First some preliminary comments on the special JVNA newsletter below on the debate between Bruce Friedrich, Vice President of International Grassroots Campaigns for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and Nathan Lewin (Rubushkin’s AgriProcessors’ attorney, but appearing in his personal capacity) on shechita (ritual slaughter) at the Postville, Iowa glatt kosher slaughterhouse, and related issues.
I started this special JVNA newsletter because I hoped that it would help find common ground that would lead to a solution to the controversy re shechita at the Postville slaughterhouse. And I think the debate included statements that can lead to that common ground. So, although there are areas of disagreement indicated in the debate-related material below, I think that it is most important to focus on the possibilities of common ground that can help end the controversy and enable the various groups involved to work on other significant issues facing klal Yisrael and our imperiled planet.
Some important possibilities for agreement include:
1. Setting up a mechanism for suitable people to make unannounced welfare inspections at the Postville slaughterhouse and AgriProcessors’ other US facility;
2. Setting up a mechanism for suitable people to make unannounced inspections at the slaughterhouses in Latin America which export kosher meat to the United States, after conditions at these facilities are improved to meet humane and Jewish standards.
3. Once the above steps are carried out, PETA and JVNA removing material from their web sites critical of AgriProcessors and agreeing not to criticize AgriProcessors further.
I suggest that there be a meeting between AgriProcessors and Dr. Temple Grandin and Professor Joe Regenstein, possibly with other experts, rabbis, and interested parties that AgriProcessors believes may be helpful, to seek agreement on the above points.
Consistent with the above suggestions, here is what PETA offered to Mr. Lewin, in an email Bruce Friedrich sent him after the debate on November 15, 2006:
Dear Mr. Lewin,
Please let me know if you’d like to talk about my proposal at the Synagogue on Wednesday night [during the debate]. Basically, PETA would have no complaint with Agriprocessors if the company were to ensure that all meat sold by the company passed [Dr. Temple Grandin’s] animal welfare audits on whatever plan she devised. At that point, we would stop attacking Agriprocessors and any reference we made to them into the future on our Web sites would be historical in nature, as with our other campaigns.
We would also give Agriprocessors plaudits for doing the right thing in any interviews that came up into the future, and would sing Agriprocessors’ praises for making positive changes in Latin America. Of course, we would not solicit any interviews or go to the media (unless you wanted [us] to do that); I’m only referring to how we would deal with any future calls we get. I am happy to work on language with you, if we proceed.
Re: how we deal with past adversaries, for example (note that to this day, we have very good working relationships with McDonald’s, Burger King, and Safeway):
Thanks again for your time the other evening [at the debate].
Vice President, International Grassroots Campaigns
SPECIAL JEWISH VEGETARIANS OF NORTH AMERICA (JVNA) ONLINE NEWSLETTER
This special Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) Online Newsletter discusses a debate between Bruce Friedrich, Vice President of International Grassroots Campaigns for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and Nathan Lewin (Rubushkin’s (AgriProcessors’) attorney, but appearing in his personal capacity) on shechita (ritual slaughter) at the Postville, Iowa glatt kosher slaughterhouse, and related issues.
The newsletter has the following items:
1. Introduction/Background Considerations
2. Summary of the Debate
3. Statements Related to the Ritual Slaughter (Shechita) Conditions at the Postville Slaughterhouse Revealed by PETA’s Underground Video
4. Responses by Debate Participants
5. My Opinion Article/Will the Postville Horrors Shock Us Into Returning to Jewish Values Re Our Diets?
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, JVNA does not necessarily agree with all positions of groups whose views are included or whose events are announced in this newsletter.
As always, your comments and suggestions are very welcome.
1. Introduction/Background Considerations
A debate between Bruce Friedrich, Vice President, International Grassroots Campaigns for PETA and Nathan Lewin (Rubushkin’s (AgriProcessors’) Attorney, but appearing in his personal capacity) took place on Wednesday, November15th at 8 pm at the West Side Institutional Synagogue, a traditional Orthodox synagogue, in the Upper West side of Manhattan (membership: 700). The debate was advertised as “PETA vs. the shechita industry,” but as discussed below, this is a misleading topic. The debate was moderated by the synagogue’s spiritual leader Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn.
Regrettably, I did not attend the debate, largely because I had a very busy week, with a lot of activities. However, I have listened to a tape of the debate provided by PETA and I did receive reports about the debate from people who attended. To insure accuracy, this newsletter has been sent to the debate moderator, the main participants and some members of the audience for comments and suggestions before it is sent out to the JVNA email distribution list. The debaters and Rabbi Einhorn have been given a chance to respond and correct any inaccuracies. Please see section #4 for their responses.
First some preliminary facts and concepts.
1. JVNA’s approach to the controversy surrounding the ritual slaughter conditions at AgriProcessors’ Postville, Iowa glatt kosher slaughterhouse (background information about the controversy is in the debate summary below) is summed up in the following statement that was previously sent out in a JVNA newsletter:
“I feel strongly that the incredible publicity about this issue provides us with an unprecedented opportunity. The horrors revealed by the PETA video can open people’s eyes to the horrors behind the foods that they take for granted. It is essential that we not let this become a case of a problem that is addressed and then everything goes back to normal. It is essential that people understand that this is the tip of the iceberg, in terms of the many moral issues related to our diets.”
