Thursday, November 18, 2021

Does Shechitah Prove Torah MiSinai?

There have been many attempts to prove the Divine Origins of Torah using "scientific" arguments. As a young yeshiva student I automatically believed them, until an outreach organization asked me to research and defend the validity of one of them (the "Four Animals Proof.") Much to my horror, I discovered that it wasn't actually valid. The turmoil that this put me through convinced me that is is very foolish and dangerous to try to prove the truth of Torah with arguments that do not withstand scrutiny.

Several people sent me a beautifully-produced video which presents a new such argument. It goes like this: The physiology of all kosher animals is uniquely different from that of non-kosher animals. In kosher animals, both the carotid and vertebral arteries run at the front of the neck, and are thus slit along with the trachea and esophagus during shechitah. This ensures that the animals immediately lose blood flow to the brain and die a swift and painless death. What human could have known about this, thousands of years ago? It's proof of the Divine Origins of Torah.

Unfortunately, this argument is seriously flawed, on at least three counts.

First is that the argument doesn't even make any sense. Kosher animals are all, by definition, split-hooved ruminants. These common characteristics reflect the fact that they are all on the same branch of the mammalian family tree. Accordingly, they also happen to share other characteristics. For instance, while there is a halachic debate about whether shofars can be made from non-kosher animals, in practice you don't need to be worried about your shofar coming from a non-kosher animal. The reason for this is that kosher animals are the only ones that have hollow horns! This is not something amazing - it just reflects the fact that animals on the same branch of the (evolutionary) tree share the same characteristics. The Gemara points out other characteristics that these animals all happen to share, regarding their dental and muscular structure. And so if these animals all have the carotid and vertebral arteries in the same position, this would likewise simply be another consequence of their being in the same family, which happens to have a fortuitous benefit.

The second problem with this argument is that the laws of shechitah are not about cutting the carotid and vertebral arteries; they are about cutting the trachea and esophagus. If you can cut the latter without the former, the shechitah is perfectly valid. In fact, this argument sets up a dangerous false premise, that shechitah is painless. At a time when shechitah is under threat in many countries, we must not defend it with false claims. Shechitah is not utterly painless. However, it is minimally painful (when done properly), which is justifiable to maintain an important Jewish law.

The third problem with this argument is that it's not actually true! Kosher animals do not all have their carotid and vertebral arteries running through the front of their neck. The video shows a diagram of how this looks with sheep and goats, and contrasts them with pigs. But sheep and goats are not the only kosher animals! With cattle, this is not the case. To quote from a veterinary handbook dealing with methods of euthanasia:

In sheep and goats, the throat cut may be used as the primary method of euthanasia if a captive bolt or firearm is unavailable. This is severing the carotid arteries with a throat cut completely interrupting the supply of arterial blood to the brain. Pre-injection with xylazine is recommended if available. The throat cut should not be used as a primary method of killing cattle. In cattle, bleeding is a follow-up procedure, only to be used on unconscious animals after a firearm, captive bolt or blunt trauma have been used. This is because cattle have two different sources of arterial blood supply to the brain: the carotid arteries and the vertebral arteries. The vertebral arteries are enclosed in the spinal canal at the anterior neck and are not severed when the throat is cut. 

You can also read a more technical description at this link. And as Temple Grandin points out, this difference between cattle and sheep unfortunately means that cattle, especially calves, can remain conscious for several minutes after shechitah. (I wish to stress again that this is not a reason to oppose shechitah. Such suffering in death is negligibly minimal compared to the suffering in life that modern farmed animals undergo.) According to the video's explicitly stated premise, that it would be forbidden to do shechita if there is still blood flow to the brain, this would mean that it is forbidden to shecht cattle!

Now, it's not particularly difficult to find out that cattle and sheep are different in this regard. It's all available via a Google search. It's very frustrating when people make claims that they haven't even bothered to research. It's negligent and irresponsible.

Whoever made the video probably believes that they are performing a great service for Jewish faith. Alas, they are not. As Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 2:16) says: "when the fallacy of proofs is demonstrated, faith in the proposition itself is weakened." Be careful what you claim!

