Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo: lurching to the left

Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo is a man of fine intellect, however, I believe that like many from the left in Judaism, he does not start from clean Halacha, but rather from his understanding of what a Halacha may mean and then form conclusions. From there he issues moral statements which can be seen as the domain of “open orthodoxy” or “conservadox Jews” and then attempts to refashion a Halacha that he envisions.

Let’s look at his latest blog post where he writes about Shechita.

This is also true on a very practical level. There is little doubt that one of the functions of the kashrut laws is to protect the animal from pain even during the slaughtering.

Where does Rabbi Cardozo obtain his view expressing “little doubt”. There is not a hint that the purpose of Shechita relates to a quick humane death. It is easy to disprove Rabbi Cardozo’s thesis. The Simla Chadasha, “the bible” for Hilchos Shechita, makes it clear that a Shochet who has rather dull knife, as long as he isn’t applying “push pressure” or
“ripping style pressure” but uses the (dull) Shechita only in knife back and forth fashion, provided the knife is without notches, the Shechita is Kosher! In theory a Shechita could take  2 hours. Does that sound humane? In reality, of course, that doesn’t happen. Shochtim pride themselves on the ultra sharpness and lack of imperfection in their knives. What it does tell us though, in theory, is that Halacha isn’t guided by Rabbi Cardozo’s reason for Shechita.

To be fair, Rabbi Cardozo has repeated an oft used reason that Shechita should be sanctioned by Governments. As Jews though. we do not know the reason for Shechita let alone “one of the functions” of Shechita. One can certainly interpret Shechita in this way, but the issue of “reasons” for Halacha is a matter dealt with and beautifully expounded by the Maharal, who he brings his own view and contrasts it with the diametric views of the Rambam and Ramban. If my memory serves me correctly this centres around the Mishna in Brachos regarding someone who says may God have mercy on this nest.

My opinion on reasons for Mitzvos, is that they are the “sprinkles on the ice cream”. I heard this phraseology from Rabbi Nachman Wilhelm. One can focus and enjoy the sprinkles. The sprinkles, be they chocolate, vanilla or other source, may enhance one’s experience with the ice cream. Despite this, the sprinkles are not the reason the ice cream exists, or is there. They are adornments. One person’s sprinkles are not those of another. The appreciation of the reasoning behind a Mitzvah is subjective. Objectively, though. Halacha has only one reason: רצון עליון … it is the will of Hashem. One may, and should seek meaning and understanding for Mitzvos, but these are not the start, let alone “one of the functions” of a Mitzvah unless explicitly stated (for example, Kibud Am Va’eim tells us one outcome of doing the Mitzvah, and even then we don’t know if that’s the entire story). Reasons are an addendum, they will also inspire many. They will suit some but not others. שבעים פנים בתורה informs us that one may look at a religious concept from a variety of stances. Those stances, however, are not a single truth. They are one of a multitude of ways to understand.

This is accomplished by the many strict laws of shechita in accordance with Halacha. Attacks on this method, by several European countries or political parties, are nothing but expressions of anti-Semitism camouflaged by so-called animal rights arguments. In fact, we see constant and severe violations of these rights in their own abattoirs, where animals are horribly mistreated and sometimes mercilessly killed. In short, this is flagrant hypocrisy.

Rabbi Cardozo is correct here. Anyone who has witnessed Governments that insist on stunning animals at the abattoir knows that there is nothing humane about stunning. Indeed, even the practice of shooting an animal 3-6 seconds after Shechita is rather inane. The animal is dead. It is simply bleeding out the דם הנפש and דם התמצית, after death.

Still, we cannot deny that in our own slaughterhouses, where proper shechita is done, there have been serious violations of another law –- tza’ar baalei chayim (the Torah’s prohibition against inflicting unnecessary pain on animals).

Which “our” is Rabbi Cardozo talking about. I’m not aware of Tzaar Baalei Chayim in Melbourne, Australia. If Rabbi Cardozo wants to point the figure at some Batei Shechita, then Rabbi Cardozo ought to go there and report what he sees to the Rav Hamachshir. I do not know a reputable Rav Hamachshir who would suddenl permit Tzaar Baalei Chayim if they were made aware of it.

How are these animals handled just before the shechita takes place? Are they treated with mercy when they are put on their backs so as to make the shechita easier?

What does “treated with mercy” mean? We are asked not to cause unnecessary pain and cruelty, but I don’t know how one can be merciful when one is about to shecht an animal. The word mercy seems so misplaced. Does Rabbi Cardozo want them to be given a valium shot before they are shechted, in the same way that humans are given various similar drugs prior to surgery? I’m serious here. They will be very calm if they are given such an injection. Does that make the trip to the shechita spot merciful?