“As I have tried to document through forwarded articles in recent JVNA newsletters, our precious planet faces many threats – global climate change, widening water shortages (and the combination of global warming and water shortages threatens our future food supply), rapid species extinction (some experts believe the fastest in history), the destruction of tropical rain forests and other important habitats, and of course an epidemic of chronic, degenerative, life-threatening diseases. Animal-based diets and agriculture contribute significantly to all of these and many more threats, and violate at least 6 Jewish mandates.”
“Hence, a shift toward vegetarianism is both a societal imperative and a Jewish imperative.”
“It is urgent that the Jewish community and most other communities start addressing these threats.”
“For the sake of moving our imperiled planet to a more sustainable path and for the sake of challenging Jews to put our beautiful teachings into practice, it is urgent that we use the present opportunity provided by the slaughterhouse controversy to get our issues onto the agenda.”
2. In order to more fully understand the points raised in the debate (discussed in the next section), please view the video that sparked the controversy, if you have not already done so. It can be accessed at the JVNA web site (JewishVeg,com). There is much additional material at this site re the slaughterhouse issue. Also, please encourage others to view the video. A narrated discussion of the controversy is available at www.HumaneKosher.com.
3. In the week’s after PETA’s underground video was released, there were about ten special JVNA newsletters on the issues. JVNA’s objectives in discussing the issues and pursuing positive changes include:
* Make sure that people are aware of Judaism’s strong teachings on compassion to animals, that shechita, if properly done, is a superior method of slaughter, and that the horrible scenes videotaped at the Postville slaughterhouse are not typical of Jewish ritual slaughter practices.
* Join others in advocating that the methods used in the Postville plant be changed immediately and that the Orthodox Union (OU) and other kosher-certifying groups set up rigorous standards that will be strictly enforced so that there never be another situation like the Postville case. There have been recent positive moves by the OU and others toward improving conditions at the Postville plant and setting up better standards.
* Make people aware that the Postville case should awaken us to the many ways that animal-based diets and agriculture threaten human health and the planet’s sustainability, and violate basic Jewish mandates re preserving health, treating animals with compassion, protecting the environment, conserving natural resources, and helping hungry people. Once the Postville situation is resolved, it is essential that people NOT think that everything is now fine and they can continue their consumption of animal products with a clear conscience. They have a choice re their diets, but they should make that choice based on a knowledge of the realities.
This approach is summarized in the following two paragraphs from a letter that I sent to the Jewish media shortly after the Postville controversy started:
“Can we ignore the many violations of Jewish teachings about compassion to animals on factory farms where animals are raised in cramped, confined spaces without sunlight, fresh air, or opportunities to fulfill their natural instincts. When Judaism stresses that we must diligently protect our health, can we ignore 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 more environmental threats?”
“For the sake of our health, the sustainability of our imperiled planet, Jewish values, as well as for the animals, it is essential that we consider shifting toward plant-based diets.”
* Reaffirm that while JVNA believes that Jews should be vegetarians and that we oppose all forms of slaughter, we believe that shechita, when properly carried out, is a superior method of slaughter, designed to minimize the pain of animals, and we oppose all attempts to single out shechita for special criticism. If anyone is unaware of the horrors at non-kosher slaughterhouses, they should read the excellent book “Slaughterhouse” by Gail Eisnitz.
As we continue our struggles, we should keep in mind that we are trying to end or at least reduce a system that treats over 10 billion animals in the US and over 50 billion animals worldwide with tremendous cruelty on factory farms, that is causing an epidemic of disease, and that is having devastating effects on the environment. The future of humanity may be involved in our efforts.
We also pointed out that the video pictures and news reports about the horrible treatment of animals at the Postville slaughterhouse and the efforts of some Jewish leaders to defend these practices will make it much more difficult for us to defend shechita and the eating of kosher meat for those who are not vegetarians. We also fear the possible negative effects on Jews and Judaism if people associate conditions at the slaughterhouse with Jewish ritual slaughter.
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2. Summary of the Debate
Materials in brackets like this [ ] are my editorial comments. For added emphasis, my comments will begin and end with *** .]
I want to commend Rabbi Einhorn for hosting and moderating the debate and Nathan Lewin and Bruce Friedrich for participating. Thanks to Shannon Taylor for his important efforts to help set up the debate.
I hope that this will be the first of many debates that address the many moral issues related to our diets. JVNA is always ready to engage in respectful dialogues/debates on “Should Jews be Vegetarians?” “Should Jews Be Animal Rights Activists?” Should Jews Be “Environmental Activists?” and related topics.
I am happy to announce that rabbi Einhorn has agreed to sponsor a debate at the West Side Institutional Synagogue on the topic “Should Jews Be Vegetarians?” He is seeking someone to debate me.
Thanks to Rina Deych, a nurse and JVNA advisor, and other people at the event who prefer to remain anonymous, for providing background information on which this report is based, in addition to the tape of the debate that I received from PETA. Thanks to Rina for also taping the debate and to JVNA advisor John Diamond for spending much time working to get the audio CD's provided by Rina and PETA into the best possible shape for listening. I hope that people will soon be able to hear the complete debate plus Rina's brief conversation with Nathan Lewin after the debate at the JVNA web site (JewishVeg.com). More information on this will be in a future JVNA newsletter.
As indicated above this summary has been sent to the debate moderator and participants and some audience members to check for accuracy and fairness. Section 4 below has general statements and responses from the participants.
This summary is being sent in the hope that it will help result in a positive outcomes with regard to shechita at the ksher slaughterhouses and related issues.
