"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)


'Animals and Their Jewish Guardians' in Tikkun

Sandra Nathan has written an in-depth overview of Jews in the animal protection movement for Tikkun magazine. Nathan asks, "Prominent within [the movement] is an impressive register of founders, leaders, authors, filmmakers, and celebrities who happen to be Jewish. Or do they happen to be animal advocates because they are Jewish?"

heebnvegan is featured in the article, and I'm quoted as follows:
The more I get involved in animal rights activism, the more I feel in touch with my Jewish identity. Running a blog about Judaism and animal protection issues has demonstrated just how important—and consistent with Jewish teachings—it is for Jews to be vegetarian. Activism to "repair the world" (tikkun olam) is a commanding force in the lives of many Jews. That meshes with the Jewish ideal of minimizing tsa'ar ba'alei chayim (unnecessary animal suffering). The suffering and inhumane treatment of the billions of farmed animals, both during their lives and at slaughter, is an atrocity we shouldn't stand for.
Quite a bit in the article is familiar territory for longtime heebnvegan readers (which certainly isn't a bad thing, because obviously the goal is to reach a different audience). Here are some other highlights:

  • Nathan points out that Lewis Gompertz, who founded the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in the U.K. in 1824, was Jewish.
  • The article notes that Jews for Animal Rights "was founded on the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Avraham Kook's philosophy, 'to establish justice for animals, to search for the claim of their rights from mankind, which are hidden in the moral psychic sensibility in the deeper layers of the Torah.'"
  • It's noted that Lewis Regenstein, author of Replenish the Earth: A History of Organized Religion's Treatment of Animals and Nature and president of the Interfaith Council for the Protection of Animals and Nature, is Jewish. The group is an affiliate of The Humane Society of the United States and has the following as its mission: "to instill in one of the nation's most powerful institutions—organized religion—a responsibility to speak out against the threats to the survival of our planet Earth. There is a wonderful, if largely forgotten, heritage of respect for nature and animals in our religious traditions."
  • Filmmakers Frederick Wiseman (Primate and Meat), Victor Schonfeld (The Animals Film), and Jenny Stein (The Witness and Peaceable Kingdom) are "outed" as members of the tribe.


Guest Post: Passover From a Living Foods Perspective

Editor's Note: If you're having trouble coming up with vegan meal ideas for Passover, you can think about raw cuisine. After indulging in some raw goodies, expanding to other vegan, kosher-for-Passover foods probably won't seem so limited.

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: A Living Foods Passover Haggadah With Recipes for the Seder, contact her at Cockatoo77777@yahoo.com.

Passover is a time of feasting for Jews, especially during the first two days at the seder table. But a feast for a vegetarian/vegan/living-raw-food practitioner can be a dilemma of eating.

During Pesach, Jews need to be vigilant, making sure that all of what is consumed is “kosher l’pesach,” with all of the packaged goods labeled accordingly. Vegetarians/vegans need to make sure of the “bli basar” – without meat ingredients, and for those who practice “kashrut,” we need to make sure of the non-dairy ingredients as well.

For those of us who are raw foodists, fresh fruits and veggies are less of a concern than what grains and/or legumes we eat and how we eat them. For those who follow strict “kitniyot” constraints, which most Ashkenazi Jews follow, nothing in the grain/legume family is really acceptable, making eating for 8 days even more difficult. What might be construed as a grass might be a grain, and alternatives seem helpless.

Seasonal veggies, such as asparagus, broccoli, zucchini, and spinach, make excellent choices for entrée basics, but what I have found more intriguing is experimenting with Sephardic choices. Because the majority of Jews in this country tend to be Ashkenazi, Sephardic culinary dishes are not normally made. In researching dishes for L’Chaim To Life: A Living Foods Passover Haggadah With Recipes for the Seder, I found some extraordinary recipes that can be eaten for Passover. There are several Sephardic recipes for haroset, which are intriguing and certainly different from the normal apples–walnuts–grape-juice combinations we grew up with as Ashkenazi children.

I took the Moroccan Haroset recipe, changed a few ingredients, and made it into a dessert, calling it Moroccan Paradise. It is truly heaven, with the sweetness we associate with haroset recipes and the complexity of a North African sunset. This is a really heavy dish, and serving it as a dessert, rather than as a haroset, makes it easier to eat for digestion. Having discovered the richness of this recipe, and the adaptability for a vegetarian/vegan/raw seder dish, I serve it every year for a Living Foods Passover. Bring it to potlucks, and receive the ultimate “mit’suyan”— excellent.

