Breaking News--Two-week lockdown starting Thursday Night! and Israel's hottest 2020 status symbol: A Pfizer vaccine and traveling to the US from Israel during COVID-19 Pandemic and Poor advocacy: Kosher Slaughter Badly Defended written by Nathan Lewin and Can You Stun and Shecht? How EU Commission Puts Kosher Lipstick on a Pig By David Israel and Euro Hypocrisy Made Clear in Kosher-slaughter Judgement By Ben Cohen and The Battle for Shechitah by Rationalist Judaism and 10 steps to see if you have gotten old
Yehuda Lave is an author, journalist, psychologist, rabbi, spiritual teacher, and coach, with degrees in business, psychology and Jewish Law. He works with people from all walks of life and helps them in their search for greater happiness, meaning, business advice on saving money, and spiritual engagement.
Israel's hottest 2021 status symbol: A Pfizer vaccine
Israel leads the world in its rate of vaccination so far, with 7.44% of the population already vaccinated.
The hottest status symbol in Israel these days is not the latest gadget, but the coronavirus vaccine, and the brand everyone wants is Pfizer.
The rumors going viral on social media are about how you can get the vaccine, and only some of them are fake news.
While a month ago, large numbers of Israelis – close to half the population – expressed doubt whether they wanted to get the vaccine, due to the speed with which it was developed and sensationalized stories about its hazards, now, many are in a frantic race to get vaccinated as quickly as possible.
Israel leads the world in vaccination rate so far, with 15% of the population already getting their jab. Unlike some countries, where the criteria for receiving the vaccine are murky, in Israel, it has been clear that this early rollout is strictly for medical staff, people over 60, and those with serious health conditions that put them at high risk if they are infected by the virus.
All anyone in these categories has to do to get vaccinated is to call one's health fund for an appointment (or in the case of medical professionals, to set an appointment to be vaccinated at work).
While in the first days that the system was open for appointments, there were crashes of the health funds' phones, apps, and websites, just about everyone who is eligible has either been vaccinated or has an appointment.
Health officials have promised repeatedly that teachers and school staff will be the next group to be vaccinated since schools are still open during the third lockdown, which began last Sunday, and is scheduled to end this Sunday unless it is extended.
Traveling to US from Israel during COVID-19 Pandemic
This is what it's like to fly from Israel to the United States during the global pandemic. Today you will see how much has changed since the coronavirus has completely transformed the way we do travel.
Coronavirus lockdown to begin Thursday at midnight and last two weeks
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: "We are in a state of emergency."
The country is once again completely locking down amid a surge in coronavirus cases.
The government approved lockdown will begin Thursday at midnight and include the shuttering of the entire education system, except special education.
When the government convened on Tuesday afternoon to discuss new restrictions there was already almost total consensus among the ministers. That's because the Health Ministry reported 8,368 new cases the day before, including 828 in serious condition, among them more than 200 who were intubated. Of those screened for the virus, 7.4% tested positive.
Moreover, Coronavirus Commissioner Nachman Ash reported that some 30 cases of the British mutation were already discovered in Israel and that those individuals infected 189 others - an average of six people for every infected person.
"We are in the midst of a global pandemic that is spreading at top speed with the British mutation," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during the meeting. "It has reached Israel and is claiming many lives."
He said that the country needed to "impose a full lockdown immediately" and that "every hour that we delay, the disease spreads even quicker and it is exacting a heavy price."
Earlier Netanyahu said, "Hospitals are warning us that we are entering the most dangerous wave since the outbreak of the pandemic. The Health Ministry and the experts warn us that we are in a state of emergency and that if we do not act immediately, we will lose many hundreds of Israelis who will die - and even more."
The lockdown means that all schools will be shut, except for special education. Gatherings will be reduced from 10 to five people inside and from 20 to 10 people outside. All businesses will be closed, except for those that sell essential products or offer essential services.
The ministers of health and finance will determine a list of what is considered essential.
Travel abroad will be allowed only for essential purposes. People who purchased tickets before the lockdown will still be able to get out of the country, but no new tickets will be honored.
