To Kill a Lamb or Not to Kill a Lamb – Passover in Israel

Today marks the beginning of my third Passover in Israel. I am not Jewish and I don’t live in Israel full time, yet lately I’ve found myself here each Spring when this holiday occurs. And yet again this year, Passover is proving to be a learning experience for me.

This post does not contain photos of my experience because, once I realized what was happening, I just couldn’t take photos.

Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) is an extremely important holiday here, lasting eight days and, involving serious preparation by Jews beforehand and dietary restrictions during. Since my first Pesach in Israel, I’ve know that sale of leaven products is prohibited by law. But during this season’s Pesach preparation I discovered a new side to this holiday.

Several days ago my friend Moshe invited me to come along with him to buy lamb meat for the holiday, which I then learned from him is a Pesach tradition in Israel.

Moshe’s English is limited and we have catastrophic, yet hilarious misunderstandings frequently. The following misunderstanding was not so hilarious. What I understood Moshe to say was that the place we were going to get meat was a place that kills lambs for Pesach but that we were simply going to buy meat, not to slaughter a lamb. So I said okay, I’ll go.

Moshe drove me straight to a slaughterhouse. This was very disturbing. There was one dead baby lamb at the entrance, which I suppose had been hit by a car and no one had bothered to move, and it was already very nearly melted into the ground and being eaten by bugs. Another poor little young lamb inside the slaughterhouse was lying, dying, along the walkway.

Flies were everywhere. Everywhere. From the time we got out of the car until we got back in, flies. I was afraid I’d get a disease from them. There were at least 100 lambs of varying ages – living in good conditions, thank God – awaiting their deaths.

A man who I suppose was the slaughterhouse manager, came along and spoke to Moshe for a while. As they spoke, one adorable, very lively and curious little lamb jumped through the fence separating humans from animals and baa’d at me vigorously. I petted him and talked to him until he, unwisely, ran up to the manager, who without hesitance reached down and picked him up by its leg, dangling him upside down. I stepped forward and grabbed the baby lamb, held it in my arms and deposited it back into its pen. My heart was hurting to know its fate.

I turned to go back to the car and saw out of the corner of my eye Moshe pointing at a lamb. Was he picking out one to kill? We got back in the car, drove around to the back of the building, and I questioned him – Are they going to kill that lamb?

Yes, he said, I told you this.

No, I said, you did not.

Once we parked, I could see that the manager had already grabbed the lamb Moshe had selected and tied him up inside another building. I sat in the car.

Soon a rabbi would arrive, Moshe divulged, and kill the lamb. After several minutes, he appeared. Moshe opened my car door to introduce me to the rabbi and another man, and I pulled it back shut. Perhaps childishly, I didn’t want to talk the man who was going to kill the lamb.

After a while the rabbi appeared again, gazing at me with curiosity as I opened back up the car door. I didn’t care that maybe my question was inappropriate for a religious man. I just wanted to get out of there. Where is the toilet? I asked.

As I walked up the hill following his directions, the fresh air and bucolic setting cleared my mind. Just keep on walking and maybe I can escape the sound of the lamb’s screams as they cut its throat or whatever they do to kill it. So off I went, trying to enjoy the scenery.

Bucolic northern Israel

After 20 minutes or so I headed back and spotted Moshe’s car at the top of the driveway. Surely the lamb couldn’t have been killed and cut into pieces so quickly. I climbed in and looked at Moshe. I couldn’t do it, he said. He couldn’t? Surely this is something he’s done many times before. But maybe it had always bothered him? Or maybe he couldn’t do it because of me? When I saw how sad you were, I just couldn’t kill it, Moshe confirmed. When one lamb is killed, all the others hear it screaming, he said, cringing.

This is like the Holocaust, he then concluded, perhaps melodramatically.

I slumped in relief in the seat as he drove us away from the slaughterhouse. I had helped save a lamb from slaughter! For maybe an hour, anyway.

8 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Steve says:

    What a story. It would be hard to see those conditions and know what was about to happen. Maybe you would have felt better if the conditions were better. But to go in there seeing road kill and flies everywhere would just be gross.

    I’ve seen plenty of chickens get killed while traveling. I remember turning the corner in a Vietnam market and watching a guy cut the head off a chicken while it’s wings flapped all over. That was a shock for someone whose never seen it before.
    Steve recently posted..How to Negotiate a Month of Travel from WorkMy Profile

  2. Sabina says:

    Hi, Steve! Yes, it was difficult. The lambs actually looked like they were in pretty good living conditions. But the lack of care shown to the dying lamb, as well as the dead baby lamb out front was disturbing. I have avoided seeing chickens being killed, although I could easily see this in Dahab. It wouldn’t bother me as much as a lamb being slaughtered, but I still would have a big problem with it.

  3. Shalu Sharma says:

    Didn’t know that animal sacrifice was still prevalent in Israel. I think its still there in many cultures and countries. Never been a fan of such things. Interestingly, its also prevalent in India too.
    Shalu Sharma recently posted..My Indian breakfast, lunch and dinnerMy Profile

  4. Sabina says:

    I’m not sure it’s exactly animal sacrifice, but I think it’s close. Some Jews in Israel do it for Passover and some don’t. I love cultural tradition typically, but not this one.

  5. Arianwen says:

    I watched a goat sacrifice in Tanzania once and was transfixed. I even stuck around to watch how they skinned it and prepared it for our dinner. I think perhaps that’s not normal!
    Arianwen recently posted..Dona Marta favela: is it safe?My Profile

  6. Sabina says:

    Oh, wow. I could never actually watch. One time in Egypt during Edi al-Adha I saw a pile of goat skins lying on the ground outside a butcher shop after they’d been sacrificed and that was bad enough :(

  7. Absolutely heartbreaking experience for you unfortunately :( I know I wouldn’t be able to eat for at least a whole day after seeing that.
    Matt | Operation421 recently posted..10 Great places to see in Halifax, Nova ScotiaMy Profile

  8. Sabina says:

    Hi, Matt – Yes, while we all know that animals are killed for our food, it is hard to see it almost happen in front of your eyes. I was so happy my friend changed his mind :)

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