December 19, 2004

Special JVNA Newsletter - Postville Slaughterhouse Case #6

Shalom everyone,

This special Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) Online Newsletter is the sixth follow-up to the JVNA newsletter on the Postville slaughterhouse issue sent out on December 1. It includes much material from various perspectives to give you an idea of some of the latest developments. For additional information, please do an Internet search for recent articles and/or check web sites of PETA, the OU, and other involved groups.

This newsletter has the following items:

1. JVNA Objectives Re the Postville Controversy

My Opinion Article Aiming To Broaden The Discussion to Vegetarianism Issues/suggestions Welcome

Petition Drive to Have Rabbis and Other Jewish Leaders Support Proper Changes and Supervision at Postville and Other Slaughterhouses

Article By the Jerusalem Post Editorial Page Editor/With My Comments

Action Ideas

Sample Letter

Publications That Had Recent Articles re Postville/Please Write Letters to Editors

Some material has been deferred to a later update/newsletter to keep this one from being even longer.

[Materials in brackets like this [ ] within an article or forwarded message are my editorial notes/comments.]

Opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the JVNA, unless otherwise indicated, but may be presented to increase awareness and/or to encourage respectful dialogue. Also, information re conferences, retreats, forums, trips, and other events does not necessarily imply endorsements by JVNA, but may be presented for informational purposes. Please use e-mail addresses, telephone numbers, and web sites to get further information about any event that you are interested in.

As always, your comments and suggestions are very welcome.


1. JVNA Objectives Re the Postville Controversy

Here is an expanded version of a previously sent outline of JVNA objectives re the Postville situation:

* Make sure that people are aware of Judaism’s strong teachings on compassion to animals, that shechita, if properly done, is a superior method of slaughter, and that the horrible scenes videotaped at the Postville slaughterhouse are not typical of Jewish ritual slaughter practivces. PETA has kept its focus on the abuses at the Postville plant and has acknowledged that properly carried out slaughter is a superior method.

If anyone has any doubts re the horrors at non-kosher slaughterhouses, they should read the excellent book “Slaughterhouse” by Gail Eisnitz.

* Join others in advocating that the methods used in the Postville plant be changed immediately and that the OU and other groups set up rigorous standards that will be strictly enforced so that there never be another situation like the Postville case. [Please see items 3 and 5 below.] There have been recent positive moves by the OU and others toward improving conditions at the Postville plant and setting up better standards.

* Make people aware that the Postville case should awaken us to the many ways that animal-based diets and agriculture threaten human health and the planet’s sustainability, and violate basic Jewish mandates re preserving health, treating animals with compassion, protecting the environment, conserving natural resources, and helping hungry people. Once the Postville situation is resolved, it is essential that people think that everything is now fine and they can continue their consumption of animal products with a clear conscience. They have a choice re their diets, but they should make that choice based on a knowledge of the realities. The article below emphasizes this objective.

While Jews are a small percent of the world’s people and thereby responsible for only a small part of the problems related to modern intensive livestock agriculture and other current practices, it is essential, in view of the many threats to humanity today, that we strive to fulfil our challenge to be a “light unto the nations,” and to work for “tikkun olam,” the healing, repair, and proper transformation of the world.

As we continue our struggles, we should keep in mind that we are trying to end or at least reduce a system that treats 10 billion animals in the US and 50 billion animals worldwide with tremendous cruelty on factory farms, that is causing an epidemic of disease, and that is having devastating effects on the environment. The future of humanity may be involved in our efforts.

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2. My Opinion Article Aiming To Broaden The Discussion to Vegetarianism

I am planning to soon send the article below to the Jewish media. Suggestions very welcome. Thanks. And thanks to Syd Baumel, Dan Brook, and Lewis Regenstein for the valuable suggestions they sent in re an earlier draft.

Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D.