Rabbi Einhorn introduced the program by explaining what shechita (Jewish ritual slaughter) is and by briefly discussing Jewish teachings on the proper treatment of animals. Then he introduced the two speakers. He first introduced Mr. Lewin as an eminent lawyer who has tried 27 cases before the Supreme Court. Then he introduced Mr. Friedrich as a person who is very important and prominent in vegetarian and animal protection circles.
There were about 60 people in the audience.
Mr. Lewin spoke first. He introduced himself as someone who has come from a long line (starting with his grandfather) of defenders of shechita. He talked about the struggle to attain legitimacy for shechita, and indicated that he and his father, who wrote a book on kosher slaughter, were instrumental in that victory.
He defended shechita as the most humane method of slaughter. He asserted that when you make a quick cut [with a very sharp knife], as shechita requires, there is an immediate loss of consciousness and "the animal feels nothing." He said, referring to conditions shown in the PETA underground video, "The animal may get up and walk around, but [he reiterated] the animal feels nothing." He repeated this analysis several times during the debate.
He said he didn't care what "that group" [PETA] says about the form of slaughter and that their accusations were an anti-Semitic act. Quoting from his father's book, he read the Nazi's criticisms of kosher slaughter, then claimed that PETA's criticisms were similar. He said that they were both an attack on Judaism.
Some in the audience, were shaking their heads and strongly disagreeing with his analogy, while others clearly agreed with his "spin."
[*** While JVNA has disagreed with some of PETA’s actions in the past, in the Postville case PETA has kept its focus on the abuses at the Postville plant and has acknowledged that shechita, when properly carried out, is a superior method of slaughter. They have publicly made positive statements about Jewish teachings on compassion to animals and shechita and they have never called for the banning of shechita. ***]
Lewin commented that PETA is attacking a practice that is based on Jewish commandments that protect animals. He then said that the animals are supposed to rest on the Sabbath, and that he has not seen "them" [PETA] try to get legislation passed that assured that animals can rest one day a week.
Lewin elaborated: "Where is the effort for people who work for the ethical treatment of animals to see that animals are not overworked?"
Lewin next asked if PETA was doing anything to assure that mother animals are not slaughtered on the same day as their young. Also, he asked, why PETA wasn't doing anything to assure that animals of different strengths (like an ox and a donkey) aren’t yoked together [a practice that the Torah forbids]. He stated that PETA had no concern for the quality of life of the animals, but only for the last few minutes before death.
[*** Respectfully, the above comments ignore that PETA’s sole purpose is to reduce the mistreatment of animals, and if their objectives were met, none of the above violations of Jewish law would occur. PETA is not a Jewish organization, so they do not single out practices that are contrary to the Torah, but their objective is to eliminate or at least reduce all animal abuses, In contrast, many Jews, unfortunately, seem to be ignoring violations of basic Jewish teachings in terms of eating meat from animals who have been severely mistreated on factory farms, wearing fur coats and in other ways. This is discussed in many articles at the JVNA web site (JewishVeg.com), especially in articles at JewishVeg.com/Schwartz. Lewin did not address why the Jewish community is not taking steps to reduce practices on factory farms that are contrary to Jewish teachings.***]
Lewin said that if people want to be vegetarian, fine. But, he added, if people criticize kosher slaughter because "for those few seconds I recoil at what I see", "they are not talking about ethical treatment of animals, they are talking about what the human sees the last few seconds" [of the animals' life].
Lewin mocked peoples' reactions to watching the slaughtering process [in the PETA video] by mimicking: "oh, it's terrible what you see, the animal seems to be moving; he seems to be getting up." "We've got to oppose that and make an enormous effort to stop it."
Lewin went on to accuse PETA of not opposing castration of animals or the over-burdening of an animal with a heavy load.
[*** My previous comment also applies to the above statement. Also, is AgriProcessors willing to agree not to slaughter castrated animals, as presently occurs? ***]
Lewin ended his initial presentation, by asserting that PETA is attacking kosher slaughter to raise money and because it is politically expedient, and their actions represent an attack on Judaism. [This was later refuted several times by Friedrich.]
Next, Bruce Friedrich spoke. He began by thanking Rabbi Einhorn for arranging this forum and Mr. Lewin for agreeing to take part in it, and he indicated that he felt that it was a pleasure and honor for him to take part. He briefly discussed PETA, pointing out that it is the world’s largest animal rights organization, with more than a million members and supporters, and that the organization operates on the principle that “Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment.” He pointed out that, in addition to promoting vegetarianism, PETA also supports anything that decreases the suffering of animals. He mentioned that about a third of PETA’s activist staff are Jewish, an amount far greater than the fraction of the American people who are Jewish. He indicated that prior to the ten years that he has been at PETA, he ran the largest soup kitchen in Washington, D.C., and also a shelter for homeless families.
[*** Rina Deych pointed out, and I agree, that the last comment is significant, since animal rights activists are often accused of not being concerned with helping people. ***]
Friedrich noted that PETA has been around for 26 years and they have never attacked kosher slaughter (contrary to a main emphasis of Lewin’s speech), don’t have a single line on their web site about it, and have never so much as written a letter on the subject. He argued that Lewin’s entire talk was attacking a straw man.
