"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)


Kapparot Recap

As I noted in my kapparot preview on September 9, I've blogged about kapparot quite a few times since I started heebnvegan. I thought it was important to follow up on all the goings on since the preview.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the prominent and controversial Israeli ulta-Orthodox rabbi, criticized mistreatment of chickens in kapparot ceremonies. According to a Haaretz article:

Speaking Saturday at his Jerusalem synagogue, Hayazdim, Yosef warned that overworked ritual slaughterers wind up using flawed blades that are not deemed "perfectly sharp."

"If it is not perfectly sharp, it is not only non-kosher but nevela," he said, using the term for the carcass of a kosher animal not killed in accordance with Jewish law and therefore forbidden for consumption.

An Israeli court found that the kapparot ritual violates animal slaughter laws. According to a different Haaretz article:

A Petach Tikvah court on Tuesday ruled that the ritual slaughter of chickens for the Yom Kippur "kapparot" ritual is a violation of state regulations on animal slaughter.

The court adopted the matter after a resident of Ramat Modiin was caught by agriculture ministry officials with dozens of slaughtered chickens in his possession without the required permits for animal slaughter.

The man refused to pay the fine police gave him, and demanded a trial to clear his name.

During his trial, the court ruled against the defendant, and issued a penalty of NIS 2,700 or 17 days imprisonment.

YNet ran an article about Israeli animal rights activists' criticism of kapparot. It quoted Let the Animals Live chairwoman Etti Altman as saying, "Thousands of chickens are cramped together, with no food or water, for days before kaparot … they are abused and then they are slaughtered. People ask for their sins to be forgiven? They should be asking for the chicken's forgiveness."

Failed Messiah posted disturbing photos here from the parking lot of a Chabad synagogue in Long Beach, California, prior to a kapparot ritual. You can see the conditions referred to by Altman pretty clearly. The chickens have no space to move around, and their excrement is all over the place. Some interesting discussion popped up in response to that post and a follow-up.

The VeggieJews Yahoo group has been a fantastic source of information about this topic and is how I found the three Israeli articles. It's also been a great forum for people's comments about kapparot, and there have been some really wonderful ideas. Here are just a couple of them:

  • Jim Sinclair of Syracuse, New York, wrote: "Last year in response to Kapparot, I signed up to sponsor a Farm Sanctuary chicken for one year. This year I'm already signed up to sponsor another chicken. I could just make my $10/month donation indefinite, but I like the symbolism of 'sponsoring' a different individual chicken every year."
  • Yaakov Perry of Andover, New Hampshire, wrote: "I am a Chabadnik (or Lubavitcher as some call us). The ritual of Kapparot bugs me a great deal so instead of partaking, I take a look at the stock market and find what 18 (18 = Chai = Life) ounces of silver are worth, use the money to buy vegetarian food, swing it over my head, and then donate it to the local food pantry."
As Jim and Yaakov demonstrate, using money instead of chickens for kapparot is a perfectly acceptable alternative. I gave tzedakah to American Jewish World Service last week (after waving it above my head and praying), and it felt great to consciously think that I was doing so as an alternative to mistreating a chicken.


Alicia Silverstone: The World's Most Famous Jewish Vegan

Alicia Silverstone is the most famous Jewish vegan alive, yet she's only been mentioned on heebnvegan once—two years ago! I was shocked to realize this, I must admit.

Silverstone appears on the cover of the fall 2007 issue of PETA's Animal Times. Here are some great quotes from her that were included in the article:

"Being vegan truly is the secret to my life's joy and peace."
"Now when I see a steak, it makes me feel sad and sick because right away, I see my dog or the amazing cows I met at a sanctuary."
"Since I've gone vegetarian, my body has never felt better and my taste buds have been opened up to a whole new world. It's one of the most rewarding choices I've ever made."
"Try veggie burgers, veggie dogs, and faux chicken nuggets. Give up animal foods for two months, or even for a week, and I promise you will look and feel better, and you'll want to do it forever."

I'd be remiss if I didn't include the picture from when I met Alicia Silverstone at the 2005 Genesis Awards. I don't think I've ever been so star-struck!


Round Challah, Apples With Agave Nectar, and ... Charoset?!?!

Trivia: Which Jewish holiday features round challah, apples with agave nectar, potato latkes, soofganiyot, charoset, karpas with salt-water, Israeli salad, hummus, kasha varnishkes, Manischewitz wine, Dr. Brown's soda, and grape juice? Rosh Hashanah heebnvegan-style, of course!

