March 9, 2005

3/9/05 JVNA Online Newsletter

Shalom everyone,

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

1. Excellent Article on Negative Environmental Effects of Animal-based Agriculture

2. JVNA Advisor Discusses Nutrition Awareness Month (March)

3. The Basic Jewish Vegetarian Case/How To spread It More Effectively

4. NY Times Editorial on Animals Place in the World

5. Action Alert: Reducing Cruelty in the Production of Fur Garments

6. Great American Meatout Approaching

7. My Letter Re Foie Gras Published in a Blog and in the Jerusalem Post

8. Aaron Gross Article on Postville in Tikkun Magazine/My Letter

9. Organic Farming in Israel

10. Do Animals Have a Complex Mental Life?

11. Major Animal Rights Conference Planned

12. Earth Day Events Planned

13. Jewish Vegetarian Group Dinner Scheduled in Oakland, California

14. Researcher Seeks Information on Connections Between Diets and Addictions/Responses Welcome.

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. Excellent Article on Negative Environmental Effects of Animal-based Agriculture

[I think that the challenging article below shows the insanity of animal-based diets at a time when humanity faces so many environmental threats. I would welcome suggestions re getting these startling statistics to the general public. Do you think that the vegetarian and animal rights communities should use these statistics, and others on disease and other negative effects of animal-based diets and agriculture, as the basis of a campaign that argues that a switch toward vegetarianism is both a societal imperative and a religious imperative?]

The only diet for human rights & the environment
By Bruce Friedrich

I went vegan 17 years ago for human rights and environmental reasons, and I still feel that, leaving aside everything else, a vegan diet is the only reasonable diet for people who care about the environment or global poverty.

Eating meat wastes resources:
If I lie in bed and never get up, I will burn almost 2,500 calories a day; that’s what’s required to keep my body alive. The same physiological reality applies to all animals: The vast majority of the calories consumed by a chicken, pig, cow, or other animal goes into keeping that animal alive, and once you also add to that the calories required to create the bits of the animal that we don’t eat (bone, feathers, blood), you find that it takes about 20 calories of feed into an animal to get one calorie back out in the form of edible fat or muscle. That is, it’s twenty times more efficient to eat the grains, soy, or oats directly, rather than to feed them to farmed animals so that we can eat those animals.

Can you imagine ever, even once, taking 19 plates of spaghetti or 19 bowls of rice and tossing them in the trash? That’s what eating meat represents—it’s like throwing away 19 units of food for every unit you consume. By definition, someone who does this is not an environmentalist.

Eating meat wastes fossil fuels and creates greenhouse gases:
But it gets worse: E, the respected environmental magazine, noted in 2002 that more than one-third of all fossil fuels produced in the United States are used to raise animals for food. Think about the fossil fuel required to get dead chickens, pigs, or other animals to the table: (1) to grow massive amounts of corn, grain, and soy (with all the required tilling, irrigation, crop dusters, and so on); (2) to transport (on gas-guzzling, pollution spewing 18-wheelers) all that grain and soy to feed manufacturers; (3) to operate the feed mill (these use massive amounts of resources); (4) to truck the feed to the factory farms; (5) to operate the factory farms; (6) to truck the animals many miles to slaughter; (7) to operate the slaughterhouse; (8) to truck the meat to processing plants; (9) to operate the meat processing plants; (10) to truck the meat to grocery stores; (11) to keep the meat in the refrigerator or frozen section of the stores. Every single stage involves heavy pollution, massive amounts of greenhouse gases, massive amounts of energy, and so on. Obviously, vegan foods require some of this as well, but vegan foods cut out the factory farms, the slaughterhouses, and multiple stages of heavily polluting tractor-trailer trucks, and all the resources (and pollution) represented at each of those stages.

The so-called environmentalist who sneers at the person in the massive SUV is, if he eats meat, doing far more damage to the ozone layer than an entire fleet of SUVs.

Eating meat wastes water:
Or think about water: All food requires water, but animal foods are exponentially more wasteful of water than vegan foods. Enormous quantities of water are used to irrigate the corn, soy, and oat fields dedicated to feeding farmed animals; plus massive amounts of water are used on factory farms and in slaughterhouses. According to the National Audubon Society, raising animals for food requires about as much water as all other water uses combined. John Robbins estimates that it takes about 300 gallons of water to feed a vegan for a day, 4 times as much to feed an ovo-lacto vegetarian, and about 14 times as much to feed a meat eater.
Most of us now have shower savers, we turn off the tap while we brush our teeth or shave, and so on. That’s all good, of course, but if you’re eating animal products, you are doing the equivalent of turning on every tap in your house, full blast, and just never turning them off. You would never actually do that, but each time you eat meat, that’s exactly the effect you’re having on our dwindling supplies of fresh water.

Eating meat pollutes water and destroys topsoil:
Raising animals for food is also a water-polluting process. According to a report prepared by U.S. Senate researchers, all farmed animals raised in the U.S. produce 130 times the excrement of the entire human population of this country. Their excrement is more concentrated than human excrement and is often contaminated with herbicides, pesticides, toxic chemicals, hormones, antibiotics, and so on. There are no waste treatment plants for animal sewage, so vast quantities of sludge are dumped onto land and into waterways, destroying topsoil and polluting water, often causing ecological imbalances and killing fish and other aquatic life.

It would require another article to begin to cover the issue of topsoil erosion. Suffice it to say that topsoil erosion is a crucial issue (loss of topsoil leads to desertification, which can lead to massive shifts in crop viability and climate), that we’ve destroyed the fertility in our soil at an alarming rate, and that, according to the USDA, 85 percent of topsoil erosion over the past 50 years is directly attributable to animal agriculture.