Friedrich pointed out that when PETA was first informed that there were problems in the Postville plant, they wrote a letter asking AgriProcessors to bring in Dr. Temple Grandin, a highly respected expert on all aspects of slaughter, to investigate the situation. [Dr. Grandin designed more than half of the cattle and pig slaughterhouses in this country and is widely recognized as the foremost scientific expert on the meat industry. In addition, she’s repeatedly been to every other major glatt kosher slaughterhouse in the U.S., and was used by the European Board of Rabbis to evaluate the slaughter houses in Europe.] Friedrich indicated that the letter praised the Jewish tradition of kindness to animals, stated that PETA believed that any problems with animal welfare were inadvertent, and explained that if Dr. Grandin were invited in, they would keep the situation completely confidential. [This letter, and all the other letters and expert statements that Friedrich referred to during the debate are available at the web site, HumaneKosher.com.]
Friedrich stated that PETA never wanted to go into a kosher plant, but they had to investigate, since they got a whistleblower call. He indicated that if AgriProcessors had taken that first letter, which gave the company the benefit of the doubt, seriously, the resulting controversy would never have happened.
Friedrich said that PETA decided to obtain undercover footage in July of 2004 and he described what the video findings were.
Friedrich next used his laptop computer to show a short clip of the footage from the underground video taken at the Postville slaughterhouse. Lewin tried to prevent it, but the crowd was shouting “Let him show the video!” They evidently really wanted to see it. The footage affected many in the audience. Some people turned away to avoid seeing it. A few cringed and covered their eyes. One lady was crying.
Lewin interrupted and said, "I saw that film. Slaughter is a very gory process. Yes, they bleed and get up." He then defended the "removal" of the trachea, and there were lots of comments in the audience. Lewin said repeatedly during the debate: “I saw the video and I don’t think it’s cruel; this is what kosher slaughter is.” Friedrich said that Temple Grandin said the technique revealed in the video was the worst she'd ever seen.
Friedrich encouraged people to pick up the information sheets (pasted below in the next section of this newsletter) that had the testimony of scientific experts regarding evaluation of the procedures at AgriProcessors. He pointed out that 100 percent of the veterinarians and other scientific and animal welfare experts and US Department of Agriculture officials agreed with PETA’s analysis about the mistreatment of animals at the Postville slaughterhouse, and not one expert agreed with Lewin and AgriProcessors, despite their having had 2 years to find someone. At various points, Lewin disputed this, but he did not name anyone who asserted that the treatment of the animals revealed in the underground video was humane.
Friedrich described the horrendous killing processes at South America slaughterhouses, where both Agriprocessors, Alle Meats and others import meat from. [Please see explanation directly below.] Friedrich explained that Dr. Grandin says it’s terribly cruel, and if people buy kosher meat from Agriprocessors or Alle [or other glatt kosher distributors in the United States or Israel], they are likely getting meat from these horrible plants. He asserted that If that controversy hits in North America, it will be another very black eye for the kosher process, and the OU and other certifiers should make sure it doesn’t, by taking it seriously right now.
[*** An expert informed me that in Latin America, the standard practice is for the live animal to be shackled and then hoisted off the ground , and is then hoisted higher, moved along the rail to a casting table and then lowered upside down on the casting table. This means, the expert continued, that the animal is struggling much longer than traditionally and ends up being upside down for a while, an unnatural and painful position.]
Friedrich ended his presentation by questioning if it is right that chickens are crammed into sheds, never breathing fresh air, cooped in their own waste? that cattle and calves have their testicles ripped from their scrotums without pain relief? that animals can be transported through all weather extremes, and that kosher authorities are willing to call practices such as those PETA documented at Agriprocessors, as well as the practices that Dr. Grandin describes in Uruguay, kosher? He asked what can be done to ensure that kosher standards actually set an example for the humane treatment of animals, consistent with the positive Jewish teachings that Mr. Lewin wrote in his first letter to PETA three years ago.
Lewin stated that the procedures at AgriProcessors were fine and that, despite Bruce's contention that "all the scientific experts agree" [that the slaughter of animals at AgriProcessors was inappropriate], these procedures were done with the knowledge of the USDA. At that point, Rabbi Harry Cohen, who supervises shechita at a number of slaughterhouses, took issue with the statement, saying "that's not true”. I have a report [that says otherwise]. They [USDA representatives] didn't see it. They were told to stay out." Lewin stated that the tracheal removal was not being done anymore by AgriProcessors.
Lewin accused PETA of hyping up their campaign on their web site and essentially bad-mouthing AgriProcessors. He kept reiterating that the "animal feels nothing."
At that point he suggested PETA change one letter of its name and call itself: People whose Ethics Stink Terribly or PEST.
Rina Deych called out that his comment was vile (and others echoed this).
Lewin said "Temple Grandin has been hired to inspect at AgriProcessors [the Postville slaughterhouse] now [and that everything is fine]".
[*** Actually, I have been informed that she has only inspected twice, both of which were scheduled, so that AgriProcessors was aware of her visits beforehand, and she has not been given permission to make unannounced inspections and to make public reports. Also, it was only after a great deal of prodding over about three years (PETA first asked that she be allowed to come in in May 2003; she visited for the first time three years later) that AgriProcessors agreed to permit her to inspect. ***]
Friedrich countered Lewin's accusation that PETA's campaign is an attack on kosher slaughter. He explained that PETA is an abolitionist organization, opposed to all cruelty to animals, including fur, vivisection, etc. He then challenged any veterinary expert to say that what is on the PETA video is humane. He countered Lewin’s assertions that PETA is concerned only with publicity and said that PETA is concerned about animals from birth and throughout their lives, and not only about how they are slaughtered. He indicated that if AgriProcessors agreed to Temple Grandin-approved unannounced audits of all AgriProcessors meat in the U.S. and Latin America, PETA would stop pushing the issue, since that is all they ever wanted from the start.
