This special Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) Online Newsletter has 3 recent articles by American rabbis, the first in response to Dennis Prager’s recent article, which was discussed in a special JVNA newsletter last week, and the other two in response to the Postville controversy. My comments on each article are interspersed or appear at the end of the articles. They are preceded by [*** and followed by ***]. Please consider using these articles and my comments as the basis of letters to editors, calls to radio programs, and for general talking points. Thanks.
1. A Response to Dennis Prager, by Rabbi Hillel Norry
2. “From Postville to ‘Glatt-gate,’” by Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer
3. “Setting the Record Straight on Kosher Slaughter,” by Rabbi Menachem Genack
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.
As always, your comments and suggestions are very welcome.
1. A Response to Dennis Prager, by Rabbi Hillel Norry
[Rabbi Norry is a long-time vegetarian and a member of the JVNA advisory committee. His article below is an unsolicited response to the article by Dennis Prager that was discussed in last week’s special JVNA newsletter, in which Prager criticized the animal rights movement and “secular humanists” for placing animals on the same level as people. Rabbi Norry has sent the article to Prager and to World Net Daily, the publication that published Prager’s article. I have encouraged Rabbi Norry to rewrite his article to make it more general and to send it to the Jewish media.]
I am a Rabbi, a dedicated and observant Jew, and a lover of humanity. I believe in God and in the immeasurable value of human life.
I am also a vegetarian, an animal lover, a defender of scientific education, and a vocal advocate for these ideals -- not in contrast with my Jewish values, but indeed because of them.
[*** The above two paragraphs are very important, because Prager and others argue that, basically, there are two types of people: those who accept basic religious values, such as the teaching that only humans are created in God’s image, and animal rights activists and other “secular humanists,” who completely reject religious teachings. One of the main goals of the JVNA is, as Rabbi Norry indicates above, to show that it is precisely our Jewish teachings that inspire our activism for the better treatment of animals and for a shift toward a diet that is far better for the health of humans, farmed animals, and our imperiled planet. ***]
In your article "The case for Judeo-Christian values, part 4," you spoke of the devastating impact on our society of secular values as they clash with religious values regarding the value of animal and human life.
While I agree with much of your condemnation of secular values, I must strongly disagree with you regarding both your presentation and many of your conclusions. You present what I can only describe as false and exaggerated examples of human life vs. animal life, but completely neglect the overwhelming evidence that most cruelty to animals is also bad for humans. A diet base on animal foods has repeatedly been linked through the most rigorous scientific study with many of the most destructive and degenerative human diseases including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and others. While you advocate for scientific research to cure these diseases, you should recognize the preventative measures advocated by many scientific and medical groups; primary among them the adoption of a whole food vegetarian diet.
It is not necessary for any human benefit to consume the flesh of animals. In fact it is harmful to human health, destructive of the environment, and wasteful of valuable resources that could be better used to feed the hungry and provide for the needy. All of these are Torah values. And they are not secondary or esoteric side issues. Maintaining our health, protecting God's creation, and providing assistance to those less fortunate than us, are all Primary mitzvot which we are obligated to practice to the maximum degree possible.
[*** The last two paragraphs are also extremely important, as they reinforce our arguments that a shift toward vegetarianism is not only essential for ending the widespread very cruel treatment of animals, but it is also a societal imperative because of the many negative effects of animal-based diets and modern intensive agriculture and it is a religious imperative, because of the many basic religious mandates that are violated by the widespread production and consumption of animal products. ***]
I would have preferred that you remembered to emphasize these religious values, rather than simply attacking those who seek to relieve the needless suffering of God's beloved creations. One does not have to equate human life with animal life to acknowledge that God also loves animals. This is the view of our tradition also. And while we may not yet be able to get rid of all animal suffering, we are commanded to seek the greatest possible measure of mercy in our lives, and to alleviate the suffering of any living creature - human and animal - if we can.