Fish farming is even worse:
Of course, anyone who reads the papers knows what the factory fishing trawlers are doing to the world’s seas and oceans. One super-trawler is the length of a football field and takes in 800,000 pounds of fish in a single netting. Trawlers scrape up ocean bottoms, destroying coral reefs and everything else in their way; hydraulic dredges scoop up huge chunks of the ocean floor to sift out scallops, clams, and oysters. Most of what the fishing fleets get isn’t even eaten by human beings. Half is fed to animals who are raised for food, and about 30 million tons each year are just tossed back into the ocean, dead, with disastrous and irreversible consequences for the natural biological balance. Commercial fishing fleets are plundering the oceans and destroying sensitive aquatic ecosystems at an incomprehensible rate.

Then there is aquaculture, which is increasing at a rate of more than 10 percent annually. Aquaculture is even worse than commercial fishing because, for starters, it takes about 4 pounds of wild-caught fish to reap 1 pound of farmed fish. Farmed fish eat fish caught by commercial trawlers. Farmed fish are often raised in the same water that wild fish swim in, but fish farmers dump antibiotics into the water and use genetic breeding to create Frankenstein fish. The antibiotics contaminate the oceans and seas, and the genetic-freak fish sometimes escape and breed with wild fish, throwing delicate aquatic balances out of kilter. Researchers at the University of Stockholm demonstrated that the horrible environmental influence of fish farms can extend to an area 50,000 times larger than the farm itself.

Eating meat steals food from the hungry:
I don’t have the space to go fully into this issue, but if you are not yet convinced, let me beg you to read John Robbins The Food Revolution. He gives this issue the space it deserves—to work through the socio-political issues that surround food distribution in the developing world. But here’s the distilled version: Right now, 1.3 billion people, more than 20 percent of the world’s population, are living in dire poverty, and 800 million people are suffering from what the United Nations calls “nutritional deficiency.” That’s a euphemism for “They’re starving.” Every year, 40 million people die from starvation-related causes.

If we are still consuming meat, we are culpable. As just one example, two-thirds of the agriculturally productive land in Central America is devoted to raising farmed animals, almost all of whom are exported or eaten by a wealthy few in these countries. Also, and beyond this direct causal relationship, why are we cycling huge amounts of grain, soy, and corn through the animals we breed just to kill, even as so many people starve for want of any sustenance at all?

Eating meat supports cruelty:I know that others will raise this issue, but it bears repeating in an article about vegetarianism and environmentalism that caring for the environment means protecting all of our planet’s inhabitants, not just the human ones. Animals suffer extreme pain and deprivation on today’s factory farms. Chickens have their beaks sliced off with a hot blade, pigs have their tails chopped off and their teeth removed with pliers, and male cows and pigs are castrated, all without any pain relief at all. The animals are crowded together and dosed with hormones and antibiotics to make them grow so quickly that their hearts and limbs often cannot keep up, causing crippling and heart attacks. Finally, at the slaughterhouse, they are hung upside down and bled to death, often while fully conscious. What kind of environmentalist can support any of that?

What about meat that’s not factory farmed?
No matter what, raising animals for food will require far more calories fed to the animal than they can produce as meat, and only grass-fed cattle eat food that could not otherwise be fed to human beings. Even grass fed cattle require much more water and fossil fuel than vegan foods, in addition to adding to desertification, wildlife killing by ranchers and the USDA’s “Wildlife Services” (formerly “Animal Damage Control”) bureau, and ecological imbalance in the areas where they’re raised. And since “grass fed” beef require much longer on the range, their damage to these ecosystems is actually worse than that of conventionally raised beef.

Clearly, all of the statistics discussed above will change somewhat based on the time of year and the area crops are being grown in. What doesn’t change is that animals will not grow or produce milk and eggs without food and water, they won’t do it without producing excrement, and the stages of meat, dairy, and egg production will always be resource intensive and polluting. Thus, eating meat, dairy products, and eggs will always be vastly more resource intensive and vastly more polluting than using the resources to grow food for human beings. If we care about conserving resources and decreasing our contribution to topsoil erosion and water and air pollution, the only acceptable diet is a vegan one.

Bruce Friedrich is the director of vegan campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). For the best discussion ever done of what eating animal products does to the environment and the global poor, he recommends The Food Revolution, by John Robbins.

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2. JVNA Advisor Discusses Nutrition Awareness Month (March)

Forwarded message from author, web site designer, vegetarian activist, and JVNA advisor Dan Brook:

I write a weekly environmental entry for my son's school newsletter. Here's the one I'm submitting for this week.

IT'S ECO-LOGICAL! March is Nutrition Awareness Month. Fast food tends to be unhealthy for people and unhealthy for the environment. Fast food usually has very high levels of salt, sugar, saturated fat, and cholesterol, all of which are associated with various serious diseases, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, obesity, and diabetes. Additionally, the fast food industry significantly contributes, directly and indirectly, to tremendous resource use and waste, the suffering and deaths of millions of animals, unsustainable and dangerous farming practices, the decline of species diversity, the overproduction of non-recyclable products and packaging, polluted waterways, destruction of rainforests, and many other eco-bads.

Eating better, instead of eating junk fast food, leads to healthier lives, healthier families, healthier communities, healthier attitudes, and a healthier planet. For related info, please see Eco-Eating at

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3. The Basic Jewish Vegetarian Case/How To spread it More Effectively

[I believe that my message below provides much of the basic Jewish vegetarian message. Suggestions about the message and how to make more people aware of it are very welcome. Also, please use the message, and other material in this and previous newsletters and the JVNA web site ( as the basis of your letters, articles, calls to radio programs, and talking points.]

