – they simply should be outlawed.
For methods proposed as ‘humane’, if you do an internet search for ‘shackling and hoisting’ you will see that this method of hanging the animal by its back leg and killing it is no improvement, as the animal is terrified by being placed in an unnatural and painful situation before it is killed. There has been speculation that the animal releases enzymes and hormones as a response to this fear and terror which may contaminate the meat – not a happy thought for those who are the end consumers.
The method of ‘stunning’ which is mentioned often is not much better. Given the thickness of the animal’s skull (assuming cattle as the main subject for this discussion), the hammer blows that are used to render it unconscious in many cases are fatal themselves by crushing in the skull, and more than one blow is often required. I don’t see death by hammer as particularly humane.
In the more ‘advanced’ form of stunning, a massive electric charge is administered to the skull of the animal, which is supposed to stun it, but the charge is not infrequently misapplied, leading to the animal suffering before being killed by cooking its brain using electricity. We have been moving away from capital punishment by electrocution; this is no different in my view.
The bottom line is that without experiencing it myself, simply from reading about it, on looking at all the forms of slaughter used, I believe that the Kosher method is the least painful and distressing overall for the animal. Despite ‘advances’ and newer technology, this is not a process which lends itself to machine-like precision, and the expertise and attention of a Shochet is the only approach that seems to me to offer the attention and care that is required for each situation encountered.
I am not addressing the issue of whether we should eat meat; nor the question of whether we should observe Kashrut (Kosher rules); only the method of slaughter. For that question, I would disagree with your premise, and say that the Kosher method is the most humane (both when it was established, and now), and encourage that we follow it. And yes, as we learn more, and if we find better ways to be humane in this process, we should seriously consider incorporating them. At this point, however, given the demand for meat, and without some new technique that is far superior, I would urge continuing use of the Kosher slaughter standards.
Kashrut is not a universally observed practice among Reform Jews. Some follow it; some do not; yet others are vegetarians or vegans. It is left as a personal choice. Their reasons vary. Those in other movements, Orthodox and Conservative, for example, are more likely to follow these practices as a matter of religious belief. Whatever the reason, whichever movement, the principles of humane treatment of animals and awareness of the sanctity of life (in all its forms) are core principles and values that are raised in this issue, as in others.
The unasked question here has to do with the issue that has been in the news of late; to what should Kosher certification standards apply – is it only applicable to the animal itself and the slaughter of it as has been the case, or should it be extended to the conditions under which the animal is kept and raised, the working conditions for the farmers, slaughterers, and other laborers involved in the process of producing the meat, the impact of the process on the community and on the environment and ecology, or all of these factors. Fortunately, this has been raised in another question submitted on this web site, and you can see the responses there shortly, if they are not already shown.
Your premise is open to question. With all the so-called newer, more humane methods, I would vigorously champion the Jewish way, known as shehita (I hate using the word slaughter, because of its obvious and misleading connotation).
The severing of the carotid arteries and jugular veins, done by an expert and religious person, is as instantaneous as it gets. Remember that only a person who has mastered the exacting rules and protocols for shehita, literally having Rabbi level expertise, can do shehita.
The process is humane, the people carrying out the process are Rabbinic scholars, and therefore the atmosphere in which shehita takes place is more likely to be sacred, as befitting animals, which are creations of God. We wrote the book on humane methods of preparing animals and fowl, and no one has a better book.
We go through cycles on this, as we do on circumcision. Every so often (it comes in waves), we hear how bad circumcision is, that it is child abuse. And then we hear that it reduces the chance of getting AIDS by fifty percent!
So, the best advice on these matters is to stay the course, with faith based confidence.
Classical Jewish sources which seek to explain reasons for mitzvot attribute the reason for the kosher method of slaughter (shechitah) to prevent the unnecessary suffering of the animals.
