January 24, 2005

1/24/05 JVNA Online Newsletter

Shalom everyone,

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

1. Shop at Whole Foods on January 25th to Support Farm Animal Welfare

2. Join the Humane Activist Nework

3. Tu B’Shvat Article: Cosmic Consciousness, Man, And The Worm

4. Tu B’Shvat Article: The Unity and Purposefulness of Creation

5. Articles on Postville Slaughterhouse Case

a. We goofed and should review all kosher slaughtering practices
b. COR avoids Iowa kosher slaughter scandal
c. An Exchange over PETA
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.

Thanks,
Noam Mohr (Richard is away in Israel this week)

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1. Shop At Whole Foods On January 25th To Support Farm Animal Welfare

Whole Foods Market, already a leader in organics and natural foods, has launched a new and exciting program to advance the welfare of farm animals. On January 25th, 5% of all sales generated at Whole Foods stores worldwide will be allocated to help create the Animal Compassion Foundation (ACF) to develop more humane farming practices.

Billions of farm animals are currently reared for food in intensive confinement -- such as gestation crates for breeding pigs, veal crates for calves, and battery cages for egg-laying hens -- and this new effort by Whole Foods could mark the beginning of sweeping reforms for farm animals.

Animal Compassion Foundation will promote compassionate animal farming methods and serve as a resource center and forum for global technology exchange – where farmers in the U.S. can learn from their peers around the world. ACF will create an online library to help interested ranchers and farmers convert to more compassionate farming methods which have animals’ physical needs, natural behaviors and well-being as the most important goal. With annual sales topping $3.9 billion in 2004, and a typical day of sales approximately $10 million, Whole Foods hopes to use its clout as the world’s leading natural and organic foods supermarket to raise the bar for farm animal welfare.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Shop at Whole Foods on January 25th to help support the creation of the Animal Compassion Foundation. Whole Foods Market has 166 stores in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, with plans to open even more locations. If you want to help ensure the fair and humane treatment of farm animals, use the power of your dollar – your compassion will make change happen.

Read more about Whole Foods' Animal Compassion Foundation at www.animalcompassionfoundation.org.

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2. Join the Humane Activist Nework

For those interested in becoming more active on animal welfare issues, consider signing up for HumaneLines, a weekly email with action alerts and updates by The Humane Society of the United States. You can sign up for HumaneLines at http://hsus.ga4.org/humane/join.tcl

The Humane Society of the United States also has a Humane Activist Network for those who want to help with animal protection legislation. By joining the network, you may get a call once or twice a year at a key juncture asking you to contact your legislator about an important bill. You can sign up at http://www.hsus.org/legislation_laws/citizen_lobbyist_center/humane_activist_network/join_the_humane_activist_network/

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3. Tu B’Shvat Article: Cosmic Consciousness, Man, And The Worm

Cosmic Consciousness, Man, And The Worm: Ecology And Spirituality In Jewish Tradition
By: Rabbi David Sears

Ecology is a highly practical branch of science. Nothing could be more "down to earth" than preservation of the planet. Yet there is a facet of ecological awareness that is often overlooked. This is its spiritual dimension. When we act as self-absorbed individuals, with little regard for anyone or anything that exists outside ourselves, we immediately fall into moral and spiritual error. As the Yiddish saying goes, "A blind horse heads straight for the pit!"

Thus, countless laws in the Torah adjure us to open our eyes, and act responsibly and compassionately toward the world around us. Among other ecological mandates, it promulgates the laws of bal tashchis (neither to destroy wantonly, nor waste resources unnecessarily); the prohibitions of cutting down fruit trees, or trees surrounding an enemy city in wartime; the laws of covering excrement, and removing debris from public places, etc. In doing so, the Torah indicates that although we may feel at odds with nature, having to struggle to survive, in truth the world comprises a potentially harmonious whole in which each element is precious.