Friedrich also said that after AgriProcessors stopped the practice of ripping out the trachea, Temple Grandin, when she made a scheduled visit, when AgriProcessors expected her, found the procedure acceptable. She still, however, maintains that what she saw on the video was unacceptable.
Lewin stated that PETA should apologize to AgriProcessors. This caused some commotion in the audience, and one member said that it was Lewin who should apologize to Friedrich.
Then there was discussion back and forth about what was wrong with the procedure and Lewin alleged that there was only one animal who stood up after his trachea was ripped out and that PETA keeps playing the footage of that one animal over and over again.
[*** Perhaps it would be valuable for Lewin to see the full set of tapes of the almost 300 animals that PETA videotaped being slaughtered at Postville.]
One woman in the audience challenged Lewin, who kept on insisting that it is wrong to assume that the animal is feeling something. She asked him "Do YOU know what the animal is feeling?"
Someone asked what PETA wants and what it would take for them to remove all the AgriProcessors’ material from their Web site. Friedrich responded that if all meat produced and sold by Agriprocessors, including the stuff from South America, was subjected to unannounced welfare audits approved by Dr. Grandin, they would remove everything from their web site and not press the issue further. [*** I believe that JVNA would also remove material about the case from our web site, if it would help produce that favorable result re conditions at the slaughterhouse. We would, however, continue to argue that Jews should very seriously consider switching toward vegetarian diets, since the production and consumption of meat violate at least six basic Jewish mandates] Friedrich also pointed out that if AgriProcessors really has nothing to hide and is adhering to the highest standards, they should welcome unannounced visits.
One audience member said that he lost his family in the Holocaust, and he angrily attacked Lewin for denigrating the Holocaust by comparing PETA to Nazis.
Rabbi Cohen, from the audience, then indicated that he was ready to give a Halacha-based explanation of why the pulling of the trachea was absolutely not kosher, and that he had the documents with him to prove it.
In response to Friedrich applauding the OU for opposing shackling-and-hoisting, supporting upright slaughter and promoting a change in practices at Agriprocessors, Lewin asserted in a very angry and belittling (of the OU) way that the OU had capitulated to PETA, although Friedrich made the point that PETA has no influence with the OU, and suggested that it took its position based on Jewish teachings of compassion, rather than out of any deference to PETA..
Lewin also argued in a mocking way that the OU capitulated to PETA on the issue of the turning pen, and that the OU gave the New York Times what they wanted on the Agriprocessors controversy. [I have been informed by an expert on the issues that the OU has for many years publicly favored the upright pen and continues to do so.] He stated that the OU played into the hands of the New York Times, by suggesting that ripping animals’ tracheas out is a bad thing and that the upright slaughter pen is better than inversion [*** something agreed upon by all animal welfare experts, not just the OU].
Friedrich stated, as he often has before, that “Judaism has, without a doubt, the best views on animal welfare of any monotheistic faith; Christianity and Islam don’t even compare. That is exactly why so many Jews are involved with PETA and the animal rights movement, and why we were so surprised by the reports from inside the plant.”
There were several additional comments from the audience (pro and con) including one from Professor Joe Regenstein, who spoke as a scientific expert. He said that a cow should lose consciousness in 5 to 10 seconds. He also said a cow who stands up (as in the PETA video) is conscious (but then said that whether or not they are feeling pain is a different question, in other words that we can't be sure either way, but that they are unequivocally conscious). He also said that in Canada, the animals are dropping in about 15 seconds after the shechita cut and they remain in the pen until then.
Lewin accused PETA of only focusing on AgriProcessors and kosher slaughter and asked why they don't do undercover videos at other slaughterhouses, at which point Friedrich retorted that they, in fact, had done so in many cases.
Rina Deych adds: After the debate, I went up and told Rabbi Einhorn and Mr. Lewin that my grandfather was an ultra-orthodox kosher butcher who loved (and rescued) animals, and that he'd always assured me that the animals were slaughtered humanely. I said he became a vegetarian in his final year of life because he found out some horrible things about a slaughterhouse. I asked people who were defending AgriProcessors if they had seen the footage. Most hadn't. I encouraged them to watch it.
I told Mr. Lewin that he, himself, said that the animals are supposed to rest on Shabbat. I said "this never happens in factory farming, period...so how can there be any kosher meat at all in this country?" I said "they never get to graze, they never get to walk on actual grass. They’re on concrete." "The chickens are supposed to be able to spread their wings, but they NEVER can in a factory farm, NEVER." "There's something wrong with the way we're raising animals, and we should be policing ourselves. We shouldn't need people like PETA and other groups coming in and telling us what we're doing wrong. We should be trying to do it according to the Torah, because when it's done right there is not supposed to be suffering." I told them I was a member of JVNA.
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3. Statements Related to the Ritual Slaughter (Shechita) Conditions at the Postville Slaughterhouse Revealed by the Underground Video
The following material was handed out at the debate by Bruce Friedrich:
—RUBASHKIN VS. THE EXPERTS
“What hit the satellite waves was a documentation of the Shechita process in its full glory… You then see the Shochet doing the Shechita the way it's supposed to be done… This Shechita is actually Halachakly [sic] the best there is. … What you see on the video is not out of the ordinary. … Nothing wrong was, or is being done. There is nothing to admit.”
