Category: Magazine

What is the Shchita (Kosher Slaughter)?

Every now and then the issue of religious ritual slaughter, namely Jewish (Kosher) and Muslim (Halal), reaches the headlines. In six European countries, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Poland and Denmark (and also New Zealand) Kosher Schitah is considered inhuman and thus forbidden.

Surprisingly, however, this struggle is not new at all. The first known struggle began in 1864 in Germany and it was launched by Animal Cruelty Prevention associations. In the 1880s, 150 years ago, anti-Semites joined forces with these Animal Protection Societies to campaign for anti-Shchita legislation to be passed in Switzerland, Germany and Scandinavia.

According to Jewish law and to Muslim law, slaughter of animals and birds is carried out with a single cut to the throat, rather than the more widespread method of stunning with a bolt into the head before slaughter. However, many Muslim authorities accept reversible stunning, such as electro-stunning, prior to the cut.

Jewish authorities reject that in accordance with the Jewish dietary laws (Deut. 12:21, 14:21, Num. 11:22), claiming the Jewish slaughter causes minimum pain to the animal, therefore there’s no need in stunning the animal before. Animal welfare organizations have shown that pre-stunning fails to stun in between 9 and 31% of cases. When an animal is ‘miss-stunned’ it suffers enormous pain and distress.

A basic demand of Kosher Schitah is the animal must be killed “with respect and compassion” and in that the least painful method of slaughter possible would be used (Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, III:48). It is a branch of a wider Jewish ideal of Tza’ar Ba’alei Chayim (which literally means: “the suffering of living creatures”); this ideal bans inflicting unnecessary pain on animals.  It is linked in the Talmud from the Biblical law requiring people to assist in unloading burdens from animals (Exodus 23:5).

A few other manifestations of this ban include: Resting on the Sabbath also means providing rest for the working animals; Feeding one’s animals before she or he sits down to eat; the working animals must not be muzzled at harvest time, so that they can eat of the harvest as they work; Sports like bullfighting and hunting are forbidden by most rabbinical authorities as they are considered “a culture of sinful and cruel people” (rabbi Ovadiah Yosef);  Milking a cow on Shabbat is generally prohibited on Shabbat unless unmilking it will cause it an immense suffering; All animals must be kept in adequate living conditions; the Torah forbids plowing with a cow and donkey together as they are not equally fit and strong and eventually the weaker donkey is bound to suffer (Ibn Ezra).

Judaism, however, doesn’t only demand Jews from inflicting unnecessary pain on animals, since it presents a similar demand to non-Jews as well. This is why one of the Seven Laws of Noah is the proscription on eating a limb from a living animal (Gen. 9:4), an act which is considered cruel and vile.

In terms of Sechitah, it must result in a rapid drop in blood pressure in the brain and loss of consciousness, rendering the animal insensible to pain and to exsanguinate in a prompt and precise blow of a very sharp knife (called halaf). Therefore there are five forbidden techniques which disqualify the kashrut of an animal:

Shehiyah (delay or pausing) – A pause of hesitation during the incision of even a moment makes the animal’s flesh unkosher. The knife must move in an uninterrupted sweep;

Derasah (pressing) – Derasah is the forbidden action that occurs when the shochet (butcher) pushes the knife into the animal’s throat, chops rather than slices, or positions the animal improperly so that either its head presses down on the blade as it expires or the shochet must push the knife into the throat against the force of gravity;

Haladah (digging or burying) – Haladah occurs if the shochet either accidentally cuts into the animal’s throat so deeply that the entire width of the knife disappears in the wound, uses a knife that is too short so that the end disappears in the wound, or if a foreign object falls over the knife so the shochet loses sight of the incision;

Hagramah (slipping) – The limits within which the knife may be applied are from the large ring in the windpipe to the top of the upper lobe of the lung when it is inflated, and corresponding to the length of the pharynx. Slaughtering above or below these limits renders the meat unkosher; Iqqur (tearing) – Iqqur occurs if the shochet accidentally uses a knife with an imperfection on the blade, such as a scratch or nick, that causes a section of blade to be lower than the surface of the blade.

Breaching any of these five rules renders the animal as a “Nevelah” (carrion); the animal is regarded in Jewish law as if it was a carrion thus forbidden to be eaten. These requirements express the quest for the least vicious method of killing an animal. It was introduced more than 3,000 years ago, many centuries before electricity was invented.

These compassionate slaughter methods are only a part of the religious dietary laws, which follow a basic essence of avoiding the eating of cruel animals or cruel gastronomic combinations. For example all Jews refrain from eating blood following the biblical prohibition (Gen. 9:4, Lev. 3:1-17, Deut. 12: 22- 25), stating “the life of the flesh is in the blood…for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul” (Lev. 17:11). And indeed today science proved that taking blood samples enables to know a great deal about the physical health of the owner of that blood.

