I knew there was a problem with kashrut when I was a child. One of my memories is of entering a kosher butcher’s shop with my mother in North-West London and seeing his assistant sitting on the meat slab in the display window with a dirty comb sticking out of his back pocket.
But then, of course, kashrut has nothing to do with hygiene. On El Al flights one used to be served with a meal that included a roll or some pitta bread with a message from the catering company to the effect that the appropriate blessing was “mezonos“.
In other words, because the roll or pitta bread had been baked in fruit juice or some other substitute, it could be classified as cake and, therefore, the ha-motzi blessing was not required.
(In all fairness, there are differences of opinion among poskim as to whether this legal fiction can be justified.)
The importance of classifying the bread as cake was that one was then not required to wash one’s hands before eating, since the meal did not include bread. Hygiene clearly did not figure as a primary consideration.
However, the problem with kashrut extends much further than that. Livestock are reared in cramped conditions, so that they grow quicker and fatter. Chickens, including in Israel, are kept in horrific conditions.
It is reported that “they are forced to live in tiny cages… where they are usually mechanically fed and watered. Even in the best of circumstances, 4–5 chickens are crammed into a cage roughly the size of a small cat carrier. The wire mesh of the cages rubs off their feathers, chafes their skin, and causes their feet to become crippled…. Sick, dying, and dead birds litter the cage floor.”
Now why does that make kosher livestock and poultry treif even if they carry a kosher label? The principle of not causing animals to suffer, known in Hebrew as eyveyr min ha-chai, is considered by Judaism as one of the seven cardinal obligations, or Noachide laws, incumbent upon any civilized society.
The animal rights organization PETA reminds us that “as consumers we should remember that every slaughter is painful, and there is no humane way to kill animals in an industry that treats living beings like products”.
It is that recognition that led Rav Kook to believe that the permission to eat meat “after all the desire of your soul” was a concealed reproach and a qualified command. He believed that the day would come when people would detest eating the flesh of animals because of a moral loathing.
As we get ready for Yom Ha-atsma’ut and people prepare their barbecues, some may wish to consider whether the meat that they will eat can really be considered kosher given the suffering undergone by the animals that they are about to consume.