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The War Against Shechita


In this week’s parasha we learn of the obligation to slaughter animals in order to make them fit for Jewish consumption. Shechita has come under attack by many organizations, primarily those aiming to end all use of animals, from meat to shoes, under the premise of animal rights. The Torah’s concept of tza’ar ba’alei chaim is hijacked by these organizations to further their cause, placing various demands on shechita — from stunning animals before slaughtering to shooting them after slaughtering. Is shechita painful to the animal? What makes stunned animals unkosher? Do animals suffer pain from electric shocks? And a little history: the historic battle for kosher shechita in the ‘30s of the previous century was a turning point in kashrus. How was it won?


In this week’s parasha we learn: “If the place the Lord, your G-d, chooses to put His Name there, will be distant from you, you may slaughter of your cattle and of your sheep, which the Lord has given you, as I have commanded you, and you may eat in your cities, according to every desire of your soul” (Devarim 12:21). The Torah requires animals to be slaughtered according to the laws He gave us. Interestingly, the laws of shechita appear nowhere in the written Torah. The Gemara (Chulin 28a) teaches that the laws of shechita were taught to Moshe Rabbenu at Mount Sinai, called Halacha L’Moshe M’Sinai – the halachos Moshe Rabbenu brought down from Sinai. Shechita means “drawing forth” (Chulin 30b) — the slaughter of an animal in accordance with the divinely mandated laws of shechita is what enables its elevation. When an animal is eaten by a human it gives him energy, essentially drawing the animal out from its beastly state into the domain of a human life consecrated to the service of the Creator.

Shechita has come under attack in many western countries for over a century. In this week’s article we will explain the background of the attack, the attackers’ claims, and the truth about it all.

Historic Background

In 1864, the idea of animal rights began gaining publicity, giving rise to a new form of anti-Semitism disguised as concern for the dying cow’s pain when it comes under the shochet’s knife. To prevent what seemed to be painful to the animal, the groups demanded that animal should be lanced or drugged up before slaughtering to, according to their opinion, save the animal from pain. Eventually, drugging was found to make the meat a health hazard. Since meanwhile electricity was discovered, electrocuting animals before slaughtering became the new anti-shechita demand. Countries that made stunning animals before shechita mandatory made Jews feel very unwelcome.

Nazi propaganda injected steroids in this campaign. One of the first anti-Semitic legislative steps taken in Nazi Germany when they came to power in 1933 was outlawing shechita. The Nazis’ claimed it was animal discomfort that spurned their move, prompting Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodgensky’s chilling prophecy of the looming Holocaust. He quoted the pasuk: “Those who sacrifice man kiss the calves” (Hoshea 13:2), a prophecy that came true a few short years later.

While Jewish pro-shechita PR was unsuccessful in Nazi Germany, most other European countries were open to hearing the Jewish explanation of shechita and how it is specifically slaughtering according to the Jewish Law that prevents undue pain from animals.

The only country in which shechita was banned, even before Nazi Germany, and never permitted since, is Switzerland. Other countries in which shechita is banned today are New Zealand, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Luxemburg, and parts of Belgium. This ban complicates Jewish living in these countries and communities are forced to import kosher meat from abroad. Organizations that campaign banning shechita around the world today (such as the PETA, CIWF and others) are, unsurprisingly, aligned with the BDS and other anti-Semitic movements, and peddle Hamas propaganda (who are known for their concern for animal rights…).

In this week’s article we will focus on two questions:

1) Why is stunning an animal before shechita halachically forbidden?

2) Does stunning actually prevent pain from the animal, or not?

Starting in 1864, several responsa were written on this topic. Stunning is forbidden wall to wall by all authorities, without exception. Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodgensky, in his answers (Achiezer IV 12, 13, 14, 15 ,16, 19) forbids stunning, and even issued a halachic ruling signed by all the leaders of his generation: the Marcheshes, Rabbi Shimon Shkop, Reb Baruch Ber Leibovitz, Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, Rabbi Avraham Tzvi Hirsch Kamai, Rabbi Yitzchak Ze’ev Soloveitchik, all the rabbinic authorities of Warsaw, Rabbi Avraham Weinberg, and others.

The first elucidated responsa, both from halachic and scientific perspectives, appeared in the Sreidi Esh (volume II, chapter 4) by Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Weinberg. He quotes both halachic sources and noted physician’s and veterinarian’s opinions.

In his responsa he describes how he was sent by rabbonim to investigate the issue and sent his findings back to the rabbonim for their review. For two and a half decades, he explains, he and other rabbonim refrained from publicizing the reasons for banning stunning for PR reasons. Explanations, they knew, would only lead to misinterpretations that would then be used as fodder to fuel their attackers.

Halachic Concerns

The Sreidi Esh lists seven main problems with stunning animals before slaughter:

1) Concern of nefula (falling): When an animal is electrocuted it falls forcefully to the floor of the slaughterhouse. Shulchan Aruch (YD 58) lists an animal that fell as one of the treifos, since we are concerned one of the animal’s internal organs may have been damaged from the fall. For an animal that fell to be kosher it must be able to lift itself up from the floor unaided and live for the next 24 hours. Additionally, every one of its inner organs must be checked carefully after slaughtering. Electrocuting an animal even without the fall can cause its internal organs to become dislodged.

