If we were still using the bracha for unusual things in nature, the bracha could have been said last week in Jerusalem. A most unusual person came to speak to hundreds of people at the Beit Issie Shapiro Conference on Developmental Disorders. Her name is Temple Grandin. She is a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University in the United States. She is also an engineer who designs highly complex cattle moving machinery which is used all over the world. She has written two books and many research papers. And, Temple Grandin has autism.
People often ask, "How did she come out of it?" She did not. Dr. Grandin is as autistic as any other but there are gradations in autism. 50% of autistic people are non-verbal. Most have different levels of retardation. Some are physically self abusive. Some have extraordinary abilities in mathematics, art, memory and music. Others appear quite normal. The diagnosis is based on behavior alone as there is no blood test, genetic test, brain scan or other medical formula for diagnosing autism.
There are two reasons that Temple Grandin's coming to Israel are interesting for Torah Jews. One reason is because of her work in the meat industry. Dr. Grandin has caused a minor revolution in the way shechita is done around the world. Rabbayim are listening to what she has to say about shechita. She has shown them a way to restrain the animal while shechting that is easier, faster, causes less problems with blood flow and is a far more humane way to shecht.
She told me that the first time she visited a kosher slaughter house, she heard screaming cattle from a half kilometer away and wondered what was different in this place. What she saw was shocking. I quote from her book, Thinking in Pictures, and Other Reports Prom My Life With Autism: "I will never forget having nightmares after visiting the now defunct Spencer Foods plant in Spencer, Iowa fifteen years ago. Employees wearing football helmets attached a nose tong to the nose of a writhing beast suspended by a chain wrapped around one back leg. Each terrified animal was forced with an electric prod to run into a small stall which had a slick floor on a forty-five degree angle. This caused the animal to slip and fall so that workers could attach the chain to its rear leg [in order to raise it into the air]. As I watched this nightmare, I thought, 'This should not be happening in a civilized society.' In my diary I wrote, 'If hell exists, I am in it.' I vowed that I would replace the plant from hell with a kinder and gentler system." And she has been doing that for years now. You may wonder why the Rabbayin listen to a gentile, autistic woman.
One reason may be because she knows the laws of shechita very well. She was told about the Talmud and went to the library and found Mesechet Chulin, in English and read it'. Then, she applied science to what she learned in the Gemorrah and published an article called, "Slaughter," for a scientific journal in the meat industry.
In that journal article she relates some important facts. She studied the reaction time of death from the initial incision of the knife until the death of the animal. She wanted to know if it was painful to cut the animal's throat. She did this by observation of the animal. What she saw was that when animals were led quietly into a restraining device where they stood upright, into a frame that supplied chin and head support, the animals had little or no reaction to the cut," She said that her observations in kosher slaughter houses where there was a poorly designed holder was that the cut allowed the neck to close back over the knife and it resulted in vigorous reactions from the cattle during the cut. She also states that when the moving and holding devises are not well designed, the animal will kick and twist and occasionally go into spasms. She says that when a shochet uses a rapid cutting stroke, on a calm, upright animal, 95% of the calves she observed collapsed almost immediately. She says in her paper: Some rabbinical authorities prefer inverted restraint and cutting downward because they are concerned that an upward cut may violate the Jewish rule which forbids excessive pressure on the knife. There is concern that the animal may tend to push downward on the knife during an upward cut. Observations indicate that just the opposite happens. When large 800 to 950 kilogram bulls are held in a pneumatically powered head restraint which they can easily move, the animals pull their heads upwards away from the knife during a mis-cut. This would reduce pressure on the blade. When the cut is done correctly, the bulls stood still and did not move the head restraint. Equal amounts of pressure were applied by the forehead bracket and the chin lift.
Upright restraint may provide the additional advantage of improved bleed out because the animal remains calmer and more relaxed. Observations indicate that a relaxed, calm animal has improved bleedout and a rapid onset of unconsciousness. Excited animals are more likely to have a slower bleedout. The use of a comfortable upright restraint device would be advantageous from a religious standpoint because rapid bleedout and maximum loss of blood obeys the Biblical principle of 'Only be sure that you eat not of the blood: for the blood is life.' Devarim: 12:23)."