Rav Avraham Yitzhak Kook (1865-1935), Chief Ashkenazic Rabbi of pre-state Israel and a leading 20th century thinker, expresses this idea compellingly: "If you are amazed at how it is possible to speak, hear, smell, touch, see, understand, and feel - tell your soul that all living things collectively confer upon you the fullness of your experience. Not the least speck of existence is superfluous, everything is needed, and everything serves its purpose. 'You' are present within everything that is beneath you, and your being is bound up with all that transcends you." [1]

A spiritually attuned person will recognize that every creature is essentially bound up with every other creature, and that we share a collective destiny. Thus, our most fundamental attitude should be one of compassion, not acquisitiveness or aggression. This ethic applies toward all levels of creation. As master kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Cordovero of Safed ("RaMaK," 1522-1570) adjures: "One's compassion should extend to all creatures, and one should neither despise nor destroy them; for the Supernal Wisdom [i.e. divine wisdom that brings all existence into being] extends to all of creation - the "silent" or mineral level, plants, animals, and humans. This is why our sages have warned us against treating food disrespectfully. Just as the Supernal Wisdom despises nothing, since everything is produced there - as it is written, 'You have formed them all with wisdom' (Psalms 104:24) - a person should show compassion to all of the works of the Holy One, blessed be He." [2]

The RaMaK's words bespeak a God-centered view of the universe, as opposed to one that is man-centered or nature-centered. In the words of the Baal Shem Tov (Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, 1698-1760), we must seek the welfare of all precisely because we are equally God's works, created to perform His will.

"Do not consider yourself superior to anyone else . . ." the founder of Chassidism states. "In truth, you are no different than any other creature, since all things were brought into being to serve God. Just as God bestows consciousness upon you, He bestows consciousness upon your fellow man. In what way is a human being superior to a worm? A worm serves the Creator with all of his intelligence and ability; and man, too, is compared to a worm, as the verse states, 'I am a worm and not a man' (Psalms 22:7). If God had not given you a human intellect, you would only be able to serve Him like a worm. In this sense, you are both equal in the eyes of Heaven. A person should consider himself, the worm, and all creatures as friends in the universe, for we are all created beings whose abilities are God-given." [3]

This kinship of all creation and shared mission of serving God, each creature in its own way, is often compared to a cosmic song. As we recite during the Sabbath prayers, "The soul of every living being shall bless Your Name . . . All hearts shall revere You, and every innermost part shall sing to Your Name." Indeed, when the Talmud describes the mysteries of the Ma'aseh Merkavah ("Workings of the Chariot," i.e. the mystical experience), it associates this prophetic wisdom with song. The sages relate how Rabbi Elazar ben Arach demonstrated his preparedness to engage in the study of these mysteries before his teacher, Rabbi Yochanan - at which point the trees of the field were encompassed by heavenly fire and broke into song, echoing the verses of Psalm 148: "Praise God from the Earth, sea giants and all watery depths . . . mountains and hills, fruitful trees and all cedars . . . Praise God!" [4]

If we listen closely, this song still may be heard. Rabbi Aryeh Levin, the "tzaddik of Jerusalem" (1885-1969), told how he once was walking in the fields with his mentor, Rav Avraham Yitzhak Kook. In the course of their Torah discussion, Rabbi Levin picked a flower. At this, Rav Kook remarked, "All my days I have been careful never to pluck a blade of grass or a flower needlessly, when it had the ability to grow or blossom. You know the teaching of our sages that not a single blade of grass grows here on Earth that does not have an angel above it, commanding it to grow. Every sprout and leaf says something meaningful, every stone whispers some hidden message in the silence - every creation sings its song." [5]

"These words of our great master," Rabbi Levin concluded, "spoken from a pure and holy heart, engraved themselves deeply in my heart. From that day on, I began to feel a strong sense of compassion for all things."

So may it be for us who hear this story today and contemplate its perennial truth.

[1] Orot ha-Kodesh, p. 361.
[2] Tomer Devorah, chap. 2.
[3] Tzava'at ha-Rivash, 12.
[4] Chagigah 14a.
[5] Based on Simcha Raz, A Tzaddik in Our Time, pp. 108-109.

This article is excerpted from A Compendium of Sources in Halacha and the Environment, to be published by Canfei Nesharim in Spring 5765. For more information on Canfei Nesharim and halachic perspectives on protecting the environment, visit www.canfeinesharim.org.

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4. Tu B’Shvat Article: The Unity and Purposefulness of Creation

The Unity and Purposefulness of Creation
By Rabbi Gavriel Weinberg

Tu b’Shevat is an appropriate time to appreciate the greatness of Creation, and to honor it. We read in the third chapter of Pirke Avot (Chapters of the Fathers) a mishna that symbolizes the essence of the Torah’s regard for the purposefulness of all God’s creation.

