Eating Veal

I was in the kosher meat market the other day and they were selling veal. I don't understand how veal can be kosher, given the horrific conditions in which veal is raised. Please explain.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

There are different mitzvahs in the Torah which address different issues. "Kosher" has to do with the species of animal, the way it is slaughtered, and removal of the blood from the meat.

“Kosher" does not address the issue of conditions in which the animal is raised.

There is another mitzvah, however, which addresses your concern. "Tzar Baalei Chaim" is the Torah prohibition against causing pain to animals. And based on this, the great Rabbi Moshe Feinstein indeed forbade raising animals in cramped and painful conditions.

As an aside, there are some veal farms who go to great lengths to treat calves in an ethical manner. [UPDATE 2017: We were told by an animal nutritionist in the profession that this issue largely does not exist today, and that veal calves are almost without exception raised in humane and caring environments.]

Other mitzvahs concerned with the protection of animals include:

  • It is prohibited to cause pain to animals – tzaar ba'alei chaim. (Talmud – Baba Metzia 32b, based on Exodus 23:5)
  • One is obligated to relieve an animal's suffering (i.e. unburden it), even if it belongs to your enemy. (Exodus 23:5)
  • If an animal depends on you for sustenance, it is forbidden to eat anything until feeding the animal first. (Talmud – Brachot 40a, based on Deut. 11:15)
  • We are commanded to grant our animals a day of rest on Shabbat. (Exodus 20:10)
  • It is forbidden to use two different species to pull the same plow, since this is unfair to the weaker animal. (Deut. 22:10)
  • It is a mitzvah to send away a mother bird before taking her young. (Deut. 22:7)
  • It is forbidden to kill a cow and her calf on the same day. (Leviticus 22:28)
  • It is prohibited to sever and eat a limb off a live animal. (Genesis 9:4; this is one of the "Noachide" laws that apply to Jews and non-Jews alike.)
  • Shechita (ritual slaughter) must be done with a minimum of pain to the animal. The blade must be meticulously examined to assure the most painless form of death possible. ("Chinuch" 451; "Pri Megadim" – Introduction to Shechita Laws).
  • Hunting animals for sport is viewed with serious disapproval by our Sages. (Talmud – Avoda Zara 18b; "Noda BiYehuda" 2-Y.D. 10)

There is actually another mitzvah concerning the protection of animals which relates to your question. This is the prohibition of muzzling an animal when working in the field, thereby preventing it from eating what it sees. The Sages explain that animals derive pleasure from the act of eating, and muzzling unjustly deprives them of that basic pleasure. Based on this, Rabbi Feinstein forbade feeding animals chemicals in place of food, since this would deprive them of the pleasure of eating. ("Igros Moshe" EH 4:92)

One final note: Interestingly, animals which are raised in cramped conditions and fed chemicals are frequently found to be NOT Kosher, due to various problems and disease found in the organs of these animals.

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