As president of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) and author of "Judaism and Vegetarianism," I believe that it is essential that the Jewish community consider how high meat consumption and the ways in which meat is produced today conflict with Judaism in at least five important areas:

1. While Judaism mandates that people should be very careful about preserving their health and their lives, numerous scientific studies have linked animal-based diets directly to heart disease, stroke, many forms of cancer, and other chronic degenerative diseases.

2. While Judaism forbids tsa'ar ba'alei chayim, inflicting unnecessary pain on animals, most farm animals -- including those raised for kosher consumers -- are raised on "factory farms" where they live in cramped, confined spaces, and are often drugged, mutilated, and denied fresh air, sunlight, exercise, and any enjoyment of life, before they are slaughtered and eaten.

3. While Judaism teaches that "the earth is the Lord’s" (Psalm 24:1) and that we are to be God's partners and co-workers in preserving the world, modern intensive livestock agriculture contributes substantially to soil erosion and depletion, air and water pollution, overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the destruction of tropical rain forests and other habitats, global warming, and other environmental damage.

4 While Judaism mandates bal tashchit, that we are not to waste or unnecessarily destroy anything of value, and that we are not to use more than is needed to accomplish a purpose, animal agriculture requires the wasteful use of grain, land, water, energy, and other resources.

5. While Judaism stresses that we are to assist the poor and share our bread with hungry people, over 70% of the grain grown in the United States (and almost 40& worldwide) is fed to animals destined for slaughter, while an estimated 20 million people worldwide die because of hunger and its effects each year.

In view of these important Jewish mandates to preserve human health, attend to the welfare of animals, protect the environment, conserve resources, help feed hungry people, and pursue peace, and since animal-centered diets violate and contradict each of these resposibilities, shouldn't Jews (and others) sharply reduce or eliminate their consumption of animal products?

One could say "dayenu" (it would be enough) after any of the arguments above, because each one constitutes by itself a serious conflict between Jewish values and current practice that should impel Jews to seriously consider a plant-based diet. Combined, they make an urgently compelling case for the Jewish community to address these issues.

Very truly yours,
Richard H. Schwartz

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4. NY Times Editorial on Animals Place in the World

Thanks to author, vegetarian activist, and JVNA advisor Lewis Regenstein for forwarding the NY times editorial below, which has important implications re how we treat animals. Thanks also to Karen Dawn and Dawnwatch (see description below) for sending the editorial to Lewis and others.
There is a groundbreaking editorial in the Thursday, March 3, New York Times, which questions the idea that "the rest of creation was shaped exclusively for our use." It is headed "My Little Chickadee." It is short, and I will paste the whole piece below. On sharing this piece, it is my pleasure to remind people that while a column gives the opinion of a single journalist, and an op-ed gives that of a guest writer, an editorial expresses the official opinion of the newspaper, in this case, one of the most widely read and most respected in the world.


My Little Chickadee

Bird feeders across much of America are mobbed with black-capped chickadees at this time of year. Can you tell them apart, one by one? Probably not; it's hard enough to distinguish male from female in this species, let alone recognize individuals in a flock. But scientists are starting to suggest that if we look closely enough, we can distinguish birds of a single species by personality. A team of Dutch scientists, testing a European relative of the chickadee, has found that some birds are shy and others are bold, broad personality differences that have a genetic foundation. This finding doesn't erode the basic differences between Homo sapiens and Poecile atricapillus (the black-capped chickadee). But it substantially enlarges the similarities.

We take the range of personalities among individuals in our species for granted, yet it seems surprising to think of similar diversity in other species. Many people find the implications of that genuinely shocking. If bird personalities have a strong genetic and evolutionary basis, there is good reason to suspect that human personalities do, too.

Humans do not like to think of themselves as animals. Nor do they like to think that their behavior may have genetic or evolutionary roots. But the richer perspective - morally and intellectually - lies in examining and coming to terms with the kinship of all life. There's a certain tragic isolation in believing that humans stand apart in every way from the creatures that surround them, that the rest of creation was shaped exclusively for our use. The real fruit of that perspective is, in fact, tragic isolation on an earth that has been eroded by our moral assumptions. Science has something much wiser to tell us about who we are.

So do the birds around us.

The New York Times takes letters at:

Yours and the animals',
Karen Dawn

(DawnWatch is an animal advocacy media watch that looks at animal issues in the media and facilitates one-click responses to the relevant media outlets. You can learn more about it, and sign up for alerts at To unsubscribe, go to If you forward or reprint DawnWatch alerts, please do so unedited -- leave DawnWatch in the title and include this tag line.)

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5. Action Alert: Reducing Cruelty in the Production of Fur Garments

The Humane Society of the United States HSUS Fund for Animals
Humane Action Network Alert
March 3, 2005
Dear Richard,
Animals raised for their fur need you to speak out now on their
behalf to end the cruel practice of anal/genital electrocution.
Your participation is critical so please take a moment of your
time today, for the animals.

Andrea Kozil
Grassroots Coordinator-Government Affairs, The HSUS

The New York state legislature is now consider legislation that will ban the anal/genital electrocution of animals raised in "fur factories." This cruel killing method is inflicted each year on thousands of foxes, mink, chinchillas, and other animals who are raised in intensive confinement for fur coats and fur-trimmed apparel. Electrocution is often used to kill fur-bearing animals that are raised on farms, since it is inexpensive and does not damage the pelt.

1. Please take a moment to contact the leadership of the New York State Assembly and Senate and urge them to pass A. 19 (sponsored by Assembly members Stringer, LaVelle, Pheffer) and
S. 2495 (sponsored by Senators Padavan and Maltese). Remember that postcards, brief letters and phone calls have a greater impact than e-mails.

