"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)


Vegetarian Seders From Across the U.S.

Chag sameach! Vegetarians across the country enjoyed shankbone-free seders this Pesach, and it's very exciting to hear some of their stories. Below is an article about vegetarian seders as well as a sampling of seder stories that were sent to me.

The Tampa Tribune ran a great story titled "Vegetarian Jews Improvise on Symbolic Passover Plates." It quotes a local rabbi who isn't vegetarian but who says of Jews who don't use shankbones on the seder plate, "They find some type of a replacement, and that is to be truly respected in our tradition. ... I understand where they are coming from. ... Judaism as a religion respects the sanctity of all human life and all animal life."

On the first seder night, I went to my shul and, after calling in advance to request vegan food, was very accommodated. On the second night, I had a couple of friends over in my apartment for the first seder that I've ever hosted. We read from Roberta Kalechofsky's Haggadah for the Vegetarian Family, used a beet instead of a shankbone, and enjoyed eggless matzoh-ball soup. We also played Yidcore's versions of Ma Nishtana, Dayenu, and Vehi Sheamda.

Lisa from Park Slope, N.Y., writes: i had a veggie seder ... 16 people at my place in park slope-a fairly veggie friendly place tobegin with, but i think only 3 people there were strictly vegetarian. we used a beet for the shankbone and matzah lasagna for the entree. ... it was important to me that it be vegetarian. no one was shocked or upset at the lack of a shankbone. and cookingwas certainly easier and less stress and cheaper.

Abi from San Francisco, Calif., writes: We had a great time at our Lesbian Vegetarian Women's Seder. It was fabulous! We used a feminist hagaddah, a beet for the shankbone, and a plastic egg (instead of the "real" egg). The food was delicious and the company even better. My favorite part was a blessing over the flowers to honor and celebrate the flesh and the sensuality as well as the sprituality of this holiday.

Ilene from Somerville, Mass., writes: We have had a vegan Seder for the last three years. Everyone who attends likes the food, understands the explanations and doesn’t miss the meat. ... For our shank bone we have used a roasted beet for many years (before I was a vegan/vegetarian I didn’t eat mammals so we haven’t had a shank bone ever); however this year I roasted a yam for the “Pascal Yam”. We also have an orange on our Seder plate to honor gays and lesbians within Judaism. This year I served “mock” gefilte fish (mashed potatoes, roasted eggplant, matza meal, sautéed onions, etc.), vegan broth with vegan matza balls, nut loaf, roasted potatoes, roasted asparagus, jicama salad with a lemon and sumac dressing. ... We use an old hippie Haggadah from Berkeley CA and this year our Seder was enhanced by Rabbi Nathan Laufer’s book The Passover Journey.

Dan from Oakland, Calif., writes: We had a 100% veg seder at my home. Beingtraditionally observant, my Seder plate had all theusual items including a roasted egg (I have not yetmade the transition to veganism) and a shankbone. Ofcourse, my "z'roah" was the same shankbone I have hadfor 25 years, obtained from back when I ate meat. ... Naturally, not a speck of meatwas served for my sumptuous "Shulchan Aruch" feast. In the final analysis, it was your typical traditionalSeder, just with no meat. The absence of meat wastreated as perfectly normal and was a completenon-issue at my otherwise very traditional Seder.

Michael (who sent in several photos of a room jam-packed full of seder attendees) from Patagonia, Ariz., writes: Historically: Passover, the passing over of those with the mark of sacrifice. Put in words for today, we celebrate the passing over the ego directly to liberation. In liberation, identifying with the consciousness of the soul, the vegan way is so true because it heals the planet.

