Culture, Justice, Religion

Chad Gadya

…Also, the goats.
We all have a huge amount to say about the goats. I’m not sure that this was planned, but in some ways, this topic has nearly taken over the Hazon Food Conference. And I do not think that this is necessarily a bad thing. The questions that have arisen throughout the past years, regarding the ethics of eating meat – especially kosher meat produced in factory farms, slaughtered in places like Agriprocessors, where the heart of kashrut seems to have bled right out are questions which are just right for the people of this new Jewish sustainable food movement to address.
And while there is a lot going on at this conference, your intrepid livebloggers (YehuditBrachah, KungFu Jew and KRG) have set aside an entire post to talk about the shchita and the conversations surrounding it.
Thursday night, the first night of the conference, Nigel Savage of Hazon started out by explaining how it came about that it was decided to shecht a goat this year at the food conference. Last year during the conference, Nigel asked meat eaters if they would still eat meat if they had to participate in the death of the animal: some said yes, others: no; he then asked the veggies if they would eat meat if they were part of its slaughtering: again, some said no, but others, yes. From this arose the idea to try to humanely schecht a goat at the Hazon Food conference.
That is how Nigel introduced the first panel of the conference: a panel including a shochet, Rabbi Yehuda ben Chemhoun, Rabbi Seth Mandel of the Orthodox Union, who oversees all American slaughterhouses, the shepherd who raised the goats Aitan Mizrahi, the woman who continued to shepherd them when the shepherd separated them from their dams (he is a dairy farmer, and this is how female goats are kept giving milk) Rachel Gall, Dr. Shamu Sadeh of Adamah and Simon Feil.

