"I've noticed that quite a lot of people who are prominent in the animal liberation movement are Jews. Maybe we are simply not prepared to see the powerful hurting the weak." --Peter Singer (Author, Animal Liberation)


Go Out Into Your Communities

I gave a presentation this evening about "Vegetarianism in the Jewish Tradition" at a local synagogue as part of its adult education series. I spent a good chunk of time talking about the role of vegetarianism in the Bible and the notion of tsa'ar ba'alei chayim, and I also talked about what animals go through in modern factory farms and slaughterhoues. There were probably 15-20 people there, and the crowd really got it. I think they were much more prepared for the typical "here's what animals go through" shpiel after hearing a foundation on their own terms. I brought kosher falafel, pita, and tehini, which also went over big. It helped to show exactly what vegetarian eating means.

I highly recommend that Jewish vegetarian advocates take the message to their communities. Discussing these important issues Jewishly and as a community is so important, and I think giving a talk in synagogues, JCCs, and youth and student groups is a fantastic way to go. Jewish tradition provides much support for vegetarianism, so why should we support the horrors of modern animal agriculture? A half hour exploring that question goes a long way.

Preparing such a speech is not as difficult as it may seem. Read Richard Schwartz's Judaism and Vegetarianism for a wealth of information. Schwartz also cowrote a pamphlet called "The Jewish Case for Vegetarianism," which was very helpful. I also touched on some of the articles I've referred to in my blog and my general knowledge of animal rights issues. Really, that's a great starting point for giving a speech and starting a dialogue about vegetarianism in the Jewish community.


Bird Flu Hits Israel

The lethal H5N1 strain of bird flu has hit Israel. The disease, which has been wreaking havoc across Europe, Asia, and Africa, has killed about 100 people since 2003 and could become a global pandemic.

According to this article, "Israel has been culling thousands of birds to contain the virus, after officials said last week that more than 10,000 turkeys died from bird flu on two farms in the south."

When we confine animals in tight quarters, is it any surprise that disease will spread? When we subject animals to unnatural conditions, such as by feeding meat from cows to other cows, is it any surprise that we wind up with mad cow disease and the like? This might be just the beginning of the bird flu crisis, and intensive confinement factory farms are largely to blame for the spread of disease like this.

Read more about bird flu.


"G-d’s Chosen Diet" in New Voices Web Wire

Veggie Jews founder Pete Cohon has an article titled "G-d's Chosen Diet: Veggie Jews Promotes a Kashrut Revolution" in the latest New Voices Web Wire issue. The piece is a great introduction to the Jewish case for vegetarianism, touching on Bliblical support for vegetarianism as well as what's wrong with animal agriculture and even kosher slaughter.

Click here to read the full article. The last few paragraphs follow:

Though contemporary methods of animal husbandry and slaughter might conform to the letter of kosher laws, they violate the spirit of the law, which enjoins against tsa'ar ba'alei chayim, a mandate not to cause pain to any living being.

Many Biblical passages make it clear that a Jew is to treat animals with compassion. It is noteworthy that G-d only allowed the eating of animals after the great flood due to the human demand to do so because all vegetation had been destroyed. But it was G-d's plan from the time of the Garden of Eden that humans eat a vegan vegetarian diet of beans, nuts, grains, fruits and vegetables (see Genesis, 1:29-31). If we really want to be closer to G-d, why not move beyond kosher to G-d's chosen diet, rather than the one G-d reluctantly and temporarily allowed?

Judaism has changed enormously over the millennia. We went from animal sacrifice during the days of the Temples in Jerusalem to synagogue prayer after the destruction of the Temple. It was a change so radical that we became a virtually different people, one that was able to survive the centuries and flourish to become a moral light to the world.

Now the time has come for the next big leap, one that is not at all radical compared to the changes through which we've already been: the leap to a cruelty-free diet, the leap back to the diet that G-d intended for us. Veggie Jews was created to help us get there.


Eco-Kosher versus Veggie-Kosher

In response to this article in the current issue of the Canadian Jewish News, there's been a great discussion about eco-kashrut in the Veggie Jews Yahoo! group.

"We can observe traditional laws while addressing the concerns of Jews today," says RN Aviva Allen in the article. "The question is, ‘Can veal ever be kosher?’ The answer is ‘yes’ because the animal is slaughtered properly. According to eco-kashrut, however, the answer is ‘no.’"

In theory, eco-kashrut and vegetarian Judaism seem to go hand in hand. Meat production wreaks havoc on the environment and causes unnecessary animal suffering (tsa'ar ba'alei chayim) to its inhabitants.

In practice, however, it seems that the eco-kosher crowd is not gung ho about vegetarianism. Pete Cohon, a founder of Veggie Jews, said in the e-mail discussion that upon surveying 20 leading Web sites about eco-kashrut, some talked about ts'aar ba'alei chayim and boycotting veal, but none advocated vegetarianism. The easy fix for many eco-kosher folks seems to be buying organic and free-range meat and eggs, which all too often aren't quite what they're labeled.

Cohon refers to one group member's argument that at least by supporting the organic industry, we'll gradually reduce support for factory farms and put them out of business. Cohon counters, "It is difficult for me to imagine how a movement that does not promote vegetarianism is going to cut factory farming by 15% or even 0.00001%." Cohon concludes:
As long as the eco-kashrut movement is afraid or unwilling to make issues out of the environmental rape of factory farming and the un-kosher cruelty of industrial agribusiness, as long as it ignores the “V” word, it will never bring us to a significantly more just world. To make that kind of progress eco-kashrut needs to take reasonable risks, like promoting vegetarianism and veganism -- risks that it has shown no inclination to take.
I've only highlighted bits and pieces of this very fascinating discussion. To read more, join Veggie Jews and read the debate (which started on Friday). Free registration is required.


USDA Deems AgriProcessors' Practices "Inhumane Slaughter"

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's investigation into AgriProcessors, the world's largest glatt kosher slaughterhouse, has finally been made public. The investigation confirmed what many rabbis, veterinarians, and animal welfare/rights advocates have been saying for quite some time: Ripping out animals' treacheas and esophagi while they're still conscious and writhing in pain for more than a minute constitutes "inhumane slaughter." The USDA report also said that federal inspectors ignored the inhumane practices and inappropriately accepted gifts from AgriProcessors. You can read the USDA's report here.

Shechita is a time-honored system of inflicting a quick, painless blow for a humane death--or at least that's what it's intended to be. What went on at AgriProcessors is a disgrace to Jewish ritual slaughter. The notion that animals can be factory-farmed and tortured and still deemed kosher should make all Jews reconsider their meat intake. I'll be exploring this topic in much greater depth in an article in the April/May issue of New Voices.

In the meantime, I highly recommend an article about the USDA's investigation from today's New York Times. For complete information about the AgriProcessors case, check out http://www.goveg.com/feat/agriprocessors/.