One morning, when I was a child suffering from one or another of those children’s illnesses, our family doctor stopped by to see how I was faring before he left for a brief vacation. “Where are you going,” my mother asked. “Hunting,” the doctor replied. And in that lack of politically correct tact so typical of youth, I blurted out: “Jews don’t hunt!”
I was reminded of that recently, when I read of the decision of the New Zealand government to ban kosher slaughter – shehita – under the Animal Welfare Commercial Slaughter Code. I wondered if we, as Jews, should not be more understanding of New Zealand’s sincere desire to address the issue of cruelty to animals. The requirements of kosher slaughter are intended to minimize suffering. If stunning or some other method might reduce suffering even by a minute amount, should we not try to find ways to address that positively?
Clearly, New Zealand’s motives are pure. New Zealand is not Switzerland, where the hypocritical ban on shehita was prompted by historic anti-Semitism. Indeed, around the time the Swiss first set about outlawing kosher meat, they also began the process of creating forty-one federal hunting reserves so the compassionate Swiss could kill animals for sport.
But we are not concerned with the Swiss, but rather with New Zealand, which has admirably followed in the concerned footsteps of Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Spain.
Well, actually Spain should not be in the list at all. Spain only prohibits shehita of cattle. It would seem that Spanish sensibilities require that you first stun cattle before slaughter, unless you wish to torture the beasts in the corrida de toros.
As for Iceland, well, the Icelandic Hunting Club will be glad to help you hunt reindeer and seal, and boasts that its clients have achieved 100% success. Maybe Iceland isn’t a good example of a shehita ban that is not hypocritical. Maybe not Norway, either. In addition to offering the opportunity to hunt such big game as moose and reindeer, Norway offers the thrill of watching dogs chase deer to exhaustion.
I GUESS this leaves Sweden. Now, according to the official website,
Sweden views hunting as “a wise, long-term use of renewable natural
Sweden recommends that people who wish to shoot moose first visit a
moose-hunting training range. To ensure that a maimed animal does not
suffer unnecessarily from a poorly placed shot, hunters of hoofed
animals are required to have a trained tracker dog available on
two-hour notice. After all, we wouldn’t want a wounded moose to suffer
more than a few hours before it is dispatched by a conservation-minded
It would seem then that New Zealand stands alone in its sincere desire
to prevent cruelty to animals by banning kosher slaughter. At least so
one might suspect until one Googles “hunting New Zealand” and discovers
“the ultimate New Zealand red stag trophy hunting experience.”
New Zealand Fish and Game describes game bird hunting as “one of the
great social recreational sports where rewarding friendships are made
and maintained for many years.” New Zealand sells hunting licences to
adults over 18, to juniors between the ages of 12 and 18, and even
offers hunting licenses for children under 12. It would seem that for
the squeamish New Zealanders, kosher slaughter of chickens and cattle
for food is more morally repugnant than taking children out for a day
of fun and camaraderie, shooting animals with a bow and arrow so that
they can hang antlers over their beds.
In looking at the laws and policies of the countries that ban kosher
slaughter, one gets the feeling that there must be one of two
underlying motivations: either anti-Semitism or a desire to regulate
hunting and collect hunting license fees.
I am sure that all would loudly deny any anti-Semitic motive, even
despite historical evidence to the contrary. That, of course, leaves
only the desire to regulate hunting. And so I would like to suggest a
proposal for solving the kosher slaughter problem.
I would recommend that Switzerland, Sweden, New Zealand, Iceland and
Norway recognize kosher slaughter as “Jewish ritual hunting.”
Spain can simply refer to kosher slaughterers as matadors. By so doing,
shehita will become an integral part of the sporting culture of each
nation. It will contribute to the wise, long-term use of renewable
natural resources and encourage camaraderie. Compassionately
slaughtered kosher meat will become as socially acceptable as the
venison cut from hunted deer, decorative antlers or the meat of bulls
ritually tortured in the ring. If this modest proposal will not
mitigate suffering, at least it may serve to lessen hypocrisy.The writer is a rabbi and a lawyer.