During the panel, many interesting questions were asked, but there were two that were particularly interesting, both from Rabbi Mandel (and kudos to both Rabbi Mandel and the shochet for making themselves available and accessible for these discussions). Rabbi Mandel when asked about the current problems in the kosher slaughterhouse system, made the point that the Torah did not envision a system like the one we have today. He emphasized that most of the problems with the system come about because the system is too big, because people eat too much meat. The Torah envisions a system in which a community may slaughter perhaps one or two large animals in a week – at most- instead, we now have a system where thousands of animals move through the slaughterhouse in a week, that our lust to eat not just meat, but lots of meat causes the system to try to produce too much, leaving us with an inhumane system.
The second comment of Rabbi Mandel’s is related. When asked about why the Orthodox Union is not dealing with the questions of the treatment of the animals during their raising, or even during the period of slaughter other than those that directly affect the killing, his explanation was that tzaar baalei chaim (humane treatment of animals) is distinct from kashrut. There are two things that affect the kashrut status of an animal: the first is if the animal dies on its own: that’s neveilah, and makes the animal unkosher. The second is if the animal when examined after the shechita has a flaw or is diseased (with certain diseases), or the cut is improperly done: that makes the animal treifah – torn- and not kosher.
Rabbi Mandel explained with the following example: he says there can of course be an ethical person who does not keep mitzvot, commandments. There can also be a person who keeps commandments who is not an ethical person. Neither is a complete Jew, because the goal is to do both; however, he cannot say that either is without value. His point is that we should encourage each of these types of people to become complete Jews, people who are ethical and who observe mitzvot.
But in my opinion, this is, with all due respect, a cop-out. To say that we need to encourage people to be ethical, to do the right thing is of course, true, but we are speaking here of a business, whose bottom line is apparently what their ultimate goal is, and the OU is giving its hechsher – which in most peoples’ minds – including people throughout the Orthodox and Conservative communities – means that “it’s okay.” The hechsher is a sign that everything is fine and dandy for most people, and the OU is the most trusted of supervisory bodies in the Jewish community. To say that the OU is only going to oversee kashrut and nothing but is a terrible response, because it means specifically that they are not taking responsibilty for their reputation as a body with power in the Jewish community.
What they ought to be doing is to say that while technically what, say, Agriprocessors, is doing is minimally kosher, OU is revoking its seal of approval until they clean up their act in terms of the halachot of the treatment of workers and the mishandling of animals (see earlier posts on these topics). Their statement should say that while these are not technically violations of kashrut they are absolutely violations of Jewish law, and it is not appropriate for people to buy meat from this supplier until their egregious halachic violations cease.
It seems likely that the main reason for them not doing so is not, in fact to do with halachah, but to do with 1. business decisions about the supply of meat in this country, 2. concerns about the availability of kosher meat (since Rubashkin and their subsidiaries are responsible for the great majority of kosher meat in the USA. and 3. a fear of “anti-antisemitism.”
KFJ notes:
Listening to Rabbi Mandel, I realized I was hearing words and concepts I’d not heard since business school. Rabbi Mendel spoke less frequently about Hashem, Torah, and tradition and more about competitive advantage, market share and consumer price pressure. It suddenly made sense that there are two primary forces at play in modern kashrut: not just God’s word but Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand.
Rabbi Mendel was enthusiastically in favor of social justice certifications by Jews and Jewish organizations – but objected their being provided by a rabbinic authority and certainly not done by the OU, lest these rules become confused with “kosher.” Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with him, the business reality must be answered by the social justice hekhsher and eco-kashrut proponents:
Regarding competitive advantage, he said the Conservative movement’s rabbis are not experts on kashrut, meaning simply that the hundreds of kashrut authorities are entirely orthodox. Conservatives have nothing comparative upon which to draw kashrut experience. The tzedek hekhsher, he said, should stick to ethics which they may (and I believe he meant this seriously) be much more endowed to certify. This all sounded more about competitive advantage, not God.
Regarding market share, Rabbi Mandel asked attendees what percentage of meat in America is kosher. 20? 10? The answer: 2%. No kosher market pressure, he effused, will be responsible for changing animal treatment standards. Frustrated advocates of the tzedek hekhsher insisted that something was better than nothing. He demurred. The majority of kosher industry is subsidized by the non-kosher industry in that kosher authorities can hekhsher a percentage of the output (very small) without having to own factories. Their small share is growing, but it still just a drop in the bucket of America’s food system.
To consumer price pressure, he explained that major manufacturers, like Rubashkin’s, are not in the market for high-quality meat – such as implied by the tzedek hekhsher. “Cheap, kosher meat,” he said, “is what they produce. Cheap, kosher meat.” Few major kosher meat producers would invite further certification, he explained, if it meant an increase in the bottom line. Some, maybe many, he speculated, would do it – those who market to a higher-purchasing and more discriminating consumer, but not “Shmuel from Ohio” who may or may not buy kosher meat depending on the price difference between kosher meat and its non-kosher equivalent.
