"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)


More Miscellaneous Musings Than Most People Can Handle

Last Thursday, I posted about the controversy surrounding Hazon's proposed shechita demonstration at its food conference. The debate is still going strong, and I encourage people to respectfully participate in it here.

On Saturday, The PETA Files posted a slew of great quotes from Jewish authorities about vegetarianism that were compiled by Jewish Vegetarians of North America.

On Sunday, Mah Rabu posted an interesting commentary about kosher potlucks. The blog noted that "keeping [potlucks] veg makes it much easier to negotiate among different standards of kashrut, and in part (even in communities with a more uniform standard of kashrut) for cultural reasons -- the meat crowd doesn't tend to overlap much with the potluck crowd." The post went on to say, "For the most part, my Jewish scene is vegetarian ... because vegetarianism is a social norm (as kashrut is in many contexts)."

On Monday, Jewschool featured a post that linked to a February Jewish Week article questioning whether it's OK from a kashrut perspective for Jews to eat dairy (including fish) out, as many kosher omnivores do. The post prompted quite the discussion considering that the article is half a year old!

On Monday, I had an article published in Carnegie Mellon's student newspaper commending my alma mater for switching to cage-free eggs and encouraging readers to give up eggs entirely.

On Tuesday, the documentary Air Guitar Nation was finally released on DVD. This highly recommended hilarious film tells the story of Dan "Bjorn Turoque" Crane and David "C-Diddy" Jung as they battle for air supremacy in New York, Los Angeles, and Finland. Go buy it, and embrace your inner rock star. (If the film is a success, there might be a sequel. Considering that I was interviewed by the filmmakers at a 2005 competition and Air Guitar Nation focuses on 2003, I can cling to the hope that my interview or performance would be included in a sequel.)

On Tuesday, CBGB founder Hillel "Hilly" Kristal passed away at 75. As Steven Lee Beeber wrote in The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB's: A Secret History of Jewish Punk, "In setting the stage, literally, for punk to begin, Kristal cannot be credited enough."

On Tuesday, The Jew & The Carrot posted about "Welcoming in Rosh Hashana The Jew & The Carrot style." It links to some great ideas for planning a Rosh Hashanah dinner as well as holiday recipes. It couldn't have come at a better time for me, as I'm planning a sequel to last year's Vegan Jewish-Foods Mega-Potluck.

Today, The Jew & The Carrot featured a post in which Rabbi Avi Finegold writes:
For many of you, having guests at a shabbat meal means often juggling various dietary restrictions preferences that guests may bring to the table. ... [H]ow many of you can recall meals in which you were left with virtually nothing to eat as a result of your kashrut/vege- pesce- ovo- lacto- tarianism/ or any possible allergies[?] Peter Berley’s The Flexitarian Table may hopefully solve at least some of the issues.

The book comprises a variety of recipes, grouped according to season, that are designed to work equally well with meat or vegetable protein. Rather than having a meat based meal and present a often weaker alternative to the guests who choose not to eat meat ( “And instead of the roast beef and spicy garlic chicken with grilled vegetables, the vegetarians can have…….grilled vegetables! Oh and here’s another piece of kugel”), hosts can now prepare meals that are virtually identical save for tofu/seitan etc. replacing the animal components. True, one does not always know how many guests ascribe to one particular diet, though it is easier to estimate than you might imagine. My rule has been when in doubt make more veggie stuff since if you have extras of that it can still feed the hungry omnivores. I have been pleasantly surprised at how many confirmed bassar-ites give tofu or chickpeas a spin after all the meat is gone from the table, often to palate-expanding results.

This coming Monday, JDub Records is hosting a Labor Day barbecue featuring performances by Golem and other bands as well as a "Kosher VS Vegan BBQ cookoff." I've been in touch with JDub, and I hope to post more about this cookoff next week. If you live anywhere near Brooklyn and agree that this event sounds ridiculously awesome, click here for more information.


