January 17, 2005

1/17/05 JVNA Online Newsletter

Shalom everyone,

This update/Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) Online Newsletter has the following items:

1. Words To Inspire Our Efforts

2. Global Warming Causing Widening Droughts

3. Op-Ed Article by JVNA Advisor Syd Baumel

4. Two Jewish Day Schools Provide Ecologically-Conscious Education

5. ACTION ALERT: KFC Slaughterhouse Cruelty Urgent Update

6. ACTION ALERT: Protect "Downed" Farm Animals

7. New Recipes at the JVNA Web Site

8. Thai Tsunami Workers Turn Vegetarian

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. Words To Inspire Our Efforts

The following message from long time JVNA advisor and author Yosef Hakohen provide, I believe, quotations from Jewish sages that provide valuable insights that can inspire our efforts to reduce threats to humanity and our imperiled planet. The emphases (in bold) are the newsletter editor’s.

The Journey to Unity - 87b
Postscript: The Universal Self

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch teaches:

"Compassion is the feeling of empathy which the pain of one being of itself awakens in another; and the higher and more human the beings are, the more keenly attuned are they to re-echo the note of suffering, which - like a voice from heaven - penetrates the heart, bringing to all creatures a proof of their kinship in the universal God. And as for the human being, whose function it is to show respect and love for God's universe and all its creatures, his heart has been created so tender that it feels with the whole organic world." (Horeb 17).

Kabbalah - the hidden wisdom of Torah - reveals that the human being is a microcosm of the whole world. According to a teaching cited by the Vilna Gaon, a leading 18th century sage, an allusion to this idea is found in the following statement of the One Creator of all life:

"Let us make the human being in our image and after our likeness. " (Genesis 1:26)

The Torah states that there is only One Creator, so who was the Creator speaking to when He said, "Let 'us' make the human being"? The Vilna Gaon responds that the Creator was addressing all of creation, bidding each to contribute a portion of its characteristics to the human being. For example, the human being's inner strength is traced to the lion, his swiftness to the eagle, his cunning to the fox, his capacity for growth to the flora - all of which are harmonized within the human being.

Since the human being reflects the unity of the Divine creation, he has the unique ability to identify with all aspects of creation. It was therefore the human being who was chosen to be the steward over the Divine estate - to serve it and protect it.

Hazon - Our Universal Vision: www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/

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2. Global Warming Causing Widening Droughts

Drought's Growing Reach:
NCAR Study Points to Global Warming as Key Factor

January 10, 2005

BOULDER- The percentage of Earth's land area stricken by serious drought more than doubled from the 1970s to the early 2000s, according to a new analysis by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). Widespread drying occurred over much of Europe and Asia, Canada, western and southern Africa, and eastern Australia. Rising global temperatures appear to be a major factor, says NCAR's Aiguo Dai, lead author of the study.

Dai will present the new findings on January 12 at the American Meteorological Society's annual meeting in San Diego. The work also appears in the December issue of the Journal of Hydrometeorology in a paper also authored by NCAR's Kevin Trenberth and Taotao Qian. The study was supported by the National Science Foundation, NCAR's primary sponsor.

Dai and colleagues found that the fraction of global land experiencing very dry conditions (defined as -3 or less on the Palmer Drought Severity Index) rose from
about 10-15% in the early 1970s to about 30% by 2002. Almost half of that change is due to rising temperatures rather than decreases in rainfall or snowfall, according to Dai.


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3. Op-Ed Article by JVNA Advisor Syd Baumel

I was relieved that the Jewish Post & News published a Torah Comment on the "Postville Horror" (as I think of it) expressing appropriate disgust with Agriprocessors' obscene version of shechita. Sadly, some Jewish commentators have tried to defend the indefensible and shoot the messenger (PETA) instead, even as PETA insists that shechita, when competently and compassionately performed, may be the most humane slaughter method in use today.

I was particularly touched by Rabbi Enkin's story of the Baal Shem Tov who, during his years as a shochet, could not help but bathe the knife in his own tears before cutting each pitiful animal's neck.

No one, not even a vegan like myself, can live without killing or harming other animals, even if only the field animals displaced or killed to build our roads and cities and grow our crops. It's for this reason that spiritual traditions commonly teach their followers to respect all life that they must take for survival - and to take it with a solemn mixture of gratitude and regret: with a blessing, if you will.

But just as Christians today often ask "What would Jesus do?" I have to wonder what the Baal Shem Tov would do in 21st century North America.

