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SHEHITA AND CRUELTY TO ANIMALS
Rabbi Monique Susskind Goldberg

Question

Dear Rabbi,

I was raised in a Jewish home and was taught mercy and kindness towards animals was one of the most sacred Jewish laws. My mother and father however, prepared meals containing meat and dairy, they never once taught us about the practices required to slaughter animals for food. I have spent much time reading about "kosher" and conventional slaughter. One would be in grave denial assuming that animals did not experience horrific stress and agony in either method. Most people could not watch, let alone describe the animals experience to their children who are also kept hidden from this reality.

It seems a grave conflict in Jewish doctrine to teach children empathy for animals yet ignore their pain and suffering for food neither required nor healthy in the human diet.

It seems to me that within any truly intelligent religion that takes the holistic view of its laws in the context of modernity, the slaughtering of billions of animals can be nothing more than an evolutionary block, a wedge between truly holy and merciful practice of faith, and a practice that keeps us from progressing beyond much of the violence we are experiencing today.I read emails every day about the pandemic of animal abuses because we so readily accept that their prime reason for life, is death for food. It is wrong and we are ignoring the bigger picture that I believe we are obligated to see.

Heart disease, diabetes, many cancers, osteoporosis, early puberty, Crohns disease, arthritis, strokes, obesity, hypertension, high blood pressure...and so much more are results of meat and dairy consumption.

I believe that we are re-enacting the book of Genesis. Jews are so resistant to giving up eating foods requiring horrific suffering, agony, and egregious mistreatment of animals. And what of a human being who works all day killing things, how can this manifest into a positive energy in the world? I believe our worst mistake, our most profound and tragic sin, is that of killing animals for food. Perhaps it was necessary for survival once, but today, it is keeping us in a violent and inhumane cycle.

Author Isaac Bachevis Singer wrote, "In relation to animals, all people are Nazi's, for them it is eternal Treblinka".

The cruelty involved with eating meat is contrary to Jewish laws.

Answer

First of all, let me tell you that I empathize with a lot of your arguments, and I do believe that we should all protest against cruel behavior toward animals. This is true of especially the Jewish religious leadership (and some Rabbis do), because as you rightly state, mercy and kindness to animals is an essential commandment in Jewish Law.
This being said, one must face reality: humanity is not ready to accept to give up eating meat. This was the reality already described in the book of Genesis, and this is still the reality in our days.
In the beginning of creation, God meant for men to be vegetarian. In Geneses chap. 1 (verse 29) we can read: "God said, See I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; they shall be yours for food". God expected people not to kill living creatures for their food, but after the flood, God realized that man had an urge to eat meat. So God accepted a compromise - man can eat animals, but in order to remind him that life is a supreme value, man is forbidden to eat the meat with the blood (see Geneses chap.9 verse 3-4).
I believe that Jewish Law is aware of man's weakness, but at the same time, tries to limit the pain and suffering to animals.
The Talmud states that one should eat meat only when one feels the urge for it and not otherwise.
The Shehita, what you call the Kosher way of slaughtering animals, is said by many people to bring the less suffering to the animal. In addition, according to Joseph Telushkin ("The nine Questions people ask about Judaism ".New York 1986):"The unique practice of draining blood from meat consumed by Jews has over thousands of years a profoundly moral impact. It has helped produce an extraordinary antipathy to blood thirst".
Another way used by Jewish Law to reduce the number of animals killed for food is by permitting the consumption of only certain animals. I do not say that this is ideal, but as you also wrote, ideal will be reached only at the end of times as predicted by the Prophet Isaiah.

As for now, my belief is that we Jews together with others have to fight with all our strength and power against abuse and cruelty to animals. We have to promote better raising conditions. Consumers can, for example, eat only eggs from chickens raised in free running spaces, etc. Loving kindness toward animals is one of God's commandments.
But, there is one argument that you can absolutely not use in your righteous fight, and especially if you want the Jewish leadership on your side, I am referring to the comparison with the Nazis killing the Jews in the concentration camps, I have seen those pictures used by the animal activists, and they are repulsive and do not serve your cause. This comparison is morally wrong. There is a difference between men and animals. There is nothing equal to the horror of Treblinka, please respect the memory of the millions of our brothers and sisters who were murdered by the Nazis.
I do not know if I answered you completely.
All the best.

 
 
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Copyright 2009 The Schechter Institutes, Inc.
Box 3566, P.O.Box 8500, Philadelphia, PA, 19178-3566, tel: 1-866-830-3321
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4 Avraham Granot St., Jerusalem, Israel, 91160, tel: 972-747-800-600,
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