Death Isn’t Pretty
Any viewer of an emergency room on prime time TV has seen a scene like this one: The EMTs race the victim into the ER, and he’s bleeding badly. They try to stop the hemorrhaging, but it’s a losing battle… before long, the victim’s limbs start to shake uncontrollably, as the nurse yells, “he’s losing consciousness!”
By now, everyone has heard about PETA‘s video alleging animal cruelty at the Rubashkin Kosher slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa. The video is no joy to watch; it shows animals flailing wildly after being slaughtered. This, however, is not a sign of cruelty — but just the opposite. The brain is sending random signals to the body because consciousness has been lost. Were the animal not flailing around, that would be a sign that the animal was too ill to be eaten.
The viewer also hears the cow moo-ing loudly after slaughter — at least, one imagines it is the same cow, since it is the only one visible. This is, however, entirely untrue. It is physiologically impossible for a cow with a slaughtered trachea to moo, just as it is impossible for a person with a tracheotomy to speak.
This is not to say, however, that all is well. In one case the cow actually stands up and walks. Clearly, my expert source tells me, only one of two carotid arteries was severed, resulting in a kosher but still conscious animal. This is listed in Shulchan Aruch as something to avoid because of Tza’ar Baalei Chayim, causing pain to a living thing. That is wrong. It also happened once in the seven weeks that PETA’s operative spent inside the plant. It needs to be avoided, but is not a sign of deliberate or gratuitous cruelty to animals.
A more significant error is shown when someone approaches the animal immediately after the shochet (kosher slaughterer) steps back, and uses a hook to pull out the trachea. While this helps the animal bleed out faster, it is inappropriate because the cow could still be conscious for a few seconds. That practice needs to be changed immediately.
PETA has an obvious agenda — and previously compared the slaughter of chickens to the Nazi Holocaust. Their excessive concern for animals has produced insensitivity towards other human beings. For those who plan not to “go vegetarian,” the kosher community demonstrated care for animals and tried to avoid causing them pain millenia before the first humane society was founded — and kosher slaughter remains far preferable to the alternatives.
This is not to say, however, that the video unearthed nothing which needs to be corrected. Sometimes it is worth looking for the grain of truth even in unfair criticism, and this appears to be such a case.
Unrelated to the PETA issue, there was a facsinating documentary (and book) concerning the Postville community and the state of multiculturalism in America. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it (for Jews and non-Jews alike).
Thanks for the balanced perspective on this topic. I’ve seen more negative articles posted than anything else. I’ve been very troubled by this issue, and am still trying to gather as many opinions as I can find.
“There will come a day when such men as myself will view the slaughter of innocent creatures as horrible a crime as the murder of his fellow man. Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty. ” ~ Albert Einstein