The horrific scenes of the mistreatment of animals videotaped at the Postville glatt kosher slaughterhouse and the efforts of some Jewish groups to defend the facility’s procedures raise questions that go to the heart and soul of Judaism: If slaughterhouse procedures are not consistently monitored for strict adherence to the ideals of shechita, are we carrying out our mandate to be “rachmanim b’nei rachmanim” (compassionate children of compassionate ancestors)? Are we failing to properly imitate G-d, Whose “tender mercies are over all His creatures” (Psalms 145:9)?

Even if shechita is carried out perfectly and pain and distress during slaughter are minimized, can we ignore the many violations of Jewish teachings on compassion to animals as billions of animals on “factory farms” in the United States and worldwide experience pain, suffering, and agony for their entire lives? If, as is recited at synagogue services every Sabbath and Yom tov morning, “the soul of every living creature shall bless G-d’s Name,” can we expect these cruelly treated animals to join in the praise? If, “the righteous person considers the life of his or her animal” (Proverbs 12:10), how will be judged, based on our vicarious treatment of the animals raised, trucked and slaughtered for our tables?

Also, can we ignore the many other ways that animal-based diets and agriculture severely violate Jewish values:

* While Judaism mandates that people should be very careful about preserving their health and their lives, numerous scientific studies have implicated the products of modern intensive livestock agriculture as significant risk factors for coronary heart disease, stroke, several forms of cancer, and other chronic degenerative diseases.

* While Judaism teaches that "the earth is the Lord's" (Psalm 24:1) and that we are to be God's partners and co-workers in preserving the world, modern intensive livestock agriculture is widely recognized by independent scientists, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, as an environmentally unsustainable enterprise that grossly accelerates soil erosion and depletion, air and water pollution, overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the destruction of tropical rainforests and other habitats, global climate change, and other forms of environmental damage.

* While Judaism mandates bal tashchit, not to waste or unnecessarily destroy anything of value, or use more than is needed to accomplish a purpose, a diet based upon animal agriculture instead of plant agriculture (which provides protein from grains, beans, tubers, nuts and seeds) wastes many times more land, fresh water, fossil fuels, grain and other resources. It takes up to sixteen pounds of grain to produce just one pound of feedlot-raised beef.

While Judaism stresses that we are to assist the poor and share our bread with hungry people, an estimated twenty million human beings worldwide die each year because of hunger and its effects, and nearly a billion are chronically malnourished. While the solution of widespread hunger is complex, it doesn't help that over 70 percent of the grain grown in the U.S. and almost 40 percent worldwide is produced to fatten food animals, not to feed the world's most impoverished human citizens, many of whom are displaced from
their land by animal feed growers.

* While Judaism stresses that we must seek and pursue peace and that violence results from unjust conditions, animal-centered diets animal-centered diets help create more food security "haves" and "have nots," a precipitating factor in political instability and violent conflict.

If Judaism is to remain relevant to many of the great problems of today, it is my heartfelt belief that all Jews must very seriously consider adopting a sustainable vegan, vegetarian or plant-based diet. In my view, it is a moral, social and ecological imperative. While Jews are a small percent of the world’s people and thereby responsible for only a small part of the problems related to modern intensive livestock agriculture and other current practices, it is essential, in view of the many threats to humanity today, that we strive to fulfil our challenge to be a “light unto the nations,” and to work for “tikkun olam,” the healing, repair, and proper transformation of the world.

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3. Petition Drive to Have Rabbis and Other Jewish Leaders Support Proper Changes and Supervision at Postville and Other Slaughterhouses

Due to some wonderful work by Aaron Gross, we are planning to present a petition (not sponsored by JVNA or any other organization), signed by many rabbis, that seeks the OU and other kashrut organizations to mandate better standards and inspection for ritual slaughter. If you have suggestions re rabbis who might endorse such a petition, please let me know. Thanks.

