"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)


Here's Something You Don't See Every Day

Are you looking for a cruelty-free goose feather quill pen to use for your work as a sofer? Search no longer, sofer, eBay has what you're looking for!

The rabbi selling the pens, who is on the Jewish Vegetarians of North America advisory board, will donate 75 percent of earnings to help Katrina's animal victims. He writes:
If you are Jewish, we want you to help raise your sofer/scribe's consciousness by asking him to use one of these feathers when you get your mezuzzahs or tefillin checked. Why? Because most of the feathers on the market come from factory farms where geese suffer terribly by having tubes shoved down their throats to produce fois gras (force-fed goose liver.) Do you want that kind of ugly energy in your sacred ritual objects? No? Then buy a cruelty-free feather here. (If you want multiple feathers, check out the rest of our auctions.)

Victory Against Veal in Israel

Earlier this week, Haaretz reported that Israel's Agriculture Ministry has banned the practice of denying water to calves raised for veal and demanded that calves at least four weeks old be fed with solid food. Similar regulations are already in place in the European Union.

Veal production has been singled out by the animal rights movement as one of the cruellest examples of industrialized animal agriculture (despite contentions by some that foie gras force-feeding and the battery-cages that egg-laying chickens are confined to may be worse). In the United States, this strategy seems to have worked well: In 2001, the average American ate only half a pound of veal, down from an average of 5.6 pounds per person in 1950.

Haaretz explains why veal has earned its monstrous reputation:

Aside from withholding water, raising veal calves also involves imprisoning them in a veal crate and feeding them a milk substitute intentionally lacking in iron and other essential nutrients.

The animals suffer terribly because they are unable to move freely in the wooden restraining device and cannot turn around or even lie down and stretch. Designed to prevent movement, the crate does its job of atrophying the calves' muscles, thus producing tender veal.

The iron-deficient diet keeps the animals anemic and creates the pale pink or white color desired in the finished product. And because they are denied water, the calves are always thirsty, and are driven to drink a large quantity of the high-fat liquid feed.

Leading Jewish authorities have also claimed that veal is not quite kosher, as Dr. Richard Schwartz explains in Judasim and Vegetarianism. In 1982, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (who Schwartz describes as "perhaps the most influential Orthodox Jewish halachic authority in the United States in this generation") ruled that Jews are forbidden from raising calves for veal in the inhumane manner described above. Feinstein explained that veal production is not a legimitate necessity that could justify such vast suffering. This ruling inspired Rabbi Aryeh Spero to write a two-part article in the Jewish Press, in which he contended that animals who are too weak or sick to walk on their own are not fit for ritual slaughter. Spero suggested that the horrible conditions by which calves are raised in the veal industry mean that only about 30 percent of them should meet kosher requirements, raising concern about any kosher meat supplier with consistently higher percentages.

When animals are cute and fuzzy, it's easier to target the industries that slaughter them outright, as was evidenced this week when the U.S. Senate voted to ban the slaugher of horses for human consumption. For many farmed animals, though, the specifically cruel processes by which they are mistreated, such as foie gras force-feeding and induced anemia in the veal industry, make the best targets.


It's a Shanda to Wear Fur

PETA just came out with new leaflets denouncing fur from a Jewish perspective, titled "It's a Shanda to Wear Fur." An accompanying Web feature similarly discusses how Jews are obliged to minimize unnecessary animal suffering (tsa'ar ba'alei chayim) and quotes Rabbi Halevi, the late Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv:

Why should people be allowed to kill animals if it is not necessary, simply because they desire the pleasure of having the beauty and warmth of fur coats? Is it not possible to achieve the same degree of warmth without fur?
It can take more than 100 animals to make just one fur coat. On fur farms, animals are typically killed by neckbreaking, gassing, and anal or vaginal electrocution--anything that won't damage their precious pelts. Fur-bearing animals are also trapped in the wild, where they lay in agonizingly painful traps, sometimes for days, and often try to chew off their own limbs in desperate attempts to escape. The world's leading fur exporter is China, where there is not a single animal protection law on the books and where animals are often skinned alive for their fur. As the Fufanus sing in this adorable cartoon, the animals "need [their fur] more than you do."

