by Ben Wolfson Mishpahah Vol 364 August 30, 1998 pages 16‑17
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.