Explain that killing animals by electrocution as practiced by "fur factories" is not deemed acceptable by the American Veterinary Association or even by the fur industry. According to
Fur Commission USA, "the only method of euthanasia approved by Fur Commission USA is bottled gas, either pure carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver
New York State Assembly, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
(518) 455-3791 or (518) 455- 3791

alternate address:
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver
250 Broadway
New York, NY 10007
(212) 312-1400

Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno
c/o Patricia Stackrow
New York State Senate, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
(518) 455-3191

2. Contact your own state legislators and ask them to support
this humane legislation.

+ How did your legislators rate? New York Humane Scorecard

+ More legislative issues affecting animals in New York:

+ Video: Fur Shame:
Copyright (c) 2005
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
All Rights Reserved. 202-452-1100
The Humane Society of the United States
2100 L Street, NW
Washington, DC 20037

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6. Great American Meatout Approaching

Forwarded Message from FARM (Farm Animal Reform Movement):
Great American MeatOut
Sunday March 20, 2005
All Day

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7. My Letter Re Foie Gras Published in a Blog and in the Jerusalem Post

My letter is at the blog
Please join the discussion of my message at the above web site, especially in responding to responses critical of my message. Thanks.
March 4, 2005


As president of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) and author of "Judaism and Vegetarianism," I would like to thank you for your recent coverage of the foie gras issue. I am surprised and saddened to learn that Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv ruled there is no halachic restriction against force-feeding geese for foie gras, despite an Israeli High Court ruling banning the production of foie gras and the adopted practice of a growing number of European countries.

Rabbi Elyashiv's ruling would seem to condone any mistreatment of animals, including recreational hunting that our sages have condemned, as long as some people felt it beneficial. Even if one believes that meat is necessary for proper nutrition, in spite of the abundant evidence to the contrary, surely there are many choices that do not involve such systemic brutality as force-feeding young geese until their livers swell to many times their normal size, causing serious, sometimes fatal, pain and trauma.

As your blog indicates, in his book, "The Vision of Eden: Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and Mysticism," Rabbi Dovid Sears cites many Jewish sources who deemed the stuffing of geese halachically unacceptable. Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, the most influential contemporary halachic authority in the Sefardic world and former Sefardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, forbids the forced feeding of fowl in Israel in Yabia Omer, Vol. 9, Yoreh De'ah, no. 3 (originally issued in 1976), both for reasons of kashrus and tza'ar baalei chaim. Rabbi David Rosen, former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, stated: "Pate de foie gras is obtained through the willful desecration of a Torah prohibition and any truly God-revering Jew will not partake of such a product, which is an offense against the Creator and His Torah."

As the Jerusalem Post article indicates, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, generally considered in Orthodoxy to have been the greatest halachic authority of the last generation, affirms the prohibition of any gratuitous cruelty in animal food production. Rabbi Hayyim David Halevy, late Sefardic Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, ruled accordingly with regard to the production and wearing of fur.

Very truly yours,
Richard H. Schwartz

The message above also appeared in a reduced form in the Jerusalem Post of 3/7/05.

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8. Aaron Gross Article on Postville in Tikkun Magazine/My Letter

The following article is by scholar, vegetarian and animal rights activist, author, and JVNA advisor Aaron Gross. Aaron is the main author of our new booklet “A Case for Jewish Vegetarianism.” (For free copies, please call 1-888-VEG FOOD.)

When Kosher Isn't Kosher

(Tikkun Magazine March/April 2005 VOL. 20, NO. 2)

Rarely have the traditional Jewish dietary laws ever attracted the international attention that they recently received in the wake of an undercover investigation by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). On November 30, PETA released undercover video footage of grisly animal abuse at AgriProcessors, Inc. (Postville, IA), the largest glatt kosher slaughterhouse in the world. The video documented fully conscious cattle having their tracheas and esophagi ripped from their throats, their sensitive faces shocked with electric prods, and languishing for up to three minutes after their throats had been slit.

Articles in the New York Times, the Jerusalem Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and numerous other papers combined with a flurry of activity on web blogs such as (run by an Orthodox Jew who has worked in kosher slaughterhouses) and webzines, quickly brought the issue to wide popular attention. After initial statements denying that anything was wrong, the Orthodox Union (OU), which certifies AgriProcessors as kosher, put pressure on the slaughterhouse to address some of the issues raised by the PETA investigation. Promising as this step was, most of the concerns raised by PETA's video have yet to be addressed by the Orthodox Union or AgriProcessors. Indeed, the OU has indicated that, in their view, Judaism's dietary laws are not violated when animals are
systematically mutilated, shocked, and left to languish at the hands of sloppy slaughters. Even after the executive vice president of the OU, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, acknowledged to the New York Times that the removal of the tracheas and esophagi was "especially inhumane," he asserted in a formal statement, "We continue to vouch for the kashrut of all of the meat prepared by AgriProcessors, Inc., which was never compromised." As far as we know, animals at AgriProcessors continue to suffer needlessly.

At stake is the basis of Jewish dietary law (kashrut) itself. While the OU has argued that there was never any violation of kosher law at AgriProcessors, PETA, a secular animal rights organization, has served as a champion of kashrut's moral and ethical dimension. With the support of numerous rabbis, PETA has argued that the egregious cruelty at AgriProcessors is completely out of line with both the letter and spirit of kosher law, and has described Judaism's record of compassion for animals as the best of all the Abrahamic faiths.

What is Kosher Slaughter?

