This update/Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) Online Newsletter has the following items:
1. The Potential of the Al Gore Movie “An Inconvenient Truth”/My Thoughts After Seeing the Movie
2. "Veganism – It’s Pro-Life"/Suggestions on My Article Very Welcome
3. Update on Campaign to Prod the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) To Continue and Expand on Its Environmental Initiatives
4. Update on Rabbi David Sears’ Book, “The Vision of Eden: Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and Mysticism.”
5. A Message Global Warming Sermon based on Last Week’s Torah Reading
6. Another Impact of Global Warming: Expanding Deserts
7. Response From AgriProcessors (Postville Iowa Slaughterhouse) Supporter Re Working Conditions at the Slaughterhouse Slaughterhouse/Comments From “Failed Messiah” Blog
8. Reducing Global Warming by Replacing Light Bulbs
9. Earthsave NY Schedules Vegetarian Event
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, material re conferences, retreats, forums, trips, and other events does not necessarily imply endorsement by JVNA or endorsement of kashrut, Shabbat observances, or any other Jewish observance, 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. The Potential of the Al Gore Movie "An Inconvenient Truth"/My Thoughts After Seeing the Movie
I took the advice that I have been giving in previous JVNA newsletters: I saw the Al Gore global warming movie “An Inconvenient Truth” the first chance that I had. I was very impressed by the movie. It presented the very frightening facts in a very dramatic, graphic and interesting way. While it is a documentary and mainly a lecture, the many visual aids including many graphs and animation help keep your interest throughout. Please get to see the movie as soon as you can and please encourage others to see it. Also, please consider handing out vegetarian literature to people attending the movie. I handed out special, informative postcards from FARM and got a favorable response. We do not often have such opportunities to get the public’s attention on such a critical issue as global warming, so please do as much as possible to take advantage of it.
I was disappointed that the audience was relatively small – less than 20 people. Another reason that we have to try to increase awareness of the movie and why it is important that people see it. Also, the movie does not discuss the ways that animal-based agriculture contributes significantly to global warming, so we have to also increase awareness of that.
Below is information about how you can get the FARM postcards. Very good material can also be obtained from PETA. There is no charge for the material from either FARM or PETA but contributions, of course, would be welcome.
Farm Animal Reform Movement (FARM) (www.farmusa.org) has prepared a special color postcard entitled "Stop global warming...one bite at a time!" for distribution at theaters showing An Inconvenient Truth. The cards explain the connection between global warming and animal agriculture and offer people the chance to order a free Veg Starter Guide. You can order the cards free of charge by visiting www.farmusa.org or by calling William at 1-800-MEATOUT.
Below is another analysis of the great potential that the Al Gore movie represents.
Forwarded message from the U.S. Climate Emergency Council:
**The Al Gore movie could change this country, but only if people like us utilize it now to build the movement to stop global warming.**
Last weekend an important new movie about global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth," began playing in a limited number of movie theatres. This weekend and in coming weeks it will be shown in many more, at least 400 according to the movie's website, www.climatecrisis.net.
We urge you to go see it and encourage others to do the same. It's educational, inspiring and very timely.
We are also urging activists around the country to download the attached leaflet and sign-on sheet and use them inside the theatre, if possible, or outside it to help us build a stronger and broader movement on this issue.
The U.S. Climate Emergency Council, which is initiating this campaign, grows out of the work of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN). Over the last four years CCAN has grown from a small handful of people in Takoma Park, Maryland to, now, a region-wide organization working in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia. CCAN played a key role in recently passing state legislation in Maryland which reduces nitrogen, sulfur and mercury pollution and requires that the state join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a consortium of eastern states committed to mandatory CO2 reductions from power plants. CCAN worked actively with the Climate Crisis Coalition last fall in the organizing that went on around the Montreal U.N. Climate Change conference. The two groups collaborated again this spring organizing a successful national strategy meeting in New York City on April 30th, the day after the huge March for Peace, Justice and Democracy which called for action on the climate crisis.
Just last week the Climate Emergency Council organized a successful, 36-hour continuous vigil outside the headquarters of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in D.C. protesting its suppression of the growing number of scientific reports linking more frequent Category 4 and 5 hurricanes to global warming. There was national press coverage of this action.
**Let's Take Action Now**
The nationwide airing of An Inconvenient Truth offers us a major opportunity to reach out and dramatically increase the number of people who become active on this issue. We have put together the attached leaflet and sign-on sheet as resources toward that end.
Last weekend CCAN activists had success doing this in the D.C. area. At one theatre, thanks to advance outreach to the manager, a CCAN member was able to make a brief announcement inside the theatre before the movie began and then, afterwards, to distribute a clipboard with sign-on sheets. Over the course of the evening 400 people were signed up. Si, se puede!
The U.S. Climate Emergency Council is so committed to this effort that we are willing to pay $1.00 for every three names and emails signed up and sent to us. Those who have just seen An Inconvenient Truth are prime candidates for getting immediately and actively involved, and we need thousands of such people and new and stronger climate action groups all over the country.
