Judaism offers many fine lines for the brave to walk along. In some instances, such as the prohibition to consume mixtures containing both milk and meat, widespread rabbinical ordinances have been instituted to serve as a safeguard from sin. In many other instances the lines cannot be removed with such ease and it is incumbent on each individual to walk along the narrow path with the fear of God guiding each step.
In Shechita, the fine line dividing between a halachically acceptable slaughter and upholding the spirit of avoiding undo pain to animals is not an imaginary one and it cannot be ignored. Many make the claim that halachic slaughter is the least painful method possible. The Star-K quotes an oft cited statement by Dr. Temple Grandin in favor of Shechita as a near painless method of slaughter. However, even there, she cites specific circumstances that need to be met for a painless shechita. As such, if one is going to stand by these claims that halachic slaughter is ordained by God because it is the least painful method of slaughter, their position becomes null and void as soon as they sit idly by and allow (or condone) practices which inflict pain to the animal while it is alive1.
This is not, and should never be mistaken for, a position designed to yield to modern sensitivities. Rather, this a view deeply rooted in the Shulchan Aruch and I am not aware of any authoritative guidebooks on Shechita that are dismissive of these rules. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 36:14) is clear: if the animal is slaughtered during or immediately after a state of fear caused by human intervention, it is considered not kosher. It is beyond comprehension how, after seeing the footage taken at Agriprocessors, the OU can, without batting an eye, claim that there is no halachic wrongdoing and that all the animals shown in the video can be considered Kosher. Many of the animals are considered treif before the knife ever touched the skin!
In the Book “Rav Tavachya” Rabbi Meir Eliyahu Weiner outlines many practices which need to be carefully adhered to to make sure that the animal does not become immediately treif before it dies. There seems to be confusion about this, so answer in your head before reading the answer: when does the animal die? The Gemara (Chulin 30a) states, and all the halachic authorities site it and agree, that the animal is only considered dead after there is absolutely no more movement. If one were to take a piece of the animal after shechita and eat it before the final nerve twitch, they would be in violation of eating the limb of a live animal (Eiver Min HaChai). And as such, Rabbi Weiner clarifies that anything that would be considered Tzaar renders the animal treif until the animal shows no signs of life. Rabbi Weiner goes into detail of exactly how the animal’s feet and head should be angled to ensure the minimal amount of pain possible when the animal falls to the ground (in some communities, they would be so sensitive as to relax the animal into lying down before doing the shechita). And while there are listed examples of Tzaar Baalei Chayim in the sources, if you need examples of things not to do, the best source available is the video.
Watch the full video, you will find animals shocked with electric cattle prods, the animals are on their backs in the pen (which causes the animal to be up to 300% more stressed*), the animals are tossed from a height onto the ground from the pen (while still halchically alive), the animals can often see another slaughtered animal, the animals are hoisted up and pulled out of the room (while still halachically alive) and in one instance, for reasons beyond human logic, a worker kicks blood in the face of a cow that is still breathing.
We are at a point in history where the scientific wisdom (and even the governmental guidelines) regarding the negative effects of stress to an animal during slaughter are aligned with the halachic perspective. How is it possible that the plants that claim to slaughter Kosher meat are not embracing every available measure to ensure the comfort of the animals, as halacha requires?
It is important to reiterate why it is so vital to demand answers from the OU and the other Kashrut agencies on these matters. In response to the video the OU released a statement along with the heads of the Rabbinical Council of America, the Star-K and many other top certification agencies, that claims “After the animal has been rendered insensible, it is entirely possible that it may still display certain reflexive actions, including those shown in images portrayed in the video. These reflexive actions should not be mistaken for signs of consciousness.” That all these organizations are willing to agree on a halachic matter is a miracle by itself, but that they all agree to a statement which is contrary to the halacha and the Gemara is bewildering. If they are willing to come together to white-wash evidence of treif animals being marked as Kosher, how can they be trusted to tell us the truth of what goes on behind closed doors?
1) The OU’s Statement reads: “After carefully studying the video, Rabbi Menachem Genack, Rabbinic Administrator of the OU Kashrut Division, and Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, one of its distinguished poskim (rabbinic decisors), traveled to Postville, Iowa, to review the procedures at the AgriProcessors plant. They found that these procedures meet all OU standards to the highest degree, and that the shochtim (rabbinic slaughterers) are all highly proficient, skilled and knowledgeable.”