"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)


Humane Society Legislative Fund Endorses Obama-Biden

For the first time, the Humane Society Legislative Fund (HSLF) has endorsed a candidate for president. Barack Obama was chosen unanimously by the HSLF's board of directors. The full statement from HSLF President Michael Markarian appears below.

Humane Society Legislative Fund Endorses Obama-Biden
Monday, September 22, 2008

One of the guiding principles of the Humane Society Legislative Fund is that we evaluate candidates based on a single criterion: where they stand on animal protection policies. We don’t make decisions based on party affiliation, or any other social issue, or even how many pets they have. We care about their views and actions on the major policy debates relating to animal welfare.

It stirs controversy to get involved in candidate elections. But we believe that candidates for office and current lawmakers must be held accountable, or they will see the animal protection movement as a largely irrelevant political constituency. In order to have good laws, we need good lawmakers, and involvement in elections is an essential strategy for any serious social movement, including our cause.

While we’ve endorsed hundreds of congressional candidates for election, both Democrats and Republicans, we’ve never before endorsed a presidential candidate. We have members on the left, in the center, and on the right, and we knew it could be controversial to choose either party’s candidate for the top office in the nation. But in an era of sweeping presidential power, we must weigh in on this most important political race in the country. Standing on the sidelines is no longer an option for us.

I’m proud to announce today that the HSLF board of directors—which is comprised of both Democrats and Republicans—has voted unanimously to endorse Barack Obama for President. The Obama-Biden ticket is the better choice on animal protection, and we urge all voters who care about the humane treatment of animals, no matter what their party affiliation, to vote for them.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has been a solid supporter of animal protection at both the state and federal levels. As an Illinois state senator, he backed at least a dozen animal protection laws, including those to strengthen the penalties for animal cruelty, to help animal shelters, to promote spaying and neutering, and to ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption. In the U.S. Senate, he has consistently co-sponsored multiple bills to combat animal fighting and horse slaughter, and has supported efforts to increase funding for adequate enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and federal laws to combat animal fighting and puppy mills.

In his response to the HSLF questionnaire, he pledged support for nearly every animal protection bill currently pending in Congress, and said he will work with executive agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior to make their policies more humane. He wrote of the important role animals play in our lives, as companions in our homes, as wildlife in their own environments, and as service animals working with law enforcement and assisting persons with disabilities. He also commented on the broader links between animal cruelty and violence in society.

Obama has even on occasion highlighted animal protection issues on the campaign trail, and has spoken publicly about his support for animal protection. In reaction to the investigation showing the abuse of sick and crippled cows which earlier this year led to the largest meat recall in U.S. history, he issued a statement saying “that the mistreatment of downed cows is unacceptable and poses a serious threat to public health.” He is featured in Jana Kohl’s book about puppy mills, A Rare Breed of Love, with a photo of Obama holding Baby (shown above), the three-legged poodle rescued from an abusive puppy mill operation, and his political mentor, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), is the author of the latest federal bill to crack down on puppy mills.

Importantly, Obama’s running mate, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) has been a stalwart friend of animal welfare advocates in the Senate, and has received high marks year after year on the Humane Scorecard. Biden has not only supported animal protection legislation during his career, but has also led the fight on important issues. He was the co-author with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) in the 108th Congress on legislation to ban the netting of dolphins by commercial tuna fishermen. He was the lead author of a bill in the 107th Congress to prohibit trophy hunting of captive exotic mammals in fenced enclosures, and he successfully passed the bill through the Senate Judiciary Committee.

On the Republican ticket, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has also supported some animal protection bills in Congress, but has been inattentive or opposed to others. He has voted for and co-sponsored legislation to stop horse slaughter, and voted to eliminate a $2 million subsidy for the luxury fur coat industry. But he has largely been absent on other issues, and has failed to co-sponsor a large number of priority bills or sign onto animal protection letters that have had broad support in the Senate.

The McCain campaign did not fill out the HSLF presidential questionnaire, and has also not issued any public statements on animal welfare issues. He was silent during the downed animal scandal and beef recall, which played out during a high-point in the primary fight. Yet he did speak at the NRA convention earlier this year, and is the keynote speaker this weekend in Columbus, Ohio, at the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance rally—an extremist organization that defends the trophy hunting of threatened polar bears and captive shooting of tame animals inside fenced pens.

While McCain’s positions on animal protection have been lukewarm, his choice of running mate cemented our decision to oppose his ticket. Gov. Sarah Palin’s (R-Alaska) retrograde policies on animal welfare and conservation have led to an all-out war on Alaska’s wolves and other creatures. Her record is so extreme that she has perhaps done more harm to animals than any other current governor in the United States.

Palin engineered a campaign of shooting predators from airplanes and helicopters, in order to artificially boost the populations of moose and caribou for trophy hunters. She offered a $150 bounty for the left foreleg of each dead wolf as an economic incentive for pilots and aerial gunners to kill more of the animals, even though Alaska voters had twice approved a ban on the practice. This year, the issue was up again for a vote of the people, and Palin led the fight against it—in fact, she helped to spend $400,000 of public funds to defeat the initiative.

