Recently Italian archeologists dug 50 meters down and discovered small pieces of copper. After studying these pieces for a long time, Italy announced that the ancient Romans had a nation-wide telephone system. The Greek government was not that easily impressed. They ordered their own archeologists to dig even deeper. 100 meters down they found small pieces of glass and they soon announced that the ancient Greeks already had a nation-wide fiber network. Israeli scientists, not to be outdone dug 200 meters down & found absolutely nothing. They happily concluded that the ancient Israelites had a cellular network.
I was reminded of this joke when reviewing the source of kosher meat in Deuteronomy 12:20-21:
When the LORD thy God shall enlarge thy border, as He hath promised thee, and thou shalt say: ‘I will eat flesh’, because thy soul desireth to eat flesh; thou mayest eat flesh, after all the desire of thy soul.
If the place which the LORD thy God shall choose to put His name there be too far from thee, then thou shalt kill of thy herd and of thy flock, which the LORD hath given thee, as I have commanded thee, and thou shalt eat within thy gates, after all the desire of thy soul.
כִּי-יַרְחִיב ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ אֶת-גְּבֻלְךָ, כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר-לָךְ, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֹכְלָה בָשָׂר, כִּי-תְאַוֶּה נַפְשְׁךָ לֶאֱכֹל בָּשָׂר–בְּכָל-אַוַּת נַפְשְׁךָ, תֹּאכַל בָּשָׂר
כִּי-יִרְחַק מִמְּךָ הַמָּקוֹם, אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ לָשׂוּם שְׁמוֹ שָׁם, וְזָבַחְתָּ מִבְּקָרְךָ וּמִצֹּאנְךָ אֲשֶׁר נָתַן ה’ לְךָ, כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִךָ–וְאָכַלְתָּ, בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ, בְּכֹל, אַוַּת נַפְשֶׁךָ
you may slaughter… as I have commanded you: We learn [from here] that there is a commandment regarding slaughtering, how one must slaughter. [Since this commandment is not written in the Torah we deduce that] these are the laws of ritual slaughtering given orally to Moses on [Mount] Sinai. — [Sifrei ; Chullin. 28a  ]
וזבחת וגו’ כאשר צויתך למדנו שיש צווי בזביחה היאך ישחוט, והן הלכות שחיטה שנאמרו למשה בסיני
This is how The Stone Artscroll Chumash translates Rashi:
As I have commanded you. “Since we find no explicit teaching in the Torah regarding kosher slaughter, this verse alludes to the existence of the Oral Law that was communicated to Moses at Sinai. Obviously, therefore, God must have taught Moses at Sinai laws that are not in the Written Torah (Rashi)”
I will explore in a future blog the concept of a “Law given to Moses at Sinai”, but for now I marvel at the honesty of our texts and commentators. It is clear that all the laws of ritual slaughter are nowhere mentioned in the Torah or in Biblical law. Saying that the details were given to Moses is an elegant way of saying that the details were left to us, the people to figure out. Most probably, the traditional practices used by the people and in the Temple were codified into law for consumer meat. At the time, they were undoubtedly cutting edge…..
The Sifrei that Rashi quotes goes further. The category of meat broached here in Deuteronomy (circa 8 – 6th century BC) is meat, not eaten in the temple for the purposes of sacrifice, but ordinary meat for consumption בָשָׂר תְאַוֶּה (literally: “Meat of desire”).
As Dayan Dr, I Grunfeld writes in The Jewish Dietary Laws (pp52-53)
“Through permission was given man to take animal life for human food it was only done by a process of very gradual education and adapation. According to Rabbi Ishmael (and most authorities agree with him cf. Babylonian Talmud Hullin 16b, 17 ) the killing of oxen, sheep or goats for ordinary meat consumption – Basar Ta’avah – was forbidden during the whole period of Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness, unless they had been consecrated as peace offerings – Shelamim…”
(see Hulin 84a and Samson Raphael Hirsch Deut. 12:20)
What IS written in the Torah and what does come out clearly in the texts is an ambivalence if not distaste to the consumption of meat and the slaughter of animals.