(On a completely different note: If you are traveling from NY or NJ to Israel, or even better, if you are making a lift, and can bring some amazing model Noah's Arks for a new exhibit at the Biblical Museum of Natural History, please be in touch!)

(If you'd like to subscribe to this blog via email, use the form on the right of the page, or send me an email and I will add you.) 



82 comments:

  1. I agree with this. Many countries want to ban shechitah but it is painless, or almost painless and safer for everyone and more humane. We need to show respect for animals. I do not know why the gentile nations want to ban this when one of the seven laws of Noah is that they should show respect to animals. And in doing so (showing respect, allow shechitah for kosher slaughtering).

    I did not know that the animals did not feel pain. I read in a book by Rabbi Zamir Cohen of Hidabroot that shechitah was painless. I did not know this was misleading or ignorant of the science and facts. Thank you for correcting this ignorant belief.

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    1. It's sure a lot more painless than the supposed oh-so-humane alternative of "stunning," which is a pleasant euphemism for the extremely bloody and error-prone process (shooting the back of the head with a captive bolt gun- or, shockingly, "blunt trauma") described in this very post.

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    2. It's always been known (or surmised) that the animals feel pain (and shock). Furthermore, anyone who has seen the slaughter of animals (I recall them as a child in Africa when my father - for some reason - took me to the shochet and saw chickens slaughtered.)

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    3. Shmuel: "one of the seven laws of Noah is that they should show respect to animals."

      AFIK, no such thing. Fascinating that no one pointed this out over the past few days.

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    4. It's a meshugas, among many in this discussion.

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  2. I was always struck by the halacha that so long as the shechita knife is smooth, one may saw at the neck for hours until the shechita is complete. Doesn't seem humane to me.

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  3. Has anyone ever gone through chulin and cataloged the presumptions concerning physiology and psychology?
    kt

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    1. I've actually gone through Shas cataloging such presumptions (although I can't guarantee that I caught them all, of course). marbitz.com/science.pdf

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  4. “The turmoil that this put me through convinced me that is is very foolish and dangerous to try to prove the truth of Torah with arguments that do not withstand scrutiny.” And there are arguments that do withstand scrutiny ? Like Jewish people survival and Torah -Tenach prophecy ? DA

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  5. All the proofs that I am aware of for the divine nature of the Torah or Koran or Christianity only work due to ignorance and lack of critical thinking. But the ‘proofs’ may help relieve anxiety of the mass of believers by assuring them that their religion really really is rational and even provable. Especially when proofs are delivered by charismatic authoritarian figures, individuals with PHD in their titles and respected Theologians. ACJA

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  6. Is it possible (physically and halachically) to cut the vertebral artery after the initial shechita cut, thus causing the cow to actually become immediately unconscious?

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  7. Your first argument is a bit weakened by the existence of convergent evolution. If one were inclined, one could claim proof of the veracity of Judaism because, miraculously, no non-kosher species have independently developed whatever Characteristic X is being discussed.

    The rest of the post I agree with wholeheartedly. I remember being horrified at a שו"ת סלולרי from Rav Aviner in 2014. Somebody asked why, if all of Israel were praying for the safe return of the three kidnapped teenagers, charedim and datiim and chilonim together, did God not grant their prayers. Rav Aviner responded that it was because the teenagers were already dead and therefore it was a תפילת שווא. I felt that was setting up the questioner to leave the faith when God inevitably refused to grant some future prayer that *wasn't* שווא.

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    1. Yehudah Waxman, the father of Nachshon Waxman הי"ד (who was kidnapped and killed by Hamas) was asked "what about all of the people that prayed for your son's safe return? It seems G-d didn't answer their prayers." He responded, "G-d did answer. The answer was 'no'."

      I guess it has more force when that kind of response comes from a bereaved parent, than when it comes from a Charedi apologist.

