"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)


The Retirement of heebnvegan

Dear Readers,

On August 27, 2005, I started heebnvegan as a vegan voice in the Jewish blogosphere. I've accomplished more with this blog than I ever expected, but after five years, I have decided to retire the blog.

To some readers, heebnvegan is nothing more than the sum of its parts: a collection of more than 360 individual posts. While I am certainly proud of many of the posts exploring the intersection between Judaism and animal protection, among other issues, heebnvegan has become so much more to me.

Thanks to heebnvegan, I have furthered my knowledge about Jewish and vegetarian issues. heebnvegan has been a vehicle for me to grow my Jewish identity and understand my compassion for animals in greater depth. It has given me a platform to write op-eds, letters to the editor, and guest posts and to speak at a synagogue, a university's religious studies class, and another university's Hillel. heebnvegan has put me in touch with bloggers and other people who are doing great work in the Jewish community and given me the opportunity to interview the world's foremost Jewish vegan, musicians I admire, and people who devote their lives to making this world a better place. It has given me a great conversation-starter for academic and professional networking as well as numerous social situations. It's allowed me to feature voices that deserve to be heard through guest posts, and it's enabled my ideas and writing to be quoted from and referred to on other blogs and Web sites. And I certainly appreciate all the complimentary books, CDs, and admission to events I've received along the way.

As some readers know, I have undertaken an exhaustive reevaluation of my dietary habits of late. This quest has led me to eat processed foods less frequently, and it has reaffirmed my decision not to eat fish. As I question my dietary habits and come up with slightly different takes on the same overall picture, I'm left with one cardinal rule that I've hammered home time and time again: Tza'ar ba'alei chayim (unnecessary animal suffering) is the norm, not the exception to the rule, in modern animal agriculture. The best way to avoid causing animals unnecessary suffering is to stop consuming the products of cruel animal agriculture.

Thank you to everyone who read heebnvegan and helped keep this blog alive for so long. Thanks to The Jew & The Carrot, Failed Messiah, Jewish Vegetarians of North America, and VeggieJews for inspiring and informing the plurality of heebnvegan's content. And last but not least, Baruch Hashem.


Michael Croland
Editor, heebnvegan


New Web Site Hosts Updated List of Veg-Friendly Kosher Restaurants in the NYC Area

Last year, I blogged about a list of vegan, vegetarian, and vegetarian-friendly restaurants in the New York City area that have kosher certification. Cathy Resler, organizer of the NYC Jewish Veg*ns MeetUp group, has created a Web site featuring an updated version of her list. It's now quite easy to navigate through the myriad options by alphabetical, geographic, or cuisine-based sorting.

As I mentioned in my previous post, "If you're looking for a kosher establishment with plentiful vegetarian and vegan options, there's no need to check both vegan and kosher restaurant guides when you can check only one list."

While I personally feel comfortable from a kosher perspective if I know that food is vegan, I respect that other people look for a hechsher regardless in their efforts to keep kosher. For them (and for people trying to pick a restaurant to meet them at), this list is an invaluable resource.

I listed about a dozen of the restaurants that I'd been to in my previous post, but it's worth noting that Buddha Bodai, Peacefood Cafe, and Sacred Chow aren't just places I've been to once or twice. I probably have gone to those three restaurants more than any other in New York City, and I highly recommend each of them.

Vegetarian Food and Kosher Meat in a Kosher Nation

Sue Fishkoff's Kosher Nation: Why More and More of America's Food Answers to a Higher Authority (Schocken Books) doesn't come out until October, but I was lucky enough to get a galley in advance. Frankly, what I enjoyed most about the book were topics I don't have any particular reason to blog about: the true meaning of kosher wine, the globalization of kosher certification, how far people will go to make sure that insects aren't in their food, and the life and times of a mashgiach. Fishkoff also has a great deal to say about the connections between vegetarianism and kashrut as well as kosher meat.

I might not agree with everything Fishkoff has to say, but she didn't write an opinion-based eater's manual. She's a journalist who presented a very compelling, enlightening look at the scope of kashrut in 21st century America, and it's a must-read for anyone interested in Jewish connections to food issues of any kind.

