Can An Animal Change Its Tza’ar Ba’alei Chaim Spots?

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Can practices fully accepted halachically become unacceptable because of changed technology? According to Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, it seems so. It has decided that methods of handling animals before shechitah that were used in the past must now be considered cruel, given the development of other options. Some people will welcome this decision. Others may consider it heretical.

Based on the Ramban and others, Jews rightfully prided themselves on shechita being the most humane way to end the life of an animal. Others were dispatching animals by smashing their heads with hammers. But what about the way animals were handled prior to their actual slaughter?

For hundreds of years, animals were slaughtered by casting them on the ground, before the shochet attended to his business. This may not have been pretty or pleasant, but there was no real option. The slaughter of animals for meat is clearly allowed by the Torah. If the only way to position the animal for the shochet was to wrestle it to the ground, it could not be considered to be an impermissible infliction of pain.

At some point, a variation on this theme was introduced. Different sources disagree as to whether shackling and hoisting began in the early part of the 20th century, or later. (I have seen a claim that in the 1950’s, Federal agents looked askance at the casting method, because the blood of previously slaughtered animals could contaminate the meat of animals slaughtered subsequently.) Slaughterhouses switched to the shackling and hoisting method, in which animals that supposedly are conscious are yanked upside down into the air. (While no one can really know when “consciousness” and “pain” should be attributed to animals, measurements of brain activity and vocalization seem to be reasonable attempts to protect against what most would guess to be cruel treatment of animals.) This was common in American slaughterhouses, and still is employed in Uruguay, the largest exporter of kosher meat to the US and Israel. North American plants have shifted to restraint pens that keep the animal calm and unaware. Because of the sharpness of the blade and rapidity of shechitah, animals in pens almost always lose enough blood so that their higher brain centers never quite get the picture before they lose whatever it is that we call their consciousness.

The Rabbinate now considers shackling and hoisting cruel to animals. The statement by the Rabbinate is not really new, but simply repeats what it says a few years ago. I was unaware of the previous statement; I became aware the new statement in the continuing aftermath of the Dutch anti-shechitah legislation.

I am curious as to whether readers see anything remarkable in this position. I could anticipate certain circles arguing that if it was good enough for generations in the past, there can be no objection today. It would seem to me that if the Rabbinate is serious about its position (rather than simply trying to deflect criticism), then it must hold that tza’ar ba’alei chaim includes within its definition the gratuitous infliction of pain. If there is no way to utilize an animal for an approved form of human benefit other than causing it some pain in the process, it is still allowable. Once alternatives are available, however, using a more painful method becomes forbidden.

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20 Responses

  1. Nachum says:

    It’s best to bear in mind that the exact method of shechita does not exist to prevent pain, but to prevent neveilot and treifot. The lack of pain is a nice side result.

    Tefillin are a famous example of all this, by the way: Until a hundred or two hundred years ago, it was impossible to manufacture them the ideal way.

  2. Yitzhak says:

    “it is permissible to torture an animal for the sake of medical experiments, to develop life saving medicine”

    It should be noted that although this is indeed the normative view, R. E. Kalatzkin maintains that torturing animals is forbidden even for this noble purpose (Resp. Imre Shefer #32). [Cited and discussed on my blog – search the web for “halacha and the anti-vivisectionists”.]

  3. micha says:

    I think Mike S’s point cannot be overlooked. TBC is defined as *needless* pain. As soon as one can slaughter the animal with less disress, the pain caused by insisting on doing things the old way became pointless. This is unlike the general case of technological fesability (eg bug checking), nor only about how the outside world sees it.

  4. Yosef Blau says:

    Fifty years ago the questions about shakling and hoisting before shechita were discussed in the United States. The replacement of this method by a pen was authorized by the halakhic authorities (Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Rav Pinchas Teitz were involved) of that time. Material about the change is found in “Community, Covenant and Commitment” selected letters and communications of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

  5. S. says:

    >I am curious as to whether readers see anything remarkable in this position.

    Not as much as I consider the way you chose to word the following sentence to be remarkable: “Based on the Ramban and others, Jews rightfully prided themselves on shechita being the most humane way to end the life of an animal.”

    It’s humane because it’s mefurash a Ramban, not because it’s humane?

    • Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

      Nothing remarkable at all. Establishing just how humane is a particular method of shechitah is as unsatisfying as trying to project consciousness upon an animal. Jews at some times and some places may have looked upon shechitah as more humane compared with what others were doing. In modern times, shechitah came under all kinds of spurious attacks, often combining anti-Semitism with bad science. At that point, at least for the non-scientist, “mefurash a Ramban” indeed became a source of confidence in shechitah’s humaneness

  6. Tal Benschar says:

    Different sources disagree as to whether shackling and hoisting began in the early part of the 20th century, or later. (I have seen a claim that in the 1950’s, Federal agents looked askance at the casting method, because the blood of previously slaughtered animals could contaminate the meat of animals slaughtered subsequently.)

    I heard once from R. Bleich that the schackle and hoist method was something the federal govt. imposed on kosher slaughterhouses. If so, then it is hardly a “minhag” that needs to be defended — it as simply the only then-available method to legally produce kosher meat.

