Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Ethical Treatment of Animals

When I was a young Semicha student learning the laws of Kosher slaughter, my Rebbe, Rav Ahron Soloveichik took time out from his lecture to rail against what was at the time a very common practice in Kosher slaughterhouses. It is called shackling and hoisting.

This is a method whereby a steer that is about to be Shechted (ritually slaughtered) is shackled by its hind legs and hoisted so that it is suspended with the head down at the bottom so the Shochet can more easily Shecht. Rav Ahron believed that this was a cruel and unnecessary procedure that had been innovated in modern times. Rav Ahron was a very humane individual and Tzar Baalei Chaim – cruelty to animals bothered him tremendously.

Since that time back in the late sixties, shackling and hoisting has become illegal in this country, in Israel, and in the European Union. But there are some countries that still use this procedure. Almost all Kosher facilities in South America do. They provide 80% of Israel’s imported meat.

There have been various animal rights activists that have been urging Israel to stop using those imports. I have no use for many of these organizations – like PETA - as I find them to be beyond extreme. But in this case they are right. It was a video of this procedure taken by PETA (or some group like them) that moved the Ashkeanzi Chief rabbi of Israel to do something about it. From an article in Ha’artez:

According to Avi Blumenthal, assistant to Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, by 2011 the Chief Rabbinate will no longer certify meat from slaughterhouses that use shackle-and-hoist…

It should be noted that Reform and Conservative (Masorti) rabbis in Israel have been in the forefront of trying to ban meat slaughtered by this method. I must say that I’m disappointed that there seems to have been no Orthodox presence. Be that as it may I’m sure that my Rebbe would approve of Rabbi Metzger’s ban. This is indeed a step forward in the area of Kashrus around the world.

Why is this a step forward? Some countries have banned Shechita insisting that Kosher slaughter is inhumane. It’s hard to argue that Shechita is humane when the hoist and shackle method is used. Banning this procedure world-wide will help promote the argument that Shechita is indeed humane.

There are those that say that one should not refuse to certify meat that it is technically Kosher. After all what does cruelty to animals have to do with Kosher meat - They are two separate Halachos? As someone I know put it - no one will find a law in the Shuchan Aruch that invalidates hoisting and Shackling as a means to Shecht.

This is true. But a Kashrus organization – in this case the Israeli rabbinate - has the right to set its own rules for certification. Even though it may be technically permissible to eat the meat of an animal that was treated cruelly in life as long as the procedure was properly followed - that doesn’t make it right nor should it guarantee that a Kashrus agency will issue a certification.

There is such a thing as Naval BeReshus HaTorah. The Torah need not spell out every disgusting thing in existence in order to forbid it. It instead mandates the concept of Kedoshim Tehiyu. The Jewish people are mandated to behave in an ethical fashion. Withholding a Kashrus certificate from people who are cruel to animals falls well within those guidelines.

No one is saying that the meat isn't Kosher. All they are saying is they are not going to be certified. Frankly this is done all the time in Charedi enclaves like Bnei Brak with respect to fast food restaurants. If a pizza shop provides a setting to hang out (tables and chairs) - they will not receive certification from the Charedi certifications agencies there. It doesn't matter how kosher the food is.

By the same token if the Chief rabbinate feels that slaughtering methods are inhumane they have a right to withhold certification too. There should be no controversy about this. It should in fact be supported by all people who value the humane treatment of animals.

Obviously not all people have the same values. When there is a dispute about Kashrus rules it is usually the result of conflicting values. It all depends on whether one supports the ideas behind the restrictions. Those who do not value the reasons for the restrictions will always say things like 'What does this have to do with Kashrus?'

That said the rules do need to have some sort of ethical value and should not be based on the religious winds of the moment. In certain instances Hechshrim have become highly politicized and have as much to do with the perifferals as they do with the actual Kashrus or anything ethical. I refer to the dea of Chasdishe Shechita. Not only does this have nothing to do with Kashrus - it has nothing to do with ethics. It is a result of politics and the move to the right. If anything the insistence on only Chadishe Shechita is unethical!

There is also nothing in the Shulchan Aruch that mandates that only Chasidim may Shecht. Nor does it violate any ethic when a Shochet is not a Chasid. I good friend of mine who is a very religious and highly ethical Shochet in New York - but not a Chasid - lost his job and his career of many years as a Shochet because of this. He now does Hashgacha work.

What a messed up system of values! At least the Rabbi Metzger has his priorities in order! And I applaud him for his courage.