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    2. Tragic as Nachshon's story was, I think that "Hashem answered no" line is quite old. I have seen it in several books, with the line put into the mouths of little girls and Gedolim alike.

      It's still a good line, though.

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    3. But that is unquestionably the correct answer: God said no. He does that sometimes. We don't always know why and shouldn't invest too much time trying to guess.

      My problem with Rav Aviner is that he strongly implied in his answer that there are types of prayer to which God will *never* say no. Which is a very dangerous, not to mention false, claim.

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    4. How ridiculous and sad that people still exist who think there is a knowable God considering requests and choosing to intervene here and there but not in other places.

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    5. And this idea (God answering "no") is hardly new or novel. We read the same thing every year at Yom Kippur with the story of the Ten Martyrs. Over there, even the angels are begging God to change His mind and He responds with a very emphatic "no".

      So why should it seem strange when some of our prayers today for (hopefully) much lesser things are sometimes also answered with "no"?

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    6. How ridiculous and sad that people still exist who think that everything is understandable by their puny brain.
      How ridiculous and sad that people judge God by their own standards, and judge others who understand better.

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  8. Which nevu'ah provably written after an event uniquivocally predicted the event?

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  9. I once cut myself with a chalaf and didn't realise until I saw a trail if blood.

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  10. It's unnecessarily sectarian in this popular, unacademic context to cause hurt by questioning Tora mi'Sinai.

    I fully accept the veracity of that premise but don't see any reason for provocative clickbait on a very deeply held aspect of many people's religious identity.

    The only acceptable reason to do so is to prevent harm to others, such as gay men whose sexuality is not as a matter of historical fact an abomination to the divine.

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    1. That's two posts in a row where you've raised the entirely unconnected issue of the gays. Keep going.

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    2. The linkage is obvious to anyone born into a family who professing acceptance of Tora miSinai and who either is gay, or has gay family members.

      I am aware that as well as issues of race, you get very triggered by issues of homosexuality. My advice to you is that if you don't wish to defame yourself as a homophobe, your best course of action is likely to be zipping it.

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    3. Oh no! Another slur! You've got me quaking in my boots.

      I am aware that as well as issues of race, you get very triggered by issues of homosexuality. My advice to you is that if you don't wish to defame yourself as a deviant, your best course of action is likely to be zipping it.

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    4. You can have your fun with the cruel frisson of trolling non white and non heterosexual people for their inate characteristics on the internet, or you can have self respect and a productive role in society. You can't have both.

      So what if I am gay? You don't believe in Noah's ark, but you do believe that I should be stoned because since bronze age tribal manuscript says it's a sin?

      I'm not gay but that is not the point.

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    5. Really, you should embrace your identity, not try to disguise it. It's 2021, after all, not the Bronze Age. (I think you mean Iron Age, but whatever.)

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  11. Is egloh erufah and melikah painless?

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    1. Melika probably is almost painless, as the spinal cord I think would be severed. However, it does seem kinda gross to take the freshly dead bird who still has its head hanging down and wipe it on the mizbeyach (as opposed to how it was done with larger animals, ie catching the blood in a bowl and then sprinkling the blood from there - granted, it's much harder to do that with a small bird...)

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  12. Do fish feel pain when bashed on the head?

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  13. "In fact, this argument sets up a dangerous false premise, that shechitah is painless."

    Do you have any basis for this, or this just another "fact" made up in the Name of "holy" science?

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    1. Do you have any basis for claiming that shechitah is painless, or is this just another "fact" made up in the Name of Holy Torah?

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    2. Both are factless statements, just be truthful regardless.

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  14. On a more fundamental note, faith is inherently unprovable, and attempts to "prove God" and the like are therefore doomed to fail. I just don't the obsession with these proofs as being productive or healthy.

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    1. Joseph: Great point. I wish there was a "like" button I could click on.

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    2. It is one of the greatest obsessions of kiruv movements like Aish.

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    3. @Meir Moses I know that. I just don't see the point or find it to be a good use of time or effort. If I want proofs of God that don't stand up to scrutiny I can always read Aquinas. Not sure why the kiruv world has gone so all-in on it though.

