"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)



Magen Tzedek Coverage
A few weeks ago, I noted that Magen Tzedek had issued tentative new guidelines for animal welfare and other ethical issues. A separate post looking at the animal welfare aspects of the Magen Tzedek guidelines is forthcoming.

On September 15, The Jewish Week ran an in-depth article, titled "A Market For Ethical Kosher?" Earlier this month, a Forward editorial noted:
In releasing ambitious guidelines to marry new ethical standards with the traditional laws of kashrut, the leaders of the Conservative movement are taking a bold step to align it with a Judaism that cares as much about social justice as it does about ritual practice. But the success of this endeavor depends on whether rank-and-file Conservative Jews will care as much about ritual practice as they do about social justice. . . .

[D]o Conservative Jews care enough about ritual and practice to make a difference? Only about one-quarter of them keep a kosher home. Will they buy a product because of its Magen Tzedek imprimatur even if the new certification process adds to its cost? Will this reframed concept of kashrut be attractive enough to induce new practitioners? Will the younger Jews who buy organic and flock to environmental conferences find meaning in these guidelines, enough to join a movement that many are spurning?

The success of Magen Tzedek does not rely on one denomination alone. There are Orthodox Jews who share these social justice concerns; some have begun their own effort to certify New York-area kosher restaurants based on their labor practices. The Reform movement has endorsed the push for ethical standards.

But this may, indeed, be part of a defining moment for that most American of denominations, the one that embraces modernity while trying to hold fast to tradition, the one that clings to the belief that the Jewish and secular worlds have something to teach each other. The Conservative pulpit has spoken. Now it’s up to those in the pews to respond.

More Kapparot Coverage
The Forward has posted an article online about PETA's efforts against the use of chickens for kapparot. The article noted, "People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals this year stepped up activism against the practice — when a Jew takes a live chicken and rotates it in a circle while saying prayers to absolve himself of sin. By handing out dollar bills shaped into origami chickens to Lubavitchers in Crown Heights, as well as to Hasidim in Williamsburg and Boro Park, PETA hoped to persuade passersby to give money for their pre-Yom Kippur atonements rather than swing chickens." Click here to read last night's "Kapparot Recap" post.

A Scent of Scandal President on The Huffington Post
Readers may recall last year's post about A Scent of Scandal, a vegan candle company. A Scent of Scandal president Ari Solomon started writing for The Huffington Post earlier this month. Check out his first two articles, "Who You Callin' Vegangelical?" and "Down With the Truth."

Useless ID Celebrates 15-Year Anniversary
Vegetarian Israeli punk band Useless ID played a show to mark their 15-year anniversary on September 19. The band welcomed song suggestions from fans on Facebook, saying, "If you have a favorite OLD song (that is our song, dummy) that you would want us to play at the show post it here. We will later make Yotam [Ben Horin, the band's singer] go over EVERYONE'S comments and make him choose the songs to the set list." Check out last year's post "Useless ID: That Hard-Working, Real-Deal Band From Israel."

Carol Leifer Promotes Veganism

Earlier this month, the Forward ran an article about comedian Carol Leifer. (Click here to read heebnvegan's July post about Leifer's PETA PSA.) The Forward piece concludes:
Going vegan last year, Leifer says, opened her eyes to the cruelties of factory farming -- including kosher slaughterhouses. “Growing up, it was always, ‘If you buy kosher meat, they’re killed humanely.’ But I’ve seen so many horrible videos. What we thought was humane 100 years ago is not humane anymore. The ways animals suffer, I just couldn’t be a part of it anymore.” Does she miss pastrami? Corned beef? “Way far from missing it,” she said, “I’m sorry I didn’t have this revelation earlier. I sleep better and more soundly because I’m not participating anymore.”


Kapparot Recap

For background information about kapparot, read last week’s post “Concern for Chickens Used in Kapparot.”

