Rabbi Josh Levy

Rabbi Josh Levy

This week’s Progressive Judaism column comes from Rabbi Josh Levy

I adore rabbinic literature. I consider it to be the formative material of Jewish life,  a creative and often wonderful intellectual activity.  But I do not think it expresses divine will. I do not consider the details of rabbinic law to be binding, including the rabbinic stipulation of how animals should be killed.

And yet, I only eat meat killed by shechitah. Were slaughter without pre-stunning to be made illegal in this country, I would (I think) stop eating meat altogether rather than compromise on this aspect of my religious life.

In the current debate over religious slaughter, this voice is not heard. The debate assumes that to eat kosher meat is a moral compromise made only out of obligation or habit, rather than a thoughtful religious decision. But for many of us it is.

In the Progressive Jewish world, many of us who choose to eat only kosher meat do so as a positive decision about our religious lives.

For me, it is a decision motivated by a desire that our family home be an identifiably Jewish space, and one in which others can share our food irrespective of their own decisions about personal practice.

It is a decision that comes out of a meaningful engagement with the rabbinic texts that I hold dear in my life.

And it is also a decision that reflects real thinking about the reality of eating meat in the modern world. I know that shechitah is an unpleasant way for an animal to die. I also know this is true of electrocution, or a bolt to the head (especially when inexpertly delivered, as it often is). I eat kosher meat in part, because I recognise that killing animals for food is necessarily violent and unpleasant, because I recognise that the decision to end the life of another living being for my consumption is a huge thing.

Like all big acts in my life, it therefore needs to be a religious act.  I am grateful that it is preceded by a blessing.

I am grateful that it is done by a person rather than a machine.

• Josh Levy is rabbi at North Western Reform shul