Vegetarianism and Kashrut
Prior to reading Kosher Nation, I generally felt that my vegan diet was kosher by default, despite some possible exceptions that people might point out. By learning more about how far people go to adhere to kashrut, I realize that the list of "exceptions" is greater than I previously realized. At the same time, I feel more confident in my own stance. Fishkoff explicitly says that "most Conservative Jews" "consider all vegetarian food kosher," and as a Conservative Jew, I thought that felt right and and that she'd affirmed what I've long suspected and pieced together on my own. Fishkoff explains that prior to the tipping point of monumental growth of kosher certification in the 1980s, many Orthodox Jews in the U.S. kept "kosher by ingredient." This means that if all the individual ingredients in a food were kosher in nature, then the product would be considered kosher even if it didn't bear a hechsher. Fishkoff notes that this system "fell out of practice among Orthodox Jews" but "continued among Conservative Jews." It's what intuitively seems right to me.

Despite my personal stance, I now appreciate just how instrumental kosher certification can be for vegetarian foods. Fishkoff recounts that the country's first food to be certified kosher on a national level was Heinz Vegetarian Beans in 1923. Eighty-five years later, in 2008, Jelly Belly sought national kosher certification, with the company's president quoted as saying that this would bring in business "not just from Jewish consumers, but vegans and others who look for a kosher symbol." I personally don't think that too many non-Jewish vegans look for kosher symbols, especially considering that pareve foods may contain fish or eggs, but Fishkoff claims that the kosher market includes "vegans who look for the pareve, or neutral, kosher symbol, indicating food that contains neither dairy nor meat." I'm sure Jelly Bean and Fishkoff are right that kosher certification does make a difference to some vegans, even if it's to a very limited extent.

My favorite part about Fishkoff's passages on connections between vegetarianism and kashrut comes in the prologue: "How we sow, how we harvest, how we slaughter, how we prepare our food, how and when we eat—Jews are hardwired to link our food choices to moral and political beliefs, which is probably why so many Jews are active in the organic, locally sourced, and vegetarian movements. What we put in our bodies has a lot to say about who we are and what we value." This drives home the point that being Jewish and vegetarian are not utterly distinct identities but rather interrelated, consistent facets of a person's outlook on food.

Kosher Meat
I learned a few tidbits of information I hadn't known about kosher meat production, but I think that Fishkoff by and large left out a big piece of the puzzle: what it means for animals. In an entire chapter about AgriProcessors and its downfall, only four sentences dealt with the PETA investigations at AgriProcessors and the Rubashkins' Local Pride plant and AgriProcessors' multiple violations of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.

Furthermore, when Fishkoff did present information I didn't know, I was left to connect the dots myself. Fishkoff notes that animals who do not meet kosher standards at slaughter, as well as the back halves of kosher animals (at least in the U.S.), are sold as non-kosher meat. I knew that, but I was blown away by the statistic: Fishkoff says, "Up to 85 percent of the meat produced in a kosher plant ends up being sold as non-kosher." Separately, Fishkoff says that the shochet will check his knife for nicks (the idea, at least in theory, is that a knife with no nicks will make the sharpest cut and end an animal's life more quickly and less painfully, as is required by kosher law) "between every large animal, and every fifteen to twenty minutes when slaughtering poultry." Fishkoff explains:
There is no law prescribing this; it’s purely a financial consideration. If a nick is discovered in the blade, every animal slaughtered since the previous check is no longer kosher. Fifteen or twenty minutes’ worth of chickens is a lot less expensive than losing even two head of cattle.
The implications here are startling. Defenders of shechita contend that when it's performed correctly, it's humane. But in practice, kosher meat plants are producing meat that is not consistent with correctly performed shechita on a massive scale. Up to 85 percent of the meat produced in kosher facilities isn't kosher, and it's no big deal (and "purely a financial consideration") if "up to twenty minutes' worth of chickens" are deemed trayf. It's one thing to have a high ideal that aims to look out for animals' welfare, but in far too many cases, that ideal is not being met in practice.

Fishkoff's last chapter focuses on the new Jewish food movement, and her last five paragraphs in particular refer to the movement's leaders and the Orthodox Union's Rabbi Seth Mandel to drive home a key point: Mandel says that the movement's few supposedly humane kosher meat suppliers are "valuable as education, but not economical." As I've put it in the past, they "inherently can't operate on a large enough scale for their meat to be a viable alternative in the kosher market." So if the practices of large-scale animal agriculture are the chief problem, the likes of KOL Foods and Mitzvah Meat are not much of a solution. Fishkoff concludes, "And it will take more than goat shechting in Connecticut or turkey slaughter on a California farm to change that."

Note: Quotations used in this blog post were taken from an uncorrected bound galley. When looking to use quotations from Kosher Nation, please refer to the published book, not this blog post.