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4. Article By the Jerusalem Post Editorial Page Editor/With My Comments

December 16, 2004
The Jerusalem Post

Interesting Times: Cutting-edge Kashrut
Saul Singer, Editorial Page Editor
[My comments are in brackets at a few points within the article.]

I am an increasingly observant Jew. I don't imagine becoming fully Orthodox, but I'm a great believer in the power of the two institutions that kept Jewish communities whole throughout the centuries: kashrut and Shabbat.

I became attracted to kashrut, in particular, for two reasons: its ethical foundations and the way it brings Judaism out of the synagogue, elevating a mundane aspect of daily life. The ethical impact of kashrut is found most broadly in the simple idea that people, unlike animals, should not eat anything they want to. Automatically, this raises consciousness toward animals, as shown by the general Jewish revulsion for hunting. But the most concrete sign of kashrut's ethical basis are the laws of shehita (kosher slaughter).

The idea that it matters how an animal is killed was itself a breathtaking ethical advance for its times. In the ancient world, it was not uncommon to eat from live animals - a practice so abhorrent that its abolition became one of just seven Noahide laws that the Torah applied also to non-Jews.

Shehita took this a step further, requiring that cattle be slaughtered in a way designed to eliminate pain - a single, swift stroke with a unblemished knife, severing the major arteries and airway and rendering the animal almost instantly unconscious.

Dr. Temple Grandin, perhaps the world's best-known academic expert on humane slaughtering, writes that in the hands of the best shohtim, the animal does not move, seems not to feel the cut, and drops dead in eight to 10 seconds. [This is the shechita that the JVNA has consistently supported when it was singled out for attack.]

This, I must admit, was my somewhat naive image of shehita until the recent controversy over the AgriProcessors plant in Postville, Iowa, broke. A video secretly taken in the kosher plant and posted on the Web ( showed cattle having their throats cut, their trachea ripped out, and surviving minutes longer as they struggled to their feet while slipping, panicked, in their own blood.

Numerous rabbis and experts have responded with horror to this plant's unique and nightmarish procedure, which seems to violate both Jewish and American law. The Orthodox Union, the most prominent of the organizations certifying the kashrut of the plant, has pledged that the ripping out of the trachea of sensate animals will be stopped.

But this is not enough.

IN THE modern world, shehita cannot be justified when, due to indifference or incompetence, it becomes less humane than the standard non-kosher slaughtering method, in which the animal is instantly killed by a bolt shot into its head. [As indicated before, the book “Slaughterhouse” by Gail Eisnitz discusses many horrors that occur at non-kosher slaughterhouses.] Jewish law prohibits any maiming of the animal before shehita, and so prohibits the standard procedure, called "stunning." But in many kosher slaughtering plants, particularly in South America, Europe and Israel, cattle are still slaughtered while hoisted into the air by a back leg or while wrestled or mechanically maneuvered onto their backs. [This method, which is not part of traditional shechita, has been strongly opposed by Temple Grandin and other animal welfare experts and has been condemned by the Conservative Rabbinical Alliance’s Committee on Law and Standards.]

The prohibitions on injuring animals before shehita, and against cruelty to animals in general, need to be reflected in modern application of Jewish law. This means that the restraining method used in shehita has to be as humane as the shehita itself. Kosher plants that use well-designed standing restraints follow this principle. But there is no excuse for treating the many plants that use other extremely painful and stressful restraining methods as kosher, when such methods render shehita less humane than stunning.

Ironically, the AgriProcessors plant was producing glatt kosher meat: "Glatt" refers to an extra stringency in the law, in which the lungs are held to a higher standard of blemishlessness. It makes little sense, as Chaim Milikowsky of Bar-Ilan University's Talmud department has pointed out, "to insist upon the most stringent requirements with regard to the ritual portion of the slaughtering process and yet, at the same time, flagrantly not insist upon stringent requirements with regard to the crucial moral aspect." To do so makes "the entire kashrut endeavor of that person both suspect and absurd."

