On Friday December 7, at 7 AM about 40% 0f the 240 people attending the
conference went a mile down the road to a farm (where the Adamah farm project
happens). The first sight was a makeshift pen where three goats, two white, one
black and brown, were being fondled by their handlers as they ate some plants.
They seemed happy and to use a goat stereotype, frisky.
Further along was a bench and some plastic tarps. The Misgiha was wearing a
yellow plastic raincoat, while the shoicet was in shirt sleeves (even though it
was a very cold morning) and a green plastic apron. Seeing the goats, I was
motivated to call my daughter Andrea who is a veterinarian in Puerto Rico and
sometimes treats goats, especially if they need a Cesarean delivery for twins.
She said she would return my call on her other line, so I was holding my phone.
Nothing had as yet taken place. One of the staff came up to me and said no
pictures, which they had made quite clear. I told her I was waiting for a call,
but she seemed not to believe me. She said the staff was all very concerned. A
few moments later Simon( who would moderate the panel called "Can We Eat meat
Ethically - Or Not" on Saturday) came up and said all the same things. I told
him also that I was not using the phone as a camera and put it away. He asked
for "my word" that I was not taking pictures. Meanwhile the official
photographer began snapping away.
The misgiha gave an extensive talk about the killing process saying the
animal does not feel pain, just faint, and that the kicking that comes after the
killing; is just a reflex and that this is "a good way to die". Both the trachea
and the esophagus must be cleanly cut, no tearing. The knives, which must be
twice as long as the animal's neck, are square. Special steel and an Arkansas
sharpening stone insure that there are no nicks. The shoicet bears down with the
knife, there is no sawing motion. Any mistakes and the animal will not be
Two people carried the goat in and stood it up on the bench.
The goat looked puzzled but did not start to struggle until it was laid down.
The he began to kick. He was held down - the shoicet said a prayer, slit his
throat and immediately copious amount of blood flowed onto the ground. Then the
goat did start kicking. He was placed on a tarp on the ground and covered. The
he was carried into the next area, a shed where there were three sets of hooks,
he was hung on one set and two people began skinning him. The misgiha told us
what conditions must be met for the carcas to be considered kosher. The shoicet
must examine the lungs. This was, to me, as disturbing as the actual killing. As
he held up the heart and lungs, it was most obvious that these organs were from
a young, healthy animal in the prime of his life.
The Torah says we must not eat the fat that is found on the kidneys, this is
why the hindquarters of the animals killed for food can not be eaten. So this
part is sold to non-Jews.
The goat's head was severed and carried to the bench along with the skin and
fur from his back. These were placed on the bench. This sight, with the blood on
the ground, is etched in my mind, no photo necessary.
Back to the shed, the intestines were emptied into a wheelbarrow and the
spinal cord was severed into the kosher half and the treyf half.
The misgiha again told us that this is a good way to die rather than to get
sick and old.
The other two goats were killed in the same manner.
Although many of the people present were visibly upset, it was hard to know
what people really felt. The night before, at a session that was required for
all who planned to attend the slaughter, we were were adamantly told to be
quiet, respectful and not to do anything to turn this event into a spectacle.
Still someone dared to take out her cellphone, causing the aforementioned
The killing took place on what had been a field of collard greens, there were
the remnants of the plants, still green.
When it was time to leave, I realized that I had been standing in the cold for
two hours and had not looked at my watch even once. Obviously in an altered
Although this thought goes against Jewish tradition, I do not believe that
wrapping killing in piety and saying a prayer before taking a life makes it
holy. Or right. I believe in the Reconstructionist Jewish philosophy, tradition
has a vote, but not a veto. Now if only more Reconstructionists would use that
to change their outlook on eating meat. But that for another day.
Actually, that is what the purpose of our DVD "A Sacred Duty". I also will
not use the term "humane slaughter". I will concede that what we have been
taught about traditional, small scale, kosher slaughter is true. It is somewhat
less inhumane that what we have learned about the conditions in large scale
slaughterhouses. Both the shoicet and the misghia told us that they eat meat
once a week, only on Shabbat.Yet the misghia says he supervises kosher slaughter
all over the USA for The Orthodox Union. So although he eats only a little
animal flesh, he makes it possible for thousands to have a lot of meat for
little money.This small scale killing that I witnessed, although not as gory,
is, I feel, very elitist. Few people could afford the cost or find it available.
Why did I attend? After all, I have eaten no animal flesh since 1993. But I
felt that I should atone for all the years that I did eat it with very little
thought and no action. And I did want to see how others reacted, and knew it
would be highly discussed during the rest of the conference. As it was.
At the Friday night dinner, the platter with the roasted goat meat was not
put on the buffet table, but on its own table in the corner, presumably not to
offend. I did not go look at it, but to me it was no more offensive than the
platter of chicken breasts, which came from animals that had a hard time
carrying their weight. Or the whole fish at the next day's "dairy meal" still
wearing their heads and eyes and thier mouths open as they had been when they
drowned in the open air. Yes, there were good vegan selections too, we did not
have to suffer the oft offered steamed zuccini, but I would haven enjoyed it
more without having to see others consume animal flesh and fluids.
On Shabbat morning I attended the traditional egalitarian service, done in
Hebrew by very competent women and men. The D'Var Torah talk was given by a
young man who had attended the shecting with his wife and six-months old baby.
He spoke enthusiastically about what a wonderful and moving experience this had
been, keeping the baby warm and away from the smoke of the fire, remembering her
birth, seeing death, knowing death is part of life and it is all holy. This is
when my tears came. I would rather hear the often repeated "But I like Meat",
that, I think is more honest.
Who can answer this? If, as Torah teaches, we are forbidden to consume blood
as it is the life force, why then, should we desire to eat the muscle tissue
that was nourished by that blood?
(I have already sent some of you what I wrote to present on the Saturday
afternoon panel, if anyone else wants to see it, just ask)
Roberta Schiff, President
Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society