Restrictions already in place will likewise continue, including that no one will be able to travel more than 1,000 meters from home. There will be no retail open and restaurants will be limited to delivery only. People will not be allowed to congregate in each other's homes.
Individual sporting activities will still be allowed.
The ministers understood that there was little choice but to pass a closure, after hearing from a variety of health experts and officials that many lives were at stake.
According to Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of Public Health Services, the reproduction rate (R) stands at 1.27 and is higher than one in 95% of cities across Israel. She said 65% of the country is "red" and that "even if we shut down today, the numbers will continue to rise."
The reproduction rate is the number of people that one sick person infects.
Alroy-Preis said that the real numbers are outpacing even the worst predictions made by the Health Ministry.
The medical professionals at the meeting, too, expressed an equally grim picture.
According to Ash, an average of 30 people are dying a day from the virus.
"It is better to make the difficult decision now and if there is a dramatic change we will make a change," said Ran Balicer, chief innovation officer for Clalit Health Services and chairman of the National Expert Advisory Panel to the Government on COVID-19 at the meeting. He said that it would be impractical at this stage to put in place a differentiated model with most of the country marked orange or red.
"When we say closure, we mean the most dramatic lockdown that Israel can handle," stressed Prof. Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute of Science. "Without sharp measures, there is no chance of stopping all this illness."
"Friends, you need to understand well what the price is of doing nothing today: hundreds of dead, thousands in serious condition and tens of thousands sick," Edelstgein said earlier at a press briefing.
At the meeting he noted that for the first time the heads of the local authorities want to lockdown. He said that the same mayors and heads of trade and industry that used to attack him and his policies are not demanding the country lockdown.
Even the finance and education ministers, who just days before were opposed to such moves, voted in favor of the lockdown.
Even Finance Minister Israel Katz and Education Minister Yoav Gallant seemed to have decided a closure is the best thing for Israel.
"Everyone shows that the situation today is worse than ever, when you see the light at the end of the tunnel, vaccinations are a great thing, but it makes it difficult to motivate closure and enforcement," said Finance Minister Israel Katz.
Regarding keeping preschools open, he said that "the finance ministry will not be more difficult than the Education Ministry."
Katz was referring to a statement made by Education Minister Yoav Gallant, who said that, "The education system is the largest system in the State of Israel and encompasses almost 30% of the citizens of the State of Israel, most of them young people.
"I understand my responsibility to navigate the education system I am in charge of so that it will assist in the national effort to create a full, inclusive and complete closure," Gallant said. "In the presentation I presented to you and in what I said, I made it clear that schools and educational institutions are not a source of infection, but a curbing cause of illness.
"Despite this, if Israeli students study extensively, a general closure will not be possible," he continued. "This is what we have witnessed in recent weeks."
As such, he said that he would agree to "harness the entire education system for the national need of curbing the spread of the pandemic." He also asked that the lockdown be used to vaccinate educational staff so they will be on the road to immunity when the closure is lifted.
The Three Musketeers at the Kotel
How can I tell if I've gotten old?
You prefer to stay home rather than go out,
2. You perfer life lived on a schedule for life being spontaneous.
3. You find that you prefer sleep to sex.
4. You discover that getting older is physically painful. Your joints hurt as do your bones.
5. You digestive system goes to hell. You cannot eat pizza or drink wine or eat Mexican food or drink tequila. Tums are your new best friends.
6. Despite the fact that life is considerably more difficult that it used to be, you love it more than ever
7. You realize that you are really concerned about the future of the world.
8. You begin to work out a religious moral compass, or a cosmology, or a philosophy of life.
9, You begin to worry about what your legacy will be.
10. You are grateful for every day you are granted. You remember your friends who have passed over already. You miss them immeasurably, but you are so happy it was NOT you. Things you used to take for granted, you now look at with joy and wonder: birds, flowers, sunrises, sunsets, the orderly passage of seasons, the phases of the moon…
The European Court of Justice is being slammed by Jewish organizations around the world for its decision approving a Flemish law that effectively prohibits kosher and Muslim slaughter of animals. The law upheld by the court concerns the "protection and welfare of animals." It permits the slaughter of animals "according to special methods required for religious rites" only if the animal is stunned before slaughter. Since stunning before slaughter renders an animal non-kosher (treif), the court's decision effectively permits the prohibition of kosher slaughter (shechita).