There's no reason why most traditional Jewish foods can't be made vegan (and still be delicious!). That was the thinking behind the Vegan Jewish-Foods Mega-Potluck that I organized last year, and last week's sequel set a new standard for Jewtasticness. Thanks to resources like JewishVeg.com's recipes page, it's quite easy for even mediocre cooks to whip up traditional Jewish foods that are 100% vegan and 100% yummy. (Vegetable broth was a great substitute for chicken broth for the kasha varnishkes, the potato latkes tasted great without eggs, agave nectar was just as sweet as honey, and some of the other dishes are usually vegan to begin with.) And as a recent Santa Fe New Mexican article discusses, vegetarian Rosh Hashanah celebrations aren't so rare these days.

The potluck drew an eclectic mix not only of food but of people as well. There was a quarter-Jew who just started college locally and had never been to a Jewish holiday celebration before; he felt that good food was a fantastic introduction to Judaism! There was a 2-toothed, 6-month-old baby whose parents gave her apples (albeit not the large slices that everyone else had) as her first solid food in honor of Rosh Hashanah. There were a few herbivorous heebs who have attended my unconventional Chanukah, Passover, and Tu B'Shvat celebrations in the past. And then there was my mother, who made the charoset and, without giving it much thought, packed a food chopper in her airplane carry-on luggage (thankfully, it wasn't detected!).

The gathering also featured a special guest appearance by my shrilling rubber chicken. The rubber chicken shrilled in dismay at the mere mention of upcoming kapparot ceremonies. And the rubber chicken (and the success of the vegan Rosh Hashanah dinner) got me thinking: The myth that Jewish cooking requires chicken fat or eggs must've been started by a chicken farmer.


Kapparot: Does Anyone Give a Cluck?

I've posted about kapparot numerous times since I started heebnvegan. My October 2005 post titled "Kapparot: Unnecessary Torture of Chickens" sums of my general views on the subject. In November 2005, I posted an article and talked about "hundreds of chickens who were slated to be used in a kapparot ceremony but were absolutely abandoned to suffer from starvation, dehydration, and ultimately death." In March 2007, I talked about an incident in which Kansas State fans threw chickens onto a basketball court and discussed kapparot as well, saying that we need to take an objective look at these "rituals" and consider the interests of the animals involved. In a potpourri post last month, I wrote, "Earlier this month ... there was some interesting controversy about kapparot from public health and cruelty-to-animals perspectives. Click here to read Failed Messiah's comprehensive recap."

It seems that the latest spotlight to shine on kapparot might have actually effected some change. A large group of Orthodox rabbis met and urged "that all kapparos centers be prohibited from allowing chickens to be in the sun all day, that the birds be protected by an awning or improvised roof, and that the birds be sprayed with ample water periodically," wrote one of the attending rabbis in a Jewish Press column (I can no longer find the article online, but Failed Messiah talked about it in depth here). The article noted in the final paragraph, "Reviewing the entire current kapparos situation, using alternatives to chickens such as money to tzedakah, might be a desirable option."

The rabbis' meeting was reported on by several secular publications as well as the Forward, which noted:

At the August 6 meeting in the synagogue of the Novominsker rebbe, more than a dozen religious heavyweights — including Rabbi Aryeh Kotler and Rabbi David Zwiebel — considered evidence that the chickens may have been mistreated in past ceremonies and acknowledged that the problem rose to a level that could violate rabbinic law.

After the conference, the rabbis collectively issued a call for members of the community to clean up the process during this year’s holiday season. The move was particularly notable because it came in response to complaints from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. . . .

The kapparot ceremony is one of the more colorful elements of the High Holy Days but one of the most historically fraught. Maimonides and later Joseph Caro, author of the authoritative code of Jewish law, both claimed that kapparot had its roots in pagan ritual and should be abandoned by religious Jews. But Moses Isserles, the famed 16th-century talmudist from Krakow promoted the practice, as did many of the founders of Hasidic Jewish sects.

Today, many Modern Orthodox Jews swing money, instead of chickens, over their heads. But Hasidic Jews have retained the use of the live animals. Men are instructed to use roosters, which are grasped by their shoulder blades and rotated above the person’s head three times. Women use hens for the ritual (two if the practitioner is pregnant). The animal is then supposed to be slaughtered immediately after the ritual and donated to a poor family.

Given the number of chickens required for this ceremony, some in the Orthodox community said it is not surprising that problems have arisen.

“It’s the very public nature and the pandemonium of slaughtering so many birds at one shot that necessarily involves problems,” said Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union and one of the participants at the August 6 meeting.

In recent years there have been a number of visible confrontations over the practice. In 2006, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals discovered 700 chickens that had been left in a garage in Brooklyn and, in another instance, PETA filed a complaint with the ASPCA in upstate New York when it found a batch of similarly abandoned birds.