Further, the clear implication that "God cares only about his ritual law and not about his moral law," Milikowsky argues "is to desecrate His Name."

I want to be proud of kashrut, not just in theory, but in practice. I don't want to have to choose between my Judaism and my ethics - I find the thought that the two could be in conflict unacceptably troubling. [this is why the JVNA, along with other groups and rabbis, is promoting an end to the horrible procedures videotaped at the Postville slaughterhouse, and for the OU and other kashrut groups to mandate and strictly supervise the highest standards of ritual slaughter.] I, along with some Jewish thinkers, already believe the notion of "kosher veal" is a contradiction in terms, since veal calves are kept in tiny pens their whole lives to keep them from developing muscles. [This is great, but there are many other horrible conditions on factory farms.]

To me, if kashrut is not on the cutting edge of humanity toward animals, it's not kashrut. I would be happy to pay extra for "ethically glatt" meat. I have already stopped eating veal, and consider that decision part of my kashrut observance. Until I can be assured that shehita is being performed according to the full letter and spirit of Jewish law, I think I will have to avoid "kosher" beef as well. [I do not think that Saul Singer meant to imply that he would eat non-kosher meat. Of course, the JVNA advocates diets completely free of all types of meat. A wonderful book on the many negative effects of the production and consumption of beef is “Beyond Beef,” by Jeremy Rifkind.]

Please send a letter to the editor at or write the author at

Copyright 1995-2004 The Jerusalem Post -

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5. Action Ideas

Please continue to monitor your local papers for articles and respond to them, as well as to some of the publications indicated in item 7. Please use material in this JVNA newsletter and previous issues, as well as material at the JVNA web site ( for background information. Thanks.

Please ask the Orthodox Union (OU), the world's largest kosher certifier, and the K'hal Adath Jeshurun (KAJ) to adopt the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) guidelines for ritual slaughter and to take appropriate action to ensure that animals are no longer abused by AgriProcessors. For AgriProcessors, this must include unannounced audits by an inspector approved of by Dr. Temple Grandin. You can read the FMI guidelines for ritual slaughter at

The FMI guidelines prohibit electric prods and ensure that animals are not turned upside-down before their throats are slit and that they are not moved until they are unconscious after throat-slitting. The OU and KAJ should explicitly recognize and train shochets (slaughterers) to recognize the physiological signs of consciousness in cattle-blinking, bellowing, standing, rhythmic breathing, and attempting to right the head-to ensure that no animals are touched or moved until they are unconscious. All equipment must be inspected to ensure that it is notharming animals (e.g., conveyor belts should not trap chickens and break their legs).

It is imperative that all correspondence be courteous, for best results.

Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb
Executive Vice President
Orthodox Union
11 Broadway, 14th Fl.
New York, NY 10004

Please copy your letter or e-mail message to:
Rabbi Menachem Genack
Rabbinic Administrator
Kashrut Division
Orthodox Union
11 Broadway, 14th Fl.
New York, NY 10004

Please also send your letter or e-mail message to representatives of the KAJ:
Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Edelstein
Kashrus Administrator
K'hal Adath Jeshurun
85-93 Bennet Ave.
New York, NY 10033

Rabbi Chaim Kohn
Rabbinic Administrator
K'hal Adath Jeshurun
85 Bennett Ave.
New York, NY 10033

Ask the USDA to Demand Standards for Religious Slaughter

In a recent investigation into the world's largest kosher slaughterhouse, PETA documented hideous cruelty to animals that meat-industry consultant Dr. Temple Grandin called "horrific," saying that the plant was "doing everything wrong they can do wrong." Click here to learn more about the investigation, to watch the video, and to read statements from the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, current slaughterhouse inspectors, rabbis, and others.

