"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)


Donald Watson (Coined the Term 'Vegan'): 1910-2005

Donald Watson, who founded the Vegan Society in England, has passed away. In 1944, Watson coined the term "vegan," writing in the very first issue of "The Vegan News":

'Vegetarian' and 'Fruitarian' are already associated with societies that allow the 'fruits'(!) of cows and fowls, therefore it seems we must make a new and appropriate word. As this first issue of our periodical had to be named, I have used the title "The Vegan News". Should we adopt this, our diet will soon become known as a VEGAN diet, and we should aspire to the rank of VEGANS. Members' suggestions will be welcomed. The virtue of having a short title is best known to those of us who, as secretaries of vegetarian societies have to type or write the word vegetarian thousands of times a year!
That's all well and good, but there was also a declaration of purpose in this first issue:

The recent articles and letters in "The Vegetarian Messenger" on the question of the use of dairy produce have revealed very strong evidence to show that the production of these foods involves much cruel exploitation and slaughter of highly sentient life. The excuse that it is not necessary to kill in order to obtain dairy produce is untenable for those with a knowledge of livestock farming methods and of the competition which even humanitarian farmers must face if they are to remain in business.

For years many of us accepted, as lacto-vegetarians, that the flesh-food industry and the dairy produce industry were related, and that in some ways they subsidised one another. We accepted, therefore, that the case on ethical grounds for the disuse of these foods was exceptionally strong, and we hoped that sooner or later a crisis in
our conscience would set us free.

That freedom has now come to us. Having followed a diet free from all animal food for periods varying from a few weeks in some cases, to many years in others, we believe our ideas and experiences are sufficiently mature to be recorded. The unquestionable cruelty associated with the production of dairy produce has made it clear that lacto-vegetarianism is but a half-way house between flesh-eating and a truly humane, civilised diet, and we think, therefore, that during our life on earth we should try to evolve sufficiently to make the 'full journey'.

We can see quite plainly that our present civilisation is built on the exploitation of animals, just as past civilisations were built on the exploitation of slaves, and we believe the spiritual destiny of man is such that in time he will view with abhorrence the idea that men once fed on the products of animals' bodies. Even though the
scientific evidence may be lacking, we shrewdly suspect that the great impediment to man's moral development may be that he is a parasite of lower forms of animal life. Investigation into the non-material (vibrational) properties of foods has yet barely begun, and it is not likely that the usual materialistic methods of research will be able to help much with it. But is it not possible that as a result of eliminating all animal vibrations from our diet we may discover the way not only to really healthy cell construction but also to a degree of intuition and psychic awareness unknown at present?

A common criticism is that the time in not yet ripe for our reform. Can time ever be ripe for any reform unless it is ripened by human determination? Did Wilberforce wait for the 'ripening' of time before he commenced his fight against slavery? Did Edwin Chadwick, Lord Shaftesbury, and Charles Kingsley wait for such a non-existent moment before trying to convince the great dead weight of public opinion that clean water and bathrooms would be an improvement? If they had declared their intention to poison everybody the opposition they met could hardly have been greater. There is an obvious danger in leaving the fulfilment of our ideals to posterity, for posterity may not have our ideals. Evolution can be retrogressive as well as progressive, indeed there seems always to be a strong gravitation the wrong way unless existing standards are guarded and new visions honoured. For this reason we have formed our Group, the first of its kind, we believe, in this or any other country.


Kosherfest and the Era of Kosher Vegetarianism

As Kosherfest takes place in New York today and tomorrow, vegetarianism is the big thing in the kosher food market. An ice cream (in the mammary-secretions-of-bovines sense, not the Tofutti sense) company's nondairy, vegan mango sorbet has won top honors in Kosherfest's "Best in Show" category for new products. Today's kosher shoppers want vegetarian (and vegan) options!

New York Blueprint reports that one of the key speakers at this year's event is Gil Marks, author of Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World, and that Labriute's vegetarian stuffed cabbage is one of the big featured products. The same article also cites a recent study claiming that the largest contingent of kosher consumers, 18- to 34-year-olds, is the same group that has the strongest "desire for vegetarian and dairy-free products."

