Care for Animals & The Laws of Kashrut

Today’s guest blogger is Bella Hoffner-Martin, a congregant of Congregation Bet Haverim in Atlanta, where she just celebrated her bat mitzvah last weekend. Bella now has become a full-fledged member of the Jewish community which includes embracing the moral responsibility for one’s own actions; eligibility to be called to read from the Torah and lead or participate in a minyan. 
When young teens are presented for bat mitzvah in the Jewish community, it is customary that they write a reflection on a portion of the Torah.  Last Saturday, Bella used the occasion of her ceremony to inspire the congregation gathered to live differently among G-d’s creatures. The GIPL Team thought her reflection was great inspiration for this Earth Day weekend!
In her d’var Torah, Bella reflected on her choice to be vegetarian and how G-d intends for us all to be keeping “eco-kashrut,” enjoying a predominantly plant-based diet for the sake of Creation. This youth congregant of Congregation Bet Haverim began by asking a room full of people last Saturday, “Raise your hand if you love animals. Any type of animal. It could be a dog or a cat, or some exotic animal.” And everyone enthusiastically raises a hand. Who doesn’t love animals, right?
Bella continues, “As some of you may know, for the past 7 years, I have been a vegetarian. I love animals, and all I want to do when I get older is rescue them. My torah portion is Shemini, Leviticus, chapter 11. And ironically, it’s about animal slaughter.
In my torah portion, G-D commanded Moses to tell Aaron about the offerings that were to be sacrificed. 8 days later, Aaron gathered up the animal and grain offerings. All of the people gathered together before G-D, and Aaron came forward to the altar to sacrifice and bless the animals. He then blessed the people in the community. G-D consumed the offering, then told the people the laws of Kashrut, the kosher laws. You can eat animals that have cleft hooves only if they chew their cud. You can not eat pig, camel, or rabbit, birds of prey, or shellfish. But, you may eat cows, chicken, turkey, and fish.
When looking at the Laws of Kashrut as a whole, there are also rules about slaughtering the animal. They are found in the Talmud. The blade of the knife must be extremely sharp. And the knife must be checked twice. Once in the beginning, and then again after the animal has been slaughtered. If the blade is damaged at all, the meat is no longer kosher. When slaughtering an animal, it can not sit in its own blood. The last step of the process is the meat is blessed and approved by a rabbi.
Kosher slaughter rules were made so the animal feels as little pain possible. I interpreted this as being kind to animals. But, in modern times, the animals for kosher meat are often raised and slaughtered in factory farms. Over 25 million cows are killed in factory farms each year. Factory farms are known for their cruel practices. They have created ways to be efficient at mass slaughter.  One might think that the spirit of Kashrut is about being humane, but when they follow these same principles they become inhumane. In addition to some of the practices of factory farms, like branding with a hot iron or painfully removing their horns, Kosher factory farms and their slaughterhouses hang the cows -while they are still alive- by one leg on a conveyor belt. They are brought to the part of the factory where they are slaughtered by a sharp blade that spins towards them with dozens of their fellow cows witnessing this. Imagine you are the one on the conveyor belt. Would you be scared? Frightened? Many cows feel like this. It is clear that the way these Kashrut laws are now interpreted, they are no longer humane.
As I mentioned earlier, I am vegetarian. I became vegetarian because of a pig roast on our farm 7 years ago (I know, definitely not kosher!), just seeing the whole pig laying over an open flame, made me decide that I would never eat meat again. I used to love having chicken nuggets, bacon, and going to the drive through at McDonalds to get a cheeseburger. But, I stopped.
I was so determined to not eat meat. My dad though, didn’t think that I would stay a vegetarian. He made bacon the next morning. Anyway, I realized that all the meat that was typically packaged up in plastic in the store, actually had a life, a face, a personality. And, I thought that no animal should have to be killed, to lose their life, just for me to eat. Today there are many Jews who practice eco-kashrut, a way of eating that is more humane. Being a vegetarian is in line with this practice.  There are some rabbis who teach that the Garden of Eden was a model of how we should be.
Everyone has heard of the Garden of Eden, right? With Adam, Eve, and the snake? Well, something you may not know about the Garden of Eden, is that in Genesis, chapter 1, verse 30, G-D says, “And to all the animals on land, to all the birds of the sky, and to everything that creeps on earth, in which there is the breath of life, I give all the green plants for food.” Which means, everyone in the Garden of Eden was vegetarian, they only ate plants.
The Garden of Eden was peaceful because no one was killed. I think this means that the ideal was being vegetarian. Whether you are Jewish, Muslim, christian, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, or any other religion, we all are people. And, I believe that we, as people, should be kinder to animals. We share the same water, the same air, and the same planet.
Now, I know I’m not here to try to convince you all to become vegetarians, but I think there might be enough grass to go around. Actually, I am here to help you consider making different choices that will lessen the impact on animals. For most of you, becoming a vegetarian may be completely out of the question. So, instead, try eating less meat, or purchasing from cruelty-free farms, or small family farms. You could also get eggs from free-range chickens, and milk from cows that are raised in pastures. But, not all of these choices are about eating.
For my Tikkun Olam project, I hosted a supply drive for the Georgia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, an animal shelter. They rescue animals from all over Georgia, but they also rescued animals from Hurricane Harvey, and Hurricane Irma. I also volunteered at Lifeline, another animal shelter near here. I sat with dogs that had just come out of surgery. I walked dogs that almost never get to be walked for more than a few minutes. I socialized kittens that had never felt a loving hand to scratch behind their ears. I chose to do this because I hope that one day, all homeless dogs and cats will be off the streets and with a loving, forever family.
Whether it is changing the way you eat or volunteering to help an animal in need, I believe that there is always a way to be kinder to animals. This is the spirit of the Jewish teachings about our relationship to animals and the laws of kashrut.”
Thanks, Bella. We couldn’t agree more. And mazel tov, Bella, on your bat mitzvah!
Shabbat shalom and Happy Earth Day!