Ben Azai would be accustomed to say: He used to say, Despise not any man, and carp not at any thing; for thou wilt find that there is not a man that has not his hour, and not a thing that has not its place. (Translation by Charles Taylor)

The mishna can be divided naturally into two subjects: Regard for essential purposefulness of any human being and that of anything that is not a human being. The second category, that of non human, has an interesting and peculiar use of the Hebrew language: AL TEHI MAFLEEG LKAL DAVAR. The above classic translation translates the verb MAFLIG as carp (to find fault with). Others translate MAFLEEG as dismissing of any thing. There are many other numerous attempts to translate such a unique word. Even though the numerous translations for the word MAFLEEG give a sensible meaning to the mishna, without a more specific translation of the word, there will be still lacking the inner essence of what the sage Ben Azai wanted to teach us.

We see in the book of Genesis that the generation of the Tower Of Bavel is referred to as the DOR HAFLAGA, based on the verse in Chapter 10, verse 25: The name of the first (of Eber) was Peleg, because the world became divided in his days. (Aryeh Kaplan translation)

From this we see that the best translation of the word MAFLEEG in the mishna is to divide and separate. The sage Ben Azai is teaching us that everything in creation has a special part in God’s plan for unity. We have to realize that once we separate ourselves from any object in the in the unified puzzle of creation, we have then created an unbalance and disruption in the Supreme perfection and unity of nature and man’s world. If we look at an animal as if it is not within “our world”, we in essence create a schism and the animal can now be treated as a foreigner on this Earth without the same rights and importance as anything else in creation.

The modern scholar, Rabbi Samuel Rafael Hirsch, in his commentary on the book of Genesis, in Genesis Chapter 2, verse 4, describes the work of God’s creation as a whole and perfect circle (KALIL), since everything that God created found its correct and balanced place in the “circle of creation”. Everything has its place in the plan of creation and it is “good”. It becomes “very good” when all the parts are working in unison.

The Torah’s world outlook of unity and purpose is what many modern scholars are exposing: As Dr. Ronald Bissell writes in his Unity: Life's Essence: “You will be taken on a solitary walk along a beach where you will experience the quiet observation of creatures and the rhythms of nature seen along the way. Through this walk you will find the unity found in all of creation. Like the sandpiper's dance with the waves, you will gently discover the essence of your soul in the beauty and harmony of Spirit as it surrounds you. Through this quiet contemplation you will feel a sense of awe at the potential within each living creature - the potential to bring the experience of unity into the consciousness of our world.”

In practical terms, we see a number of practical teachings and laws that emphasize the value and purposefulness of the works of creation.

The most well known example is that of Baal Tashit, which is the commandment to not destroy fruit bearing trees during a siege of an enemy city. “When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city? Only trees that you know do not yield food may be destroyed; you may cut them down for constructing siege works against the city that is waging war with you, until it has been reduced."

Bal tashkhit, the prevention of wanton destruction, is the halakhic principle bases its origin in this passage from the Torah

The famous sage Harav Aharon Halevi, in his classic book “Sefer Hachinuch”, in his commentary of the this negative commandment of destroying fruit bearing trees, says “the source of the commandment is well known, in that the Torah is teaching us to love the good and the purposeful and to cling to it …and distance ourselves from evil matter and device of destruction. This is the way of the pious and men of great deeds, that they would love peace….and would not destroy even a mustard seed in their entire life, and they would suffer personal pain at any loss and destruction that they would witness. And if they had the ability to save an object from wanton destruction, they would do so with all their strength.”

Yaakov in the book of Breishit has a conversion with his son Josef inquiring about the welfare of his other sons. In the same breath, Yaakov inquires about his flock of animals that are being herded by the brothers. The Midrash asks: “I can understand the need to inquire about the welfare of the brothers, but what is the need to inquire about the welfare of the flock? From this we understand that a person has to inquire the welfare of anything that he gets benefit from.”

With this principal in mind, everything in creation has the potential to give us benefits and we need to treat them with this mindset.

It is brought down in the Talmud Bavli (50B) and in the Shulchan Oruch that one should not throw bread and other food items on the ground due the importance of bread and food in general. The Mishna Brurah, the commentator of the Shulacha Oruch comments that even if you did not throw the food on the ground but that you were a simple bystander, you should still pick up the article of food and have it disposed in a more honorably manner.

The Talmud also says that if you have taken water from a well, it is forbidden to throw out the remaining water but one should find some way to recycle it. We learn from this that one should offer a ride to hitchhikers so that we are not wasting the gas on us alone [Ed. Note: if this can be done safely].

