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Volume 9 Issue 9   June 2015Tammuz 5775

Ignorance or Hubris, or Both

Kosher Ritual Slaughter


Kosher “ritual” slaughter causes instant loss of consciousness. An expert swordsman, blindingly fast, swipes a super-sharp blade across the throat of the animal, which severs major arteries. Its blood pours out and the sudden, massive loss of blood pressure makes it lose awareness, faster than pain signals from the cut can reach the brain.


In 1933, the Nazis, almost immediately upon gaining power, banned it. Kosher slaughter is, they said, proof of “Jewish cruelty.” The Swedes, in 1937, following the Nazis’ example, banned it too.


The Nazis called it simple decency, stunning cattle before killing them. (Stunning involves smashing a sledgehammer or – as is usual today - a gas-propelled bolt, into the beast’s forehead.) But that would make the meat unfit; not kosher. The Torah is clear: an animal used for meat must be healthy and conscious at the moment of death. By requiring that it be stunned first, the Nazis - and Swedes - made kosher slaughter a crime.


The Germans revoked the ban after Nazi Germany collapsed, but the Swedes kept it. Soon, other countries followed: today, Norway, Iceland, Lichtenstein, Denmark and Switzerland all stand with Sweden in banning kosher slaughter. Other nations are considering it. And, if you look it up on the Internet, you’ll see that kosher slaughter is denounced very widely as cruel and degenerate and anachronistic.




The Torah rite of circumcision – cutting back the foreskin from the tip of the penis when a newborn boy is eight days old – goes back to Abraham (Genesis 17). An operation that would cause an older person frightful pain (because of all the nerves in the penis) barely hurts a newborn. The child’s nervous system isn’t fully developed. Anyone who’s ever attended a circumcision can attest to this: the mohel, a skilled circumcisor, makes his cuts, the child cries for a few moments, and that’s it – no more crying.


Naturally, the Nazis banned it, as did the Soviet Communists - such progressive people - as cruel and degenerate and anachronistic. The Catholic Church, even though honoring the supposed anniversary of the Christian god’s circumcision as a holiday, on January 1st, calls it a painful, degrading, unnecessary rite.


Today, even some Jews feel that way, despite overwhelming evidence that it’s amazingly benign and even life-saving, a powerful safeguard against transmitting sex-related diseases. Those who rail against it, on the Internet – there are many, and they are shrill – characterize it as “male genital mutilation,” or M.G.M.


Most of these zealots equate it with so-called “female circumcision,” or cutting the genitals of young women and girls – a vile African and Arab tribal custom designed to put women down and control them by impairing their ability to feel sexual pleasure.

Incidentally, 1) Female “circumcision” has nothing to do with the Jewish rite or, indeed, with any actual circumcision, if only because nothing is circumscribed (there’s nothing round that’s cut); 2) Jewish law forbids any such operation.


The Land of Israel


They used to call it “land for peace.” Now it’s “the two-state solution.” It’s still the same idea: scraping the Jews off the ancient heartland of Israel to appease various enemies who want Israel annihilated. This brilliant scheme flows from the presumption that the land rightfully belongs to them, not the Jews. The Jews, according to this narrative, are unlawful “occupiers” of Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem – like, say, Hitler's Germans who occupied France. It’s not Liberated Judea, to them, but the Israeli Occupied West Bank.


Hubris and HaShem


What all these things – the attacks against ritual slaughter, circumcision, and a Jewish Holy Land – have in common is that they’re all ridiculous, if you look below the surface. Kosher slaughter is cruel – if you don’t know anything about it. Circumcision, too, is awful, if you think it’s like “female circumcision.” The Jews obviously don’t belong in Judea, or “the Occupied West Bank,” if you’ve never read the histories, nor the Bible, and don’t know anything about it, and just believe what others tell you.


How profoundly alienated from the Bible must one be, to side with people who take their very name and national identity from the Bible’s Philistines, in their existential war with Jewish Israel?


One reason that HaShem confronts human beings with issues like these and forces us to make a choice is to test us; to see where we choose to put ourselves.


The Bible has been translated into every living tongue. Everyone who can read can read it. Yet most people still fail to recognize its central theme –that God shall return the People of Israel to their Holy Land, to live there under their own laws in peace – or appreciate that the apparently never-ending war for the Land, and Israel’s ongoing struggle to survive and thrive there, is just the real-world continuation of the Biblical narrative.


Ignorance isn’t much of an excuse for choosing to back the Philistines versus Israel. The Jews are news. Even news programs in places like New Guinea devote extraordinary resources to covering “the plight of the Palestinians” and the always ongoing Jewish-Arab war. Even the most biased coverage from the Arab side can’t completely obscure the other side's awfulness. One just needs to be sensitive to the truth, and honest. Those two things are, largely, products of humility.


Israel’s greatest prophet was, unquestionably, Moses - the most humble of men (Numbers 12:3). A proud person, smug in his or her beliefs, doesn’t take well to correction. Yet the religion of Israel, including the path of the righteous Noahide, requires real humility –openness to new teachings and the discipline and drive to close the door on false ones.


Those who would ban kosher slaughter, and denigrate the covenant of Abraham (regarding circumcision), and drive Israel from the Land of Israel, suffer from hubris – that is, excessive pride. After all,what kind of person wants to buck the wishes of God?


A pious person should always try to give Israel, and Israel’s Torah, the benefit of the doubt. The idea that any of the Torah precepts are cruel or foul, or somehow don’t apply any more, or were never to be treated seriously in the first place: those are the thoughts of a fool.


Seest thou a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
Proverbs 26:12






We call on God for help. As the prayer that Israel says every morning just before reciting the Hebrew statement of faith known as the shema asks (please understand that this is much richer in Hebrew than in English): Our Father, the merciful Father, Who acts mercifully, have mercy on us, instill in our hearts to understand and elucidate, to listen, learn, teach, safeguard, perform and fulfill all the words of Your Torah's teachings with love. Enlighten our eyes in Your Torah, attach our hearts to Your commandments, and unify our hearts to love and fear Your Name. Amen.

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