This is not to say that the Conservative movement couldn’t train hundreds of Conservative shochetim (if indeed they wish to enter the kosher slaughter end of the business, or leave that to the orthodox). And it’s not to say that the struggle for tzedek hekhshers will make only a 2% impact on the total market. (PETA certainly seems to feel attacking kosher meat is worth concerted attention.) And it’s not to say that industries cannot be forced to raise their standards via public outrage. But I am indeed saying that these very practical questions must be answered before the rubber his the road, to make good intentions executable.
KRG continues:
Secondly, I wanted to reflect on the actual shechita, which we all attended and witnessed.
We arrive very early in the morning. The three goats are friendly, and are leaning up against the shepherds, who are hugging and petting them.
One is black and white, and that’s what they call him. The other two are white. One is named Mr. Waddles, and the other Monster. The two white goats are brothers.
When the time comes, he walks easily to the shochet, led by a piece of twine tied to his collar. I myself am nervous and feel sympathy for the shochet who is in his shirtsleeves. It is very cold and there is snow and ice on the ground. I am wearing fleece gloves, wool socks a llama wool sweater and a down coat. I am still cold.
The mashgiach checks the shechita knife on his nail, all along its length for nicks. The shepherd is standing with the goat. He helps the goat lie down and it doesn’t struggle. It trusts him.
The cut is quick and the animal does not struggle as the cut is made. It does not appear to be painful.
I thought that I might be nauseated; I am not. It is not so terrible. But, I think, it is also completely unlike a slaughterhouse death. Where, in the slaughterhouse, in the shepherd who weeps for his goat? the old friend to lead him to his death? The silence of the respectful standing around to witness the death? To stand by as your consciousness drains away to nothing?
It is not quiet in a slaughterhouse. There is not time to do things like soothe the animal and pet him, and I have a hard time imagining the kavanna of the shochet in a noisy, crowded bloody slaughterhouse.
The shepherd lays the goat on the ground. They wrap him in a sheet and the shepherd kneels beside his body, head bowed. He picks up the goat and carries him away. He looks like a father carrying his sleeping child in a blanket. My eyes are hot.
That night, they prepare the meat for Shabbat supper at the conference.
The shechita was, in fact, everything its advocates say that it is. It was probably reasonably painless. It was respectful. the shochet – and the shochet in training who assisted him- clearly had holy intent, and they both believe in the work that they are doing as holy work. They were able to lend kedusha -holiness- to the moment of the goats’ deaths.
I am still bothered, though. Over shabbat, I heard people talking about the shechita as a holy business, and I was willing to agree until one conference participant compared witnessing the shechita to witnessing a childbirth. There are some parallels: they are bloody, messy businesses. They are both painful. They are scary.
But I am not willing to allow the comparison. The comparison made by this person between pushing life in and pushing life out as equally sacred is not a Jewish view. “The most upright butcher is a partner of Amalek,” says the Talmud (Kiddushin, 82a)
It is true that Judaism says that the day of one’s death is greater than the day of one’s birth, but that is because one’s death is the time at which the measure of one’s life can be taken and not before.
Killing is not equivalent to the day of one’s death. Being a shochet is a holy job, but not because killing is holy. It is holy, to the contrary, because a shochet requires an enormous level of ethics and personal integrity to not become accustomed to killing, but to always recognize it for what it is. It is said that the Baal Shem Tov when he sharpened his knife would wet the sharpening stone with his tears, asking, “How can I kill a living creature? Am I better than it?”
In Bava Metzia 85a, there is a story of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi that a calf was being taken to the slaughter, and when it broke away, hid his head under Rabbi’s Yehuda’s skirts, and lowed in fear. ‘Go’, said he, ‘for this were you created.’ Then they said in Heaven, ‘Since he has no pity, let us bring suffering upon him.’
He suffered for many years, until one day his maidservant was sweeping the house; and seeing some young weasels lying there, she made to sweep them away. ‘Let them be,’ said he to her; ‘It is written, and his tender mercies are over all his works.'(Psalms) Heaven saw this and said, ‘Since he is compassionate, let us be compassionate to him.’
We ae not permitted to be callous about the lives of animals. The ideal shochet is one who weeps at his shechita. It is one who understands that what he is doing is a compromise. During a follow up session to talk about the shechita, the shochet in training reminded us of the midrash that before the Biblical flood, we were not permitted to eat meat, but after the flood, God recognized that our lust for flesh was not to be denied and so allowed us to kill and eat animals.
I respect him most, though, because he not only said this with clear conflict, while simultaneously believing strongly in what he does, but also because he, like the BShT, choked up while speaking about this. It was not easy for him to talk about.
Jewishly, meat is a compromise from the highest ethical level. That is what kashrut is: it is to remind us that while we have the power to kill, we are not God, and there are restrictions on what we are permitted. We must get our lusts under control.
By the way, I ate the goat.

