"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)


Good Posts on The Jew & The Carrot and Failed Messiah

I mentioned The Jew & The Carrot last week, and I must encourage everyone to check out this blog about "Jews, food, and contemporary issues" regularly. In particular, there have been some fascinating posts lately about the controversy over pork in Netanya, what vegetarians eat during the Nine Days, and the Israeli-American Bagel vs. Falafel Conundrum. I had a guest post about the Local Pride case on The Jew & The Carrot last week. Click here to read my guest post from today about my vegetarian advocacy as Chris P. Carrot (and to see a picture); here's an excerpt:
The other night, I walked around the Norfolk Tides’ minor league baseball stadium, ran out onto the field, and climbed on top of both dugouts. I danced the Macarena with young children, showed off my air guitar skills to a thousand or so spectators, and put ketchup on a veggie dog when I could barely peer out of my carrot costume’s eye holes. Prancing around as Chris P. Carrot is a lighthearted way to tell people to “Go Veg!” and “Eat Your Veggies, Not Your Friends,” as the placards on my costume’s torso read.
Elsewhere in the Jewish blogosphere, Failed Messiah has continued to do a fantastic job of digging and reporting on the Local Pride case. I've already linked to numerous Failed Messiah posts about this topic in my previous entries. I'm not doing Failed Messiah justice by only posting the titles and one quote, so I encourage everyone to click the links and read everything for themselves:
Here's a great quote to conclude Failed Messiah's first July 24 post on the subject:
There is, in my opinion, no way to know if the meat you eat was slaughtered humanely and the rabbis we entrust with certifying the kosher status of that meat have repeatedly proven untrustworthy.

What you do with this information is up to you. 2 1/2 years ago, I stopped eating meat and fowl when I realized the rabbis were playing fast ands loose with the truth. While I encourage you to do the same, the choice, and its consequences, are timately


The Music Issue: Matisyahu, Gogol Bordello, and Zydepunks

This post is about Jewish bands that aren't named Yidcore or Golem!

I'm not a huge fan of Matisyahu's music, but I'm in awe of the concept of Matisyahu. I saw him at an amphitheater opening up for 311 on Sunday. It was the night before Tisha B'av, which poses the question of why he was performing music during the Nine Days, but it was cool to hear him give a little speech about why the band wouldn't be playing the next couple of tourstops because of Tisha B'av as he introduced "Water." I saw him on the first night of Hanukkah in 2005, and it was a wonderful experience watching him light a menorah on stage at D.C.'s 9:30 Club. I first found out about Matisyahu about four years ago when I sat a few seats away from him at a Pittsburgh Chabad House Shabbat dinner and he did some a capella singing and beatboxing. A while later, he attended some Israel Week programming at the University of Pennsylvania and my friend Sherri had him call me using her cell phone. I didn't think it was him when he said, "What's up? This is Matisyahu," but I was a believer when he said, "Baruch Hashem," and Sherri mailed me an autographed copy of his CD shortly afterward. There's an unconfirmed rumor out there that Matisyahu is vegetarian (I didn't start the rumor), and Heeb once reported that he turned down the opportunity to do a Burger King ad saying something along the lines of "I can't eat this, but you should" while holding a cheeseburger. What I love best about Matisyahu is the opportunity to see him play a concert and think to myself, "Go, Jewboy! Go, Jewboy!"

Gogol Bordello
I got Gogol Bordello's brand-new CD, Super Taranta, last week. "Suddenly (I Miss Carpaty)," "Forces of Victory," and "American Wedding" are Eastern European folk-punk at its best (well, maybe tied with Golem). The band's frontman, Eugene Hutz, played the role of Alex in the movie Everything Is Illuminated, was named an "honorary Heeb" by Heeb, and has worked with PETA to speak out against the use of animals in circuses. Israeli guitarist Oren Kaplan is vegetarian, as is the band's drummer; he's also Jewish, as are the band's former saxophonist and bassist. Several Gogol Bordello members, including Hutz and Kaplan, have a side project called J.U.F. (Jewish Ukrainian Freundschaft).

