Exploitation, kashrut, and global warming

Is it a stetch to say that a slaughterhouse where the workers are ill-treated cannot produce kosher meat?

Mike is right: a program to control global warming ought to be about global warming, not about all of the good things we’d like to see in the world. And I like his analogy with the question of whether meat from slaughterhouses that treat their workers badly ought to be considered treyfe (unclean) rather than kosher under Jewish law even if the animals themselves are handled in accordance with ritual.

On the other hand, out of my deep, deep store of Talmudic knowledge (garnered mostly from reading the Rabbi Small mysteries starting with Friday the Rabbi Slept Late) I seem to recall that the rules of kashrut aren’t strictly limited to issues about the foot itself the way the animal is treated. (Even the rules of kosher slaughter are already an extension of the original dietary laws, which merely required that the animal not have been killed by a predator and not have died of disease. Treyfe, the opposite of kosher, litterally means “torn” [as a prey animal is “torn” by a predator]. Think of it as a rule against eating roadkill.)

No rabbi will certify a restaurant as kosher if it remains open on the Sabbath. (Alan Deshowitz’s attempt to establish a real deli in Cambridge failed for that reason, among others.) I think it’s the case that kosher slaughterhouses must also be shomer shabbat (Sabbath-observant). But the requirement certainly doesn’t extend to other foods; most processed foods have someone’s hekhsher (kosher certification) on them, and they’re certainly made, transported, and sold without regard for the Sabbath laws.

Since traditional Jewish law is full of labor-protection rules and rules about not mistreating “the stranger within the gates,” it’s not a stretch to say that food produced under exploitative conditions shouldn’t be considered ritually “clean” (which is what the word “kosher” literally means).

Surely how we treat other people is more important than how we treat animals. As R. Yeshua (der Nezerener rebbe) so memorably said (Luke 11:39), what’s the point of having a kosher mouth and a treyfe heart?

Update A reader tells me that the relevant distinction isn’t among activities, it’s between Jewish and non-Jewish owners. The rules of shabbat, like the rules of kashrut, are (in the Jewish view) incumbent specifically on Jews, as a “nation of priests,” not on human beings generally. So if a Jewish-owned facility works on the Sabbath, the food handled there becomes non-kosher, but that doesn’t apply to a facility owned by non-Jews. (As my reader points out, the scholars whose debates are recorded in the Talmud &#8212 the tannaim who produced the Mishnah and the amoraim who produced the Gemara &#8212 didn’t forsee the modern corporation.)

Footnote The techniques of kosher slaughter were designed by the rabbis to (as they thought) minimize the suffering of the victim. The rule is that the animal must be killed at one blow by having its throat cut. Alas, that forbids the more merciful modern method in which the animal is stunned before slaughter; Swiss animal-protection laws actually make it illegal to produce kosher meat there. An nice example of cultural lag.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com