Help us build the urgently-needed movement to slow, stop and reverse global warming!
For U.S. CEC,
Return to Top
2. Veganism – Its Pro-Life/Suggestions on My Article Very Welcome
This article is a work in progress, so suggestions are very welcome. Thanks.
VEGANISM – IT’S PRO-LIFE
Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D.
Contrary to a popular belief, the word vegetarian was not chosen because vegetarians eat primarily vegetables and other plant foods. Coined by the founders of the British Vegetarian Society in 1842, it comes from the Latin word vegetus, meaning "whole, sound, fresh, or lively." This is very appropriate because vegetarianism, and even more so veganism (excluding not only meat, but also dairy, eggs and other animal products), is pro-life in all of its aspects.
Veganism is pro-life for people because it can prevent and in some cases reverse heart disease, many forms of cancer, strokes and other chronic degenerative diseases which kill 1.3 million Americans annually and cripple many more people. Plant foods provide the essential nutrients without the high cholesterol, animal protein and hormones and other additives in animal products.
Veganism is pro-life for the world’s hungry people, because it frees up land, grain, water, fuel, fertilizer and other agricultural resources that, if properly distributed and used, could eliminate world hunger, even if the world’s population grows beyond 10 billion people. It is outrageous that over seventy percent of the grain produced in the United States and almost forty percent of the grain produced worldwide is fed to animals destined for slaughter, while an estimated 20 million of the world’s people die from malnutrition and its effects annually and over 800 million people suffer from chronic hunger and malnutrition.
Veganism is clearly pro-life for animals. Over 50 billion farmed animals are raised annually mostly under very cruel conditions on factory farms before they are slaughtered to meet the demands of the world’s people for flesh. Just to give a few examples of current animal abuses: over 250 million male chicks at egg laying hatcheries in the U.S. alone are killed almost immediately after birth, because they can’t lay eggs and they are not of the breed programmed to produce much meat; egg laying hens are kept in spaces so small that they can’t raise even one wing; calves are taken away from their mothers very soon after birth so that the milk meant for them can be processed and sold; ducks and geese have huge amounts of grain forced down their throats to greatly fatten their livers to produce pate de foie gras. Since veganism argues that animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment, a shift to veganism would have many additional benefits for animals.
Contrary to a common view, veganism is also pro-life for plants. Meat-eaters often try to justify the cruelty involved in producing the animal products that they eat by pointing out that vegetarian diets involve the killing of plants. What they fail to realize is that far more plants are destroyed by the raising of farmed animals, since the animals themselves are raised on plant foods, than if we ate the plants directly. Also, many acres of trees are destroyed to create grazing land and land to grow feed crops for animals. Thus, a vegan diet results in far less killing of plants and animals.
Veganism is pro-life for our imperiled planet. Animal-based agriculture contributes significantly to global warming, rapid species extinction, deforestation, soil erosion and depletion, and many additional environmental threats. Animal-based diets result in major emissions of the two primary greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, through the burning of tropical forests to create land for grazing and for producing feed crops, and methane, through the digestive processes of cattle. Veganism is also far less wasteful of natural resources. It takes up to 14 times the water, ten times the energy (mostly from fossil fuels), and 21 times the land to produce an animal-centered diet compared to a diet composed solely of plant foods. At a time when it is projected that over half of the world’s people will live in areas chronically short of water and current and projected shortages of oil threaten to cause major conflicts, the wastefulness of animal-based diets is a major factor threatening the world.
Veganism is also pro-life for humanity because it reduces the threat of war. Jewish sages, noting that the Hebrew words for bread (lechem) and war (milchamah) come from the same root, deduced that when there is a shortage of grain or natural resources, people are more likely to go to war. Plato and other ancient and modern thinkers have come to similar conclusions. This valuable insight has been borne out throughout history, from battles over water in the days of the biblical patriarchs to battles over oil and other scarce resources today. So, the significant environmental wastefulness of animal-based diets makes war more likely.
Veganism is also pro- life in the modern sense of the expression in its potential to sharply reduce the number of abortions. In 1840, girls in wealthy countries reached menarche (first menstruation) at an average age of 17 years. With the steady increase of consumption of animal products, with their increasing amounts of hormones and other additives, this age has steadily decreased until it is an average of about 12 years today. The hypothesis that this major shift in the age of puberty is related to meat/dairy-centered diets is supported by the fact that in areas of China where people live on plant-centered diets, the age of puberty is still between 15 and 19 years; in contrast, the daughters and grand-daughters of Chinese women raised in the United States have the same early onset of menarche as other American girls, so genetics is not a determining factor.