[*** Another extremely important point that, unfortunately, is not often discussed in the Jewish community and other religious communities. ***]
With regard to the Holocaust comparisons of groups like PETA, I want to add a couple of things. I do not support PETA, and I do not think it is useful or true to draw comparisons between suffering. Emerson said, "All suffering is local", and the suffering of one of God's creatures can never accurately be compared with another. However, not only have you repeated a patently false historical "fact", namely that the Nazis were animal lovers, but you have neglected the other well documented historical fact that the Nazis explicitly structured their industrial destruction of the Jews on the model of animal slaughter. This is not to compare the suffering of animals and humans, but shows that the way we treat animals, is similar to the way the Nazis treated us. In this way of thinking, since it is "okay" to treat animals as a commodity without regard for the cruelty imposed on them, all we must do is think of the "Other" as an animal, and it becomes "okay" to treat them the same way. This has been the approach of every cruel dictator who first demonizes his enemies and calls them dogs, or pigs or vermin, and then proceeds to slaughter them with impunity.
[*** These are also valuable points that should be stressed far more often as we try to respond to current societal threats. We should strive to improve conditions for people and animals, not because of PETA or any other group, but because of Jewish teachings. ***]
Lastly, as a religious person myself, I am always aware of the great crimes against humanity done in the very name of religion. Many religious people, who advocate the same Judeo-Christian values that you do, act with cruelty, bigotry and hatred towards other human beings in the name of God. As we try to elevate the value of human life, should this internal house-cleaning not at least be one of our missions?
[*** Yes. As we have often argued, the proper application of Jewish (and other religions’) values is essential in responding to current societal threats, but too often religious values have been used in negative ways. This is, unfortunately, not a new phenomenon, as can be seen by reading the words of the biblical prophets. ***]
I welcome the opportunity to continue a dialogue with you and thank you for your passionate work,
[*** Yes. For a long time, the JVNA has been calling for a respectful dialogue. Unfortunately, Prager and most members of the Jewish establishment seem to be ducking the possibility of such a dialogue. While they continue to write about Judaism’s beautiful and powerful teachings, they are ignoring how far current realities are from these teachings. I believe that it is essential that we continue respectfully seeking such a dialogue, because the future of Judaism and that of our planet are at stake. ***]
Rabbi Hillel Norry
Congregation Shearith Israel
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2. “From Postville to ‘Glatt-gate,’” by Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer
From Postville to ‘Glatt-gate’
Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer
[*** This article appeared in the February 4, 2005 issue of the Jewish standard of New Jersey. I think it provides excellent background material on biblical teachings that point to vegetarianism as the ideal Jewish diet. It also provides a very good discussion of shechita and a valuable consideration of the Postville glatt kosher slaughterhouse, as well as an implied request that rabbis speak out more re the mistreatment of animals. (The article was scanned into my computer, and this led to many errors. I tried to find and correct them all, but please forgive any that I inadvertently overlooked.)***]
There is nothing wrong with shechita. There is something seriously wrong, however, with its supervision. That is the true message of the controversial PETA video revealing abuses at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa.
The requirement of a unique method of slaughter is inferred from the Torah, which states that "you shall kill of your herd and of your flock, which are Lord has given you, as I have commanded you … “ (See Deuteronomy 12:21.) The context strongly suggests that this unstated method is meant to guarantee a quick kill done as painlessly as possible.
In the beginning, after all, humans were meant to be vegetarians. (See Genesis 1:29.) Humans nevertheless developed a hunger for meat so great that it led to committing unspeakable cruelties. Genesis 9:1‑6 suggests that human behavior had sunk so low that the people did not bother to kill the animals; they just ripped limbs right off. God's grudging dispensation in this text recognizes that human nature is baser than He had hoped and that to prevent suffering on the part of animals requires setting some rules.
Israel, of course, was given a far more restrictive code than humankind in general. Killing animals for food in Israel was limited to the sacred precincts, under sacred cover, in acknowledgement that this is being done under His grudging sanction, not to mention His watchful eye. (See Leviticus 17:24. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the late 19th century biblical commentator, says the killing of an animal without such sacred cover "is to be taken as murder.")