בטי אב׀ן B’tai Avoan (Bon Appétit)

Moroccan-Style Haroset

25 pitted dates, halved
10 large brown dried Calimyrna (Greek-style) figs, stems removed
20 dried apricots, halved or quartered, and soaked overnight (preferably in orange juice)
10 large pitted prunes, soaked overnight (preferably in orange juice)
2 cups walnut pieces, not soaked
1 cup chopped or slivered almonds, not soaked
½ cup raw shelled pistachios, not soaked
¼ cup fresh grape juice (fresh orange juice is an option as well)
Ground cinnamon, to taste

Put dried fruit and nuts into a Champion juicer or food processor, and process into a paté. Add the juice and the cinnamon. Roll into small balls, and serve.

Click here to read Robin Silberman's Rosh Hashanah guest post on heebnvegan, which features a Mock 'Gefilte Fish' recipe that can also be made for Passover.


Punk Torah, Israeli Fur Ban Proposed, Being Vegan on Passover, and Birkat Hachama

Punk Torah
"If you're truly Jewish, and truly punk, you know that it's all about going against the grain, resisting authority when you know it's wrong, and doing your own thing," said Patrick A. in one of his recent "Punk Torah" videos on YouTube. Another recent video focused on why "punk rockers should embrace Judaism" while a Dead Kennedys song played in the background. For Parshat Vayikra, Patrick A. noted that "many Jews have chosen vegetarianism as the ultimate G-dly, kosher diet."

Click here to see Punk Torah's YouTube channel, and click here to go to Punk Torah's MySpace page. Also, check out my December 30 and January 15 posts mentioning CAN CAN, of which Patrick A. is the singer.

Bill to Ban Fur in Israel
On March 18, MK Nitzan Horowitz introduced a Knesset bill that would ban the importation, production, and sale of fur in Israel. "In light of this bill, Israel takes a giant leap forward; from having no existing law concerning fur; to becoming the first nation on the planet to [propose to] completely protect all fur bearing animals from the suffering and death inflicted upon millions of animals at the hands of the fur industry the world over," noted an International Anti-Fur Coalition news release.

The news release added, "Last month, a report on Israel's channel 10 ... revealed that items from the top fashion chain stores to cheap toys in bazaars, that what was being sold as fake fur was indeed real fur. Lab tests had shown that several articles taken from leading Israeli brands and sold as fake fur were made of dog and rabbit fur!"

Being Vegan on Passover
On Thursday, The Jew & The Carrot featured a post about being vegan on Passover. The more years I do it, the easier it gets. The discussion following the post asks "if there’s a rabbinic authority out there that would give Ashkenazi vegans the option to break with tradition, and eat kitniyot," and the answer is a resounding yes! See the "Pesach Resources for Vegans" for more information. (Note: That guide erroneously referred to legumes and rice as chametz. They're actually classified as kitniyot.) And check back tomorrow for a Passover-themed guest post.

Birkat Hachama
The next Jewish holiday is Birkat Hachama, not Passover. Birkat Hachama, a celebration of the sun, occurs once every 28 years. Check out Jewschool's post about this rare holiday, which features links to resources and an 1897 New York Times article that explains how a rabbi got arrested for celebrating Birkat Hachama without a permit.


Foie Gras Journalism at Its Finest

For a couple of years, foie gras was my number-one issue as an animal activist. I opposed the cruel manner in which ducks and geese were force-fed such that their livers grew tenfold. I participated in countless protests for the "Foie Gras-Free Pittsburgh" campaign, which got approximately a dozen restaurants to stop selling foie gras. I wrote a song, designed a leaflet, drafted press releases, was interviewed by two Pittsburgh newspapers, inspired a yet-to-be-published novel when an author saw a protest, and came up with one of my all-time favorite protest ideas. As part of the heated "foie gras war" in Pittsburgh, someone once spray-painted "F*** Michael Croland" and "[Another activist] is a duckwh*re" on the sidewalk. I wrote letters to the editor, blog posts, op-eds, and a feature article about foie gras for Newsday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Jewish Chronicle of Pittsburgh, and 10 other publications; two of those pieces helped me win The Humane Society of the United States' 2004 Student Genesis Award. Particularly for my New Voices article, I tried to hear from both sides; I interviewed Michael Ginor and Izzy Yanay of Hudson Valley Foie Gras and read Ginor's book, Foie Gras: A Passion. By the end of this phase of my life, I had ever-more questions about foie gras, I toyed with the idea of visiting Hudson Valley, and I concluded that other factory-farming issues were more deserving of activists' time and resources.