(This can easily be accomplished with the known Weinberg Pen, or by other methods.)

Excuse me Rabbi Cardozo, but even Temple Grandin (Grandin is a prominent and widely cited proponent for the humane treatment of livestock for slaughter) states that the Weinberg Pen induces more cortisol in an animal prior to slaughter. On which literature, therefore,  is Rabbi Cardozo basing his comment on?

Grandin states

Stress levels for inverted slaughter with devices known as the Weinberg pen (which are less stressful than shackling and hoisting) have yielded the highest average stress ratings ever published (almost 300% higher than cattle killed in upright pens).

It seems to me that the positioning of the animal and the method of containment prior to Shechita are not the focus of Halacha unless they could induce anything but a quick and clean shechita which does not cause broken bones and the like (e.g. a particular method will likely make the Cow Trayf). It isn’t in the interest of Shechita establishments to have such occurrences. They want to maximise the Kashrus. By all means, if Rabbi Cardozo has a better suggestion than Grandin, he should advise. Here in Melbourne, my understanding is that the cow enters a confined area, its head is raised, shechted, slumps to the ground and then the humanitarian rules of Government state they must be shot in the head (even though they are dead!). This is done by a gentile from a higher vantage point as the Shochet moves to the next animal.

Shechita is slaughter. Those who don’t like it should consider being vegans or vegetarians (except on Shabbos). Rav Kook is rumoured to only have eaten chicken on Shabbos but refrained from meat during the week . Slaughter will never be pristine or pretty. Cortisol levels of any animal that is confined in any way will rise. You can’t give them a Gin and Tonic and expect them to walk into a pen for slaughter with a smile on their face when they would rather be wandering in a paddock.

What if chickens or other fowl are kept under the most unacceptable conditions, such as in overcrowded containers? Are these animals and chickens still kosher, even if the shechita was 100% accurate?

This is a rather dubious halachic statement. One could ask whether the people who manufacture such are transgressing Tzaar B’alei Chaim, but unless Rabbi Cardoso has moved to the conservative camp, everyone knows, that this has no bearing on the kashrus of an animal.

I asked  Mori V’Rabbi Rav Schachter in respect of battery versus free range eggs. He replied that it was permitted to use battery eggs and that this did not qualify halachically as Tzaar. I note though in the same breath that Rav Schachter doesn’t eat the meat of young animals (veal) and I believe Rav Moshe also had issues with such. It doesn’t make them non kosher though!

Since when is the actual shechita more important than the laws of tza’ar baalei chayim?

Since when is Rabbi Cardozo able to decide which halacha is more important? Open up Shulchan Aruch and one will find that the laws of Shechita and the consumption of blood occupy many complex chapters. Does Rabbi Cardozo decide relative importance? It’s not a trade-off. Tzaar B’aalei Chaim is forbidden as is Trayf. It is ingenuous to pitch the two against each other in any way. They are in fact Halachically independent. Neither need be connected in any way to the other.

It seems self-righteous and duplicitous on the part of very religious Jews to insist on glatt kosher shechita, with all its stringencies, when the animals are badly treated prior to shechita, in defiance of Halacha’s requirements.

Glatt is a stringency about the level of perfection of the animal. It is not a necessity. It has absolutely no connection to bad treatment unless that bad treatment would cause it to be non Glatt (unlikely). This is a straw man argument if I’ve ever seen one. Is Rabbi Cardozo going to suggest that those who are happy with non Glatt ultra frum in respect of Tzaar Baalei Chaim?

Are they not as treif (non-kosher) as any other animal that is not slaughtered according to Halacha?

Rabbi Cardozo needs to bring sources not sentiment. The word Treyf is technically defined. The parameters of Tzaar B’aalei Chaim are also listed. They are independent. If Rabbi Cardozo is wanting to link the two, then I suggest he perhaps extrapolates and insists that all Bar Mitzvas where people will drive to Shule on Shabbos be abolished and now be held on Mondays and Thursdays. I hope he isn’t riding on the more populist issues of vegetarianism or veganism. I have a few past students who call me a murderer because I eat meat. They mean it, with vehemence.

Can we hide behind the laws of shechita and then look the other way when the laws of tza’ar baalei chayim are violated? Is that any less hypocritical?