Critics of the decision call it a "frontal assault" on the basic rights of Jews and Muslims. They claim correctly that freedom of religion should prevail even if it conflicts with protecting animals. But the advocates of kosher slaughter did a poor job in the European court. Rather than defending shechita as entirely humane—no less so because it is performed on a conscious animal—they conceded in court that stunning an animal meaningfully reduces the cruelty of slaughter.
One must read the full decision of the court to know the issues presented to it. It is apparent from the court's decision that no one called the court's attention to a similar controversy in the United States Congress in 1957, when animal-rights groups pressed for the enactment of a federal Humane Slaughter law. The legislation promoted by those concerned with animal welfare directed that before being slaughtered all "cattle, calves, horses, mules, sheep, swine and other livestock" must be "rendered insensible to pain by a single blow or gunshot or an electrical, chemical or other means that is rapid and effective."
Intending to preserve kosher slaughter in the United States, the initial draft provided that the law should not apply "to any individual who is duly authorized by an ordained rabbi of the Jewish religious faith to serve as a shector." Recognizing that Muslim slaughter also prohibited stunning, a later draft exempted "any individual slaughtering in accordance with the requirements of any established religious faith."
But Jewish advocates with foresight (including my late father, Dr. Isaac Lewin) saw that such provisions would not give permanent effective protection for kosher slaughter. They demanded that the legislation explicitly declare that kosher slaughter of conscious animals is as humane as slaughter after stunning because the effect of the shechita cut is that the animal immediately loses consciousness. They provided the congressional committees the scientific conclusions of 74 named experts of veterinary science, including the detailed opinion of a Nobel Prize winner in physiology or medicine who had personally witnessed the kosher slaughter and declared that it fulfills "every requirement demanded by the dictates of mercy." They said that there were "more than 800 notable authorities in the field of physiology" who had approved of shechita as humane.
Intensive lobbying included testimony before congressional committees by my father. The deputy administrator of the Agricultural Department's Research Service also testified before a House committee. While affirming the humaneness of shechita, he raised serious doubts about stunning prior to slaughter. He said that electrical stunning could result in "undesirable hemorrhaging" and in "such tremendous spasms as to actually break the animal's back."
The result was the current federal law. It recognizes explicitly that "a method of slaughter whereby the animal suffers the loss of consciousness by anemia of the brain caused by the simultaneous and instantaneous severance of the carotid arteries with a sharp instrument" is an equally humane alternative. The law describes this as "in accordance with the ritual requirements of the Jewish faith or any other religious faith that prescribes" this method of slaughter.
In 1974, the fears of defenders of shechita were realized. A federal lawsuit was initiated against the Secretary of Agriculture on behalf of "friends and guardians for all livestock animals now and hereafter awaiting slaughter in the United States," the Society for Animal Rights, and the Committee for a Wall of Separation Between Church and State in America. It claimed that the provision permitting slaughter without stunning violated the First Amendment's prohibition against the establishment of religion.
Under then-applicable federal law, the case had to be heard by three judges. One of those selected at random was Henry J. Friendly, an icon of the federal judiciary. Another was Judge Edmund Palmieri, a federal trial-level judge who is remembered today mainly because he had the initiative and courage to hire a female named Ruth Bader Ginsburg as his law clerk.
The National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs ("COLPA") was permitted to intervene as a representative of kosher consumers. On its behalf, I presented the legislative history of the law to the three judges. Judge Palmieri's opinion for the court said that "the intervenors have made a persuasive showing that Congress was fully and competently advised with respect to Jewish ritual practices." He concluded that the provision authorizing slaughter without stunning by the Jewish ritual method was a "justifiable legislative determination that the stated method of slaughter is indeed humane." The three judges agreed that stunning and Jewish ritual slaughter "are alternative methods," and that each "is supported by legislative history as a justifiable legislative determination that the stated method of slaughter is indeed humane." On this ground, the lawsuit ended with a summary judgment in favor of kosher slaughter.