Update on the Proposed Fur Ban in Israel
It appears that a vote is forthcoming on the proposed Israeli fur ban. One potential hurdle to the bill's passing was the opposition of Trade Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, but according to the International Anti-Fur Coalition, Ben-Eliezer formally withdrew his opposition to the bill on Sunday. On its Web site, the organization notes that "the path is open for the ban to be voted [on] at the committee meeting to be held at the Knesset on September 2nd when the bill comes up for its 2nd and 3rd reading."

NewKosher.org Coming Soon
I've written a fair amount about PunkTorah, and I'm happy to announce that this nonprofit organization will soon be launching the Web site NewKosher.org. Says PunkTorah CEO Patrick Aleph, "NewKosher.org is an effort by PunkTorah to create a true Kosher Lifestyle based on the ethical, moral, environmental, and mystical principles of kashrut." I've submitted a few posts connecting kashrut and vegetarianism, and I expect that they'll be posted shortly after the site goes live.

Tens of Thousands of Chickens Die in Israeli Heat Waves
Yesterday, Haaretz reported that "just" 20,000 chickens had died in a recent Israeli heat wave. This was viewed as a small death toll relative to the hundreds of thousands of chickens who died in a heat wave two weeks prior. The paper reported, "The reason less battery hens died this time around is that the poultry farmers improved the cooling systems in chicken coops, according to Kanat, the Insurance Fund for Natural Risks in Agriculture." It's questionable enough when animals are raised and killed to be eaten, but it's a shonde when they suffer and die from heat and aren't even used for food.

Opposition to Unsanitary Conditions for Kapparot
Last week, Failed Messiah noted that a New York newspaper had reported that the Rockland County, N.Y., health commissioner is speaking out against unsanitary conditions for kapparot. The Journal News reported:
The Rockland Commissioner of Health directed officials today to find out where a Jewish group was planning on holding its annual chicken ritual [kapparot] and to meet with organizers to try to prevent the unsanitary conditions that have led to fines in the past. . . .

A Monsey man who organizes the ceremony for Ramapo's large Jewish population has been fined three years in a row for not adequately cleaning up chicken entrails, feces, carcasses, feet and blood in kapparot ceremonies in Monsey.

Much of the previous years' fines remain unpaid, health officials said.

Members of the Rockland Department of Health said they have met with organizers in previous years to explain the sanitary code requirements and suggest ways to perform the ritual while still complying with regulations.

Those meetings have had little effect, health officials told [Rockland Commissioner of Health John] Facelle.

"We meet with them ahead of time and explain what they have to do," Thomas Micelli, director of environmental health, told Facelle. "And it's still awful."


Index of Guest Posts

Since I started heebnvegan in 2005, it's essentially been a one-person operation. Nevertheless, I've had the opportunity to feature 10 guest posts through the years, and I am grateful for the way that each of them has added a fresh perspective.

The Passover and Rosh Hashanah guest posts have contributed recipes and cooking inspiration. Rina Deych's and Boris Dolin's pieces have shined the spotlight on new projects of interest to heebnvegan readers. And I frequently refer to Jackie Topol's guest post from three years ago to illuminate how even if there were a realistic best-case scenario for animal welfare, veganism is still the best option.

2010 List of Jewish Punk Bands

Below is the most recent update of the list of Jewish punk bands I've written about along with a link to an article or blog post in which each is mentioned.

The categories are somewhat arbitrary. The last three categories shouldn't be thought of as comprehensive.

Punk Bands With a Significant Jewish Focus/Identity
7SEVENTY (Florida)
CAN!!CAN (Georgia)
Clockwork Allen (California)
Di Nigunim (California)
Electric Menorah (New York)
Fear of a Blue Planet (Illinois)
Gefilte F*ck (California)
G.I. Jew (California)
The Groggers (New York)
Jewdriver (California)
Jews From the Valley (California)
The Jiddische Hitlerjugend (Holland)
Johnny Cohen and the Jewish Defense League (Holland)
Kohane of Newark (New York)
KOSHER (Maryland)
Mensch (New York)
Moshiach Oi (New York)
The Schleps (Massachusetts)
Shabbos Bloody Shabbos (New York)
The Shondes (New York)
Sons of Abraham (New York)
Steve “Gangsta Rabbi” Lieberman (New York)
Total Passover (Iowa)
White Shabbos (New York)
Yidcore (Australia)

Klezmer/Folk Bands With a Punk Edge
Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird
Josh Lederman y Los Diablos
Mr. Julian Gaskell & His Ragged Trousered Philanthropists
The Klezmatics
Luminescent Orchestrii
The Murrays

Polka Madre

Similar bands include Charming Hostess, Charming Hostess Big Band, and Kletka Red.

