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Friday, 7 March 2014

Slitting throats - kosher and halal food in the UK

The President elect of the British Veterinary Association (John Blackwell) has pronounced, from the dizzy heights of his medical knowledge, that kosher and halal food should be proscribed, because letting animals bleed to death is inhuman.

Is he right?

Letting any creature bleed to death is inhuman, but is that actually what happens? He certainly thinks that is the case, see this Telegraph article here by Miranda Prynne. Mr Blackwell graphically and convincingly describes the slow death of ritual slaughter. However, he does not say where he has witnessed this, in a Muslim slaughter house, a Jewish one or elsewhere.

Let us think this through. Special Forces are trained to slit throats. Is this because the still-beating heart will spatter blood everywhere, including onto the assailant, and the slowly dying victim will strive to raise the alarm? Or is it because, properly done, it is quick, silent and mostly bloodless?

Jews have been slaughtering animals in this manner since the time of Moses and Aaron, if not before, at least 3500 years. The ritual at the Temple was the duty of the priests (Hebrew - Kohanim). Would this have continued for so long if before the first couple of sacrifices were done there was blood everywhere and on everyone? It would render the whole thing ritually unclean. They will have learned how to do the job properly and efficiently. The animal's heart would stop and gravity would be used to bleed the animal out. See this picture illustrating the Telegraph article (below).

Chickens are hung in a slaughterhouse during the ritual Kapparot ceremony in the religious neighborhood of Mea Sharim, Jerusalem.
Chickens are hung in a slaughterhouse during the ritual Kapparot ceremony in Jerusalem Photo: Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images
Consider this article, also in the Telegraph, by one Harry de Quettville. He also graphically describes a ritual slaughter.

 Now the ritual slaughter that I saw was part of Eid al-Adha, the Muslim feast to celebrate God’s intervention to stay Ibrahim’s hand after asking him to sacrifice his son, Ishmael. In the Torah the story is of Abraham and Isaac. 

He continues with the description of a makeshift slaughter -'tent' in a car park behind a housing estate in the outskirts of Paris. The slaughterers are the heads of families. This approach takes us back to pre-Mosaic times, so there is no trained class of slaughterers. de Quettville describes the fear - of the men about to do the deed. The most important paragraphs in his article are these:  

What followed depended entirely on the man with the knife. If his hand was shaky, death was grim. If his hand was steady and very firm, however, I was astonished, really astonished, to see the speed with which the strongly kicking and twisting animal of a moment before was absolutely still and dead.   

Now I was there to report on such illegal slaughterhouses (so unregulated that some of the sheep had even been kept in bathtubs in tower block flats beforehand). No doubt conditions there could not have been more different to those currently in regulated ritual slaughterhouses (which I haven’t seen). But that is not what I am comparing. I am simply stating that right up close, at the sharp end, it was my impression that, when done effectively, death through the knife was extremely swift.  

My highlights. 

Which rather takes us back to our putative Special Forces assassin. What does Mr Blackwell want? Is he just ignorant of the medical and actual facts? Does he really imagine that Islam will abandon the practices of some 1500 years in Islam and at least 4000 years since Abraham? 
Is it about having a go at religion? Certainly the militant atheists have crawled out of the woodwork to have a go at everyone, including Christians - but we don't do kosher or halal  for other reasons.

Another quote from Miranda Prynne's article:

Shimon Cohen of Shechita UK which aims to educate people about Jewish slaughter customs, said bans on kosher and halal slaughter had been designed to drive out Jewish and Muslim populations since the 19th century.
He questioned why the Government was only considering labelling religious methods of killing and not including information on non-religious slaughter practices such as shooting, gassing, electrocution and drowning.
He said: “I will be seeing the Muslim Council of Britain shortly. We are at one on this.” 

A rare instance of Jewish-Islamic unity. Note, if you are not a Jewish reader, that he is a Cohen (plural Kohanim, see above).

Shechita UK  is clear, simply explained and very informative.

Does Mr Cohen really think that the Muslim population is about to be driven out? Somehow I doubt it.

It's all about the Jews.


  1. See this comparison of kashrut and halal slaughter, in which there there is a particularly disturbing photo of Muslims sitting astride a poor cow whose throat had been hacked about and was bleeding profusely - she was in her death throes but even in that slow death agony the two men sitting in her flanks were grinning as if they were at a ride at a funfair, and so were the onlookers. I have no idea whether this unedifying scene took place in some Islamic enclave in Eurabia or in a Middle Eastern hellhole, but it was absolutely disgusting. Barbaric. http://www.jewsnews.co.il/2013/11/03/some-differences-between-kosher-meat-and-halal-meat-thank-g-d-i-keep-kosher/
    The humane treatment of animals has a high priority in Judaism. All the same, I'm glad I chose the vegetarian option very early in life.

  2. Thanks, Daphne.That is an interesting and useful link for anyone interested in the differences between kosher and halal meat. I suspect that halal is a bit hit and miss depending upon the country and its laws etc.

    My real concern is that confusion between the two will lead to discrimination against the Jews.