Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Romain responds to the question: ‘What is the Jewish attitude to halal meat?’
Halal means ‘legal’ or ‘permissable’ in Arabic, virtually the same as the Hebrew word ‘kosher’. There are many other similarities between the two dietary systems : Muslims are forbidden to eat pork or blood, while the method of slaughter is – like shechitah – a swift, deep incision with a sharp knife across the neck, cutting the carotid arteries, causing the blood pressure in the brain to fall to zero and for the animal to loose consciousness almost instantaneously.
It is for this reason that Muslims are allowed to eat kosher meat if halal is not available. However, Jews are not allowed to eat halal meat – because a blessing to Allah is said over each animal before it is slaughtered. It means, though, that if one was in a situation where the only food available was halal meat and ordinary meat, the former would be preferable.
There has been a lot of comment recently over halal being inhumane – and kosher meat too – with abattoirs used by them being described as horrific places to visit. In fact, all abattoirs are unpleasant, full of blood and the smell of death, whatever the method of slaughter. Moreover, although neither halal nor kashrut allow stunning, the loss of consciousness that results from both methods means that the animals suffer the minimum amount of pain.
For those who dislike all acts of killing animals, Judaism has always seen vegetarianism as a respectable alternative and long before it became fashionable in modern times. The rabbinic commentators held that Adam and Eve were vegetarian in the Garden of Eden, while they say that we will return to being vegetarian in the messianic era. We may be allowed to eat meat in the meantime, but that is a very clear message that vegetarianism is an ideal state of living.