This Tu b’Shevat, let us appreciate the unity and purposefulness of all creation, and rededicate ourselves to protecting it.

This article is excerpted from A Compendium of Sources in Halacha and the Environment, to be published by Canfei Nesharim in Spring 5765. For more information on Canfei Nesharim and halachic perspectives on protecting the environment, visit www.canfeinesharim.org.

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5. Postville Opinion Articles

These articles provide an ideal opportunity to respond with letters to the editor. One point you might make is that even if shechita is done perfectly, we should not forget the mistreatment of farmed animals on factory farms.

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We goofed and should review all kosher slaughtering practices
By Jay H. Beder
Special to The Chronicle
[This article was sent out by the JTA and will likely appear in many Jewish weeklies, so be on the lookout.]

MILWAUKEE, Jan. 20 -- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is an organization we love to hate. It takes extreme positions; it is strident, sneaky and sensationalistic.

It has also documented practices at Agriprocessors' kosher slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, that are prima facie evidence of animal cruelty.

Jewish community responses have been twofold. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations (O.U.), which gives its hechsher (kosher certification) to the plant, has instituted changes to eliminate the most egregious problems.

On the other hand, voices in the haredi community, like Rabbi Avi Shafran of Agudath Israel of America and Nathan Lewin, legal counsel for Agriprocessors, concede nothing and counter by criticizing PETA, its motives and methods. They accuse PETA members of anti-Semitism, of trying to outlaw shechitah (kosher slaughter) and of holding themselves above our greatest rabbis.

And my question is: Why? What difference does PETA's motivation or agenda make? Even granting the worst about PETA, we are still left with videos of the processing of 278 cattle.

Close to 100% of the animals would have felt the excision of the trachea and esophagus by plant workers as they would still be conscious even under the best of circumstances. The O.U. has recognized this practice as "unnecessary" and has stopped it.

Released from the slaughter pen, the animals drop onto a concrete floor from a height of about two feet. About a quarter of the animals show clear signs of consciousness for up to several minutes after shechitah, including raising the head, vocalization, attempts to stand and even walking away.

These are not involuntary movements, according to experts on animal behavior. Confusion over the signs of consciousness is one of the most disturbing elements of this sad story.

Conversation with an expert

Implicitly recognizing the problem, the O.U. has mandated a second cut in the already-shechted animals, and even shooting of animals that appear to survive. None of these measures is necessary in a properly run plant.

Temple Grandin, associate professor of animal science at Colorado State University, is an acknowledged leader in this field. She has consulted internationally for shochetim (slaughterers) and kosher supervisors and is universally respected for her approach and sensitivity.

I had a long conversation with her recently. She described Agriprocessors officials as being ``in denial," and urged that an independent audit of plant operations be conducted in order to reestablish the company's "credibility."

From her I learned some remarkable things:

* Shechitah, if done correctly, does not require a second cut. A single quick cut renders an animal insensate in 10-15 seconds.

* Shechitah may be performed without difficulty on upright animals if they are not stressed. They do not need to be turned on their backs by means of the facoima pen, as is done at Agriprocessors, or to be shackled at hoisted by their hindquarters before being slaughtered, as is done in many other plants here and abroad.

* The cut does not seem to hurt unstressed, upright animals. They appear unaware that the cut has been made.

* In a properly designed facility, cattle willingly walk where they need to go, with little prompting and no need for electric shock such as used at Agriprocessors.

One of the saddest aspects of this controversy is how unnecessary it is. Instead of kicking and screaming, we can simply fix the problems. Instead of being angry at PETA for exposing the problems, we should be angry that we failed to expose them ourselves.

Here are some things that need to be done in the short run:

* The Postville plant needs to accept an independent outside auditor, such as Grandin, who can enter unannounced and observe at random times.

* The auditor will be able to observe the corrective measures now being taken and recommend upgrades in operation and equipment. We should demand adoption of these recommendations as long as they do not contravene halacha.

* The shochetim need to be trained to perform shechitah more effectively.

* The plant management and workforce need to be given appropriate scientific training in animal behavior and physiology.

We also should take this opportunity to review all kosher slaughtering, here and abroad. Our longer-term to-do list includes:

* The century-old method of shackling and hoisting should be terminated immediately and use of the facoima pen should be phased out quickly.

* Supervising agencies must make modern scientific methods and training a requirement for kosher certification. It is not enough to ``advocate," ``favor" or ``approve of" such methods, nor to issue platitudes about how much Judaism is concerned for animal welfare.