Yom Huledet Sameach, heebnvegan!

heebnvegan is 2 years old today! I'd like to take this opportunity to reflect back on the last year—everything since the one-year recap.

heebnvegan received twice as many hits in its second year as in its first. As of last week, I've posted to heebnvegan more than 100 times. I've posted vegan and personal perspectives about numerous Jewish holidays. I started featuring guest posts, including outstanding ones from Isa Chandra Moskowitz (about vegan foods on Passover) and Jackie Topol (about how her farming experiences as an Adamah fellow have led her to go vegan).

I've posted to heebnvegan about various significant Jewish experiences that I've had in the last year. In December, I went to San Francisco and Berkeley to cover a Jewish punk Hanukkah tour for the Forward. In June, I went to Israel on a "Peace, Pluralism, and Social Justice" Birthright trip.

I've ventured out into other J-blogs as well. For 49 days in April and May, I posted daily to Counting the Omer, offering a different reason to go vegetarian each day. I've written two guest posts for The Jew & The Carrot: one about my experiences as a carrot mascot and one about the Local Pride kosher slaughterhouse investigation.

I feel like there have been three huge stories that I've been following this summer. The first was the Local Pride investigation, which I covered in depth and wrote the aforementioned guest post about. The second was the Orthodox Union's halachic seudah, about which I wrote a couple of posts and had a letter to the editor printed in the Los Angeles Times. The latest is Hazon's proposal to slaughter one or two goats at its food conference in December, a plan that was revealed this past Wednesday and is very much a developing story. For each of these stories, I've tried to stay on top of things both in the mainstream Jewish media and the blogosphere. I've posted in depth and, as appropriate, with follow-ups. And one of the most gratifying factors, from my perspective, is that I get tips e-mailed to me from heebnvegan readers and other bloggers.

On that note, I want to thank everyone who has kept the conversation going. Thanks for the comments and suggestions (in the comments space and via personal e-mail). Sometimes it's awkward not knowing much about the invisible Internet audience that reads my blog, but I'm very grateful to all of you for making this work. Toda!

Rest assured that there's a ton in the works for the third year!


"Shechting a Goat at the Hazon Conference?" No!

I preface this post by saying that I'm a big fan of Hazon. I think Hazon is a wonderful organization, and I think the conference it's planning is sure to be wonderful. My comments should not be taken as criticism of Hazon or the Hazon Food Conference in general.

Hazon founder Nigel Savage posted on The Jew & The Carrot (the wonderful blog sponsored by Hazon) yesterday to say that a demonstration of shechita is being planned for December's Hazon Food Conference. Savage made some very interesting points regarding how meat-eaters should witness the slaughter of an animal rather than blindly eat meat and not think about slaughter and the other issues involved. The current plan is to shecht (kill in accordance with kosher slaughter laws) one goat in advance of the conference (the animal's meat will be served at a conference dinner) and to shecht another at the conference as part of an educational demo.

Savage wrote in his post that "as we started discussing this with the Executive Committee Food Conference, we had at least one member say that he thought the idea was disgusting and didn’t want to go to the conference if we went through with it." It's also worth noting that Savage didn't say with certainty that the shechita demo will occur; he said that the conference organizers are trying to arrange it and are exploring the practical considerations. Furthermore, his post was titled "Shechting a goat at the Hazon Food Conference?" (with a question mark) and concluded, "What do you think?!" In other words, he put this up for discussion (in the blogosphere in particular), and there have been more comments in response to this post than for any other post on The Jew & The Carrot, as far as I'm aware. It's very significant that this matter is being discussed.

Failed Messiah jumped into the conversation with a critical post that suggested Hazon hadn't done its homework (a later post on The Jew & The Carrot clarified some of Failed Messiah's concerns). Failed Messiah noted, "Have a back-up plan in case the animal is ruled non-kosher after slaughter. … [T]here is more to kosher slaughter than the act of slaughter itself. You must be prepared to do all that is necessary to make the animal's meat kosher for use." This is a good point, considering that Savage noted that the last goat shechted from the farm the Hazon conference's goats will come from couldn't be certified kosher to be eaten in the facility's dining hall. (Approximately 4 percent of animals shechted are ruled nonkosher at one major slaughterhouse, I learned in researching this article.) So if the first shechted goat isn't deemed kosher, does that mean his or her life was taken in vain and that this whole plan was for naught? Surely it's not worth walking such a tightrope when what's at stake is an animal's life!