Punk Bands From Israel
Chaos Rabak
Friday Night Sissy Fight
Make It Rain
Not Kosher

Shenkin Punx
Sinat Hinam

Useless ID

To learn more about the Israeli punk scene, check out Liz Nord’s documentary Jericho’s Echo: Punk Rock in the Holy Land.

Punk Bands With Jewish Members
Bad Religion
Black Flag
Bleach Battalion
The Clash
The Circle Jerks
Cobra Starship
The Dictators

Gogol Bordello
Hard Times
Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes
New Found Glory
The New York Dolls
Operation Ivy
The Ramones
Serge Gainsbourg
The Sleepies

To learn more about Jews’ involvement in punk rock, read Steven Lee Beeber’s The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB’s: A Secret History of Jewish Punk.


Kosher Veganarchy in the U.K.!

Last month, the Redwood Wholefood Company, a vegan food manufacturer in Britain, issued a press release announcing "one of the first times that a UK manufacturer of vegetarian and vegan products has undergone the kosher certification process." Celebrity animal rights advocate Heather Mills, who owns Redwood, said, "Achieving kosher certification is an endorsement of the care and attention we give to the sourcing of ingredients and to the manufacturing of our products."

Perhaps a press release should be taken with a grain of kosher salt. While it is commendable that Redwood has reached out to clientele seeking a hechsher, kosher-certified vegan food is likely not a total anomaly in England. The press release highlights the rarity of kosher certification for companies that chiefly focus on vegetarian and vegan foods, but surely there must be a fair number of kosher foods that are vegan in the U.K. I took the below photo last year to show off the kosher section of a London supermarket, and I'm guessing that at the very least, the matzos that my friend was holding were both hechsher-bearing and vegan!

My friend Will modeled some of the kosher offerings at a Sainsbury's supermarket in London in August 2009. I am so pleased to find a constructive use for this photo.
Photo by Michael Croland

I don't mean to detract from the point that growth in the number of heeb and vegan foods in England is worth celebrating. Here's something else that's worth celebrating: With Rosh Hashanah right around the corner, the all-vegetarian British company Manna is selling two vegan gift boxes that are certified kosher: "Dark Magic" and "Vegan Rosh Hashanah."

The Vegan Rosh Hashanah gift basket includes date honey, apples, wine, and chocolate. Manna Gifts notes, "Some Jewish scholars suggest that the 'honey' from the biblical 'land of milk & honey' referred to the abundance of sweet date and fig syrup in the Land of Israel. This beautiful gift box offers a jar of this biblical date honey as a delicious kosher and vegan alternative to traditional bee honey, making an original, delicious and symbolic Rosh Hashanah gift."

Manna founder (and member of the tribe) Shelley Caro realizes that there might not be a huge market of kosher-keeping consumers seeking explicitly vegan products in the U.K. Nevertheless, she points out, "Gifts are about giving as well as receiving. While there may not be many Jewish Vegans in the UK, I believe that those living abroad with friends and family in the UK & Europe will want to send Rosh Hashanah gifts that are consistent with their ethical choices. I would be delighted if they did so through us!"

Caro does see a connection between selling products that cater to both the kosher and vegan niches. "From a product perspective, there is often a large area of overlap between kosher dairy & pareve products and those suitable for ovo-lacto vegetarians and vegans," Caro says. "Kosher dairy and pareve products will be generally be free of meat-derived additives, but since fish, eggs and honey are considered pareve, for example, we need to be as thorough as possible in checking the ingredients and additives used."

Let's hear it for kosher veganarchy in the U.K.! British Yiddish vegans, I leave you with the out-of-context vision of the Sex Pistols: "Your future dream is a shopping scheme!"

Enter to Win a Copy of Jonathan Safran Foer's 'Eating Animals'

Update (8/24/10): This contest has now ended. The winners will be notified via e-mail.

Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals is now available in paperback, and you can enter to win a copy from heebnvegan!

This blockbuster book was first published in November, and it's already gone a long way toward getting the media and the general public talking about factory farming and vegetarianism. Foer has become a leading spokesperson for vegetarian advocacy, and after watching his interviews and seeing him speak in March, I'd be hard-pressed to find someone who's a better fit for the job.