The rule in Leviticus 17, however, could only work in the confined area of a wilderness encampment. Once the people were settled in the land, their lust for meat would cause them to violate the law if they lived too far away from the sanctuary. This could lead to a general rejection of Torah law. Enter Deuteronomy 12:20-21, which sets new ground rules. "When the Lord your God shall enlarge your border, as He has promised you, and you shall say, I will eat meat, because your soul longs to eat meat; you may eat meat, to your heart’s desire. If the place which the Lord your God has chosen to put His name there is too far from you, then you shall kill of your herd and of your flock, which the Lord has given you, as I have commanded you, and you shall eat in your gates, to your heart's desire."
It is the “as I have commanded you" that is critical, The sacred cover is replaced by "basar ta'avah" (meat eaten solely to satisfy one's craving). God continues to control the situation, however, by setting forth a humane way of killing.
To eat meat killed in my other way denies that any divine sanction attaches to the killing and the eating.
The talmudic sages infer from this that meat eating should be a sometime thing, at best. "The Torah teaches here ... that a person should not eat meat unless he has an extraordinary appetite for it," not just an everyday craving. The sages add, “a person should not teach his child to [have an eagerness for] meat …” (See Babylonian Talmud tractate Chullin 84a.)
The infrequency of meat‑eating is implied, as well, in the very name sages gave to this meat, basar ta’avah, which itself is based on the wording of the Torah. It echoes the quail incident in Numbers, when the Israelites demanded meat and God sent them quail ‑- and then sent a plague to kill those whose craving for meat was the most immoderate. States Numbers 11:34: "And he called the name of that place Kivrot Ha‑ta’avah [‘The Graves of Lust”]; because there they buried the mitavim [the people who had the craving].” See Psalms 78, which is harshly critical of these meat-cravers.)
Shechita, the sages taught, is the method of killing referred to by the Torah. Holding the knife above the animal’s throat, a horizontal cut is made across it, preferably in one swift stroke, although an unbroken series of cuts is acceptable. The cut (or cuts) must sever most of the animal’s windpipe and gullet. Preferably, the cut(s) should also sever the carotid arteries and jugular veins, to allow for almost instantaneous loss of consciousness and speediest blood loss.
If there is the slightest pause in the cutting, if the cut is made in the wrong place, or if the knife is pressed into the neck rather than drawn across it, the shechita is invalid. It is invalid, as well, if any tissue is torn, rather than smoothly cut.
The chalaf, as the slaughterer's knife is known, must not be pointed in any way. It most be completely clean and, above all, razor sharp. Think paper cut; the actual cutting is painless and the hurt comes only several seconds later. In the case of a properly slaughtered animal, death should set in before any pain is felt.
The chalaf is long and thin, to allow for the smoothest cutting motion with the least meant of pressure. The design also insures that the knife will always remain in view throughout the shechita, to assure that no tearing occurred (tearing causes pain).
[*** For a comprehensive discussion of Jewish teachings on the proper treatment of animals, vegetarianism, shechita, and related issues, see Rabbi Dovid Sears’ book, “The Vision of Eden: Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and Mysticism.” ***]
Given all of this, how can any halachic authority argue that what went on in Postville measures up to the standard set by the Torah itself, even if it gets by on a technicality?
In fact, some rabbis did initially condemn the Postville shechita. The most notable were Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen, the chief rabbi of Haifa, and a member of the Israeli chief rabbinate's kashrut committee, and Rabbi Ezra Raful, head of the rabbinate's international shechita supervision department.
Within days, however, both recanted. Cohen had signaled why in his original statement condemning the Postville shechita. He began that statement by saying "I must stress that I find it very difficult to
offer an opinion without knowing the identity of the slaughterhouse involved and especially the name of the rabbi, if any, that, gives it the kosher certification.