Now really is the time to take the anti-fur campaign straight to the Jewish people. Haaretz reports that Israel's Castro fashion chain announced on Thursday that the company would no longer sell fur. This amazing feat resulted from a 3-week battle waged by Israeli animal rights activists, which included several protests with 60 to 100 attendees and a petition that garnered more than 17,000 signatures. So maybe there is some hope that Jews, if not all people, can rally against fur and stop supporting such a hideously cruel industry.

With cotton and synthetic materials so widely available in clothing, there's simply no need to wear fur or other animal skins. As Jewish actor Alicia Silverstone has said, "It is the 21st [c]entury. I don't think that we should use flesh or the skin of any creature to make ourselves look good. ... We can do something that's really compassionate or something that's cruel. I really make every effort in my life to make the compassionate choice."


Everything Is Illuminated

The new movie Everything Is Illuminated looks fantastic. It tells the story of Jonathan Foer (played by Elijah Wood), an American Jew who travels to Ukraine to trace his family history and meet the woman who rescued his grandfather during the Holocaust. The movie seems to respectfully portray a Holocaust tale, while still managing to throw in black comedy and absurdity.

The trailer features an amusing conversation about vegetarianism between Foer and Alex Perchov (played by Eugene Hutz, an "Honorary Heeb" and the frontman of gypsy-punk band Gogol Bordello), reminiscent of the "What do you mean he don't eat no meat?" scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding:
Jonathan: I'm a vegetarian.
Alex: You are a what?
Jonathan: I don't eat meat.
Alex: Pork?
Jonathan: No.
Alex: Chickens?
Jonathan: No!
Alex: What about the sausage?
Jonathan: No meat!
Alex: What is wrong with you?

The Canadian Jewish News notes:

And the Perchovs are dumbfounded by Foer's vegetarianism in a country where no real meal passes without a hearty slab of meat.

In a terrific scene in a ramshackle Soviet-style hotel, Foer manages to convince a sullen waitress to serve him a meagre vegetarian meal. Of course, the Perchovs can't understand his aversion to meat, and that brings out further laughs.

Everything Is Illuminated is already playing in New York and Los Angeles. Let's hope it expands far and wide ASAP.


Rav Kook's 70th Yahretzeit

This week marked the 70th yahretzeit of Rav Kook, the first chief rabbi of pre-state Israel. A conference was held in Jerusalem on Wednesday to commemorate the occasion, posing the question of whether his teachings still maintain their relevance.

Rav Kook is perhaps the most famous advocate of vegetarianism in the "Jewish establishment." Although he seems to have not been a strict vegetarian, he promoted a plant-based diet as an ideal consistent with Jewish teachings. In "A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace," he wrote: "[T]he free movement of the moral impulse to establish justice for animals generally and the claim of their rights from mankind are hidden in a moral psychic sensibility in the deeper layers of the Torah."

Excerpts from "A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace" are available here. Bask in its widsom:
There can be no doubt in the mind of any intelligent, thinking person that when the Torah instructs humankind to dominate – "And have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves upon the Earth" (Genesis 1:28) – it does not mean the domination of a harsh ruler, who afflicts his people and servants merely to fulfill his personal whim and desire, according to the crookedness of his heart. It is unthinkable that the Torah would impose such a decree of servitude, sealed for all eternity, upon the world of God, Who is "good to all, and His mercy is upon all His works" (Psalms 145:9), and Who declared, "The world shall be built upon kindness" (ibid. 89:3).

Should we still consider Rav Kook's teachings to be relevant? Ten billion farmed animals are slaughtered for food in this country every year. Virtually all of them are raised on factory farms, where they are robbed from their mothers shortly after birth, are kept in unnatural settings where their movement is restricted, and have their body parts mutilated without painkillers. Across the board, animals’ lives and welfare are neglected in favor of the bottom line. Consideration, compassion, and respect for G-d's creatures are essentially absent from animal agriculture. We should heed Rav's Kook's vision now more than ever.


