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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Ariel Tal

Shechita Update in New Zealand!

Whether New Zealand’s shechita ban was humane, discriminatory, or mercenary are the themes raised by informants, the courts, and the media. Apparently, a mix of motives stimulated various parties (a neoliberal administration, meat exporters, animal rights groups, veterinary scientists, Jewish congregations, lawyers), to take their stances and jockey to protect their interests in regard to animals, meat export, culture, and religious rights. At the end of 2010 the exercise of legal power trumped all previous actions. When the court case was about to be heard, the Crown’s own lawyers suggested that the Minister of Agriculture had overstepped the boundaries of his position, and the government partially reversed the ban. The situation, at present unresolved, is likely to be raised again.

The topic of Shechita in New Zealand is a very sensitive one. Ever since Rachel and I took the position of Rabbi and Rebbitzin of the WJCC, the topic of the proposed Shechita Ban in 2010 was always an issue that took front and centre. As Hal Levine wrote so eloquently in the above article, “The situation is at present unresolved, is likely to be raised again”. That is the awareness I had and continue to hold in front of my eyes as I took on the newly created role of National Shechita Manager. I am very aware that our Shechita needs to be in line with all of the New Zealand regulations in addition to the Halachic requirements, to keep the stauts quo.

In this article, I want to give our readers a peek into the behind the scenes of creating the Shechita process, and our current status of Shechita from a variety of perspectives.

The Big Picture: New Zealand cannot import chickens, Kosher or otherwise, into the country due to bacterial government regulations. Therefore, the only way to eat Kosher chicken in New Zealand is to have a Kosher kill. As a community we are also compelled to have a lamb kill as opposed to importing Kosher lamb from Australia, regardless of the sale price, since the Jewish communities of NZ fought for their right to have Shechita in this country. Also, New Zealand lamb is the finest in the world! The Shechita process in New Zealand has to be fiscally, organizationally and halachically sound in order to maintain its status and longevity. Belgium, for one, has lost their legal right for Shechita, and we cannot afford to lose our right for Shechita in NZ.

Let’s go back about half a year to October 2018. Rachel and I had just arrived in New Zealand, and were immediately launched into the deep end of our roles. I had to conduct two funerals in the first three weeks of my job, and also had to be the Supervising Rabbi of the Shechita process with Rabbi Friedler. There were many lessons to be learned from that chicken kill and improvements moving forward. I learned about the various issues regarding Shechita, took note of the process and how we can improve this important project from an organizational, financial and Halachic perspective. There were several issues that arose:

The need for salting at Turks (The abattoir for the Kosher chicken kill) Someone to manage the entire Shechita process Creating an organizational structure and business plan for both chicken and lamb kills Making chicken and lamb cost effective for the Jewish communities

After the October kill, I assumed the role of Shechita Manager, given my experience with organizational structure and marketing. After creating a business plan with Daniel, Harvey and flying to Auckland to present to Garth Cohen, Chair of the AHC, and Gael Keren, Shechita Liaison, the foundation was set to create a good organizational structure for the upcoming Shechita in March. The connection and established communication between the WJCC and AHC was key to moving forward with our Shechita.

The next step was to create a pitch for performing the Kosher salting process at Turks. Thanks to a beautiful document Tadhg Cleary wrote and to Gael’s masterful liaison and communication skills, we were successfully able to pitch our need for Kosher salting at Turks, and even have Turks pitch the salting process to MPI successfully. Ron Turk and Lynton Edgecomb, The CEO and Production Manager of Turks, were completely on-board with our new initiative. All Kosher meat needs to be fully immersed in water for 30 minutes, salted for an hour, and then dunked in three pools or tubs of water to wash off the salt, according to standards of Jewish law, of Halacha. It takes about 2 full days, or 20-25 hours, to complete the salting process for 1000 chickens at the Centre’s processing room. In comparison, it only took 5 hours to complete the Kosher salting process at Turks for a whopping 2000 chickens! Rabbi Friedler, Tadhg, Gael Keren and myself supervised the dedicated Turks’ staff in the salting process, a new procedure for them to learn. The staff performed the salting with zeal and dedication, and it truly was a Kiddush Hashem! Some of them worked 14-15 hour shifts, starting their own kill at 2am and finishing our salting around 7pm, when Rabbi Friedler left. This was a new height in managing the Kosher kill. As one person told me, the March Shechita was the first time that when the chickens came from the abbatoir to the Centre’s processing room - they were actually Kosher, having being salted at Turks. The chicken kill, needless to say, was a huge success. The processing room served only as a place to package and price the chickens.

The Shechita itself went down smoothly, led by our wonderful Shochet, Avromel Krinsky from Melbourne (Continental Meats). A record 2016 chickens were made Kosher, salted and packed in just under 7 hours! The equivalent process in the past would have taken 50-60 hours! Not only that but in the recent kill, we also got Turks to package the chickens as well. We are continuing to monitor, evaluate and improve our Shechita practices, and are making headway to create a long-term sustainable Shechita in NZ, to facilitate Kosher meat for all Jewish life in NZ for both residents and visitors.