13 thoughts on “Chad Gadya

  1. fascinating. I’m still digesting the larger stuff; meanwhile,a small question.
    if Jews are ~2.5% of America, and kosher meat is ~2% of the American meat industry, and many, perhaps the majority of Jews don’t buy kosher meat, at least not exclusively, where’s all the kosher meat going? Do Jews eat a disproportionate amount of meat? Are non-Jews buying kosher meat for their own reasons?

  2. Shalom,
    Thanks for these very thoughtful, sensitive comments re the shechting of a goat.I hope now that the slaughter has occurred that it will help focus people’s attention on realities involved in the slaughter of animals.
    I hope Hazon will also help get attention on other issues related to the production and consumption of meat, such as:
    * While the world faces many problems re pollution, global climate change, widening water shortages,rapid species extinction, and many more, over 50 billion animals are being raised for slaughter annually worldwide.
    * According to the UN FAO, animal-based agriculture emits more greenhouse gases ((in CO2 equivalents) than all the world’s cars, trucks and other means of transportation combined.
    * A typical animal-based diet requires up to 14 times as much water as a vegan diet.
    * over 70% of the grain produced in the United States is fed to animals destined for slaughter as anestimated 20 million people die annually worldwide due t hungera nd its effects.
    * There is an epidemic of diseases in the Jewish community and other communities today, largely due to the high consumption of meat and other animal products.
    * The production and consumption of animal products violate important Jewish teachings on preserving human health, treating animals with compassion, protecting the environment, conserving natural resources and helping hungry people.
    I think that Hazon would do a great kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d’s Name) by facilitating respectful dialogues in the Jewish community on these issues.

  3. With all due respect, on one hand, you acknowledge the need to keep our lust in check. On the other hand, you ate the goat.
    It’s kind of perplexing to me that one can compartmentalize and rationalize such behavior even when one is acutely aware of the ethical and global implications of one’s actions.
    It seems that the end result of all that contemplation and soul-searching was to cave in to one’s desires.
    You do not know for sure the Black and White, Waddles, or Monster did not suffer. Suffering is subjective.
    And, since most animals are not raised and slaughtered in the “gentle” fashion, (which is not exempt, by the way, from emitting greenhouse gases, contributing to global warming), I don’t think promoting *any* meat is responsible.

  4. I’m sad to see that a goat had to unnecessarily die to teach some people a lesson that they could otherwise get, if they so chose. This violates tsa’ar ba’alei chayim, cruelty to animals.
    Further, how does killing an innocent goat teach about the unhealthiness of meat? How does it teach the relationship between the livestock industry and global warming? How does it teach about factory farming, which is the way about 95% of the meat in the US is produced? How does it teach about tzedek and tzedakah?
    Finally, how does the goat teach us about The Vegetarian Mitzvah (

  5. I’ve heard before (sorry, no source) that about 25% of the kosher food that’s sold in the US is sold for Jews who keep kosher, about 25% is sold for Muslims who keep halal and consider the kosher food to meet the standards of halal, and about 50% is sold to people who buy it because they perceive kosher food to be somehow better (cleaner, higher quality) than non-kosher food.

  6. To say that the OU is only going to oversee kashrut and nothing but is a terrible response, because it means specifically that they are not taking responsibilty for their reputation as a body with power in the Jewish community.
    To quote Josh Frankel, whenever an orthodox kashrut body goes out for something that’s not strictly kashrut, then everybody gets mad at them. They’ve learned to try and keep their toes where they don’t get swatted. Having said that, does anybody think the OU even cares about worker’s rights, let alone animal rights? It is a body governed by capitalists and other rich people, and the rabbinical wing of said body, the RCA, bows in approval. The other movements are not much better. When money talks, well, even God is suddenly silent.

  7. Amit,
    I really liked your first point, about the Orthodox not overreaching. Indeed, I don’t think we want Orthodox bodies going outside what they should be looking for, because frankly we dont want to encourage that role.
    Your second point, however, I think marginalizes your case. A group of people is run by *gasp* capitalists?! Imagine that, in a capitalist society. We need to remember always that Kosher industries are just that, industries. I think the point above about economics was really salient. let the OU do what the OU does, and add whatever needs to be added, just not within OU bounds. i don’t know about you, but i know a number of OU mashgiachs, and many are the last people i want investigating workers rights- seriously.
    so let’s leave the bleeding heart stuff to the conservative movement and be glad we’re not pushing the orthos into it.