What’s more, when the Bush Administration announced its decision to list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, Palin filed a lawsuit to reverse that decision. She said it’s the “wrong move” to protect polar bears, even though their habitat is shrinking and ice floes are vanishing due to global warming.

The choice for animals is especially clear now that Palin is in the mix. If Palin is put in a position to succeed McCain, it could mean rolling back decades of progress on animal issues.

Voters who care about protecting wildlife from inhumane and unsporting abuses, enforcing the laws that combat large-scale cruelties like dogfighting and puppy mills, providing humane treatment of animals in agriculture, and addressing other challenges that face animals in our nation, must become active over the next six weeks to elect a president and vice president who share our values. Please spread the word, and tell friends and family members that an honest assessment of the records of the two presidential tickets leads to the inescapable conclusion that Obama-Biden is the choice for humane-minded voters.


A Kosher Slaughterhouse Out in Fontana

I'm a big fan of the show Two and a Half Men. I was cracking up a few weeks ago when I saw an episode in which Daisy (Berta's sister) said the following to Charlie about her ex:
Larry was nothing when I met him. He was working at some kosher slaughterhouse out in Fontana before they fired him for being mean to the cattle. The Jewish laws dictate that the animals have to be treated kindly before they get whacked. Larry would taunt them: "Hey, hamburger, guess what's going to happen to you—haha!"

The episode, titled "A Kosher Slaughterhouse Out in Fontana," originally aired November 8, 2004—just a few weeks before PETA went public with its first investigation of AgriProcessors.

Of course, Jewish mandates do call for Jews to avoid causing animals unnecessary suffering (tza'ar ba'alei chayim). Unfortunately, AgriProcessors has been more concerned with the letter of the law than the spirit of it, choosing to focus specifically on the first cut of shechita rather than what happens to the animals "before they get whacked" (or afterward). As recently as a few weeks ago, Rabbi Menachem Weissmandl, who is reportedly the head rabbi at AgriProcessors, said that his focus is "strictly kosher supervision" and that he will not remove his hechsher—despite everything that's gone wrong at AgriProcessors—"as long as the strict guidelines of Kosher Shichitah [are] followed in this plant."

Daisy got it right when she said that Judaism requires animals to be treated kindly. But all too often, the kosher meat industry overlooks that if it doesn't apply to the shechita itself.


Round Challah and Circle Pits

Many of us dream of celebrating Jewish holidays in the Holy Land. If you'll be in Tel Aviv on Sunday, you might want to ring in the new year the punk way. Friday Night Sissy Fight has sent out MySpace bulletins promoting "Rosh Hashana Hardcore Shows" and encouraging people to "Celebrate the Hebrew New Year With Some Punk." Friday Night Sissy Fight will share the stage with Shenkin Punx, Make It Rain, and Ubacore.

I know what you're thinking, dear reader: You'd love to celebrate the High Holidays in Israel, but it's just too far on such short notice. You're in luck.

If you'll be in Prahan, Australia, tomorrow, check out the "Happy Jew Year" punk show. Headlining band Yidcore sent out a MySpace bulletin saying, "Well it's Jew Year next week so we thought we'd give y'all one last chance to rack up a bunch of [s]ins before you wipe your slates clean!!!" The Australian Web site MoshTix had this to add:

If you are Jewish then you will know that September 29 is Jewish New Year.. or "Rosh Hashanah" as it's actually called. It's meant to be a day of rest, the start of their financial year and one's sins are cast away for the new year so that means anything you do at this show on September 27..can be washed away a few days later sound good? Yeah we thought so too. Come down to Revolver Upstairs on Saturday Sept 27 after you've watched the Grand Final and party with Yidcore "The Original Humus Fueled Punk Pranksters!!!", On Like Kong "Those pretty young Jewfro's with guitars" and Master Cardinal "I don't even know if they are Jewish but we like them anyway". Starts 9pm. Happy Jew Year!!
If you'll be in North America, you might just have to get ready for Rosh Hashanah in different ways. Check out Sunday's guest post from Robin Silberman about raw Jewish foods for Rosh Hashanah—if you can't have Friday Night Sissy Fight or Yidcore, at least try the mock gefilte fish and the sprouted lentil salad!

Update (9/28): Friday Night Sissy Fight sent out another MySpace bulletin, this time promising "Rosh Hashana Mayhem at the Patiphone Tonight!" Yidcore sent another MySpace bulletin, which said its show would "be sweeter than apple dipped in honey!"


Yet Another Post About AgriProcessors

There's a lot going on related to AgriProcessors, but I'll start out with the big news. Today, the JTA reported that 12 Jewish members of Congress have sent a letter criticizing AgriProcessors on a variety of issues. The letter largely focuses on animal welfare matters:
The allegations about the company’s treatment of its workers and the animals raise serious questions about the company’s compliance with U.S. law and the highest standards of Jewish law and tradition concerning kashrut–a subject certainly beyond the scope of the U.S. government’s concern, but one of considerable importance to the Jewish communities in our districts. . . .