Because of the major decrease in the age of puberty, many girls have sexual feelings at a very young age when they are very ill-prepared to deal with these feelings in a responsible manner, and this has led to a large number of illegitimate births. Each year in the United States, 800,000 to 900,000 adolescents 19 years of age or younger become pregnant. If a modern girl menstruating at twelve becomes pregnant and an unmarried mother during her early teen years, there will be two children in a great deal of trouble, and there will generally be a great cost to society. Hence, many of these illegitimate pregnancies result in abortions. Even if abortions were illegal, there would likely be a very high rate of dangerous, illegal abortions among such young pregnant girls who might think that their futures would be very negatively affected by having a child. Neither is it pro-life when teenagers have their babies but are unable to be good parents, leading to a cascade of suffering for mothers, children and society alike. Of course, other steps should be taken to avoid abortions, including educating about ways to avoid unwanted pregnancies. Early puberty is also a significant risk factor for breast cancer, as is induced abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy.
There are two other connections to veganism that have the potential to reduce abortions somewhat. By reducing disease and hunger, a shift to veganism (or at least vegetarianism) could lead to healthier, more stable families, and this could also be a factor in reducing abortions, because families would be more likely to feel that they are capable of raising an additional child. Also, the pressure some environmentally-concerned people may feel to consider abortions as a way to reduce population growth would be reduced since, as indicated before, vegan diets require far less resources and have a far more benign effect on the environment than animal-based diets.
So, for the sake of human life, from before birth to death, and for plants, animals, and our imperiled planet, there should be a shift to veganism – the lifestyle that is pro-life.
Return to Top
3. Update on Campaign to Prod the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) To Continue and Expand on Its Environmental Initiatives
The following letter was sent to the RCA by author and JVNA advisor Dan Brooks:
[Please consider sending your own letter to the RCA to commend them for their groundbreaking environmental resolutions and encourage them to continue and expand their efforts, including making people aware of connections between animal-based diets and global warming and other environmental threats.]
Yasher Ko'ach! [Congratulations!]
I truly appreciate RCA's resolutions on the "importance of preserving the environment". It's wonderful to see RCA taking a stand on this vital issue.
With global warming, deforestation, over-consumption, over-reliance on oil and other fossil fuels, resource depletion, tremendous waste, and other serious eco-issues, these resolutions are more needed now than ever.
There are many things we can do to help preserve the environment, though one of the most important things we can personally do on a daily basis, performing a kiddush HaShem with each bite, is to eat vegetarian.
Vegetarianism, our original and future diet, supported by many rabbis and others for our contemporary diet, is the diet that best meshes with Judaism's teachings, especially those to promote our health and safety (pekuach nefesh), our compassion for animals and others (tsa'ar ba'alei chayim), our being partners in creating (shomrei adamah) and in healing the world (tikkun ha-olam), conservation (bal tashchit), holy intention (kavanah), charity (tzedakah), and peace and justice (shalom v'tzedek). While we clearly can choose to eat meat or not, eating vegetarian is clearly best for our environment and most closely aligned with Judaism.
Please see my Vegetarian Mitzvah web site below for more information. I would also appreciate any comments you may have on it.
The Vegetarian Mitzvah
Daniel (Dov) Brook, Ph.D.
Return to Top
4. Update on Rabbi David Sears’ Book, "The Vision of Eden: Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and Mysticism."
Recently some people have had trouble obtaining copies of "The Vision of Eden: Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and Mysticism" (Orot 2003) by JVNA member/advisor Rabbi David Sears. The good news is that this landmark work, which collects and translates hundreds of sources from the entire spectrum of rabbinic literature on these issues, is now available here on Amazon.com.
Special thanks to Alan Kesler for making this major contribution to the literature on these subjects available on Amazon. We hope that "The Vision of Eden" will now reach a wider audience, and bring the world another step closer to what the Creator originally intended it to be.
Return to Top
5. A Message Global Warming Sermon based on Last Week’s Torah Reading
I found the following sample sermon while surfing the net looking for something else. I think that this is an excellent example of applying Torah teachings to a current critical issue.
Sample Sermon - Parshat Naso and Climate Change
During this week’s Torah portion, Naso, we hear the first utterance of a beautiful and important blessing:
“May God bless you and keep you!
“May God deal kindly and graciously with you!
“May God bestow favor upon you and grant you peace!”
Known as “Birkat kohanim,” “The Priestly Blessing,” it was taught to Aaron and the priests so that they could bless the people of Israel. Birkat kohanim is one of the oldest blessings still in use today. In the ancient land of Israel, it was used by the High Priest to bless the people on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. And today, in some congregations, congregants descended from the priestly class—the Cohens, Kahns and Katzes among us—still say the Priestly Blessing on Yom Kippur.
For many contemporary Jews, the Priestly Blessing finds its greatest resonance outside the temple, at home on Friday nights. Each Shabbat, many families bless their children using the exact same language that Moses taught Aaron. Before Shabbat dinner, parents ask God to bless and keep their children; they ask God to deal with their children kindly and graciously; and they ask God to look upon their children and grant them peace. It’s a wonderful wish to bestow upon future generations: to enjoy a world of fairness, prosperity, and peace.
