Op-Ed for the Israeli Press (by Rabbi Adam Frank) April 2010
Op-Ed for the Israeli Press (submitted by Rabbi
Adam Frank for Hakol Chai)
In the last week, an undercover investigation into the kosher slaughter industry in South America has brought to light indisputable video evidence of severe cruelty to cows during the process. For too many consumers of kosher meat in Israel, this story is news.
Eighty percent of kosher meat in Israel is imported from South America. Are you aware that the restraint methods used in South American kosher slaughter are the most crude and abusive in the commercial kosher slaughter industry? Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and the kashrut department of the Rabbanut that he heads are certainly aware of it as they have witnessed it during their supervisory visits to the abattoirs. Additionally, in November 2007 video from inside South America's largest kosher slaughter plant exposed the public to the grotesque reality of the practice of shackling and hoisting fully conscious cows suspended upside down in the air by one chained leg during the kosher slaughter process. The reaction of viewers of that video was such that Rabbi Metzger made public statements that kosher meat using these medieval practices would not be sanctioned for import into Israel. Two and a half years later, as this latest investigative evidence shows, not one change in the industry has occurred in South America or in Israel.
At the time of the exposé, it was widely reported that at a meeting between a delegation of the Chief Rabbinate, lead by Rabbi Metzger, and the Orthodox Union (America's largest kashrut supervising agency) the halakhic fitness of this meat was confirmed but included an admission that the methods of restraint used there are 'extremely painful to view' and should be eliminated. Those of us familiar with kosher slaughter knew that the Rabbanut would not agree to accept the use of the most gentle restraint method whereby the animal remains upright and calm until the moment the cut is made; the Israeli Rabbanut holds by a stricture that the animal must be inverted in order for the cut to be in a downward motion. Of course, this requirement is unnecessary as proven by the fact that glatt kosher meat is produced with the standing pen method and is consumed by haredim outside of Israel.
There does exist, however, an inversion method that is much more humane than shackle and hoist and is approved by the Rabbanut. The method employs a box-like holding pen that inverts the animal before the shechitah. Kosher slaughter plants in the U.S. and Europe use this method in order to comply with the animal welfare laws in the host countries, as well as to better fulfill the Jewish precept of tsa'ar ba'alei chaim. It was this very method that Rabbi Metzger mentioned to the press two years ago when claiming concern for improving the welfare of animals used to provide Israelis with kosher meat.
In the 30 months since that time, the only step taken by Rabbi Metzger on the matter was to meet with kosher meat importers in Israel asking them to request a change of method in the slaughterhouses. You read correctly the Chief Rabbi of Israel asked the very businesspeople for whom changes may be more costly to be responsible to try to change industry shechitah practices in South America. All of the shochtim in South America are under the supervision of the Rabbanut. All of the kosher meat imported from South America into Israel must get the approval of the Rabbanut yet, as the head of kashrut supervision Rabbi Metzger has not used the authority our State gives him to make any of the changes for which he is empowered. In fact, he seems to have tried to absolve himself of responsibility by placing the onus of blame on those who import the meat his own department supervises and endorses.
Both chief rabbis Metzger and Shlomo Amar have been sent letters of inquiry over the last 2 years asking for updates on the progress being made on this matter those letters have gone unanswered. Additionally, in January of this year Rabbi Metzger visited South American slaughterhouses and his only comments were to announce that the meat coming from these abattoirs is certifiably kosher. It appears that the issue of animal cruelty is an issue for Rabbi Metzger and the Rabbanut only as much as it is an issue of public relations. Where is Rabbi Metzger's sense of responsibility? Where is the Rabbanut's sense of moral outrage over animal abuse and its sense of responsibility to the public?
The more humane methods of restraint will mean a greater monetary investment an investment equal to that of other kosher slaughter producers around the world who have already made the necessary changes. What of the idea of 'hiddur mitzvah' elevating our sense of commitment and beautifying our Gd-commanded actions as we do when paying more money for the best of etrogim on sukkot, the bounty of our dinner tables on Shabbat and chagim, the highest quality of scribal arts for the parchment in our tefillin? Our greater investment in more humane equipment for kosher slaughter will also help us to more closely fulfill our observance of the commandment to treat animals with as much compassion as possible.