In addition to our alarm over reports of your company’s extensive, deplorable and illegal treatment of many of its workers, we have been disgusted by revelations about Agriprocessors’ slaughtering practices and the company’s treatment of animals. Between January 1, 2006 and January 24, 2007, Agriprocessors was issued five separate citations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for faulty monitoring of mad cow disease and more than a dozen citations for fecal and bile contamination of beef and poultry, which resulted in two separate meat recalls. A 2005 report by the USDA Inspector General also found evidence of inhumane slaughter practices.

After an undercover investigation by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in 2004 showed footage of cattle walking inside the Agriprocessors facility with slit throats ... the company asked Dr. Temple Grandin, a well-respected expert in the fields of animal rights and humane slaughtering practices, to tour the facility and recommend reforms.

More recently, another undercover PETA investigation filmed the use of a practice known as “gouging,” which inflicts deep, agonizing, saw-like wounds onto an animal immediately after the rabbi completed the ritual cut as proscribed by Jewish law. The new report led Dr. Grandin to rescind her earlier support of the slaughtering practices employed by the company and recommend the permanent installment of cameras that would be independently monitored. . . .

We would appreciate a detailed explanation of the steps Agriprocessors will be taking ... to address the company’s systemic problems and ensure the humane and ethical treatment of both workers and animals in accordance with both U.S. laws and Jewish standards.

The Forward reported:
“We wanted them to know from whence this came — that they have conducted this offense and that we are particularly offended as Jews,” Rep. Gary Ackerman, a New York Democrat who organized the letter, told the Forward. “As my mother used to say, it’s a shande to the goyim.”

Ackerman said that they had deliberately asked only Jewish members of Congress to add their signatures.

I've been following the AgriProcessors saga since 2004, and it's heartening to see more and more that people in power are catching on. In the words of British politician Tony Benn, "It’s the same each time with progress. First they ignore you, then they say you’re mad, then dangerous, then there’s a pause, and then you can’t find anyone who disagrees with you." Slowly but surely, we're getting there.

Other AgriProcessors News

  • Last Wednesday, Yeshiva World News posted an interview with Rabbi Menachem Genack, head of kosher supervision for the Orthodox Union. When asked why AgriProcessors rather than any other company has been the focus of so much controversy and attention (from the government, media, activists, consumers, etc.), Rabbi Genack noted that it is in part "because Agri was in the crosshairs after the story with PETA four years ago." That backs up what I've been saying all along: The 2004 animal welfare scandal at AgriProcessors is one of the chief foundations of the current/ongoing saga.
  • Earlier this month, Shmarya Rosenberg from FailedMessiah posted a must-read overview of the ongoing AgriProcessors saga on Jewcy, discussing both animal welfare aspects and other topics. Says Rosenberg, "I’d like to say that the Jewish community deserves better than this – but we don’t. We stood by silently as Agriprocessors business practices became exponentially more abusive and exploitative. Having access to kosher meat was more important that how that access was gained or who was hurt as a result."
  • Last week, AgriProcessors hired a new CEO, Bernard Feldman. The Associated Press reported that Feldman "said Agriprocessors has treated its workers fairly," FailedMessiah noted. Click here to read an open letter (courtesy of FailedMessiah) to Feldman from a Postville, Iowa, resident. "As you decide what is 'right for the company,' please try to decide what is right for the community, too," says the letter.
  • I often link to articles from secular media, Jewish papers, and relatively few Jewish blogs, but it's nice to have another perspective from time to time. Here's a thought-provoking piece from a J-blog called Jewneric in which the writer explains why he and his wife have stopped buying "any Kosher butchered red meat." The post says, "Every single shechita should be done the best way possible. Anything less than this means unnecessary tza’ar ba’ale chaim to the animal. While we are permitted to cause the minimal pain necessary to slaughter the animal, we are obligated to ensure that we cause only the minimal pain."
  • A new article in The Jewish Week suggests that AgriProcessors and Hekhsher Tzedek will be common sermon topics for many rabbis during the High Holidays. "The issues of our day include topics like Darfur and the ethical treatment of animals,” says Rabbi Eric Stark, director of the Union for Reform Judaism Greater New York Council.


A Post in the Key of Random

The Jew & The Carrot and Rosh Hashanah
Yesterday, The Jew & The Carrot posted links to some great recipes for Rosh Hashanah and clearly noted which ones are vegan. Click here to check out the blog's Healthy and Sustainable Rosh Hashanah Resources. On Friday, The Jew & The Carrot suggested a half-dozen different vegan alternatives to honey. (My general position on honey is that "if we choose to avoid honey, fine. Let’s just not make a huge production of it ...," as a Michael Greger article I'd linked to on The Jew & The Carrot said, so I was surprised to see my name besides those of two rabbis and the blog's EIC on this topic!)