Humane Killing

One of the main issues surrounding the Shechita in the past is the issue of “humane killing”. The term itself always sounded funny to me. Shouldn’t it be “Animaly killing” or “Animal friendly killing”? After observing two chicken kills and one lamb kill, I can explain the use of “humane” in regards to animal kills. In order to understand the comparison between Shechita and non-Kosher kills in New Zealand, the key is to know the procedure.

The non-Kosher chicken kill is performed by hanging the chicken upside down, alive, by its legs. Then the chickens are stunned in water and electricity, decapitated, plucked and processed. The plant is able to kill 1000 chickens in only 6 minutes! That’s how Turks can kill an average of 22,000 chickens per day, making them the fourth largest poultry abattoir in New Zealand.

The Kosher Shechita, on the other hand, takes five times as long. The Shochet has to kill each chicken by hand. The workers carefully hold the chicken up and the Shochet makes one swift slit to the neck, just under the adam’s apple killing the chicken instantaneously with no pain, stunning or time for the chickens to hang upside down, alive. The Shechita knife is one of the sharpest blades in the world, and is sharpened throughout the kill. There is no stunning permitted in Shechita.

When the chicken is decapitated by machine after it is stunned it is much easier for humans to watch, whereas the Shechita is a slightly more difficult process to watch. The chicken flaps as a reflex after it is Shechted, which is a completed normal and natural reaction, but is very much dead at the moment of Shechita and just has to be bled out. In short, the Shechita is kinder to the animal and harder for humans to watch, whereas the non-Kosher kill is harder on the animal and easier for humans to watch. In my personal opinion, that is why stunning is called “humane”. The same analysis is relevant to the lamb kill as well.

Creating a Win-Win Situation: Joe’s Meat Market

After sorting out the chicken kill it was on to the lamb kill. The communities haven’t done a lamb kill since 2017, and it was long overdue. The main issue in the lamb kill is selling off the hindquarters, which constitute about 55% of the meat processed from each lamb. The reason for selling it off is a Jewish law, preventing all Jews from eating the “Gid Hanashe” or the sciatic nerve. Gid Hanasheh (Hebrew: גִּיד הַנָּשֶׁה‎), often translated as "displaced tendon," is the term for sciatic nerve in Judaism. The laws regarding the prohibition of gid hanasheh are found in Tractate Chullin, chapter 7. In short, we can only derive Kosher meat from the 11th rib and forward. Every part of the lamb behind the 11th rib is considered meat that cannot be made Kosher, even by salting. This presents not only a Halachic (Jewish Law) obstacle, but also a huge financial loss. Each lamb costs on average $180 & GST, and if we can only sell 45% of the lamb, the loss is tremendous, not to mention the processing costs, which can come out to $40 a lamb (average market price with pricing & packaging). If we could not sell the hindquarters, then the lamb would be too expensive to sell commercially to the communities, and would undo the legal battle of fighting for our right to perform Shechita in this country. In short, we needed to find a reliable partner to purchase the hindquarters off of us! The solution was our arrangement with Joe Baker, owner of Joe’s Meat Market in Masterton who purchased the hindquarters off of us, and became our most reliable partner for the lamb kill. After sitting down with him at his butcher shop, Joe allocated his entire staff for two days to do the entire Kosher salting process, processing of the cuts, packaging and pricing for market value price. He even had an RMP for salting, which saved us going to City Council for their approval. It made a once difficult process much easier and efficient for us, and a true win-win. What was his motivation? Why would he dedicate all of this time to help us out?

I am in Business Because of God

Joe Baker is the definition of a tzaddik umot ha’olam, a righteous person from Among the Nations. After our arrangement was finalized, I asked Joe what was his motivation for assisting us in the Shechita, taking on 101 hindquarters at one time, and even though he bought it for a great price from us, he allocated his entire staff for the Kosher kill instead of processing his own meat, and saved us thousands of dollars in potential expenses. Joe answered by saying that he is one of the only specialty butcher shops in the area, competing with retail giants like Pak n’ Save, located across the street from his shop. The reason for his success is because he takes on many nische projects, and believes that helping any religious slaughter gives him a business advantage. Primarily, Joe believes that the reason he is successful is all because of his belief in God. It wasn’t a sarcastic remark, it was a true comment from a believer in God. Joe is a devout Christian and told me many times that he was excited to help us with the salting and saw his involvement in our Shechita as a privilege to be a partner in helping the Jewish community fight for the right to retain Shechita in New Zealand.

At the end of the our time together, Joe asked me - “So, who is your Kosher butcher in New Zealand?”. I just looked him in the eye and said: “You!”. He smiled, and said “for many years to come!”. Amen.

Moving Forward

As National Shechita Manager, I am fully aware of the fine line we must walk in order to ensure the continuity of the Shechita for years to come. We must continue to be financially, halachically and organizationally sound, and of course be in complete compliance with all regulations. Our process is very sound, and we have all of the data to establish future business models for the upcoming Shechita operations for the next two years, at least. We are coordinated with MPI, and have all of the permits necessary. Our partners for both chicken and lamb kills are set for years to come. The Shechita operation is in a good place, a very good place! Moving forward, we need the entire Kehilla in Wellington, Auckland and around the country to continue to consumer Kosher meat, and if we can increase our demand for Kosher meat, we can scale future kills which would help decrease the consumer price, even incrementally. God is definitely on our side, and even Joe is a believer!

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