Chicken Rescued From Kapparot, Named Chesed
Farm Sanctuary has taken in a chicken named Chesed (Hebrew for “lovingkindness”), who was rescued from a kapparot ceremony in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, on Saturday night. According to a Farm Sanctuary press release:

At 9:30 p.m., a large truck transporting approximately 2,000 chickens, packed four to a crate, arrived at the seminary. A long line of people waited to purchase chickens for $13 apiece, which they then swung over their heads while reciting a prayer before taking them over to a table where a butcher slit their throats with a knife. Around 11 p.m., a man shoved a chicken into the arms of [Brooklyn resident Wayne] Johnson, who had made it known he did not approve of the inhumane ritual, and told him he could have the bird. Johnson gladly accepted the frightened chicken and took him to his Brooklyn Heights home to await safe transport to Farm Sanctuary’s shelter in upstate New York.

Dr. Allan Kornberg, Farm Sanctuary’s new executive director, commented, “Chesed’s life will serve as a reminder to the thousands of visitors who come to our sanctuary that all life is deserving of mercy and loving-kindness.”

United Poultry Concerns Weighs In
In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, United Poultry Concerns president Karen Davis wrote:

Documentation of Kapparot ceremonies shows that the birds are seldom if ever treated humanely. On the contrary, prior to the ceremony, the chickens are packed in crates, often for days without food, water or shelter. Birds not used have been found abandoned in their crates when the ceremony was over. Practitioners often stand around chatting with fellow observers while holding a chicken with the wings pulled painfully backward and the legs dangling, as if the bird were an inanimate object instead of living, feeling being. . . .

Shown pictures of chickens being held with their wings pulled back by Kapparot practitioners, Dr. Ian Duncan, Professor Emeritus of Poultry Science at the University of Guelph in Ontario, wrote that "holding a domestic fowl with the wings pinned back as shown will be painful. It will be extremely painful if the bird is held in this position for some minutes."

Debate About Kapparot in the Orthodox Community
NPR had a well-balanced story about the debate over kapparot within the Orthodox community. “The Torah prohibits Jews from causing any unnecessary pain to living creatures, even psychological pain. It says in the Book of Proverbs, ‘The righteous person considers the soul of his or her animal,’” said Brooklyn Rabbi Shlomo Segal, who opposes the use of chickens for kapparot.

NPR also talked about two Orthodox Jews who set up a table with pamphlets and a cage with fake chickens. “We think it's very cruel to the chickens. We're trying to get people to not buy the chickens at all but use money instead,” said one of the activists. The story noted, “For years, [the second activist] has been covering up these posters with his own that show filthy and starving chickens in crates.”

Activists, Rabbis, and Kapparot in Israel
YNet discussed an Israeli animal rights group’s efforts to pressure rabbis to condemn the use of chickens for kapparot. According to the article, a halachic opinion by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef “claimed that Kapporot is only a custom, and, as such, harm to the chickens must be limited or charity should be given in place of slaughtering the fowl.”

The office of Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger was quoted as saying, "The rabbi has already expressed his opinion countless times that one must have mercy on the chickens, especially during these days of compassion. In addition, the rabbi instructs the slaughterhouse rabbis to tighten oversight (of the slaughterhouses) on the eve of Yom Kippur."


Concern for Chickens Used in Kapparot

As part of teshuvah during the High Holidays season, Jews traditionally participate in a ritual called kapparot. Although it is fully acceptable to perform kapparot using money, some Orthodox Jews insist on waving chickens above their heads instead. The chickens are then slaughtered, and their flesh is often fed to poor people. In large-scale kapparot operations, chickens have often been observed confined to tiny spaces and denied food or water for many hours at a time.

The Jerusalem government is trying to cut back on animal welfare abuses related to kapparot in that city, and the Masorti (Conservative) movement is taking a stand against the use of chickens for kapparot in Israel. In Brooklyn, N.Y., one videographer captured footage of chickens in cramped conditions on Monday and PETA will distribute and post "Gelt, Not Guilt" flyers later today.