I saw the Zydepunks twice on the Hanukkah Tour that I covered for the Forward in December, and I'm excited that I'll get to see them again next week on their East Coast tour. This New Orleans folk-punk band combines zydeco and punk rock with various other types of folk music, including klezmer. They have songs in six different languages, including Yiddish. The music is sophisticated, highly danceable, and fun, and it's a lovely mix of traditional and rockin'. None of the quintet's musicians is Jewish, but when you're rocking out to their "Romanian Hora," what difference does that make? As I wrote in my Forward article, "Bassist Paul Edmonds proudly wore a yarmulke on the second night of the tour, and Jewdriver quipped that he’d be Jewish by the end of Hanukkah."


My Guest Post on The Jew & The Carrot, Plus More Local Pride Updates

I have a guest post about the Local Pride kosher meat scandal on The Jew & The Carrot. (For those of you who don't know, The Jew & The Carrot is an awesome blog that deals with "Jews, food, and contemporary issues." It recently won the Best New Blog and Best Kosher Food/Recipe Blog in the Jewish & Israeli Blog Awards.) Here's an excerpt:

We find ourselves with another wake-up call that the kosher meat industry—or at least its principal players—is causing unnecessary animal suffering (tza’ar ba’alei hayim). As Rabbi Haviva Ner-David wrote in an article published in the Jerusalem Report last week, “Truth be told, if we consider complying with the requirements of tza’ar ba’alei hayim a requirement for meat to be considered ‘kosher,’ today’s food industry renders all meat production non-kosher.”

Cruelty to animals in the kosher meat industry is not limited to one isolated incident. The Local Pride abuses happened in a slaughterhouse owned by someone who had already been in the public spotlight and was supposedly working to correct matters. Recent debates about kashrut in the Jewish community have largely focused on labor issues and the tzedek hechsher initiative. Like the AgriProcessors scandal before it, the Local Pride investigation highlights that animals raised and slaughtered for kosher meat are often treated in a manner that’s inconsistent with Jewish values of compassion for animals. Like the cows’ bellowing in the Local Pride video footage, this latest controversy screams out for a holistic review of the kosher meat industry and Jews’ consumption of meat.

Yesterday, Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) issued a news release about the Local Pride investigation that's very consistent with my views on the subject. Here's an excerpt:
While opposed to all methods of slaughter, JVNA believes that properly carried out ritual slaughter is a relatively “humane” method of slaughter, which aims to minimize animal pain .... JVNA believes that the graphic depictions of the horrifying mistreatment of the animals at the Nebraska slaughterhouse should cause the entire Jewish community to examine the ways animals are currently being raised, treated, prepared, and slaughtered, to see if the laws and principles of the Torah are actually being properly practiced. And we hope that closer study of the values in Jewish tradition-- concern for the pain of fellow creatures, maintaining health, protecting God's world, conserving resources, feeding the hungry-- will ultimately lead Jews and others to adopt a diet that is more humane, healthy, environmentally sustainable, and capable of feeding hungry people -- vegetarianism.

Failed Messiah has been doing some wonderful reporting and analysis of this case ever since the story broke. On Monday, Failed Messiah dissected the inaccuracy-laden Kosher Today article on the subject and then had a follow-up post getting to the bottom of one of Kosher Today's false claims. Yesterday, Failed Messiah had an in-depth post recounting firsthand interviews with the OU's Rabbi Menachem Genack and Rabbi Seth Mandel, the USDA's Steven Cohen, and animal welfare expert Temple Grandin. In a follow-up post, Failed Messiah featured two photos showing that a meat hook had been used at Local Pride and juxtaposed Mandel's claim that it wasn't a meat hook with Grandin's claim that it is. Keep up the good work, Failed Messiah! Here's an excerpt from one of yesterday's posts:
Whatever Rubashkin's employees are doing with that meat hook, US law prohibits doing any butchering or preparatory work on an animal until it is dead. The definition of death is the legal definition, not the halakhic definition some use that, once the knife begins to cut the animal is dead. So what is really going on in Gordon? You can see that a meat hook is used. ... Whatever the reason for its use, it is illegal and it must be immediately stopped.


