Witness to a Goat Killing — A Sad Encounter with Kosher Slaughter

It takes a lot to make The Beet-Eating Heeb cry.

He can chop onions and watch Brian’s Song, simultaneously, with dry eyes.

But he shed a tear last week at the Hazon Food Conference.

What caused this stoic beet-eater to show some emotion – at a conference, of all places?

The killing of a goat.

Hazon did not permit photography at the schechting. But this is about what the goat looked like, just before he was killed.

Hazon did not permit photography at the schechting. But this is about what the goat looked like, just before he was killed.

On a cold, dreary morning, Hazon presented a demonstration of the schechting (kosher slaughter) of a young goat in front of about 30 conference attendees, including The Beet-Eating Heeb.

It is true that the goat was raised humanely and that he suffered for only a few seconds.

But BEH still found the slaughter of this beautiful, golden-furred animal to be troubling. Deeply troubling. On many levels.

It was particularly disconcerting to see Jews killing an innocent, gentle, affable animal – in a completely Jewish context, no less.

Judaism is about celebrating life, not about causing unnecessary death. At least as The Beet-Eating Heeb understands his religion.

But here were Jews, taking a goat in the prime of his life and slitting his throat. Panicked and anguished, the goat immediately lurched forward and dropped to his knees as blood gushed from his neck. The shochet’s assistants then threw a tarp over the goat – and a tear streaked down The Beet-Eating Heeb’s cheek.

The goat’s corpse was then strung up in a shed, skinned and disemboweled.

Savage. How else could you describe this entire scene?

And to think this was the gold standard of slaughter. As good as it gets. Try to imagine the scene in an industrial slaughterhouse, where the vast majority of farm animals are killed and dismembered, often by the thousands in a single day.

But, ironically, had BEH witnessed the slaughtering of an animal in that kind of slaughterhouse, it would not have bothered him as much.

To see Jews engaging in an act of unnecessary violence and chilling betrayal . . .

Yes, betrayal.

This goat had been raised by young Jewish farmers who had engendered the animal’s trust with their humane care. Then, in an instant, these same Jews turned on the unsuspecting goat and killed him.

If that isn’t an act of supreme betrayal, what is? Is this any way for members of a religious community to act in relationship with one of God’s fellow creatures?

And for what purpose was this animal killed? That’s an easy one: Because some people like the taste of goat meat. Never mind that we live in an era and in a country in which an incredible variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains are available – all you need for optimum health.

Don’t get The Beet-Eating Heeb wrong. He supports Hazon’s decision to conduct a slaughter at the conference, if only because meat-eaters should be confronted with the reality of their dietary choices.

The demonstration helped BEH realize that the whole kosher- meats business is a morally problematic enterprise, to put it mildly.

So what’s the solution?

Should Jews get out of the slaughtering business and eat non-kosher meat?

Of course not.

The only solution is for Jews to abstain from meat altogether, which just happens to be the Torah ideal, anyway.

About The Beet-Eating Heeb

I'm a meat-abstaining Jew who believes our religion commands us to treat our bodies with care, to treat animals with compassion, and to treat our planet like it's the only one we've got.

Posted on December 11, 2012, in Torah/Bible and Veganism, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. Its like you read my mind! You appear to know a lot about this, like you wrote the
    book in it or something. I think that you could do with a few pics
    to drive the message home a little bit, but other than that, this is wonderful blog.
    An excellent read. I will certainly be back.

  2. I actually did a bunch of number crunching and wrote an article showing how a raw vegan diet could actually sustain a hundred people per acre if done using aquaponics and permaculture and also done in a warm climate (think Florida). At the rate of feeding 100 people per acre, we wouldn’t even need a landmass as big as Texas to feed the entire population of humans on the planet.

    So, to anyone who thinks (crazily) that eating meat is more efficient in terms of land space… you’re wrong. My article on this topic (over 20 solid hours of research) is here: http://www.raederle.com/2012/11/land-feed-person-overpopulation-green.html#.UTPTQqV9DdA

    And eating meat is highly inefficient when it comes to nutrient uptake! As a nutritionist, I’m rather appalled by the out-right lies people believe about what they’re eating from a nutritional standpoint. I talk about that a bit on this page: http://www.raederle.com/2012/08/book-vitamin-confusion-solution.html#.UTPTLKV9DdA

  3. If we quit breeding animals for food, we won’t have the problem of them starving during winter because some farmers don’t provide adequate housing for them. And the way to achieve this is to stop eating them.

  4. I’m saddened by the death of a goat as I am by the death of any living being, especially when it’s unnecessary. But I do appreciate the BHE’s report and the very thoughtful comments on it.

    Please visit The Vegetarian Mitzvah at http://www.brook.com/jveg for more ideas of interest.