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  15. First, there is an opinion in Gemara that proper shechita demands cutting of veins, and this opinion was rejected by majority of the Sages. Hence our Sages did not care about quick bleeding.
    Second, Gemara says in another place: "What matters a cow to be slaughtered at a neck or at a tail? But the commandments weren't issued to purpose other than purifying (human) souls." Indeed, the purpose of the commandments is highly arguable issue, but no one says to the Sage there: no, we're obligated to care about animals feelings.
    Therefore the point of the mentioned video is a nonsense in its core.

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    1. @brodsky See Guide for the Perplexed 3:26 where Rambam indeed basically says that.

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  16. This an example of this blog being anti-anti-rationalism. Why are we debunking the proponents of these ideas instead of offering apologetic arguments that do hold weight?

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  17. Nobody can possibly figure this out. Just be a good and honest man like Noach, learn a good rationalist sefer like Chovos Halevovos and don't sweat these discussions for which there is no final answer. Was a kangaroo 🦘 in the Ark? Who knows? Nobody knows. Enjoy the story, enjoy the religion and don't sweat the meshugasen, which abound on all sides. Humans need religion and there is no sense in belittling it, so why undermine what we have with meshugasen? Leave the kangaroo alone. Read שער הבחינה and you find plenty of proof of the Almighty having created the world and still running it.

    Is shchita painless? Like who cares so much? This is our tradition and when we can we follow the principle of ברור לו מיתה יפה. Is סקילה painless? These are crazy chakiros, mates. The point is not to commit those averois and they worry about the painless death? This is just absurd.

    All religions have preachers that say weird stuff. This should be obvious by now.

    This whole derech of zeroing on various meshugasen that people say and discussing them till nobend is a sure way to kfira. I wouldn't even be gores these meshugasen.



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  18. Simple question- where dos rationality draw the line? Rationally speaking, based on archaeology and other academic studies Avrohom never existed, nor Moshe and the Exodus. So why believe? I respect Dr Rabbi Farber for being truly intellectually honest

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    1. CZ: The answer to your question "why believe?" is that each individual must answer the question for themselves. For some, the answer may be to stop believing, while for others the answer may be to accept the truth of science as rational and reasonable, while also having FAITH that there is a Supreme Being who created and guides the the world to whom we are commanded to worship. I believe that this approach is called "zeh l'chud v'zeh l'chud". I personally think that the third approach of rejecting the rationality of science is nonsensical and childish.

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    2. CZ: The answer to your question "why believe?" is that each individual must answer the question for themselves. For some, the answer may be to stop believing, while for others the answer may be to accept the truth of science as rational and reasonable, while also having FAITH that there is a Supreme Being who created and guides the the world to whom we are commanded to worship. I believe that this approach is called "zeh l'chud v'zeh l'chud". I personally think that the third approach of rejecting the rationality of science is nonsensical and childish.

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    3. I think you are misunderstanding my statement. It was not meant as what’s the point or what do you gain or just plain why. My point is that if someone it a pure rationalist I don’t see how he believes in the Torah. Your point about there being a Creator or a Supreme Being has nothing to do with following the mitzvos of the Torah, which is difficult to reconcile with rationality.

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    4. Rationality l’chud and faith l’chud. You believe in science and you do mitzvot because H’commanded you.

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    5. You are correct. Following the mitzvot of the Torah IS difficult to reconcile with rationality. That is the meaning of “zeh l’chud v’ zeh l'chud”.

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    6. Not sure who "Rabbi Dr. Farber" is or what he has to do with anything, but if you don't see any reason to believe, then you also have no reason to identify with a religious figure. And if that person isn't actually teaching or promoting the Jewish religion (and thus you like him) then he has no right to go around calling himself a rabbi.

