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Government Regulations of Shechita (Jewish Religious Slaughter) in the Twenty-First Century: Are They Ethical?

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Abstract

Human beings have engaged in animal husbandry and have slaughtered animals for food for thousands of years. During the majority of that time most societies had no animal welfare regulations that governed the care or slaughter of animals. Judaism is a notable exception in that from its earliest days it has included such rules. Among the Jewish dietary laws is a prohibition to consume meat from an animal that dies in any manner other than through the rigorously defined method of slaughter known as shechita. In recent decades more and more attempts have been initiated by governments around the world to either outright ban or to control and modify the practice of shechita. This paper presents the requisite background about shechita and then analyzes the ethics of some of the recent legislation. The analysis includes a rebuttal of the assertion that shechita is an inhumane method of slaughter. It further presents the consequences on the Jewish community of legislation to impose pre-slaughter stunning and explains why such legislation is unethical. The actual effect of labeling laws is discussed and it is shown why such laws are also un-ethical.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In Poland such a ban was enacted in 1936 and then subsequently in each region as it fell to the Nazi war machine: Danzig in 1939, Belgium, Slovakia, and Luxenburg in 1940, Alsace in 1941.

  2. 2.

    Literally hundreds of pages in tens of volumes have been written to explain the two sides of this issue. This includes over 200 pages in the first volume of Weinberg’s Sridei Eish. A short summary of the issue can be found in: Sassoon (1955).

  3. 3.

    What is being discussed is the actual slaughter method. Pre-slaughter handling and restraint methods are not being discussed and it is possible that there are kosher slaughterhouses in which those can be improved from an animal welfare perspective.

  4. 4.

    Some groups, such as The Federation of European Veterinarians, have expressed strong opposition to shechita. But that must be seen in the context as being in opposition to their preferred method which includes pre-slaughter stunning. It is inconceivable, if they are honest, that they view properly done shechita as a “bad” method of slaughter. Of course, they may not have made the effort to see properly done shechita!

  5. 5.

    Unlike stunning laws, labeling should have little impact on kosher poultry of which very little is sold on the general market.

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Acknowledgments

The author is grateful to Professor Joe M. Regenstein and Dr. Richard Reynnells for helpful suggestions on early drafts of his paper.

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Correspondence to Ari Z. Zivotofsky.

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Zivotofsky, A.Z. Government Regulations of Shechita (Jewish Religious Slaughter) in the Twenty-First Century: Are They Ethical?. J Agric Environ Ethics 25, 747–763 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10806-011-9324-4

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Keywords

  • Animal welfare
  • Ethics
  • Government regulations
  • Religious slaughter
  • Shechita