Another interesting point in her article is the comparison of Jewish slaughter to Arab. She says that the Arabs use a short knife which causes definite distress and struggling in cattle. Also, she points out that the Arabs stun the animal before they slaughter it. Perhaps they do this because of the cattle's tendency to struggle in this method.
She told me that it is against the law in England and Holland to turn an animal upside down when shechting. This may shed some light on why some Europeans are against shechita. It could be straightforward anti-semitism, or, it could be that they witnessed what Dr. Grandin witnessed years ago in Iowa. She told me that Argentina and Uruguay are the worst places for shechita.
It is obvious why the Rabbayim are listening to her: It makes halachic sense. And it makes financial sense as well. Her restraint system is a quicker and quieter way to do business and safer for the cattle and their handlers.
The other point of interest to Torah-observant Jews is how this woman, who says that she is completely logical and totally unemotional, came to believe that there is a G-d.
Caring for and relating to a person with autism can be extremely difficult for parents, teachers, siblings and others because autistic individuals appear as if they have no feelings, desires for love, friendship, kinship, or any kind of human relationship. The behavior of autistic persons leads others to perceive them as unemotional and detached, although they do want human interaction. Their social relationships are therefore very different from those of normal persons.
If one cannot have a relationship with another, how can one hope to have a relationship with G-d, or even come to believe that there is such a thing?
Temple wrote in her diary when she was in college in 1968: "I develop my views from the existing pool of knowledge and I will adapt my views when I learn more. The only permanent view that I have is that there is a G-d. My views are based on the basic fundamental laws of nature and physics that I am now aware of."
She learned later about "Chaos Theory," and how order comes from disorder and randomness. She brings examples such as how snowflake patterns are ordered symmetrical patterns that form in random air turbulence and how slight changes in that turbulence affect the patterns.
"It is unpredictable," she said, but it is a wondrous fact that out of this unpredictable, disorder, a determined, beautiful pattern must emerge. She saw this also in a research study done at the University of California where the researchers put atoms on a heated platinum surface causing them to form ordered patterns. The temperatures of the platinum determined the type of patterns showing beautifully how order comes from random changes in the elements. She explains that the universe is full of self-ordering systems. She also has a rather ingenious notion of what causes all this.
She explains that one of her teachers taught about the second law of thermodynamics, a law of physics that says that universe will gradually lose order and have increasing "entropy." Entropy is the increase of disorder in a closed thermodynamic system. Her former instructor terms our universe a closed thermodynamic system.
She explains how she envisioned this as she is always, "thinking in pictures." There are two rooms. One is very cold and one is very hot. If you open a window between them, eventually the two temperatures will even out destroying what was in each room. However, if a little man operated the window so that cold atoms could go into one room and not into the other, order would be restored. She called this ordering force that prevents entropy in a closed thermodynamic system: G-d.
It is interesting that all of her beliefs about religion started as she began to work in the slaughter business. She felt that there must be something sacred about dying. She wrote in her book, "I believe that the place where an animal dies is a sacred one. There is a need to bring ritual into the conventional slaughter plants and use it as a means to shape people's behavior. It would help prevent people from becoming numbed, callous, or cruel." She observed while working with Rabbayim doing schechita that, "It is the religious belief of the Rabbis in the kosher plants that helps prevent bad behavior. In most kosher slaughter plants, the rabbis are absolutely sincere and believe that their work is sacred. The rabbi in a kosher plant is a specially trained religious slaughterer called a schochet, who must lead a blameless life and be moral. Leading a blameless life prevents him from being degraded by his work." One should remember that the book I quote from is written by a gentile for a gentile audience and is about her life with autism. It makes her observations all the more striking.
I will end with a quote of hers that she often thinks while helping to slaughter cattle. We all know that when we had the Bais HaMikdash, that we were to consider the animals we brought for a koporrah as representing ourselves. She has similar thoughts. She called the ramp she made for cattle to more easily ascend into the slaughter hold, "The Stairway to Heaven." Here is what she says:
"One night when the crew was working late, I stood on the nearly completed structure and looked into what would become the entrance to heaven for cattle. This made me more aware of how precious life is. When your time comes and you are walking up the proverbial stairway, will you be able to look back and be proud of what you did with your life? Did you contribute something worthwhile to society? Did your life have meaning?
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