Kosher Slaughter:
Should Shackling and Hoisting Be Permitted?

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Kosher Slaughter:
Should Shackling and Hoisting Be Permitted?

From Concern for Helping Animals in Israel (CHAI)

Op-Ed for the Israeli Press (submitted by Rabbi Adam Frank for Hakol Chai)
April 2010

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.