"First, the animal is thrown on the floor by having its feet jerked out from under it (the fall has not infrequently broken its horns, or otherwise injured it). Then its body is partly hoisted by a chain fastened about a hind ankle, then an appliance is gripped about its muzzle and its head is twisted over until its face is flat against the floor and its neck upturned. Then the long knife cuts deep across the throat, and for a space, often running into several minutes, it kicks and plunges in its wild attempts to rise, thrashing about the bloody and slimy floor in its dying agony - a sight as pitiable and heartrending as one will endure. That's the Jewish method, described without exaggeration, as I have seen it more than a score of times."

Quoted in Slaughter-House Reform in the United States and the Opposing Forces, by Dr. Francis H. Rowley, The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Boston, USA, p. 13.

If the method of butchering that Francis Rowley describes in Card's writeup actually occurred at a particular plant, I hope with all my heart that it was shut down immediately by the MSPCA because that is most definitely not the "Jewish method". The pain and cruelty displayed to the animal is in fact the exact opposite of what Jewish law says should occur.

At the heart of the Jewish concept of Shechita (the kosher method of slaughtering livestock) is the idea that even though we are taking a life, we must always cause as little suffering to the animal as possible. This in essence is why we have the laws of Kashrut at all: to humanize the killing of animals. As Maimonides wrote in his Guide to the Perplexed:

"...the Law enjoins that the death of the animal should be the easiest. It is not allowed to torment the animal by cutting the throat in a clumsy manner, by poleaxing, or by cutting off a limb while the animal is alive. It is also prohibited to kill an animal with its young on the same day (Leviticus 22.08), in order that people should be restrained from killing the two together in such a manner that the young is slain in the sight of the mother...."

The Torah does not specifically lay out the laws for kosher slaughtering, however there is a passage in Deuteronomy 12:21 ("Then you will kill of your herd and your flock as I have commanded you." ) from which it is interpreted that God had orally given specific rules for slaughtering animals. The laws were later codified by rabbis who attempted to ensure as much as possible that the animal is killed in a quick and humane manner. Of utmost importance is that it dies quickly and feels no pain. What follows from this is a strict set of guidelines that must be followed when slaughtering the animal. In every step of the way we must see caution and concern for detail. Only then can the meat be declared kosher.

Shechita is carried out by a shochet, a skilled ritual slaughterer who is well versed in the laws of Kashrut.1 A shochet does not need to be a rabbi, he or she merely needs to able to kill the animal correctly. If the animal is not killed correctly, then there is no way to make it kosher.


The first thing the shochet must do is examine the knife which is to be used to slaughter the animal. This knife (chalaf) is usually about 6 inches long for chickens and 18 inches long for larger animals. The blade is of equal size throughout its entire length and does not contain a point for the animal may not be stabbed in any way. It is absolutely essential that the blade is razor sharp and is free from all nicks and imperfections. The blade must slice through the animal's throat in one clean stroke; any dullness will hurt the animal and any nicks will rend and tear the arteries. In addition, the neck must be examined for any sand or particles which may nick the animal during the slaughter.


The shochet then says a short prayer acknowledging that he is about to take a life and then proceeds to kill the animal in one swift stroke. The stroke must be singular, steady, and precise. The blade will cut through the arteries which supply the brain with blood, killing the animal as close to instantaneously as possible.

Inspection and Handling

After the animal has died, the shochet proceeds to examine the animal for any visible signs of disease. He will inspect the lungs for any lesions or abscesses and if any are found the animal may be rejected as being unkosher. Though not all adhesions will necessarily render an animal unkosher, some Jewish communities or individuals only eat of an animal that has been found to be free of all adhesions. Glatt literally means smooth, indicating that the meat comes from an animal whose lung has been found to be free of all adhesions, and this is the meaning of "Glatt Kosher". The animal is then hung upside down in order for the blood to drain out of the carcass.

It is important to note that the practice of shechita is not merely a set of guidelines that were laid out in biblical times which have been carried on to the present. It is a very dynamic and changing practice which has utilized scientific and technological advances in order to secure the least suffering possible. In 1894, the Orthodox Jewish Society in Frankfurt published a monumental paper that detailed the work of over one hundred physiologists and veterinarians supporting the merits of shechita. Around the same time, the first studies were conducted which examined the properties of exsanguination during slaughter as well as attempting to discover more about the exact moment of death through the use of electroencephalographs. More recently, studies have been concerned with three aspects of slaughter: (a) the stress of the restraining methods; (b) pain perception during and after the incision, and (c) latency of the onset of complete insensibility. For more information on these subjects, please see Shechita in the Light of the Year 2000 a comprehensive book by Dr. I.M. Levinger.

In general, "the most recent research has shown that by using the proper slaughter apparatus (with the cow standing upright with a properly designed head restraint) and with proper handling, the cow is apparently unaware of the throat being cut and collapses in 10 to 15 seconds. The rise in cortisol levels in head-restrained animals was minimal."2

1Both shechita and shochet come from the Hebrew root Shin-Chet-Tav, meaning to destroy or kill.
2This quote comes from the article The Scientific Approach to Resolving Conflicts Between Veterinary Science and Schechita by L.S. Shore. It is reprinted on the Israel Veterinary Medical Association's website at http://www.isrvma.org/article/igeret40/Science&Shechita.htm It is a wonderful website where science and biblical law interact to stay relavent for today's world.

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