Progressive Judaism: Two Voices

Progressive Judaism: Two Voices

This week our weekly progressive Judaism debate tackles…shechita.

Is shechita the most humane form of animal slaughter?

Rabbi Janet Burden
Rabbi Janet Burden of Ealing Liberal Synagogue
  • Rabbi Janet Burden says…

Until fairly recently, there could be no question that shechita was the kindest method available for the slaughtering of animals for meat.

The rules for kosher slaughter were extrapolated from Deuteronomy 12:21, where the word used for “slaughter” is actually the word for sacrifice (ve-zavachta).  Thus, in the Sifrei (a collection of midrashim), the rabbis reasoned that animals killed for food should be slaughtered by the same method as those being prepared for the Temple sacrifices. The intention of this practice has always been to honour God, the source of all life.

The shochet slaughters an animal with a single, smooth stroke of a perfectly sharp blade that has been inspected for knicks or irregularities.

The oesophagus, trachea, jugular vein and carotid arteries are severed together, reliably causing instant death. Current stunning practices, being mechanised, do not have the same consistency. A mis-stunned animal could suffer much more than one killed by shechita.

That said, Progressive Jews believe we must always prioritise ethical concerns over ritual ones. Should an alternative method of slaughter be ever proven to be consistently and reliably more humane, Liberal Judaism would review its position in light of the evidence.

• Janet Burden is rabbi at Ealing Liberal Synagogue

  • Catherine Lyons is a member of the Edinburgh Liberal Jewish Community
    Catherine Lyons is a member of the Edinburgh Liberal Jewish Community

    Catherine Lyons says…

For millennia, slaughter with the purest blade was the easiest death one could bestow.

The chalaf, the knife that transforms, applied with restraint and with kavanah, offers compassion and reverence. And the secular slaughterers who fire the captive bolt also do so with mindful respect.

Cattle are prodded into a box. The head of each animal is held in a cage. Rendered unconscious, the animal bleeds to death — that’s best practice. If something goes wrong, death is slow and cruel. Industrialised slaughter, shechita or otherwise, both bear scandals of brute cruelty.

What do animals feel? Science is inconclusive. Instant loss of blood from a blade so sharp it applies no pressure seems more humane than fracturing the skull and bashing the brains.

But even after research, my response is ill-informed. It behoves the British Veterinary Association to make cattle slaughter an unassailable exemplar of compassion, and challenge shechita with data, not with rhetoric about ‘ritual’ and the euphemistic ‘prestunning’.

It behoves kashrut authorities and the progressive rabbinate to engage uncompromisingly with the ethics of meat production. Quoting tza’ar ba’alei chayim, the prohibition against causing animal suffering, rings hollow, so long as meat from brutal factory farms is routinely hechshered.

• Catherine Lyons is a member of the Edinburgh Liberal Jewish Community

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