  8. I think part of the purpose of the shechita system is for the shochet to experience that he (sic.) is doing something wrong, or at least something grave. This also largely loses its purpose in a factory farm setting. The idea that shechita is the most painless way to slaughter the animal was invented in the 19th century, an apologetic explanation.

  9. MOre on the goat:
    Thanks for writing.In fact, Hazon is talking about many of these questions you raise. There were a series of panel following the schita about whether or not meat could be ethically eaten, during which some of these points were raised. There was a good deal of discussion about realistic approaches and what an ideal system might be, but taking into account that the likelihood is that meat will not be given up by most people.
    Our midrash tells us that the ideal, and before the flood (of Noah fame) we were supposed to be vegetarians, but that we weren’t able to do it, and so God gave us an outlet for our lust, circumscribed by laws about how to eat meat so that it wouldn’t turn into a simple bloodlust, or to be eaten at any time or place: that there should be reverence for God and an understanding that there must be limitations on how we go about eating meat.
    Even the mashgiach from the OU acknowledged that the way things have turned out is not how it was supposed to be. The shochet said he only eats meat on shabbat and holidays, as did the shochet-in-training. The shochet is clearly one of those who understands there to be an obligation to eat meat on festivals. If everyone in the Jewish world were to restrict themselves to such, instead of eating meat three times a day – or even just every day, it would have a large impact in two ways: one, because the majority (according to Rabbi Mandel, upwards of 70%) of kosher-shechted animals turn out to be treif and have to be sold to non-Jews, it would make non-kosher meat more expensive. If Jews then started demanding more humanely and ecologically raised and slaughtered meat, it would make that market more manageable. That would be a benefit.It would probably not, however have a great impact on the treatment of most meat animals in the world – since there are far more non-Jews than Jews in the world.
    Nevertheless, it is a conversation worth having, and perhaps if Jews could set an example by eating less meat, demanding a more humane market, and insisting on kosher slaughterhouses actually following laws of tzaar baalei chaim (humane-ness to animals) as well as those pertaining to the fair treatment of workers, it would go far towards improving the world.
    in the usual course of events, I don’t eat meat. I have a dairy kosher kitchen, occasionally eat fish, and eat meat if I go to the house of someone who keeps kosher who is serving meat. I have cooked meat for myself about once a year over the past ten years or so.
    I also knew going into it that goat is not particularly tasty, but I have to say that I felt obligated to eat the meat. The goat had been killed for my benefit, as humanely as possible, and I felt that I should honor the sacrifice of the animal. I did not, thus see myself as “cav[ing] in to one’s desires.”
    I acknowledge (and indeed, that was a major point of my post) that most animals are not raised or slaughtered this way, and I don’t think that this post can necessarily be considered as advocating meat. I do however, think, that it can be considered as advocating discussion.
    It seems to me to be unfair to simply dismiss out of hand all of the different thoughts and reactions that people had to the schechita. SOme vegetarians felt that if all meat was raised and slaughtered this way,they would be willing to eat meat, but granted that that was unlikely. A few meat eaters felt they were unable to eat the meat. SOme vegetarians ate the meat this one time, and still consider themselves vegetarians and feel that they will not eat meat again. Rabbi David Seidenberg, noted during the blessing after the meal that evening that he has been a vegetarian for upwards of thirty years, noted that he ate the meat, and said he did not expect to eat meat again for at least another thirty years.
    Regarding the suffering, it’s true of course, that I can’t know for sure whether the goat suffered, but I can say that in both animals and humans, there are, in fact ways one can tell if there is suffering by measuring reactions. In this case, the ways of measurement are crude – I didn’t have electrodes hooked up to the goat, for example, I didn’t measure blood pressure or chemical changes in the blood from fear and stress (all of these can and are done. Dr. Temple Grandin talks about this when she discusses her designs for more humane slaughterhouses). Nevertheless, even relatively crude measures are not worthless. The goats didn’t struggle, or call out. They lay down quietly and the death was very quick. BY reasonable guess one can say that they probably did not suffer much, although I am unwilling to say that they suffered not at all.
    And by the way, goat is not tasty, but I did eat it. I think, for the situation, I did the right thing. And my kitchen is still dairy kosher and will remain so.

