D’var Torah – A Reform Kashrut

Written by Rabbi Hannah Kingston — 18 July 2022

An article was published in the Jewish Chronicle yesterday headlined ‘Animals should be stunned before Shechita, report to reform rabbis says’. The body of the article suggested that the Assembly for Reform Rabbis and Cantors believed that the traditional practice of shechita should be called into question.

The reality is that we, your clergy across Reform Judaism, are talking about what it means to keep Kosher in our modern world. The conversation is not a condemnation of the traditional practices of Kashrut, but a response to what we know about animal welfare and environmental factors now, and a reaction to the various movements away from non-stun slaughter.

There are currently two bills being considered in British Parliament which are exploring amendments to laws around slaughtering, following a law passed in Belgium in 2019 that banned animals being slaughtered without prior stunning. A suggestion has been made to label non stunned meat in supermarkets, or to ban it completely, effectively meaning that Kosher and Halal meat would be unattainable by law.

The working group of Reform clergy, on which Rabbi Elliott sits, over the course of five months concentrated on the issue of pre-stunning and debated whether change can be made in the shechita world. They looked at rabbinic sources,  scientific evidence, movements in the Muslim world with regard to Halal meat, and potential other options.

The report concluded that when looked at objectively pre stunning animals is the most humane way possible to produce meat, but acknowledged the complexity this causes for those who wish to buy certified Kosher meat.

The report concluded that we, the reform clergy, would not take any action to move the legislation forward in parliament, but would also not oppose it on religious grounds if it came to it, allowing each individual to make their own decisions.

Shimon Cohen, the director of the shechita defence campaign for Shechita UK, has called for the withdrawal of the Reform Rabbis paper, claiming for it to be a ‘reckless disgrace’. But his statement overlooked the nuance of the report, ignoring that this working party is not writing policy, but is offering an opportunity for us all to reflect on what we believe the laws of Kashrut mean to us.

The word ‘kosher’ means religiously fit. Whilst it is used to refer primarily to the type of animal and the method of slaughter, keeping Kosher is no longer a binary choice of buying meat from certain butchers, separating meat and milk and so on. The report encourages us to think not just about how an animal dies but also about how one lives – how they are accommodated whilst growing, the types of food they eat and how, how they are transported in their lifetime.

The clergy of Reform Judaism, in their discussion on the Shechita report on Tuesday, recognised that there was great diversity of practice within our movement, from those who think we should avoid all meat consumption for environmental reasons, to those who keep ethical kashrut, to those who do not worry at all.

The report by Reform Clergy gives us an opportunity to stop and reflect on our own personal practices and to decide what keeping Kosher means to us.

Every time we make a choice about the food we eat, every time we are intentional with our consumption, we are practicing a form of Kashrut. Kashrut is not just about action, but about being as thoughtful about what we put in our mouths as what comes out of it.

So it is true that some clergy believe what the headline reports, that Animals should be stunned before Shechita. But it is also true that others disagree. The gift of Reform Judaism is that we can continue to have the conversation. And that we can act with knowledge and with intention, to develop our own personal Kashrut, whilst always respecting the practices of those around us.