As if we are watching a predictable and bad movie over and over again, our religious leadership as manifest in the Israeli Rabbanut is, again, showing no sense of responsibility in the task to represent the best of Jewish concerns and values. Unfortunately, the realities of Israel's kosher meat industry are not just a movie they are a real life nightmare and just one of the areas of rabbinic failure. Our Chief Rabbis have shown themselves to be poor leaders of Am Yisrael, and even poorer guardians of Gd's good name. A misquote of one of Israel's early statesmen seems quite fitting, "Our rabbinic leadership never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity." It will be this way for as long as we Jews and Israelis allow it.
Adam Frank is rabbi at the Masorti Congregation Moreshet Yisrael in downtown Jerusalem.
Letter to the Chief Rabbis of Israel
Dear Rabbis Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar,
The matter of Tsa'ar Ba'alei Chaim is a mitzvah that is not disputed. Dispute lies in the definition of the suffering prohibited, and conversely permitted, to inflict upon an animal. In light of the recent public exposure of gruesome animal handling systems and treatment of animals involved in the kosher slaughter process both in the United States and in kosher slaughter facilities in South America, I write to ask for your opinion of what constitutes a violation of Tsa'ar Ba'alei Chaim? Also and more specifically, since less painful and more humane methods of animal restraint and treatment exist and are used in the kosher slaughter process, is the Shackling & Hoisting of a conscious animal an unnecessarily cruel practice, thus defining it as prohibited under Jewish law?
Rabbi Adam Frank
Rabbi Frank's position on the matter is as follows:
Since more humane and less cruel animal handling systems are approved, effective and currently employed during kosher slaughter, the gruesome method of shackling and hoisting animals during the kosher slaughter process is unnecessary, thus, rendering this method of restraint a violation of the Jewish precept of Tsa'ar Ba'alei Chaim the prohibition to unnecessarily inflict pain and suffering on an animal. I call on the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and all shechitah supervising institutions worldwide to act to eliminate this unnecessarily cruel method of restraining animals during the kosher slaughter process.
Israel's Kosher Meat and the South American Problem
Op-Ed Report by Rabbi Frank for the Israeli Press February 2008
A recent undercover investigation into slaughterhouse practices in South America has revealed the heinous use of the animal restraint method known as shackling and hoisting during the kosher slaughter process. We in Israel have no reason to feel immune from responsibility for these barbaric practices, as South America is the largest source of kosher beef imports into Israel. Additionally, South America is the largest offshore supplier of kosher meat to the United States. Both the Israeli Rabbinate and The Orthodox Union (OU) in the U.S. explicitly endorse these methods by providing their kosher authorizations to the resulting meat.
Shackling and hoisting is the brutal and outdated technique of chaining and suspending in midair a fully conscious adult cow by its rear leg. The problems associated with this method include the animal's scientifically measured hyper-stress levels, tearing of muscle tissue, tendons, and skin, the compression of internal organs by the immense weight of the cow's mass on the organs, and more. None of these problems affect the technical halakhic status of the kashut (fitness) of an animal's physical condition. Due to the high incidence of worker and animal injury, this method of restraint is longer practiced in the United States. The advent of safer and more humane animal handling systems encouraged kosher slaughter in North America to abandon the practice years ago.
As early as 1998, a reporter for a leading Israeli newspaper gave this eye-witness account of the process:
Animal science data reports that a cow killed by means of a valid kosher slaughter cut loses consciousness between 8 and 60 seconds after the cut is made. According to the above testimony, after the cut is made the animal is immediately moved to the stage of flaying (removing the skin), and a cow is processed every 27 seconds. Many of these animals are being skinned while still conscious a fact that does not violate the laws of kosher slaughter, but tramples upon the laws of ethical behavior toward a living creature.
