January 9th, 2022
By Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe Bernhard
The process by which an animal is turned into food has two stages.
One stage begins when the animal is born up until it is taken to be slaughtered. The next stage commences from the moment it enters the slaughterhouse until the moment it passes final rabbinic inspection.
“Tza’ar ba’alei chaim/unnecessary suffering of living creatures” is the standard for the first stage. “Kosher/fit to eat” is the standard for the second.
We pay almost exclusive attention to this second stage and whether or not the animal, now turned into food, is kosher or not. Hence, when an animal is slaughtered improperly by Jewish law, it is classified as “unkosher/unfit.”
But consider the following, when an animal is raised improperly by Jewish law, i.e. when we who are responsible for caring for the animal fail and cause unnecessary suffering, what is its classification?
To date I have not found one.
So, until corrected, let me suggest one: treif.
In common parlance, treif means anything not kosher. But originally the meaning was narrower. We read, “Flesh torn (treifah) in the field, you shall not eat;…(Exodus 22:30) Hence an animal mauled is forbidden to be eaten. In fact, the meat of animals that die of other causes, natural or otherwise, is also forbidden.
Building on this, early rabbis and teachers determine that the flesh of an animal that has not died of its wounds, but will soon enough, even if someone performed proper ritual slaughter before it dies, such an animal is considered torn/treifah.
The treatment of the animals in the factory farm system fails the standard of “tza’ar ba’alei chaim/unnecessary suffering of living creatures.” The level of efficiency towards which the factory farm drives is inherently incompatible with our animal welfare obligations as understood by Jewish tradition. These animals, though not inherently treif, become so as they or their products are turned into food, because of how they are treated. They are literally and figuratively torn; they are the definition of, treif
This affects almost all the meat, dairy and eggs we consume under the label “kosher.”
They are the opposite.
They are treif.
Saying these food products are fit for consumption is like asking the following:
If a pig is slaughtered according to Jewish law/halacha, is it kosher?