Today, September 28, is Yom Kippur, a Jewish High Holy Day. In observance of Yom Kippur, Jewish people are expected to fast and refrain from wearing leather shoes, among other things. It is thought to be inappropriate to wear the skin of a slaughtered animal while asking God for mercy. This might be one reason why some people seem to believe that animals are held in higher esteem by the Jewish religion.
During my years in the animal rights movement, I’ve met many people who were under the impression that kosher slaughter methods are kinder than conventional slaughter techniques. But although the Jewish commandment Tsa’ar ba’alei hayim mandates that all living be treated with compassion, kosher meat, eggs, and dairy products are not necessarily produced more ethically than non-kosher products.
Thousands of years ago, when Jewish laws requiring that animals be “healthy and moving” at the time that their throats are cut, were passed, they were intended to minimize pain to animals. Back then, kosher slaughter likely was less cruel than other slaughter methods. But with today’s high-speed mass-production and sanitation laws, ritual slaughter has become a mockery of its original intent.
Because health laws stipulate that a butchered animal cannot fall in the blood of another animal, animals are slaughtered while hanging upside-down on a conveyer belt in mid-air. When they’re hoisted in the air, the terrified animals thrash wildly and bellow in pain, since their legs often break because of their weight.
PETA has uncovered horrible cruelty in kosher slaughterhouses too. In 2004, an undercover investigator from PETA videotaped employees at Agriprocessors, the world’s largest kosher slaughterhouse—and the subject of the biggest immigration raid in U.S. history—shocking animals in the face with electric prods, ripping out the tracheas of conscious cattle, and leaving them to die slow and painful deaths. Following PETA’s investigation, the USDA determined that Agriprocessors employees “had engaged in acts of inhumane slaughter.”
A 2008 follow-up investigation by PETA showed that, although conditions had improved somewhat at Ariprocessors, workers were still illegally hacking holes in cows’ throats. The company eventually filed for bankruptcy after years of scandals involving worker exploitation, environmental violations, and health and safety issues, as well as animal abuse.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop the suffering in kosher slaughterhouses. Uruguay and Argentina are leading exporters of kosher meat to the U.S. and Israel. A PETA investigator went undercover at a Uruguayan slaughterhouse that uses the cruel “shackle and hoist” slaughter method. He caught workers at this facility on tape as they tripped animals and forcefully pinned them down. The workers stood on the steers’ legs and used a sharp metal pole to wrench their necks back before cutting their throats and hoisting them upside-down by one leg. Workers also cut into the joints and heads of steers who were still conscious.
These atrocious practices not only violate the Jewish law mandating that animals be treated with kindness and respect, they also violate basic common decency. Slaughter—kosher or otherwise—is grisly and cruel and people of all faiths (or none at all) can best show compassion for animals by eating delicious vegetarian foods.
If you’re looking for humane kosher foods, many companies, including Mon Cuisine, Morningstar Farms, Worthington Foods, and Yves, make great-tasting, kosher-certified mock meats. And, of course, most plant-based foods are naturally kosher. For vegetarian recipes and information on other companies that make kosher-certified mock meats, see www.HumaneKosher.org.