Addressing questions about eating meat electricity lessons for 5th grade


Most Jews envision sacrifice – if we envision it at all – as a single act, but different types of sacrifice made a different statement: those that were burned whole (the olah), those given to the kohanim (the asham), or those eaten as a family-style barbecue “feast” (the shelamim).

These ancient lessons can enrich our own lives, Rabbi Elkin said. “We have no sacrifices, but some of the same spiritual needs.” Eating meat, as opposed to other food, is a “unique experience,” and Jewish tradition can help us “acknowledge, express and give thanks.”

Following Rabbi Elkin’s talk, was an interfaith discussion on “Divine Slaughter,” with Rabbi Aaron Levy and Muslim community leader and halal authority Selma Djukic. It was moderated by Shari Golberg, a PhD candidate studying Judaism and Islam.

Both religions forbid carrion, blood, rodents, pork, birds of prey and most insects (both allow one variety of locust), Golberg said. However, Muslims are permitted camel meat, seafood and crustaceans, eat milk and meat together and can use any pots or cooking vessels. But they can’t have alcohol, even in the small amounts in things such as soy sauce and vanilla extract.

Following a brachah, the neck is sliced and the animal’s blood drained within 15 to 20 seconds, rendering it insensate. Later, the organs and lungs are checked. The term “glatt” means the lungs are perfectly smooth and free of even potentially suspicious adhesions, a stringency adopted following World War II. Finally, the meat is soaked and salted. Broiling, which also removes blood, is an acceptable alternative.

Meat expert Fahim Alwan of BlossomPure Organic pointed out that, in his experience, only 20 to 30 per cent of kosher-slaughtered animals are ultimately deemed kosher, a jarring statistic for any gung-ho consumers hoping to buy into a “kosher cow share.” Plus, pastured cattle take up to a year longer to reach final size, which is smaller than feedlot cattle.

After reciting the name of Allah, the slaughterer, ideally a Muslim well-versed in the rules, slices the neck with a very sharp knife. As in kosher slaughter, the blood is drained, but the reproductive organs, pancreas, gallbladder and bladder are haram (forbidden).

Addressing the perception that religious slaughter is more humane, Rabbi Levy said it depends. By law, non-Jewish slaughterhouses stun the animal, in theory leaving it unconscious immediately. In practice, workers in a hurry often need several painful repeat attempts.

Correctly done, said Rabbi Levy, who is vegan, shchitah is probably more humane, indeed, probably painless. “The animal will be dead before it realizes its neck is off,” he said. However, the usual “hoist and shackle” technique, which inverts frightened animals before shchitah, adds stress and pain.

At a conference whose goal was to question established Jewish food ideas, Rabbi Levy’s last statement spurred lively discussion. Following the conference, breakout sessions included one group who are – despite the obstacles – trying to source local, organic kosher meat.

Answers may be slow in coming, but, as Shoresh executive director Risa Alyson Cooper said earlier in the day, “our community has been exploring its relationship with food for 5,000 years.” So we can probably wait another year or two for an organic kosher steak, and pay a little more for it when it does arrive.

If Nachmanides was right that giving up something precious – like money – changes our spiritual perspective, we may find ourselves eating meat less often but more mindfully, as a special event or even, perhaps, as a ritual, once again making a profound religious statement through the meat we eat.