* Product labeling should guarantee to consumers proper animal handling, similar to the "dolphin-safe" labeling on brands of canned tuna.

PETA has made no secret of its wish to turn everyone ultimately into vegetarians. But it has also been careful in this case to reassure the Jewish community that it is not trying to eliminate shechitah, but merely to bring it in line with well-accepted standards of animal handling.

There is no evidence that PETA members are motivated by anti-Semitism. But in raising this issue, we do ourselves double harm. We permit ourselves to ignore a pressing problem; and we cheapen the cry of anti-Semitism so it will be harder to assert when it is actually warranted.

Anything less than a fully honest response brings Torah itself into disrepute. It confirms a picture of Orthodox Judaism as self-justifying and irrelevant, little more than an intellectual parlor game.

Secular law exempts shechitah from various requirements on the basis of the claim that it is at least as humane as other methods of slaughter. If we fail to police our practices adequately, we risk losing the right to shechitah altogether.

It hurts to be lectured to by a strident, secular, vegetarian organization about things that we already profess to believe. But we are human. Our rabbis, shochetim and supervising organizations are not infallible. We need the courage to say simply, "We goofed."

We are not obligated to eat meat. We should therefore be especially careful to discharge our responsibilities concerning "tza'ar ba'alei chaim'' (causing pain to animals) with no excuses. The good news is that the solution is in our hands.

Jay H. Beder is associate professor of mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a member of Lake Park Synagogue.

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COR avoids Iowa kosher slaughter scandal
Canadian Jewish News
http://www.cjnews.com/viewarticle.asp?id=5349

By CAROLYN BLACKMAN
Staff Reporter

Kosher slaughtering practices in Toronto differ from those at the AgriProcessors plant in Iowa, which was recently targeted by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), says Rabbi Mordechai Levin, executive director of the Kashruth Council of Canada.

When killing animals, slaughterhouses here adhere both to halachic requirements and to those enforced by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, he said.

Late last year, a PETA representative posing as an employee shot a secret video at AgriProcessors, makers of Aaron’s and other brands. It recorded how animals suffered during the slaughtering process used.

The group filed lawsuits with the U.S. Department of Agriculture against the plant and the Orthodox Union (OU), the largest kosher supervisory organization in the world.

It alleged that since the animals were not killed instantly, the plant violated both Jewish law and U.S. government slaughter laws.

In a press release, Rabbi Menachem Genack, rabbinic administrator of OU’s kosher division, said that during the seven-week period when the video was shot, 18,000 cattle were slaughtered.

“There was a tiny percentage of animals whose carotid arteries were not completely severed so they were not completely unconscious,” Rabbi Genack said.

The process that PETA objected to has now been discontinued, he added.

A PETA spokesperson said complaints against the OU will be rescinded if the group follows a series a recommendations made by Temple Grandin, an associate professor of animal science at Colorado State University who designs cattle-moving machinery parts.

Rabbi Levin said Grandin has inspected plants here and was satisfied that the animals have been handled properly, “and was comfortable with our procedures.”

Manuel Tavares, president of Dominion Packers in Toronto, has been slaughtering animals according to halachic procedure and Canadian Food Inspection Agency requirements for “many years and no one has ever complained. If their throat is cut quickly, they suffer little stress. We’re still killing animals, however. How humane can it be?”

According to a representative from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, in ritual slaughter, “properly restrained animals may be slaughtered without stunning, provided the slaughter is carried out by experienced persons.

“Such slaughter shall be performed by a single cut which shall result in rapid, simultaneous and a complete severance of the jugular veins and carotid arteries so as to cause rapid unconsciousness of the animal.

“Operators not providing and using adequate means of restraint are prohibited from carrying out ritual slaughter,” he said.

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An Exchange over PETA
http://frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=16716
By FrontPage Magazine
FrontPageMagazine.com January 21, 2005

[The following is an exchange between PETA spokesman Benjamin Goldsmith and FrontPage writer Michael Rosen. Goldsmith begins by responding to Rosen's previous article, PETA Attacks Jewish Tradition - The Editors].

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PETA Strives to Support Jewish Tradition of Compassion by Benjamin Goldsmith

We at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) appreciate Michael Rosen’s willingness to voice his concerns about issues surrounding the AgriProcessors scandal in his recent article, PETA Attacks Jewish Tradition.

