Category Archives: Kashrus / Dietary Restrictions

Shechita and the Humane Treatment of Animals

This week’s parsha, Re’eh, discusses the mitzvah of shechita, the ritual slaughter of animals.(1) While there is certainly much to say about how modern secular governments view shechita, this post will focus on a different, but related point: the nature of halacha‘s concern for the humane treatment of animals during slaughter, and its contrast to the general philosophy of the modern “animal rights” movement.

In a recent decision, a Washington appeals court dismissed a lawsuit brought by an animal sanctuary challenging a state statute that permits religious ritual slaughter.(2) The statute in question, nearly identical to the Federal Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act,(3) declares that “the slaughter of all livestock . . . shall be carried out only by humane methods . . . .”(4) It then defines “humane method” as:

“(a) A method whereby the animal is rendered insensible to pain by mechanical, electrical, chemical or other means that is rapid and effective, before being shackled, hoisted, thrown, cast or cut; or (b) a method in accordance with the ritual requirements of any religious faith 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.”(5)

The statute then emphasizes that “[n]othing in this chapter shall be construed to prohibit, abridge, or in any way hinder the religious freedom of any person or group. Notwithstanding any other provisions of this chapter, ritual slaughter and the handling or other preparation of livestock for ritual slaughter is defined as humane.”(6) Violation of the statute is a criminal offense.(7)

The plaintiff, Pasado’s Safe Haven, sought to have the provisions permitting religious slaughter declared unconstitutional and stricken from the statute. The court, however, dismissed the complaint for two reasons. Continue reading

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Court Upholds New York’s Kosher Law Protection Act

This week, U.S. District Court Judge Nina Gershon ruled that New York’s Kosher Law Protection Act of 2004 is constitutional. Commack Self-Service Kosher Meats, Inc. v. Hooker (EDNY Aug. 3, 2011). The law requires that manufacturers, packers and vendors of food represented to be kosher label the food as kosher and file a statement containing the qualifications of those who certify the food to be kosher. N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law §§ 201-a, 201-b, & 201-c. The information is then made available to the public on the Department of Agriculture and Markets’ website to assist in making informed decision regarding kosher food purchases.

In this case, the court dismissed the complaint of a Commack deli that alleged that the law violated the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The same judge had previously held that certain sections of a prior law were unconstitutional (see Commack Self-Service Kosher Meats, Inc. v. Rubin, 106 F. Supp. 2d 445 (EDNY 2000), affirmed, 294 F.3d 415 (2d Cir. 2002), cert. denied, 537 U.S. 1187 (2003)), but this time insisted that the revisions enacted in 2004 passed constitutional muster.

First, Judge Gershon held that the current law satisfied the three-part Lemon test used to analyze questions arising under the Establishment Clause. Continue reading

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Fraud a Concern as State Kosher Inspectors Eliminated

Due to cuts in the New York State budget, all of the remaining inspectors at the state’s Kosher Law Enforcement Division were laid off as of the beginning of 2011. Although the NY State Dept. of Agriculture will still enforce the state’s Kosher Food Law (see N.Y. Agriculture & Markets Law §§ 201-a, 201-b, 201-c, 201-d), it will do so through  food safety inspectors who have no prior specialized training in the Jewish laws of kashrus. Many are concerned that this development will lead to an increase in fraudulent misrepresentations of kosher certification. Click here for an article describing the reaction to these budget cuts, and here for a statement by the leading Orthodox Jewish organizations on the matter.

The question of whether states can and/or should enforce religious dietary standards is one that I would like to address in a future post. But by of way of background, New York passed its first law regulating kosher food in 1915, and since then, 21 other states have enacted similar laws. However, due to legal challenges, New York’s law, as well as several others, have been held unconstitutional. As a result, New York revised its kosher food law in 2004. For a recent law review article on state-enacted kosher food laws, see Mark Popovsky, The Constitutional Complexity of Kosher Food Laws, 44 Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems 75 (2010).

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Something’s Fishy

A recent lawsuit filed by the Orthodox Union (OU)–one of the largest kosher certification organizations in the US–alleges that a seafood importing company falsely claimed its tilapia was certified by the OU. Apparently this type of activity is quite common. Read more about it here (from the Wall Street Journal).

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