  • On Friday, Failed Messiah posted a Matzav article announcing that Jerusalem's "business license, inspection and Veterinary Services bureau" would be cracking down on kapparot operations because of animal welfare considerations. The article explained, "Last year trucks were seen 'reusing' chickens. Also, after pledging to shecht them, some birds were left in the streets and tossed into trash bins and dumpsters. To rectify the situation this year kapporos will have to meet Veterinary Services requirements ...."
  • On Monday, The Jerusalem Post reported, "The Masorti (Conservative) Movement will join forces with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals - Tel Aviv to fight against the Jewish custom known as kapparot that involves slaughtering chickens as a way of atonement for sin." Yesterday, a Jewschool post noted, "I’m not sure what the Masorti movement thinks it will accomplish ... [s]ince the parts of the community that are practicing kapores aren’t the parts likely to care what the [M]asorti movement does, but all in all, it can’t hurt."
  • In Boro Park, N.Y., on Monday, vegetarian advocate Rina Deych observed kapparot and later posted four videos she took on YouTube. In one video, Deych zoomed in on live chickens who were packed several bodies apiece to tiny crates that were stacked on top of each other. "Poor babies. They're so tightly packed over here, and some of them are in the hot sun," Deych can be heard saying in the video. In a comment posted along with the video, Deych alleged that the birds had "NO food and NO water" and said that she "called the ASPCA to notify them."
  • Today in Boro Park and two other Brooklyn neighborhoods, PETA will be distributing and posting "Gelt, Not Guilt" flyers like the one depicted below. Says PETA senior researcher Philip Schein, "We are encouraging people to use money instead of live chickens when performing the ritual. We will also be distributing hundreds of origami chickens made from actual money (similar to the origami money chicken in the flyer photo)."


Three Rosh Hashanah Meals

I had a rather varied kickoff to 5770. All Rosh Hashanah meals were not created equal.

After attending Conservative services to start off the High Holidays on Friday night, I went to a nearby Chabad House for dinner. Not too surprisingly, chicken was the main course, but there were enough vegetable side dishes to get by. This meal couldn't compete with more vegan-friendly Chabad dinners I've enjoyed personally or drooled over from afar, but it was par for the course. I could've done without the fish heads on the table; I've read that some vegetarians use the heads of leeks instead.

On Saturday, I hosted my parents and grandma for a holiday dinner at my apartment. This time, everything was vegan and there were no fish heads on the table. My mom made kasha varnishkas and vegetable soup, and I made curried lentils, carrot-parsley salad, apples with agave nectar, and quasi-round cinnamon-raisin challah. My family unanimously agreed that this was the best vegan challah I've made yet.

I would've loved to attend the storytelling and special-menu Rosh Hashanah dinner at all-vegan Sacred Chow on Saturday, but it conflicted with my family's celebration. I was elated when I stopped by Sacred Chow for lunch today and saw that the restaurant was still serving Rosh Hashanah specials. I enjoyed both the Kasha & Leek Beggar's Purse and White Pizza Rustica With Housemade Sausage, even if I failed to see a connection between the latter and the Jewish New Year. Other specials included House-Made Challah, Roasted Yams & Sauteed Leeks With Pomegranate Seeds, Tzimmes Cassoulet, Roasted Beet Hummus, Blintzes With White Chocolate Cream Cheese & Wild-Berry Sauce, and Cactus Pears With a Orange-Date Agave Dip.

Typing that last sentence made me hungry. Who's ready for Yom Kippur?


In the Spirit of High Holidays Reflection

The trial of Sholom Rubashkin, who ran the slaughterhouse formerly known as AgriProcessors, will begin next month. It's no big secret that I've chronicled the company's downfall and expressed concern for its animals and workers as well as other members of the Postville, Iowa, community.

At times, I might have given the impression that I was taking pleasure in the personal turmoil of members of the Rubashkin family. In October 2008, I linked to a parody song by a Failed Messiah commenter and called it "hilarious." Upon rereading the lyrics, I see that they discussed abuse of "Rubbishcan" in prison. I regret making light of this situation and perhaps indirectly suggesting that Rubashkin should suffer in such a way.

Failed Messiah just posted a letter from Rubashkin's daughter, who talks about how her family has struggled. I don't agree with everything she says in assessing the situation, but I couldn't help but feel sorry for her and her relatives. Other people's suffering isn't "hilarious."