At every kosher slaughterhouse, animals are killed by a ritual cut to the neck called shechita that severs the esophagus and trachea (or at least one of these in the case of chickens and turkeys). Ideally, the cut also severs blood flow to the brain and, after a variable period of time, leads to unconsciousness. Jewish law specifies that a razor sharp blade must be used and that the slaughter must be performed by a properly trained individual called a shochet. These rules are particularly important for animal welfare because the sharpness of the blade and its proper use seems to reduce the pain caused by the cut and speed unconsciousness. Most, though not all, authorities in halakha (Jewish law) have further argued that the animal must be conscious while shechita is performed. In non-kosher slaughterhouses, U.S. law requires that animals be stunned before being slaughtered on humane grounds.

The time to loss of consciousness after shechita is a central humane concern in any kosher slaughterhouse. Studies have shown that this time varies greatly based on the species being slaughtered, the type of restraint mechanisms used to hold the animal during slaughter, and the skill of the shochet. A 1994 review of the relevant scientific literature by Dr. Temple Grandin and Dr. Joe Regenstein, the two seniormost U.S. scientific experts on kosher slaughter, showed that even in the best cases, 5 percent of the animals retained consciousness for more than a few seconds after shechita. In other cases, technically correct shechita left 30 percent of the animals conscious for extended periods of time up to 30 seconds.

Overall, it is clear that shechita can render an animal unconscious in an optimal manner and is almost always better regulated than non-kosher slaughter. This is why animal rights groups like PETA have insisted that kosher slaughter is generally better than non-kosher slaughter. However, for kosher slaughter to optimally reduce suffering requires properly designed "upright" restraint devices and specific forms of employee training, neither of which are required by the USDA or kosher certification agencies. As a result, though the Jewish community may be rightfully proud that kosher law dictates a method of slaughter that can reduce animal suffering during slaughter to an absolute minimum, there is presently no guarantee that this is the case. The fact that the OU has stated that there were never any problems with kosher law at AgriProcessors underscores this point.

What Happened at AgriProcessors?

The abuses documented at AgriProcessors were not aberrations, but standard operating procedures. Most troubling at AgriProcessors is the procedure, performed immediately after shechita, of ripping out the tracheas and esophagi of conscious cattle. Significantly, this procedure is not typically performed in other kosher slaughter houses and, according to Dr. Temple Grandin, the real purpose behind the procedure at AgriProcessors remains unclear. Whatever the reason, this procedure is not required by kosher law.

Nonetheless, the removal of the trachea and esophagus was performed on every single animal that PETA was able to video tape, the only exceptions being cases where pressure to keep the line moving meant the procedure was skipped. PETA was able to obtain a total of five hours of footage of cattle slaughter in six sessions over about seven weeks in which 278 animals were slaughtered; 230 of these animals were clearly visible and at least 20 percent of these animals were conscious after being dumped onto a concrete floor with their tracheas and esophagi hanging from their necks.

Stephen Bloom, a journalist who wrote the highly acclaimed book Postville about the clash of cultures in the small Iowa town where the slaughterhouse is located, has confirmed that shoddy slaughter existed as far back as1996 when he was given a tour of the slaughter facility. Bloom witnessed multiple animals struggling to stand minutes after shechita. Although Bloom did not actually see animals' throats slit and so does not know whether or not the animals' tracheas and esophagi were removed at that time, another anonymous source has come forward to state that she saw the trachea and esophagus procedure when she visited the slaughter line in 1998.

Our best information, then, is that for at least six years AgriProcessors saw fit to cut the tracheas and esophagi out of animals that had at least a one in four chance (based on the undercover footage) of being conscious after the procedure. Moreover, for at least eight years, they have been so lax in their slaughter technique that animals have routinely been fully conscious for minutes after they were dumped from the restraint onto concrete floors. And all this is to say nothing of other equally systematic abuses of animals at AgriProcessors, such as the misuse of electric prods on animals' faces and the use of are straining pen which has been condemned as a violation of tza'ar ba'alei hayyim (the torah mandate not to cause pain to animals) by the Conservative movement's highest halakhic body.

In an ongoing, cynical attempt to distort the full extent of this abuse, representatives of AgriProcessors and the OU have suggested that the animals on PETA's tapes were not conscious. Everyone agrees that brain-dead animals sometimes make movements that non-experts might think indicate life. However, every single scientific and slaughter expert that has bee consulted, without exception, has agreed that the animals on PETA's vide were conscious (an impressive list of these expert statements is available on PETA's website, Nonetheless, the president o AgriProcessors, Sholom Rubashkin, continues to maintain, "What you see o the video is not out of the ordinary. Nothing wrong was, or is, being done There is nothing to admit."

The USDA, by contrast, found the abuse at AgriProcessors so offensive that they created a new "scenario" of animal abuse which precisely describes what occurred at AgriProcessors, as documented by PETA's video footage. The USD advises that were an inspector to witness such a scenario, they should immediately suspend slaughter operations and notify the relevant authorities of "this egregious violation of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act." (view
the full USDA scenario at

The Broader Context

What does it mean that such misery could go on for years in a facility that was doubly inspected by the USDA and religious authorities? Sadly, the abuse at AgriProcessors is a symbol of entrenched, systematic abuse of animals in today's meat industry, rather than an anomaly. It may be aberrant to mutilate animals in the particularly offensive manner practiced by AgriProcessors, but on today's factory farms it is perfectly routine and legal to cut horns, testicles, and beaks off animals without painkillers, and to confine animals for their entire lives in spaces so cramped that they must be fed antibiotics simply to keep them alive. Sadly, virtually all kosher meat comes from animals that are raised in the same abusive factory farms that produce most meat in America. This chronic abuse of animals on factory farms does not capture headlines in the way that the unusual level of abuse at Agriprocessors has, but this "normalized" abuse is equally, and perhaps more, worthy of our attention.