Sasha from Orange County, Calif., writes: Vegan Pesach 2.0 was seemingly quite a success, with 38 people in attendance, mostly vegan, but with a large increase of the amount of Jewish kids from VP1 .... I created my own HaggZine this year ... with the service in front and a zine in the back including articles about modern day slavery, why the seder can be Halachacly vegan, animal rights, a Pesach word search (hah I dont know why), direct action for liberation of all creatures .... The Menu included 4 gallons of Matzo Ball Soup with at leaat 50 matzo balls that were all devoured, bok choy in chinese black sauce, asparagus and sun dried tomatoes in indonesian white sauce, mushroom zucchini kugelach, a sweet potato kugel, eggplant farfel casserole, mushroom potato croquettes, macaroons and chocolate matzo for desert as well as some amazing vegan "rice krispy-type" chocolate peanut butter bars. ... There was a lot of talk about liberations from the past, freedom in general and what needs to be done in order to make it possible for all creatures to live free, bringing spirituality into the environmental and animal movments, anarchy and Judaism, and how awesome matzo ball soup is.

Toda rabah, contributors! :-) Seders are inherently great experiences to share with others, and I think that some of the above seder stories are really beautiful. If anyone has any other suggestions for blog posts with contributors' input, fire away with your input!


Jonathan Safran Foer Takes On the Kosher-Meat Industry, Promotes Vegetarianism

Jonathan Safran Foer, the author of the bestselling novel Everything Is Illuminated, has written and narrated a new video exposé of the kosher-meat industry, titled "If This Is Kosher ...." Foer calls on Jews to reject the industry's standard cruelty that violates the spirit of kashrut and subject animals to unnecessary pain and suffering (tsa'ar ba'alei chayim). The full-length version of the video is a thoughtful, comprehensive, and powerful case for Jewish vegetarianism. The video can be seen at PETA's new HumaneKosher.com, and DVD copies can be ordered through that site as well.

"If This Is Kosher ..." includes explanations from Foer (as well as well-known rabbis David Wolpe and Irving "Yitz" Greenberg) about the Jewish basis for compassion for animals and explores how this is seemingly ignored in the modern kosher-meat industry. Foer recounts the recent AgriProcessors scandal, in which conscious cows had their tracheas and esophagi ripped out and writhed about for several minutes after having their throats slit; the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that AgriProcessors employees "engaged in acts of inhumane slaughter." The video also includes footage from kosher slaughterhouses in Israel that show disturbing conditions for cows, sheep, chickens, and other animals--all supposedly accepted as kosher. The beauty of "If This Is Kosher ..." is that Foer's narration comes as an easy-to-relate-to yet urgent appeal from inside the Jewish community.

“Ask yourself: Can kashrut have any meaning if it is applied like this?” says Foer. “This isn’t the kosher that I was brought up to be proud of. This shouldn’t be anybody’s kosher. Such blatant and vicious disregard for life has absolutely no place in a religion that sanctifies life.

"If This Is Kosher ..." is a rare gem. This video presents a powerful case for Jewish vegetarianism by someone with emerging starpower in the Jewish community. I urge you all to watch it and show it to others. Forward it to friends, family members, coworkers, and congregants. Take this opportunity to engage in debate and get the message out there. Arrange screenings of the film, perhaps with Foer, Rabbi Wolpe, or Rabbi Greenberg, by e-mailing VegInfo@peta.org. Write letters to the editor when newspapers publish articles about "If This Is Kosher ..." (such as this brand-new one from The Forward).

Looking for more tips to spread the word? Check out the "You Can Help" page at HumaneKosher.com.


Looking Ahead to Passover

Are you having a vegan seder this Passover? I'd love to compile accounts of vegan seders across the country and hear how they went. Did you have nonvegan guests who really learned from the experience? Did you supplement the typical hagaddah readings with your own commentary? Did you come up with the ultimate vegan alternative to the shankbone on your seder plate? After you have your seder, send an e-mail to mcroland@gmail.com with just a few sentences telling me how things went, and I'll compile the best ones in a blog post.