PETA’s letter this year was accompanied by a lengthy video from ceremonies in 2005 and 2006. Included are scenes of live chickens being stuffed into garbage bags and teenagers ripping the heads off of chickens, which would clearly render the chickens un-kosher. . . .

Bruce Friedrich, a vice president at PETA, said he has heard encouraging things from the organization’s contacts inside the ultra-Orthodox community about this year’s ceremony. There is, however, still the question of the ritual itself. Friedrich said that even if the animals are treated well before and after kapparot, the ceremony itself “should be abandoned for the same reason you wouldn’t take a cat and swing it over your head.”

So things are looking up, to some extent. As Failed Messiah wrote, "Will these directives be followed? Who knows. Until PETA's letter, nothing had been done to deal with the problem."

Last week, Rabbi Avi Finegold wrote on The Jew & The Carrot that kapparot has become "a spectacle: children running around, playing with the livestock and us having little to no concern with their welfare." Rabbi Finegold added:
Those who choose to use ... money or [an]other suitable replacement should not feel left out either; think about the words being said during the ceremony, and understand that this truly is a kapparah-an atonement for one’s sins over the past year. Maybe even think about sins committed against all creatures over the past year, and understand that the chicken-fish-money only counts as a repentance if it serves to focus us to repent.

I posted the following comment in response:
What irks me most about all this — both the public health issues and the tza’ar ba’alei chayim issues associated with kapparot — is that just about everyone acknowledges that it’s perfectly acceptable to give tzedakah instead of using chickens for kapparot. It’s not even like anyone says this practice is necessary!

I think the efforts to improve things, as discussed in the Forward article, are a huge step in the right direction. But I’d love to see a huge push from the powers that be in the Orthodox community for [using money] instead of chicken-waving.


Investigation of Kosher Deer Slaughterhouse

Another kosher slaughterhouse is under fire for animal welfare abuses based on a PETA investigation. (Surely you'll remember AgriProcessors and Local Pride.) This time, it's Musicon, a kosher deer slaughterhouse in Goshen, N.Y. "Immediately after shechita, the assistant would slam the pen door shut to keep the deer from thrashing; some dying animals had their heads squeezed between the frame and the door. The deer were conscious for up to a minute and a half after shechita and one was dragged away while still conscious, as confirmed by Dr. [Temple] Grandin," says PETA VP Bruce Friedrich. Click here to watch the disturbing video from the undercover investigation.

Dr. Grandin, a leading expert on farmed animal welfare and humane slaughter systems (including for kosher slaughter), was quoted in a Failed Messiah post as saying, "[T]here are some definite problems with the restrainer and procedures. The collapse time was really slow due to a poor cut. ... There is not enough space for a good cut. ... The third deer was definitely not fully insensible when it was pulled out of the restrainer by its ears." Dr. Grandin advises that Musicon should do all the following in order to ensure humane treatment of animals:
Better clearance for the rabbi’s knife.
A neck and back holder so a person does not have to kneel on the back of the animals.
Do not hold the head in position by holding the ears.
Never use the ears to move a sensible animal.
Design change may be needed to reduce struggling in the box. I could not see how the restrainer and leading chute was constructed in the rear.
The deer must be fully insensible before it is dragged out of the box.
Making these changes will improve the rapid collapse time.

All this is, of course, pretty upsetting, but there are three things here that seem particularly troubling:

1. Because deer are wild animals, they are not protected under the Humane Slaughter Act. No matter how abusive their treatment is, it's not illegal under federal law.
2. In a recent period prior to the investigation, 18 out of 25 (72 percent) deer slaughtered at Musicon were apparently deemed traif. This means that, for that period at least, the vast majority of deer shechted then can't even be served to kosher consumers, which seems to defeat the purpose of subjecting them to shechita. (One heebnvegan reader recently showed me commentary by Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz that says that about 70 percent of shechted animals aren't deemed kosher and up to 95 percent of shechted animals aren't deemed glatt kosher.)
3. In the big picture, this investigation reveals the unwillingness or inability of kosher certification agencies (e.g., the Orthodox Union) to prevent tza'ar ba'alei chayim (unnecessary animal suffering) in kosher slaughterhouses. "Here we have another example of animal abuse and rabbis stand by and apparently do nothing," noted Failed Messiah's Shmarya Rosenberg in a comment following his blog post. In response to a criticism of this issue because it was brought to light by PETA, another commenter wrote, "[S]how me a Jewish group that is doing the same job exposing the chillul haShem than is regularly occurring at kosher slaughter houses." Unfortunately, there apparently is no group within the Jewish community that goes inside slaughterhouses and exposes the abuses done in the name of kosher slaughter. And there certainly doesn't seem to be much being done by the authorities in the kosher meat industry to fix the problem either.