To the Heart of Shalom
Two years ago, I wrote a post exploring whether there's a Jewish connection to Celtic punk/rock. Last night, at a Virginia Beach venue called the Jewish Mother, I saw a Christian Celtic-punk band named Flatfoot 56. It's worth noting that in the chorus of their song "Hold Fast" (click here to see a live performance), they sing, "From the depths of Sheol to the heart of shalom / We will stand strong together; we will never be alone." I get the impression that the band often plays to an Oi! crowd that attracts a lot of skinheads, but their "An eye for an eye and we'll all be blind!" message makes them more than OK in my book!

Hurricane Bear
heebnvegan readers will probably recall the story of Jacob "The Golden Ghost" Calle, a Texan vegan who hurt his leg in a Houston air guitar contest. (heebnvegan broke the news in July, and the Houston Press' blog picked up the story shortly afterward.) Last weekend, Calle went to Galveston, Texas, to clown around during Hurricane Ike. After a TV station showed Calle in the bear suit as part of its hurricane coverage, the hilarious video was seen by many on YouTube and posted to numerous blogs, including the Sun Sentinel's blog. The Wall Street Journal's blog picked up the story, and CNN even found a way to work in the video in its coverage of Ralph Nader's presidential campaign. VH1 used Calle's stunt as one of two examples of how "news crashing" has reached a new level. For more information and to order Hurricane Bear merchandise (including a Hurricane Bear mousepad), go to HurricaneBear.com.

David Foster Wallace
Revered author David Foster Wallace was found dead earlier this month. In 2004, Wallace wrote a groundbreaking article for Gourmet magazine (you read that right) exploring the ethical issues associated with eating lobsters and causing them to suffer. He made the point—better than most can—that we need to consider animals’ pain and suffering rather than just blindly consuming them without any regard for their interests. The Jew & The Carrot called "Consider the Lobster" a "beautiful, compassionate, soul-searching article on man’s relationship with food." In the article, Wallace wrote, "[A]fter all the abstract intellection, there remain the facts of the frantically clanking lid, the pathetic clinging to the edge of the pot. Standing at the stove, it is hard to deny in any meaningful way that this is a living creature experiencing pain and wishing to avoid/escape the painful experience."

Livni the Vegetarian
On Thursday, I noted that Tzipi Livni, who might soon become Israel's prime minister, is a vegetarian. Although it mocks the topic at hand, I can't help but link to this post from the blog of Andrew Silow-Carroll, the editor-in-chief of the New Jersey Jewish News.


Rosh Hashanah Guest Post: Raw Jewish Foods—What's That All About?

The following guest post was written by Robin Silberman, a technical writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She gives Living Food Lifestyle classes, demonstrations, and consultations to individuals and groups. For more information or to purchase her book, L’Chaim To Life, contact her at Cockatoo77777@yahoo.com.

Everyone understands the Jewish vegetarian. In the '70s and '80s, many of us went to potlucks and seders, and we brought with us those dishes that we knew we wanted to eat. Those food experiments were precarious, at best, putting our digestive systems on a roulette wheel, and hoping for the best outcome. Through a progressive change in the way I ate over the years, my vegetarian past became my vegan future. And I made the change again to Raw/Living foods when I studied with Ann Wigmore, the grandmother of the modern Living Foods Lifestyle movement. Through “Dr. Ann” I learned the basics of Living Foods: wheatgrass juice for detoxing, cleansing, and building the immune system; eating sprouts for easy-to-digest nutrition; and combining foods in order to improve digestion and metabolism – everything I needed to do for myself in order to make my body work better.

But with Living Foods I was left with a gap in eating a culturally rich diet. What was I to eat at a seder? A simple green salad if I could find it on the table, in the midst of kugel, gefilte fish, and tsimmes. Even matzah made “the old fashioned way” was off limits as a Living Foods practitioner. In 2002, after 2 years of researching Haggadot for Passover, I published L’Chaim To Life: A Living Foods Passover Haggadah with Recipes for the Seder. I now had a way to eat for Passover.

The High Holidays – Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – also represent a very social time for Jews. It’s the New Year. It’s the time when Jews think about change and renewal, facing their past with mistakes and failed expectations, and moving forward to the future. During this period of time, people make decisions about all aspects of their lives. Choosing to become a more thoughtful consumer by conscientiously eating is a big change for people. If being a vegetarian doesn’t meet all of your expectations – either from a humane, biblical, eco-friendly, or health perspective – think about small improvements you can make that will really make a difference from a personal point of reference.

