Wednesday, June 3, 2009

When Animals Answer to a Kosher Power


Got a message the other day..."My friend Katie is Jewish and said that Kosher meat is all regulated by the rabbis and humanely slaughtered"

So I checked with my friend who works at Farm Sanctuary and is covering the farm industry day in and day out as part of her job. She is a savvy one too, who knows fact from exaggeration and the ineffectiveness of the latter. I also looked up the definition of "
kosher", and it seems rather open to interpretation, as methods for 21st century slaughter are derived from the descriptions of what is "clean" and "unclean" meat. The Torah states which animals Jews can and cannot eat, and beef, chicken, and fish, of course are permitted, and pork is not. Methods of slaughter are very specific, however, which is problematic in the context of the business of churning out animal product for profit. Since the Kosher meat we typically find in grocery stores is from large-scale meat plants and slaughter houses, the chances that such specific, fine-tuned instructions are followed to the tee and are also overseen by the appropriate entities is unlikely.

In America, therefore, Kosher meat is some of the cruelest meat available. Despite the intentions in some scripture to make the process a certain way, which some may deem humane, given the economy of America when it comes to our mass consumption of meat products and the profit opportunities in meat processing, the intentions are often lost and cast aside. That said, however, I understand the intent behind the Kosher slaughter laws, but in practice the one instrument, one slice method is actually very brutal. They are not shocked with a head bolt to render them senseless, which is what is supposed to happen on factory farms. So Kosher farm workers have to develop other methods of how to make death quick for animals like cows and chickens. The laws governing how animals are slaughtered is that it should be quick, with a sharp knife to slit the throat and esophagus.

Despite the humane intention and spirit of the Jewish dietary laws, there are no standards to ensure that Kosher slaughter is any less cruel than conventional slaughter. The problem is that like most slaughterhouses, profit is maximized. Which means that as many animals are killed as quickly as possible. This is what leads all slaughterhouses to be brutal, because if they miss (it is, after all, a two thousand pound animal, writhing in fear for its imminent death) then they don't do over. It continues on the chain.

Even if Kosher slaughter sometimes is more effective at rendering the animal senseless quickly (there is still pain involved), it doesn't change the fact that all animal agriculture in this country exists with cruelty. The feedlots, the unnatural diet, the constant cycles of impregnation, the environmental disaster, the warehouses of factory farms, the neglect of illness and injury, the downed animals left to suffer. Animals are commodities and are treated as such every day, in every part of the world, by people of every religion.


And managers of meat and meatpacking plants, Kosher or not, can equally succumb to greed as well. Late last year, an Iowa plant, Agriprocessors, Inc., was raided for hiring children, undocumented workers, and for dangerous work environments -- it was a Kosher plant. This facility was documented for seven weeks by a PETA investigator, and the atrocities against the cattle they slaughtered one after another, in bulk quantity, day in and day out, are gut-wrenching. Check out the Rabbis overseeing this type of slaughter (read quotes from rabbis and video on left side), and let me know if you think what they do is humane.

Bear in mind that no organization or business other than an animal or other rights org will distribute video like this. PETA, the Humane Society, WSPA, and others like them shoot the undercover footage at factory farms. At animal testing labs, like the one of the New Iberia Research place in Louisiana, the Humane Society footage was shot by an HSUS person who worked at the lab undercover. There's a reason why these images aren't disseminated freely by the businesses and people in them. You can also bet that when one bit of footage comes out, there is the same activity going on behind closed doors all over the country. It's not easy to do these investigations, let alone actually prove the violations of various sorts. That said, we actually don't know the extent to which the AWA and municipal animal protection laws are egregiously violated. Like with illegal hand gun possession, drug rings, and muggings, we only know about it when perpetrators are caught and charged.

Jewish culture widely expresses compassion for animals and animal life, in the phrase tsa'ar ba'alei chaim. It is not surprising then that prominent Jews who were also vegetarian spoke about it and about the humane issues behind it.

Jewish leaders, such as Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer (1904-91),winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978, who witnessed slaughter in Poland at a very young age, which is when he
decided to never eat meat, including fish, ever again, advocated for vegetarian diets but even moreso for humane treatment of animals. He has also unofficially been quoted as saying, "There will never be any peace in the world as long as we eat animals."

Albert Einstein migrated to a vegetarian diet toward the last years of his life, which he
remarks on in a letter written to Hans Muehsam, and dated March 30, 1954, which was about 1 year before Einstein died: "So I am living without fats, without meat, without fish, but am feeling quite well this way. It always seems to me that man was not born to be a carnivore." He has also unofficially been quoted as saying, "If a man aspires towards a righteous life, his first act of abstinence is from injury to animals."

This is a great site for exploring Jewish culture's possible advocacy for vegetarianism: Any scripture or holy literature is open to interpretation, so neither meat-eating or meat-avoiding is the hard and fast dietary rule in Judaism, among many other religions.

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