The animal-rights group took that decision, as they had a right to do, directly to the Supreme Court. On Oct. 15, 1974, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the three-judge court. Jones v. Butz, 374 F. Supp. 1284 (S.D.N.Y. 1974), aff'd, 419 U.S. 806 (1974).
Neither this history nor the scientifically supported proposition that shechita's "simultaneous and instantaneous severance of the carotid arteries with a sharp instrument" is as effective as stunning was presented to the European court. It is clear from the reasoning articulated in the opinion that no one gave the European court the evidence that was heard by the American congressional committees. The European court assumed that animal welfare, which it recognized as a permissible legislative goal, required stunning before slaughter. It held that stunning only affected "one aspect of the specific ritual act of slaughter and that act of slaughter is not, by contrast, prohibited as such." This limited restriction, it said, "is appropriate for achieving the objective of promoting animal welfare."
Jewish law was sensitive to animal welfare long before Western civilization—typified by the European Court of Justice—ever recognized it as a concern worthy of human attention. Torah commands against muzzling an ox while it threshes (Devarim 25:4) and against plowing with an ox and a donkey together (Devarim 22:10) are illustrative. Rabbinic directives prohibiting the torture of living creatures (tza'ar ba'alei chayim) are well-recognized. Jewish religious slaughter should have been defended in the European Court of Justice because, by its very nature, it has always imposed a high standard of animal welfare, and not because respect for religious ritual requires that animal welfare be compromised.
Can You Stun and Shecht? How EU Commission Puts Kosher Lipstick on a Pig
Is there a way for European Jewish communities to practice kosher shechitah despite the new ban? Apparently, the notion that the continent that gave us Auschwitz is once again trying to eradicate Jewish life there has brought up feelings of deep hurt and rage among Jews. But now, a week later, we should explore the new reality.
Let's start with the facts: the Luxembourg-based EU Court last week supported a regulation issued by the Flemish and Walloon regions of Belgium which effectively ban the kosher slaughter of livestock by requiring that the animals be "reversibly" stunned before being slaughtered (Kosher Meat Shortages Ahead as EU Court Permits Shechitah Ban).
This created a backlash in the Jewish communities of Europe and elsewhere, which accused the court of anti-Semitism. Few Jews took comfort in the suggestion that it was the Muslims the Belgians were targeting, since the result was the same for Jews as well, a kind of two birds with one stun gun.
Many in the EU were taken aback by the fierce reactions: Eric Mamer, head of the EU Commission spokesperson service, said he doesn't "believe that the Court ruling has to do with a ban." He believes the decision was merely an opinion given to the Belgian Constitutional Court regarding the decree.
Christian Wigand, another EU commission spokesperson, argued that while the "respects the judgment of the European Court of Justice… Let me make one thing very clear as you put this in the context of religious freedom for the Jewish communities. Jewish communities are and always will be welcome in Europe."
Yes, but can they slaughter their cows and chickens?
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said a while back: "We are all part of the same community. There would be no European culture without the Jewish culture. There would be no Europe without Jewish people. Fostering Jewish life is something which I have always taken very seriously."
Fine, we understand, you want Jews to stay, but what if these Jews want to eat a kosher burger?
To which Wigand responded that the European Commission "has a full understanding of the concerns of the Jewish and Muslim communities brought by the judgment and we remain as always open to discuss such concerns with them."
In other words, no one in the EU is prepared to permit Belgian Jews to slaughter animals without first stunning them "reversibly," whatever that means, but at the same time, they're only too happy to inform the same Jews just how much they love them.
That's, more or less, the political reality: pre-stunning is going to become the law of the land in the EU, sooner or later. To illustrate just how fast these things happen, here is a list of European states where kosher shechitah is already banned: Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Denmark, Belgium, Slovenia, Iceland, and Liechtenstein.
Poland banned kosher slaughter in 2012, but the ban was lifted by the courts in 2014.