The Talmud remarks: “The Torah here teaches a rule of conduct that a person should not eat meat unless he has a special appetite for it” (Hullin 84a )
One of the seven commandments traditionally given to Noah and therefore for all of mankind is the prohibition of eating a limb torn off of a living animal (Ever Min HaChai אֵבָר מִן הֶחָי) as it is written (Genesis 9; 3-4)
Every moving thing that liveth shall be for food for you; as the green herb have I given you all.
Only flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.
כָּל-רֶמֶשׂ אֲשֶׁר הוּא-חַי, לָכֶם ה’ לְאָכְלָה: כְּיֶרֶק עֵשֶׂב, נָתַתִּי לָכֶם אֶת-כֹּל
אַךְ-בָּשָׂר, בְּנַפְשׁוֹ דָמוֹ לֹא תֹאכֵלוּ
shall be yours to eat: (Sanhedrin 59b) For I did not permit the first man [Adam] to eat meat, but only vegetation but for you (mankind after Noah), just as the green vegetation which I permitted for the first man, I have given you everything.
לכם יהיה לאכלה שלא הרשיתי לאדם הראשון לאכול בשר אלא ירק עשב, ולכם כירק עשב שהפקרתי לאדם הראשון, נתתי לכם את כל
flesh with its soul: He prohibited them [to eat] a limb [cut off from] a living creature; i.e., as long as its soul is in it, you shall not eat the flesh. — [from Sanh. ad loc.] [i.e., if the limb is cut from the animal while it is alive, it is forbidden to be eaten even after the animal expires.]
בשר בנפשו אסר להם אבר מן החי, כלומר כל זמן שנפשו בו לא תאכלו הבשר
It was only after Noah, allegedly saved all the animals in the Ark, that man was given the right to slaughter the animals that he saved…
What’s our take away from the clear biblical bias towards vegetarianism, aversion for animal slaughter and prohibition against unnecessary suffering of animals (Tza’ar Ba’alei Hayim). What is our take away from the fact that the Torah leaves the details up to us?
My take away is that what is extraordinary about Jewish Law is that it not only exhibits a profound concern for animal suffering, but creates a link between that concern and the permission to eat animals. The laws of Kashrut are, to my knowledge, the first legislation that links ethics with consumption. If it’s not kosher, you can’t consume it.
This past week Nestlé announced animal welfare standards that will affect 7,300 of its suppliers around the globe, and their suppliers…  which is unprecedented accept for the fact that Jewish law has been sanctioning such certification and labeling for over two thousand years.
Does this mean that we should be satisfied with the current state of Kashrut or rest on our laurels? Hardly… what I would love would be to have Rabbis (and here is a grand opportunity for non-orthodox Rabbis) to have the courage to review more humane methods of slaughter than those of traditional shechita.. such as stunning the animal. We should accept any technology that minimizes the suffering of animals… (initially in conjunction with the traditional method of shechita, but eventually, whether it includes a traditional knife or not…).. this is in accordance with the spirit of “as I have commanded thee” ַּאֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִךָ this open ended admonition, that we supply the details.
Other areas where Kashrut has an opportunity to live up to it’s first-mover advantage is in the area of fair labor laws and sustainable farming and herding practices.
Following the raiding by Federal Agents of the Agriprocessors kosher food plant, the Conservative Movement’s Hekhsher Tzedek Commission Announced the Creation of Magen Tzedek and Orthodoxy suggested a Yashrut standard… I’m not sure what has become of either of these initiatives. It seems to me that the biggest barrier to increasing the social component of Kashrut is cost… Kosher meat is already prohibitively priced. This does not have to be the case. Grow and Behold Foods brings delicious OU Glatt Kosher pastured meats raised on small family farms. They adhere to the strictest standards of kashrut, animal welfare, worker treatment, and sustainable agriculture.
There’s something special about a Kosher Home. Those of us who grew up in one and continue this tradition know how it, along with Friday night Shabbat dinners profoundly impacts our life, family and the continuation of the best in Jewish tradition. We need to continue to explore ways to reinvent the kosher paradigm to permit it to continue to serve our people and the world at large. Kashrut might well be an invisible cellular network that connects us with our past and with a growing commitment by our youth to social responsibility and sustainable living.