This suggests that had he known that the plant in question was supervised by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, he would not have classified what he saw as a "brutal act" or a “cruel" procedure, no matter what his eyes saw and his mind told him was true. Cohen said as much in his recantation. (To its credit, although the O.U. [Orthodox Union] went on the offensive publicly in defense of Postville, it demanded procedural changes at the Agriprocessors plant.)
[*** In a personal conversation, Rabbi Cohen told me that his views have been misrepresented and that he supports the procedural changes that the O.U. has demanded at the Postville slaughterhouse. ***]
One Orthodox rabbi who refused to be cowed into submission was Rabbi David Rosen, a former chief rabbi of Ireland and currently an official of the American Jewish Committee in Israel. The video disclosed flagrant violation[s] of Jewish halachic requirements," he wrote in a letter to the Jerusalem Post, adding that "the meat of the animals abused in this way is rendered totally non‑kosher as a result."
Postville is not the first time that the kosher consumer has been ill-served by those upon whom we rely to safeguard the kashrut of our meat. The pressure to produce kosher meat in ever‑increasing quantity ‑ itself a complete negation of the spirit of the Torah and the enactments of the sages ‑ is in large part responsible for the Postville fiasco and for the abuses that do not get reported.
Nowhere is this more true than in "Glatt‑gate." Bluntly stated, while "glatt” meat is costing you more, the odds are high that you are being duped. Absent a miracle of biblical proportions, it simply is not possible for there to be so much glatt beef on the market when only one in 20 cows actually qualifies (and that may be an underestimate).
The term “glatt kosher" dates back only to the last decade of the 19th century, but the standard has existed at least since talmudic times.
Originally, all meat had to meet this standard. When the lungs were removed and inspected after shechita, they had to be "smooth," meaning free of any adhesions of a kind known as sirchot (defined as a collection of fibrous tissue). Rabbi Joseph Karo, in the Shulchan Aruch, allows only one exception to this, based on a ruling found in BT Chullin 49a. (The specifics of that objection are not relevant here.)
Karo, a/k/a the Beit Yosef, was a Sephardi and it is a common misconception that Rabbi Moses Isserles, author of the Ashkenazic gloss to the Shalchaa Aruch, disagreed with him on this. Actually, the Rama, as Isserles is usually referred to, clearly states a preference for smooth lungs, with no sirchot, and considers anything less to be a "kula gedola" He accepts this "great leniency," mainly because it was too ingrained in Ashkenazic practice by his day to reverse, but he is not happy about it.
(See S.A. Yoreh De'ah 39:13 for both opinions.) Such meat is “stam kosher," meaning just barely acceptable.
The Rema adds that the leniency applies only to adult animals, by which he means large adult animals, such as cows or buffalo. Small animals, such as lamb, sheep or deer must he free of sirchot of any kind. This applies to fowl, as well ("glatt kosher chickens" is a redundancy; all kosher chickens must he "glatt kosher").
For most Sephardim (the term is used here in its broadest sense), any adhesion, removable or not, is one adhesion too many. Their meat must be "chalak," a Hebrew word meaning "smooth," according to Karo's standards. The Yiddish counterpart is “glatt," but it accepts up to two "minor" removable adhesions (such an adhesion is called a "rir”). For most chasidic Jews, glatt meat is the only acceptable meat.
While it was not a primary reason for why the sages instituted the rule, the *smooth lung" requirement had the effect of severely limiting meat consumption because it made the meat more expensive. The sages suggested as much when they recommended that only the very, very rich could eat meat every day (not should, mind you, only could), but that for virtually everyone else, it should be restricted to Shabbat only. (See BT Chullin 84a.)
Nearly 15 years ago, the availability of glatt meat was so limited that a major purveyor of glatt deli products was close to going out of business, It called the OU for help. The OU, only with great difficulty, helped find a supply of legitimately glatt kosher meat and the threatened purveyor of provisions was saved from extinction.
Given that, from whence comes the current glut of glatt? From a redefinition; one particular authority redefined the term "glatt" and also blurred the distinction between a rir and a sircha. Some other kashrut authorities eventually followed this lead. That redefinition turned virtually every piece of formally stam kosher meat into glatt, necessitating the creation of a new category, super-glatt, for those "in the know." Heaven only knows the true status of "kosher meat" today that is not labeled as glatt.