Katrina, Animals, and Judaism

A few weeks ago, I wrote about helping animals in Gaza amidst such vast human tragedy. It was just after Hurricane Katrina struck, which I touched upon very briefly. Since then, I have been inundated with stories of heroic rescues from animal protection organizations and individuals (not to overshadow all the humanitarian relief to aid the human victims, of course). PETA has been giving daily updates on its Web site about what its team members are doing. I highly recommend reading these stories, viewing the photos, and hearing the accounts that depict both the devastation of disaster and the selflessness of compassion.

The Jewish Week just ran a fascinating story about Andrew Goldberg, a Jewish filmmaker involved in the same kind of work, both as a documentarian and a hands-on rescue worker. Goldberg sought to chronicle the work of animal rights organizations who tried to save the estimated 50,000 companion animals abandoned in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

“The animals are the forgotten victims,” said Goldberg. “The Torah gives humans dominion over the animal kingdom. Dominion means we must respect and protect. To protect, to have compassion … is the responsibility of every Jew.”


Veganism: Kashrut Made Easy

The latest edition of The Forward features a letter to the editor titled "Tasty Tofu Treats." The letter states:

"In reference to the challenges that Beth Wolpoff faces with the lack of parve desserts that are quick to make, may I suggest the book 'Tofu Cookery' by Louise Hagler... I have been making the chocolate pudding for years. There are many other flavors, and they are all dairy- and egg-free. Ten minutes in the blender!"

This letter underscores an oft-overlooked benefit of veganism for the kosher crowd: convenience. If food is vegan, it's certainly not meat- or dairy-based. Vegans who keep a kosher kitchen needn't bother having two sets of dishes. And many Jewish vegans, even rabbis, find that knowing food is completely free of animal products and byproducts is sufficient for deeming it kosher. When it comes to kashrut, vegan foods will have sufficed us--dayenu!

It's also interesting to note how Jewish companies play a big role in the recent explosion in the popularity of soy-based foods. Leading the pack is Tofutti, which started off marketing to the I-want-something-that-seems-dairy-after-my-meat-meal kosher audience. Now their Tofutti Cuties soy ice cream sandwiches, non-dairy cream cheeses, and soy cheese pizza have captured the hearts of Jews, vegans, and the lactose-intolerant alike! (Lucky for me, I'm all three.)


Environmental and Vegetarian Lessons From the Shabbat Morning Service

It's true--Dr. Richard Schwartz, the author of Judaism and Vegetarianism and president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America, has TONS of articles I could blog about. The below just happens to be the most recent:

Environmental and Vegetarian Lessons From the Shabbat Morning Service

Here's an excerpt:

"The message seems clear: if we put God’s teachings into practice and imitate His ways of mercy, compassion, and justice, we will have blessings of prosperity, justice, and peace; however, if we turn to false modern gods of materialism, egoism, hedonism, and chauvinism, we will be cursed with many environmental and other societal problems."

Amen to that!


The Battle Over Horse Racing

The current issue of The Jewish Week features an article about attempts to establish a horse racing industry in Israel. Concern for Helping Animals in Israel (CHAI) has waged a campaign to stop those efforts dead in their "tracks." Whenever industry relegates G-d’s creatures to economic units, undue suffering and abuse ensue.

Race horses start running when their skeletal systems have yet to fully develop. Like the Steroids-pumping baseball players who are widely decried, many are drugged up to become stronger and faster. These neglected animals are often forced to spend up to 23 hours a day in narrow stalls, isolated from freedom or herd contact. Demanding training regimens and lightning-speed races cause bleeding in the lungs, fractured limbs, and chronic gastric ulcers. In the U.S., horses deemed inadequate for running and breeding are slaughtered for their flesh – which is exported to other countries for consumption – and to make glue.

Make no mistake about it: Introducing horse racing to Israel would inevitably cause tsa'ar ba'alei chayim (unnecessary suffering to animals).