The contemporary French-Jewish philosopher Jacques Derrida was deeply disturbed by the cruelty of factory farming, and, perhaps even more, by the denials that allow it to continue. His remarks on the contemporary indifference to the misery of these "farms" are as chilling as they are relevant: "No one can deny seriously, or for very long, that men do all they can in order to dissimulate this cruelty or to hide it from themselves, in order to organize on a global scale the forgetting or misunderstanding of this violence that some would compare to the worst cases of genocide."

Roughly 10 billion land animals are killed for meat every year in the United States alone and yet the average person has never witnessed an animal being slaughtered. Undercover investigations, one after another, have demonstrated conclusively that neither the USDA nor religious authorities have adequate regulation to address even the most extreme instances of abuse.

Looked at in the broader societal context, the fact that the products of factory farming and even abusive facilities like AgriProcessors are given moral legitimacy by being deemed "kosher," transforms kashrut from an ethical system into one that helps mask organized animal abuse. This awkward situation is so far from the moral vision of kashrut that it is painful to even acknowledge.

The Ethical Basis of Kashrut

Few contemporary rabbis have articulated the moral foundations of kashrut for so many of today's current Jewish leaders as Rabbi Samuel Dresner. In his book Keeping Kosher, he reminds us that in the biblical vision, "permission to eat meat is. understood as a compromise, a divine concession." The Rabbinic tradition has taught that human beings were originally vegetarian in the garden of Eden on the basis of Genesis 1:29, "See, I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; they shall be yours for food." God's original plan contained no slaughterhouses; animal slaughter was only reluctantly allowed after the flood, and this slaughter had to be regulated.

As Dresner explains, "Jews are permitted to eat meat, but they must learn to have reverence for the life they take." The laws of shechita are the concrete manifestation of this required reverence. However, it also is now evident that kosher slaughter can be turned on its head, becoming among the cruelest methods of ending life. As Rabbi Barry Schwartz, who sits on the task force on kashrut for the Central Conference of American Rabbis, noted upon viewing PETA's video, "If this is kosher, then we have a big problem."

Fortunately, Rabbi Schwartz has been joined by many others, and, in a remarkable demonstration of spontaneous Jewish pluralism, these voices have come from across the Jewish spectrum. Rabbi Raphael Rank, the President of the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly, fired off a letter to all Conservative Rabbis shortly after the AgriProcessors's story appeared, calling PETA's investigation "a welcome, though unfortunate service to the Jewish community." He argued that "[w]hen a company purporting to be kosher violates the prohibition against tza'ar ba'aleihayyim, causing pain to one of God's living creatures, that company must answer to the Jewish community, and ultimately, to God."

Chaim Milikowsky, the chair of the Talmud department at Bar Ilan University and a traditionally observant Jew, went so far as to say of AgriProcessors that, "It very well may be that any plant performing such types of shechita is guilty of hillul hashem-the desecration of God's name-for to insist that God cares only about his ritual law and not about his moral law is to desecrate His Name."

The President and Executive Director of the Reform movement's Central Conference of American Rabbis, Janet Marder and Paul Menitoff, were among signatories to a joint statement by Jewish leaders which asserts that, "Judaism's powerful tradition of teaching compassion for animals has been violated by these systematic abuses [atAgriProcessors] and needs to be reasserted" (the full statement and signatories can be viewed and signed at The statement, which goes on to call for specific changes at AgriProcessors and for basic humane standards to be established for all kosher certification agencies, was also signed by Arthur Green, Dean of the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College; Arthur Waskow, the Director of the Shalom Center; Elliot Dorff, Rector at the University of Judaism and Vice-Chair of the Conservative Movement's Committee on Jewish Law; and other senior leaders in all major branches of Judaism.

Individual Responsibility

More than animals suffer in slaughterhouses like AgriProcessors. The entire tradition of reverence and compassion that is Judaism's life blood is drained when kosher slaughter becomes an act of cruelty. When shechita becomes part of systematic abuse of animals rather than a compassionate compromise with the inherent violence of meat-eating, the wounds that are inflicted upon these animals becomes wounds inflicted on all of us.

For many, the pervasive nature of animal abuse at AgriProcessors and elsewhere means that eschewing meat is now a moral imperative. Indeed, many who have investigated the pitiful conditions in which dairy cattle and egglaying hens are raised, have committed themselves to veganism (eschewing all animal products). Vegan diets also have well-established health and ecological advantages, and are increasingly popular, especially with young people. A recent survey of 100,000 college students by food service giant Aramark indicated that fully one in four students consider finding vegan meals on campus important to them. In a like manner, many Jews feel that vegetarianism is the most effective way to stand against the cruelty of factory farms and within the Judaic vision of reverence for all life.

Those who choose not to become vegetarian still have an ethical responsibility to ensure the meat and animal products they eat come from animals that are both humanely raised and slaughtered. The only adequately regulated labels that a consumer could look for on a wide variety of products to ensure better treatment of animals are "organic" and "Certified Humane." Unfortunately, though these certifications eliminate some abuses, they allow farms to systematically mutilate animals without pain relief (for example, cutting off part of chickens' sensitive beaks), do not mandate access to the outdoors, and have no standards for the transportation of birds. Claims that animals are "free range" are so poorly regulated as to be meaningless and a multitude of industry-promoted "humane" labels like "Animal Care Certified" and the "Swine Welfare Assurance Program" are simply Orwellian tactics by industry to redefine even the worst factory farm methods as "humane."