Rabbi says. The verse: And thou shalt slaughter . . . as I have commanded thee, teaches us that Moses was instructed concerning the gullet and the windpipe; concerning the greater part of one of these organs [that must be cut] in the case of a bird, and the greater part of each in the case of cattle.
AT ALL TIMES ONE MAY SLAUGHTER. Who is the Tanna who holds this view? Rabbah replied: It is R. Ishmael. For it has been taught: [It is written] When the Lord thy God shall enlarge thy border, as He hath promised thee, and thou shalt say: ‘I will eat flesh’ . . . (Deut. 12, 20) This verse, says R. Ishmael, is stated specially in order to permit the Israelites to eat flesh at will.( Lit., ‘of desire’. I.e., on entering the Holy Land the Israelites would be permitted to slaughter animals at will and eat the flesh without having recourse to sacrifices.) For in the beginning they were forbidden to eat flesh at will, (When the Israelites were in the wilderness they were not permitted to slaughter and eat flesh at will. The animal had first to be offered up as a sacrifice, v. Lev. XVII, 3 and 4.) but on entering the land of Israel they were permitted. But, now they are exiled, it might be said that they should revert to the former restriction; the Mishnah therefore teaches us: AT ALL TIMES ONE MAY SLAUGHTER. Babylonian Talmud Hullin 16b
Our Rabbis taught: When the Lord thy God shall enlarge thy border, as He hath promised thee, and thou shalt say: I will eat flesh. The Torah here teaches a rule of conduct, that a person should not eat meat unless he has a special appetite for it. I might think that this means that a person should buy [meat] in the market and eat it, the text therefore states: Then thou shalt kill of thy herd and of thy flock. I might then think that this means that he should kill all his herd and eat and all his flock and eat, the text therefore states: ‘Of thy herd’, and not all thy herd; ‘of thy flock’ and not all thy flock. Hence R. Eleazar b. ‘Azariah said: A man who has a maneh may buy for his stew a litra of vegetables; if he has ten maneh he may buy for his stew a litra of fish; if he has fifty maneh he may buy for his stew a litra of meat; if he has a hundred maneh he may have a pot set on for him every day. And [how often for] the others? From Sabbath eve to Sabbath eve.
Of a more contemporary nature… according to the findings of a Weizmann Institute of Science research team headed by Prof. Ron Milo — in collaboration with Israeli ex-pat Prof. Gidon Eshel from Bard College in New York — beef is measurably the most environmentally draining livestock on the market. ( see )
Maimonides. Guide for the Perpexed III, 26
Thus killing animals for the purpose of obtaining good food is certainly useful, as we intend to show (below, ch. xlviii.); that, however, the killing should not be performed by neḥirah (poleaxing – hitting the animal), but by sheḥitah (cutting the neck), and by dividing the œsophagus and the windpipe in a certain place; these regulations and the like are nothing but tests for man’s obedience. In this sense you will understand the example quoted by our Sages [that there is no difference] between killing the animal by cutting its neck in front and cutting it in the back. I give this instance only because it has been mentioned by our Sages; but in reality [there is some reason for these regulations]. For as it has become necessary to eat the flesh of animals, it was intended by the above regulations to ensure an easy death and to effect it by suitable means; whilst decapitation requires a sword or a similar instrument, the sheḥitah can be performed with any instrument; and in order to ensure an easy death our Sages insisted that the knife should be well sharpened.
“In the digital world, everyone has a smartphone and they want to know where things come from and share that information,” said Kevin Petrie, chief procurement officer for Nestlé in North America. “Is it good for me? Is the quality good? Has it been responsibly sourced?” The new policy, he said, was another step in Nestlé’s efforts to address risks in its supply chains like child labor and palm oil, the production of which is damaging to forests. Consumers today know far more about how components in their food are made — and they are far more willing to share that knowledge to stir up a fuss on social media, he said.
Before Social Media, Judaism had a complete oversight of the supply chain from farm to table… (ed)