I hadn't noticed that America's largest kosher meat processor has been recently plagued by scandal, though an Orthodox friend tells me that this is huge news in the kosher community. Apparently, it's created quite a shortage of kosher meat. A big part of the controversy is the slaughter practices, which, at least according to PETA activists, violate the spirit if not the letter of kashrut.

I wonder if this doesn't have some connection to the weekend's discussion of rules-vs-principles based regulation. Kosher law is incredibly detailed, in part because rabbis were trying to do what my religious studies professor called "building a wall around the torah"--setting up one's life so that it is almost impossible to accidentally violate a commandment. So the original prohibition against boiling a kid in the milk of its mother becomes a set of very elaborate rules designed to make sure that no specks of milk and meat ever come into contact in one's digestive system.

For the unscrupulous, this opens up an area of opportunity. The original kosher slaughter laws were designed to, among other things, minimize the suffering of the animals. But they predated the assembly line, when speed became profit. So now a slaughterhouse can hoist an animal up by ropes and hang it upside down to make it bleed out faster, while still arguing that it has not violated kosher law. In letter, yes. In spirit, this seems to obviously violate the principle that one should minimize animal suffering.

Of course, various Jewish communities constantly debate and update laws for just this reason. But just as with government regulation, the rules will always be a little behind the clever bastards looking for loopholes. Whereas if the slaughterhouses were required to stick to the objective of making the animals suffer as little as possible, it would be pretty clear that a lot of these practices flunked the test.

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