In Upper Austria, kosher slaughtering was banned in 1958, based on a 1953 law requiring animal protection from cruelty. The Jewish community made great efforts to repeal the ban in the country's Constitutional Court, claiming it violates the federal law guaranteeing freedom of religion. But these efforts have failed, and the ban still exists there.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, major European rabbis debated whether stunning disqualified the animal from being properly shechted. Dr. Shlomo Menachem Liban from Prague in the 1860s devoted great efforts to finding a way to topple the animal with an electric shock that would not cause it lethal damage. The definition of a treifa is a living being, including humans, that sustained an injury from which they are expected to die within a year. If an animal sustained such an injury, then the kosher slaughter by the knife did not cause it's death, since it was already dying. It's like shooting a man who jumped off a tall building – the bullet killed him, but he would have died anyway.
After many experiments, Dr. Liban concluded that it was not possible to use an electric shocker on an animal without causing its death, which meant that the requirement to pre-stun the animal was tantamount to a ban on kosher shechitah. An experiment conducted in some European countries to test the possibility of anesthetizing the animal by chemical means was also unsuccessful.
A statement issued by rabbis and representatives of the Orthodox German Jewish communities in 1887 and a declaration of 250 rabbis in 1894 decreed that under no circumstances can a stunned animal be considered kosher. The Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yitzchak Herzog, issued a similar statement on August 7, 1944. The US Rabbinical Association followed suit on December 20, 1944. The Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Rabbi J. Hertz, banned stunning on March 27, 1945.
In Finland and Sweden, some Jewish communities allow stunning with the long-refuted argument that the animal would not die as a result of the electric shock. This was also practiced in Switzerland until the local rabbis protested the practice.
Stunning equipment must be under the control of a Muslim supervisor and should be monitored by a halal certification authority or Islamic authority
The stunning must be reversible or temporary so as not to kill or cause permanent injury to the animals
Stunning equipment has not been in contact with pigs or other haram (forbidden) ingredients, such as alcohol.
Still, based on the need for the stun to be reversible, only a few recognized stun methods are likely to be halal compliant.
According to the paper, "non-penetrative stunners used in mechanical stunning produce a blow to the animal's skull and result in a reversible stun, and are acceptable to Islamic authorities, provided the skull is confirmed to be intact following skinning. Electrical stunning leads to an unconscious state by generating an epileptiform seizure, which renders the animal insensible to pain."
The same paper also reported that "different electrode placement results in varied stun outcomes: placement on the body (rather than the head) will induce cardiac fibrillation and immediate cardiac arrest, which means that this stunning method does not meet the halal criteria of a reversible stun. However, the alternate placement of electrodes for a head-only stun, resulting in seizure activity, may be acceptable."
The paper added that "gaseous stunning methods are mainly used for pigs and poultry, and are controversial. In spite of the potentially reversible nature of these methods, they are not permitted for the halal slaughter of poultry (pork, of course, being declared haram as part of Islamic law). The World Halal Council cites gaseous methods as cruel, with the aim being only to kill the animal. Consequently, since Islam forbids the eating of carrion, the method is regarded as non-Islamic."
As to the original Jewish assertion, that this entire brouhaha is not about preventing cruelty to animals but instead about the prevention of Jews – the jury is no longer out on that one.
Euro Hypocrisy Made Clear in Kosher-slaughter Judgement
Last time I checked, the French were still preparing their famed foie gras delicacy using the method of "gavage." This involves force-feeding a duck or a goose with grain passed through a tube over a period of several days so that its liver swells to approximately 600 percent of its normal size. The point is, if you don't put the bird through this plainly ghastly experience, you cannot produce the rich flavor and buttery texture that makes foie gras so prized among gastronomes.
Many people refuse to eat foie gras precisely because of the cruelty involved in its production, but equally, many more people clearly aren't bothered by it at all, as revenues internationally run into the hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Its sale has been banned by local officials in a handful of places, including New York from 2022, but that isn't going to stop French, as well as Spanish, Hungarian, Belgian and Bulgarian farmers from producing foie gras with the only method available to them. Indeed, any initiative to shut down the industry would need to come from the European Union, and there is precious little sign of that happening.
To be clear, I'm not advocating a renewed European Union legal crackdown on foie gras; frankly, it's not an issue on which I have strong feelings either way. I raise the issue in order to illustrate a glaring double standard that has, in the last week, left both Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe feeling like rank and unwanted outsiders.
Last Thursday, the Luxembourg-based European Union Court of Justice (ECJ), which is the final arbiter of E.U. law, drew a line between the "civilized" and the "uncivilized" in terms of how farm animals that are slaughtered for human consumption are treated by different religious groups in Europe.