Mr. Rosen is very well-respected and it is clear that he cares deeply about upholding the mandate in Torah law that prohibits causing animals unnecessary pain. Thus, we would like to clarify a few points.

During our twenty-five year history, PETA has investigated countless slaughterhouses, and we agree with Mr. Rosen that killing floors are gruesome by their very nature. That said, we have always agreed with Mr. Rosen that shechita, when done correctly, is more humane than other slaughter methods used in the U.S. However, anyone who watches the tapes will see that what was happening at AgriProcessors is not properly conducted shechita.

Watching the animals struggle to stand and flee while their windpipes dangle from their throats, one cannot deny that AgriProcessors’ sloppy and unorthodox slaughter practices violated both Torah and federal law. To echo the words of Rabbi Barry Schwartz of the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ Task Force on Kashrut, “The suffering of these animals during slaughter is sickening. Death is neither quick nor merciful. If this is kosher, then we have a big problem.”

In the wake of the slaughterhouse scandal, AgriProcessors has not been able to find one scientist, animal welfare expert, or veterinarian who is willing to defend the crude slaughter practices we documented. Please consider, again: One hundred percent of animal welfare scientists, veterinarians, and animal welfare experts who have reviewed this investigation have condemned AgriProcessors for cruelty to animals.

After viewing the tapes, Dr. Temple Grandin, consultant to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the American Meat Institute, bluntly stated, “I thought it was the most disgusting thing I’d ever seen.” Dr. Lester Friedlander, a former USDA kosher slaughter inspector, echoed these sentiments, writing, “The footage captured by PETA represents the most egregious violation of the USDA Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA) I have ever witnessed.”

AgriProcessors has also faced sharp criticism from a growing number of Rabbis, including an official condemnation of the plant by the President of the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement, which represents one-third of American Jewry.

He wrote, “[T]he scenes recorded are not what shehitah should be, nor does it correspond to the Jewish way of treating animals… When a company purporting to be kosher violates the prohibition against tza’ar ba’alei hayyim, causing pain to one of God’s living creatures, that company must answer to the Jewish community, and ultimately, to God.”

Dr. Bernard Rollin, author and professor of veterinary ethics and animal welfare at Colorado State University, says, “As a person brought up in the Jewish tradition and as one who studied the Talmud, I was personally aggrieved and ashamed. The purpose of kosher slaughter was historically humaneness, a skillful cut with a sharp knife being far easier on the animal than being subjected to repeated blunt trauma. What one sees in this video is a hideous mockery of that purpose, one sure to elicit grave social doubts about ritual slaughter.”

Indeed, AgriProcessors has sullied shechita’s good name, and its actions are indefensible. It is now up to those who care about upholding the Jewish tradition of compassion toward animals to work together to assure that this never happens again.

To guard against future abuses, we are asking that AgriProcessors and the Orthodox Union work with animal welfare scientists to adopt the guidelines for ritual slaughter developed by scientists at the Food Marketing Institute. Very much in keeping with Torah law, these standards will ensure that kosher slaughter is consistently quick and as kind as possible. By implementing the FMI guidelines for ritual slaughter, we can all rest assured that AgriProcessors and the OU have done their part to uphold Judaism’s time-honored tradition of treating animals with kindness and mercy.

We have the deepest respect for the uniquely human ability to make choices based on moral considerations—we hope that, upon learning the truth about the suffering that animals endure before they arrive on our plate, people will choose to think before they eat. This is very much in keeping with Judaism’s views on the relationship between animals and humans, and, indeed, we are very honored to count many Jews among our members, supporters, and employees.

One final point: [PETA's representative] was in no way duplicitous in his meeting with Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen in Israel, and Rabbi Cohen has consistently made clear that PETA in no way deceived him. It is AgriProcessors and their small group of supporters who have twisted truth and Torah law to suit their own agenda.

AgriProcessors has attacked Judaism’s long tradition of kindness to animals, and those who share concerns about animal welfare must work together to see that Jewish law is always upheld on the killing floor. Readers can see the video and read the FMI guidelines and additional rabbinic and expert testimony at www.GoVeg.com. For information on Judaism and vegetarianism, please visit the Web site run by the Jewish Vegetarians of North America, at www.JewishVeg.com.