  10. I wrote a tongue in cheek response on JCarrot: So what’s the answer? Lismokh or Lo Lismokh?
    I would submit that the public schechting of the goats as part of the food conference is awfully close to the reinstatement of sacrifice. While I fully support Hazon and wish I had been there, I wonder why I was less disturbed by it than by news items about the Temple mount faithful practicing for the big day, may it come speedily and in our days – not!
    (Which is to say that while I do pray for the coming of the Messianic age, Temple sacrifice is not part of my vision).
    I have, though, a few thoughts:
    1) Why won’t the OU require observance of other mitzvot? The Israeli Rabbinate will rescind the Kashrut license of any Jewish restaurant in Israel that is doing business on Shabbat, on the grounds of trust – if I can’t trust a Jew to keep Shabbat, which is the highest of the mitzvot bein adam lamakom, then how can I trust him to keep milk and meat apart, which is fairly low on the list?
    2) I cooked a chicken the other day, last Monday, I think. Suddenly I really understood this thing about eating meat only on Shabbat or Holidays. I had bought a whole chicken, and when I put it on the table the kids were, like, well, “Abba, why are we eating chicken? It’s not Shabbat, it’s not Chag.” Had the meat been served as part of a sauce, ground as hamburger or as sausage, they wouldn’t have noticed. So I think that one of the most ethical, proper, and traditional ways to promote a reduction of meat consumption in the Jewish community would be to promote a “meat on Shabbat only” movement.
    3) Why don’t we feel like this about fish? Especially when wild fish stocks are almost gone? Killing a fish is not so different than killing a bird. You can feel its life going out, it bleeds when you cut off its head, and we aren’t required to drain its blood, either.

  11. I always thought it interesting that the more a particular food item resembles human shape, the more kashrut around it. Potato (no rules) to insect (couple rules) to fish (a few more rules) to mammals (plenty of rules!)…

  12. I have read the thoughtful comments posted here about kosher slaughter and the ethical dilemmas of eating meat; ironically, the burden seems to fall more on the shoulders of the non-observant consumer. Since one-half of the animal (the hindquarters of cattle) are sold outright to the general public and meat cuts of all animals unfit for kosher are sold outright, the general consumer is purchasing MORE meat from animals slaughtered under religious ritual than those who follow strict Jewish dietary laws. Agriprocessors sells 2/3’s of its products to the non-kosher market! I assure you the general public is not aware they are purchasing trief meat. Consumers believe meat sold in supermarkets comes from animals slaughtered by conventional methods; i.e., stunned unconscious before being shackled, hoisted, cast, or cut. For those who believe the spiritual meaning of kashruth has been compromised, it is your responsibility to speak out. An article on glatt kosher on the Star K website estimates only 1 in 20 animals are glatt kosher which means more animals must be killed to meet the need. One idea would be to insist the hindquarters of all animals fit for kosher be de-fatted and de-nerved and used as hamburger; that would cut down on waste. I believe labelling is necessary. If the U.S. consumer decides not to purchase trief meat, there will be adjustments in the marketplace. If you desire change, ask that the hindquarters of cattle be processed into hamburger for kosher consumption. If you agree labelling is important for consumer protection, contact your lawmakers. The Halal (Muslim) market is emerging in the U.S. and the same principles apply. In a world where there are food riots and people go hungry for lack of corn and grain (main food sources for food animals) a decrease in meat consumption is an important ethical and moral value for those of us priviledged to live in the United States.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.