  7. Dr. E says:

    Dr. Bill and Joel R. pretty much summed it up. One cannot isolate Tzar Baalei Chaim (TBC) as the sole issue here. Given that the existing practice has been brought to the forefront and there are claims of possible TBC, then the concept of Chillul Hashem kicks in. By definition, what constitutes Chillul Hashem is not absolute, but shifts with time and place. What was “traditionally acceptable” therefore becomes irrelevant, as it is no longer a TBC issue. If we want to be able to continue claim to the outside world that Shechita is humane, we can’t be perceived as hypocritical (even though as Halachic Jews we do not perform shechita for strictly humane reasons). Given that there are alternatives available which might minimize the potential for Chillul Hashem, then a change in protocol becomes a Halachic imperative on that basis.

  8. Bob Miller says:

    Our desire has always been to minimize the pain of animals slaughtered for food. Clearly, no one can be criticized for not using a halachically acceptable pain-minimizing technique that was only discovered/developed later.

  9. joel rich says:

    To draw an analogy. How does the same argument apply to bug checking? We’re clearly much more stringent about checking for bugs in the current generation, and I imagine that kashrus authorities are applying standards that would make processes that were accepted in past generations asur. The argument I’ve heard to support this essentially rests on our technology getting better, thus allowing for more care in the halacha.

    ————————-
    Except that then drinking water would be prohibited as well (as soon as the microscope was invented)
    KT

  10. joel rich says:

    That’s one explanation of the data. Another might be that halachically hoisting and shackling is not a problem but from a PR standpoint there is an Ethic Independent of Halakha (see R’ A Lichtenstein)
    KT

  11. Mike S. says:

    The prohibition of “tzaar ba’alei chaim” is not absolute, but the causing of needless pain to the animal. Surely improved veterinary methods that allow one’s purpose to be accomplished with less pain than previously possible would render needless what might not have been needless with more primitive technology. Thus, gynecologist do not any longer slaughter rabbits for pregnancy testing, and I suspect it would be a violation of both tza’ar ba’alei chaim and bal tashchit for someone to do such an old-fashioned pregnancy test nowadays, even though it may have been perfectly acceptable 75 years ago.

  12. Tal Benschar says:

    Variable standards are not unheard of in halakha. The prohibition of kli gever and simlas isha is a classic example of a din that can vary, as a practical matter, over time and place.

    One question. What exactly does “gratuitous” pain and suffering mean. Specifically, suppose there is an alternative, less painful method, but it will add subtantially to the cost of meat. Is the saving of money “grautious?”

    Or, suppose by inflicting pain and suffering one can product extra fine food. (For example, force feeding gees results in foie gras. That is certainly not a necessity of life, and most of us can get by with plain chopped live, but the gourmets definintely consider it superior.)

  13. DF says:

    This is not a tzaar ballei chaim issue; this is a regulation issue. In general society we have seen, since the 1960s, a growing trend of government creep and intrusion. It almost always takes the form of new regulations or standards imposed upon employers, businesses or entities. Always there is supposedly some benefit to society said to accrue to the population because of the new rules, so never mind the cost. The rabbinate, which is part of the government after all, is no different. Their latest statement on shechitah, coming on the heels of the recent attempts to standardize geirus, is simply another manifestation of the same “we need more regulations” framework.

  14. dr. bill says:

    Changes in halakha based on circumstance, smoking or showering on Yom Tov being two excellent examples are widely debated. However, i do not view this as a strictly halakhic issue. Rather this would appear to fall under the general need to be an “ohr lagoyim” in everything that we do. Utilizing a more primitive and painful method should be evaluated in those terms.

  15. Yosh says:

    To draw an analogy. How does the same argument apply to bug checking? We’re clearly much more stringent about checking for bugs in the current generation, and I imagine that kashrus authorities are applying standards that would make processes that were accepted in past generations asur. The argument I’ve heard to support this essentially rests on our technology getting better, thus allowing for more care in the halacha.

    So if you argue “if it’s good enough for past generations, it’s good enough for us” that would logically imply you also should feel this way about bug checking.

    However, if you believe that we should be bound by new stringencies because they’ve become technologically practical, you should also support stringency in checking for bugs as well as in shechitah.

    Any flaw in my logic on this one? My impression is that the way these arguments usually break down, folks who argue that we shouldn’t worry as much about bugs would support being more stringent on shechitah. While the folks who tend to argue that what was good enough in the past is still mutar today on shechitah also want more stringency on bug checking. Neither set of opinions appears to be consistent logically.

  16. Ori says:

    It is not permissible to torture an animal to death for the sake of the meat. Even if such meat is better in some way, it is not kosher. However, it is permissible to torture an animal for the sake of medical experiments, to develop life saving medicine. Therefore, how much the suffering is necessary is a parameter.

  17. Moshe Schorr says:

    Isn’t that what Yochanan Kohen Gadol did? They had a method which might have been “acceptible” but was surely not the “best”. So he instituted a “better” way. And forbade the old way.

  18. micha says:

    It depends what the CR actually said. Did they say that what we used to consider sufficiently kind is now cruel? Or did they say that what was necessary in the past and thus trumped the pain caused to the animals is no longer sufficiently necessary to be justified? Invention of a new way of holding the animal for shechitach could quite readily lead to the latter.

    -micha

  19. Natan Slifkin says:

    An example: Doctors used to perform surgeries without anesthetic – and that was halachically fine. But do so today would not be halachically fine!