As Reform Jews, we realize that implicit in our children’s blessing is the understanding that we have to be partners with God in making their world a healthier and more just place. These things will not happen by themselves. The Priestly Blessing is a blessing of hope, but it is also a call to action.
So we must ask ourselves: Are we blessing our children through our actions as well as by our words? Are we leaving future generations a better world than the one we inherited? In many ways, of course, we are: In this country we enjoy standards of living and technologies unimaginable to our forbearers and to people in most other parts of the world.
But in spite of all of our technological achievements, in spite of—or in part because of—the mastery our species has demonstrated over our surroundings, we may be bestowing an unconscionable burden upon our children. I am referring to the burden of climate change.
We are already beginning to see climate change’s effects unfolding before us. Storms are appearing with greater frequency and intensity than ever before, droughts are worsening in sub-Saharan Africa, and flooding is beginning to threaten coastal cities and island nations. If we intend for our children to be blessed, we must change course—we must leave for them a world that is inhabitable.
Human activities are causing an enormous, dangerous experiment to be conducted around the globe—in fact, to the globe. In the atmosphere, various gases, including water vapor, carbon dioxide and other trace chemicals, act like the glass of a greenhouse and trap heat near the earth’s surface. This natural “greenhouse effect” is essential for life on the planet, keeping global average surface temperatures warmer than they otherwise would be. But human activities are changing and enhancing this natural effect – thickening the walls of the “greenhouse” – with significant consequences for the global climate. The burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and certain agricultural activities and industrial practices unleash billions of tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the environment. Since the industrial revolution, atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have increased by more than 30 percent to levels unsurpassed in the past 160,000 years, and these levels are expected to double by the year 2050.
The increase in the earth’s average temperature is often referred to as “global warming.” But since higher temperatures may not be the only effect of increased pollutants in the atmosphere, many scientists now prefer to use the broader term “climate change.” Scientists have discovered that in some places, climate change may cause temperatures to decrease, even if the earth’s average temperature rises, and the term global warming does not imply the other atmospheric changes, such as severe weather patterns, that are predicted to occur.
The consensus in the scientific community is that climate change is real and accelerating rapidly. It is no coincidence that the five warmest years on record have all occurred over the past decade. Scientists believe that temperatures will rise between 2 and 10 degrees in the next hundred years, resulting in continued rising of the oceans (up to two feet), expansion of arid territories, more severe weather events and changed weather patterns as more humidity and heat interact. Glaciers will continue to melt, forests and agriculture will be seriously impacted and the delicate coral reefs will continue to die. The greatest harm is expected to fall on the poorest people living in the equatorial regions and islands.
It is not just our own children that need our blessing—the health of future generations in Africa and coastal China, Europe, Bangladesh and the Americas all depend on our efforts. But we have the opportunity to take action on three important levels: as an individual, as a community, and as a nation.
First, as individuals, we need to open our minds and hearts to caring more deeply for creation. Let’s learn more about the problem of global warming. Consider taking your family to An Inconvenient Truth, the new film about climate change, and use the film as an opportunity for further discussion and action. The Religious Action Center website, www.rac.org, has text studies and discussion questions about An Inconvenient Truth that you can use.
We need to model practical efforts to reduce our consumption of energy—especially fossil fuel burning energy—by turning off lights, installing energy efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs, using more efficient appliances and furnaces, choosing smaller homes, turning down thermostats in the winter and lowering air-conditioning during the summer. Our automobiles are leading emitters of CO2. Every gallon of gas we burn produces some 20 pounds of CO2. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average minivan emits 16,500 pounds of CO2 into our air each year. We need to start using more fuel efficient cars and driving less.
Second, as a community—as a congregation—we should speak up about the importance of climate change as a matter of our caring for God's creation and caring for our neighbors. We need to encourage each other to study the contributors to, and solutions for, global warming. We need to perform energy audits, choose energy efficient options, and push for public policy to decrease CO2 emissions (such as the credits for more efficient appliances and furnaces).
Third, as a nation, we need to join the rest of the world in agreeing to reduce CO2 as a matter of national policy and international diplomacy. As the world's largest economic and military power, we should be leading the world in reducing our CO2 emissions. If fuel economy standards were raised by just three miles per gallon, consumers would save up to $25 billion a year in fuel costs, reduce 140 million metric tons of CO2 emissions per year, and reduce America's reliance on foreign oil by as much as a million barrels a day. We need to demand that our representatives put global warming solutions on their action agenda. As people of faith, we can help our leaders understand that fighting climate change is a moral and religious imperative, not a partisan issue.
In Genesis 2:15, it is written that Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden “L’Ovdah u’l’Shomrah, “to till it and to tend it.” We learn from this verse that we are commanded both to benefit from the Earth’s bounty and to protect it. Our ancestors understood instinctively the link between tending and tilling: one makes the other possible—but it’s taking us a little bit longer to get it. Let’s take the Priestly Blessing to heart and commit to tending to our planet, so that our children may enjoy its gifts as much as we can today. Shabbat Shalom.