This sorry state of affairs is further indicated by the fact that the only national chain of grocery stores which has meaningful humane standards for the animal products they sell is Whole Foods (roughly as good as those used by the "Certified Humane" label). Significantly, Whole Foods is in the process of developing new animal welfare standards which, when released, are likely to be vastly superior to any currently available. At present, however, the only way to ensure that animals are treated humanely is to avoid eating them or identify a free range farm (that you inspect yourself) and to personally arrange for the animals' slaughter.

Whether we choose vegetarianism or not, it is time we confront our own forgetfulness about the suffering of animals, and, equally, our forgetfulness about the moral intent of kosher law. Continued silence about the fate of the animals we eat is not just silence, but denial. The voices calling for compassion in how we treat farm animals are stronger now than at anytime in recent memory; they testify to a process of remembering a venerable tradition of reverence for life which continues to animate Jews today. Let us work to make these remembrances into a concrete, living tradition of day-to-day concern for all life. Let the image of the divine that we represent, be a vision of compassion.

Aaron Gross

Aaron Gross holds a masters degree from Harvard Divinity School and is a Rowny Fellow at the University of California, Santa Barbara where he is pursuing a Ph.D. in religious studies. His scholarly work on kashrut has appeared in the Central Conference of American Rabbis Journal. He welcomes emails at


A free vegetarian starter kit is available from PETA at 1-888-VEG-FOOD or (mention Tikkun to receive complimentary information on Judaism and vegetarianism).

please consider writing letters to Tikkun re Aaron’s article. Mine is below:
March 6, 2005

Editor, TIKKUN

Dear Editor:

I want to commend Aaron Gross for his insightful analysis of the horrific conditions uncovered by videos at the Postville glatt kosher slaughterhouse ("When kosher Isn't Kosher," March/April 2005 issue). As president of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) and author of "Judaism and Vegetarianism," I strongly believe that the exposure of the sharp differences between the ideal conditions of Jewish ritual slaughter and the realities at that plant should be a wakeup call to the need to consider how animal-based diets and modern intensive livestock agriculture violate many basic Jewish teachings.

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?

Since nutritionists have concluded that one can be properly nourished on a diet free of animal products, a fundamental question to be addressed 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?

Very truly yours,
Richard H. Schwartz

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9. Organic Farming in Israel

Thanks to author, Jewish activist, and JVNA advisor Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen for his message below and for forwarding the article.

Dear Friends,

Over fifteen years ago, I interviewed Mario Levy, the founder and former head of Israel Bio-organic Agriculture Association. He lives on Kibbutz Sdei Eliyahu - a Torah-observant kibbutz which is a major producer of organic produce in Israel. He told me that a high percentage of the organic farmers in Israel are Torah-observant, and when I asked him why this was so, he replied that keeping the Torah reminds you that human beings are not the true owners of the land; thus, this leads to more respect for the land. In this spirit, I have attached for the readers of the JVNA newsletter a recent article about Mario Levy.

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen

ISRAEL'S SUPER MARIO - Meet Israel's pioneer of organic agriculture: an observant great-grandfather who fled from the Nazis 64 years ago.
By Karin Kloosterman

Meet Israel's pioneer of organic agriculture: an observant great-grandfather who fled from the Nazis 64 years ago.

Some have a way with people. Others have a way with the land. Organic farming pioneer Mario Levi has a way with both.

At 81 years old and with plans for the next 50, his name has become a legend among international large-scale growers, small-scale farmers and young American university students.

He doesn't speak much, yet small gestures -- a squinty smile, a wave of his expressive Italian hands, a ride in the red tractor that matches his cheeks -- allows one to feel an immediate closeness to him and the culture that surrounds organic food.

"In my life I have always been searching for the truth, and through my exploration, I found that conventional agriculture is a tragedy for the earth," Levi told ISRAEL21c during a visit to his home on Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu where he settled after fleeing a Nazi regime from Trieste, Italy 64 years ago.

After researching the basic principles behind organic farming for several years, Levi started a 20-acre farm in 1974.

"When I said I was going to grow organic agriculture, everyone thought I was cuckoo," he chuckles as he motions circles around his head. But over 30 years later, the great-grandfather is now recognized as Israel's pioneer of organic agriculture.

Although today, he may receive criticism by more ideologically extreme organic farmers who forego using farming machinery to increase their yield, Mario does not adhere to this philosophy. He has over 950 mouths to feed on his kibbutz, therefore his purpose is to produce as many vegetables as possible without disrupting the environment.

"He is excellent in guiding people to increase their yield and is very orthodox with his rules and never strays from them -- ever -- even if it means losing an entire crop," claims Ron Shalem, 38, environmental activist and new kibbutz member.

"Mario is a generalist with a lot of experience. He can look at a field and can tell you anything about it. He feels the ground and he feels the plants. He can look at a tomato and tell you if it is healthy and can read into what the soils needs if it is not. He's a master of industrial organic agriculture, because really, no other system can supply the quantity of food that that is needed in areas with a large population, such as the US," adds Shalem.

For this reason, large-scale American industrial growers have sent Levi to the US for consultation in regions surrounding Santa Cruz, the Imperial Valley, Texas and the Rio Grande.


As Levi ends our meeting for the afternoon prayer, he says he is hopeful about the future, "It will take a few generations to fix the damages that we are doing to the world with chemicals," he says resolutely, "But, it will be fixed."

Courtesy of
Published: Sunday, March 06, 2005

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10. Do Animals Have a Complex Mental Life?

Cows hold grudges, say scientists
By Jonathan Leake
February 28, 2005
From: The Australian,10117,12390397-13762,00.html

ONCE they were a byword for mindless docility. But cows have a complex mental life in which they bear grudges, nurture friendships and become excited by intellectual challenges, researchers have found.