On the "civilized" side of the line are those carnivores whose meat is stunned before it is slaughtered, which the ECJ deems to be humane. On the "uncivilized" side are those—overwhelmingly Muslims and Jews—whose religious commandments strictly forbid the stunning of animals before they are slaughtered, which the ECJ deems to be inhumane.
Of course, that doesn't change the fact that meat that has been slaughtered with a pre-stunning process is not considered kosher or halal, nor can it be.
The ECJ's determination was part of a ruling that rejected an appeal brought by the Belgian Federation of Jewish Communities against a ban on kosher and halal slaughter in the Wallonia region imposed by the local authorities in 2017. By upholding the ban, the ECJ has effectively licensed other states and regions within the E.U. to outlaw ritual slaughter—or the sale of kosher and halal products—without the threat of mass discrimination lawsuits.
Unusually, the court's decision eschewed the opinion of one of its 11 Advocate Generals, Gerard Hogan, who stated last September that the member states of the E.U. "are obliged to respect the deeply held religious beliefs of adherents to the Muslim and Jewish faiths by allowing for the ritual slaughter of animals."
For the judges of the ECJ, evidently, there were no such fundamental stakes involved. From their perspective, the ruling did not outlaw ritual slaughter itself, but merely "one aspect of the specific ritual act of slaughter." It added that the law allowed for a "fair balance" between animal welfare and the "freedom of Jewish and Muslim believers to manifest their religion."
No such "fair balance" between animal welfare and human traditions is on display when it comes to the annual production of 17,000 tons of foie gras. The stench of hypocrisy, the nagging sense that the high-minded secular humanists who run European institutions are just bullying observant Jewish and Muslim communities with this latest edict, is unmistakable. Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt of the Conference of European Rabbis elegantly summarized both the insult and the absurdity of the ECJ's ruling thus. "We are told by European leaders that they want Jewish communities to live and be successful in Europe," he said, "but they provide no safeguards for our way of life."
While there are many more Muslims than there are Jews in Europe these days, the roots of this enmity towards ritual slaughter lie in the anti-Judaic and anti-Semitic traditions that have persisted and so often flourished throughout the continent's history. Europe, after all, is the continent of the so-called "Judensau"—grotesque carvings on medieval churches that mocked the Jewish prohibition on pork by showing Jews in obscene acts with pigs. The method of shechita (kosher slaughter) has been twisted and distorted by anti-Semites for various tales of blood libel and theologically mandated cruelty allegedly practiced by Jews down the ages. And lest we forget, one of the first legislative actions undertaken by the Nazi regime in Germany was a ban on kosher slaughter, which was depicted in official propaganda as an ugly, alien and thoroughly un-German practice.
The ECJ is making much the same declaration in 2020, albeit in language that avoids the demonic ravings of Nazi official rhetoric. Its judges are surely aware that the rules of shechita are not flexible; therefore, any part of Europe that prevents the sale of meat that has not been pre-stunned is effectively telling observant Jews that they are unwelcome as residents.
Not only that. If kosher slaughter is a legitimate target for the ECJ, then why not add male infant circumcision as well—another requirement of the Jewish and Muslim faiths that has been faced with legal and political challenges across Europe in yet one more demonstration of how centuries of anti-Semitism have reappeared dressed in humanist concerns.
The declaration stated that anti-Semitism "in any form, is and must remain unacceptable and all steps must be taken to counteract it, including, where necessary, through legal measures at European level." It went on to underline that "the member states of the European Union support policy initiatives at European level that aim to combat incitement to anti-Semitic hatred and acts of violence, as well as the dissemination of anti-Semitic conspiracy myths online."
I beg your pardon? By telling European publics, as the ECJ is doing, that Jewish methods for slaughtering kosher meat are inherently suspect? By stoking fears among Jews that their core religious beliefs and rituals are under legal attack? No matter how many words the E.U. expends on the evils of anti-Semitism, no matter how many definitions of anti-Semitism it adopts, any restrictions on the supply or sale of kosher products will render all of those efforts meaningless.