Return to Top
6. Another Impact of Global Warming: Expanding Deserts
Forwarded article from Grist magazine:
World's deserts will become more desert-y, says U.N.
Happy World Environment Day -- we got you some bad news! As climate change progresses, desert temperatures will rise up to 12.6 degrees F by the end of the century; rainfall in most deserts will decline by up to 20 percent; water will become scant, or too salty to drink or use for crops. So warns a chipper new United Nations report, anyway. These changes could endanger the globe's 500 million desert-dwellers and a variety of rare animals, including our new favorite, the Asian houbara bustard. Desert regions account for nearly a quarter of the globe's total land surface and house cities like Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and Phoenix, Ariz. The U.N. warns of conflict over increasingly scarce resources in desert areas. One bright side (ha ha): deserts could boom in solar power. With today's technology, a 310-square-mile area of the Sahara could generate enough solar energy to power the entire world.
straight to the source: The Guardian, John Vidal, 05 Jun 2006
straight to the source: The Independent, Steve Connor, 05 Jun 2006
straight to the source: Reuters, Hamid Ould Ahmed, 05 Jun 2006
Return to Top
7. Response From AgriProcessors (Postville Iowa Slaughterhouse) Supporter Re Working Conditions at the Slaughterhouse/Comments From “Failed Messiah” Blog
In past JVNA newsletters we have presented an article and an editorial from the Jewish weekly “Forward” re alleged very negative working conditions at the Postville slaughterhouse, the largest glatt kosher facility in the US. The article critical of the Forward’s article and editorial below appeared in the last issue of the Jewish Press. It is followed by comments from the “Failed Messiah” blog and a letter to the editor from Lewis Regenstein. I have forwarded material from the Jewish Press on this issue to the Forward, in the thought that they might want to respond. Suggestions re getting the truth about the conditions at the slaughterhouse are welcome. Thanks. Perhaps an independent respected group should investigate. I believe that the bottom line re this is that since animal-based diets and agriculture threaten human health and the entire planet and seriously violate at least six basic Jewish mandates, it is essential that Jews play our mandated role to be a light unto the nations and play a leading role in educating people to the need to shift toward plant based diets. We want to always be respectful and fair, of course, but we should consider how the current controversy at the Postville, Iowa slaughterhouse can be properly used to increase awareness and obtain positive changes.
Hatchet Job On Kosher Meat Company
By: Nathan Lewin
Wednesday, June 7, 2006
I was in New York on Thursday, May 25, when a banner front-page headline in that week's Forward caught my eye from the newspaper box on the Manhattan street-corner. It shrieked: "IN IOWA MEAT PLANT, KOSHER 'JUNGLE' BREEDS FEAR, INJURY, SHORT PAY."
(I have represented AgriProcessors, the kosher meat company owned by the Rubashkin family, in its battle with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). PETA surreptitiously took videos of shechita at the AgriProcessors plant in Postville, Iowa, and posted them on its website in a campaign to discredit AgriProcessors and, in my opinion, to rouse public sentiment against kosher slaughter.)
I injected four quarters into the vending machine. The article was written by Nathaniel Popper, a Forward reporter who had no trouble finding me by telephone on March 13, when he was writing a piece headlined "USDA Slaps Kosher Slaughterhouse" that appeared in the March 17 issue of the Forward. A year-old Department of Agriculture report that largely exonerated AgriProcessors and recounted that the AgriProcessors shechita procedure was fully known to, and approved by, the Agriculture Department inspectors had recently been made public because PETA had made a legal demand for its publication.
I had told Popper in March that notwithstanding the "spin" that PETA was putting on the few negative aspects of the report, the Agriculture Department report was overwhelmingly exculpatory. Popper did not like my response. He gave me two sentences in his story. He took advantage of the opportunity to give much larger play to his assertion that the Orthodox Union "has questions about the rotating pen used at the [AgriProcessors] plant," although shechita munachat is the only shechita that the Israeli rabbinate accepts and allows for kosher meat imported into Israel.
The Orthodox Union's supervising rabbi was invoked, as was the president of the Rabbinical Assembly – the Conservative national rabbinical organization – who, according to Popper, maintained that the rotating pen "violates the prohibition against tza'ar ba'alei hayyim."
A colleague of Popper's was also able to find me easily when the Forward decided in early April that it was newsworthy to write a story about PETA's release of a video that again attacked shechita generally and AgriProcessors in particular. The film was narrated by novelist Jonathan Foer and featured a Conservative rabbi and Rabbi Irving Greenberg of the Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation.
The Forward reporter spent at least ten minutes on the phone trying to get me to agree that if modern science discovered a more humane method of dispatching animals than kosher slaughter, the Orthodox rabbinate would have to reexamine shechita. I didn't give him even the inch for which he cajoled and pleaded. My reward was that our interview was not mentioned in his story. The interviewees he quoted were only those who fit his agenda.