Cows are capable of strong emotions such as pain, fear and even anxiety about the future. But if farmers provide the right conditions, they can also feel great happiness.

The findings have emerged from studies of farm animals that have found similar traits in pigs, goats and chickens. They suggest such animals may be so emotionally similar to humans that welfare laws need to be reconsidered.

The research will be presented to a conference in London next month sponsored by animal welfare group Compassion in World Farming.

Christine Nicol, professor of animal welfare at Britain's Bristol University, said even chickens might have to be treated as individuals with needs and problems.

"Remarkable cognitive abilities and cultural innovations have been revealed," she said. "Our challenge is to teach others that every animal we intend to eat or use is a complex individual, and to adjust our farming culture accordingly."


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11. Major Animal Rights Conference Planned

Forwarded message from GARC:


All animal, veg*an, environmental, and social justice activists are invited to attend the Grassroots Animal Rights Conference (GARC) in New York City this month. GARC 2005 is aimed at experienced activists who wish to sharpen their activism skills and work on coalition building both within and outside of the movement. Attendees can expect great programs presented by great speakers at a great new venue: Holyrood Episcopal Church, 715 W. 179th Street, New York, NY.

GARC was designed from the ground up by grassroots activists to be affordable, accessible and inclusive. Registration is $20, $10 for students, and can be waived entirely in cases of need. Free housing and free or low-cost vegan meals will be provided. (First-come, first-served for free housing and meals.) The conference site is handicapped-accessible.

Register here:

REGISTER NOW! Time is short, capacity is limited and our accommodations are filling up fast.

The workshops and lectures begin at 6 pm on Thursday, March 31, 2005 and run through 6pm on Sunday, April 3, 2005. **Confirmed** expert speakers include:

Lorri Bauston, Co-founder, Farm Sanctuary
Josephine Bellaccomo,
Aryenish Birdie, Students of Hampshire for Animal Rights Education (SHARE)
Sarahjane Blum, Media Spokesperson, Gourmet Cruelty
David Cantor, Executive Director, Responsible Policies for Animals, Inc
Lawrence Carter-Long, Issues Specialist, In Defense of Animals
Rod Coronado, Coordinator, Chuk'shon Earth First! (Pending outcome of March court case)
Dr. Karen Davis, PhD, President, United Poultry Concerns, Inc.
Shawn DeLeo, Community Animal Project
Dr. Michael Greger, MD, Vegan Research Institute
Caryn Hartglass, Executive Director, EarthSave International
David Hayden, No Compromise
Dr. Alex Hershaft, PhD, President, Farm Animal Reform Movement (FARM)
Homefries, Boston Ecofeminist Action
Kevin Jonas, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC)
pattrice jones, Coordinator, Eastern Shore Sanctuary
Dr. Melanie Joy, PhD, Professor of Psychology, University of Massachusetts, Boston
Marti Kheel, Founder, Feminists for Animals Rights
Julie Lewin, Animal Advocacy Connecticut (AACT)
Jamie Moran, Friends of Jeffrey Luers
Lance Morosini, Organizer, Speak Out for Animal Rights
Carol Moon, Humane Educator, Farm Sanctuary
Peter Muller, President, League of Humane Voters of New York State
Anne Muller, President, Wildlife Watch
Charles Patterson, Author, Eternal Treblinka
John Phillips, Vice President, League of Humane Voters of New York City
Hillary Rettig, Author, How Not to Burn Out: A Guide to Building a
Sustainable Activist Career
Nathan Runkle, Founder, Mercy for Animals
Ryan Shapiro, Campaigns Coordinator, Gourmet Cruelty
Marjorie Spiegel, Executive Director, Institute for the Development of
Earth Awareness (IDEA)
Andy Stepanian, Long Island Animal Defense League
Patrick Tyrrell, Animal Outreach of Kansas University
Adam Weissman, Activism Center at Wetlands Preserve
.and many more to be announced.
More detail on the program can be found here:


or contact Hillary Rettig
phone: 781-834-0696


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12. Earth Day Events Planned

[Please consider how we can get vegetarian and Jewish environmental messages out in conjunction with this year’s important Earth Day. Thanks.]

Forwarded message:

. Locations and times of Earth Day events going on near you
. Ideas on how to participate in Earth Day 2005 (and year round!)
. Earth Day 2005 t-shirts and posters
. ...and much, much more!

We encourage you to register your Earth Day event at: for others to learn about, possibly participate, get ideas, etc. We look forward to celebrating Earth Day with you!

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13. Jewish Vegetarian Group Dinner Scheduled in Oakland, California

Forwarded message from Michelle B

Director of Veggie Jews (

Please join Veggie Jews for brunch on Sunday March 20th at Manzanita
in Oakland. A sample menu is available on their website at:

When: Sunday, March 20th, 11:30am
Where: Manzanita
1050 - 40th St.
Oakland, CA. 94608
(510) 985-8386

RSVP by Thursday, March 17th to

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14. Researcher Seeks Information on Connections Between Diets and Addictions/Responses Welcome

Forwarded message from David Wilson"
Subject: Psychologist in South Africa Research Query
Date: Sat, 26 Feb 2005 04:12:42 +0200

I am a psychologist in South America working extensively with the Jewish community. I deal extensively with issues of addiction-sexual and chemical and am interested in pursuing PhD research in the area of possible links between these issues and meat eating or 'addiction to blood ' as some of my Hindu colleagues have put it.

Could you direct me to anyone or any institution who may share my interest?

Yours sincerely,
David Lewis Wilson

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