I stumbled upon an article today that concerned itself with what it called "Shechitah vs. PETA"–in other words, the conflict that exists between animal-rights advocates and proponents of kosher slaughter. It reminded me of why I'm both proud of and dissatisfied with the laws of kashrut that apply to animals. On one hand, I'm inspired by the intended consciousness and compassion that went into our dietary laws–rules that seek to minimize the pain and suffering of animals raised and killed for food. On the other hand, though, I'm all too aware of the fact that these laws fall short, and are in dire need of reassessment. Back in February, Sarah Rose over at The Jew & The Carrot pointed our attention to a Reuters article on hechshered fur. Israel's Chief Rabbi, Yona Metzger, ruled that Jews must not wear fur skinned from live animals. "All Jews are obliged to prevent the horrible phenomenon of cruelty to animals and be a ‘light onto nations’ by refusing to use products that originate from acts which cause such suffering," was the official decree. This is the kind of thing that makes me proud, and it's what I'd like to see more of in regards to the collective Jewish attitude toward animals raised for meat. All too often, we–all of us: Jews and non-Jews alike–are out of touch with the sources of our food, including the animals whose very flesh we consume. We don't really want to know where they come from, what their lives were like, and especially what their deaths were like. It's easier, or so it seems, to remain blissfully ignorant. But for we Jews who want to utilize our Judaism as a platform and tool for bettering our lives and our world, we have a responsibility to seek, share, and act on that knowledge.
The AgriProcessors scandal of 2004 was a wake-up call for many, but I worry that we've snoozed off again.
"They're ripping the tracheas and esophagi out of fully conscious animals, dumping them out of pens into pools of their own blood. The animals stand and bellow and attempt to escape for up to three and even four minutes in some cases," Bruce Friedrich, a spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said late Tuesday.
But Rabbi Chaim Kohn, the plant's supervising rabbi, told The New York Times in Wednesday's editions that the tapes were "testimony that this is being done right." In kosher slaughter, the animals' throats are sliced with a razor-sharp blade, intended to cause instant and painless death. Jewish law forbids stunning them first.
Federal law considers properly conducted religious slaughter as humane, and allows Jewish and Muslim slaughterhouses to forgo stunning. But the rules outlaw leaving animals killed that way conscious for an extended period of time.
The PETA Web site describes the videos as showing AgriProcessors workers ignoring "the suffering of cows who are still sensible to pain after having their throats slit by the ritual slaughterer."
In it's complaint, PETA said its investigator filmed the slaughter of 278 animals, 25 percent which remained conscious "for a significant period of time."
"I think we should attempt to ponder how we would feel in similar situations. The level of cruelty is absolutely outrageous," Friedrich said.
I recognize and appreciate the original intent of a law against stunning, but this doesn't feel kosher to me, either. It's up to those of us who care about the integrity and evolution of our Judaism, the care and well-being of animals, and the health of our planet not only to become more involved in our food on a spiritual and intellectual level, but to act on that knowledge, and to openly discuss and demand more humane–more kosher–options and alternatives to the brutality of industrial slaughterhouse operations.