Vegetarianism is wrong. Eating meat is a positive commandment, “You shall eat” (Lev11:2), an obligation rather than a permission.
The Torah enjoins us to drain the blood of slaughtered animals as a sign of last respect. We have to kill the animal in order to eat and live, but symbolically release its soul, which is in the blood. Rabbis, in their zeal for the law, went much further and mandated Jews to soak the least traces of blood from the meat. Soaking blood with salt makes meat salty and tasteless, and is not warranted by the Torah, which only commands Jews to let the blood flow out (Lev.17:13). Though the rabbis of old confirm the practice of absorbing the traces of blood with salt, the practice is rather surprising, as salt was not cheap until the advent of very recent improvements in transportation (Shimon ben Lakish in B’rachot 5a).
Though carrion confers a state of ritual impurity on Jews, it can be eaten (Lev.17:15). By the time man finds carrion, its blood is already coagulated in the meat and cannot be soaked out. The Torah does not imagine draining blood with salt.
The commandment requires draining the blood insofar as it flows “like water” (Deut12:24). There is, accordingly, no religious need to meticulously cut veins from kosher meat, though it might be reasonable on ethical grounds, given our aversion to blood.
Sometimes, enough is enough. We respect our parents but don’t rush to tie their shoelaces. It suffices to let the animal blood flow out. Nor could they use the impeccable Shulhan Aruch-type blades—simply because knives of that level of craftsmanship were royal-expensive if available at all. Knives had serrated surfaces, and no one would keep sharpening them before slaughtering every animal, as prescribed in modern Jewish law, because the expensive knife would be worn down too quickly.
In truth, the very idea of minimizing the animal’s suffering was alien to ancient mind. The Hebrew mentality was probably close to that of the Bedouin nomads. They couldn’t be made to care about animal suffering. And there are good reasons to believe that the lawgiver, likewise, didn’t care about it; otherwise why prescribe massive animal offerings on the altar?
It is far from clear that shehitah inflicts the minimum suffering on animals. Moderately anti-Semitic Switzerland, UK, and Norway banned shehitah as too cruel a method, opting instead for stunning the animals. The Torah itself prescribes slaughter by fracturing the animal’s nape (Ex34:20) rather than cutting its neck.
The Bible doesn’t set out shehitah or any other method of slaughter as universally obligatory. Sages allude to the biblical commandment to slaughter animals “as I have commanded you” (Deut12:21). This rule, however, is only stated for slaughter outside of the Temple, for faraway places. In the Temple the commandment would have been redundant: the priests knew the slaughter rules. Those rules are laid out explicitly in the Torah and refer to removing lard, and other such details. Any Jew could slaughter animals of his flock, and there is not the slightest hint that it was the work of a specially trained shochet. “As I have commanded you” refers to the next verse, “You shall eat them just like the gazelle and the hart are eaten, the unclean and the clean [people] can eat of it.” The rule is straightforward: outside the Temple, you kill the animals as the wild ones by hunting. Just like with the wild animals, no particular mode of killing is prescribed: how, indeed, is one supposed to ritually slaughter a running deer? The only rule which applies is draining the animal’s blood. Indeed, it would be odd to regulate the slaughter of domestic animals tightly, but allow hunting (Lev17:13) where animals can be wounded in any part of the body and killed by any method.
The prohibition of sinews is also religiously unwarranted. The Torah states matter-of-factly that Hebrews don’t eat sinew because an angel touched Jacob at it. It is hard to concur with Chinuch that this clear description of a tradition is actually a disguised commandment. When God wants to command, he does so clearly. But Gen32:33, “Therefore the Israelites won’t eat sinew… until this day” is not a command. Also, the tradition can sensibly be interpreted as referring to the hip sinew only, rather than to all of them.
Superfluous shehitah requirements made it hypocritical. Upon inspection of internal organs, many animals are declared non-kosher, especially in the glatt kosher tradition of the Sephardim and Chassidim. Being economically unable to throw away their meat, the producers sell it to Gentiles. Such practice runs against the lawgiver’s alleged intention. He sought to reduce animal suffering and instill respect for animal life. Contrary to that intention, Jews actually slaughter many more animals than we actually need for food, so that we can choose perfectly kosher corpses. Unnecessarily stringent regulations make kosher meat prohibitively expensive for poor Jews.
Shehitah embodies the rabbinical spirit, which sought to clarify even the pettiest issue. When the government permits you to cross a road on a green light, would you ask whether to start walking from the right or the left foot? The same goes for the commandments: it’s up to us how to observe them as long as we conform to the literal meaning. Kill animals in whatever fashion you like, just observe the explicit prohibitions on blood and lard.
Moses called the observance, “your wisdom and astuteness in the nations’ eyes” (Deut4:6). Watching for spots on a dead cow’s lungs doesn’t make us look wise.