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    7. Farber is an Orthodox Jew who also began working on rational thought and as time went on and he studied more, he realized that it doesn’t add up. Although he still keeps torah and mitzvos he admits that certain things can not rationally be true. You have to ask him why he is still orthodox but at least he’s intellectually honest as opposed to this blog that chooses to only discuss the items that makes chareidim seem very irrational

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    8. "he admits certain things can not rationally be true" - What "things" do you mean - that Moshe didnt wear a black hat?

      Be honest. If the things he disbelieves are anything of significance, then he shouldn't go around calling himself a rabbi. I well understand his internal angst. But the honest answer is not to twist Judaism into something that fits his beliefs (if he's really even sure of them, which I doubt - I know they type). The answer is to leave the rabbinate.

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    9. For the record I don’t care what people do or practice or how they reconcile their contradictions but once we’re having a conversation; How about the fact that Moshe and Avrohom are fictional characters or that the Exodus never happened amd if you’re not aware of these standard academia points based on history, archaeology etc then please leave the discussion

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    10. (Following on previous comment) Wouldn't this be the right thing to do for *everyone* in Farber's position? There are plenty of businessmen and professionals who give occasional classes, teach daf yomi, write scholarly articles, etc. Many of such men actually have semicha, but don't hold themselves out publicly as Rabbis. I respect that.

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    11. My point is not to comment about Farber. I only used him as an example of someone who is quite well known who also began with the standard rational way of explaining mitzvos etc and then allowed his research to follow through all the way and not remain only with the topics he’s comfortable with

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  19. How do you make up such stuff that animals experience pain during schitah?
    Any evidence or just conjecture.

    As a matter of fact, Rabbi Meir Levinger published a book on the morality of schitah. In it he presents scientific evidence that animals don't indeed experience feelings!

    Studies were done showing animals licking blood from a schitah knife!

    Natan, you should research this yourself before jumping to conjecture.

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    1. Feelings and pain are two very different things. To say that animals don't feel pain is ridiculous.

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    2. Read the book.

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    3. If all it says is what you wrote, why should I?

      Would you kick random cats on the street? Why not?

      Do you know what the "tzaar" in "tzaar baalei chaim" means? I can make a list of halakhot if you want.

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    4. Wow, so I read that article and it says *nothing* you claim it does. Incredible.

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    5. Anyone who's ever heard a hurt dog whimpering in pain knows it's ridiculous to say animals don't feel pain.

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  20. Whether the animal experiences pain or not is wholly irrelevant to anything. It is not a tenet of Judaism. Most probably it does experience some momentary flash of pain before death - the same as any animal experiences before slaughter, regardless of method. It is only urban 20th century on man who could engage in such foolish discussion, being so divorced from the realities of how his food and his clothing come into being.
    Accordingly, shechitah needs no specific "defense", because the grounds of anyone who wishes to ban it is not rooted in logic or fact, but in anti-semitism. One has to be the naivest of fools to think otherwise.

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    1. Or they're doctrinaire vegetarians.

      But short of that, you're right. There's no beautiful, clean, completely painless way to kill an animal. We should try, but not imagine we're going to make it.

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    2. OK - but I do recall grwoing up and being told by Rabbonim that Shechitah is painless ergo 'the most humane form of slaughter' (it isn't) - just like I was taught to believe that post shechting salting and treatment of meat to remove blood, does not, in fact remove blood (much, but not all).

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    3. Meir Moses - no one is ever "taught to believe" that shechitah is painless, its not on the curriculum of any school in the world. You may have "heard" it, the same way we all hear a dozen things every day that are wrong, false, or exaggerated. An intelligent person should have enough daas to understand that things he hears as a child or teen presented of necessity in black and white terms, often contain shades of gray. He should also have enough daas to realize that things he hears as a biased adult are also often false. Believe what you want to believe.

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    4. @A. Schreiber, the producers of the video are the naivest of fools?

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  21. "As part of my research, I did an EEG on animals to monitor brain activity during the shechitah process,” explains Rabbi Levinger. “It showed that the animals registered no change in brain activity at all. That’s because the knife is so sharp that it cuts painlessly, and the animal loses consciousness in less than one and a half seconds after shechitah due to blood loss.