Ben Goldsmith
Campaign Coordinator
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals


A Response to Benjamin Goldsmith
By Michael M. Rosen

Benjamin Goldsmith is a sincere man with a thankless job. As PETA’s campaign coordinator, he bears the unenviable burden of responding to the scores of articles critical of the animal-rights group’s extreme tactics – with regard to the shechita flap as well as other scandals. His letter is earnest and no one can doubt that PETA believes very deeply in its cause.

In that spirit I reiterate what I wrote in my article: the video raises important questions and any shortcomings in the shechita process at AgriProcessors must vigorously be addressed. The plant appears to be making improvements but must take special care to ensure the highest standards of humaneness and food safety.

Yet PETA declines to disavow its distortionary strategy and Mr. Goldsmith’s letter only reinforces the organization’s continuing dishonesty. First, Mr. Goldsmith asserts that Rabbi She’ar-Yashuv Cohen, the Chief Rabbi of Haifa, “has consistently made clear that PETA in no way deceived him.” But Globes, the Israeli business portal, reports that Rabbi Cohen sent a letter in December stating that “I forbid further use of my name as questioning the kashrut [kosher status] of the AgriProcessors plant. The PETA videotape that I saw did not disclose the name of the plant involved…and apparently does not show the full picture of the shechita, or ritual slaughter, process.” If this doesn’t smack of deception, it’s hard to imagine what does. Despite Rabbi Cohen’s letter, PETA continues to cite him as a critic of AgriProcessors.

Second, Mr. Goldsmith asks that “AgriProcessors and the Orthodox Union work with animal welfare scientists to adopt the guidelines for ritual slaughter developed by scientists at the Food Marketing Institute.” But it has been reported that FMI has refused to meet with a wide panoply of Orthodox kosher certifiers. And repackaging the criticism of outspoken anti-slaughter activists like Dr. Lester Friedlander or prominent vegetarian rabbis like Rabbi Barry Schwartz accomplishes little more than preaching to the converted.

But these are mere quibbles compared to the giant elephant in the room that Mr. Goldsmith is loath to discuss – PETA’s apparent desire to put an end to shechita. The group continues to stand by its scurrilous “Holocaust-on-your-plate” campaign and its odious refusal to criticize the wanton slaughter of innocent (human) Jews. Mr. Goldsmith cannot plead ignorance of the former, as he personally stood at the forefront of the Holocaust display. Neither can he hide from the latter, which received extensive media coverage. These incidents bespeak insensitivity at best and disdain for Jewish life at worst; the group’s silence leads one to fear the worst.

With all this in the background, PETA seems to be attempting to arouse particular public disgust about shechita through an inflammatory video and hard-nosed tactics. PETA could dispel any suspicions about its motives simply by unequivocally stating that the group is not presently seeking, nor will it seek, the abolition of shechita. Short of that, PETA could demonstrate its sensitivity to Jewish concerns by banishing the loathsome holocaust imagery from its anti-meat campaign. Merely claiming that shechita is “more humane than other slaughter methods used in the U.S.” will not suffice.

As Mr. Goldsmith observes, PETA purports to have “the deepest respect for the uniquely human ability to make choices based on moral considerations” – that is, so long as the moral choice doesn’t involve ritual slaughter.


Contra Rosen:
By Benjamin Goldsmith

I want to thank Michael Rosen, again, for his willingness to engage in respectful dialogue. Replying to Mr. Rosen is an interesting exercise, since he appears to support the exact resolution that we support where AgriProcessors and shechita in general are concerned.

What do PETA and others who are concerned that Jewish and federal law have been violated at AgriProcessors want? We want AgriProcessors to be subjected to unannounced audits for basic humane standards. Mr. Rubashkin has gone on record saying that “What you see on the video is not out of the ordinary… Nothing wrong was, or is being done. There is nothing to admit.”

Mr. Rosen, on the other hand, states, “the video raises important questions and any shortcomings in the shechita process at AgriProcessors must vigorously be addressed. The plant appears to be making improvements but must take special care to ensure the highest standards of humaneness...”

As noted, 100 percent of experts who watched the video (every single one, as mentioned in my previous article, including Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb of the OU, who called the trachea ripping “especially inhumane”) agree that the footage shows serious violations of the prohibition of tza’ar ba’alei hayyim. Only Mr. Rubashkin and his lawyer deny this.

What else does PETA want? We would like for the Orthodox Union to take its own commitment to a “painless” slaughter seriously—to codify this commitment as written standards for humane treatment that are enforced as diligently as all other kosher certification requirements—and to make their commitment an example to the world by publicly proclaiming it and making the standards available.