Eating is a big deal, and to Jews, eating is a very big deal in a social and familial setting. Because Jewish culture is represented prominently with food from all over the world, it is next to impossible to sit down for a traditional meal without some dish we recognize from our past. The joy of being Jewish and taking my food culture to the next level is invigorating. Whether you are Ashkenazi, Sephardi, or Mizrachi, there are Jewish recipes that can be tweaked to represent the vegetarian, vegan, and living foods practitioner in all of us. Because Rosh Hashanah represents renewal, I love making sprout dishes, with my favorite being Sprouted Lentil Salad. It’s made with green, red, and black lentils that have been soaked and sprouted, which I serve at most raw potlucks. I love this salad because it is nutritious and easy to make, and you can add various vegetables to the mix without changing the character of the salad. The colors of this salad make it very inviting to eat. At this time of year, I also love making bitter green salads, using dandelion greens, arugula, turnip greens, beet greens, cilantro, parsley, kale, mustard, and sprouted sunflower seed greens. I add finely grated carrots for color, and I make a lemon/avocado/olive oil dressing and add dulse seaweed for a salty taste. This salad packs a lot of nutrition given the chlorophyll content of all the greens.

Although I have spent several years experimenting with recipes, and giving public demos, I haven’t finished yet – and certainly not with Jewish recipes. I am currently working on other traditional Jewish recipes, and my particular interest – ethnic recipes from a Living Foods perspective. My next book, Robin’s Raw Recipes, will incorporate all of my Jewish recipes, and those global ethnic recipes as well. I believe that people will eat healthier food when that food represents their cultural heritage. From a Raw and Living Foods perspective, there is much work that needs to be done. Understanding cultural foods and how they can be combined into authentic cuisine is still an unknown path to be tapped – from a “food book” perspective.

My Mock Gefilte Fish recipe can be used for Rosh Hashanah and for other Jewish holidays, including Passover.

As an added resource, there are a few other people recognized in the Raw Jewish community who are working on Raw Jewish recipes. You can find them on the Yahoo Group site Raw Jewish Food.

Both of the following recipes are copyrighted (2002) and are not to be copied or used on other Web sites or blogs or in books without permission from Robin Silberman.

Mock 'Gefilte Fish'
Traditional Gefilte Fish is a standard part of any Ashkenazi holiday meal. As children, generations past would always watch as Grandmothers would spend the day preparing the four kinds of minced-fish and boiling it for hours until all the flavors would blend together. As Living Fooders, we do not need to sit on the sidelines watching others eat. Here is one contribution that will make a very welcomed entrance for all vegetarians.

½ cup cashews, soaked overnight
½ cup almonds, soaked overnight
½ cup pine nuts, soaked overnight
½ cup green onion /scallions, chopped
½ bunch parsley, chopped
¼ cup water
2 tsp Braggs Amino’s, Dr. Bronners Bullion, Nama Shoyu or another “salty” liquid
¼ - ½ cup lemon juice
1 clove or more fresh garlic
½ tsp onion powder
1 tsp – 1 TBS or more of kelp granules (this creates the “fishy” flavor)

In a Champion juicer, run the soaked cashews, almonds, and pine nuts through with the ‘solid’ blank attached. The mixture will come out very thick. Turn into a bowl and add the lemon juice, aminos, and a small amount of the water until it is a wet paté consistency, adding more water if needed. Mix. Add the onions, parsley, and other seasonings. Taste for flavor and “fishiness.” Form into patties, and let seasonings continue to flavor the paté. Serve on a bed of lettuce with a small amount of fresh grated horseradish on the side. Serves 4 – 8 or more depending on the size of the patties.

Sprouted Lentil Salad
¼ cup red lentils
¼ cup green lentils
¼ cup black lentils (or French lentils)

chopped celery
chopped green onions
chopped parsley
chopped cilantro
grated carrots
grated beets
chopped red cabbage
1 red bell pepper, or ½ red and ½ green pepper
½ sweet red or yellow onion
grated zucchini (optional)
diced cucumber (optional)

lemon juice
extra virgin olive oil or sesame oil
dulse seaweed, kelp seaweed, or sea salt
Nama Shoyu or Soy sauce
a pinch of cayenne pepper
1 clove garlic or more

Wash the lentils in water separately, making sure that there are no stones or other matter in the lentils. Soak the lentils in tepid water in a glass jar or in a bowl overnight. They will expand by at least a ½ if not more, so make sure there is enough water for them to expand without going dry. Drain the water in the morning, rinse them in cold water under the faucet and put them in a colander or other container where they can germinate for at least 4-6 hours. You will know they have germinated by a tiny growth tail, and they will be soft to eat.

Chop and grate your vegetables, adding or subtracting the vegetables you want to eat. Those in the list are some of the choices you have. Add your own favorites. Put all of these vegetables in a different bowl from the sprouted lentils.

Mix the lemon juice, oil, and spices in a bowl or container.

Putting your salad together

The amount of lentils in your salad should be about 1/2 of the ingredients. Add handfuls of your chopped and grated vegetables and mix thoroughly. Add the dressing and taste the salad. Let the salad “marinate” for at least an hour, so that the flavors soak into everything. Taste again and add more dressing if needed. This salad can be served with other vegetable dishes or green salads. For optimum digestion, do not eat this salad with fruit dishes.


