Thursday, April 28, 2011

Shechita Labelling

The EU has decided to label meat that was killed without first being pre-stunned. This is a move aimed primarily at distinguishing kosher and halal meat from 'regular' non-shechted meat.

I'm not sure if people really understand what 'stunning' means. It sounds so nice - kind of like an anesthetic before an operation. But in fact it is quite nasty. They basically shoot a captive steel bolt through the brain of the animal and thereby 'pith' it. Alternatively, for smaller animals, they place electrodes on the animals head which 'stun' it.

If you have a very strong stomach you can watch these youtube videos of electric- and captive bolt-stunning. Or you can take my word for it.

(For chickens they spray them with electrified water (stunning) before ripping off their heads. I've seen these machines back in New Zealand. If I was a chicken I'd definitely prefer shechita - but I'm glad I'm not a chicken at all!)

Since 'stunning' makes the animal into a treifah (an animal that would not live for 12 months), it is impossible to halachically pre-stun kosher animals.

There is no evidence (that I know of) that shows that this is less painful for the animal than shechita. But it does have a couple of other advantages. Firstly, the animal doesn't kick around after it has been stunned. After shechita the nervous system of the animal causes it to kick and move for several minutes afterwards. Because stunning affects the brain, the nervous system shuts down and the animal stops moving straight away. This is very important for the guys holding the chainsaws who have to cut the animal up after it has been killed. (For this reason most kosher meat is stunned - but only after it has been shechted.)

Another difference is that the blood stays in the body, which changes the flavour of the meat. Kosher meat tastes saltier, because of the kashering process, but also has less blood in it, so does have such a 'rusty' taste.

The real reason for the labelling is to limit the spread of fundamentalist Islam in Europe. The irony is that many Muslims will allow pre-stunning before halal killing (it is a machlokes, but I think the majoriy in Europe follow this opinion - but I'm not an expert on this). So in practice this legislation will harm Jews more than Muslims.

And the reaosn it makes a difference (because you would think that most kosher meat goes to Jewish shops, and thus doesn't make a difference) is because Ashkenazim do not eat the hindquarters of animals. Therefore they have to sell half the animal to the non-Jewish meat market. Labelling it as non-stunned will make it harder to sell the hindquarters and therefore put up the price of kosher meat. Whether, ultimately, this will cause the Ashkenazim to re-introduce the halachos of removing the gid hanashe (sciatic nerve) and eat the hindquarters - as most Sefardim do - remains to be seen.

Another irony is that the EU legislation is exactly the opposite of what Rambam writes as halacha. In Hilchot De'ot (2:6) he writes:
לא ימכור לגוי בשר נבילה בכלל שחוטה, ולא מנעל של מתה במקום מנעל של שחוטה.
which translates as: "A person may not sell meat from a non-kosher animal to a non-Jew and claim that it has been shechted. Nor a shoe made from leather of an animal that died from natural causes in place of a shoe made from leather of an animal that was shechted."

So we see that in Rambam's time, the non-Jews preferred to eat kosher, shechted meat. They even preferred shoes made of leather from kosher animals. Therefore it is misleading to sell non-kosher meat to a non-Jew as if it was kosher. A non-Jew from Rambam's time will welcome the EU legislation because he or she will know that meat which is not pre-stunned is of a superior quality. The animal is more likely to be healthy, and the killing process improves not only the flavour of the meat, but even the quality of the leather.

Now - if we can just begin a campaign to teach the non-Jews the value of kosher meat...

Monday, April 18, 2011

Cookies and i-pods

Do you have a bentscher app on your i-pod? Does it contain 'cookies'? If so, does anyone know how to kasher it for Pesach? The best advice I've found so far was that it cannot be kashered and must be 'blended'.

Of course, if you purchase the Sefiros app that will kasher your i-pod and then you can try to stick all the pieces back together.

(this post is a joke, by the way, please do not try this at home. And your i-pod is fine, unless you also use it as a tablemat)

Thursday, April 14, 2011


I keep saying that nostaligia isn't what it used to be, but the truth is that cleaning out the house for Pesach allows one to find all sorts of things from the past.

One of the things I dug up was a video of a TV programme made by TVNZ about being a Jewish teenager in New Zealand. It was for 'Viewfinder' which was a teenage magazine programme. And guess who the teenage Jews were that they used for the show? Me and brother Michael.

I managed to turn the video into a DVD and uploaded it to youtube. So if you want a laugh, or remember the 80s, have a look at this:

Chag Kasher v'Sameach

PS In the clip I am teaching why we have an egg on the seder plate. Luckily they cut the film before the bit where I said "Actually, I have no idea!" I've learnt from my mistakes, and now know why we have an egg on the seder plate (and it is nothing to do with the Easter bunny!)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Ami article

There is an article in Ami magazine (a magazine I have been fortunate not to read until now) which describes the issue of outwardly Orthodox people who have lost their faith.

There is a scan of the article here:

I am actually shocked by the level of hatred and lack of understanding presented in this article. There are so many negative words, but not a single real answer for someone with such doubts.

Apparently kiruv answers only work on people who are not frum. And I think this is part of the problem. Even though the article blamed the internet for all ills (even though the evidence presented doesn't back up that claim) I think that kiruv has to take a lot of responsibility for this.

Once upon a time people believed in Torah and Judaism because that was how they were brought up, that is what they knew, and that was good enough. Suddenly kiruv workers come along and try to 'prove' that Judaism is true. For an intelligent person who can think critically, these proofs are all full of holes, and suddenly kiruv has taken away that old time belief and replaced it with lies, false arguments, and intellectual bullying. I know of several people who only began questioning and doubting after they heard the so called 'proofs' of kiruv people. In my opinion it would be far better if outreach people left the FFBs alone.

It is not the internet that causes people to doubt. It is not even reading 'outside books' (though many of the so called 'kiruv' books do pose serious problems). Most of the things that people find very difficult in Judaism come from a reading of Shas and Rishonim.

To be honest, the whole ban on Slifkin made things a lot worse. Kiruv started using 'proofs' of Judaism, then when they had questions asked Rabbi Slfkin to write answers for them. Then those answers, for no real reason, because forbidden. So now the situation is that kiruv raises many questions, the answers are kefirah, and many people have lost their faith in the Gedolim, who seem to be anti-science and very backward in their attitudes (or manipulated by Kannaim, which is possibly even worse).

Why must we assume that someone who doesn't agree with our emunah is 'mentally ill' or a 'fifth columnist'? Shouldn't we try to find answers which are intellectually satisfying, rather than simply trying to push them out even further?

Does the author of this article really believe that a person who keeps Torah and Mitzvos, but has some doubts about G-d is actually worse than someone who breaks Shabbos publicly? Does that actually make sense?