Aaron Rubashkin, President, Agriprocessors
“There was absolutely nothing on that tape that indicated that there was the slightest doubt about the fact that the meat was slaughtered kosher.”
Nathan Lewin, Esq.
However, 100 percent (literally without exception) of animal welfare experts and veterinarians who have been asked for comment have condemned AgriProcessors for its horrific abuse of animals, as have a growing number of rabbis.
“[W]hat was depicted on this videotape is one of the most atrocious incidents I have ever witnessed. This plant has shown itself unworthy of even minimal trust, and should be closed down.”
Dr. Bernard Rollin, Ph.D., Colorado State University, farmed animal expert
“The footage captured by PETA represents the most egregious violation of the USDA Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA) I have ever witnessed.”
Dr. Lester Friedlander, D.V.M., former USDA kosher slaughter inspector
“I thought it was the most disgusting thing I’d ever seen. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve been in at least 30 other kosher slaughter plants, and I had never ever seen that kind of procedure done before.”
Dr. Temple Grandin, Ph.D., Agriprocessors and Orthodox Union consultant
“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.”
Dr. Chaim Milikowsky, Talmud Scholar, Bar Ilan University, Israel
“You see there, it looks like he ripped out the trachea and esophagus. We do not allow the animal to be touched after the shehita until the main part of the bleeding stops …”
Rabbi Ezra Raful, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate
“None of the practices seen on the video apply in any places Star-K is associated with.”
Rabbi Avrom Pollak, Ph.D., President of Star-K (kosher certification)
“I don’t know what that is, but it’s not shechita.”
Shimon Cohen, Shechita UK (UK kosher slaughter advocacy organization)
“It’s disturbing. Certainly it’s nothing I would condone, or any of my meat inspectors or veterinarians would condone.”
Patty Judge, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture
“I’ve been in many slaughterhouses in my time, and I’ve never seen anything like that.”
Rabbi David Rosen, Former Chief Rabbi of Ireland
“[T]he cattle depicted in this distressing film footage … unequivocally and unarguably indicate that the cattle were conscious and suffering an agonal and inhumane death.”
Holly Cheever, D.V.M., large animal veterinarian
“[T]he suffering of these animals was obvious, as was their consciousness after they had their tracheas removed.”
Gary Dahl, Representative, USDA slaughterhouse inspector of 21 years
“In my expert opinion… cutting body parts out of conscious animals, dumping struggling dying animals out of chutes onto a blood soaked kill floor, using electric cattle prods on immobilized animals, and suspending heavy animals by a single limb prior to unconsciousness all result in unnecessary pain, suffering, or distress and are violations of humane slaughtering practices.”
Dr. Brenda Forsythe, M.S., Ph.D., D.V.M., Expert, Large Animal Behavior
“[A]ll aspects of slaughter in this plant are unacceptable and must be corrected, from handling of the animals in the runway… to ripping out tracheas in a conscious animal, to dumping them, still conscious, onto the ground. This plant requires full scale change in handling and slaughter.”
Dr. Peggy Larson, D.V.M., M.S., J.D.
What about the statements from the Orthodox Union and other kosher certifiers that back AgriProcessors?
Although AgriProcessors and its attorney, Nathan Lewin, continue to contend that animals who stand up minutes after their throats have been slit, as many of them did in our investigation, are not conscious, none of the kosher certification agencies has backed this notion. The kosher agency and Orthodox Union statements are statements in support of kosher slaughter, not what was happening at AgriProcessors. Our reply to these statements is available here.
Although Agriprocessors claims to have improved, and although the Orthodox Union has worked hard and admirably to improve conditions at Agriprocessors, the company has not yet released a single full animal welfare audit and is not subject to unannounced animal welfare audits by a trained animal welfare expert.
Because Agriprocessors meat has been defended as kosher despite the worst welfare for animals every expert we contacted has ever seen, the OU should lead an effort to ensure that humane treatment is prioritized as essential to kosher certification into the future. Preferably, this would apply both on the farm and at point of slaughter.
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4. Responses by Debate Participants
The above synopsis [in item #2] seems to capture the event well. Basically, Mr. Lewin argued that 1) PETA's goal is to shut down kosher slaughter; and 2) the animals in our video were not conscious. Neither point is subjective at all--both points are demonstrably false. Mr. Lewin did not appear to have any idea what PETA does, despite our having dealt with him for well over three years now.
We encourage people to visit www.HumaneKosher.com to find out more, and to encourage Mr. Lewin and Agriprocessors to agree to our offer: If all Agriprocessors' meat from the U.S. and elsewhere (including South America) is subjected to an animal welfare program that meets with Dr. Temple Grandin's approval, PETA will stop attacking Agriprocessors. They should want to do this, if Mr. Lewin's claims that all is well w/the company are true.