On The Jew & The Carrot's comments page, many good points have been made. Jackie Topol (who wrote a fantastic guest post for heebnvegan last month) suggested showing a video about shechita and having a discussion about vegetarianism in the Jewish tradition. Jewish Vegetarians of North America President Richard Schwartz said he was "appalled" by the idea of the shechita demo.

In my comment yesterday, I noted that my mother (with whom I had originally planned to attend the conference) was appalled by the plans for the shechita demo and felt the need to stay away from the conference because of it. Savage responded that he found the idea of not attending the conference because of objections to the shechita demo "a little strange" and "a little extreme." This really got me thinking. I think what's "a little extreme" is what I was planning to do in order to attend Hazon's conference:

  • Not fly to the New York area two weeks beforehand to spend Thanksgiving with my family. (Practically, it just doesn't work to go back and forth to the New York area so much in such a short period of time.)
  • Drive or fly about 500 miles each way to get to Connecticut and back.
  • Take off at least two days from work.
  • Pay hundreds of dollars for admission and lodging.

But, call it a little strange, I was looking forward to doing all that to meet likeminded people, learn more about Jewish food issues, and engage in debates and discussions about those issues. I'm guessing that the conference would be worth such an "extreme" commitment on my part. In no way, however, is it a foregone conclusion at this point that I will go through all that to attend the Hazon conference. Savage's suggestion that it'd be "extreme" for people not to attend a conference that requires them to financially support something they ethically disagree with—especially given the practical obstacles—just doesn’t seem on the mark.

It could be said that animals will die for the conference's food whether or not their slaughter is part of the conference. I acknowledge that there is merit to showing people how meat is produced and that such a demonstration might turn them off to meat. But that doesn't change the fact that shechting animals as part of the conference actively promotes the slaughter of animals. That act is one that I have a problem with on ethical grounds, which is why I'd be uncomfortable having my conference admission fees finance that act.

One thing that's been absent from this whole discussion is the goats' perspective. I don't think the goat who will be shechted as part of the demo would vote to have his or her life cut short. More importantly, is it fair to the goat to have to be brought into a foreign environment full of dozens of tense, squeamish onlookers uncontrollably voicing their disgust at the hideous sight? Surely that would create fear for the animal, as would the knowledge that something bad (i.e., slaughter) was about to happen to him or her. That fear would cause tremendous suffering to an animal who would be fully conscious and aware of his or her surroundings (animals slaughtered for kosher meat cannot be stunned).

The bottom line is that the goat's suffering isn't worth the educational gain of the audience. From a utilitarian perspective, the goat's suffering outweighs any positive educational gain that couldn't instead be derived from viewing a video. (The meat of the goat shechted at the conference wouldn't even be eaten at the conference, so the supposed pleasure of meat consumption cannot even enter the equation.) Therefore, the shechita demo is not justifiable.

I'd like to sum things up with a few points:

  • It must be taken into consideration that the meat from the shechted animals might be deemed treif, making all this be for naught and essentially meaning that these animals would have died for nothing.
  • The tremendous fear and suffering that a goat would experience by being shechted in front of a large, nervous crowd in a foreign environment must be taken into consideration in evaluating whether the shechita demo should take place.
  • Regardless of whether animals are shechted as part of it, the conference should include a discussion about vegetarianism and meat consumption in the Jewish tradition.
  • A video should be shown to educate conference attendees about shechita if the organizers are committed to showing what shechita entails.
  • It shouldn't be seen as "extreme" if someone, like my mother and even at least one of the conference organizers, does not want to support a conference that actively promotes something that violates their ethical values.


