Kashrut in the Industrial Age

Rabbi Adam J Frank, 2/7/2005

Dear Folks, I think this article is far too limited in both its assessment of the problems in traditional kashrut and its proposals for what to do, but I thought within its limits it might nevertheless be instructive.

Shalom, AW

The article below was written by Rabbi Adam Frank (a Masorti rabbi in Israel) who devotes much of his time to researching, studying, and teaching about animal rights and factory farming from a Jewish perspective.


Is the kosher slaughter process as ethical as it is mandated to be? The controversy over revelations from an Iowa kosher slaughterhouse has drawn attention to the issue recently, but the Conservative movement has long contended that unnecessary pain to the animal can be greatly reduced if the imperatives of Jewish law were applied to their full spirit and clear intent.

In 2000, the Conservative movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) unanimously ruled that slaughtering animals in an inverted position, whether by use of a mechanical inversion pen or the more brutal system of shackling and hoisting an animal by its rear legs, violates the Jewish law prohibiting tsa'ar ba'alei haim, the unnecessary infliction of pain on an animal. There is a better way.

It has been scientifically determined that industrial holding pens that allow the animal to stand upright during shechita (kosher slaughter) greatly reduces the animal's pain and stress at the time of slaughter. When shechita is performed properly in this manner, the animal does not kick or bellow or display other outward signs of anxiety, and evidently is rendered insensate within seconds.

This is hardly the case with the shackle and hoist method nor an inversion holding pen as is evidenced by the recent revelations in Iowa. Since more humane systems exist, the inversion methods are avoidable, and thus a violation of Jewish law.

Last November, an undercover investigation by an animal rights group (see www.petatv.com) caused quite a stir when it revealed grotesque abuses at AgriProcessors, a glatt-kosher slaughterhouse in Iowa. The graphic video, and the subsequent statements by kashrut certifying agencies and the Israeli Rabbinate that the abuse of the animals does not affect the kosher status of the meat, show that the laws of shechita alone do not protect against animal abuse.

Only slaughter that employs both the requirements of shechita and of tsa'ar ba'alei haim can avoid unnecessarily inflicting pain on an animal and ensure compliance with the corpus of applicable halacha.

The expose' showed the use of the very animal handling systems that, though more humane than some, were ruled impermissible by the CJLS's 2000 decision.

SO FAR, the Conservative movement's response has been to restate its ruling against inversion pens and to call upon all kosher processing plants to employ the more humane upright holding pens.

Now, two months later, how can this statement be taken to the next step? Some have suggested that the movement create its own kosher slaughter supervising agency. This is not practical and, most significantly, the goals of the movement can be met without competing with or repeating the work of existing agencies.

The Conservative movement has a constituency of more than one million members, 750 affiliated congregations, 70 Solomon Schechter day schools, and more than 10 summer camps servicing thousands of children and staff. The movement has ordaining seminaries on both the East and West coasts and a rabbinical union with more than 1,400 members.

Representing nearly one-third of affiliated American Jewry, the Conservative movement is influential enough not to compromise its high standard for the ethical treatment of animals in conjunction with its commitment to kashrut.

It is time for the movement to set standards for kosher processing plants that ensure that the kosher slaughter process meets its full ethical potential and mandate. As part of this process, Conservative institutions would buy kosher meat only from suppliers that meet these standards.

The practical work of setting such standards would be greatly assisted by the industry's foremost authority on animal handling systems, Colorado State University animal science professor Temple Grandin. Having designed the upright restraint system used by many kosher abattoirs, she has offered her expertise, contacts, and considerable influence to help eliminate the animal abuse that currently accompanies some kosher slaughter.

Grandin has lectured, gratis, at both of the Conservative movement's seminaries and provided much information for the 2000 CJLS ruling prohibiting inverted slaughter. She is on record as being an avid supporter of shechita, but only when it takes into consideration the welfare of the animal throughout the entirety of the process.

Jewish law demands that the kosher meat industry reform. This reform should take place as the result of Jewish teachings and not as the result of public outcry. Should the reform occur as a result of shame and embarrassment, then Judaism will have lost the opportunity to blaze the path of justice and righteousness that is its mission. This lapse is particularly egregious given that Judaism is characterized by many laws that give humanity dominion over animals while, at the same time, protecting defenseless living creatures from needless cruelty at the hands of people. It would be ironic if kashrut, which historically represented a breathtaking ethical advance in the relationship between people and animals, were to be seen as indifferent to calls to become as ethical as it can and must be. The Conservative movement holds that Jewish law, properly implemented, does not allow this indifference.

Conservative Judaism stands for the synthesis of observance of Jewish law and Torah study with modernity. The industrialization of food production brings with it new challenges, creating the responsibility to apply all areas of applicable Jewish law to this modern interaction between people and animals. The movement would be providing a great service, not only to its members but to many other Jews and non-Jews who care about the humane treatment of animals, if it recognized kosher plants that use the halachically mandated ethical practices, allowing consumers to avoid meat from those who do not. A leadership committed to both tradition and modernity is just the body to pilot this effort.

The writer, a rabbi, teaches at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.

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