By Lara Smallman, Director of the Jewish Vegetarian Society (JVS)
Last week I watched a horror film I cannot forget. It wasn’t a fictional plot dreamed up by a scriptwriter, but brand new undercover footage from a kosher slaughterhouse in South America.
I watched cows while still sentient being cut into by workers. Kashrut laws prescribe one quick, deep stroke with a sharp knife across the throat, aimed at rendering an animal instantly unconscious.
The clip I watched shows cows being lifted into the air, each dangling by a hind leg. This awakens their senses, thereby delaying the onset of unconsciousness.
This barbaric practice is called shackle and hoist (SAH), and it is virtually unique to the kosher industry. It violates all international welfare guidelines.
SAH was banned on American soil, yet imported meat produced via this method is available in kosher shops across the US.
The same body which has declared repeated objections to the practice, the Orthodox Union (OU), is happy to continue certifying the products as kosher.
Why? The meat is cheaper because killing time is halved. The OU argues that a ban would necessitate imports from further afield, causing beef prices to rocket.
Never mind money. We ought to be outraged by this flagrant violation of the core Jewish principle of tza’ar baalei chayim, the Torah mandate that forbids us from inflicting unnecessary suffering on an animal.
It is this glaring gulf between our sacred ancient teachings around animal welfare and the modern reality of factory farming that is prompting a growing number of leading rabbis to adopt and advocate a vegan diet.
This includes one of our patrons, former chief rabbi of Ireland David Rosen, who stated last year: “Anybody with eyes in their head can see that factory farming is a categorical transgression and desecration of the prohibition on causing cruelty to animals.”
While the temptation might be to keep schtum for fear of threatening shechita, or making Jews look bad, the truth is the problem is much bigger than SAH. This is one of many scandals emerging from kosher slaughterhouses in recent years.
At Agriprocessors in the US, investigators found workers with injuries so severe they demanded amputations, staff given virtually no safety training and child workers.
Israel’s largest slaughterhouse, Dabbah, was ordered to close by the government in 2015 because of gross abuse, including dragging animals along the ground by their heads.
From our chopped liver to our cheesecake, there is animal abuse at every turn. For our meat, cows are being branded, castrated, and their horns removed using searing-hot irons, caustic chemicals or hand saws, all without anaesthetic.
Often overlooked, there is vast cruelty in the dairy industry too. Cows are caged, artificially impregnated, mechanically milked until they can give nothing more, and killed aged five. Their natural life span would be 25 years.
It is no coincidence that Israel is leading the way, with the highest number of vegans per capita anywhere in the world. These pioneers are fulfilling the moral responsibility we all have as Jews, to call out this industry for exactly what is it is – calculated cruelty in which we should want no part.