Joan Nathan writes in the NY Times:
NEAR a prairie dotted with cattle and green with soy beans, barley, corn and oats, two bearded Hasidic men dressed in black pray outside a slaughterhouse here that is managed by an evangelical Christian.
What brought these men together could easily have kept them apart: religion.
The two Hasidim oversee shehitah, the Jewish ritual slaughtering of meat according to the Book of Leviticus. The meat is then shipped to Wise Organic Pastures, a kosher food company in Brooklyn owned by Issac Wiesenfeld and his family. When Mr. Wiesenfeld sought an organic processor that used humane methods five years ago, he found Scott Lively, who was just beginning Dakota Beef, now one of the largest organic meat processors in the country.
Mr. Lively adheres to a diet he believes Jesus followed. Like Mr. Wiesenfeld, he says the Bible prescribes that he use organic methods to respect the earth, treat his workers decently and treat the cattle that enter his slaughterhouse as humanely as possible.
“We learn everything from the Old Testament,” Mr. Lively said, “from keeping kosher to responsible capitalism.”…
Mr. Lively … slaughters about 45 steer a day at Dakota Beef. Larger facilities will slaughter 2,000 or more.
“We take time to be sure the animal has been processed humanely,” he said. “This is not only important for our humane handling standards, but it is also very much biblical in our minds.”
The slaughterhouse weds ancient practices with modern insights and technology. Much of the plant was planned with the help of Dr. Temple Grandin, a designer of humane livestock facilities and professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University. She suggested changes like shielding the animals from humans milling about and nestling them in a comfortable head-holder as Tal Ginter, the shohet, or kosher slaughterer, wields the knife that slices their jugular vein, rather than first stunning the animals, as is a common commercial practice.…
So far so good. Almost. The Lubavitcher shochet starts speaking:
“It is not a horrible thing,” said Mr. Ginter, who worked in the slaughterhouse until recently under the supervision of Crown Heights Kosher and the Orthodox Union. “It looks bloody, but according to the Bible and the Torah, you have to be mindful of the animal and let it die as fast as you can, to cause less pain.”
If that is true, Rubashkin shechita (Aaron's Best, David's, Shor HaBor, Supreme, etc.) would be non-kosher because Rubashkin follows slaughter practices that actually extend the dying time of cattle and increase suffering. (Meat hook throat-ripping and probing, for example, and upside-down slaughter in a Weinberg Pen, just to name three.) Instead, Rubashkin is the so-called top of the line of glatt kosher American and South American-produced meat.
The Crown Heights Beis Din, A.K.A. Crown Heights Kosher, if it took Tal Ginter's statement literally, would not put their imprimatur on Agriprocessors or Rubashkin. But CHK does – the primary endorsed source of meat for the Chabad community is indeed Rubashkin and Agriprocessors.
The good news is, if you're willing to eat Lubavitch shechita (with a nominal OU presence), Wise would seem to be a good choice.
An interesting piece of information brought out by Ms. Nathan is that a major force driving the move to a humanely produced diet is Evangelical Christianity. Where once hippies tread, the well-polished shoes of the Bible Belt now dominate.
Which brings Ms. Nathan to describe the Jewish movement for a humanely produced diet. She touches on Hazon, The Jew and the Carrot, the Movement for Jewish Renewal. And then she mentions the Conservative Movement's Hechsher Tzedek:
…Environment-minded Jews are asking the leaders of Conservative Judaism to rewrite their kosher certification rules to incorporate ethical concerns about workers, animals and the land.…
The operative phrase here is "kosher certification rules " as opposed to halakha (Jewish law) itself. "Environment-minded Jews" are simply insisting that all parts of Jewish law be followed, including the prohibition of causing unnecessary pain to animals (tzaar baalei hayyim) and the various strictures regarding treatment of employees. They argue – correctly, in my view – that putting the laws of kosher food above the laws that protect human and animal life has no biblical or halakhic basis.
Just as they want their food to be kosher, they want the workers that produce that food to be treated correctly and they want the animals that they eat or whose milk or eggs they consume to be treated humanely in all stages of processing, from birth through the ultimate slaughter.
While they welcome the Conservative Movement's Hechsher Tzedek
initiative, they do not limit their requests for humanely produced
kosher food to Conservative Rabbis – indeed, many have tried bring
change within Orthodoxy, only to be stymied by powerful kosher food
But most importantly, what is lost in Joan Nathan's turn of phrase is a very important point.
Judaism's stand on humane treatment of employees, day laborers – and, yes, even indentured servants and slaves – along with humane treatment of animals are as much a part of Jewish law, history and theology as the duration one's steak sits in salt before cooking. In fact, many of these laws governing treatment of workers and animals have a better provenance, so to speak, than the laws governing kosher food.
Many of the laws dealing with treatment of workers and animals are biblical or are directly extended from biblical law. But many of the "laws" relating to kosher food so strictly followed today are only stringencies (humrot) and have less standing, so to speak, in Jewish law than the laws governing humane treatment of workers and animals – laws that are now widely ignored.
For all those working to improve the treatment of animals used for kosher food or to improve the treatment of the workers who produce that kosher food, it is important to argue this clearly. Treating animals and employees well is not something new in Jewish law – it is something new in the kosher food and kosher supervision businesses.
Jewish law has always been ahead of the curve on these issues. It is kosher food producers along with kosher supervision agencies and the rabbis who staff them that inexplicably lag behind.