Over the last several years, a number of European countries have outlawed shechitah (Jewish ritual slaughter). The latest, disturbingly, is Poland where shechitah opponents portray it as being cruel. Is there anything that we in the Jewish community can do to counter this trend?
Answer: Poland has a long history of vacillating in regards to its Jewish population. There were periods during which Poland was tolerant of Jews, granting them refuge and permitting them to flourish. Yet, there were also long periods of persecution, during which Jews lived as second-class citizens at the mercy of local noblemen (the poretz of classical lore).
Before the Holocaust, both chassidic and mitnagdic Jewry experienced a renaissance in Poland with cities such as Warsaw and Krakow evolving into major Torah centers. In fact, it is well known that in Warsaw alone there were scores of batei midrash (shtibelach) – branches of the Mizrachi and Agudah movements – where the sounds of Torah and tefillah were heard day and night.
All of this, though, came to an abrupt end with the onset of the Holocaust, during which time vast numbers of local Poles became willing participants in the persecution and eventual slaughter of the country’s large Jewish population. All that remains today in Poland is a miniscule Jewish population, most of which is quite elderly. Poland’s parliament must feel little shame or guilt to have passed such a harsh measure against shechitah, causing such an enormous strain on a population that is trying to rebuild itself.
Politically, Poland has proven itself to be a reliable ally of both America and Israel since the collapse of the Soviet Union and its own Warsaw Pact communist regime. Additionally, the country has done much in restoring hallowed Jewish cemeteries in Poland that were destroyed during the Holocaust. Why, then, does it attack shechitah, the most humane method of animal slaughter?
The answer is that in the view of Poland’s majority (as expressed in the Polish parliament) killing animals via shechitah is barbaric. It views several other methods – including stunning and killing with an electrical charge or stunning as a prep to slaughter, both of which are halachically unacceptable – to be more humane.
We would be remiss if we only zeroed in on Poland. Many other European countries, as well as Australia and New Zealand, have joined this mass anti-shechitah hysteria, causing great trepidation to their Jewish citizens.
Our problem is even greater when fellow Jews who unfortunately are ignorant of their rich Jewish heritage and its laws succumb to this hysteria. They fail to realize is that our method of slaughter is not only correct but is also the most exalted means by which to render an animal fit for human consumption. Therefore, if it is acceptable to the Jew whose kashrut laws demand such high standards, it should surely be acceptable to the gentile.
Indeed, the Talmud (Chulin 33a) discusses this very matter – whether something that is acceptable to Jews can, in theory, be forbidden to gentiles. (The question considered in Chullin 33a is whether it is permitted to give a gentile the innards of an animal to eat.) First, however, we must understand the proces of shechitah.
According to the Mishnah (Chullin 27a), the kaneh (windpipe) and the veshet (gullet) must both be cut for a shechitah to be rendered valid. Furthermore, the animal must be fully dead before one can eat from it, as the Torah (Leviticus 19:26) states: “Lo tochlu al ha’dam – You shall not eat over the blood.” According to Rashi, citing the Gemara (Sanhedrin 63a), this means that the animal must be dead before one can eat it. Nonetheless, any meat that was cut from the animal immediately after the shechitah – even if the animal was not yet dead at that point – may also be eaten after the animal actually dies.
Now, gentiles are not commanded to slaughter animals. The only rule they must keep is the Noahide law that dictates that they may not eat “ever min ha’chai – a limb from a living animal.” Under this rule, however, any meat that was cut from an animal – even if ritually slaughtered – is prohibited if the animal is not yet dead. Thus, Rav Acha bar Yaakov in the Gemara believes that an animal’s lungs and intestines that are cut off before the animal dies (but after shechitah) are forbidden to gentiles (even though they will be permitted to Jews once the animal is dead). Rav Papa, however, disagrees, asking: “Is there anything permitted to Jews that is forbidden to gentiles?” In other words, it cannot be the case that a food would be permitted to a Jew but forbidden to a gentile.