Those who should be speaking out against both our excessive meat‑eating and the problems or kashrut supervision in the meat industry are not doing so, and only they know why they remain silent. The kosher consumer deserves better and Jewish law requires it. To paraphrase an old advertising slogan, in the end, we all have to answer to a Higher Authority.
[*** It is good that Rabbi Engelmayer is urging rabbis to speak out. But, he seems to be limiting it to opening up a discussion on kosher slaughter procedures. Like most rabbis, he seems to be ignoring that there is almost no discussion in the Jewish community of the fact that animal-based diets and modern intensive animal-centered agriculture violate basic Jewish mandates to preserve human health, treat animals with compassion, protect the environment, conserve natural resources, and help hungry people. It is up to us to seek to get these issues onto the Jewish agenda, because, once again, the future of Judaism and that of our imperiled planet are at stake. For a further discussion of this, please see my comments interspersed in the next article. ***]
Shammai Engaimayer is rabbi of the Conservative synagogue Temple Israel Community Center in Cliffside Park, New Jersey, and an instructor in the UJA‑Federation‑sponsored Florence Melton Adult Mini-School of the Hebrew University.
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3. “Setting the Record Straight on Kosher Slaughter,” by Rabbi Menachem Genack
[***Rabbi Menachem Genack is the Rabbinic Administrator of the Kosher Division of the Orthodox Union. He is also a Rosh Yeshiva at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, Yeshiva University. This article appeared in “The Commentator,” the publication of students at Yeshiva University.” ***]
Setting the Record Straight on Kosher Slaughter
By Menachem Genack
February 15, 2005
http://www.yucommentator.com/news/2005/02/15/Opinion/Setting.The.Record.Straight.On.Kosher.Slaughter-853165.shtml (requires free registration)
Send e-mails at http://www.yucommentator.com/main.cfm?include=submit
Many people expressed concern about the standards for humane treatment of animals at a kosher slaughterhouse after viewing a well-publicized video of kosher slaughter at the AgriProcessors plant in Iowa, which was released by the animal rights organization PETA. Any slaughterhouse, whether kosher or non-kosher, is by definition a disconcerting, blood-filled and gruesome place. Torah law, however, is most insistent about not inflicting needless pain on animals and in emphasizing humane treatment of all living creatures.
[***I want to commend Rabbi Menachem Genack and the Orthodox Union both for its efforts to improve the situation at the Postville, Iowa glatt kosher slaughterhouse and for their laudable public commitment to do all that is halachically acceptable to ensure the most humane slaughter conditions possible in all plants that it certifies However, as President of Jewish Vegetarians of North America, I wish to point out that since, as Rabbi Genack reminds us, “any slaughterhouse, whether kosher or non-kosher, is by definition a disconcerting, blood-filled and gruesome place,” we should consider that its products are having devastating effects on the health of Jews and others and on the environment, and that the production and consumption of meat violate at least six basic Jewish mandates.***]
Kosher slaughter, shechita, involves cutting the trachea and esophagus with a sharp, flawless knife. At the same time, the carotid arteries, which are the primary supplier of blood to the brain, are severed. The profound loss of blood and the massive drop in blood pressure render the animal insensate almost immediately. Studies done by Dr. H. H. Dukes at the Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine indicate that the animal is unconscious within seconds of the incision.
After the shechita at AgriProcessors, an additional cut is made in the carotid arteries to further accelerate the bleeding. This is not done for kashrut reasons, for after the trachea and esophagus have been severed the shechita is complete, but rather for commercial reasons, to avoid blood splash, which turns the meat a darker color. The carotid arteries are attached to the trachea and at AgriProcessors the trachea was excised to facilitate the bleeding.