So I probably should not have been as shocked as I was to read the Forward's front-page attack and to note that its allegations had never been presented to me or, to my knowledge, to any AgriProcessors representative for response. But the claims made by Popper's article – both explicitly and by implication – were extraordinarily serious.
Popper claimed that the approximately 800 employees of AgriProcessors in Postville – mainly Hispanic immigrants – were being exploited by being forced into sub-human living quarters, cheated in their paychecks, subjected to corrupt supervisors, denied medical care and safety training, and essentially imprisoned in Postville with no chance to leave or to seek better employment. No decent person – much less a Jew concerned about allegations of unethical behavior by religious Jews that might give rise to a chilul Hashem – could fail to be troubled by what Popper was reporting.
I contacted Sholom Rubashkin, manager of the Postville plant, who was quoted in the article. He insisted that the story was fundamentally false. I wondered whether we could verify AgriProcessors' denial of the story's allegations, thinking to myself that the story could only be effectively refuted by the employees themselves.
On Monday (which was the Memorial Day holiday), Rubashkin told me that he had received siyata di'shmaya. Acting entirely on his own, Rabbi Asher Zeilingold, a rav hamachshir in St. Paul, Minnesota, who gives hashgachas to AgriProcessor products as well as to others, had decided independently on Sunday to travel to Postville to see with his own eyes and hear with his own ears whether the condition of AgriProcessors employees in Postville was accurately described in Popper's article.
Rabbi Zeilingold took with him Dr. Carlos Carbonera, a distinguished member of his congregation who is fluent in Spanish. Dr. Carbonera's field is mathematics, in which he was awarded a Ph.D. by Berkeley. He went along to be able to communicate easily with Hispanic employees, but Rabbi Zeilingold asked him to be an independent investigator and not simply to serve as the rabbi's assistant.
I spoke on Memorial Day with Rabbi Zeilingold. He told me that he was in the process of writing a detailed report of his visit to Postville, as was Dr. Carbonera. In the most vehement terms, he described the Popper article as "koolo sheker ve-chazav" – a total lie. His full report, which he sent to me by e-mail late on Monday night along with Dr. Carbonera's, eviscerated the Forwardaccount. Rabbi Zeilingold's report has been posted on various websites and Dr. Carbonera's account appears on page 6 of this issue of The Jewish Press.
The principal questions Popper raised and Rabbi Zeilingold and Dr. Carbonera discussed are the following:
Do the employees live in dingy overcrowded quarters? Popper began his article by referring to the "mobile homes and cramped apartments" in which AgriProcessors' Hispanic employees allegedly live. Later in his piece Popper described a "bare apartment" which five single Guatemalans call home. It has only "two beat-up couches with cushions that sink to the floor," stained carpets, and a television "that sits on the box in which it came."
Is Popper's description accurate? If so, it is surely not typical – although that is plainly his implication. Rabbi Zeilingold saw very attractive separate homes that Hispanic workers had purchased, as well as spacious modern apartments in which many lived. The implication that AgriProcessors owns a trailer park where it deposits its Hispanic workers is demonstrably false. Rabbi Zeilingold heard from the employees he interviewed that some employees choose to live in a trailer park owned by a Postville councilman who has no association with AgriProcessors or the Rubashkin family. Some choose on their own to save money on rent to be able to send funds to Guatemala or Mexico or to build up a nest egg to buy or build their own homes.
Are the employees locked into Postville? Popper identifies one miserably unhappy woman who came to Iowa "a year ago from Guatemala." She has stayed in Postville, says Popper, only because "It's the only factory here. We have no choice." No one can leave, Popper says, because there is "no publc transportation into or out of town, and few immigrant workers can secure driver's licenses to escape the isolated community." (Note the calculated choice of the word "escape," designed to portray Postville as a prison.)
Rabbi Zeilingold spoke with 20 AgriProcessors employees, married and single men, wed and single mothers. All said that they were satisfied with their working conditions, that they could leave for other jobs, and that they chose not to do so. In fact, workers had come to Postville from other states, many on the recommendation of family members or friends who were AgriProcessors employees. Hispanic employees told Dr. Carbonera that they are staying at AgriProcessors because they are paid pay better at AgriProcessors and have better working arrangements than they would anywhere else in the country. And employees who wanted to leave Postville for other jobs had freely done so.
Do the employees get medical care and safety training? Popper's Forward article implies that AgriProcessors' workforce has absolutely no medical care. The woman who is his principal source of information has a cutting hand that is "swollen and deformed" and no doctor to treat it.
Rabbi Zeilingold heard otherwise from employees who told him that Postville has a "free clinic where they are treated well." Had Popper asked Sholom Rubashkin, he would have learned that, as part of its benefits package, AgriProcessors pays at least 70 percent of the cost of medical insurance of those employees who choose to be insured. The rabbi interviewed one Hispanic employee who had been injured in a plant accident "and was taken to a Spanish-speaking doctor."