  5. I’ve been a vegetarian for 15 years, and am an Adamah alum who witnessed a shechting during her own season — of goats I cared for, looked after, and knew. While I agree with some of your sentiments, there are many facets of this shechting that I think you’ve overlooked. For one thing, the purpose of the shechting in the context of the Food Conference is to give people, carnivores and herbivores alike, a direct experience with this part of our food cycle. To truly understand and engage in debate about it, it is not only an invaluable experience, but one which avoids being wasteful — instead of cooking already butchered meat for a meal, the opportunity is used to take people through a greater part of the process. While you may say that it is not necessary to eat meat at all (and while I agree with that, though only on behalf of myself), there are people who need to eat it to sustain themselves, and others who choose to. I have several people in my life whom I respect greatly, and who, after a similar shechting experience, made the choice to eat meat at times based on the understanding they gained.

    A large meat processing plant, with its violence and wastefulness and abuse, is a selfish, careless place with a disregard for the life and dignity of animals. The shechtings that take place at Isabella Freedman are anything but. What I gleaned from my own experience was that, if one must eat meat (and some people indeed must, as their bodies are unable to sustain a vegetarian or vegan diet, no matter how balanced), then one should be mindful, not wasteful, appreciative, and directly informed.

    • Julia, does killing an animal who trusts his human interlocutors and who has only lived a fraction of his normal lifespan strike you as dignified, ethical or moral?

      And please provide evidence or cite studies to support your statement that at a significant number of people cannot sustain themselves on a balanced, thoughtful vegan diet.

      • It doesn’t strike me as very moral to leave an animal to starve to death in the Connecticut winter, when the grass is frozen, because the cost of feeding it is beyond a farm’s’ means (as is with most small goat dairies). Rather, at least it is used to feed people. And at least that process is achieved in a respectful and mindful way. I don’t think it’s ideal, and I don’t think it’s good, but I also don’t feel I can judge this kind of shechting with the same eyes as an industrial slaughterhouse that has harsh practices, is focused on processing animals in an objectifying way, and focuses purely on slaughtering animals for profit. You cannot say that the farmers at Isabella Freedman don’t respect their animals, and while I cannot speak on their behalf, as someone who has also tended them, milked them, fed them, loved them, I take personal offense at being assigned an attitude based on what I can only gather is your view of anyone who eats animals.

        As for sustaining oneself on a vegan diet — I know several people who for up to a decade held a strict vegetarian (not even vegan) diet, well balanced, well supplemented, and suffered physical ailments because of it. I’m lucky in that I can stay a vegetarian, pay minimal attention to my diet, and still absorb enough protein and iron, but not everyone can. I have also discovered, in my own attempt to be vegan, that without fermented dairy, my digestive system cannot function. Period. No amount of probiotic pills, fermented coconut milk kefir, or even fermented goat milk kefir did much for me, while cow’s milk kefir set my digestive tract back to the balance it needed. I spent two years being severely ill due to a dangerously low probiotic population in my guts, because I stopped consuming fermented dairy — no other fermented foods (pickled anything) helped. Believe me, I tried everything that both naturopathy and western medicine had to offer. It was absolute crippling hell for two years, and fermented dairy was the only solution. I may not have a scientific resource to prove it, but my experience has taught me firsthand that what one person’s body can tolerate, another’s cannot.

        We’re not all built the same. While I personally refuse to eat meat, I also remind myself, and am grateful, that I have the privilege of being able to choose what I sustain myself with. I have the privilege of being able to choose from, and afford to, grow, prepare, and purchase, a myriad of forms of nutrients, that countless people don’t get to. Knowing that this is a privilege also helps me keep my judgments of others in check.

        • There may, or may not, be a small percentage of the population that needs one animal product or another for health reasons. That does not excuse or explain the cruel confinement, hideous abuse, and unnecessary slaughter of 10 billion farm animals a year in the U.S. alone.

          Furthermore, to kill an innocent, sentient being because you don’t have the money to sustain his life is obscene and immoral.

          If you think it’s OK to kill for financial gain, BEH and you will just have to agree to disagree.

          • No one has pointed out yet that this method of raising and slaughtering animals is very elitist and way too costly and labor intensive to supply very many people with animal flesh to consume. So a few people can feel smug that the animals they have slaughtered have been treated somewhat less inhumanely that factory farmed ones. But nothing about any of this addresses the horrors that are our present system of raising and slaughtering animals while using precious grain that could feed people, causing untold suffering for animals and workers, contributing to global warming and violating bal tashlit.

            • Exactly how is judging others’ food choices based upon your own not elitist? How is anything that comes from having choices that a huge chunk of this planet’s population can’t even conceive of not elitist?

              • The Beet-Eating Heeb is not addressing people who are scratching out an existence on the windy steppes of Mongolia.

                He’s addressing Jews and others in the West who do have a choice.

                The exploitation of animals in agriculture is one of the worst forms of elitism. The authors of the Torah and Talmud strongly emphasized that there is only a narrow gap between humans and animals. Only by greatly devaluing the relative worth of animals, in contradiction to Jewish values, can you rationalize the killing of them.

