Drash on Parashat Mishpatim
Rabbi Adi Cohen
Temple David, Perth
"Aba, would you rather be eaten by one lion or be eaten by five wolves? Aba, would you rather never drink coffee ever again or drink only coffee for the rest of your life?".
My children are now in the "would you rather..." phase.
Most of their questions are quite complicated and in most cases are forcing me to choose between two evils. An ethical dilemma by definition.
Would you rather eat a kosher cage-raised chicken or would you rather eat a free range non-kosher chicken?
The first question – of a cage-raised chicken versus a free-range one – is a very contemporary one. But the treatment of animals is not. In the Babylonian Talmud, we find this account:
A calf that was being brought to slaughter shoved its head under the corner of Rabbi's garment and began mooing woefully. Rabbi, however, sent him off, saying, "For that you were created." For this act he was punished measure for measure: since he had not had mercy on the calf, it was decreed that he suffer many years of torment. His healing was also measure for measure. Since, many years later, he had mercy on the litter of a rat and did not allow his maid-servant to sweep them out of the house, Heaven had mercy on him and his torment disappeared. (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metzia 85a; Jerusalem Talmud, Kilayim 9.3).
In the halakhic-ethical discussion of whether cruelty to animals is prohibited by the Torah or only by the Rabbis, most rabbi's from earlier times held it to be a commandment mi-d'oraitha, A Torah law. Both are in agreement that it is forbidden. Most of the commentators and Poskim base this point of view on the commandment that appears in our Parasha: "When you see the ass of your enemy lying under its burden and would refrain from raising it, you must nevertheless raise it with him" (Ex. 23:5, and similarly Deut. 22:4).
Fragments from our Jewish tradition reveal a compassionate attitude towards animals, viewing them as creatures to be treated with consideration. The reason given in our Parasha for Sabbath observance is : "in order that your ox and your ass may rest, and that your bondman and the stranger may be refreshed" (Ex. 23:12).
Sensitivity to the needs of animals can be found through the whole Torah: "You shall not muzzle an ox while it is threshing" (Deut. 25:4); "You shall not plow with an ox and an ass together"(Deut. 22:10); "However, no animal from the herd or from the flock shall be slaughtered on the same day with its young" (Lev. 22:28);; "If, along the road, you chance upon a bird's nest, ... do not take the mother together with her young. Let the mother go, and take only the young" (Deut. 22:6-7).
Now back to the choice of eating a kosher cage-raised chicken or a free range non-kosher chicken: which would you rather eat?
In a perfect world some would say be vegetarian, some will answer a kosher free-range chicken. Another answer can be: eat fish.
Meanwhile, many Jewish families today are facing this dilemma.
Shechita Ksherah is a mitzvah, the prohibition over animal cruelty is a mitzvah, to roll and to govern the earth is a mitzvah, to work and to sustain the earth is a mitzvah.
Ethical Kashrut considers the workers rights, how the animal was raised and fed and considers the the ecological footprints of the whole proses. Ethical Kashrut considers the quality of life of the animals, not only their health during the approximate time of slaughter.
One of the reasons for Shechita Kshera is to prevent from the animal un-necessary pain and agony.
Each choice comes with a price.
Choosing a non-kosher free-range chicken simply means that it is not kosher. Choosing a kosher cage chicken is a silent support in an industry of food that too many times involves cruelty to the animals.
For some there is no question, for some there is a real dilemma. Time to consider your answer.