I don't like everything the letter says. I agree with the Failed Messiah post and some of the comments that follow that much of the contextual puzzle is missing from the letter. I certainly am not suggesting that anyone donate to the Rubashkins' legal defense fund. And of course, I cannot forget the horrible alleged crimes by AgriProcessors and its personnel; I am quite curious to see how Rubashkin and other defendants will fare in court.

What I will say is that I hope that Rubashkin receives justice, both from the U.S. court system and, ultimately, from Hashem—nothing more and nothing less.

Update (9/25/09): Here's a video featuring Rubashkin's daughter.


Recent Reading

Health Ministry: Resist the Urge to Kiss Your Rabbi (The Jerusalem Post, 9/10)
"Observant Jews who kiss the hands of esteemed rabbis, their own hands after shaking somebody else's or publicly owned Torah scrolls or holy books out of respect or devotion should tame their urge and avoid this practice for their own and others' health. Saliva with the swine flu virus or ordinary seasonal flu strains could easily spread the diseases, according to the Health Ministry's new director-general, Dr. Eitan Hai-Am, who on Thursday issued an advisory to those who spend time in synagogues, yeshivot and other religious institutions frequented by large numbers of people."

Behind the Scenes With 'Inglourious B******s' Star Eli Roth (The PETA Files, 9/10)
"Eli Roth—who, behind all the (fake) blood and guts, has a heart of gold—has teamed up with PETA to direct and star in our very first MySpace exclusive PSA. In the ad, he reminds everyone that the violence in his movies is fake—but violence against animals is real and is an important issue."

New Kosher Food Certification May Be Most Detailed In the Industry: Magen Tzedek’s Ethical Standards Apply Even to Workers’ Wages (Forward, 9/9)
"The guidelines for the new Magen Tzedek food certification are intended to ensure that ethical standards are adhered to in kosher food production, and they delve into nearly every phase of the production process. . . . Those standards broadly break down into five areas: treatment of employees, animal welfare, consumer issues, corporate integrity and environmental impact."

heebnvegan will address the animal welfare guidelines in the Magen Tzedek standards in a separate post.

The Healing of the World Begins on Our Plates (PETA Prime, 9/2)
"In the Jewish faith, tikkun olam-the healing and repair of the world-is receiving significantly more attention from a variety of viewpoints, and one in particular is diet. "


The Award for Best Jewish Punk Film Goes To ...

In July, The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB's author Steven Beeber announced that production was imminent for a documentary based on his book. He also mentioned The Adventures of Curly Oxide and Vic Thrill, which I had blogged about earlier that month and first mentioned a couple of years ago. Said Beeber, "I guess the only question now is which film will get the Oscar in the Jewish Punk category. And the envelope, please ..." Believe it or not, there's another film in the works that would qualify for "the Jewish Punk category."

Director Jesse Zook Mann and producer Evan Kleinman are working on a documentary called Punk Jews. They released a five-minute trailer last month; click here to watch it. They hope to finish filming next year and release a full-length documentary in 2010 or 2011. The film is not so much about Jewish punk music (although the trailer does include a snippet of a Sons of Abraham song and I met Kleinman when he was filming a Moshiach Oi! performance last month) as it is about unconventional practice of Judaism.

"I want to turn people on to the idea that people can be creative inside of their heritage and can create what their religion means to them and that freedom and honoring your heritage are not mutually exclusive," says Zook Mann. He added:

I grew up in a household in New York with three religions: Judaism, Hinduism, and Christianity. . . . There are definitely more people who would tell you the people in our film are not Jewish than would say they are - but that's what punk rock is about. People have been telling me that I'm not Jewish all my life because I dropped out of Hebrew school. But I can tell you that at Cholent [a Jewish gathering featured in the trailer], there is an undeniable connection between all the Jewish people there, and that's the magic of it. Secular people getting schooled in mysticism from a member of the Orthodox community, people wandering in from the outside to sing a Niggun with everyone. I've never been in a place where I was accepted as Jewish, and was free to ask questions and learn and share from people from all different walks of life, being exactly who I am. This film is my Hebrew school. Sure, maybe this school is unorthodox, but the experiences I've had at Cholent have moved me like no institution.

