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Religious revelations from the slaughterhouse

The OU's decertification of 'shackle and hoist'-slaughtered meat shows how Jewish ethical precepts can be elevated
Slaughterhouse practices (iStock)
Slaughterhouse practices (iStock)

The Orthodox Union recently issued a ruling that you may not have heard of. This ruling doesn’t focus on the definitions of Jewish observance, the role of women in religious life, or any of the issues we might categorize as particularly pressing to our spiritual lives. It concerns an area of life we often choose to let others think about—the kosher slaughter of animals.

The OU has decided to remove its certification from any meat processing plants that use a method of inverting beef cows before shechting called “shackle and hoist,” in which the animal is flipped into the air and onto the ground by its feet. As you can imagine, this process causes the cows considerable distress; the practice has been captured in documentaries about meat processing, and the footage is gut-wrenching to witness.

What strikes me as particularly significant about this decision is the fact that “shackle and hoist” does not violate any technical halachic laws of kashrut. The OU stepped in not because the meat produced would be treif, but because they saw an inhumane and unethical practice, and decided that the Orthodox Union could not support animal abuse in this way.

I feel that this decision sets a vital example. So often, we are consumed with impressing upon our children (and indeed, the wider world) exactly what our religion is not. We are experts in lo taaseh (negative commandments), in making certain that the rules are clear and followed to the letter. Make no mistake, this is an important part of Jewish observance — but it can’t be the whole story.

We also have to share what our faith is. We must elevate the values of kindness and aid to the needy, empathy for the downtrodden, rejection of cruelty. We have to teach our children (and remind ourselves) that standing up when others are hurt is an inherent Orthodox value, right along with using a kli sheini to make tea on Shabbos. Our vision for Judaism must be a positive one, an active example of what we stand for, not just what we stand against. The more we embrace the ethical demands of Orthodox Judaism, the more complete and compelling a “package” our way of life will be to future generations.

One last thing. I believe another lesson we can take from the OU’s commendable decision is the importance of recognizing the positive acts of those with whom we may disagree. I have had many conversations with OU President Moishe Bane, and while it’s true we do often find ourselves on opposite sides of a given topic, agreement and disagreement are not zero-sum games. In the profound ideological divides in our community and our country, we are often eagle-eyed in searching for flaws and mistakes of those on “the other side,” and rarely extend credit when it is due. This is a destructive impulse, and one that not only prevents us from learning and thinking deeply, but also denies us friendship and connection. Despite our differences, President Bane and I have developed a real friendship over the course of our conversations, and I am therefore particularly proud to be affiliated with the Orthodox Union and pleased to offer my full support of the OU’s decision in this case.

As we enter the month of Elul, I hope that we can all take these important lessons to heart.

About the Author
Rabbi Ari Segal is Head of School at Shalhevet High School, in California.
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