    “And people claim that animals are scared of shechitah,” he adds. “But I once showed a bloody knife to some cows and they didn’t react — one even
    licked the blood.”
    https://mishpacha.com/rabbinically-vetted/

    Rabbi Levinger is a zoologist

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    1. Natan, where is your public retraction? Holy science says animals don't experience pain during schitah. Fellow zoologist says so, where is the respect?!

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    2. Does Rabbi Levinger as a zoologist know what pain looks like in an EEG (in humans it's a very small percentage frequency down shift in most of the known waves).

      Nobody will ever know because instead of publishing a full article on his research Rabbi Levinger gave a throwaway quote which it is impossible to assign any weight to whatsoever.

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    3. On the other hand, you can read what Temple Grandin, who is a specialist in cow behavior and slaughter- and who is actually very pro-shechita- says about what cows think about slaughter. It's very different, and she should know.

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    4. That is correct. And Levinger is a real-live *trained* zoologist. Not just an amateur, like some people.

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    5. Zoologists, respectfully, have as much professional interest in EEG machines as, say, dentists.

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    6. "Holy science says animals don't experience pain during schitah. Fellow zoologist says so, where is the respect?!"

      I don't think you understand what "science" means.

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  22. Really enjoying this series of posts - informative, and non-chareidi-bashing.

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  23. So I have seen several studies that have looked at pain die to slaughter. A lay piece summarising one such study can be found here
    https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17972-animals-feel-the-pain-of-religious-slaughter/

    Note the following:
    - "if the animal is concussed through stunning, signals corresponding to pain disappear.
    - The team first cut calves’ throats in a procedure matching that of Jewish and Muslim slaughter methods. They detected a pain signal lasting for up to 2 minutes after the incision. When their throats are cut, calves generally lose consciousness after 10 to 30 seconds, sometimes longer.

    -Finally, they stunned animals 5 seconds after incision and showed that this makes the pain signal disappear instantly.

    Read more: https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17972-animals-feel-the-pain-of-religious-slaughter/#ixzz7CvkITXXi

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    1. For an alternative source (although not a primary research paper)

      https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/11/4/1085/pdf

      "Pain at the Slaughterhouse in Ruminants with a Focus on the
      Neurobiology of Sensitisation"

      "Bozzo et al. (2018) [79] compared the plasma
      cortisol and catecholamine concentrations of 60 Charolais male beef cattle slaughtered
      following either traditional method (with stunning prior to neck-cutting) or the Kosher
      method. They evaluated three stages: on- farm, post-transport and exsanguination, with the finding that whilst on farm and post-transport cortisol and catecholamine levels were
      low, during exsanguination the levels of both substances were 50% higher in the animals slaughtered by the Kosher method than in those stunned prior to slaughter"

      The data reported here shows that after the shechita, there is a release of adrenaline, indicative of a fear response.

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    2. Pretty incredible that you rely on a report sponsored by PETA!

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    3. @David, why? Both of these studies use empirical measures of pain. If you think the data is suspect, simply replicate the experiment.

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    4. Where am I going to get 60 Charolais male beef cattle to replicate the experiment?

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    5. @Yossie, "...simply replicate the experiment...."

      Rabbi Levinger sort of did, and got opposite results than the PETA studies. (Not that I would know which one to believe.)

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    6. @anonymous: I did a literature search yesterday to try to find the study by Rabbi Levinger. I couldn't. If you have the citation where the data was published (and not merely the conclusion) I would be very interested to read it.

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    7. @Avraham: Perhaps visit an abattoir.

      But Avraham, that wasn't the criticism. The criticism I was responding to was relying on research that was supported by PETA - which is a genuine concern regarding impartiality. The solution of which is to replicate the experiment and see if the data presented is replicable.

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  24. "What human could have known about this, thousands of years ago? It's proof of the Divine Origins of Torah."

    You forgot one more disproof of the 'Proof'. Why wouldn't a deeply agricultural society (as all societies were back then) have known this?

    ReplyDelete

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