Here's an excerpt of my review from when Eating Animals first came out:
After being an on-and-off vegetarian for much of his life, Foer set out to explore where meat comes from when his wife got pregnant with their first child and he had to make decisions about eating animals on someone else's behalf. The search that follows is part memoir, part journalism, and it delves deeply into the issue of where meat comes from. With Foer's revered knack for storytelling, Eating Animals takes readers on a journey that will make them find factory farms nothing short of repugnant. All this is done in a style that is very accessible to the general public and never too preachy or pushy of Foer's viewpoint.
Enter to win a free paperback copy of Eating Animals! To enter, leave your name and e-mail address as a comment in response to this post by Monday, August 23. No purchase is necessary. Up to five winners will be selected and notified via e-mail. Only U.S. and Canadian residents with addresses other than P.O. boxes are eligible to enter. The winners will receive books mailed directly from Hachette Book Group, and heebnvegan is not responsible for lost or stolen copies. This contest is subject to the terms and discretion of Hachette Book Group.



Matisyahu Supports Israel's Proposed Fur Ban
Readers may recall that in April, heebnvegan featured an exclusive interview with Matisyahu. In June, he wrote a letter on behalf of PETA speaking out in favor of Israel's proposed fur ban. Matisyahu told government leaders, "I hope you will agree that the way that animals suffer and die in the fur trade violates the fundamental principle of tza'ar ba'alei chayim, which forbids gratuitous cruelty to animals."

Recommended Reading on The Jew & The Carrot
Recommended Reading on Failed Messiah
Other Recommended Reading


Guest Post: Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos

The following guest post was written by Rina Deych, a registered nurse, animal activist, and vegan who lives in Brooklyn. She first learned about the use of chickens for kaporos from her Orthodox grandfather, Joseph Levine. Levine was one of the first kosher butchers in Boro Park in the 1920s, and he considered the practice inconsistent with the Jewish mandate not to harm animals.

Kaporos (“atonements”) is a custom preceding Yom Kippur in which chickens are ritually sacrificed by many Orthodox Jews. The person “swings” the chicken, by holding the legs or pinning the bird’s wings backward, around his or her head while chanting about transferring one’s sins symbolically onto the bird. The chicken is then slaughtered and may or may not be given to the poor. Prior to the ceremony, the chickens are packed in crates, and birds not used have been found abandoned in their crates when the ceremony was over.

The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos (AECK) seeks to replace chickens in kaporos rituals for three principal reasons:
  • The use of chickens as kaporos is cruel. They suffer in being held with their wings pinned backward, in being swung over the heads of practitioners, and in being packed in crates, often for days without food or water leading up to the ritual, which violates tsa’ar ba’alei chaim, the mandate prohibiting cruelty to animals.
  • The use of chickens is not required by Jewish law. It is not a mitzvah but rather a custom that originated in the Middle Ages.
  • There is an acceptable substitute that not only avoids cruelty but also can help reduce hunger and show compassion: Money can be used as a non-animal alternative. Funds raised can be given directly to charities that provide food for the poor and hungry throughout the year, including 13,000 Jewish families living at or below the poverty line in New York City.
For more information on the custom of Kaporos, please see Jewish Vegetarians of North America president Richard Schwartz's article. Please also see United Poultry Concerns' Karen Davis' excellent resource page as well as AECK's YouTube channel. The AECK Web site, which is under construction, will be EndChickensAsKaporos.com. Please join our Facebook group. If you would like to be added to our mailing list to be informed of our upcoming demo and petition, please email me at rrrina@optonline.net.

Vegan Marries Jew in 'Wedding of the Century'

This post should not be seen as condoning intermarriage.

Last night, in what was billed as the "wedding of the century," a vegan married a Jew. I don't think of Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky as the biggest celebrities in the land, but I would have loved to have gone to the event to cover it for heebnvegan!

Rev. William Shillady, a Methodist minister, and Rabbi James Ponet, the head of the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale, co-officiated at the ceremony. A blogger for the Forward called the wedding "the most high-profile interfaith ceremony in American history."

Mezvinsky wore a kippah and a tallis, and the couple stood under a chuppah (canopy) and in front of a ketubah (wedding contract). Friends and family reportedly recited the traditional blessings of the sheva brachot. The Los Angeles Jewish Journal pointed out, "No word on whether the bridegroom shattered a glass, or whether President Clinton yelled, 'Mazel tov!'"

Clinton has reportedly been vegan since she was a teenager. Although the menu apparently did include organic grass-fed beef, the affair reportedly included significant vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options, including a vegan, gluten-free wedding cake. Some are speculating that the high-profile wedding could lead to a spike in the volume and creativity of vegan and gluten-free options at weddings and elsewhere.