We will say further, that the reason for slaughter at the neck and with an inspected knife is so as not to cause excessive suffering to living things, for the Torah permitted them to humans on account of their preeminence, so that they might be nourished by them and for all their needs, but not to cause them gratuitous suffering. [Sefer haChinnukh #451]
When the necessity for good food led to the killing of animals, the Torah chose the easiest of deaths and prohibited tormenting them through an inferior slaughter or by piercing. [Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, III:48]
Developments in the twentieth century, however, have raised in some people’s minds the question of whether the kosher method of slaughter involves more suffering than other modern methods currently in use. The problem revolves around two laws passed by the U.S. Congress: the U.S. Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, and the Humane Slaughter Act of 1958. The 1906 law prohibited slaughtering animals on the ground in order to prevent the sanitary problems of dying animals falling into the blood of other animals. Thereafter, all slaughter in the U.S., both kosher and non-kosher, used a method called “shackling and hoisting” to lift the animals and hang them by their hind legs before slaughter. This method causes significant distress and suffering to the animals. The 1958 law required stunning by electric shock before hoisting the animal in order to prevent that suffering. However, since most halakhic authorities would not permit stunning before shechitah, and at that point there was no other more humane alternative, the law exempted kosher slaughter from the requirement to stun before hoisting. In 1963, the ASPCA developed a pen which would keep the animal restrained but upright for slaughter and prevent the dying animal from falling on the ground which eliminated this source of suffering, but its adoption in the kosher meat industry was slow and has been far from universal. As of 1999, 10% of large cattle, 50% of veal calves and 100% of sheep and lamb were still being hoisted before shechitah.
The foremost authority on methods of humane slaughter is Dr. Temple Grandin, a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. Her webpage (http://www.grandin.com/) has many articles and reviews of research on the extent to which animals are distressed or feel pain. (See particularly her section on ritual slaughter.) Her conclusion is that slaughter by the traditional method of kosher shechitah, when done properly in a well-designed upright pen, does not cause distress and pain to the animal, and is indeed a very humane method of slaughter. (In contrast, her first visit to a kosher slaughterhouse – which used the hoisting and shackling method - led her to conclude, “If hell exists, I am in it.” [http://www.grandin.com/ritual/kosher.slaughter.html \].)
Efforts of various groups to ensure that kosher shechitah meets today’s highest standards of humane slaughter thus focus mainly on eliminating the use of hoisting and shackling, and of the method of mechanically inverting the animal for shechita (Weinberg pen and Pacoima pen) in favor of the upright pens. Rabbi Adam Frank has been a central force in this process (see his blog at www.adamfrank.typepad.com). In 1999, he and his brother Aaron (who has since become a rabbi), approached both the Orthodox Union (OU – which supervises much of the kosher meat in the US) and the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly Committee on Jewish Law and Standards with Dr. Grandin’s research asking that they ban the use of shackling and hoisting and inversion pens in kosher slaughter. The Rabbinical Assembly committee responded by approving unanimously a responsum by Rabbis Joel Roth and Elliot Dorff (http://rabbinicalassembly.org/teshuvot/docs/19912000/dorffroth_shackling.pdf) ruling these practices forbidden since they involve unnecessary cruelty to animals (tza’ar ba’alei chayyim). This ruling has made little difference in the practice of kosher slaughterhouses, which generally depend on Orthodox certification. The Conservative movement’s recently developed hekhsher tzedek, a supplementary seal which would certify that kosher products under the kosher supervision of other agencies is also produced in a manner in which animals and workers are treated humanely and ethically, is an attempt to leverage some market power to drive change in the kosher meat industry toward universal use of the humane pens. (See http://rabbinicalassembly.org/docs/al_pi_din.doc, section on “Product Development: Animal Welfare.”) The OU is also said to be trying to ban these practices, but faces major obstacles (see http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/2008/02/a-conservative.html). Rabbi Frank has also been instrumental in convincing the Chief Rabbis of Israel to prohibit shackling and hoisting – much of the meat imported to Israel is from South America, where shackling and hoisting is very common (http://www.chai-online.org/en/news/press_releases/pr_judaism_shackle2.htm).
The Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards also approved a responsum by Rabbi Mayer Rabinowitz permitting pre-shechita and post-shechita stunning. His responsum (http://rabbinicalassembly.org/teshuvot/docs/19912000/rabinowitz_stunning.pdf) cites the relevant sources in Orthodox responsa (of Rabbi Yehiel Weinberg and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein) and outlines the interesting history of this subject, which is now mainly a concern in countries which do not exempt kosher slaughter from the requirement to stun the animals before slaughtering them.
The traditional kosher method of slaughter itself meets the modern standards of humane slaughter which Dr. Grandin advocates, but the methods of restraining the animals for slaughter in a way which meets modern legal requirements has led to much unnecessary suffering of animals in the process. Conservative and Orthodox groups are trying to eliminate these methods, but progress toward that end has not been speedy. These groups do not seek to "modify kashrut", but rather to eliminate the relatively inhumane practices which were imposed by government legislation in the first half of the twentieth century.
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