This study reminds me of a wonderful quote from Matt Scully in his book Dominion: "In America some seventeen million people are already vegetarians, most of them teenagers and college students whose influence in the world has yet to be felt.” (The book is from 2002, so there might be more vegetarians in the United States now.) If young people are the dominant force among kosher and mainstream American shoppers alike, then vegetarianism will only become more prominent once they come of age and their "influence in the world" is felt.

Just in time for Kosherfest, the new Kosher Today features a splendid article titled, "Ranks of Kosher Vegetarians Soars as Industry Meets the Needs." It reports:

Although there are no specific numbers, industry officials in Israel and the US say the ranks of vegetarians are growing, some due to health, some out of concern for animal rights but many as part of an adopted lifestyle of living a more natural lifestyle. ...

Supermarket executives say that an increasing number of kosher consumers are asking for vegetarian replacement kosher foods, ranging from hotdogs to patties. ...

[T]here is evidence that vegetarianism is growing, both in the US and Israel. Vegetarians in general say that they have an easier time keeping a kosher diet than conventional kosher adherents, largely because they eat many ingredients and products that do not need kosher certification in the first place.


Kapparot Cruelty Scandal Update

My post about kapparot garnered some great discussion on the comments page. Here's an update 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.

PETA files complaint against Brooklyn man for dumping chickens
Jeremiah Horrigan
Times Herald-Record
November 11, 2005

An Orthodox Jewish man from Brooklyn has been accused of animal cruelty in connection with the abandonment of hundreds of chickens intended for Yom Kippur atonement rituals.

Jacob Kalisch of Williamsburg was named in a complaint filed by the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals after crates containing more than 300 chickens were found abandoned in a Coney Island lot last month.

Authorities said nearly three dozen chickens died. When the crates were discovered, the chickens were shipped to the Catskill Animal Sanctuary in Saugerties.

A Manhattan ASPCA spokesman said at the time the broilers had been purchased to be used in an atonement ritual called "kapparot" that requires a man or woman to wave a live chicken over their head while reciting a prayer. The chicken is then slaughtered and given to the poor.

Kalisch reportedly told ASPCA investigators he was unable to find customers for the birds.

At least another dozen chickens died en route to the Catskill Animal Sanctuary, according to director Kathy Stevens. CAS employees have nursed the surviving chickens back to health and farmed many of them out to individuals and other animal protection groups that specialize in farm animal rehab.

"We'll keep about 20 of the chickens here, which is what we can manage," Stevens said yesterday.

The chicken rescue is short-lived by the nature of the birds themselves, which have been genetically altered to maximize their size for human consumption. Most of these broilers die within a year of being hatched, while other breeds can live as long as a decade.


Jewish Ledger: Kosher Vegetarians

Kosher vegetarians
By Stacey Dresner

STATEWIDE -- Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first chief rabbi of Israel, was one.

So was Rabbi David Rosen, the former chief rabbi of Ireland.

Famed Jewish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer was one as well.

Besides their prominence, these Jews shared another thing n they were all vegetarians.

People choose to be vegetarians for several reasons. Some have chosen not to eat meat or animal products due to health reasons, others because of their commitment to animal rights. But some Jewish or kosher vegetarians also do it for another reason n they say the Torah tells them to.

“I became a vegetarian in 1988 after serious studies of the book of Genesis, particularly the earliest chapters,” said Rabbi Stephen Fuchs of Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford. Fuchs talks of the first 11 chapters of Genesis n before Chapter 12 when G-d makes his covenant with Abraham -- and refers to the three attempts G-d made at setting up societies n the Garden of Eden; after Eden until the time of the Flood; and during and after the flood.

In the first two, there was no eating of meat n G-d gave Adam and Eve fruit and berries to nourish themselves with.

“We find different ground rules which govern these societies. Only in the third society n after the flood n does G-d give us permission to eat meat,” Fuchs explained.

“It is clear to me that the Torah’s mission, if you will, is that we be partners with G-d in creating a just, compassionate society…I find it an enhancement to my spirituality to try to live as G-d had originally intended.”