Dear Mr. Schwartz: I appreciate the opportunity to respond to your report on the debate that was held in NY on November 15. I must say initially that I am very surprised that nowhere in your summary do you mention the fact that the event was billed in the synagogue’s publicity as “PETA v. The Orthodox Community” and that the debate was to discuss “the PETA attack on the Kosher shechita Industry.” The ground rules for the event were that it was not to pertain to the particular case of AgriProcessors, and Rabbi Einhorn made that clear to Friedrich. I protested Friedrich’s violation of that ground rule, and the rabbi agreed with me. Your report omits any reference to the ground rules and just says that I tried to “prevent” Friedrich from showing his “footage” and then reports how that footage allegedly affected “many in the audience,” including the fact that “some people turned away to avoid seeing it” and that some “cringed and covered their eyes,” and that “one lady was crying.” It’s quite an amazing feat for you to report this, considering the fact that, as you note in your preface, you weren’t there and only heard a tape recording. Could it be that you are providing a biased report based only on the PETA supporters who attended? Did you interview the rabbinical students who were present and who did not come as supporters of PETA? Many people – both male and female -- came up to me after the debate to express their complete support and agreement with what I had said. How come that your “fair and accurate” report has repeated interjections by you in brackets to counter statements that I made and absolutely no qualifications or responses (except applause) to anything Friedrich said? And how come the most pointed questions from the audience directed at Friedrich – that he was totally unable to answer – do not find their way into your “fair and accurate” report? Judge Shannon Taylor and at least one other member of the audience pointed out to Friedrich that regardless of whether PETA has a subjectively malicious anti-Semitic motive, the statements it has made and the publicity it has generated have provided grist for the mill of anti-Semites who want to prohibit kosher slaughter. He had no response to this point. And he was asked – as I now ask you – why PETA continues to maintain a propaganda campaign against AgriProcessors if the alleged abuse that occurred some time ago has now been largely corrected. What progress do you (and PETA) think is made by repeating over and over again – as you are doing with your latest “fair and accurate” report – an attack that many (including myself) believe to have been unjustified initially but that has, in any event, resulted in a revision of AgriProcessors’ practices? I made the comment regarding the change of PETA’s acronym to PEST because I consider its conduct grossly unethical, and I am sorry to say that if JVNA follows PETA’s lead in this it shares in this shocking breach of ethics. I happen to have brought to the debate in NY a copy of your book on Judaism and Vegetarianism (that I have in both a 1982 edition published by Exposition Press of Florida and a 1988 edition published by Micah), and I even showed it to the audience as part of my initial remarks. Before receiving your “fair and accurate” report – to which I have many other objections which I don’t currently have the time to answer because I am leaving the US for one month later today – I considered you a respectable scholar. I ask you to reprint this brief comment whenever and wherever you distribute your report.
Response to Mr. Lewin’s comments by Bruce Friedrich:
Mr. Lewin makes three baseless assertions, the second two of which anyone who attended or listens will know to be false, prima facia. I will address each of them:
First, regarding the ground rules, I was informed by Mr. Lewin at about 8 p.m., for an 8 p.m. event, that he did not want to discuss Agriprocessors. I immediately explained to Rabbi Einhorn that PETA’s only experience with kosher slaughter is our Agriprocessors case, and that Agriprocessors and what it means for kosher slaughter generally is the only thing I was prepared to discuss. Rabbi Einhorn suggested that if I did not ask Mr. Lewin to defend Agriprocessors, but used Agriprocessors as an example to make my broader points, that should be fine. Anyone who listens to the debate will find that, in fact, that’s precisely what I did. The fact that practices such as those at Agriprocessors could be defended as kosher (Mr. Lewin and Mr. Rubashkin claim that what we documented is completely kosher and even humane) is a very key point in any reasonable discussion of kosher and animal welfare. As I believe I explained, the fact that Agriprocessors was stamped as “kosher,” despite Jewish teachings, is a very big deal, so big a deal that the President of the Conservative movement called this investigation a “service” to the Jewish community. His full statement is here.
Second, Mr. Lewin suggests that I did not reply to the assertion that PETA’s attack on Agriprocessors is grist for the anti-Semitic mill. In fact, anyone who listens to the recording will find that I explained that this is a function of Mr. Lewin and Mr. Rubashkin’s defense of the plant, not PETA’s investigation. Originally, we tried to clean the plant up with no publicity at all. Mr. Lewin refused. Had he agreed, no one would ever have learned of Agriprocessors’ abusive practices. Then, at every turn we explained that Judaism is the best of the monotheistic religions for animal welfare and that we feel that Agriprocessors’ abuse is anathema to Judaism. I explained in the debate that in my very first conversation w/the Orthodox Union, before the story broke, I asked that we clean up this one plant and not make this a debate of kosher slaughter generally. In every interview PETA did, we argued that this one plant was violating kosher principles and should be fixed. In contrast, Mr. Lewin argued (as he reiterated repeatedly in the debate) that “There was absolutely nothing on that tape that indicated that there was the slightest doubt about the fact that the meat was slaughtered kosher.” Agriprocessors’ President, Sholom Rubashkin, said over and over that, “What hit the satellite waves was a documentation of the Shechita process in its full glory… What you see on the video is not out of the ordinary.” They claimed we were attacking Judaism, with no basis whatsoever (100 percent of non-Orthodox Rabbi weighed in against Agriprocessors, by the way). So, as I explained very clearly in the debate, which people can hear at www.FailedMessiah.com, any anti-Semitic sentiment that has come from this investigation is a function of Mr. Lewin and Mr. Rubashkin continuing to defend the plant, not of PETA’s having exposed it.
Third, Mr. Lewin asked why PETA continues to attack Agriprocessors. My response was (as you can hear on the tape): 1) that we have no idea if everything is fine. Dr. Grandin says that they can do slaughter correctly, but that they need a system of unannounced audits. Thus far, they’ve refused to agree to that. This is a big concern, since they continue to defend horrific cruelty (what we documented) as acceptably kosher; and 2) that we would happily stop and praise the company, as we have McDonald’s, Burger King, and other former foes, if they were to agree to unannounced audits of all plants that supply Agriprocessors, under a plan developed by Dr. Temple Grandin. If all is now well at their plants, this should be something they would want to show the world, and our offer would be embraced. If they refuse, that raises serious concerns. Of course, the fact that Mr. Lewin still believes, against 100 percent of the evidence, that unconscious animals can walk, is a big concern, as is his continued duplicity surrounding both our debate and the case generally.
