Jewish Tax: Public Avoids Kosher Meat

The Midwest Jewish Week article below adds to our understanding of kosher by disclosing that the ritual slaughter necessary to qualify meat as kosher is considered by some to be "cruel" or "less humane."  If the Gentile consumer saw meat identified as kosher, the article reports, he would decline to buy it because of the cruelty he would assume was involved in the ritual slaughter, and "therefore the price of kosher meat would double or treble" on account of the reduced volume of sales.

One curious thing about the article below is that it never denies that ritual slaughter is cruel it merely argues that because the public will think that ritual slaughter is cruel, the public should be denied knowledge of when it has taken place.  However, if it were the case that ritual slaughter was humane, then one would expect that the Jewish response would be to describe ritual slaughter in order to convince the public that it was humane, and to invite all interested parties to inspect Jewish ritual slaughter methods to convince themselves that it is humane.  But the article does not describe Jewish ritual slaughter, and does not invite inspection of Jewish ritual slaughter, and so leaves the reader wondering just what it does involve.

In an effort to learn more about ritual slaughter, I tried to find shechitah the Hebrew name for "ritual slaughter" given in the article below in my Encyclopedic Dictionary of Judaica, and eventually discovered that it was listed as shehitah with a diacritic dot under the middle "h", which I guess is rendered as shechitah in cases where it is awkward to write that diacritic dot, as in a newspaper.  The entry reads as follows, with the above-mentioned diacritic dot omitted, and with the same diacritic dot omitted under the second "h" in shohet:

Shehitah (Heb.), the Jewish method of slaughtering [of] permitted animals or birds for food.  Spotlessly clean sharp knife is drawn quickly and uninterruptedly across throat, severing windpipe, esophagus, jugular veins, and carotid arteries, causing immediate unconsciousness and death.  Slaughterer (shohet) required to be of impeccable character and has to be authorized by rabbi who examines him.
Geoffrey Wigoder (editor), Encyclopedic Dictionary of Judaica, Leon Amiel Publisher, New York-Paris, 1974, p. 548.

An illustration that accompanies the above entry is dated 1436:

Immediately we must be struck by two cues indicating that the illustration above does not represent contemporary practice.  First, it would be recognized today that it is unhygienic to slaughter animals lying on the ground.  Second, a slaughterer who attempted to restrain a large animal by kneeling on it might sometimes be overpowered or injured, or at least put to a great deal of trouble to subdue struggling animals thus, some method of immobilizing the animal would have to be found that was surer than forcing it down and kneeling on it.  Indeed, a very big question that the above illustration invites us to ask, and that will prove to have great significance, is precisely how the victim animal had been brought down on its side and precisely how it had been induced to keep still while its throat was being slit.

To answer the question of whether Jewish ritual slaughter is crueler than other methods, we would have to determine whether the above description was accurate, and then we would have to compare this description to a discription of alternative methods.  As to whether the above description is accurate, it is clear that it is not, its inaccuracy lying in its incompleteness.  That is, although it may be the case that no great difference in animal suffering exists between modern methods of actually delivering the death blow to the animal as opposed to the slitting of the throat employed in Jewish ritual slaughter, there still remain great differences in how the animal is treated in the moments preceding the actual death blow.  In the case of Jewish ritual slaughter, there is reason to believe that methods of immobilizing the animal prior to slitting its throat have tended to be extremely cruel, and that Jews have opposed, often successfully, laws aimed at minimizing animal suffering during slaughter, as has been discussed in Lubomyr Prytulak's letter to Canadian Jewish Congress President, Moshe Ronen, of 22-Mar-2000, titled "Is Jewish ritual slaughter inhumane?"

In view of the evidence that gratuitous and avoidable cruelty continues to be associated with Jewish ritual slaughter, then it is indeed reasonable to expect that the non-Jewish public would avoid meat identified as kosher, and conceivable even that if more Jews became aware of what their own representatives were doing in the slaughterhouse, that Jews themselves would begin avoiding ritually-slaughtered meat.

It is possible that "is currently said" below should read "is currently sold."


Decision by European Parliament could raise cost of kosher food

The European Parliament has backed a move that, if implemented, could send the cost of kosher meat in Britain skyrocketing.  Members of the European Parliament, the legislative branch of the European Community, declared that consumers must be told if they are buying meat produced by religious slaughter.

But despite the politician's vote, an official at the European Commission, the E.C.'s administrative body, said the proposal was unlikely to become European law.  David Massel, executive director at the Board of Deputies of British Jews, described the vote as an "unwelcome development."

The proposed labeling of religiously slaughtered meat "stigmatizes shechitah as something which is cruel," he said, using the Hebrew word for ritual slaughter.  "The Ministry of Agriculture has rejected such a move in Britain, and we hope that view will prevail."  Dayan Berel Berkovits of the Federation of Synagogues Beth Din said he was "extremely perturbed."

Labeling implies shechitah is less humane than other slaughter methods, he said, and there would be serious economic repercussions for the kosher trade.  The back parts of animals killed by shechitah are currently sold to the non-Jewish market because they are not kosher.  But if shops were to start turning down labeled meat, the cost would have to be passed on to the kosher consumer.

"If the man in the street reads a label saying that the meat has been produced by ritual slaughter, his automatic reaction would be there is something wrong with it, therefore it should be avoided," Berkovits said.  "The hindquarters, which are now sold to the general market, would no longer be acceptable, and therefore the price of kosher meat would double or treble."

The proposal, put forward by David Morris, a British member of the European Parliament, still must be approved by the E.C. Council of Ministers.  But since Britain, which is opposed to the labeling, holds the presidency of the council, there are strong hopes here it will ultimately be rejected.  But Berkovits warned that until the right to shechitah is guaranteed in European law, "there will always be a danger of amendments to interfere with or ban it."
The Midwest Jewish Week, 17Jul92, p. 4.