For many years Fuchs was a lacto-ovo vegetarian, with a diet that included dairy and eggs. In 2000, for health reasons, Fuchs became a vegan n eschewing animal products of any kind.

“I found that there was a real health benefit to a vegan lifestyle,” Fuchs said. “I have seen a decrease in headaches, weight loss -- generally feeling better all around. And I have been feeling more spiritually attuned as a vegan.”

‘For the health of the chicken’

Rabbi David Small of the Emanuel Synagogue in West Hartford recalls a joke that helped him to consider becoming a vegetarian.

“Isaac Bashevis Singer was at a dinner and was asked by the server if he wanted fish or chicken. He said, ‘I would just like vegetables.’ The server asked, ‘Is it for your health?’ And Singer said, ‘No, it is for the health of the chicken.’”

Rabbi Small himself became a vegetarian more than 12 years ago.

“It started with my wife’s brother. He became a vegetarian and was coming to our Pesach seder, so we decided to make everything at the seder vegetarian,” Small recalled.

“We had been aware of the issue of animal rights n my wife is a real animal lover -- so we had been thinking about not eating animals if we didn’t have to,” Small continued. “And a couple of years before, I had stopped eating red meat for health reasons.”

The Smalls decided to try vegetarianism for that whole Pesach to see if they could do it n “and we decided to keep going,” he said.

Six months ago, Rabbi Small, concerned for his health, decided to become a vegan. Small said his diet is “95 percent vegan” -- mostly fruits, vegetables, nuts and soy.

Judaism also factors into his decision not to eat meat.

“There is plenty in the Torah that resonates with vegetarianism. G-d says to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, ‘I give you all these plans and fruits to eat.’ Eating meat doesn’t come up,” he said. “I find that the way I eat is in keeping with my Jewish practice…I don’t think Judaism tells you you have to be a vegetarian, but there is a whole variety of clues in the literature that tell us it is a good thing.”

Small added, “Kashrut becomes a snap when you are a vegetarian n kashrut is only hard if you eat milk and meat all of the time… There are times when the Torah says to eat animal products in a special sacrificial setting n but maybe we weren’t meant to do it all the time.”

‘Milchig vegetarians’

Dr. Arlen Lichter of West Hartford became a vegetarian as a teenager after spending summers working with his father who was in the meat packaging business n an experience that turned him off to eating meat.

When Arlen married his wife, Audrey, more than 30 years ago, they decided not only to keep a kosher home, but a vegetarian home as well.

“I gave up meat in my early 20s,” said Audrey, director of Yachad, the community Jewish high school program in greater Hartford. “I haven’t had meat in over 30 years.”

None of the Lichter’s three children n Sherry, Jenny or Simon -- have ever eaten meat.

“They are very committed,” Audrey said. “They have accepted this as a value of their own.”

Many years ago, Audrey and Arlen even ran the West Hartford branch of the Jewish Vegetarian Society, which held meetings where members exchanged recipes and discussed the vegetarian lifestyle. The local groups like the Jewish Vegetarian Society aren’t as needed as they were 30 years ago. Today, with stores like Wild Oats and Whole Foods, and the plethora of vegetarian cookbooks and websites, being a kosher vegetarian is much easier that it was years ago, Audrey said.

She and her husband recently began eating fish again n “we call ourselves ‘milchig’ vegetarians” n she said.

They added fish to their diets because of “boredom” with their diet, she said.

She added that Passover can also get a little boring in the food department n vegetarians whose diets are made up of lots of whole grains are precluded from eating them during those eight days.

“Passover can get a little boring,” Audrey said. “You can’t eat any of the grains so we end up eating a lot of eggs.

“But,” she added, “Passover is hard for everybody.”

Feeling ‘lighter’

Nearly every Shabbat Paul Bass of New Haven makes challah for his family. For Bass, a vegan, that means making some changes to the basic challah recipe.

“I make vegan challah with egg replacer,” said Bass, who said that it took him a while to finally find the right formula for the vegan bread.

While Bass, who is the editor of the news website newhavenindependent.org eats no animal products at all, his wife, Carole, and his two daughters, Annie Rose and Sarah Rachel, are vegetarians who still eat dairy and egg.

“I do most of the cooking and happily cook dairy for them,” he said.