That employee also told the rabbi that he had received safety training (which Popper reports as inadequate or nonexistent).
Other employees told Dr. Carbonera that, contrary to the Forward's allegations, "the company trains them regularly and has established procedures for the safety of employees."
Are the employees' families happy? Rabbi Zeilingold sought out unbiased witnesses and deliberately did not rely on AgriProcessors officials. He spoke with Ron Wahls, a guidance counselor and teacher at the local elementary school. Wahls described the "care and consideration that the school has for . . . newly arrived immigrant children," and the rabbi heard from the Hispanic employees themselves how happy their wives and children were in Postville.
One Guatemalan employee who has been living in Postville for one year with his wife and three sons (and rents the lower level of a two-family house) spoke glowingly of AgriProcessors and the Rubashkins. He came to Postville from Texas, where he had worked for a plumber. He told Rabbi Zeilingold in broken English, "This is the best place."
Do the employees get fair wages and are they "shortchanged?" The Hispanic employees to whom Rabbi Zeilingold spoke felt that the AgriProcessors pay scale is fair and in line with the pay at other slaughterhouses. One employee had worked at a California slaughterhouse for five years and then in an Iowa slaughterhouse. He felt that AgriProcessors "has been very fair to him." He purchased his own home and brought his family from Mexico to Postville. Rabbi Zeilingold and Dr. Carbanero asked explicitly whether any of the employees had been "shortchanged" on their paychecks, as the Forwardhad alleged. The employees responded that they always received the correct amount and were unaware that anyone had ever been "shortchanged."
Was the union unfairly excluded? The Forward quotes an unsuccessful union organizer twice in the Popper article – once to describe AgriProcessors as "the worst" slaughterhouse and then to give his opinion that the workers "were so scared and beat down by the company" that they rejected the union. Popper does not bother to provide details. Notwithstanding a four-month union organizing effort, too few workers were interested in a union to meet the minimum required for an election. This is as resounding a loss of the popular vote as one can imagine. The candidate who didn't even get enough signatures on a nominating petition is attacking the fairness of the election for which he failed to qualify.
Federal law gives AgriProcessors' employees a free choice as to whether they want a union. These employees decided overwhelmingly that they wanted none.
Does management hire corrupt supervisors? None of the employees Rabbi Zeilingold interviewed had heard or even conceived of the payment of "bribes" to supervisors. The rabbi was told that two supervisors at the plant had been too dictatorial and abusive. Management fired them after hearing the workers' complaints. The employees told Rabbi Zeilingold that "there has not been a problem" since the discharged supervisors left.
Why is it, one wonders, that the Forward reporter was unable to find anyone who would say anything more favorable about the Postville plant than the "handful of employees" who, according to Popper, made the seemingly grudging acknowledgment that "with a good supervisor, work at the plant was tolerable?"
(Did Popper really hear the word "tolerable" or was it his personal substitution for "good" or "satisfactory"? Are the content employees truly only a "handful" while the critics' numbers are so large that they are generically described throughout his article as "the workers"?)
Could it possibly be that Popper pre-selected his interviewees to fit the thesis that he was intent on proving and that he edited their comments? Or is his defense that the Hispanic employees who live in private homes and modern apartments, who have been deservedly promoted to better paying jobs at AgriProcessors, who are healthy and satisfied with the medical care they receive, and who have encouraged relatives and friends to come join the AgriProcessors work-force went into hiding when Popper came to Postville?
If conditions are as terrible as Popper describes, how could Rabbi Zeilingold have found, in his words, "that here was a food plant in small-town America that had workers who were satisfied and felt their lives had meaning and fulfillment?"
If Popper's account had any validity, how could the rabbi have met Hispanic workers who "recognized the Rubashkin family and the AgriProcessors establishment as their benefactors?" And how could a self-respecting rabbi have said of Popper's Postville that it "is a good place to work in a beautiful little town, one offering opportunity, happiness, and fulfillment?"
And how could Dr. Carbonera, in his report of his visit, have said of the same plant that Popper describes as a "Kosher 'Jungle": "That little Iowa town of Postville is providing a haven to immigrants from Latin America and Hispanics in general"?
Indeed, Dr. Carbonera lauded "The work opportunities, the health care and educational systems, the living conditions in Postville," which he called "magnets for immigrants."
His conclusion was that "AgriProcessors, faithful to Torah ethics, provides an environment where its employees are treated with justice."
Because of Popper's article, the Forward's editorial writers dedicated their full editorial column in the same issue to challenging AgriProcessors' ethics and questioning the kashrut of its meat. An editorial on journalistic ethics would have been more appropriate.
Nathan Lewin is a prominent Washington attorney who has appeared before the Supreme Court in many Orthodox causes.
Comments from “Failed Messiah” to the controversy re working conditions at AgriProcessors:
Has The OU "Cleared" Rubashkin?