Today it's easy to be a happy, well-nourished vegetarian or vegan; it's at least as healthful as being an omnivore, according to every controlled large-scale, long-term study conducted so far and repeated joint position papers by the American Dietetic Association and the Dietitians of Canada; it's orders of magnitude easier on the environment and on our prospects of feeding humanity for generations to come; and it of course eliminates the need to cry over the spilling of innocent blood, because there no longer is any need - only a selfish want - to eat food borne of the suffering of animals that are so very much like us and essentially no different from our beloved cats, dogs and birds. (In theory, some people may need to eat some animal food if supplements don't fulfill an idiosyncratic nutritional need. For example, in addition to vitamin B12 I find I need a supplement of carnitine.)

Rav Abraham Kook, pre-state Israel's first Chief Rabbi, chose ethical vegetarianism (with a symbolically token serving of chicken every Sabbath) instead of needless tears, as have many other rabbis, Chief and otherwise. In the Baal's day and even Rav Kook's, animals weren't raised on factory farms and trucked long distance to slaughter, packed like sardines for days in neither heated nor air-conditioned trucks with little or no food, water or rest. They at least had a life before their sudden and swift date with the schochet. There was a "contract" between man and animal, guaranteed to some extent by the transparency of farming practices to the community at large. Today the life cycle of some 650 million farm animals slaughtered annually in Canada alone is almost entirely hidden from public view. Out of sight, but not out of everyone's mind. Some halachic authorities, including the former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, David Rosen, have concluded that food from today's factory-type farms (the norm in Manitoba, as everywhere in North America), also known in the industry as "concentrated animal feeding operations" (the unintended allusion to the Holocaust is apt, not offensive, to this son of survivors), should not be considered kosher because the cruel production methods routinely violate the tradition of tsa'ar ba'alei chaim (avoiding unnecessary harm to animals).

Sadly, it's all too easy for people with an otherwise sensitive conscience to balk at the thought of going vegan, or even vegetarian. But what excuse can there be for not trying, as the Humane Society of the United States puts it, to refine, reduce and replace?

Refine means that when you do eat animal products, you eat those that have been ethically produced, that is, humanely and sustainably (e.g., certified organic or equivalent, Winnipeg Humane Society certified). Reduce means just what it says: every animal spared a desultory life by the supply and demand impact of our dinner decisions is a universe saved, if I may extend Jewish thought on the value of every human life a small step further. Replace simply means choosing plant protein alternatives: beans and other legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, potatoes, and faux animal products made from these ingredients.

In the end, whether one is omnivorous, vegetarian, vegan or "flexitarian" (a veg'n who cheats once in a while to stay on the straight and narrow most of the time), as humans, uniquely among Earth's creatures burdened and elevated by the gift of conscience, we have no choice, in my opinion, but to apply it to the who, what and how of our daily food choices. When we sit down to eat, there should be a direct line between our hearts and our hands.

Syd Baumel
Advisory Committee, Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JewishVeg.com)
Founder, Eatkind.net
452-1509 (home & office)

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4. Two Jewish Day Schools Provide Ecologically-Conscious Education

Eco-conscious day schools offer students new takes on kashrut
By Loolwa Khazzoom

BERKELEY, Calif., Jan. 13 (JTA) — As Jewish children around the world prepare to celebrate Tu B’Shevat by eating fruit and planting trees, students at the Jewish Community High School of San Francisco will take the holiday one step further.

They’ll spend the holiday, Jan. 25, at a science symposium called “The Green World,” where they’ll work on projects that explore the impact of plant life on the earth’s ecosystems.

This unusual holiday celebration reflects the school’s mission to combine academia with Jewish and ecological values. The mission also is reflected in the school’s eco-kosher lunch service, which offers an organic, vegetarian kosher meal every school day.

“We wanted to offer quality, healthy food, particularly in light of studies on teenage obesity,” says the school’s head, Rabbi Edward Harwitz. “As Jews, we have to think about the educational component of everything we do. Eating is a primary activity of our lives; we do it at least three times a day. In our school, we didn’t want our lunch service to just be a food vending program, or for students and faculty just to get something to eat. We wanted them to understand this is not merely an opportunity for us to stuff our faces.”

He continues, “It’s a principle as old as the Mishna: When three people sit together, there must be a spirit of Torah. A wonderful context for that is breaking bread together.”

At a school assembly when the new lunch program began, students learned about the importance of eating healthy food and of recycling. The lunch program, students were told, would have a no-waste policy: Everything from plates to cups to utensils would be 100 percent biodegradable.

There would be no need for trash cans in the lunch room, which instead would be furnished with bins for recycling and compost.

It’s a Maimonidean approach, Harwitz says, bringing Torah values into daily life.

“Utilizing the composting facility properly is not hard, but it does raise consciousness,” he said. “A week ago a student asked if we could think about using recycled paper, recycled paper towels. Students and I are now doing research on the cost effectiveness, and presenting our findings to the director of finance and operations.”

