Andy Kastner, brought up a Reform Jew and now into his third year at the Orthodox Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, shechts his own chickens. Ritual slaughter, which used to be a standard part of the Rabbinical curriculum, has now disappeared from most yeshivas course offerings. Kastner had to find shochtim on his own who would teach him how to perform a kosher slaughter. Now he kills chickens and is featured in the New York Times (while I kill one little chicken and I get yelled at!):

…for Kastner, Jewish ritual slaughter actually seems a bit revolutionary. He says he thinks that contemporary disconnection from our food sources is the cause of numerous environmental and social ills, like the national obesity epidemic. He wanted to be a shochet to help people make more healthful food choices and reconnect to the source of their food, and to encourage investment in local agriculture. He says the rules around kosher food — like the requirement that meat be slaughtered by a pious person with a certain intention and the requirement to say a blessing over every food acknowledging its source (land, tree, grain, other) — encourage mindful eating and discourage overconsumption of resources.

The New York Times article discusses the recent Rubashkin’s scandal and highlights some of the efforts to return to a kinder gentler method of slaughter where small companies provide grass fed beef or Organic, free range chickens as well as the Hechsher Tzedek movement that tries to instill a sense of ethics into animal slaughter:

Some in the ethical-kashrut movement describe it as a return to the traditional values of kashrut: community-based supervision of the food supply, reverence for agriculture and animal husbandry and attention to detail. They see new small-scale meat companies … as a welcome throwback to the food networks of the shtetl.

The funny thing is that there’s no clearly defined reason behind kosher slaughter. Ultimately it’s an article of faith that has been discussed in traditional rabbinical circles but not in an absolutely definitive manner:

Over the years, Jewish scholars have suggested a variety of explanations for the kosher laws. The medieval commentator Maimonides said kashrut was a means of acquiring discipline. In the early 1900s, the first chief rabbi of Palestine under the British mandate, Avraham Yitzhak Kook, taught that the restrictions were a part of the Torah’s effort to limit meat consumption in general. But even the most radical champions of ethical kashrut acknowledge that there is an aspect of the practice that is simply unknowable. “In some profound way, kashrut is not rational,” [Rabbi] Waskow [a leader of the Jewish Renewal movement] told me. “That may even be part of it. The idea may be just to cause you to pause before you put food in your mouth. To stop and ask a question.”

I’m uh… not a fan of denominationalism, but Waskow has a point. And I agree with it. Kashrut is and ought to be about elevating ordinary experiences. When one is hungry, one just wants to eat. Kashrut when properly observed, forces you to stop, give thanks and contemplate where your food came from. A return to local, small scale operations is a move in the right direction that exposes the ugly side of large scale factory-based operations. Yes, decentralized slaughter will be more expensive – but consumers will be getting healthier meat, maybe they’ll eat less of it and they will have engaged in a thoughtful exercise in consumption. I think we need more of that.

I’m still vegetarian though. Sorry. But please, don’t yell at me ok?

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About the author


Founder and Publisher of Jewlicious, David Abitbol lives in Jerusalem with his wife, newborn daughter and toddler son. Blogging as "ck" he's been blocked on twitter by the right and the left, so he's doing something right.