The leading authority in animal handling systems, Dr. Temple Grandin, is on record as saying that, when implemented responsibly, kosher slaughter is the surest pain-minimizing way to industrially slaughter animals. This opinion is due to the meticulous precision of the shochet to make a proper cut at the time of death an imprecise cut means the animal becomes a treifa, that is, non-kosher. However, Dr. Grandin holds that by employing these crude handling systems that show no regard for animal welfare, kosher slaughter is now a leading perpetrator in the vile abuse of animals in the food production industry.
What does Jewish law have to say about animal welfare? An emphatic opinion is that of Shulchan Arukh commentator the Yad Ephraim (Rav Ephraim Zalman Margalit): "It is necessary to warn slaughterers on this matter...[that the slaughter of a chicken in front of other chickens waiting to be slaughtered] is not okay as it entails tsa'ar ba'alei chaim...and there is no greater form of tsa'ar ba'alei chaim" (Yoreh Deah 36:14). That is, the law against unnecessary infliction of pain to animals applies not only to the animals' physical well being, but also to the animals' emotional well being. In his gloss on the Shulchan Arukh, Rabbi Moshe Isserles (Rema) says: "Anything [treatment of an animal] necessary for medical or other purposes is not a matter of tsa'ar ba'alei chaim. Therefore, it is permitted to pluck the feathers from live geese; nevertheless the world abstains from such for it is cruelty" (Even HaEzer 5:14). Here, even the Rema who defines the proscription against animal mistreatment as solely a law against human sadism and upon whose opinion on the matter most modern arbiters of Jewish law hold says that cruelty even if technically permitted should be avoided.
If better systems exist for protecting the welfare of workers and animals, why do the Israeli and U.S. authorities condone their continued systematic abuse in South America? Does the one-time cost of the refined equipment costs that every Western abattoir incurs compare to saving the limbs, eyes, and teeth of South American workers? Does the one-time cost of the refined equipment costs that every Western kosher abattoir incurs justify inflicting excruciating, yet avoidable, pain on an animal?
The kosher meat industry is a for-profit business. As such, the approach to production is to manufacture an item as cost efficiently as possible. Compared to South America, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Labor and the intermediary meat-sanctioning bodies have much stricter standards for worker and animal welfare and facility sanitation. Additionally, in developed countries employers have the obligation to pay worker accident insurance. The high rate of employee injury in the slaughter business (Human Rights Watch recently reported that meatpacking is the most dangerous factory job in America) makes meat production costly and factors into the decision to produce kosher meat in countries with few to no regulations for worker and animal welfare. Thus, kosher meat authorities exploit and benefit from the lack of worker protection and animal welfare laws in South America.
Judaism is prideful of the fact that Jewish law protects the rights of workers and protects against the unnecessary infliction of pain to an animal. It is for these reasons that the exploitation of worker and animal welfare by current rabbinic leadership is so disappointing, and enraging. The Jewish laity places its trust in rabbinic authority. Not only is a halakhic cut assumed, but a kosher leadership is expected. For its part, the Conservative Movement in America is in the process of creating the Hekhsher Tzedek a seal of approval of worker rights and animal welfare that will accompany kosher supervision stamps for qualifying kosher meat suppliers. Still, the ability and responsibility to implement caring changes in kosher meat production is in the hands of the Israeli Rabbinate and the OU the two authorities who support the import of South American kosher meat for sale in their respective countries.
Without question, a diet consisting of minimal animal products reduces the instances of cruelty toward animals. In the case of Israel's kosher meat, the consumer can be certain that refraining from meat consumption sends a message of condemnation to both the governing authorities and businesses that prosper from the industry. This refrain will also ensure the individual's lack of participation in the chain of abuse and the closer fulfillment of mitzvat tsa'ar ba'alei chaim.
As a consumer, will you make your voice heard?
Additional Articles by Rabbi Frank about Kosher Slaughter
The following articles appear on Rabbi Frank's weblog.
February 01, 2010
February 04, 2010
March 22, 2010
Kosher Meat A Ray of Light Part Four [previously Shechitah and the Desecration of Gd's Name]
March 25, 2010
Rabbi Adam Frank is a supporter and a voice of Hakol Chai in the organization's efforts to improve standards of animal welfare in Israel and beyond.