Here are some tips for Passover:
* Click here to read vegan Passover recipes from PETA and here for vegetarian Passover recipes from Jewish Vegetarians of North America.
* If you're going to a seder where you expect to be the only vegetarian or vegan there, talk to the host in advance and offer to bring a vegan dish with you. You'll guarantee that you'll have enough to eat, and you'll also get to expose people to meat-free eating.
* Read Deborah Wasserman's No Cholesterol Passover Recipes or Roberta Kalechofsky's The Vegetarian Pesach Cookbook.
* Take the opportunity to embrace raw foods.
* Be consistent with your meat-free ways 365 days a year: Find out why we are NOT compelled to eat meat at the seder.
* Use quinoa instead of other grains on Passover. According to Kashrut.com, "Quinoa seed (i.e. not flour, and not flakes) under the certification of Kosher Overseers is acceptable kfp without further checking. These products are sold under the brand names of Ancient Harvest and Trader Joe's. ed. note: Quinoa must be in closed boxes."
* Eat legumes and rice on Passover. (Note: This one's controversial, and I invite everyone to research this on their own before reaching the conclusion that I did.) Legumes and rice have historically been viewed as forbidden by Ashkenazis but kosher-for-Passover by Sephardim. In November 1997, Rabbi David Golinkin of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel addressed the Ashkenazi tradition of avoiding legumes and rice on Passover and said, "In our opinion, it is permitted (and perhaps even obligatory) to eliminate this custom. It is in direct contradiction to an explicit decision in the Babylonian Talmud (Pesachim 114b) and is also in contradiction to the opinion of all the sages of the Mishna and Talmud except one ...." Traditional Jews will want to steer clear of processed legume-based foods (e.g., soy-based mock meats) that aren't certified kosher-for-Passover because they very well might contain wheat or other chametz ingredients.
* Check out this article about the connections between vegetarianism and Passover by Richard Schwartz (author of Judaism and Vegetarianism), and integrate some of its messages in your seder.
* Use Roberta Kalechofsky's Haggadah for the Liberated Lamb (or its abbreviated version, Haggadah for the Vegetarian Family) at your seder. Kalechofsky has also written the book Journey of the Liberated Lamb: Reflections on a Vegetarian Seder, which is suitable for young audiences.


Jerusalem Post: When 'Kosher' Slaughter Is Not Jewish

On Thursday, The Jerusalem Post featured an op-ed by a Conservative rabbi condemning Jewish officials' response of inaction to findings of cruelty to animals at AgriProcessors, the world's largest glatt kosher slaughterhouse. In the article, which can be read in its entirety here, Rabbi Adam Frank writes:
Reacting to these published findings, the head of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate's international ritual slaughter division, Rabbi Ezra Raful, said that he would permit the import of meat to Israel from the slaughterhouse in question, saying that "in the case of AgriProcessors, there is no halachic problem."

Rabbi Raful's statement is alarming and halachically problematic on a number of levels. First, he ignores the halachic category of dina d'malchuta dina whereby Jews are required to follow the laws of their host country as long as the law does not intrude upon Jewish law. The consequence of this statement is that the Israeli rabbinate publicly gives its approval that Jewish-owned business ignore US law because it prohibits a practice that is ostensibly permitted by Jewish law.

Second, the Israeli rabbinate characterizes Jewish law as holding a lesser standard of compassion to animals than even a secular government, creating the impression of moral failure in the eyes of both other nations and our own people. Third, by commenting that "there is no halachic problem," the rabbinate represents that the mitzva of tsa'ar ba'alei haim (prohibition against the unnecessary infliction of pain on an animal) as somehow non-applicable in the pre- and post-shehita process.

Rabbi Raful further says, "The Torah is not subjective and the same Torah that prohibits cruelty to animals allows shehita." This statement is a nonsensical red herring. The USDA report does not criticize shehita; it criticizes the causing of unnecessary suffering to animals before the shehita occurs and the torturous carcass dressing of conscious animals after the shehita takes place.

The Torah allows shehita, but the Torah does not allow cruel acts to be appended to the prescribed process of kosher slaughter. . . .

[T]he cessation of cruel practices at one plant does not address the problem of rabbis who continue to defend such practices. The rabbis whom we have entrusted to interpret Halacha and represent the honor of Jewish character have been derelict in their duties.

It is fair for the Jewish community to expect people of integrity, vision and courage to represent it. We have a right to expect our leadership to raise the alarm at the ethically atrocious, even in the face of popular criticism.

Fortunately, Judaism has a self-correcting mechanism that does not rely solely on rabbis discerning truth. The Jewish community is empowered to voice opinion, to hold its leadership accountable and to demand reforms of abusive industries.