Thursday, 13 March 2014

On Shechita - Jewish Ritual Slaughter

This isn’t Purim Torah


It’s customary, at this time of the year, to share something a bit festive, satirical or outrageous. Sadly this is none of the above. Last week the President Elect of the British Veterinary Association has suggested that "I don't think an outright ban is a long way off, there is enough of a view that this practice is inhumane and causes suffering at the time of death.” Denmark has already outlawed slaughter without pre-stunning and there are regular challenges in other international jurisdictions.


Kosher, and for that matter Halal, slaughter requires a single point of contact with an animal to be slaughtered – a swift incision. As a matter of religious law any animal stunned before slaughter is rendered thereby unfit for consumption. The threat of kosher slaughter being made illegal in this country is real. What is even more worrying is the manner in which opponents of kosher slaughter are claiming the moral high ground in making claims which deeply threatening to those with religious convictions.


There is good practice in animal husbandry and there is bad practice in animal husbandry. Anyone concerned about animal welfare might want to turn attention to battery farming of chickens, narrow crate farming of veal, indoor fattening of beef cattle in cramped conditions and on slatted floors, live transportation of animals – often to countries with lower standards of animal welfare than this country ... the list goes on. A focus at end of life, in the context of factory farming methods which place so little emphasis on animal welfare is disproportionate.


There is good practice in animal slaughter and there is bad practice in animal slaughter. Temple Gradin, the world leading expert in assessing the pain and stress on animals in slaughterhouse environments has spent a career remodelling slaughterhouse behaviour to reduce measurable animal distress. As well as oversight to ensure animals aren’t abused by ‘beating, slamming gates, poking etc.’ Gradin has a vast number of simple examples of best practice designed to minimise distress; a non-slip floor so animals don’t panic, restraints should be designed to function smoothly and without causing the animal distress. Gradin’s observations are that in a well run and well designed slaughterhouse animals will go to slaughter without the need for use of electric prods and without ‘vocalisation.’ Gradin’s observations apply equally to ritual slaughterhouses and non-ritual slaughterhouses. Stunning usually works, but doesn’t always. A well trained slaughterer who is ‘yarei shamayim’ – working with a fear of heaven, should be able to dispatch an animal with maximum commitment to honouring that death needs to occur for us to eat meat. Again the focus on pre-slaughter stunning can so easily be disproportionate when there are so many other areas on which to focus to ensure that animals die with an appropriate dignity. That last sentence, I admit, is a little absurd. Death in a slaughterhouse is not dignified, whether slaughter comes with or without stunning. If we profess to care so much about the welfare of animal we should consider veganism, or vegetarianism at the very least. As members of a broader British society, we should advocate for and support best practice in the ritual slaughter and we should be entirely clear that trampling on our freedom of religious expression with no regard to proportionality is to be opposed and challenged – even on the eve of Purim.


For more information on the work of Temple Gradin, please see


For a response of a leading Jewish and Muslim writer on the recent statement of BVA, please see


For more information on the work of Shechita UK, please see


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