In the overwhelming number of cases the animal is insensate at that time. However and inevitably, particularly when it is considered that 18,000 cattle were slaughtered during the seven-week period when the video was shot, there was a tiny percentage of animals whose carotid arteries were not completely severed so they were not completely unconscious. [*** many experts who viewed the videos disagree. ***] Although this is very infrequent, the removal of the trachea immediately after the shechita has now been discontinued. It should be kept in mind that in a non-kosher plant, when the animal is killed by a shot with a captive bolt to the brain, it often has to be re-shot, sometimes up to six times, before the animal collapses. The USDA permits up to a five percent initial failure rate.
At AgriProcessors and at other plants it supervises, the Orthodox Union is committed to maintaining the highest ritual standards of shechita without compromising the halacha (Jewish law) one bit. The OU continues to vouch for the kashrut, which was never compromised, of all the meat prepared by AgriProcessors,
[*** As president of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA), I can testify that JVNA has consistently opposed efforts to single out shechita for criticism. While we believe that Jews and others should shift toward plant-based diets, JVNA believes that properly carried out ritual slaughter is a superior method of slaughter, which aims to minimize animal pain, and that Jews who continue to eat meat should eat kosher meat.
However, we, respectfully, believe that it is essential to indicate that the inhumane treatment of animals at the Postville slaughterhouse that has been shown on the videotape is not typical of shechita, as many long-time veterinarians, animal welfare experts, and rabbis have testified. It is critical to immediately change the slaughter procedure [some changes have already been made], based on the advice of halachic experts and animal welfare experts, such as the highly respected Dr. Temple Grandin. Otherwise, we fear the possible negative effects on Jews and Judaism if people associate conditions at that slaughterhouse with Jewish ritual slaughter.
What appears on these videos seems to show animals, unnecessarily and in contravention of Jewish tradition, being mistreated and made to suffer. I am concerned that those who know little of Judaism may come to believe that this is actually what Jewish observance requires and condones, and may thereby become hostile to Jews and Judaism.
We want the idealistic vision of the Torah to be admired and influential in the world, not associated with cruel and insensitive practices. ***]
As I indicated previously, images of slaughter - especially selected images in an abbatoir -- are jarring, particularly to the layman. Statements by PETA that animals were bellowing in pain after the shechita are an anatomical impossibility. After the animal's throat and larynx have been cut, it cannot vocalize.
PETA is well known for the passion it brings to the issue of animal rights, but it is an organization devoid of objectivity. PETA's comparison of the killing of chickens to the Holocaust is, at a minimum, morally obtuse. So to whom should we turn for an objective view about the situation at AgriProcessors and about kosher slaughter in general? Here are the opinions of some experts:
[*** While the JVNA has been and continues to be critical of some of PETA’s activities, in this case PETA has consistently focused on the Postville plant and stated that they believe that shechita, when properly carried out, is a superior method. ***]
[*** Re the items below, the question is, were the inspections done before or after the PETA videotapes were made public? Many veteran veterinarians, animal welfare experts, and rabbis indicated their shock and revulsion at the scenes shown on PETA’s videos. The important issue now is what steps will be taken to insure that in the future shechita will always be carried out in the best possible way, consistent with Jewish law. ***]
1. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge inspected the plant. She found the handling of the animals to be humane and commendable. She said, after viewing the shechita, that the animals were unconscious within two to three seconds. She also said that chickens were handled more carefully by the rabbis than by her own "grandmother on the farm."
2. AgriProcessors is under constant USDA inspection. Dr. Henry Lawson, the USDA veterinarian at the plant, told me that he considers the treatment of the cattle at AgriProcessors to be humane and that the shechita renders them unconscious within a matter of seconds. He determines this by certain physiological criteria related to the eyes, tongue and tail of the animal.
3. Rabbi Dr. I.M. Levinger, a veterinarian and one of the world's foremost experts on animal welfare and kosher slaughter, called the shechita practices at AgriProcessors "professional and efficient," emphasizing the humane manner in which the shechita was handled. Dr. Levinger was also highly impressed with the caliber of the ritual slaughterers. He issued his evaluation following a thorough two-day on-site review of shechita practices and animal treatment at the plant. He viewed the kosher slaughter of nearly 150 animals.