The blood supplies nutrients to empower the body, oxygen to make those nutrients work and other mechanisms to remove impurities. Eating it is considered cruel, and that’s why Jews for example have to roast thoroughly livers and heart, blood packed organs, before eating them so they won’t eat any trace of blood.

Another main relevant prohibition is that which forbids eating mixtures of milk and meat (Basar be-chalav). It is stressed out three times in the Torah in three different citations (Ex. 34: 26, 23: 19 and Deut. 14:21) to accentuate its moral stance in Jewish perception. Some of the rabbis, such as the Philo of Alexandria, Nahmanides, Rashbam and Rabbi Kook, interpreted this prohibition as a tool to distance Jews from the cruel act to cooking a calf in its mother’s milk. In fact it is a religious reminder that milk was not meant to serve as a spice for the cooking of the meat but to nourish and feed the young animals’ offspring.

Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar compared the practice of cooking of animals in their mother’s milk to the barbaric slaying of nursing infants. The Sforno argued that using the milk of an animal to cook its offspring was inhumane, based on a principle similar to that of Shilu’ach ha-Ken (Launching from the Nest), the injunction against gathering eggs from a nest while the mother bird watches (Deut. 24:7-7). Kabbalah explains it’s cruel since it mixes to separate forces of life.

The entire complicated laws of the dietary religious system are meant to educate one to refrain from gluttony and meat lust. That’s why not all fish are allowed to be eaten, and same goes to animals and chicken. In fact all carnivore animals which hunt other animals are generally non-Kosher, due to the aspiration of not wanting to be affected spiritually by their cruel trait of preying.

This factual background was the base of a doctoral dissertation focusing on the kosher Schitah and the minimum pain it inflects upon animals, written by rabbi Levinger a few years ago. That work was presented to the Dutch government, and it subsequently led to the abolishment of the law forbidding kosher Schitah. We hope that European governments will follow lead in understanding the morality of Schitah.




Jewish Burial

Since the very beginning of the Jewish people thousands of years ago, although many options were available, Jews have always insisted on burial. Whoever visits Israel today, will find an abundance of graves scattered along the Galilee and around Jerusalem, mainly of righteous Jews who lived in the past. But today there voices that oppose Jewish ground burial, claiming cremation is preferable on environmental ground mainly.

The popularity of cremation continues to grow among people of all faiths. There are a few reasons for that: Burial seems to waste land and pollute the environment; a sense of guilt by the deceased children who don’t live close by; Cremation seems quicker and cleaner; and cremation seems — and often is — cheaper than burial.

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the cremation rate in the United States has risen from 9.72 percent in 1980 to 38 percent in 2009. This fact is problematic in the eyes of rabbis across the US, since it contradicts Jewish requirement to bury the dead in ground. In fact there are two commandments concerning burial: one obligates ground burial while the other forbids refraining from such a burial (Deut. 21: 23). This applies not only for Jews, but also for non-Jews (Joshua 8: 29).

The idea behind this creed is the Jewish basic belief that: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” (Gen. 3:19). One of the Jewish Midrash sources (Pirkey de-Rabbi Eliezer, chap. 21) tells that after Abel was murdered by Cain, Adam and Eve sat to weep and lament over him, not knowing what to do with the first dead in history. Then came a crow that his friend died, and it took his friend, dug a hole in the ground and buried his body in front of their eyes. Only then Adam said “I’ll follow the suit of this crow” and moved on to bury Abel’s body. It is also told in the Bible that Abraham had buried Sarah “in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre” (Gen. 23:19).

Furthermore, burial is a Torah commandment. Deuteronomy 21:23 discusses the rare case of an evil criminal who is put to death. Even in that extreme case, the command is given, “You shall surely bury him,” teaching a general principle for all cases. The obligation to bury is so strong that even the high priest — who zealously avoided all contact with all forms of death — must personally give the dead a proper burial if no one else can do so. The Talmud, Maimonides, and the Code of Jewish Law all codify the commandment to bury the dead.

The grave of rabbi-singer Shlomo Carlebach in Jerusalem is piled with stones left by visitors.. Credit: TorahTemima/ Wikipedia.

The grave of rabbi-singer Shlomo Carlebach in Jerusalem is piled with stones left by visitors.. Credit: TorahTemima/ Wikipedia.

Beside the rabbis, some environmentalists advocate for cremation and oppose ground burial. But there are those who offend ground burial from environmental reasons, simply because, contrary to common perception, cremation is bad for the environment.

Cremation uses a tremendous amount of fossil fuels — over one million Btu’s (British thermal units) per hour with an average cremation lasting between one and a half and two hours, sometimes more – a tremendous amount of energy at a time when, finally, society is realizing it needs to lower the use of fossil fuels. Furthermore, cremation released toxic chemicals into the air.