Please also ask that the USDA develop explicit and publicly available guidelines for religious slaughter. The United States should follow the lead of Australia, Canada, and the European Union in developing guidelines for religious slaughter that require that animals not be touched or moved until they are unconscious, which should take no more than 30 seconds after throat-slitting. If they are not fully unconscious within 20 seconds, animals should be stunned via captive-bolt guns. All religious slaughterers should be trained in the physiological signs of consciousness in animals-blinking, bellowing, standing, rhythmic breathing, and attempting to right the head-to ensure that no conscious animals are touched or moved.

The Honorable Ann Veneman
Secretary of Agriculture
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave. S.W.
Washington, DC 20250

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6. Sample Letter

Forwarded from Lewis Regenstein, long time environmental activist and author, and JVNA advisor.

Cruelty is not kosher

To the Editor:

Thank you for your fine editorial condemning cruel animal slaughter methods undertaken in the name of Jewish law.

Revelations of cruelty at a kosher slaughterhouse in Iowa have overlooked a fundamental fact: the Jewish religion has strict laws and teachings forbidding cruelty to animals. In fact, there is an entire code of law (“Tsa’ar ba’alei hayim”, the commandment to prevent the suffering of living creatures) mandating that other creatures be treated with compassion.

Indeed, the Jews invented the concept of kindness to animals some 4,000 years ago, and it is mandated throughout the Bible and Jewish law. Even the holiest of our laws, The Ten Commandments, requires that farm animals be allowed to enjoy a day of rest on the Sabbath. So the Almighty must have felt that kindness to animals was not a trivial matter.

Jews are not allowed to “pass by” an animal in distress or to ignore animals being mistreated, even on the Sabbath. Yet this is exactly what we do when we certify as “kosher” products from animals that are treated cruelly. It is truly a “shanda,” a shameful thing, that we endorse the massive abuse and suffering of billions of
factory farmed creatures, many of which spend their entire lives in misery, fear, and anguish, in addition to the cruel way they are killed.

[As indicated above, the JVNA believes that, properly carried out, shechita is a superior method of slaughter, and that the procedures videotaped at the Postville slaughterhouse are not the typical way shechita is carried out in the US.]

It should also be mentioned that many Jews are working to change these practices and “relieve the suffering of these living creatures.” There is no tradition of our faith that is older or more revered.

Sincerely yours,

Lewis Regenstein
Atlanta, Ga.

The writer is the author of “Replenish the Earth: The Teachings of the World’s Religions on Protecting Animals and Nature”, and president of The Interfaith Council for the Protection of Animals and Nature.

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7. Publications That Had Recent Articles re Postville/Please Write Letters to the Editors

“Complaint embroils kosher meat plant”
Baltimore Sun December 19
Letters to the Editor:
Article: 003242.story">,1,2>003242.story

“Town rallies around firm called inhumane”
Chicago Tribune December 19
"Kosher Slaughter Charges Hit Home"
By Mark Arnold and Gary Band
"Local Animal Rights Advocate Decries Slaughtering Practices"
By Susan Jacobs
"How Humane are Kosher Slaughtering Practices?" (editorial,
By Mark Arnold

All in: The Jewish Journal
December 17 - 31, 2004 issue
Send e-mails to .

"Ag Secretary Judge sees 'quick and humane' slaughter at Agri"
By Sharon Drahn
The Postville Herald-Leader
December 16, 2004
Send e-mails at .
"Interesting Times: Cutting-edge kashrut"

"PETA protest gets 'Maude' squad boost"
The Omaha World-Herald
December 17, 2004
Send e-mails to .

Thanks again to Liz Abbott of PETA for compiling this and previous lists.

* Please limit your letter to 200 words or less and respond to this alert within 48 hours.
* Be sure to include the title and date of the piece, and your name, address, and phone numbers for letter verification.
* As most large newspapers demand exclusive letters, please vary the wording when submitting a letter to more than one publication and let us know if a publication prints your letter(s) so we can share your success with other writers.

Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has. -- Margaret Mead

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