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It could be a delayed reaction to PETA's exposé about inhumane treatment of animals at a kosher slaughterhouse in Iowa a couple of years ago, but there seems to be a movement towards demanding shochtim and abattoirs display ethical and humane treatment of animals.

Of course, Jewish vegetarian groups have been around for years, but there are sparks that even the kosher meat market might be inching towards animal rights concerns. Over the summer, the Washington Post and New York Times both ran long features about the blending of ethical concerns with ritual ones, and the Forward newspaper used the run-up period to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur to talk about moves in the Orthodox world to treat chickens used for the pre-Yom Kippur kapparot ceremony humanely.

Technically, kashrut has nothing to do with treating animals properly before slitting their throats: If a knowledgeable shochet kills a kosher animal in accordance with halacha, the meat is kosher. But to many people, the "whys" of keeping kosher are just as important as the "hows," and explanations about "why keep kosher" often include kashrut's supposed ethical superiority.

Even non-Orthodox kosher-keepers are getting in the fray. Over the summer, the Conservative movement announced plans to issue a hechsher tzedek, intended to confirm that workers and animals are treated appropriately at kosher slaughterhouses, focusing on creating kosher conditions at all stages of the process. The move is strongly opposed by Orthodox organizations.