OU's Halachic Seudah and Letters to the Editor

On August 10, I talked about the Orthodox Union's halachic seudah and the protest against it by the Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) and other groups. I linked to an article in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, which glorified the event but did include some good talking points that I quoted, particularly concerning the writer's uneasiness about viewing the slides of fleishig eggs. The next day, the Los Angeles Times ran a food review that talked about the event in a strictly positive light and didn't acknowledge that there was a protest. (Even Kosher Today, a notoriously biased trade journal of the kosher foods industry, noted in its blurb that the dinner "managed to infuriate" a group of "Jewish vegetarians, who protested the event.")

I don't mean to criticize any of these publications at this time, but such articles do provide excellent opportunities for letters to the editor. Letters help keep the conversation going and focus on parts of the story that were neglected. I sent letters to both L.A. publications.

The Jewish Journal published a relatively long letter from Rina Deych, R.N., that included the lines: "The Torah mandates that we care for our bodies and the earth. It promotes compassion for animals and, while it permits the eating of flesh, cautions against carnivorous gluttony. It also has very specific rules about the treatment and slaughter of animals."

On Saturday, the L.A. Times printed letters from both JVNA President Richard Schwartz and me. It definitely pays to send letters to the editor, even to major publications that seem unlikely to publish them! Here is Richard Schwartz's letter:
As president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America and an organizer of a protest against the Orthodox Union's event, I was disappointed in this article's failure to consider our protest or some of the broader issues involved. At a time when livestock agriculture is a major factor behind the world rapidly heading to an unprecedented catastrophe, when the Jewish community and others are being afflicted by an epidemic of diseases that have been linked to animal-based diets and when billions of animals are being severely mistreated on factory farms, holding a feast that celebrates and encourages meat-eating is sheer insanity.

Rather than hold such an event, the Jewish community should seriously consider the many moral issues related to our diets and do more to apply Jewish values in responding to current threats.

And here's mine:
The Orthodox Union's Beverly Hills feast spat in the face of Jewish respect for animals. The Bible espouses a vision of respect for God's creatures. Dominion is a responsibility for compassionate stewardship, not a mandate to seek out and kill partridges, yaks and as many exotic creatures as can be deemed fit. We're better off leaving meat off our plates -- whether it's the flesh of animals abused in factory farms or exotic animals that seem out of place at kosher meals.


News From Israel: Live Export, Animal Abuse on TV, and Falafel

Israeli Involvement in Live-Export Controversy
For years I've been very aware of the live-export trade that ships 6.5 million sheep each year from Australia to the Middle East on weeks-long journeys. Australia is a leading producer of wool, but there's little demand for sheep's meat there, so the animals are sent to the Middle East to be slaughtered in horrendous abattoirs and backyard slaughter facilities for the halal market. The ships are disease-ridden and extremely crowded, the animals onboard have little access to food or water, and mortality rates on the ships are as high as 10 percent. Live export and a mutliation called "mulesing" are the main reasons why compassionate consumers around the world are eschewing wool, particularly wool from Australia.

I'd vaguely heard about the live export of cattle, too, but I never knew about Israel's role in all this, until earlier this month. Australian animal rights activists are calling attention to a live-export ship that sailed from Australia last October 12 and arrived in Eilat on November 3, using it as an example of why live export must come to an end. Allegedly, 248 cattle died during the ship's voyage and another 200 died after unloading. According to The Sydney Morning Herald:
The main causes of death were "shipping fever" pneumonia, heat stress and blood poisoning, a quarantine service report said.

"Shipping fever is an acute form of pneumonia generally induced by stress - especially transport," the report said.

The blood poisoning came from infected leg wounds that were caused by lame animals lying for long periods on the ship's abrasive decks. The on-board vet, accredited by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, described the floors as "sloppy" with urine and faeces.

Animal Abuse on Hamas TV Show
Tomorrow's Pioneers, a children's show on Hamas' Al Aqsa TV network, has come under criticism the world over for promoting hate, violence, and unacceptance toward Israelis. Now it's also being condemned for a recent episode in which a character was shown attacking cats and swinging them around by their tails as well as throwing stones at caged lions. The scene was apparently intended to illustrate what kids shouldn't do to animals, but that message comes after the fact and isn't all that clear. The show has come under fire from Palestinian Media Watch and animal advocates in Israel and around the world.