What evidence is there of hiding behind the laws of Shechita! If anything, Rabbi Cardozo is bemoaning the apparent need of people to have meat each day which induces pressures on businesses to have production lines that work quicker. Shechita is a set of confined laws. Tzara Ba’alei Chaim its also a set of confined laws which do not necessarily have anything to do with Shechita. The reality is that there is nothing nice about visiting an abattoir and watching cows shechted for human consumption. It’s not any nicer when they are killed by shooting in the head. Underlying all of Rabbi Cardozo’s writing, is, I believe, this revulsion.

Since the massive growth of the meat industry, in which thousands and thousands of animals are slaughtered daily, it has become more and more difficult, if not impossible, to treat animals humanely, as Jewish law requires.

If this is the case, Rabbi Cardozo, please publish a responsa where you list those abattoirs that you believe use questionable methods. I’m not suggesting you become the Rebbe of PETA, but do to it למען קידוש שמו. Or, set up your own Shechita which is efficient and doesn’t contravene your understanding of Tzaar Baalei Chaim (something you have curiously not elaborated on, from an halachic angle)

The laws of shechita and tzaar ba’alei chayim were meant for Jewish communities who would eat meat occasionally, not for the huge industry we have today where these laws can no longer be properly applied. That being the case, wouldn’t it be appropriate and advisable for religious Jews to become vegetarians?

Where do we see that Shechita was for communities who ate meat occasionally. Did the Torah not foresee advances in animal husbandry and paleo diets? Finally we come to the underlying thesis. Nobody is forced to eat meat! By all means, become vegetarian. Unless you have evidence of Tzaar Ba’alei Chaim according to Halacha, then I’d suggest that casting aspersions on meat eaters is not becoming and furthermore puts them all in the class of sinners. This is a most egregious allegation.

In all honesty, how many of our “glatt kosher” kitchens, including my own, are still truthfully kosher? A haunting question, from which we cannot hide!

Rabbi Cardozo:  don’t hide. Glatt has nothing to do with the issue, and you know it. If you want to start a movement for vegetarianism or veganism because you believe that the scale of slaughter and egg production is unsustainable in a halachically acceptable way, please go ahead. If you want to reduce meat consumption, again, go ahead. There is no problem with that Halachically. Even on Yom Tov, the meat should be fit for Korbanos, so wine is probably what you are left with for Simchas Yom Tov. In the meanwhile, I’d prefer if you didn’t have the quill to suggest that the Rabbi’s I rely on for my meat are transgressing the rules of Tzaar Ba’alei Chaim, when the law of the land is being followed meticulously!

Visit a non Kosher abattoir and see if you feel much better there. It’s not about Glatt. I doubt you’d feel comfortable seeing animals killed, period, for human consumption. That’s fine with me. But … please don’t dress this up in Halachic garb. If you do, without anymore than “feelings” then your blog post will be accused of being a conservative or reform view of Judaism, something which is shallow from an Orthodox intellectual perspective.

Author: pitputim

I've enjoyed being a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia, as well as band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel and later in life at Machon L'Hora'ah, Yeshivas Halichos Olam.

2 thoughts on “Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo: lurching to the left”

  1. What you say may be true and at the heart of the halacha as brought down in the codes, however the philosophical justification may be different.
    Furthermore, justifying shechita to a non-Jewish audience, governmental panel or even the lay Jewish community may require a softer more diplomatic and acquiescent approach.
    Rabbi Cardozo would not be the first to describe Shechita as the most humane and painless form of animal slaughter. In fact I had the honour of hearing Rabbi Chaim Gutnick speak about Shechita in the most glowing terms which did indeed include the terms humane, painless and quick (in terms of the onset of unconsciousness to the animal.) He also praised the work and skill of the shochet and related that their ‘art’ was akin to a doctor rather than that of a butcher or slaughterer!
    No doubt Rabbi Cardozo’s opinions are coloured by his background and the institution he represents, but we shouldn’t dismiss his views just because of this, rather judging them on their merits.
    So long as he doesn’t preach and teach out and out denial of Torah and halacha we shouldn’t decry his efforts to inform his audience. If he were representing orthodox views then perhaps his utterance would be more circumspect. Until then, the more people that exercise their abilities to inform the Jewish world especially their own ‘constituency the better.


    1. I understand what you say, and I understand the diplomacy is needed for the אומות העולם however in a JEWISH blog post, I only see fidelity to pure halocho. Rabbi Cardozo has also shown other signs of lurching to the left in his advocacy of not wearing a Yarmulka. He is an honest man but I believe his philosophical reasoning is guiding his halachic statements on Times of Israel and I consider that dangerous. I’d rather see a call for checking צער בעלי חיים but to link it to כשרות is not an Orthodox view expressed by any Poskim!


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