(Kosher) Food For Thought

Musings from NU Hillel's Campus Rabbi

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Location: Evanston, IL, United States

Monday, May 15, 2006

Slavery and Kashrut

This review of "Inhuman Bondage" by Prof. David Davis of Yale is well worth a read. Prof. Davis has been one of the most important people in putting the discussion of slavery onto the world's agenda, and this book gets a glowing review.

The most interesting graf to me is this one:

"Tracing slavery back to its beginnings, Davis links it to the domestication of wild animals. Associations with animals range from Aristotle's musing that an ox is a poor man's slave to the brutish treatment of enslaved people — throughout history, slaves, like domesticated beasts, have been given the names of barnyard animals and household pets, branded with hot irons and forced to wear collars, making it easy for slave masters to dehumanize them. Although the masters often rationalized slavery as a variation of patriarchal paternalism, Davis sees bestialization as the means by which slaveholders elevated themselves, creating the illusion that they enjoyed 'something approaching divine power.'"

The French philosopher Emanuel Levinas, among others, finds the center of Judaism in the attempt to condition human beings away from abusing one another and towards concern and empathy with beings beyond ourselves. Hence the story of liberation from slavery becomes the central narrative of Jewish life. In this paragraph, Davis appears to be arguing that slavery--one of the ultimate expressions of dehuanization--finds its roots in humans' treatment of animals. Levinas would argue that the laws of Kashrut and rules against cruelty to animals are part of the broader Jewish vision of promoting mercy. In light of recent revelations of abuses at kosher slaughterhouses, I find this message particularly powerful. If we turn a blind eye to inhumane practices of animal treatment and slaughter, can our meat really be kosher? Are we being true to the deepest essence of Torah?

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