Shechitah – fight in the United States

In 1955, Senator Hubert Humphrey from Minnesota  presented the United States Senate with a bill proposal that only  humanitarian means be used to slaughter animals and birds.  Through much perseverance, Torah Jewry ensured that the bill  allowed shechita and it’s necessary preparations to be practiced  without interference.

Precursor to Persecution 

Isaac Lewin who discusses this episode was active in many  religious issues and acted as spokesman for Agudas Yisroel before  the United Nations Social and Economic Council after World  War 2. He wrote an account of Humphrey’s shechitah legislation  in his book Personalities and Historical Events.

According to Lewin, Hubert was liberal and not known to be  anti-Semitic. It seemed that he sincerely wanted to further the  cause of humanitarianism with his proposed law that suggested  animals should be “rendered insensible by mechanical, electrical,  chemical, or other means determined by the Secretary [of  Agriculture] to be rapid, effective, and humane” before their  slaughter.

Because such procedures can render an animal treifa, the  proposed law specifically excluded ritual slaughter from its  jurisdiction. It would not to apply “to any individual who is duly  authorized by an ordained rabbi of the Jewish religious faith  to serve as a shector (sic), while such individual is engaged in  the slaughtering of livestock or poultry in accordance with the  practice of such religious faith.”

Nonetheless, three things bothered Lewin and other Torah true  Jews. First, a law making shechitah an exception to the required  humane slaughter implied that shechitah itself was inhumane.  Secondly, once a law like this is passed, even if it initially approves  of shechitah, pro animal organizations might fight to “amend” the  law not to include shechitah. Third, the use of shechitah might  only be sanctioned only for Jews, leading to a situation where the  hindquarters of animals or animals found to be treifa would be  unsellable to non-Jews.

In 1956, a sub-committee of the Agricultural Counsel of  the Senate headed by Humphrey was appointed to look into  the proposal. As part of its investigations it called for a public  discussion of the matter.

As mentioned, Jewish organizations understood that the  suggested law could be dangerous despite Humphrey’s protection  of shechitah. For the driving force behind the new legislation  was the cadre of humanitarian societies in America. Once the  law demanded humane slaughter,even if shechitah was made  an exception, pro animal societies could soon demand that the  exception for shechitah should be annulled.

Such a thing had already happened in England. In 1933,  when England made a law demanding humane slaughter and  exempting shechitah on religious grounds, animal societies began  demanding the outlawing of shechitah almost immediately.  Freedom of religion was not an ironclad guarantee for shechitah for in pre-World War 2 Poland, anti-Semites had got a priest  to testify that outlawing shechitah would not oppose freedom of  religion because shechitah is not included among the mitzvos.

The public discussion of Humphrey’s suggested law was  attended by the representatives of many Jewish organizations,  pro animal societies, the government, and representatives of the  meat business.

The law wasn’t all that popular among many of the meeting’s  attendees. The government representative said he thought the  law was premature – more study was be needed to see exactly  what constituted humane slaughter. This was also the opinion of  the meat business representatives. Only the pro animal societies  insisted that the stunning process was satisfactory — even though  they had not seemed so certain about this some years earlier. Due  to the resistance to Humphrey’s law, it seemed that if the Jews  also put up a fight the proposed law would certainly be shelved.  But this did not happen.

Jewish Betrayal 

Three Jewish representatives were present at the meeting: 1) Isaac  Lewin represented the Agudas Harabbanim. 2) The lawyer Leo  Pepper represented the American Jewish Congress, the Synagogue  Council of America, the Board of Rabbis of New York, and the  Union of Kashrut Supervisors. Many of the Jews he represented  were conservative or reform Jews who were more concerned about  being politically correct than the future of kosher meat in America.  3) Rav Dr. Michael Munk represented the World Agudas Yisroel  organization.

Isaac Lewin spoke first, saying that besides opposing the new law,  he resented shechitah being portrayed as an exemption to humane  slaughter as the Torah was first to legislate against cruelty to animals  and the world’s greatest experts testified that shechitah was the most  humane way to slaughter animals and birds.

