Lea Dixon asks: Are kosher animals treated humanely? Unlike factory farming, are they provided adequate space and treated humanely and with compassion and kindness as prescribed in the Torah?
When God realized that man had the propensity to eat meat, He was very specific in commanding man that the blood of the animal was tantamount to life, and, therefore, could not be eaten, in respect and sanctity of life (see Genesis chapter 3, verses 3-6). The respect of the life of the animal is our ideal in the practices of kashrut (keeping kosher) today. Not all producers of kosher meat achieve this ideal, but there are movements underway to help make the situation better.
In The Observant Life, a new volume from the Conservative movement, Rabbi Edward Friedman specifically writes about tza-ar ba-alei hayyim, the pain of a living being, and that within the Conservative movement it is halachically indefensible to hoist and shackle an animal in the slaughterhouse. A new system developed by Dr. Temple Grandin, associate professor of animal science at Colorado State University, is a more humane way where the animal is placed in a container that gently turns the beast on its side and then on its back. The actual process of shekhita, ritual slaughter, uses a specific knife and the process is performed in such a manner that the animal is not aware of imminent death. It should be noted that the expense and willingness of the plant owner in the retooling of kosher slaughtering houses may, in some instances, not bring every establishment up to the new standard of humane treatment that our Jewish values incorporate.
With the recent establishment of the Magen Tzedek initiative of the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement, there has been a new call for not only humane treatment of animals from birth to the time of shekhita (ritual slaughter) and retooling of the kosher slaughterhouse, but also the humane treatment of employees within the kosher establishments. Within the Orthodox movement, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein suggested that even if an animal is certified kosher, we should stay away from meat where the animal was not fed quality feed. With regard to the life of the animal, the Magen Tzedek, under the leadership of Rabbi Morris Allen, is tirelessly working to ensure that animals are given adequate space and treated humanely and with compassion. The Magen Tzedek initiative was originally formed out of the violation of the humane practices of the Torah in one major midwestern plant, and it has brought to the attention of the kosher world the values of compassion and of humane behaviors, to all of God’s living beings. Needless to say, while Jewish practice today attempts to be as humane as possible, for some, vegetarianism might be the only answer, which was the standard of the Torah until the time of Noah.
Picture of cow used under Creative Commons license from Flickr user Jem Kuhn.