Monday, May 08, 2006

How humane is shechita of cows?

The Torah requires that meat and poultry be slaughtered in a prescribed manner known as shechita. The trachea and esophagus of the animal are severed with a special razor-sharp, perfectly smooth blade, causing instantaneous death with no pain to the animal.” (

But is this always the case? In the course of the probe of AgriProcessors Inc. of Postville, Iowa, by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in late 2004 it was found that employees of one of the nation's major kosher slaughterhouses "had engaged in acts of inhumane slaughter," [and] that federal inspectors did nothing to stop it and instead accepted gifts of meat from plant employees. The plant is the America's largest producer of meat certified as glatt kosher.

To see a video of this slaughter click here

For those that don’t have the stomach to watch this video, it shows "electric prods used to shock the faces of cows in order to guide them into the slaughter pen. The pictures also showed an uncommon practice of speeding post-shehita blood flow by using large hooks to rip out the animals' trachea (windpipe) and esophagus (food pipe) while the animals are still conscious. Immediately after the procedure cows are seen standing and attempting to bellow and leave the killing-floor area.

It is important to note that the ideal kosher cut would sever the trachea, esophagus and carotid artery, thus immediately eliminating blood flow to the brain and rendering an animal unconscious in as quickly as 10 seconds. Contrary to widespread perceptions, however, a valid kosher slaughter requires only the cut of the trachea and esophagus. The post-cut scenes on the videos of staggering, mutilated animals seem to be cases in which the carotid arteries were not severed, thus leaving the animal conscious and able to suffer pain. Source:jpost
Reacting to these published findings, the head of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate's international ritual slaughter division, Rabbi Ezra Raful, said that he would permit the import of meat to Israel from the slaughterhouse in question, saying that "in the case of AgriProcessors, there is no halachic problem."

Thankfully, many poskim, including Maimonides, believe that the prohibition against cruelty to animals informs our interactions with animals far beyond sadism.

Rabbi Ezra Raful also said Jewish law permitted a non-Jew to use a hook to sever an animal's carotid arteries, as long as most of the trachea and esophagus were severed by the shochet [ritual slaughterer].

He said that if a Jew used the hook, the slaughter was not kosher because of the halachic principle of marit ayin - the mistaken impression that the ripping of the arteries with a hook was part of the Jewish slaughtering process. This issue would not arise if a non-Jew ripped out the artery, since a non-Jew is disqualified from performing shehita (ritual slaughter).

Raful said he had been informed by sources in AgriProcessors that only non-Jews performed the ripping. Raful said it was unfair to apply subjective criteria of cruelty to shehita.

"For me it is terribly cruel to boil a lobster live or to fry a live shrimp or freeze a fish live. It depends on what you are used to. It's all very subjective. "But the Torah is not subjective and the same Torah that prohibits cruelty to animals allows shehita," he said.… (Click here for full article)

So, what are our options now? As a meat eater, I believe one should do the following.

1. Watch the video of the shechita, If you are OK with what happens there, keeping eating meat with no worries.
2. If the video bothers you. Stop eating beef and write letters to the kashrut authorities demanding that the laws of the shechita be followed not just to the letter of the law, but also in the spirit of the law as Rambam prescribes.
3. Stop eating meat altogether

From a reliable source I have found out that in Australia animals are not slaughtered in the same manner as the Iowa plant and thus actually may suffer less than non-kosher animal slaughter. In Australia, the shackle and hoist method(used in Israel) where the cow is strung up by its legs before shechita is not used. Also, the animal is shot with a blot immediately post shechita.

Does any of this effect what you will be eating for dinner tonight?


Anonymous said...

the cruelty of shechita has traditionally been one of the accusations leveled against jews throughout history by anti-semetic groups. in many european countries today, there are still campaigns to outlaw kosher meat.

so, its up to jews to keep our reputation clean and make sure all our practices are humane and ethical. otherwise, we provide ammunition to those who look for it.

i think its good for this discussion to be based on halachic sources and what is actually seen as right. obviously, the methods shown on that video should be stopped.

Ittay said...

I agree that discussing shechita is a tricky business given that it has provided much ammunition for our enemies throughout history. I think it is also important to make sure we are doing our best to ensure animals suffer as little as possible both before, during and after shechita. This is clearly not the case in the video and that is why I choose to highlight this.

I personally take issue with the halachic definition of death occurring at the point of shechita when the trachea is cut. As long as the spinal chord of the cow is still intact, it can still be suffering, sometimes for many minutes after its halachic “death.”

Just as the rabbis came up with creative ways to allows us to carry on shabbat Eg: Eruv, I am hoping this blog will encourage those creative thinkers out there to suggest a more humane way of slaughtering animals that still abides by halacha. I’m sure we can to better.

gavin said...

what an interesting blog entry!

i agree with you mr ittay - if we can't stomach watching animals being slaughtered then we shouldn't stomach animals.

i consider being a vegetarian is one of the best expressions of compassion.

:) gavin.

gavin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

wow. im really interested in what the deleted comment was. yael

Ittay said...

Hi yael,
I didn't delete the comment. It was deleted by the person who wrote it. That has never happened before. how stange?

Aaron said...

You can also check out an article today by the Forward on AgriProcessors :

SpaceFalcon2001 said...

An investigation by the USDA resulted in some minor operational changes. A lawsuit under Iowa law is pending. Grandin's comment was "I thought it was the most disgusting thing I'd ever seen. I couldn't believe it. I've been in at least 30 other kosher slaughter plants, and I had never ever seen that kind of procedure done before. ... I've seen kosher slaughter really done right, so the problem here is not kosher slaughter. The problem here is a plant that is doing everything wrong they can do wrong".

David said...

Its amazing the way Jewish have decided what laws to follow and wich one to throw out. Did God say " follow this law for a thousand or two years and then get rid of it?
Kosher slaughter is trhe most horrific thing I have ever seen. The Rabbi's claim the animals dont freel pain! Those animals are in agony. Did nick Berg feel any pain when the Arabs cut his throat on camera??

The bible clearly commands killing those that work on the Sabath as well as many other reason like a woman discovered not to be ing a virgin on her wedding night.
What Im saying is that you have eliminated those laws as being archaic, why not get rid of the cruel Kosher laws.
check ou these wonderful video's:

Anonymous said...

I really recommend taking a look at Dr. Temple Grandin's website - she has extremely detailed information on shechita and what actually happens at these plants. I believe that it is not shechita itself that is the problem, but plants like Agriprocessors. Places like those should not exist. As a kosher meat eater, I must know that the animal was treated humanely throughout its life and did not suffer. We must demand this as consumers, Jews and human beings.