News From Israel

Vegetarian to Become Prime Minister?
Yesterday, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni won the Kadima Party's primary, which means it's likely she'll soon become prime minister. Livni is "a strict vegetarian out of concern for animal rights," the Washington Post noted today. On his blog Checkpoint Jerusalem, vegetarian Dion Nissenbaum wrote a post titled "Vegetarian Set to Lead Israel." On Sunday, a senior correspondent for the St. Petersburg Times quipped that "we don't know how Livni and Sarah 'moose stew' Palin will get along. Livni reportedly is a vegetarian." (Click here to read my recent post about Palin's moose-hunting, among other things.)

Spay/Neuter Campaign
On Monday, Israeli Minister of Agriculture Shalom Simhon and Minister of Environmental Protection Gideon Ezra launched a national campaign (for the second straight year) to promote spaying and neutering. "Spaying and neutering are the right and humane way to stop the vicious cycle of hundreds of thousands of births - and hundreds of thousands of deaths," said the two ministers. Read more on the Ministry of Environmental Protection's Web site.

Identifying Dog Feces With DNA
Petah Tikva (a suburb of Tel Aviv) has launched a program to identify dog feces through DNA testing in an effort to reward and punish dogs' guardians. As a post on Israellycool put it, "While Hamas fights the Doghmush clan, Israel begins its fight against dog mush."

Petition Against the Weizmann Institute
A few times in the last month, I've received an online petition calling for an end to animal experiments at Israel's Weizmann Institute. Click here to see the petition.


Inhumane Treatment of Animals and Child Labor Charges at AgriProcessors

On Thursday, I wrote, "Sentiment against AgriProcessors appears to have hit rock bottom." Just when it seemed as though things couldn't get much worse for AgriProcessors, they did.

Inhumane Treatment of Animals

Last month, I talked about how the animals' side of the story hasn't been the focus of the ongoing AgriProcessors saga as much as it should be. A new PETA undercover investigation could help bring more attention to animal suffering in the kosher meat industry.

On Thursday night, The New York Times reported that PETA had again gone undercover at AgriProcessors. The mid-August investigation—which followed PETA's 2004 investigation at the Iowa slaughterhouse and 2007 investigation at Nebraska's Local Pride (which is also owned by the Rubashkin family)—revealed animal abuse that had been hidden from public view. Undercover video footage showed that a worker other than the shochet made a "second cut" to animals' throats following the initial cut of shechitah, which is a big no-no. This second cut was not made when Dr. Temple Grandin (the world's foremost expert on slaughter methods) visited AgriProcessors in 2006 or when rabbis and community leaders visited on July 31 of this year.

On Saturday, the Des Moines Register reported:
Federal regulations bar workers performing kosher slaughter from making the second cut unless a rabbi is watching.

Agriculture Department inspectors followed up on the video and determined that a worker had violated the regulation and issued the citation, known as a "noncompliance record," said Amanda Eamich, a spokeswoman for USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service.

PETA is calling the USDA's citation of AgriProcessors for violating the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act a "Victory!" but is also asking for more. Per Dr. Grandin's recommendation, PETA is demanding that a live video-monitoring system be installed at AgriProcessors to help ensure that animal abuse can no longer take place when it's assumed that nobody is watching. Click here to urge the USDA to work with AgriProcessors to implement such a system.

Yesterday, the JTA came out with a terrific article about how this new development has cost AgriProcessors the support of Dr. Grandin:

Dr. Temple Grandin, an animal scientist who has served as consultant to scores of slaughterhouses across the country, said the practice shown in the video -- in which two workers make "gouging," saw-like cuts into the necks of animals immediately after the ritual cut performed by a rabbi -- is inhumane.

Grandin said she hasn't seen that type of second cut at any of the 30 or so kosher slaughterhouses she has visited, nor did she see it when she toured the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa, in 2006 and declared it satisfactory. The practice also was not in evidence in a video released by a Long Island Jewish newspaper of a visit to Postville by 25 Orthodox rabbis on July 31; after visiting, the clergymen said the plant adhered to the highest standards of kosher practice.

The new video, shot Aug. 13 by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, known as PETA, has led Grandin to conclude that slaughterhouse visits are useless in determining whether animals are being treated properly. She has called for Agriprocessors to install round-the-clock video cameras on the kill floor that can be independently audited by a third party over the Internet.

“There's no point,” Grandin said of the visits. “I've been in business 35 years, and I'm getting sick and tired of: They act good when you're there and they don't act good when your back is turned. They did the same thing for the rabbis they would do for me -- put on a show.”

AgriProcessors' treatment of animals seemed to garner a decent amount of media coverage in Jewish papers, Jewish blogs, and secular media. Today, however, the spotlight shifted.

