Ritual Slaughter
An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org


Phenomenological Analysis of Obscured Events on Visual Statistics

I was first intrigued by the ritual slaughter of animals while one of my students from Saudi Arabia invited me to a family dinner. The main dish was served with a pair of eyes, situated in its middle. The host talked about how he personally selected the lamb, prayed, and, after quieting the lamb by gently striking her neck, cut her throat. Then he casually leaned toward the dish, retrieved one of the lamb's eyes, and inserted it into his mouth.

Enlarged Logo of the Halal Products

Halal and Kosher Products

The halal and kosher markets covers almost 100,000 products in the United States worth about $100 billion. The halal and kosher products are certified by various Muslim authorities and rabbinical commissions on a year-to-year basis for a fee that is contractually kept secret. The enlarged logo of the halal-certified food products is shown in the above picture. Most (but not all) kosher products are marked with small circled U or K. The discussion that follows pertains only to the meat obtained by the religious slaughter of animals.

Secular Slaughterhouses vs. Religious Abattoirs

After the mechanical stunning equipment was first developed in the 1920s rendering the animal unconscious, it was shortly afterwards adapted as the national standard by secular, but not by the Islamic (halal) and Jewish (kosher) slaughterhouses. In these religious abattoirs, butchers follow rituals prescribed by their respective religions which differ in details, however, both the Islamic and the Judaist rituals require that the neck of the slaughtered animal must be cut while the animal is fully conscious.

The cage

During the ritual slaughter, after the neck's arteries and trachea are cut, the still conscious animal is bled to death. In the major religious slaughterhouses in the United States, cattle is prodded into a rotating cage, their necks are slid open, and their bodies are thrown on the abattoir's floor on the other side of the rotating drum. There some calves and cows regain their feet. With blood streaming out of their severed arteries and and with tracheae and esophagi hanging out, they roam the blood soaked premises of the slaughterhouse before they succumb to their wounds.

The Hoist

The rotating cage was hailed as the major humane improvement of the ritual animal slaughter, as before the cattle was hang by the hind leg and forced to raise the head to expose its neck. The hoist was operated until the steer was hanging suspended by the leg with its face partly on the floor. The slaughterhouse worker turned the hose on the animal's face and neck and then the butcher's assistant plunged both his hands into the steer's eyes until the eyes were displaced by being pushed back into the head. He then grasped the sides of the eye sockets and held the animal that way while the man who performs the kosher slaughter stepped forward to cut the steer's throat. The hoist was then operated again until the animal's head was several feet from the floor and the animal was moved along the motor driven line, hanging head downward, its full body weight suspended by the shackled hind leg. When the convulsing body of the animal reached the end of the rotating hoist, it was dumped on the floor.

The Rod

When the butchers in the religious abattoirs had difficulties with an animal to be slaughtered, they forced a long heavy stick into its rectum, as his immobilizes the animal, making its spine to arch.

But can they suffer?

The controversy about animal suffering has a long history. In his Summa Theologica (1267-1273) Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) maintains that the killing of animals is in congruence with Biblical precepts and concludes that

‘God does not ask humans what they do with their oxen and other animals.’

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), an intellectual heir of David Hume, incisive and compassionate, in his famous polemics against Saint Thomas Aquinas concludes that the question is not whether animals can think, but can they suffer?


Some countries as e.g., Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland, banned the ritual slaughter of animals. In the Great Britain, the British Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) reporting to the government, certified that the way Halal and Kosher meat is produced causes severe suffering to animals. Owners of both the Halal and Kosher slaughterhouses, rabbis, Muslim clerics and their congregations, decried the FAWC recommendation that this particular torture of animals should be outlawed. In the United States, the the animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released a DVD, capturing the religious slaughter of cattle at the AgriProcessors plant in Iowa that can be viewed at PETA's site. These humanitarian efforts were resolutely opposed by the Muslim and Jewish religious organizations. The Muslims claimed that people who oppose these ritual slaughters are influenced by the contemporary anti-Islamic social climate while the religious Jewish communities argued that their opponents are anti-Semitic, self-hating Jews, or Hitler-sympathizers.


Describing the kosher slaughter, Rabbi Doniel Shur of the Heights Jewish Center Synagogue asserts that the kosher way of slaughtering is so fast, it totally takes in the jugular vein and the nerves that the animal is totally unaware of what is happening.

He attributes the PETA charges to anti-Semitism. "100% anti-Semitism" he says. Rabbi Gersion Appel at the Jewish Learning site adds that

Administering electric shock to an animal prior to shehitah [kosher slaughtering] is prohibited, because it incapacitates the animal and renders it a trefah [animal unfit to eat]. It is forbidden to eat the meat of such an animal. The prohibition extends, as well, to administering an  anesthetic, in the form of a drug and the like, since it may endanger the health and life of the animal and render it trefah prior to shehitah.

On the other side of this controversy, Rabbi Eugen Kullman, Vice President, Friends of Animals Society proclaims that

we are united against the slaughter of conscious animals, consider it a horror in itself, and an abomination when coupled with the vicious devices used to restrain conscious livestock. We have nothing to gain, neither on earth nor in heaven, by slaughtering G-d's creatures
while they are conscious.

The Agony of Dying

When I perused studies on the shehitah slaughter, there were several issues that strained my credulity. I also remembered that my father, a physician who had to act as a coroner at every suicide in his rural district consisting of over thirty villages, once told me that during his 40-years practice he witnessed suicide by cutting carotid arteries only once. That lead me to look-up studies on the agony of human suicide, as these studies are not likely affected by either monetary grants or by religious beliefs pertaining to halal or kosher slaughter of animals. There are several studies on this issue, among them the study by Rhyne, et al. (1995) Dimensions of suicide: perceptions of lethality, time, and agony. In this study, a group of pathologists was asked to rate the time to death (in minutes) and the agony of dying. The agony of dying was rated by using scale that ranged from 0 (painless) to 100 (excruciating). Results of this study are listed in the tableTable1.

Table 1.
Ratings of the agony of dying

The agony of death by cutting the throat was rated by medical experts only second to that by burning. In secular slaughterhouses the animals are rendered unconscious by firing a bolt into the animal's head, corresponding to the 'gunshot to head' method in the Table 1. The duration of dying (Figure 1, in minutes) and the agony of dying (Figure 2, on a 0-100 scale) of these methods of slaughter are visualized in the below figures.

Figure 1.
The duration of dying in secular and in religious abattoirs

Figure 2.
The agony of dying in secular and in religious abattoirs

This study is instructive with respect to methodology of the visual statistics, as the 'scientific' studies of topics related to ideology and religion are frequently biased. The shehitah apologists frequently quote published studies claiming that cut into the throat is next to painless and extinguishes the life quickly. Rabbi Tzvi Weinreb asserts that 'kosher slaughtering has been proven over centuries and in scientific studies to be a humane process.'

The fact that a study is published in a scientific journal does not per se guarantee the veracity of the reported results. Thus, e.g., Sir Ronald Fisher, who was a recipient of numerous research grants from the tobacco companies, published studies that smoking tobacco is not detrimental to health. As commented by Ludwig Feuerbach in his Essence of Christianity (1841), 'whenever morality is based on theology, whenever right is made dependent on divine authority, the most immoral and unjust things can be justified and established.'


Rhyne, et al. (1995) Dimensions of suicide: perceptions of lethality, time, and agony. Suicide & Life Threatening Behavior, 25(3), 373-380.

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