My grandfather was a butcher. And though he has long since passed, I recall his passion for service and his love of animals, even though he thought that his obligation to the world was to use their flesh as food. The juxtaposition of a benign, kindly man flaying the flesh of an animal, their blood and sinew seeping onto the linoleum floor, transmuting their fat and muscle into the stuff of delicatessens and hors d’oeuvres for family gatherings, has not been lost on me. Today, I pursue animal welfare work as a matter of course with my duties as an Orthodox rabbi and a social justice activist.
In truth, I think of my grandfather often when engaging in both lines of vocation. None more so than last week, with the news that recently-introduced national slaughterhouse policies in Paraguay would phase out the use of the shackle and hoist method by the end of 2017 in their regular course of operation after undercover footage brought daylight to these disturbing practices. While the shackle and hoist method of slaughter is singularly brutal, why should a rabbi care about Paraguayan abattoir regulations? Because Paraguay is among the largest exporters of kosher meat to Israel, and while Israel bans the shackling and hoisting method within its borders, guidelines on the books are being enforced within Israel but are being ignored by Israeli authorities in foreign establishments outside of the country. And, unfortunately, imported beef in Israel today is the rule, not the exception. It is a lamentable statement on the kosher meat industry that the demand to satiate the taste for cheap steak, veal, and other products has created a cycle of deprivation, suffering, and extraordinary cruelty to innocent creatures.
What was once the purview of family or small-farm-owned operations has grown into an almost unstoppable behemoth of callousness towards God’s creatures. Industry officials have taken the position that kosher consumers would rather ignore the actuality of animals being mistreated as long as meat is cheap and available. They view their role as only improving accessibility to their “product.” This position is as religiously offensive as it is morally unsustainable.