This is such a touchy subject. I hate to single out Hamas' TV show for animal abuse when obviously there's so much more that it needs to be criticized for. However, the cruelty to animals depicted on the show (which you can watch on YouTube here) should not be ignored.

Falafel Takes Over the World
I subscribe to the school of thought that vegan cupcakes are taking over the world, and now it's being said that vegan ho hos are also taking over the world. There will be no resistance, however, when "Falafel takes over the world," which is the title of a YNet article from Thursday. After falling in love with falafel while in Israel in June, I greatly look forward to this falafel revolution:

From noon on, there is a non-stop line at the entrance to the Maoz falafel stand. The customers do not really know that they are eating the national food of Israel. When they are engrossed in their pita, they do not really care. For four Euros they can enjoy hot falafel balls, tahini, and a variety of fresh salads for free.

Marie, a 28 year-old French woman, works in the office next door and came down to buy two full pitas for herself and a co-worker. “I prefer not to eat meat - and these vegetarian patties are simply amazing,” she said.

Does she know the origin of the food? “I think it is from one of the Arab countries,” she said, and did not associate the name “Maoz” with Israel. “I only know it is cheap and tasty,” Marie summarized and disappeared down one of the alleys.

This is apparently the secret to the success of falafel around the world. The national food of Israel has become a health trend.

From Australia to America, through India, France, Germany, and Spain, Maoz Falafel, which was founded 16 years ago in Amsterdam, is spreading like jellyfish in the Mediterranean Sea. Today, the founders of the franchise, the Milo brothers, have 25 branches and they sell more than 12,000 falafels a day.

“By 2015, I believe that we will have a thousand branches around the world,” said owner Nachman Milo, 59, who is convinced that his forecast is entirely reasonable. “The vegetarian market is huge, and today we have reached the break-through point.” . . .

What is missing from the stands is the Israeli identification of the Maoz chain that has disappeared in recent years. Today the branches around the world do not carry the mythological sign “Falafel like in Israel.” The emphasis is now on values such as vegetarianism, freshness, and a healthy lifestyle.

“All the branches look the same, with the same logo and the word 'vegetarian.' They are all painted green because we are talking about healthy food,” explained Milo. The word “falafel” is also missing from the signs, and today they call the food served at the stand a “Maoz”.

“We want to become like McDonald's. It will be impossible to imitate us because the product will be identified with the name of the franchise,” explained the owners, who see a rosy-green future, the same color as the stands.


So Much to Blog About, So Little Time

AgriProcessors is facing criticism for food safety issues. Failed Messiah has posted a union's complaint about the matter as well as various documents from the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service here. Here is a summary from Jewschool:

According to the Forward, in March and September of 2006 the USDA sent the AgriProcessors plant manager a “Letter of Warning” reviewing a series of problems, including: receiving 250 non-compliance records from the United States Department of Agriculture during 2006, five of them for inadequate safeguards against Mad Cow disease, and at least 18 records for fecal matter in the food production area (Including one, on December 26, in which the inspector wrote that during multiple checks of 10 chickens “fecal contamination varied between 70 and 80%.” and another, similar, citation a day later).
In other news ...

On a cool November morning, I headed toward the hills of Pennsylvania, to visit the only organic kosher chicken company I could locate.

But when I reached the farm, the chicken coops exuded a stench so overpowering I didn’t want to stay long. And under the crisp winds of autumn, the chickens seldom left their dimly lit, crowded sheds. ...

I can’t imagine how anyone can comfortably digest reports that AgriProcessors, which makes Aaron’s Best kosher products, engaged in “acts of inhumane slaughter,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

I, too, eat commercially produced kosher chicken and meat. But when I do, a small part of me rebels, feeling almost as defiled as I would if I learned that pork bits flavored a spinach dish I’d eaten. . . .

[T]he stakes are higher than satisfying one little boy’s hunger. It’s an ethical imperative that we follow not only the letter of the law, but the spirit too. Don’t chicken out.