Some people claim cremation is cleaner and a more respectful way for the body to be consumed. Professor however Stephen Prothero explains: “Think of the horrors … of the crisping, crackling, roasting, steaming, shriveling, blazing features and hands that yesterday were your soul’s delight. Think of exploding cadavers. Think of the stench of burning flesh and hair. Think of the smoke. Think of the bubbling brains. Then you will be gripped by ‘paralyzing horror’ at even the thought of ‘submitting the remains of … dear departed relatives to its sizzling process.’ Cremation [is], in a word, repulsive: ‘There is nothing beautiful in being shoved into an oven, and scientifically barbecued by a patented furnace’”

Being eaten by worms is not pleasant either, and it’s not as though burial is ‘less gross’. On a physical level, they are both pretty disgusting. Burial, however, is a natural process of decomposition that occurs to every human being. Cremation is loud, violent, and unnatural. In addition, many Jews feel uncomfortable with cremation as it reminds them of the Holocaust, where Nazis used to get disposed of Jews in the crematoria. The sentiment is that Jews should not disrespect their bodies in the same way.

Jewish cemetery "Heiliger Sand" in Worms, Germany. Credit: Wikipedia.

Jewish cemetery “Heiliger Sand” in Worms, Germany. Credit: Wikipedia.

Doron Kornbluth sheds some more light regarding Jewish perception: “When a body is buried, the ground is opened up. A tear in the earth appears. The gaping hole declares, “Something is not right here — there is a tear in the human fabric of life. Take note, world, don’t rush through this moment. Recognize the loss. Remember the life.” When the body is gently placed in the ground, a new message is given — the calm return to nature, the source of life The earth, the dirt, is indeed “the Mother of All Life.” The earth provides our sustenance, like a mother who gives birth to and feeds her young. And to it all creatures return, to begin the cycle once again”.


Written by: David Antebi.

The Front Line in a War of Words

wikipedia-logoTake a second and try to remember your life before the emergence of Wikipedia. How did you settle all those small daily arguments? Where did you seek information when something caught your attention? The trouble surely surfaces as biased information is willfully incorporated into Wikipedia articles in a bid to educate millions for hatred. SFI picks up the gauntlet.

Wikipedia was founded in January 2001, and quickly established itself as the main source of information for hundreds of millions worldwide in more than 285 different languages. 12 years after its outset, Wikipedia ranks as the 6th most popular website on the internet, with an average increase of 5% in daily hits since 2013. Wikipedia who encompassed 20,000 articles at the end of 2001, now has 35 million (!) different articles on various subjects, 20% of those in English, which are edited by 33.5 million subscribed users. Thus far, those editors made 1.3 billion edits, when the keyboard remains ready for action… With internet accessibility on the rise globally, notions, ideas and ideals are widespread and shake the earth under authoritarian dictatorships as witnessed most recently in the “Arab Spring”. Hence, the power of knowledge highlighted, or as Sir Winston Churchill once put it: “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it”.

Dubbed by scholars as “Lethal Obsession” and “the longest hatred”, Antisemitism’s roots date back to the ancient era, though some of the modern manifestations have gone through significant fine-tuning. Nowadays, the Arab-Israeli conflict has become a magnet for Antisemitism. Though the dispute over what should be distinguished only as anti-Israel propaganda stimulates this current discussion, all interlocutors could agree that the Arab-Israeli conflict draws global attention, while the counterparts would not agree even on the basic historic facts. While different agendas on writing historiography are not the topic of this piece, one surely understands the ample fruitful land for individuals to implement biased information over the subject in Wikipedia articles. Once read by millions, as the conflict hits the headlines everywhere at all times, this deliberately implemented misinformation could result in an anti-Israel reaction that normally leads to anti-Semitic response and utterly motivates radical individuals to perpetrate hate crime in some cases. As we are all aware of the possible slippery slope into violence, SFI operatives flashed the pan and joined the hard fought frontier of the Wikipedia “editing war”. Now, it’s your time to be drafted…


Evidently, one does not need a PhD in order to become a Wikipedia subscriber who is eligible to edit articles. You too could simply subscribe to Wikipedia, find a field you’re proficient in, it could be anything that pops up in your mind, and once you are subscribed, all you have to do is click on the “Edit” button and instantly become influential. Yep, it is that simple. Editing in Wikipedia is quite straightforward, but it is most important to rely on trusted sources. Therefore, your neighbors’ blog as a source of information won’t qualify, unless he is a bigwig in his field of action. Our advice is to supply the reader with as much trusted knowledge as possible, since we understand that he or she would independently decide what to take out of the info provided to them. Additionally, we respect Wikipedia as an important tool for millions worldwide; therefore we do not wish to damage it ourselves.

One of the weak points of social networks is the tendency to inherently start discourses with people who share similar notions with you, as most of them are your friends, and people naturally tend to bond with others who are in agreement with them. The chance to become a Wikipedia editor enables you to become influential not only to the people on your personal social networks, but also to million others; use it wisely.


Written by Nimrod Assouline.