Mr. Rosen does a good a job, in his first article, of explaining why Judaism is the envy of other monotheistic faiths where commitment to compassion for animals is concerned. I believe that we agree entirely on this point. In fact, it’s my own faith, my own Jewish upbringing, that has led me to PETA and the life’s path I’ve chosen.

My Rabbi has told me many of the exact things that Mr. Rosen states—that Jews are prohibited from hunting, that animals also rest on the Sabbath, that (to quote Mr. Rosen), “The profound esteem in which Judaism holds all life emerges in the laws of shechita, which aim primarily to minimize the animal’s suffering.”

It is an unfortunate fact that animals on factory farms are never allowed to enjoy anything that G-d designed for them, are never allowed to fulfill any of their desires (e.g., for sunlight, fresh air, families), and are treated in ways that would warrant felony convictions were dogs or cats treated so horribly (e.g., mutilations without pain relief, breeding programs that cause them to cripple beneath their own weight, and more).

As just one example, and this is true both for kosher and non-kosher meat: Chickens are bred and drugged so that their upper bodies grow more than six times as quickly as they did just 50 years ago, so that their heart, lungs, and limbs can not keep up. They suffer from one percent death losses per week, and those who survive live mired in their own excrement, suffering from ammonia burns and barely able to move from their artificially massive bulk. Although we wish we could draw attention to this clear abdication of our responsibility to be humane stewards without controversy, we do what we have to do in order to generate discussion and thought.

On the issue of banning shechita: We’re an animal rights organization, so of course we feel that the high Jewish standards of compassion are best met by putting an end to all slaughter, but we don’t have a particular disdain for shechita and in fact the ritual and commitment to compassion of kosher slaughter make it, as we’ve said consistently, better than non-kosher slaughter in the United States. So of course we’re not going after kosher slaughter first; those who want to stand up for shechita, however, are doing their efforts a disservice by defending the horrors we documented at AgriProcessors. In fact, I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with the fact that defending kosher slaughter will be easier if slaughterhouses abide by a uniform set of guidelines that have been endorsed by Jewish leaders.

PETA has been entirely honest and is always entirely honest. You may take issue with some of our specific campaigns, but we do not (and I do not) deceive. I take the Torah very seriously, as does [PETA's representative] (an Israeli citizen who did not misrepresent himself to Rabbi Cohen—and Rabbi Cohen has never claimed otherwise) and would not be a part an organization that did not have the highest standards of honesty and integrity.

We also wish that we could grab a bit of our tabloid society’s attention without resorting to controversial campaigns. But our mission, to speak up for animals who have no voice at all and who are treated in horrific ways, demands that we do what we can, with a very limited budget relative to the abusers, to place their suffering onto the tableau of moral concern.

Readers who would like to learn more why many Jews have turned to vegetarianism—both because it is G-d’s ideal and because we don’t wish to support the horrible treatment of G-d’s animals today—can visit JewishVeg.com or GoVeg.com, or call 1-888-VEG FOOD for a free DVD and information. Mention this article and we’ll also send you a booklet on Judaism and vegetarianism.


A Final Word
by Michael Rosen.

Benjamin Goldsmith has submitted another heartfelt response which he swiftly turns into a soapbox to promote PETA's radical agenda of "putting an end to all animal slaughter." Unfortunately, he is less enthusiastic about responding to my core argument: that the group's past campaigns raise serious doubts about the sincerity of the present one.

Mr. Goldsmith neglects to address several of my criticisms of PETA's tactics, including Rabbi Cohen's attempts to dissociate himself from the group. Furthermore, he cannot (and should not) seriously believe that kosher certifiers will unilaterally adopt the "written standards for humane treatment" that PETA demands when FMI -- the group that drafted the standards -- won't engage the certifiers in meaningful discussion.

More importantly, Mr. Goldsmith depicts the campaigns PETA has engaged in the past as "controversial." Tasteless, offensive, and misanthropic better describe the group's comparison of the Holocaust to chicken slaughter and its preference for protecting donkeys over people. These campaigns reflect -- far more than a concern for humane treatment -- a disproportionate valuation of animal life over human and, in this case, Jewish life.

Hopefully this exchange will encourage PETA to reach out to the Jewish community. I am gratified that Mr. Goldsmith concedes that the group is "not going after kosher slaughter first." I just wish they wouldn't go after kosher slaughter at all.

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