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Rabbi Ranon Teller
This morning at Ramah in the Rockies, for the first time in my rabbinic life, I watched a shochet slaughter a chicken. I’ve eaten meat all my life, but I’ve never experienced a shechita (ritual slaughter). I’ve never dealt head on, with the emotional, ethical concerns of taking an animal’s life to support my own. I’ve been meaning to visit a slaughterhouse for some time to confront this deficiency in my rabbinic and human experience. Confrontation time had arrived.
Every year, a local shochet from Boulder visits the Ramah Outdoor Adventure community to teach about kosher shechita. Yadidya Greenberg invited anyone who chose to participate to gather at the chava (farm) to witness a shechita. As we arrived, he carefully displayed his tools of his trade: the rectangular knives, the sharpening stones, the aprons, and a bucket of earth. He began by asking the chalutzim (pioneers/campers) to share their initial thoughts about shechita, eating meat, and slaughtering animals. Then, he told us about his journey from vegan to vegetarian to kosher meat eater. Some time ago, Yadidya discovered that he needed meat protein for health reasons. As an animal lover, he made an oath to stop eating the meat he needed until he learned how to slaughter it himself. He wanted to confront the dilemma with his own hands. And he did. He learned to be a shochet. Yadidya explained with great compassion about the Jewish code of ethics and his personal commitment to teach and spread kosher slaughter. When the shochet does it right, the the animal feels no pain and the animals death is given proper respect.
Yadidya prepared the area by placing some earth underneath an aluminum tube. Then, he bought out the rooster. It was a heritage rooster, a rooster that was allowed to grow naturally. It was a beautiful, big, orange rooster. He handed it to a madricha (counselor), who held the chicken in her arms. The shochet sharpened his knife. He recited the blessing – “Praised are You, Adonai our God, Source of All, for sanctifying us through the commandment of shechita”. What a meaningful blessing at this powerful moment. I thought to myself, ‘Thank you God, for Your system of mitzvot that allows us to partake of the blessings of this world, with ethics, sustainability and compassion.’ As the madricha held the chicken in a cradle hold, Yadidya exposed the rooster’s neck. With one swift, smooth stroke, he cut across its neck, and the rooster was dead. The madricha placed the rooster upside down in the aluminum tube to allow the blood to drain on top of the earth. When the rooster shook and twitched in the throws of death, we were all reminded about the gravity of life and death. Then, it stopped.
We were all a bit shaken by the experience. For those of us who eat meat, it gave us all a much deeper appreciation for the process that brings the meat to our supermarket and our table. For those of us who don’t eat meat, it confirmed the reality that kept us from eating meat. Yadidya stressed the importance of allowing our dietary decision-making process to evolve slowly and for the kids to be sensitive to their parents’ homes and practices.
After processing the experience with kids, Yadidya invited them up to pluck the rooster’s feathers. When it was all over, Yadidya asked me to fulfill the mitzvah of covering the blood with earth. I took some earth from the bucket and covered the blood that had been spilt. I recited the closing bracha (blessing): “Praised are You, Adonai our God, Source of All, for sanctifying us though the commandment to cover blood with earth.” I thought to myself, ‘Thank you God for your system of mitzvot that allows us to give honor and pay respect to the life that we’ve taken to sustain our lives.’
Thank you Yadidya and Ramah Outdoor Adventure for an incredibly meaningful experience for me and the Ramah Outdoor Adventure community of staff and campers. I don’t know yet how this experience will affect my food decision, but I know I’m a better Rabbi, Jew, citizen, and human for experiencing a shechita first-hand.
Rabbi Ranon Teller
Congregation Brith Shalom