Media Coverage of the Kosher Meat Scandal

I've talked about the new undercover investigation of a Rubashkin-owened kosher slaughterhouse and the attention it's received in the Jewish blogosphere. This post will focus on coverage in the conventional media.

PETA issued a press release about the investigation on Monday, and the Associated Press put out an article that afternoon. As can be expected from the short turn-around time, the AP article didn't dig very deep. This excerpt is the best the article does to make people realize that something is wrong at Rubashkin's Local Pride slaughterhouse:
The alleged violations of state, federal and kosher laws cited in the complaint include: the animals were allowed to writhe in pain for up to two minutes after their throats were cut; and staff tear the animals' necks with a meat hook and cut tags from their ears while they are still conscious.

"The intentional infliction of cruelty at [Rubashkin's] Gordon, Nebraska, facility is ... part of a continued pattern of disregard for the welfare of animals - and the cruelty-to-animal statutes - in the locales where [Rubashkin] operates," PETA said in the complaint.
The Forward's article is certainly the most probing so far. It includes telling quotes from Menachem Genack, the CEO of the Orthodox Union's kosher division, and Nathan Lewin, a lawyer who has defended AgriProcessors previously, indicating that both parties are dismissing the criticism out of hand and not taking the issue seriously. The article also does a nice job of explaining what the investigation found:

[PETA] alleges that the video provides proof of the Rubashkins’ failure to follow through on reforms that they agreed to make after the previous video was released, including a promise to use a gun to immediately kill any animal that is not rendered insensate after the kosher cut is administered. . . .

In the new video, the cattle appear be moving their eyes, necks and tongues long after their throats have been slit. In one case, PETA says the movement went on for two minutes. In testimony gathered by PETA, a number of veterinarians hold that cows are still conscious until their eyes roll back. ...

The video appears to corroborate PETA’s allegation that factory workers cut off the ears of cows while the cows are still moving. Other footage appears to show a worker using a metal device — a hook, according to PETA — to reach into the throats of the animals after the cut but before the animals stopped moving.

The most controversial scenes from the 2004 video showed a worker using a hook to pull out a moving cow’s trachea. AgriProcessors had promised to stop the practice.

Among the critics of the new footage is animal [welfare] expert Temple Grandin, who was also a prominent critic of AgriProcessors after the release of the 2004 video. She visited the Iowa plant last year, after a series of reforms had been implemented, and gave it a clean bill of health. Now, in response to the new footage, she is again criticizing the company.

“They’re not working on fixing the details of their procedure,” Grandin told the Forward. “Now, it’s nowhere near as bad as the other AgriProcessors thing. I would label that atrocious. This I would label poor.”

The JTA (a newswire for Jewish publications) had a brief that didn't identify any of the alleged abuses at Local Pride. It did, at least, include a quote from a PETA representative and this worthwhile snippet:

An animal rights group says America's largest kosher meat company still isn't treating its animals humanely.

People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals released a new video showing that AgriProcessors, which produces the Aaron's Best line of kosher meats, has not followed through on its pledge to shoot with a gun any cow that appeared to be alive after it had been through the kosher slaughtering process.

AgriProcessors came under fire in 2004 when PETA released a video it had shot surreptitiously at the slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, showing gruesome footage of cows flailing after they had had their throats slit in accordance with the practice in kosher ritual slaughter.

After the video's release, the slaughterhouse agreed to reform its work practices, but PETA now says AgriProcessors has broken that agreement.

I don't think anyone is likely to be appalled by what's going on at Local Pride after reading either newswire article, but at least the news is hopefully getting out there, providing an excellent opportunity to submit letters to the editor and/or guest op-eds to Jewish weeklies. The coverage in the Forward and the blogosphere have been much better at explaining the situation.