Bass’ diet consists of a lot of soy-based products like seitan, tofu, fruits, vegetables, pasta and cereal. He said that since becoming vegan his allergies have improved and he feels “lighter.”

But becoming vegan was a gradual thing for Bass.“I was a vegetarian first. I never felt I was totally consistent. Also, my cholesterol level was high, even with non-fat dairy. So both reasons led me to become vegan,” he said. “I don’t believe that it is necessarily wrong to eat dairy and eggs, although I do buy eggs from cage-free chickens for the family.”

Bass adds that although he and his family are vegetarians, he doesn’t judge those who eat meat.

“I don’t necessarily believe that other people should be vegetarians,” he explained. “There are countless ethical decisions a person makes every day upon waking up. This is one I happen to focus on for spiritual and ethical reasons.”

Kashrut is simplified

Before the age of ten, Jon-Jay Tilsen ate meat.

“Around age ten, I grew repulsed by the idea of killing and eating animals, so I stopped,” said Tilsen, now rabbi of Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel in New Haven.

Today, Tilsen eats “almost any fruit or vegetable, and in small quantities I sometimes eat dairy products or eggs. I don't eat any animal except the microscopic ones treated as negligible by Jewish law.”

Tilsen’s four children are also vegetarians, but they do eat dairy products and eggs. Tilsen’s wife, Miriam Benson, executive director of the Connecticut Valley Region of United Synagogue, “eats meat out once in a while, usually when we are guests at kosher events or at her work at United Synagogue at their conventions.”

Tilsen said that being vegetarian simplifies kashrut.

“We have one set of dishes (plus Passover dishes) and never have to worry about the status of leftovers in the fridge or whether a guest will mix the utensils or food items,” he said. “By not eating meat, I am much more certain to never violate, even accidentally, the Biblical and rabbinic prohibitions concerning non-kosher meat. The traditional production of kosher meat never envisioned mass slaughterhouses or factory farms. It is questionable whether most meat or poultry produced in this country that is sold as kosher is actually in compliance with the traditional rules of kashrut as well as the prohibition against cruelty to animals.”

Tilsen said being a vegetarian is his own personal choice and that he does not judge what others do n or eat.

“There was one fellow who did not eat meat because, he would say, ‘I don't want to use my body as a cemetery for dead animals.’ I don't say things like that,” Tilsen explained. “Although I find meat repulsive aesthetically, I don't think it is a great sin to eat it. If I wanted to be judgmental about others, there is a very long list of concerns I would address before getting to diet.”

As far as what Jewish literatures says about eating meat n well, Tilsen has his own take on that.

“Although there is a Talmudic tradition of ‘ein simha ela be-vasar -- there is no joy without flesh,’ which was used to suggest that meat eating was mandatory on Shabbat and festivals, I follow the suggestion of the Baal Shem Tov that ‘flesh’ in this context can be, let us say, the legitimate enjoyment of physical intimacy with the flesh, and one hopes spirit, of another,” he explained. “That is, it refers to the "conjugal enjoyment" of Shabbat and festivals. Believe me, it is better than bacon.”

Comments? Email staceydresner@jewishledger.com


Jews Against Foie Gras

Last month, the nail was drilled into the coffin of the Israeli foie gras industry. After the High Court of Justice had banned foie gras in 2003, which took effect earlier this year, Haaretz reports that:
The last-ditch effort to find a legal basis for force-feeding geese in Israel, failed in yesterday's cabinet meeting. Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz withdrew his appeal against a law that would allow the controversial farming practice to continue for three years. ... "[Y]esterday's decision effectively shuts down the industry in Israel," Agriculture Ministry director general Yossi Yishai said.
What's the big stink about foie gras from a Jewish standpoint? Check out my article (see below) from the September/October issue of New Voices to find out more.
The Wondering Jew
Duck Duck Goose: Can longstanding opposition to foie gras overcome the financial interests of two Jewish businessmen?
Michael Croland

Foie gras - French for “fatty liver” - has long been synonymous with cruelty to animals. Except for the work of two Israeli Jews who run New York’s Hudson Valley Foie Gras, the cruelty-laden liver appears to be on its last legs.