Humphrey replied that it was not his law’s intention to portray shechitah as inhumane. Shechitah would be included as one of the  humane methods.

Rav Munk, like Lewin, was against the law altogether. He cited  experts who concurred that shechitah was humane and presented  Humphrey with a book on the subject composed by Lewin and  himself (I. Lewin, M. Munk, J. Berman, Religious Freedom: The  Right to Practice Shehitah. New York 1946). Impressed by the  book, Humphrey said he would include it among the documents  relating to the slaughter issue.

Pepper prefacing his speech with the claim that he was speaking  on behalf of 80% of American Jewry for after all, the organizations  he represented included Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jews.  He not only expressed dismay at shechitah being represented as an  exception to humane slaughter, but also proposed a revised text for  the law, suggesting that it explicitly state that animals be slaughtered  in three humane ways – 1) by mechanical, electrical, or chemical  stunning of animals 2) by the decapitation of birds 3) and through  kosher shechitah.

Humphrey immediately accepted Pepper’s amendment. This  made the situation dangerous. Unlike the other Jewish and non-  Jewish representatives at the meeting who had opposed making a  law altogether, Pepper had suggested a new formula for the law,  which he said was supported by 80% of American Jewry. The fact  that it stated shechitah was humanitarian did not change the fact that  the law was unnecessary and dangerous. Now, because of Pepper’s  stance, there was a much greater chance the law might pass through  Congress.

Some of the organizations Pepper represented realized this danger  and urged him to rescind his suggestion. But by the time Pepper  told Humphrey he wanted to withdraw his support for the law it  was too late. Humphrey was already deeply involved in turning his  proposal into law.

Preparations for Shechitah 

During a later meeting, a House of Representative politician who  favored the pro animal societies formulated a proposal that while  allowing shechitah, forbade preparations for slaughter such as shackling  or hanging an animal before shechitah if the animal was not rendered  unconscious beforehand, unless the Department of Agriculture  found that it was “in conformity with the practices and requirements  of religion.” This was a risky situation. What would happen if the  Department of Agriculture decided it was not in conformity with the  practices and requirements of religion. The modern machinery that  encases an animal and turns it over for shechitah was not yet available.  In the end, the Senate accepted Page’s proposal 43 for and 40 against.

However, it permitted preparations such as shackling and hoisting  that were necessary for shechitah without restriction. According to  Lewin’s son, Atty. Nathan Lewin, Lewis arranged this amendment in  1958 during testimony before a Senate subcommittee.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed in the new law on August  27, 1958. It established the “use of humane methods of slaughter  of livestock as a policy of the United States,” forbade “the federal  government from purchasing meat slaughtered by inhumane methods  and giving the Department of Agriculture inspection authority in  this area,” but permitted”slaughtering in accordance with the ritual  requirements of the Jewish faith or any other religious faith that  prescribes a method of slaughter whereby the animal suffers loss of  consciousness by anemia of the brain caused by the simultaneous  and instantaneous severance of the carotid arteries with a sharp  instrument.” In addition, it permitted any necessary “handling or  other preparation of livestock for ritual slaughter.”

It was also emphasized that nothing in the law should be utilized  to forbid, limit, or disturb in any way the freedom of religion of any  individual or group without consideration of the other paragraphs  that protect this freedom.

Lewin points out that since the Agricultural Committee of the  Senate opposed the law with a large majority and the senate only  accepted it by a small majority of 43 against 40,this indicates that  had American Jewry had been united, had Orthodox Jewry had not  been alone in the fight against the law, the results may have been very  different. Because so many people opposed the law, says Lewin, there  was no need for the Jews to compromise out of the fear they might be  viewed as inhumane.

In conclusion, Lewin writes, the damage caused by the reform and  conservative Jews and certain Jewish senators who supported the bill  was a fulfillment of the verse, Your wreckers and destroyers shall come from you (Yeshayahu49:17).

Source: Isaac Lewin, Personalities and Historical Events, Mossad Harav Kook  Yerushalayim 1988 

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