News For The Jews. The EU now permits member states to ban shechitah,
in the name of animal welfare. Incredibly, I have seen some traditional
Jews express sympathy for this ruling, saying that they can understand
it from non-religious perspective. I'd like to explain why this is
Some Jewish groups defend shechitah by arguing that it is painless. I don't know if that is true or not. (Some of the "scientific" defense of shechitah seems rather dated and biased. On the other hand, I have seen various quotes from Temple Grandin saying that shechitah can be done without undue pain, and that the main issue is how the animal is treated immediately beforehand.)
But what I do feel is that an alternative strategy should be considered. Because I know of no theological reason why shechitah should necessarily be entirely painless. Furthermore, if you defend shechitah on the grounds that it has "scientifically" been proven painless, then you are effectively conceding that if science proves otherwise, then shechitah should not be done.
Instead, shechitah can be robustly defended on the following grounds: that the small degree of animal suffering is fully justified for religious benefits.
country in the world rules that no pain may be caused to animals. When
there is substantial benefit to humans, all legal systems permit
causing pain to animals. Medical experimentation is one example.
Farming animals for food usually involves a considerable level of
distress to the animals. Modern broiler chickens have been selectively
bred to grow as fat and as fast as possible on as little food as
possible, but such extreme growth causes skeletal malformation and
dysfunction, skin and eye lesions, and congestive heart conditions.
chickens, selectively bred to maximize growth and meat yield, endure
serious hardship for their entire lives. Egg-laying chickens have their
beaks cut off so that they do not attack each other in the crowded
conditions under which they are raised, a surgery which is likely to
cause acute and chronic pain. The possible suffering of animals in how
they die pales into insignificance compared to the suffering of animals
in how they live. Yet all this is legal in every country, for human
benefit. Belgium - the country at the forefront of the opposition to
shechitah - even permits sport hunting!
Given the amount of animal suffering which is perfectly legal in every country in the world, one can only conclude that the targeting of shechitah has less to do with compassion for animals and more to do with hostility to religion.
Shechitah is the only means by which Jews can eat meat. Eating meat is a legitimate activity (animals also eat animals!), and Judaism is an ancient way of life which deserves respect. Even if shechitah does cause some brief pain to animals, it is justified - especially since the suffering is not of long duration. I think that this is ultimately the correct defense (although I will admit that I am not certain if, strategically speaking, it is the best defense to use).
At the same time, this means that the kosher meat industry certainly could improve a lot in terms of how the animals are treated before shechitah. I'm always amazed at how people who are makpid about every minutiae of rabbinic chumra are often entirely unconcerned with the d'Oraisa of tzaar baalei chaim. As Rabbi Aryeh Carmell ztz"l wrote:
It seems doubtful… whether the Torah would sanction "factory farming," which treats animals as machines, with apparent insensitivity to their natural needs and instincts. ( Masterplan, p. 69)
Many halachic authorities are of the opinion that minor benefits and financial benefits, such as those obtained via factory farming, do not warrant causing pain to animals. It is true that the majority opinion is in the other direction. Still, considering that many people are fastidious to meticulously fulfill the laws of kashrus according to all opinions, such punctiliousness should surely also apply to the laws of tzaar baalei chayim. That is to say, since there are opinions which state that financial benefits (such as those enabled through factory farming) do not justify the suffering thereby caused to animals, those who are meticulous to follow all opinions should surely be consistent and refrain from consuming animals farmed in such a manner.
Rav Eliezer Melamed discusses the topic of hens that are starved in order to then make them enter a new cycle of laying eggs. He quotes none other than Rav Yitzchak Weiss - of Manchester and then of the Edah Charedis - who says that even though there is no technical problem of tzaar baalei chaim here, someone who wants to conduct himself via middas chassidus will refrain from this.
There should be a "glatt" push for heritage chickens rather than factory chickens. Additionally, they should be working to ensure that farmed animals suffer as little as possible, whether they are farmed for food or fur. Aside from the innate importance and value of that, I'm sure it would assist in the general campaign to defend shechitah. If the Jewish community demonstrated greater sensitivity for animal welfare than the general population, it would be a tremendous kiddush Hashem and a powerful shield against attacks on shechitah.