Suffice it to say that I've had a lot of background with this issue. With that being said, I tip my hat to Mark Caro for The Foie Gras Wars: How a 5,000-Year-Old Delicacy Inspired the World's Fiercest Food Fight, which was published by Simon & Schuster earlier this month. Caro, a longtime Chicago Tribune reporter, gives an informative and brilliantly evenhanded account of activists' opposition to foie gras, the foie gras industry's defense, and the legal, political, and activist battles that have ensued in recent years. This book adheres to the highest journalistic standards for covering an issue with such differing viewpoints. Click here to read yesterday's interview with Caro in Time.

The book talks about many Jewish connections to the foie gras debate, going far beyond my 2005 post about that topic. It includes thorough interview excerpts with Ginor and Yanay, who became enchanted with foie gras in Israel, and Jewish GourmetCruelty.com activists Sarahjane Blum and Ryan Shapiro. It provides an in-depth look at the ruling by Israel's High Court of Justice to ban foie gras, which includes a discussion about tza'ar ba'alei chayim.

The Foie Gras Wars mentions some outlandish dishes that you would never expect to be made with foie gras (even after reading about Oreo-like "Foiereos" in Foie Gras: A Passion), including foie gras gnocchi and cotton candy. Thankfully, it seems that Ginor's proposed foie gras matzoh balls never came to fruition.


JewIrish: The (Unfounded) Celtic-Jewish Connection

My friend David, who converted to Judaism, is of Scottish-Irish heritage. He and his wife don’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and the like, but he did use Purim as an opportunity to wear his kilt—featuring the Bailey tartan—and sporran. It’s one of several things in the last few weeks that have made me think: Is there a connection between Purim and St. Patrick’s Day? Is there a Jewish connection to Celtic music and culture? Is it time for a follow-up to my 2006 post "Is There a Jewish Connection to Celtic Punk/Rock?"

Just going by anecdotal evidence, David wasn’t alone on Purim last week. I wore a Scotsman apron depicting a kilt and a sporran, and one of the first people I met upon arriving at a Purim party was a Scottish Jew who told me about the new tartan for Jews. Immediately afterward at the same party, I ran into an Irish Jew wearing a kilt.

I saw Celtic folk-punk band The Tossers in New York last weekend, and I attended Shamrockfest in Washington, D.C., yesterday. At the festival, I saw Flatfoot 56 (the Christian Celtic-punk band that says “shalom” in one song) and The Pubcrawlers (whose accordionist goes by the stage-name The Rabbi—for better or for worse, because of impressions the bleach-blond punk-looking fellow does of rabbis). A friend and I both had the initial impression that Scythian’s fiddle-playing sounded more klezmer than Celtic. During Flogging Molly’s set, some excited teens, an older punker, and I spontaneously joined together for a circle dance that resembled a hora (but definitely not a circle pit). I attended the events with two different Jewish friends, both of whom said “L’chaim!” when I explained that “Sláinte!” roughly translates to “Cheers!”

I discovered a wonderfully pertinent article that appeared in The Village Voice last year, which asks, “What makes so many Jewish-Americans with no Celtic heritage pour sweat equity into presenting, producing, writing about, and traversing long distances to enjoy Celtic music?” One Jewish bagpiper admitted, “I always sort of wished I was Irish.” Another noted that he had been interested in klezmer as another form of lively music, but he now enjoys Celtic music in part because there “aren’t too many Jewish pubs”—it’s harder to embrace klezmer in the same way. A third Jewish bagpiper said that the idea of a connection is "kind of a romantic blarney,” adding, “It's just great music.”

I did what any responsible journalist would do: I interviewed yet another Jewish bagpiper. Jim “Yiddle the Piper” Bond is a bagpiper and band manager for Albemarle Pipes & Drums in Charlottesville, Va. Bond credits his exposure to bagpipes as a police officer, not his Jewish background, for his interest in Celtic music and culture. “I am happy to be a Jewish person in a hobby that is traditionally Christian,” he said. He doesn’t think there is a “connection.”