9,311 Child Labor Charges

Today, the Iowa attorney general's office reportedly filed 9,311 child labor charges against AgriProcessors and each of five individual defendants—including owner Abraham Aaron Rubashkin and former plant manager Sholom Rubashkin. Each count carries a maximum of 30 days in jail and a fine between $65 and $625. The Associated Press explains:
The more than 9,000 violations the state alleges fall into five categories: employing a child under age 18 in a meatpacking plant; employing a child under age 18 in an occupation that exposes the child to dangerous or poisonous chemicals; employing a child under age 16 who operated power machinery; employing a child under age 16 who worked during prohibited hours or more hours in a day than permitted by law; and employing a child under 16 who worked more days in a week than permitted by law.

It said the company's records also show that employees were not paid for all overtime worked.
It took 9,311 criminal charges per defendant, but the Orthodox Union (OU) is finally not taking the news of AgriProcessors' shameful conduct sitting down. Rabbi Menachem Genack, head of kosher supervision for the OU, told the JTA that the OU will suspend its supervision of AgriProcessors if there isn't new management within two weeks. Rabbi Genack reportedly told FailedMessiah that AgriProcessors must hire a "new independent CEO" and that the Rubashkin family "can’t be involved in running the plant — actually hands on running of the plant." In other words, change is on its way.

Perhaps there's no better way to end than with some user comments from FailedMessiah:
  • "It's starting (or maybe ending?)."
  • "It's really all over now. The fat lady has sung."
  • "It's very heartening to see the wheels of justice in actual motion. This is just the beginning, folks."
  • Scroll down to the fourth comment here (from Yochanan Lavie) for an outlandish and hilarious parody of Elvis Presley's "Jailhouse Rock," titled "Rubbishcan Rock."

(Update 9/19/09: I reflected back on my promotion of "Rubbishcan Rock" and regret making light of Sholom Rubashkin's situation in this manner.)


Quite Possibly the Last 'Miscellaneous Post' of 5768

Sentiment against AgriProcessors appears to have hit rock bottom. As Failed Messiah noted, two leading U.S. daily papers published editorials criticizing AgriProcessors today. In a piece titled "More Immigration Chutzpah," The Boston Globe wrote, "Agriprocessors wants it both ways: to continue to exploit illegal workers, but not to give them a chance to improve their lot. If owners don't want their illegal workers to demand better conditions, they shouldn't hire them." In an article titled "What Is AgriProcessors Thinking?", the Los Angeles Times wrote, "With its immigration-related labor woes in Iowa, where it runs the nation's largest kosher meatpacking plant, you'd think Agriprocessors would have learned its lesson. Instead, like immigrants who keep coming back after being deported, it's doing all it can to exploit every crack in the United States' broken immigration system."

On The Jew & The Carrot yesterday, Rabbi David Seidenberg wrote, "There’s a level of public lying which is not easily excused. A level which is so lowly and bald-faced that there really can’t be any normal or average t’shuvah process (repentance) for it. I think Agriprocessors may have reached that level a while ago." He concluded, "At the very least, the level of t’shuvah required before Agri can be considered ne’eman, trustworthy people, should require us to keep in place a long-term boycott."

I could go on and on about AgriProcessors, but I'll delve into other issues.

Alle Processing
In the wake of the May raid at AgriProcessors, Alle Processing has become the leading kosher beef producer in the U.S., the Forward reported today. In response to that article, Failed Messiah points out, "Workers get no health insurance, have no paid vacations, and have little to no safety training. . . . Workers are compelled to work overtime without notice or risk firing or suspension without pay. Workers have no paid sick leave and are not paid for time spent at home if injured on the job. Workers are not paid for holidays when the plant is closed and, when the plant closes for Jewish holidays, the workers are not paid, either." Failed Messiah concludes:
You want to keep kosher but you care about the rest of Jewish law, the parts that demand fair treatment for workers? What should you do?

You have to stop eating meat.

Hekhsher Tzedek
Looking for some sense of hope that the kosher meat industry might not stay as dismal as it's been portrayed thus far in this post? The New York Jewish Week reports that Hekhsher Tzedek is moving forward, including by meeting with an Orthodox kosher certification agency and reaching out to food companies that might use the new hechsher. The JTA reported on Tuesday that the Conservative movement's Hekhsher Tzedek initiative has received the endorsement of the Reform movement's Board of Trustees of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Click here to read my post from last month about Hekhsher Tzedek's animal welfare guidelines.

Last week, I noted that PETA had sent a letter urging New York government officials to crack down on a kapporos center in Brooklyn for apparent cruelty to animals and potential consumer fraud. Click here to read a much more extensive JTA article about this, courtesy of Failed Messiah. Failed Messiah also posted a terrific firsthand account of someone who used to practice kapporos but has since stopped:
I used to do kaparot with a live chicken for years, part of my chassidic heritage though I am [Modern Orthodox]. I was never comfortable with the ritual but I thought that animals were created for us and as long as there was no outright cruelty then no problem. This changed 3 years ago when I went to monsey for kaparot. The biggest one there is done by Vishnitz. Apparantly some kollel guy tried to do some business where he bought as many chickens as possible crammed in as tight a spot as possible. To save money of course. Anyway the vast majority of chickens died of asphixiation and heat stroke from not having water and too many chickens crammed together generated so much body heat they died. So what did the frum businessman do? He appologizes and then applies the laws of supply and demand and raises the prices. Here comes the kicker, the chickens were not going to be used for poor people to eat. They were going to be sold at market and money donated to poor people. Everyone could have prevented the mass tzar baalei chaim and just donated the money. Since then I use money. I don't know how someone can be harsh to an animal and proceed to ask God for compassion the next minute.

