Conservative Judaism/kosher meat
Hi Rabbi, I am a member of a reform/conservative Jewish community that is part of the Australian union of synagogues.
I try my best to keep kosher but do personally have some concerns about whether shechita is in fact the most humane slaughter methods for meat. There are several studies that have been conducted here that show that animals can suffer longer pain with shechita than modern methods which stun animals prior to slaughter. I am aware of the requirements under Jewish law but can it be a reasonable alternative for a modern Jew to eat organic or free-range meat instead of kosher meat? For me eating meat that is humanely killed is every bit as important as keeping kosher.
I would be grateful for your advice on this.
Thanks for writing and only the Festival and "recovery" from Passover caused a delay in responding more promptly.
First of all, as a member of a community, you should turn to your Rabbi(s) and ask for their guidance in this matter.
Secondly, in my experience "organic" or "range-fed" only deals with the food-chain, not the method of killing of the animal for food.
Thirdly, there is a great deal of media concern with "stunning" and "kosher slaughter" some of which is "animal rights," some of which is confusion and ignorance and some of which is frankly anti-Semitic. Your Rabbis can sift out the details which concern you and answer your specific questions.
I continue to eat meat and poultry that is reliably kosher-slaughtered and ritually prepared for home preparation and consumption - although I would admit that for health concerns I am decreasing the proportion of meat/poultry in my diet.
Finally, I wrote about this in About.com a while ago, and share the information with you. I'm sharing some of that with you and I assure you that I am not dodging your question or issue by referring you to your Rabbis. That is the proper protocol in the Rabbinic community and the respect for your community and its leadership.
Best wishes and continuing sensitivity to both kashrut and the truth.
"Question: Why aren't animals stunned first before they are ritually slaughtered?
Answer: The laws of kosher slaughter (shechita) are designed to be the most humane possible, preventing pain to living creatures (tza'ar ba'alei hayim), by a swift and immediate death.
If a kosher slaughterer (shochet) uses a properly honed and sized knife for the animal in question (generally twice as long as the diameter of the neck of the animal) and the knife severs with one motion the trachea, esophagus, and blood vessels of the neck, then suffering should be minimized. Properly executed and with the most modern equipment devised to protect against violations of the fundamental laws of kosher slaughter, shechita will result in the animal dying within literally seconds and then bleeding out maximally.
What we don't want to do, obviously, is to frighten, mishandle, or cause the animal to struggle, for that would lead to emotional pain (tza'ar) and it might also lead to defective slaughter (which would then be pointless if the animal were not to be kosher meat). While shechita isn't foolproof, it has been observed that the animals suffer as minimally as possible when slaughter is done by trained and experienced shochtim. Minimal suffering is the goal no less than a pronouncement that the meat is kosher for not having violated the physical steps of shechita.
According to Rabbi Isaac Klein z"l of the Conservative Movement, there has been discussion about stunning, by electricity or anesthesia, for a number of years. Some have seen no objection to it, but the overwhelming majority have ruled against it.
In my own limited experience, the use of a stun gun or a bullet frequently doesn't actually stun or kill the animal; it actually can add to the animal's pain and thrashing. Thus, stunning techniques aren't guaranteed to reduce animal suffering.
In my opinion, the best way to further reduce suffering is newly designed equipment that facilitates an upright shechita. It literally cradles the animal, prevents the head from falling, and thus makes it unnecessary to invert the animal. I understand that many Orthodox authorities have not yet approved this new implementation, and it is going to be expensive for the slaughter houses to do so. But I believe that if the resulting meat is as kosher physically and it is obtained in a more humane fashion, then we should buy kosher meat from slaughter houses that use this new equipment.
I should add that recent films, study of the issue and a study of health rules for the human being are urging me to consider a far more vegetarian way of life. I already overwhelmingly eat fowl rather than beef. Rabbi Klein notes that perhaps all of these regulations for kashrut were intended to promote a vegetarian lifestyle. He suggests that perhaps God permitted us to eat meat as a concession to our humanity, but that vegetarianism is really God's first choice."