While theoretically, an electrocuted animal can be kosher if it stands back up unaided and, after waiting 24 hours, is slaughtered properly and all organs checked, it is not a practical possibility nor is it financially viable. Furthermore, in this theoretic scenario, law would require stunning it again, so there is actually nothing to gain from it.

2) Brain injuries: Electrocuted animals are often found to have water in the brain and drops of blood in the cortex. Electrocuting an animal may cause tearing in the cortex, rendering the animal treif (Shulchan Aruch YD 31).

3) Lung injuries: Halacha requires checking of the lungs to ensure they are free of adhesions. Checking them is done by feeling for the adhesions and checking their size and thickness (Shulchan Aruch YD 39). Electrocuting an animal causes adhesions to harden and checking is impossible. Additionally, the electricity causes pulmonary blood vessels to tear, causing additional harm to the lungs.

4) Digestive tract injuries: after stunning, animal intestines are often found with bubbles, and some intestines may be perforated. Torn intestines render an animal treif.

5) Heart injuries: after stunning, animals are often found with blood in their hearts, raising the concern that the heart had become dislodged. A dislodged heart renders the animal treif (Shulchan Aruch YD 40).

6) Blood build-up in the organs. Slaughtering an electrocuted animal causes only a slight trickle of blood from the incision as opposed to the rapid blood loss and massive bleeding that results from kosher shechita. (This is one of the reasons companies prefer to employ stunning). The meat, on the other hand has a slightly greenish hue, indicating that the animal was unable to breath properly, and the blood didn’t flow as it should. The blood appears to be absorbed by the animal’s organs and salting the meat doesn’t extract the blood from them properly.

7) Mortally wounded animals: An animal slaughtered near death must jerk around after slaughtering to be considered kosher. If it doesn’t, the animal is considered a nevela (carcass) that died before it had the opportunity to be slaughtered properly. After shocking, animals are close to this stage. Industrial slaughtering doesn’t allow for such checking.

The main concerns involve crushed internal organs which require thorough checking, as well as a perforated cortex. Preforming the examination properly is additionally impossible, both halachically and financially.

Practical Difficulties

Another central issue with electrocuting is the difficulty in determining the voltage required to stun the animal while leaving it alive and not crushing its internal organs. Since the non-kosher meat industry is not concerned about it, there is nobody studying the matter properly, and science has been unable to determined which voltage is required to anesthetize an animal while still keeping it alive. The necessary voltage depends upon the animal’s weight, strength, age and other factors, and there’s no one amount that fits all. The non-kosher meat industry uses a voltage of over 250 V which results with – according to non-kosher slaughterers reports – a high rate of carcass defects.

This is also the reason that the electric chair is no longer used to put convicts to death – doctors were unable to determine the correct electric voltage necessary, and oftentimes a convict’s death involved a lot of unnecessary pain. While an anaesthesiologist in the operating room requires extensive medical training and an operating room setting with equipment to determine the exact amount of anaesthesia necessary for blocking out pain but keep the patient alive, the unskilled labourers at meatpacking plants are much less capable of making these decisions.

Stunning – Painless vs. Soundless

The Sreidi Esh notes several veterinarians and scientists’ opinion that electrocuting animals before slaughtering does not minimize the animal’s pain, although it does make for a cleaner, more beautified death. While stunning prevents animal’s from vocalizing their fear or pain, saves the manpower required to restrain them, and minimizes the bloodflow from the incision, kosher slaughtering allows animals to vocalize before the cut is made because they are in full health, and the shechita cut produces a large blood flow resulting in rapid blood loss and a quick death. Additionally, the position used for shechita has an anesthetizing effect of the animal. You might say that while stunning makes a prettier picture, kosher slaughter makes for more humane and compassionate treatment of animals.

The Incision

The pain from an incision is felt in the brain. Pain takes several seconds to travel along the neurons till it reaches the brain, and as anyone who ever got a paper cut knows, the sharper the cut, the longer it takes for the pain to register. Kosher slaughter knives are so sharp that cuts are often not even felt. Even the slightest nick in the knife renders the slaughtered animal unkosher and knives are sharpened every day and checked several times a day. Scientifically, by the time the animal is able to feel the pain from the incision, it is already dead. Plus, the shechita incision severs those nerves, and pain cannot reach the brain. Thus, shechita is the most painless death possible.

When Nazi Germany decided to ban shechita in the ‘30s, there were groups in the US that demanded America follow suite. People involved in the field proved that the shechita incision slices through the nerves, preventing the animal from feeling pain.

Interestingly, an America legislator pointed out that there is another nerve in the back of the animal’s neck that still allows animals to feel pain. This almost resulted in banning of shechita, but in the nick of time, Rabbi Moshe Sherer showed that this nerve only exists in non-kosher animals. Kosher animals, however, do not possess this nerve, and cattle cannot feel pain from the shechita even before its actual death because the brain no longer receives or transmits information from the nerves.

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