It could be said that being vegan and being punk are both ways of being Jewish on one's own terms. Zook Mann says, "I've been vegan for 16 years now, and whenever growing up on Long Island I'd meet people who didn't understand what veganism was, I would just say, 'I'm like a REALLY kosher guy,' and they would get it. ... I have to wonder that if kosher rules were first written today, with the animal agriculture industry being what it is, perhaps they might be written differently."

Click here to learn more about Punk Jews. Zook Mann and Kleinman are accepting contributions to help fund this film; Kleinman can be reached at Evan411@mail.com.


Recent News From Jewschool and Failed Messiah

In Vitro Meat
On Thursday, Jewschool discussed some of the questions surrounding kashrut and in vitro meat. It was a much more sophisticated look at the issue than last year's "But How Do You Shecht It?" post. Here's an excerpt:
Growing hamburgers in vats solves some halachic problems: No tzaar baalei hayim, cruelty to animals, as [is] endemic in contemporary factory farming. No need to hire rabbis to oversee the slaughter.

But it raises other questions.

Does meat cloned from a cow’s stem cell count as ever min hachai — meat (ultimately) from a live animal, which is prohibited to be eaten? Can a tissue culture be said to chew its cud if it has no cud, or to have cloven hoo[ve]s if it has no hooves?Could it conceivabl[y] be parve and permitted to be served with milk?

Ten years from now, McDonald’s may boast that its serves low-carbon, cruelty-free in vitro burgers. As Jews, should we eat them?

I offered my 2 shekels' worth about in vitro meat in a series of comments in response to an April 2008 post on The Jew & The Carrot.

Haredim and Swine Flu
Yesterday, Failed Messiah posted a Haaretz article discussing how the haredi community in Israel is dealing with swine flu. The article concludes:
As with most ad campaigns in Israel, the Health Ministry's campaign against swine flu has its ultra-Orthodox version. It is similar to the one for the general public, but the cartoon characters washing their hands are all wearing skullcaps.

The ultra-Orthodox community is no less worried about what it calls Mexican flu - to avoid mentioning the name of unkosher animals - than the public at large. However, despite the large number of infections in yeshivas, there are no plans to cut back on mass learning, public prayers or holiday meals.

Creative solutions have appeared to avoid infection and increase public awareness. For example, ritual baths now have signs calling on the public to avoid infection. Even the Gerer Hassidim have given up their generations-old custom of sharing the rabbi's Shabbat wine, and now each Hasid gets his own disposable cup.


That's Why We Don't Eat Animals

Ruby Roth's That's Why We Don't Eat Animals uses beautiful illustrations and appropriate language to teach children about veganism, factory farming, the environment, and the emotional lives of animals. Among the topics in That's Why We Don't Eat Animals are pets, animal families, chickens, turkeys, pigs, and cows. There's also a helpful "What Else Can We Do?" page.

The text confronts kids head-on with questions that will get them thinking, such as "Earth's oceans and rivers are truly being emptied of fish and sea mammals. Can you imagine an ocean with no fish?" The book ends with an important message for children and adults alike:
While the power of nature can move mountains and make rainbows, the power we have as humans is boundless too. Every day, we have the freedom to change our lives. In fact, when we treat animals respectfully, we practice world peace.

That's why we don't eat animals.

Roth lives in Los Angeles and is an artist, an author, a teacher, and a member of the tribe. "I'm a heeb myself!" she says. "Though my mother has been vegetarian all my life, she cooked my sisters and father (kosher) meat throughout our childhood, probably due to some pressure from the Hungarian grandparents! 'Eat, eat, eat, children!' But it wasn't until I was 21 that became vegan."

That's Why We Don't Eat Animals has received glowing endorsements from a pretty impressive list of people. Says Jane Goodall, "It will make children – and their parents – think. But it will not lead to nightmares, rather respect and compassion for the creatures whose wellbeing is in our hands."