Rubashkin's Scandal Gets Jewish Blogs Talking

Updated July 12

My introduction to the Jewish blogosphere came in late 2004 following PETA's investigation of Rubashkin's AgriProcessors slaughterhouse. A Jewsweek article around that time said:
In the Jewish community, coverage has been characterized primarily by non-traditional outlets. With the weekly schedules of most Jewish publications simply insufficient to keep up with the demand for information, much discussion and reporting has taken place in the blogosphere. There, various blogs have kept on top of the latest press releases and reporting, but have also begun to do some reporting of their own, contacting individual rabbis and experts for comment. If this keeps up, the PETA video story could be the big one that finally gets the Jewish blogosphere to beat the Jewish weeklies to the punch.
Following Monday's news that PETA had investigated another Rubashkin-owned slaughterhouse, the Jewish blogosphere has once again stepped up to the plate in terms of reporting, discussions, and timeliness.

Quite a few Jewish blogs have covered this story. I believe that Failed Messiah and Jewschool were the first to break the news to Jewish bloggers on Monday afternoon. Since then, posts and discussions have popped up on heebnvegan, DovBear, Jewish Blogmeister, Mental Blog, Chaptzem Blog, Jewish and Breaking News, What's It All About?, Hechsher Tzedek, Yeshiva World News, Vos Iz Neias, The Jewish Life, and Shomrei Brit.

The heebnvegan Miracle of Blogging Award goes to DovBear. Following Monday's post titled "Boycott Rubashkin NOW" and containing only the word "Click" (with a link to Failed Messiah's Monday post), an extensive debate with about 80 comments (so far!) sprung up. It's worth noting that the discussion happening on DovBear (and especially some of the frum blogs) isn't 100% positive or constructive, but it's important that this conversation is taking place.

The best post so far is Failed Messiah's second post, which is from today. I'm hesitant to quote from it because, at this point, I don't know if I form the same conclusions. But I HIGHLY encourage people to click here and read it. Failed Messiah is analyzing and reflecting on this debate and pushing it forward. Its firsthand reporting goes a long way to meet the journalistic standard mentioned in the Jewsweek article that I quoted at the beginning of this post.

As for the mainstream secular media, there was an Associated Press article on Monday and coverage by numerous media outlets. It should be interesting to see how this story plays out in the Jewish weeklies that come out tomorrow/Friday. The Forward's article, which was posted online today, did a nice job of covering the story and giving background information.

For speedily creating much-needed discussion about vegetarianism, tza'ar ba'lei chayim, and the kosher meat industry, the Jewish blogosphere deserves a pat on the back.


Déjà Vu? Cruelty to Cows at Rubashkin's Nebraska Slaughterhouse

In May, an undercover investigator from PETA documented cruelty to animals at Rubashkin's Local Pride kosher slaughterhouse in Nebraska. Conscious cows didn't have their tracheas ripped out of their throats this time, as was witnessed during PETA's 2004 investigation of Rubashkin's AgriProcessors plant in Iowa. Nevertheless, the findings of this investigation slaughter shechita's humane reputation and raise much doubt about the ethical standards of the kosher meat industry.

PETA's investigator found that animals remained conscious for up to two minutes after their throats were slit, which is a far cry from the intended goal of quickly losing consciousness after one fell swoop of the khalef. A worker ripped into a cow's throat while the animal was still conscious in order to expedite the bleeding. Cows experienced fear and stress prior to slaughter as a result of being handled improperly. Workers mutilated cows ears in order to remove identification tags while the animals were still conscious. Click here to read more and watch video footage documenting these horrific abuses.