Bark Mitzvah
Fox 5 New York ran a cute story about a $10,000 bark mitzvah. Elvis the dog read an arftorah and wore a tallis and a kippah. Guests even danced the hora. Elvis' guardian fired the rabbi who was supposed to be at the event because the rabbi questioned whether a bark mitzvah was appropriate. Click here to read my post from last year about the bark mitzvah trend.


News From the Campaign Trail

Note: I don't mean to suggest that Judaism and animal rights should decide a presidential election. But they are the focus of this blog.

Sarah Palin
Tonight, all eyes in the political world were on Republican VP nominee and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as she gave a speech at the Republican National Convention. And who was the speechwriter she worked with? Matthew Scully, the author of Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy.

Today, the Austin American-Statesman ran a terrific article juxtaposing Palin's love for hunting and Scully's criticism of it. The piece included lengthy excerpts from Dominion. The article concluded: "So far today, no response from Scully about how he reconciles his work for Palin and his feelings about hunting. A political operative familiar with Scully offered this: 'Yeah, there is a kind of delicious irony re Scully working for the moose hunter, eh?'"

On Friday, Greenopolis ran a great piece about Palin's views on various issues related to animals and the environment. Reportedly, Palin hunts moose, wants polar bears not to be classified as endangered species, and supports the aerial hunting of bears and wolves. The post includes two photos of Palin wearing fur as well as one where she's sitting in front of a dead bear.

According to The Seattle Times, Palin's passion for hunting comes from her father, Chuck Heath, who has a "PETA — People For Eating Tasty Animals" bumper sticker on the trailer on his driveway. And according to Ecorazzi, "It turns out [Palin's] own parents had just returned from hunting caribou when they discovered that she had been tapped as Sen. John McCain’s running mate."

The Obamas
Click here to read my February post about Sen. Barack Obama, which includes a great quote from him about the treatment of animals.

For quite some time, it's been known that the Obama family plans to get a dog after the election. In July, Humane Society of the United States president and CEO Wayne Pacelle reportedly announced that the Obamas would adopt a dog. Earlier that month, Pacelle wrote, "The overwhelming view among animal advocates is that the Obamas should go to a shelter or breed rescue group to obtain a dog. With 3-4 million dogs and cats killed in public and private shelters, there are many lives to be saved, and the simple act of giving a home to a dog who might have faced euthanasia would do wonders for the cause of adoption from shelters."

Yesterday, the Forward reported that Michelle Obama's first cousin once removed is a rabbi. According to the paper, Rabbi Capers Funnye is the most prominent black rabbi in the U.S. The paper notes, "Funnye’s famous relative gives an unexpected twist to the much-analyzed relationship between Barack Obama and Jews in this presidential campaign."


The Conservative Movement's Greening Initiative

Last week, the JTA reported that the Conservative movement has launched a "greening initiative":
A project of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, the initiative kicks off with a solar Ner Tamid, or eternal light, for synagogues, and soy-based Shabbat eco-candles for home use. ...

A third prong is encouraging community support for carbon offset programs in North America and Israel. The programs involve planting trees, cleaning rivers and performing other environmentally sustainable actions.

The fourth component is using biodegradable building and food service supplies. A joint purchasing agreement is in place to help Conservative institutions buy such products in bulk instead of non-reusable plates, cups and utensils.

“Being green is a Jewish imperative,” said Rabbi Charles Simon, the executive director of the men’s club federation. “Our goal is to reduce synagogue, and congregant and community energy usage, and promote the use of sustainable energy.”

It's nice to see that the Conservative movement is taking practical steps on important issues. (See last month's post about Hekhsher Tzedek.) But as the Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) noted in a news release, "as praiseworthy as their initiative is, we respectfully believe that they are ignoring a major contributor to current environmental threats: animal-based agriculture." Click here to read more about the connection between animal agriculture and environmental devastation.

The JVNA news release adds, "It is essential that our rabbis and other Jewish leaders recognize that a major shift toward plant-based diets is essential to avoid the unparalleled disaster that the world is rapidly approaching and to move our precious, but imperiled, planet to a sustainable path. It is urgent that tikkun olam-the healing and repair of the world -- be a central issue in synagogues, Jewish schools and other Jewish institutions. Judaism has splendid teachings on environmental conservation and sustainability, and it is essential that they be applied to respond to the many current environmental threats."

Looking for more information? Check out the JVNA's award-winning documentary, A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World.