"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)


Yom Kippur's Prohibition Against Leather

Last night and today for Yom Kippur, I wore non-leather sneakers to shul. I have dress-shoes that are non-leather (all my shoes are), but I chose to make the point as glaringly as possible: Jews are prohibited from wearing leather on Yom Kippur.

On Yom Kippur, we beg for God's mercy. We pray for atonement. We recognize that we have sinned, and we repent for it. And to walk the walk, we realize that it would be hypocritical to plead for forgiveness and compassion when dressed in the clothes of suffering, for which compassion is lacking. Jewish Vegetarians of North America president Richard H. Schwartz explains, "One reason is that it is not considered proper to plead for compassion when one has not shown compassion to the creatures of God, whose concern extends to all of His creatures." An e-rabbi adds:

Many people abstain from wearing leather on Yom Kippur, as required by tradition, since an animal died in order that the leather garment could be produced. Yom Kippur is a time for being especially sensitive to life and death concerns, including the lives of animals.

Leather is not a byproduct of the meat industry but rather a coproduct. Cattle killed for their leather are the same cows raised by the beef and dairy industries. They are subject to the same routine branding, dehorning, tail-docking, and castration--all without any pain-killers. Cows in the dairy industry are forced to give 10 times as much milk as they did a mere half-century ago, and between a fifth and half of them suffer from mastitis, a disease in which their udders have become so swollen that they hang toward the ground. Annually in the U.S., 37.5 million cows are stunned, hung upside down, bled to death, and skinned in slaughterhouses. The leather industry warrants opposition all 365 days of the year, not just when we are most desperate for forgiveness.

On Yom Kippur, we apologize for our transgressions in the previous year, and we hope to not repeat our mistakes. So why is it that after today, it becomes permissible to most Jews to again not show "compassion to the creatures of God"? If we are honest with ourselves on Yom Kippur and seek to avoid sins, and if we aspire to be compassionate beings so that God may treat us likewise, we should cease promoting suffering in our attire and daily decisions on a regular basis, not just one day a year.


  • At 10/14/2005 6:26 PM, Blogger heebnvegan said…

    Thank you for your response, Erica. I actually intend to plan another entry about kapparot (which you brought up) after Shabbat.

    "Nothing" to do with compassion, you say? There might be multiple factors at play, but consider (in addition to the quotes I already gave) the words of Rabbi Moses Isserles (c. 1527-1572, aka the Rema):

    "How can a man put on shoes, a piece of clothing for which it is necessary to kill a living thing, on Yom Kippur, which is a day of grace and compassion, when it is written 'His tender mercies are over all His works'" (Psalms 145:9).

    As an aside, having nothing to do with the religious argument, I find my synthetic shoes to be rather comfortable, not afflicting in the least.

    The animal sacrifices we read about on Yom Kippur are of an age that has long passed, which have become unnecessary in an era where there is no Temple. The same argument is commonly applied of course to why money can take the place of chickens in kapparot, but I'll get to that in a separate entry this weekend and keep you posted.

    Finally, I take issue with your comment that "Compassion is slaugtering an animal with a knife so sharp the animal feels no pain at all." In theory, I'd love to agree with you. But does the animal not feel any pain (including the fear as he or she foresees the knife coming closer) before the jugular is slit? Is it the epitome of compassion to find animals struggling for minutes after they were allegedly killed in accordance with standard operating procedure at the world's largest glatt kosher slaughterhouse (See http://www.goveg.com/feat/agriprocessors/)? Is it the pinnacle of compassion to confine animals to tiny spaces where they can hardly move, rob them from their mothers shortly after birth, and mutilate them without painkillers--even if their final moments nearing death are intended to be compassionate?

    Shabbat shalom, and I look forward to continuing this dialogue with you.

  • At 10/23/2005 8:22 AM, Blogger respondingtojblogs said…

    Is the next step synthetic tefillin, Torahs, and mezuzot?

    What about the prayers in which we say ask God to restore the Temple and its sacrifices?

  • At 10/23/2005 5:06 PM, Blogger heebnvegan said…

    Actually, I just tackled this very question in another blog.

    See my comment at the bottom of:


  • At 2/03/2009 10:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At 7/26/2010 2:44 AM, Anonymous Leather Jacket online said…

    "Compassion is slaughtering an animal with a knife so sharp the animal feels no pain at all."


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