Perhaps someone just needs to forcefully create a connection. For several years in New York, there has been an annual music/comedy event called St. Purim’s Day. “Two great traditions united in inebriation. For one night, everyone's JewIrish,” boasted one ad. Last year’s St. Purim’s Day featured a performance by The Missing Teens, who played a show with Torah hardcore band Moshiach Oi last month. (The band’s drummer was slamdancing wildly during Moshiach Oi’s set and even picked up Moshiach Oi’s frontman while he was singing.)

The Missing Teens aren’t the missing link needed to make a connection, even a forced one. As with my 2006 post, I’m left thinking that the dots could be connected more than they have been so far. As a Celtic-music–loving rabbinical student told The Village Voice, “There is some connection, some reason why Celtic music has sort of a pull for Jewish people. … I'm not sure what it is, but it speaks somehow to our souls.”


Chag Purim!

There are many Purim parties in New York City, but the only all-vegan one I know about will take place on Tuesday at Sacred Chow. The festivities will include graggers, megillah reading, and tasty vegan dishes (including slow-roasted hamentashen seitan). Sacred Chow's blog had this to say:
i was reading about the sheer number of feasts that king ahashuerus and queen esther gave during the course of the story of purim. it is truly astounding! but it is for this very reason that the holiday of purim is very much connected with feasting, food & wine--to pay homage to the feasts of the king and queen. food and wine that speak to a persian influence, in honor of the late, great queen esther, will be the focus of chow's purim menu. let's give a big cheer 4 queen esther! when queen esther was hiding the fact she was a jew, while she was living in the king's court, i was wondering if she kept kosher? i think she may actually have been the first vegan queen. research shows many of the foods of the purim feast were vegetarian, yeah a bit of lamb, chicken or fish were thrown in here and there, but by and large, vegetables and fruits and lots of wine were the rule.

Last week, The Jew & The Carrot featured a Purim-themed post about mock meats, titled "What Does Queen Esther Have in Common With Your Veggie-Burger?" Here are some excerpts:
Purim offers the opportunity to contemplate costumes in many form—including disguised food, which vegetarians may encounter more than others. …

On a veggie discussion board, one answer to the question, “why fake meat?” was simple: to fit in. Posters gave examples of going to a bbq and wanting to eat a veggie burger or veggie hot dog, as opposed to something entirely different such as a salad or other dish that requires a fork. This resonates particularly well with the Purim theme: Esther sticking to a vegetarian diet in the palace, rather than eating non-kosher meat.

Think of Michael Pollan’s advice to eat something your grandmother would have recognized as food. In those days, it was easy to see what was food and what was not. …

These fake meat products often have a long list of ingredients (sodium, color, preservatives), some of which might be unpronounceable. (For example, this Smart Bacon has 14% of your RDA of sodium, and tastes like it).


The Cruelty of Battery Cages

I have a letter to the editor about battery cages in this week's issue of The Commentator, the student newspaper of NYU's law school. (Click here to read my 2007 article about eggs in Carnegie Mellon's The Tartan.)

Hens in Battery-Cages Constitutes Cruelty

To the Editor:

I take issue with Andrew Kloster’s letter trivializing the importance of reducing suffering to egglaying hens (“Coke Now Available, but Some Want to Regulate Your Ova,” The Commentator, February 18, 2009). Hens in battery-cages are packed together so tightly, in such tiny spaces, that they wouldn’t even be able to move a single wing if there were no other birds present. Battery cages are arguably the cruelest devices in all of industrialized farming, and it is an ethical imperative to stop supporting them.

Mr. Kloster complained that efforts to reduce animal suffering are done “in the name of vaunted ethical gods.” Mr. Kloster is disregarding the wisdom of religious teachings—particularly monotheistic ones, if I may take issue with his wording—that condemn cruelty to animals. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “Certainly, a sort of industrial use of creatures, so that... hens live so packed together that they become just caricatures of birds, this degrading of living creatures to a commodity seems to me in fact to contradict the relationship of mutuality that
comes across in the Bible.”

Mr. Kloster also claimed, “What highfalutin ideas we may entertain at the law school may not be relevant to the average NYU undergraduate.” Battery cages have been banned by the European Union, and hundreds of U.S. colleges and universities have made the compassionate decision not to buy eggs from such inhumane sources. Cruelty to animals raised for food is indeed “relevant” to the entire student body. It should be a great concern that all of us take seriously.