4. AgriProcessors has hired an animal welfare and handling specialist to evaluate the plant processes. The specialist was recommended by both Dr. Temple Grandin, a foremost expert in animal welfare, and also by the National Meat Association. In reviewing the shechita process, the specialist made the following observations:
· The shechita process was performed swiftly and correctly;
· The shechita cut resulted in a rapid bleed; and
· All animals that exited the box were clearly unconscious.
[*** As the JVNA has always argued, and even PETA agrees, shechita, when properly carried out, is a superior method of slaughter. However, even if shechita is carried out perfectly and pain during slaughter is minimized, can we ignore the many violations of Jewish teachings on compassion to animals that occur daily in the mistreatment of billions of animals on "factory farms" in the United States and worldwide, and the other ways that the production and consumption of animal products violate basic Jewish teachings? ***]
The OU and AgriProcessors are committed to the Torah principles of humane treatment of animals. At the OU we constantly review our procedures, evaluate them, and if necessary, improve or correct them. We don't want ever to be wedded to a mistaken procedure. AgriProcessors has been completely cooperative in working with the OU and shares our philosophy.
As Torah Jews, we are imbued with the teachings which require animals to be rested along with people on the Sabbath and fed before the people who own them, and that the mother bird must be sent away before her young are taken to save her grief. These and similar statutes make it clear that inhumane treatment of animals is not the Jewish way.
[*** Yes, as JVNA consistently argues, Judaism has very strong teachings on the compassionate treatment of animals. But we should also consider the many violations of Jewish teachings related to animal-based diets and modern intensive livestock agriculture.
When Judaism mandates that we treat animals with compassion, can we ignore the cruel treatment of animals on factory farms, where they are raised in cramped, confined spaces without sunlight, fresh air, or opportunities to fulfil their natural instincts? When Judaism stresses that we must diligently protect our health, can we ignore that animal-based diets are major contributors to the epidemic of heart disease, many forms of cancer, and other killer diseases and ailments afflicting the Jewish community and others? When Judaism mandates that we be partners with God in protecting the environment, can we ignore the significant contributions of animal-centered agriculture to air, water, and land pollution, species extinction, deforestation, global climate change, water shortages, and many other environmental threats? ***]
Kosher slaughter, by principle, and as performed today in the United States, is humane. Indeed, as PETA itself has acknowledged, shechita is more humane than the common non-kosher form of shooting the animal in the head with a captive bolt, for reasons noted above. The Humane Slaughter Act, passed into law after objective research by the United States government, declares shechita to be humane. For Torah observant Jews, it cannot be any other way.
[*** Rabbi Genack’s article indicates that our campaign to stress that the Postville controversy should be a wake-up call to the need to address the many moral issues related to our diets has not been successful. It is essential that we continue and increase our efforts, because, for the sake of our health, the sustainability of our imperiled planet, Jewish values, as well as for the animals, it is essential that there be a major shift toward plant-based diets. ***]
[*** Further thought: Since nutritionists have concluded that one can be properly nourished on a diet free of animal products, a fundamental question that Rabbi Genack and other Jewish leaders should address is: since Judaism mandates that we should diligently guard our health, treat animals with compassion, protect the environment, conserve natural resources, and help hungry people, and animal-based diets and agriculture have negative effects in each of these areas, shouldn’t Jews (and others) seriously consider a switch toward meatless diets? ***]
[*** Further thought: The current controversy must be a wake up call to end the many violations of Jewish teachings associated with the production and consumption of animal products. I believe that the horrific scenes of the mistreatment of animals 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 in our obligation to properly imitate G-d, Whose "tender mercies are over all His creatures" (Psalms 145:9)? 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 we be judged, based on our treatment of animals? ***]
Service [for Rabbi Genak’s article in the Commentator] Provided by College Publisher, Inc.
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“The human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future---deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease.”
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