MONTREAL — Quebec veterinarians heard both sides of the debate over the ethics of kosher slaughter during their recent annual convention.
Rabbi Schachar Orenstein of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue and Concordia University Judaic studies professor Ira Robinson were guest panelists at the meeting of the Ordre des Médecins Vétérinaires du Québec, held in St. Hyacinthe from Nov. 10 to 13.
The professional order devoted a half-day session on Nov. 10 to the topic of “Animals, cultures and religions,” featuring a panel that also included Sofiane El Ketroussi, whose poultry company is certified halal by the Montreal Muslim community, and lawyer Martine Lachance of the Université du Québec à Montréal, who specializes in animal rights.
Robinson and Rabbi Orenstein said they provided a broad overview of what Judaism has to say about preventing the suffering of animals, without getting into the technical details of kosher slaughter, or shchitah.
Lachance presented the case that this type of killing is crueller than non-kosher slaughter and that it should not be condoned under freedom of religion, Robinson said.
However, the discussion remained civil and the audience was generally “upbeat and respectful,” Robinson said. “This was not by any means a polemical platform for anyone. It was meant to be informative for the veterinarians, and I think it was.”
He presented a 15-minute PowerPoint presentation entitled “Prévenir la douleur des êtres vivants: La tradition juive et les animaux” (“Preventing pain of living beings: the Jewish tradition and animals”), in which he tried to show that respect for animals is a deeply rooted principle.
The Book of Exodus commands that not only man, but the animals that work for them, should rest on the Sabbath, he explained. One of the seven Noahide laws, believed to be given by God for all humanity, prohibits eating flesh that’s torn off living animals. The Talmud says a man should not eat before he has fed his animal.
“We did our best to try to prevent the banning of kosher slaughter as has been recently legislated in five European countries and New Zealand,” said Rabbi Orenstein.
While the issue has received scant attention in Quebec, he added, “That’s the way we want to keep it, but some of the animal rights people are picking up on the trends in Europe.”
Veterinarians work with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency at kosher abbatoirs, but this is believed to be the first open discussion of its kind between members of the profession and the Jewish community.
Robinson said it came about through his acquaintance with Solange Lefebvre, of the Université de Montréal’s theology faculty, who co-organized the session.
“This was not entered into lightly, nor was the purpose to propagandize, but if ritual slaughter ever becomes a serious debate in Quebec, veterinarians will no doubt be influential in its outcome,” Robinson said.
He estimated that about 100 people attended the session, which ran concurrently with others at the convention, which indicates the level of interest. The order’s president Joël Bergeron closed the discussion.
Rabbi Orenstein thinks the audience was intrigued by him because he is an Orthodox Jew and a vegetarian, a choice he made for “ethical, health and environmental reasons” years ago.
He said the question of whether kosher or non-kosher slaughter, which in the case of mammals involves stunning, causes the least suffering is a complex one. He mentioned that the respected American doctor of animal science, Temple Grandin, a consultant to the livestock industry, has defended the slaughter by throat-cutting as humane, if done properly.
“Judaism does care about animal cruelty, and measures are ongoing to reduce any suffering in slaughter, but there are parameters [of Jewish law] that we must stay within,” Rabbi Orenstein said. “I am sensitive to these issues, and think there can be improvements.
“But I attempted to broaden the discussion, to the treatment of animals, how they are raised and transported.”
In announcing the session, the order said that, with the growing public awareness of animal welfare in Quebec, the veterinary profession must have a better understanding and engage in a dialogue with communities that have different traditions and practices on this issue.