According to Noam Dolgin, associate director of the New York-based Teva Learning Center — one of several national programs spearheading the Jewish ecological movement — the JCHS lunch program is on the cutting edge of growing environmental activism in Jewish day schools.

“No other school has anything as extensive,” he says.

Through its Bring It Back to Our Schools program, Teva helps students and teachers across the country develop ways to be more environmentally conscious, both at school and at home.

“Each student, each school, each class makes a commitment to make changes in their personal lives or in their school — to turn off lights when they leave a room, to turn off water when they brush their teeth, to bike instead of drive,” Dolgin said. “They sit down with us and figure out what they can do to make their school a greener place — composting projects, getting rid of Styrofoam, using washable mugs instead of disposable cups, recycling paper, planting gardens.”

There are other Jewish days schools that are ecologically aware, according to Dolgin. He points to the Gesher Community Day School in Fairfax, Va., as one that is exceptionally committed to ecological issues.

The school is getting a new facility and the landscaping, which will include a number of gardens, will be ecologically sound.

The school also will include an “edible classroom,” where teachers will integrate gardening projects into science and home economics curricula.

“Environmental values care for creation, stewardship of the planet and ethical treatment of animals,” Dolgin says. “All of that is intrinsic to the Bible and writings of the rabbis and Jewish philosophers throughout the centuries.”

Jewish educators must use apply these values to the 21st century, he says.

According to Jesse Alper, director of food services at JCHS, diet is a key element of an environmental ethic.

“Throughout the course of human history, all food was grown organically, regardless of culture or locale,” he says. “It wasn’t until the rise of the chemical industry in the 1950s that the introduction of synthetic fertilizers and chemical pesticides changed agriculture as we know it. What’ s even worse than that is the corporate takeover of our food system. What that means is that we have highly processed, chemically produced food of little or negative nutritional value.”

The result, he says, is especially destructive to youth.

“Over half of American youth are now categorized by the government as being clinically obese,” Alper says. “It’s an epidemic that no culture in world history has ever known. Childhood diabetes in the past 10 years has gone off the charts. We are the richest nation in the world and our children are malnourished. They are not getting the building blocks they need to be healthy and defend themselves from sickness and disease.”

Alpai Michaels, 14, a JCHS student, used to have the eating habits of a typical American teenager — burgers, fries, candy and soda. When JCHS introduced its eco-kosher lunch program, Alpai began to eat differently.

“What I eat here makes me think a little more about what I eat,” Alpai says. “I still like to eat junk food, but I don’t eat it as much after school, mostly because my parents are trying to live up to the salad bar.”

The school’s salad bar offers everything from organic salad mix to organic tangerines, from organic tofu to organic eggs, from Israeli feta cheese to gourmet garlic croutons.


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5. ACTION ALERT: KFC Slaughterhouse Cruelty Urgent Update

Your Letters and Calls Needed
(from PETA)

In July 2004, PETA revealed the results of an investigation into a KFC-supplying slaughterhouse in Moorefield, West Virginia, where workers were caught on video stomping on chickens, kicking them, and violently slamming them against floors and walls. Workers also ripped the animals' beaks off, twisted their heads off, spat tobacco into their eyes and mouths, spray-painted their faces, and squeezed their bodies so hard that the birds expelled feces—all while the chickens were still alive. Dan Rather echoed the views of all kind people when he said on the CBS Evening News, "[T]here's no mistaking what [the video] depicts: cruelty to animals, chickens horribly mistreated before they’re slaughtered for a fast-food chain."

On January 11, 2005, Ginny Conley, head of a state prosecutors organization, told the Associated Press that criminal charges would not be filed "due to the fact that these were chickens in a slaughterhouse." She also said that the abuse "needs to be handled more on a regulatory end than prosecuting someone criminally," even though there are absolutely no federal or state regulations dealing with humane poultry slaughter and despite the fact that these sadistic acts were clear violations of the state’s cruelty-to-animals statute.

Animal welfare experts are in agreement that the cruelty at this KFC supplier is reprehensible. Colorado State University professor of animal science, biomedical sciences, and philosophy, university distinguished professor, and university bioethicist Dr. Bernard Rollin writes, "I can unequivocally state that the behavior I saw exemplified in [this] videotape was totally unacceptable. ... The tape showed evidence of a work force that apparently failed to recognize that chickens are living sentient beings capable of feeling pain and distress." Dr. Temple Grandin, perhaps the industry’s leading farmed-animal welfare expert, writes, "The behavior of the plant employees was atrocious," and asserts that even though she has toured poultry facilities in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, France, the Netherlands, and the U.K., the video showed "the WORST employee behavior I have ever seen in a poultry plant." University of Guelph professor of applied ethology and university chair in animal welfare Dr. Ian Duncan writes, "This tape depicts scenes of the worst cruelty I have ever witnessed against chickens. … and it is extremely hard to accept that this is occurring in the United States of America." University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine graduate and avian veterinarian Dr. Laurie Siperstein-Cook writes, "In NO case can the behavior of the workers be considered a necessary or acceptable way of killing or stunning chickens."