          • Please go back and actually read what I wrote. In no way did I defend the abusive factory meat industry, in fact, I think it’s well worth noting the difference between their practices and those of a farm like Adamah.

            If you would like to take it upon yourself to sustain those animals that otherwise couldn’t be through the winter, I’m sure many dairy farmers will welcome your generosity.

            These food cycles developed before our current moral values did. Therefore it is very difficult to simply end them, without causing damage to many many people, as well as animals who would be vulnerable released into the wild. These changes take time, and the Food Conference shechting offers people the opportunity to discuss and explore these changes. I can’t believe how much of its potential is being missed, while there is not only rampant and unmoving judgment, but no realistic solution being offered.

            If you belittle, degrade, and aggressively approach every individual who consumes animal products, however conscientiously and mindfully they do so, you are not inviting conversation. I am extremely careful with my consumption, keeping it to what is necessary and making it intentional and not wasteful or excessive, yet you speak to me like I advocate the abuse and horror of the meat industry.

            I’m all for discourse, but that is not what is happening here, and thus I am now done with this conversation and have no interest in pursuing it any further.

  6. Beautifully expressed. Took me back to my bearing witness to this same slaughter a few years ago at the Hazon conference. They had us get there early. While standing around waiting, I made a call on my cell phone “They” came running up demanding that I not take photos – when I said I was merely making a call as nothing was happening yet, they admonished me sternly to put away my phone. If this is such a wonderful example of Jewish tradition and practice – what is their fear about? When the goats were brought in, I learned the meaning of frisk – as that is what they were doing. Joyfully eating dried up vegetation that most animals would ignore. And jumping as they did. I was numb, watching the killing, but when the organs were examined, one did not have to be a professional to know that these had come from a young healthy animal. And then, at Shabbat dinner, why was the flesh served from a table in the corner – quite away from the other food?
    This is when I cried – the next day in Shabbat Services when a father said that taking his six-month old daughter to the slaughter had been, for him, a very moving and meaningful experience. Sometime we Jews can not be “One People”.

  7. BEH,

    The picture of the sacrificial goat showed the creature to be sweet, trusting and innocent.  Shame on those who kill any sentient being! 

    Happy Hanukkah, Martha

    Martha E. Brown, LCSW

  8. Thank you so much for your post about the killing of the goat (the needless suffering imposed on a defenseless, innocent animal) and for expressing the sorrow you felt, and feel, about valuing this animal’s life so little and subjecting him or her to a “performance” killing. I wonder if anyone in the audience shared your sympathy with the goat, and your sadness and disgust, or did everyone but you see only “food” and human “superiority” instead of a fellow creature with feelings and fears and a precious life extinguished for nothing?

    Karen Davis, PhD, President, United Poultry Concerns.

    http://www.upc-online.org

    • Karen, always good to hear from you.

      As for your question, it appeared to The Beet-Eating Heeb that most of the 30 witnesses were disturbed by what they saw, to one degree or another.

      Bear in mind that this was the Hazon Food Conference, which draws people who think about the sources of their food. (What a concept!) So there was a large percentage of veg*ns there.

  9. As a long-time passionate vegetarian, I also shed tears at the killing of any animal; I find it heartbreaking. On the other hand, I have to believe in the profound teachings of kabbalah and chassidut; there are sparks of G-dliness concealed in every physical object, including kosher animals, and those “sparks” are elevated to a higher realm when a conscientious Jewish person makes a proper bracha and eats that kosher meat with kavanah.

    As physical residents of this very physical world, I think it is easy for us to get caught up in the surface appearance of things; bris milah, for example, may appear brutal or unkind to some, but as Jews, we know it is an essential mitzvah, one which we can never forfeit, despite whatever visceral reactions it may provoke.

    The Torah regularly asks us to look beyond the physical to perceive the spiritual. Without being able to do this, understanding basic Chumash becomes very difficult at times. The Torah itself is called “Mashel haKadmoni,” the primordial parable. Yes, to witness the death of an animal is shocking. And it should be. Perhaps this is why the owner of a korban had to lean on the animal before it was offered. Perhaps that reaction we have is meant to inspire greater levels of kavanah.

    Yes, permission to eat meat seems to be a concession to desire. Certain kabbalists and tzadikkim suggest eating meat on Shabbos, but not during the week. Perhaps this is more realistic goal than asking everyone to give up meat entirely.

    • Thank you Yosef for your thoughtful comment.

      And thank you for addressing the issue of “sparks”.

      Plants also have such “sparks,” so there is no reason nor justification to kill animals when it is unnecessary to do so.

  10. agree completely. Thank you for the eloquent albeit painful description of schechting even in the most “ideal” setting. We’ve become so blind to the harsh and undeniable realities of the meat industry — whether kosher or not — and to our utter and complete selfishness and disregard for other living creatures when we choose to eat them as a meal rather than care for them as was our mandate.

    May our eyes and hearts open to the truth and may we make compassionate eating decisions.

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