Foie gras producers force feed ducks and geese several times daily. At industry-leading Hudson Valley, workers shove a funnel tube attached to an electric motor down ducks’ throats to pump in so much corn that the birds’ livers actually grow to ten times their healthy size. This causes hepatic lipidosis, a type of liver disease, and violates the Jewish ideal of minimizing animal suffering (Tsa’ar ba’alei chayim).

The great rabbinical scholar, Rashi, is the most famous among the Jewish erudite who have condemned foie gras. As early as the eleventh century, he wrote that Jews would have to answer to G-d “for having made the beasts [geese] suffer while fattening them.”

Rashi’s words, however, are not taken seriously by all parties. “I don’t think that the people who talk bad about foie gras know scientifically that it’s right or wrong,” said Izzy Yanay, vice president and general manager of Hudson Valley. Although Yanay said he felt “honored” to be part of a conversation that included Rashi, he felt certain the sage would have approved of foie gras force-feeding if he had only looked into it in a more “profound” manner.

Hudson Valley president Michael Aeyal Ginor similarly dismisses other longstanding Jewish criticism of foie gras in his book, “Foie Gras: A Passion.” Ginor acknowledges that the third-century Babylonian mystic Rabbah bar-bar Hannah discussed how “the Israelites will eventually have to account for their conduct before Justice” for fattening waterfowl. To Ginor, this condemnation and others are ambiguous and should not be heeded.

When a foie gras debate took hold of Eastern Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, leading rabbis deemed foie gras production halachically unacceptable in Poland, Ukraine, Russia, and Romania. Even in Hungary, where production was still permitted, religious Jews generally refrained from eating foie gras.

The sentiment against foie gras has spread widely in modern Jewish debate. Israel, despite having been the world’s third-leading manufacturer of foie gras, recently banned its production. Israel’s High Court ruled in 2003 that foie gras production violates the Protection of Animals Act, which forbids torture, cruelty, or abuse to animals.

Perhaps the strongest modern Jewish condemnation of all has come from Rabbi David Rosen, the former chief rabbi of Ireland. “Pate de foie gras is obtained through the willful desecration of a Torah prohibition,” said Rosen.” Any truly God-revering Jew, he asserted, should not partake of such a product, which is an offense against the creator and his Torah.”

Jews are not alone in their opposition to foie gras. Pope Benedict XVI has spoken out against how “geese are fed in such a way as to produce as large a liver as possible.” More than a dozen countries, including the United Kingdom, Italy, and Poland, have banned the production of foie gras. The European Union has demanded that industry leaders France and Hungary abolish force-feeding within 15 years.

California, the only U.S. state other than New York where foie gras is produced, banned the sales and production of foie gras last year. Similar legislation has been introduced in New York and at least three other states. With nearly four-fifths of Americans favoring a foie gras ban, according to a recent Zogby poll, even Ginor admits that Hudson Valley’s days seem to be numbered.

While two Jews sustain the American foie gras industry, another pair is leading the opposing battle cry. Sarahjane Blum and Ryan Shapiro, grad students at Georgetown and American University, visited Hudson Valley and California’s Sonoma Foie Gras and rescued fifteen ducks who were dying without adequate veterinary care. They filmed the farms’ horrendous welfare conditions for “Delicacy of Despair,” a documentary available on their Web site GourmetCruelty.com, and rehabilitated the ducks until they could be released to the wild.

“I’m obviously incredibly proud to have made meaningful lives for these ducks,” said Blum. “I would hope that everybody who took the time to go to a factory-farm would feel not only willing but compelled to give these animals better lives.”

Blum and Shapiro were arrested for trespassing and burglary at Hudson Valley, but the burglary charges were later dropped. Their only “punishment” was serving 50 hours of community service, for which they worked for the Humane Society of the United States.

Hudson Valley is one of the few parties still perpetuating the American foie gras industry. Thanks to the efforts of activists like Blum and Shapiro, longstanding Jewish objection to foie gras cruelty may ring true in public sentiment and law.

Michael Croland, a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon, runs a blog about Judaism and animal protection issues at http://heebnvegan.blogspot.com.