Numerous experts have come forward to condemn the cruelty of the practices observed at the Local Pride slaughterhouse. Click here to read their statements. Here is a sample of what they had to say:
  • Veterinarian Dr. Holly Cheever commented, "Each animal evinced the range of behaviors indicating extreme panic in a bovine, including the plunging, struggling, bellowing, eye dilation, flaring of the nostrils, and tongue protrusion. This method of slaughter as depicted on this tape is brutal and should be amended to provide a humane end for these animals."
  • Professor and renowned lecturer Dr. Bernard Rollin said, "In this video … the animals suffer while conscious for prolonged periods, in one case over two minutes. … In the same vein, the evident insertion of the meat hook to increase bleeding is both inhumane and a violation of the principles of kashrut. The ripping out of ear tags before the animal is unconscious is equally morally and religiously illegitimate. The vocalization and struggling after the cut is made speak for themselves and evidence suffering and a callous disregard for that suffering that should be abhorrent to and condemned by all observant Jews."
  • Dr. Temple Grandin, the world's leading expert on farmed-animal welfare, noted, "I am concerned about ear tag removal before onset of insensibility [and] the use of a meat hook … to probe the throat cut. This would cause pain and must be stopped. … This would be a failed audit …."
  • Dr. Lester Friedlander, a former chief veterinary inspector for the USDA, said, "More than 2 minutes elapsed after Shechita [in the first slaughter]. … The cow’s eyes were tearing, blinking and not rolled back. The ears were also moving. The cow was not in a Moribund State. … Within 40 seconds after Shechita [in the second slaughter], the Plant employee removes the metal state identification tag. This is unacceptable since the cow was still conscious and you can not remove or cut out parts of the cow. … [In the third slaughter, a] Meat Hook and Knife is used on a conscious cow after Shechita. This is unacceptable since the cow was still alive. … There was prolonged consciousness in the [fourth] cow following Shechita. The knife and hook was being used to tear the tissue apart to facilitate bleeding of the carcass. This is unacceptable since the cow is still conscious and can feel pain."
This issue demands the attention of Jewish blogs and print publications as well as the community at large. (Kudos to Jewschool and Failed Messiah for already leading the charge.) Cruelty to animals in the kosher meat industry cannot continue to go unchallenged by the powers that be.


Great Commentary on Kosher Slaughter in The Jerusalem Report

There's a wonderful article about shechita, titled "If Cows Could Talk, Like Balaam's Donkey," by vegetarian rabbi Haviva Ner-David in the July 9 issue of The Jerusalem Report. Ner-David lives in Jerusalem and is the founding director of Reut: The Center for Modern Jewish Marriage. (Unfortunately, the article isn't available online.)

Ner-David begins by talking about how repulsed she was by a cow's suffering at a kosher slaughterhouse she visited. She writes that "the way shehita is carried out today cannot be called kosher in terms of both the spirit and the letter of the law. The Shulhan Arukh (Code of Jewish Law) tells us that an animal about to be slaughtered should not see the animal being slaughtered before because fear will cause the animal to flinch and therefore be rendered a treifa because the knife will not cut smoothly. This rule (as well as other ways this cow's suffering could have been minimized) was blatantly ignored by the slaughterhouse I visited that day."

This chunk of the article is the highlight for me:
According to many halakhic authorities, shehita is meant to minimize the animal's pain ("Guide to the Perplexed," 3:26). In the past, shehita was a more humane way of slaughtering animals than was common in the surrounding cultures in which Jews lived. This is no longer true. Though stunning prior to slaughter has become the norm in non-kosher slaughter, halakhic authorities do not allow stunning. In addition, though not an absolute halakhic requirement, ultra-Orthodox rabbinic authorities and the Israeli rabbinate require that the cow be inverted during shehita, which is not the common position in non-kosher contexts.

Truth be told, if we consider complying with the requirements of tza'ar ba'alei hayim a requirement for meat to be considered "kosher," today's food industry renders all meat production non-kosher. Until recent times, animals were raised on private farms, under relatively humane conditions, and when the time for slaughter arrived, it was possible, at least, to treat the animal with dignity. This was true for kosher slaughter as well.

Today, mass production has taken over. Under these conditions, it is impossible to treat animals in a way that would comply with the laws of tza'ar ba'alei hayim. This is why all Jews concerned with Jewish values and/or Jewish law should consider vegetarianism.