Jewish Groups Protest OU's 'Halachic Seudah'

On Sunday, the Orthodox Union hosted a 15-course "halachic seudah" gourmet meal that apparently featured kosher yak, elk, bison, red deer, blue marlin, pigeon, wild turkey, dove, sparrow, and quail. While the OU doesn't do much to publicly condemn controversy after controversy after controversy in the kosher meat industry, it threw a party to discuss which animals are technically kosher and to eat them.

The 100-person dinner in Beverly Hills, Calif., was met by protesters from Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA), Jews for Animal Rights, and Concern for Helping Animals in Israel. While the size of the protest was not gargantuan, sometimes in Judaism, all you need is 10 people in order to have a meaningful gathering, and the Los Angeles Jewish Journal reports that JVNA President Richard Schwartz was joined by nine other protesters. It's quite significant that the event was protested not by secular groups on the grounds of animal rights or animal welfare but rather by Jewish groups (which worked together to organize a demonstration) irate over the OU's disregard for Jewish values. Schwartz said in a JVNA news release:
This OU event, involving the eating of so many of God's creatures, completely contradicts our mandate to be 'rachmanim b'nei rachmanim' (compassionate children of compassionate ancestors) and to imitate God, whose mercies are over all of His creatures,” (Psalms 145:9) Even if ritual slaughter is performed flawlessly, consistent with halacha, we should not ignore the severe violations of Jewish law occurring daily on factory farms. We should fulfill our charge to be 'a light unto the nations' by helping to lead the world away from a diet that is so harmful to people, the environment, and animals, to one that is far more consistent with basic religious values, especially at a time when animal-based diets are causing an epidemic of disease in the Jewish community and other communities and when animal-based agriculture is a major contributor to global warming and many other environmental threats to all of humanity.
The Jewish Journal reporter who attended the event noted her discomfort eating fleishig eggs, which are unhatched eggs taken from inside the bodies of slaughtered chickens. I can't blame her for being appalled based on her description:
Getting intimate with the animal I was about to digest wasn't something I was used to. It's easy to distance yourself from what you're cooking when chicken comes skinned and deboned, cushioned in foam and wrapped in cellophane. It's harder to do that when, as you are eating fleishig (meat) eggs, you see a slide of a sliced-open chicken with unlaid eggs still covered in a web of blood vessels (that's what makes them meat rather than pareve).
The Jewish Journal article talks about not only the animals that were consumed but also the discussions surrounding the dinner:

A "zemer" is listed in the Torah as kosher, and most scholars translate zemer as giraffe -- an animal that has never been eaten in the kosher world, though it has all the kosher features, as well as several feet worth of neck where it can be properly shechted.

While the [organizers] are ready to serve up giraffe, we didn't get any ... because a giraffe costs about $25,000.

Objection to the concept of eating as many of G-d's creatures as possible isn't so much an animal welfare issue as a religious issue of respecting His creation. I'm reminded of a passage in Dominion by Matthew Scully, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush. A Christian and a conservative, Scully talks about a disturbing Safari Club International convention that praises hunters who kill large numbers of exotic species. He refers to chapter 1 in Genesis; you can't help but wonder how someone could read G-d's saying, "Let the earth bring forth every kind of living creature: cattle, creeping things, and wild beast of every kind," and think, "Let's kill 'em all!" Writes Scully:
[S]omething has gone horribly wrong, something involving our own human dignity every bit as much as the animals'. ... Why could [someone] possibly want to kill [a] giraffe, a beautiful and graceful creature who did her no harm, isn't overpopulated, [and] isn't causing environmental damage anywhere ...? Why?