Basically, Mr. Lewin is in a very difficult position. He continues to claim, against 100 percent of the scientific evidence and 100 percent of experts, that ripping the trachea from fully conscious animals, as well as the horrific level of cruelty involved in slaughter at Agriprocessors, are not cruel. All readers should check out the evidence for themselves, at www.goveg.com/feat/agriprocessors. Mr. Lewin can’t find a single veterinarian or animal welfare expert to back his assertions, still, more than 2 years later. And just to be very clear: Although I conceded that shechita should be better than standard slaughter, what’s happening at Agriprocessors and in South America, since it’s being certified as kosher, indicates that currently, kosher in practice has not caught up with the spirit of kosher law and capacities of kosher slaughter. It should be better and in some places (mostly in the developed world) it is better, but the fact that it can be so much worse and still be called kosher is my whole point, with Agriprocessors as the shining example.
My comments: In the interests of trying to move forward. I will stand by the statements that I made at the beginning of this message about seeking common ground and solutions. I would only add that, in an effort to try to keep open the possibilities of future dialogs, I did not include all of the negative information that I had re Mr. Lewin’s debate performance.
Comments from audience member Professor Joe Regenstein, an expert on animal agriculture and kosher slaughter:
Hi! I think that there are a number of semantical problems with this whole debate -- the title of the debate probably got interpreted by different people in different ways and helped lead to the confusion -- PETA versus Shechitah. And if the intent was for a general discussion of Shechitah itself than Mr. Lewin is the wrong person to be defending it -- it should be a rabbi who understands modern animal welfare and not particularly someone so specifically associated with Postville in many people's minds. And PETA's role, as Bruce Friedrich so carefully indicates, is dealing with the problems of the abuse of shechitah, he is not qualified to discuss Shechitah as such or even the Jewish perspective on Tsar Baalay Chayim. So his focus, as it must be, is on the abuses they observed in Postville and on their understanding of the problems in Latin America (the latter which has not been subjected to PETA scrutiny but is discussed for example by Temple Grandin on her website). So what is PETA's role but to show where the principles of secular animal welfare have been violated by kosher sluaghter? And having been there at the time, I believe that the conveying of the "definitions" of the ground rules to Bruce just before the start of the debate was too late for him to change his prepared remarks and was not clearly articulated, given the potential for different interpretations. So in my mind, the ground rules were insufficiently defined, which left both sides to decide what they meant. Cheers.
Comments by Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn:
Rabbi Einhorn indicated that the account of the debate in section #2 above was clear and thorough, but suggested that Mr. Lewin came expecting to discuss something different from what we ended up discussing. He took responsibility for the breakdown in communication with regard to the debate guidelines.
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5. My Opinion Article/Will the Postville Horrors Shock Us Into Returning to Jewish Values Re Our Diets?
WILL THE POSTVILLE HORRORS SHOCK US INTO RETURNING TO JEWISH VALUES?
I believe that the horrific scenes of the mistreatment of animals at the Postville glatt kosher slaughterhouse and the efforts of some Orthodox groups to defend the facility’s procedures raise questions that go to the heart and soul of Judaism: If these procedures are acceptable, are we carrying out our mandate to be “rachmanim b’nei rachmanim” (compassionate children of compassionate ancestors)? Are we not failing to properly imitate G-d, Whose “tender mercies are over all his creatures” (Psalms 145:9)? If, as is recited at synagogue services every Sabbath and Yom tov morning, “the soul of every living creature shall bless G-d’s Name,” can we expect these cruelly treated animals to join in the praise? If, “the righteous person considers the life of his or her animal” (Proverbs 12:10), how will be judged, based on our treatment of animals?
Even if shechita is carried out perfectly and pain during slaughter is minimized, can we ignore the many violations of Jewish teachings on compassion to animals that occur daily to billions of animals in the United States and worldwide?
Finally, can we ignore the many ways that animal-based diets and agriculture severely violate Jewish values:
* 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.
* 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 climate change, and other environmental damages.
* While Judaism mandates bal tashchit, not to waste or unnecessarily destroy anything of value, or use more than is needed to accomplish a purpose, animal agriculture requires the wasteful use of land, water, fuel, grain, and other resources.
* While Judaism stresses that we are to assist the poor and share our bread with hungry people, an estimated twenty million human beings worldwide die each year because of hunger and its effects, over 70% of the grain grown in the U.S. is fed to animals destined for slaughter. It takes up to sixteen pounds of grain to produce just one pound of feedlot-raosed beef.
* While Judaism stresses that we must seek and pursue peace and that violence results from unjust conditions, animal-centered diets, by wasting valuable resources, perpetuate the widespread hunger and poverty that often lead to instability and war.
Clearly, Jewish values and meat consumption are in serious conflict. Jews should seriously consider shifting toward plant-based diets and promoting a switch toward vegetarianism as moral and ecological imperatives. Besides having great benefits for animals, such actions would greatly benefit the health of the Jewish people and others, move our precious, but imperiled planet to a more sustainable path, and show the relevance of Jewish teachings to the problems confronting the world today.
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