Thanks to Andrew Kastner for this powerful guest post on his decision to train to be a shochet, a Jewish ritual slaughterer. It’s easy to talk in the abstract about getting in touch with one’s food, but significantly more difficult to actually take the responsibility of doing so into our own hands….
Earlier this year, I began training to be a shochet, a Jewish ritual slaughterer. As a rabbinical student who is passionate about culinary traditions, I felt that I was profoundly disconnected from the source of my food. Influenced by Maimondes’ dictum, which states, “Anyone who desires to eat meat must take the responsibility to procure it”, I felt that the challenge, though daunting, could help me relate to my food and the source of life in a more meaningful way.
After weeks of studying Jewish legal codes relating to schitah, the rabbi informed our small group that he would be bringing a few chickens to our next class. Later that week when we met, the rabbi opened the cardboard box holding three young birds.
The rabbi showed us the proper way to hold the bird and then asked me to be the first student to perform schitah. The encounter happened so quickly, a small incision was made, and then in my hands, I felt the life of the chicken depart. The intensity of the experience caused me to cry. At first I felt guilty; facing the responsibility of taking this creature’s life was a heavy weight to burden. But I believed that continuing to train as a shochet would be a model for me to do teshuvah, a return to the source of life and connect me to my food in a more meaningful way.
That night, still shaken, I prepared Shabbat dinner for my wife and me. I was apprehensive to eat this kosher chicken, which for the first time, I had brought to our table by my hands. Having signed up for a local CSA (community supported agriculture) earlier in the year, we decided to serve our bird with the greens and vegetables that we had pickup up from the farm the day before. To us, the meal seemed clean; the growers, procurers and consumers having been more closely connected than usual in this age of global commerce and industrialized food. I felt a deep sense of holiness eating this Shabbat meal and a heightened gratitude that I wanted to share with my community.
I believe that food is a means to help us cultivate a consciousness of the moment. As I continue my training as a rabbi and practice as a shochet, my goal is to bring people closer to what they eat, helping to frame their relationship with Jewish significance.
Andrew Kastner is a third year student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School.