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This week the Moot Beit Din team from Posnack’s Paul and Maggie Fischer High is traveling to Kansas City, Mo. to compete in RAVSAK’s annual Moot Beit Din. The competition has two major components. The first component requires the team members to craft a legal brief to answer questions of Jewish law posed by the factious case. Using sources from the Torah, Talmud and our Torah scholars throughout the ages, the students completed this phase in January. The second part of the competition requires our team to make an oral defense of their position in front of a panel of judges. This year the second part of the competition takes place over a Shabbaton in Kansas City.

The case centers around a summer camp and the source for its kosher meat. How far does one have to go not only to provide kosher meat but to insure the proper treatment of the animals prior to the act of ritual slaughter, “shechita?” At the core of the factious case lies two mitzvot, “If you see the donkey of someone you hate crouching under its burden, would you refrain from helping him? You shall help repeatedly with him.” (Exodus 23:5)  This command is repeated in a slightly different language later in the Torah, “You shall not see the donkey of your brother or his ox falling on the road and hide yourself from them; you shall surely stand them up with him.” (Deuteronomy 22:4). While there are many facets to be learned about these mitzvot, it is clear that a person must relieve the suffering of animals. Surely, then, we are prohibited from causing or contributing to their pain.

Over his many years of teaching and service to the Jewish community in America, the Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik served on the twelve members National Advisory Committee to the Secretary of Agriculture from 1958-1964. The Department of Agriculture after conducting extensive research and on-site inspections found that “Ritual slaughter and the handling or other preparations of livestock for ritual slaughter are deemed to be humane and comply with the public policy expressed by the law…”

However, the Rav was not satisfied. In a report to the National Advisory Committee to the Secretary of Agriculture, November 20, 1959 the Rav wrote, “…the matter of preparation or handling of animals for slaughter poses a special problem for the organized Jewish community which we have undertaken to solve. As a religious community, committed to the principle of kindness to animals at all times, as demonstrated by our laws of “shechita” which go back to antiquity, we could not content ourselves with an exemption for the handling methods but are impelled to explore all avenues and devices in order to improve methods of handling.” (my emphasis to a letter of the Rav published in the book: Community, Covenant and Commitment: Selected Letters and Communications, Ktav Publishing).

In other words, the Rav was stating that even if the USDA granted permission or exemption for certain methods of handling the animals before the slaughtering process took place, such exemptions may not accord with Jewish law. How does the Hebrew National commercial go, “We answer to a higher authority.”

Our commitment to safeguard pain and suffering of the animal kingdom by our Torah far exceeds that of all other cultures and civilizations. As our Torah quoted above states, “You must surely stand them up (the animals) with him.” It is our duty to inform others of our high standards and even try to get them to go along with improving the conditions for animals. And so the Rav was happy to report to the Secretary of Agriculture in October, 1964 that, “…in the area of animal restraint very considerable progress has been made since the last meeting of the Advisory Committee a little over a year ago.” This then continues to be our legacy even now in the 21st century. As Jews, we should all be proud of our heritage which embraces and uplifts human conduct in all of our endeavors.

Wishing our Moot Beit Din team a safe trip and hatzlacha to our members: Rachel L, Eitan G, Ben Z, and Julia, Rebecca and Brian G.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Robert Kaplan