Jewish Vegetarianism in Yiddish's Hey-Day

The Forward ran a fun piece last week about Jewish vegetarianism in the first half of the 20th century. Click here to read the article, titled "When Vegetarians Were Rare." Here is an excerpt:
Sated but not stuffed, the patrons of Schildkraut’s Vegetarian Restaurants and resorts might also feel virtuous, for there was nothing on the menu that might compromise either their vegetarianism or their kashrut. Although the chain lacked rabbinic endorsement, let alone rabbinic supervision, it prided itself on its attentiveness to the dietary laws. Quick to acknowledge that it did not advertise itself as a kosher establishment per se, “it is nevertheless a fact that [our restaurants] are 100 percent kosher in their service. We use no kind of animal fat. For frying, baking and shortening, we use the best creamery butter and also vegetable fats and oils. We are particularly careful to wash dishes and cutlery with vegetable soap only.”

The kosher consumer was not the only audience for the kind of vegetarian cuisine served up daily at Schildkraut’s. So, too, were the members of the Yidisher Vegetarian Society of New York, who believed in vegetarianism less as an exercise in gastronomy and more as a moral philosophy, a way of being in the world. “We have discarded the meat diet, because it is unethical, unesthetical [sic], unnatural and unscientific,” explained the organization’s secretary, Nathan Samuel Davis, in his 1952 collection of essays on vegetarianism, “Dos Koyl fun dem Vegetarier” (“The Voice of the Vegetarian”), adding that as Jews, “we are always on the side of all the oppressed classes and peoples.” . . .

A Yiddish song, “The Vegetarian Hymn,” rounded out the recipes, mission statements and eateries that made up the Jewish vegetarian milieu. “Blessed be he who has the courage not to eat meat, not to spill blood!” went the song. “Blessed be he whose humane heart protects every creature from pain and suffering.”
What's better than an article in the Forward about Jewish vegetarianism? A follow-up letter to the editor in this week's issue that keeps the conversation going and pushes it into the Jewish blogosphere! In a letter titled "Yiddish Vegetarians Congregate Online," New Yorker George Jochnowitz writes:
Jenna Weissman Joselit’s informative August 3 essay introduces us to the world of Yiddish-speaking vegetarians in the early 20th century (“When Vegetarians Were Rare”). That world still exists on the Internet.

A blog called “In Mol Araan,” meaning “Into the Mouth” in Yiddish, contains beautiful photographs, information about an enormous variety of food, and fascinating comments, approximately one-quarter in Yiddish and three-quarters in English.


In the News: Jews vs. Zoos

Rabbi Marc Gellman, a Reform rabbi in my hometown of Melville, N.Y., has a wonderful article in Newsweek titled "Tiger, Tiger: Why It's Time to Reconsider the Whole Notion of Putting Wild Animals in Zoos." Click here to read the article. Here is an excerpt:
My grandpa, Leo Gellman, was a zookeeper at the Milwaukee zoo. My childhood was filled with happy days feeding giraffes and monkeys. I wanted to feed Sampson the gorilla and Tony and Cleo the hippopotamuses, but Grandpa Lepa never let me get close to them. He loved animals, but he also understood what it means to be wild. He would patiently explain to me that they did not want to be in their cages but that we put them there so that little boys like me could see up close what they look like, how they move and what sounds they make. Grandpa explained to me that this was a deal we humans made with the wild animals of the world. We capture and display some of them so that people would feel something for them and protect the wild animals that were not in cages. I asked grandpa if he thought the deal was fair. He thought and said, “It's a good deal for us, and not such a good deal for them.” I still think grandpa was right. . . .

The animals in zoos do not behave like their wild cousins. They mostly mope around, and some of them, like the bears I remember, have even learned to sit up and beg for treats. Look, I don't want to appear to be a zoo Scrooge here, but the enjoyment of kids at the zoo, an enjoyment that once included me every weekend, is not a reason to imprison animals. Do zoos increase environmental consciousness and thus help to protect the habitats of other wild animals? I don't think so. As far as I can tell, the people deforesting the Amazon or killing elephants in Africa for their ivory have not been deterred by outraged kids and their families who just visited the zoo. I love what domesticated animals like dogs and cats do for us: they teach us the joy and responsibility of truly caring for a living being who depends upon you and who loves you in return. However, it is simplistic and wrong to imagine that our love for Fido is the same as our love for lions and tigers and bears. Oh my!

For more information about what's wrong with zoos, click here.