If dogs or cats suffered this abuse, felony charges would have been filed long ago. Please remind officials that chickens are just as capable of experiencing pain and suffering and that these acts are not exempt from the state cruelty-to-animals statute.


Please contact the prosecutor who decided not to file charges in this case and ask that she reconsider and file felony cruelty-to-animals charges against all those responsible for the torture of chickens at Pilgrim’s Pride in Moorefield, West Virginia. Please write respectful letters to:

Ginny Conley, Acting Executive Director
West Virginia Prosecuting Attorneys Institute
90 MacCorkle Ave. S.W., Ste. 202
South Charleston, WV 25303
304-558-3360 (fax)
Please also contact the governor and governor-elect of West Virginia to politely ask that they use their full authority to ensure that a special prosecutor is appointed, as requested by the judge in the case:

Governor Bob Wise
Governor-Elect Joe Manchin
Office of the Governor
State Capitol Complex
1900 Kanawha Blvd. E.
Charleston, WV 25305
304-558-2000 (outside West Virginia)
1-888-438-2731 (within West Virginia)
304-558-2722 (fax)
This facility was a KFC "Supplier of the Year." Go to www.KentuckyFriedCruelty.com to learn more about PETA’s campaign to reform KFC.

Go to JewishVeg.com/action for more ways to help with vegetarian-related issues

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6. ACTION ALERT: Protect "Downed" Farm Animals
(from The Humane Society of the US)

Last week's confirmation that yet another "downer" cow found in Canada tested positive for "mad cow" disease highlights the urgent need for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to resist pressure to weaken its "downer" ban and instead make this crucial measure permanent. "Downer" or non-ambulatory animals suffer terribly from the disease or injury that disables them, leaving them unable to walk, and from the mistreatment they often endure at slaughterhouses, where they are dragged behind trucks, pushed with electric prods, and so on. These animals also represent a food safety risk, as they are more likely to suffer from mad cow. This prompted Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman to ban non-ambulatory cattle from the human food supply in December of 2003 in response to the discovery of a Washington State cow with BSE.

However, this is an interim measure and is coming under fire from industry and some Members of Congress who would like to see the ban weakened to allow slaughter of downed cows that are injured. Such a weakening would be reckless because injury and illness are often interrelated -- an animal may stumble and break a leg because of disease that causes weakness and disorientation. USDA inspectors would have a difficult -- if not impossible -- task trying to sort out the reason an animal became non-ambulatory. Furthermore, from a humane perspective, a comprehensive ban on any downed cattle is essential. After all, a downer cow with a broken leg will suffer just as much as a sick one if she's dragged through a slaughterplant -- maybe even more.


Please write to the newly nominated Secretary of Agriculture and urge him to resist pressure to weaken this ban and to make the comprehensive downer ban permanent, particularly in light of the recent Canadian mad-cow/downer case. Thank him for the current ban on use of ALL non-ambulatory cattle in human food, which his predecessor, Secretary Ann Veneman, instituted in December 2003.

Write to:

The Honorable Mike Johanns
Secretary-Designate U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, D.C. 20250
Go to JewishVeg.com/action for more ways to help with vegetarian-related issues.

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7. New Recipes at the JVNA Web Site

We have just added two more recipes to our web site: Vegetarian Cholent and Carob Halvah from Aura's Kitchen. Check them out at JewishVeg.com/recipes.html#aura and look for more recipes from Aura in the future!

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8. Thai Tsunami Workers Turn Vegetarian
14 Jan 2005
Source: Reuters

BANGKOK, Jan 14 (Reuters) - The gruesome task of retrieving the bodies of tsunami victims has turned many Thai rescue workers vegetarian, the Matichon newspaper said on Friday.

"Our operations in the first days weren't going smoothly," Chatchawan Suthiarun, who led a team of 70 in Khao Lak where about 4,000 people, more than half of them foreign tourists, were killed on Dec. 26, told the Thai-language newspaper.

"After we turned to vegetarian food and lighting jossticks to the spirits asking for help, the job has become much easier, he said.

Matichon said vegetarian food was all the rage in one nearby village, where a makeshift relief kitchen produced about 1,000 boxes of meatless food a day.

The newspaper quoted a survivor as saying that the smell of death had put her off meat.


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