The Chief Rabbinate says it’s doing its upmost to bring an end to the shackle-and-hoist method applied to cattle slaughtered in South American abattoirs for meat exported to Israel.

Last year, media reports quoted Avi Blumenthal, a top aide to Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger, as setting the end of 2011 as a deadline for the slaughterhouses to stop attaching chains to the legs of fully conscious cattle in order to hoist them into position for ritual slaughter.

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According to those reports, Metzger – who is in charge of kashrut in the rabbinate – threatened that if the abattoirs did not change over to the somewhat-better solution of “inverted boxes,” in which the cattle are walked into box-like structures that are then rolled over to expose the animal’s throat, the rabbinate would refuse to issue them with kashrut certificates.

Reality, however, provides a more complex picture.

According to Blumenthal, the Chief Rabbinate never made any such commitments.

Rather, it was more an expression of the desire to see the abattoirs move to inverted boxes, although some of the slaughterhouses, he said, lacked the space or the means.

Jewish vegetarian advocacy groups were up in arms over what they saw as a breach of promise.

“As president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America, I very respectfully urge you to please fulfill your promise to put an end to shackling and hoisting of animals for shechitah,” Professor Richard Schwartz wrote to Metzger last month, using the Hebrew word for ritual slaughter.

“I believe that this action would be a kiddush Hashem [sanctification of God’s name] by helping end violations of tsa’ar ba’alei chaim [animal cruelty] at South American slaughterhouses and by showing how Judaism’s eternal teachings apply to contemporary situations,” Schwartz wrote. “It would also be consistent with other rulings you have made about the proper treatment of animals, including banning the use of furs imported from China, where animals are skinned alive.”

Schwartz added that Jews “must strive to emulate” the ways of God.

“Therefore, we turn to you, as Chief Rabbi, to redress this avoidable tsa’ar ba’alei chaim and to institute restraint systems for shechitah that minimize suffering. If this is done, it will surely help fulfill our divine mandate to be a ‘light unto the nations’ by our example, and not the opposite.”

Blumenthal issued a careful response to Schwartz in which he stressed the importance Judaism gives to preventing cruelty to animals. He also noted actions taken by Metzger to diminish such cruelty, such as requesting that the Agriculture Ministry mark eggs with a description of their source.

“In the context of the fervent action taken by the Chief Rabbi for the well-being of animals and the prevention of cruelty to them, he also called a meeting of those concerned with the importing of meat from all over the world into Israel, and explained to them that the continued use of the fettering [shackling] method is likely to lead to an attack on kosher meat and that this might lead to blasphemy and constitute a threat to the Jewish method of ritual slaughter all over the world,” Blumenthal wrote.

“[Metzger] has instructed the importers to cease using this method, and expressed the hope that the phenomenon will totally disappear. He has also given them a certain amount of time in which to change the manner of preparation for ritual slaughter.”

Blumenthal did not note what the time frame was.

“Nevertheless,” he continued, “by reason of various constraints, such as long-term contracts signed between the importers and the factory owners or local and technical restrictions, the phenomenon still exists, albeit in minimal percentage terms, the information in our possession having revealed that the old system [of shackling] has been substantially reduced.”

Blumenthal noted that shackling was not employed by rabbinate staff ion the abattoirs.

“There is no such requirement on our part; quite the reverse, we have given an unequivocal instruction to go over to the inverted box method. Furthermore, this process is not part of the ritual slaughter, but is carried out prior to it,” he wrote to Schwartz. “The chief rabbi completely associates himself with your feelings and hopes that this phenomenon will disappear completely.”

In responding to the letter on Wednesday, Schwartz said he was “very pleased by Chief Rabbi Metzger’s deep commitment to applying Judaism’s strong teachings about compassion to animals” and increasing such awareness.


“I hope that he will continue to use the power of his office to help end the many current abuses of animals, including the shackling and hoisting of cows prior to slaughter at slaughterhouses in South America, which ships meat to Israel, the raising of egg-laying hens in very crowded battery cages, and the immediate removal of calves from their mothers to be raised for veal in very small spaces,” Schwartz wrote. “In addition, since animal-based diets are contributing significantly to an epidemic of diseases, animal-based agriculture is a major contributor to climate change and water, energy, and food shortages that threaten all of humanity, and plantbased diets are most consistent with Jewish teachings on taking care of our health, treating animals with compassion, protecting the environment, conserving natural resources, and helping hungry people, I hope that Chief Rabbi Metzger will help increase awareness of the importance of eliminating or at least sharply reducing the consumption of meat.”

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