Is veal kosher
When I was still working at Cape Beth Din, the rabbinical court in Cape Town in South Africa, I often went with my colleagues on inspection visits to slaughterhouses and shokhtim. The kosher slaughterhouse in Cape Town was part of a general slaughterhouse complex. There I could see and compare how the kosher and the "normal" killing process went.
What I saw convinced me that while the non-kosher slaughter was faster and more "aesthetic" than the kosher, it by no means fulfilled the claim to be more compassionate in the methods.
Electrode In the non-kosher slaughterhouse, cows and sheep were herded onto the belt at breakneck speed, where a worker hit an electrode hanging from the ceiling against the head of the animal. (This method is considered to be the most humane form of slaughter. Killing with a bolt gun is even more common.)
But the speed at which the animals were being pushed through meant that the electric shock was only partially successful before many animals were hoisted up and painfully killed. The kosher slaughter was less rapid. The Schochet personally looked after each cow and sheep and made sure that his knife severed the trachea and esophagus with one quick gesture, so that the animal was instantly dead.
I have no doubt that kosher slaughter is by far the more humane (if less "aesthetic") method compared to non-kosher. During my time as Chief Rabbi of Ireland, where I was in charge of kosher slaughter across the country, my belief continued to grow.
These experiences also made me familiar with other aspects of animal husbandry and slaughter. Over the years I have become increasingly aware of the dramatic effects these factors have.
Modern factory farming not only includes animals in numbers that were unthinkable in earlier times, but also conditions and treatment of the animals that in the past would have resulted in believing Jews rejecting the consumption of such creatures as prohibited by Jewish law.
Foie gras Some of the greatest halachic authorities of our time, including Rabbi Elieser Waldenberg and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, declared the consumption of foie gras (made by forcibly feeding geese) and veal (the anemic meat of calves denied light and movement) for forbidden because their production blatantly violates the Jewish prohibition of Za'ar Baalei Chajim, avoidable cruelty to animals.
Let us leave aside the question of what is really necessary for a healthy life today; these rabbis simply quoted the well-known, basic Jewish teaching that the abuse of animals is forbidden. Anyone familiar with how livestock are kept and marketed these days knows that animal abuse has become the norm.
Cows for slaughter Most cows for slaughter are kept in cramped stalls and transported together in pens. Their horns are cut off or burned off without any anesthesia to prevent them from injuring each other in the tightness. They are fed hormones and antibiotics that change their physiology and limit their natural functions. It should also be remembered that these hormones and antibiotics remain in meat that is consumed by humans, with many negative consequences.
It looks even worse with the dairy cows. In order to achieve maximum milk production and to produce liter by liter of milk for human consumption, the calves are separated from the mother animals immediately after birth (violation of the ethical statement of the biblical prohibition in Leviticus 22:27, see also Leviticus Rabba 27:11 and Nachmanides to Deuteronomy 22: 6).
The cows are immediately re-fertilized - usually for about four years without interruption, until they are too exhausted to continue of any value to the dairy farmer. Then they are slaughtered. The hormones pumped into them cause their udders to enlarge to such an extent that dairy cows are sometimes unable to walk properly.
The examination of the internal organs of dairy cow carcasses, carried out by an American Orthodox halachic authority, found major organ changes that make the meat ripen, that is, prohibited for Jewish consumption - with halachic consequences also with regard to the milk of this ripen Cows.
On modern chicken farms, the animals grow three times as fast as they did 50 years ago - which is due to selective breeding and the use of antibiotics. The consequences are crippling bone diseases and malformations of the spine, which cause acute pain and difficulty moving.
And as for the eggs - both organic eggs and eggs from conventionally kept hens: To ensure maximum production, male chicks are killed after birth, thrown alive into the shredder or suffocated in sacks.
Illegitimate means Enough of horror stories! For anyone with an eye in their head, it should be clear that virtually all animal products on the market today are the result of practices that categorically violate Jewish law and ethics. And even if the consumption of these products were a halachic obligation (which is not the case), under these housing conditions it would be a mitzvah habaa be-aweira, i.e. a commandment to consume products that were produced with illegitimate means and their intended purpose Withdraw legitimacy.
It should be clear that the arguments of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Rabbi Elieser Waldenberg and many others are not only relevant today for foie gras and veal, but also apply to all livestock farming, the meat and egg industry.
In relation to animal life, Judaism demands more than just cutting the animal's throat correctly and examining its vital organs. With regard to the Shekhita in particular, our sages say: "The mitzvot were only given to ennoble people" (Genesis Rabba, 44.1; Midrash Tanchuma, Shmini).
The word "kascher" literally means "suitable and appropriate". But if the animal's neck has been properly cut at point Z and its internal organs checked, while all regulations and prohibitions have been ignored and violated from A to Y - how can the product be called kosher?
And why is there almost no official rabbinical opposition, let alone resistance to such practices? In many cases out of ignorance, but most of the time these truths are ignored or denied because they are inconvenient.
Food Industry The fact that the kosher food industry and the inextricably linked rabbinical oversight and licensing authorities are a gigantic industry that affects the livelihoods, interests and power of hundreds of thousands certainly also plays a role. One wonders if it is even possible to stop the frenzied train of this enormous immoral enterprise when legitimate and less legitimate interests are so closely intertwined.
Modern technologies and innovations that are currently working for evil could ultimately help to show us a way out of this tricky situation. But in the meantime, and beyond, responsible rabbinical leaders should, whenever possible, advocate an all-vegetable diet: it is the kosher diet available today.
It is perfectly feasible in our modern world to get all of the nutrients needed for a healthy body without being complicit in immoral practices. And all this does not even take into account other religious and ethical problems: an improved and fairer distribution of food resources and the environmental damage caused by livestock farming that is greater than that caused by all means of transport in the world combined (see also Livestock's Long Shadow, published from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization).
Visions Of course there were great rabbis like Abraham Isaak Hacohen Kook and before him Yosef Albo, who pictured a messianic age in which there is no longer any killing of animals (which will also be reflected in the temple worship itself).
But even if you can't do much with such visions, the following applies in today's world: the sooner you eat a plant-based diet, the more certain you can be that you are really kosher.
David Rosen was Chief Rabbi of the largest Orthodox Jewish community in South Africa and Chief Rabbi of Ireland. He is currently the International Director of Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee and lives in Jerusalem.
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