June 12, 2006
Carlos Carbonera, the Spanish-speaking friend of Rabbi Asher Zeilingold who served as Rabbi Zeilingold's interpreter on his recent "investigative trip" to Postville, attended the Minneapolis Community Kollel dinner tonight and spent a considerable amount of time telling people that Rubashkin was innocent of the charges reported in the Forward's recent exposé. Carbonera also was heard telling people that the OU has "investigated" and "cleared" Rubashkin, as has a Conservative rabbis group.
I can only say that all of these people stand to lose much if Rubashkin is found to have committed the worker abuse reported in the Forward. In particular, the OU – which certainly knew of the abuse as it was happening – will be forced to explain their silence on this issue, a silence matched by the OU's pre-PETA exposé silence about Rubashkin's throat-ripping and animal abuse, it's post-PETA denials, and its continued silence about the many violations of tzaar baalei hayyim (animal cruelty) law inherent in many of the food productions they certify.
For the OU, this is Baruch Lanner all over again, except worse. This scandal threatens to bring down their cash cow – the hundreds of millions of dollars in kosher supervision money sheltered by their tax exempt church/synangogue status.
If the OU has followed Rabbi Zeilingold's lead (and Rabbi Z has exactly the same loss potential here, just in smaller amounts) and whitewashed Rubashkin abuses, and if this can be reasonably proven, the only answer is to clean up the OU itself. The OU's complete books must be made public, a forensic audit must be done and made public, and all senior staff must be removed if found tainted, either by those audits or by the Rubashkin coverups.
I suspect the "Conservative rabbis" Carbonera spoke about will turn out to be a handful of Conservative rabbis concerned that the repeated scandals with Rubashkin will cause people to stop keeping kosher, and who therefore have latched on to Rabbi Zeilingold's "findings." If so, a firm public statement from those rabbis distancing themselves from Carbonera's remarks is enough. If it is more than that, and if Rubashkin is reasonably proved guilty, more drastic steps will need to be taken.
Letter to the Jewish Press editor from author and JVNA advisor Lewis Regenstein:
To the Editor:
Concerning Nathan Lewin's article, "Hatchet Job on Kosher Meat Company," the most important point to be considered here is how
shameful it is that cruel animal slaughter methods are clearly being
undertaken, ironically, in the name of Jewish law, when in fact such actions violate Jewish teachings.
The revelations of shocking and illegal abuse of animals at this kosher slaughterhouse in Iowa have overlooked a fundamental fact: the Jewish religion has strict laws and teachings forbidding cruelty to animals. In fact, there is an entire code of laws (the requirement "to prevent the suffering of living creatures") mandating that other creatures be treated with compassion.
Indeed, the Jews invented the concept of kindness to animals some 4,000 years ago, and it is mandated throughout the Bible and Jewish law. Even the holiest of our laws, The Ten Commandments, requires that farm animals be allowed to enjoy a day of rest on the Sabbath. So the Almighty must have felt that kindness to animals was not a trivial matter.
Jews are not allowed to pass by an animal in distress or to ignore animals being mistreated, even on the Sabbath. Yet this is exactly what we do when we certify as kosher products from animals that are treated cruelly.
It is truly a shanda, a shameful thing, that many of us continue to endorse the massive abuse and suffering of billions of factory farmed creatures, many of which spend their entire lives in misery, fear, and anguish, in addition to the cruel way they are killed.
The writer is the author of "Replenish the Earth: The Teachings of the World's Religions on Protecting Animals and Nature", and president of The Interfaith Council for the Protection of Animals and Nature.
Return to Top
8. Reducing Global Warming by Replacing Light Bulbs
Forwarded message from author and JVNA advisor Dan Brook:
Check this out - I just pledged to "Make the Switch" - by changing 2 normal light bulbs to energy-saving compact fluorescent lights. Thousands of people are pledging, too.
The next generation of bulbs are better than the old ones and last up to 15 times longer. That saves money and global warming pollution.
In fact, if every household replaced just three 60-watt incandescent light bulbs with CFLs, we would reduce as much pollution as if we took 3.5 million cars off the roads!
Make your own pledge and help out in the fight to stop global warming
Return to Top
9. Earthsave NY Schedules Vegetarian Event
Forwarded message from Earthsave NY:
[This event is on next Shabbat, but is included here for informational purposes and so that you can inform others who might be able to attend.]
Saturday, June 17, 2006
Noon - 7pm
Lincoln Center, North Plaza
Can you help spread the word about next week's Taste of Health, the healthy food festival?; We have beautiful color flyers that can be posted in Health Food Stores, Restaurants, Gyms, Clinics or wherever you can find a spot!
If you want to post flyers but can't print them out, please contact us and we'll get the flyers to you.
Thanks for your help!
Yours for the Earth,
Return to Top
** Fair Use Notice **
This document may contain copyrighted material, use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owners. I believe that this not-for-profit, educational use on the Web constitutes a fair use of the copyrighted material (as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law). If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.