Ezra Zohar has tended to all kinds of animals since he was a child – cats, dogs,
scorpions, spiders, everything he could bring home with him. Even today, at 43,
he is proud to have a pet rabbit.
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“I had a really special collection of
animals. I traveled a lot in Israel in the desert and I found them there,” he
said. “My mother was really tolerant about it.”
This tolerance for
animals – and their rights – is something that Zohar would like all of Israel’s
communities to be aware of and support, and to accomplish this goal he has
teamed up with a haredi community activist, Yehuda Shein of Beit Shemesh, to
co-found a haredi animal rights advocacy group called Compassion, whose Hebrew
letters are also an acronym for “haredi recruits for animals.”
had its official launch event on Thursday, with representatives from the
organization distributing information on Sheinkin Street in Tel Aviv.
organization will serve to spread knowledge about the cruelties endured by
animals as well as general environmental issues, according to the
“What we want is just to increase people’s awareness of animal
suffering,” Zohar said. “We believe that we can create change, bring
people to see what they don’t see.”
The idea for this group originally
came to Shein, 32, when a woman from an animal rights activist organization
approached him at a fuel demonstration attended by a host of social activists
including Shein’s own Equality Now Movement, which brings together haredi and
secular Jews, he said.
She asked him why there is no haredi organization
that supports animal rights, and how he can possibly say that secular and haredi
people are acting together when haredi MKs consistently fight against anti-fur
legislation, Shein explained.
To this, he said he responded that while
haredi activists are more likely to champion human issues – like advocating for
families with special-needs children – one other reason why the MKs might be
lobbying against the fur bill is because they may fear that such a bill will be
used as anti- Semitic material against Jews who have worn fur streimels for
“Already today there are publications in the international
media that display this topic with pictures of haredim wearing the streimel,” he
said, emphasizing, however, that “no one will kill any animal just for its
tail,” which is all that is required for a streimel.
However, the woman’s
question alerted Shein to the need for an organization that creates awareness
about animal rights among the haredim, and so he launched Compassion, which
provides crucial information to a community that lacks exposure to such matters,
the cofounders explained.
The group is now distributing explanatory
material in public places such as the the Kotel, synagogues and schools. But the
group is simply providing information, both Zohar and Shein stress, not forcing
people to change their beliefs.
“What is necessary is to bring their
attention to what happens in this area because they do not have a iota of an
idea about what goes on in this merciless industry,” Shein said.
asking people to be vegetarians,” added Zohar, who is a vegetarian himself, and
referred to certain methods of meat production as an example of cruelty to
“I am only trying to show them the facts of how meat is
manufactured. Maybe they will choose to eat less meat, or to buy organic
“I don’t have the right to tell someone to be vegetarian. It is our
right according to the Bible to eat meat.”
As far as the issue of the
streimel goes, both Zohar and Shein said that the organization does not plan to
involve itself in this topic whatsoever.
“I must stress that as an
organization we are in no way dealing with the topic of the streimel,” Shein
said. “We are in no way engaged at all with politics, laws or legal proceedings,
directly or indirectly. We involve ourselves in providing information
“The reason we are not involved in the issue of streimels is
because as noted, no one will kill an animal only for its tail. The streimel
industry is only a tiny branch of the giant fur industry.
support the move to synthetic substitutes in everything that is connected to
fur,” he continued. “We do not believe in coercion, only in providing
information that is translated into practical changes.”
Compassion’s efforts at first are going to be directed mostly to the haredi
community, Shein said that the group does plan to reach out to the general
public as well.
“We are turning to the public – haredi and secular,” he
said. “In a natural fashion, we are turning more to the haredi public because
the majority of them aren’t followers of the mainstream media and therefore it
is necessary to bring this to their awareness in a special language suited to
them. Indeed, the values of preventing harm to animals and safeguarding
the environment are definitely also Jewish values.”
Zohar added that he
hopes Compassion will be one more tool to bring secular and haredi communities
together over a mutual interest.
“We think there is a lot of work to be
done with the haredim,” he said. “This is our advantage – we have the same
mentality as them and they don’t consider us outsiders, so we can do work with
them that non-religious organizations cannot do. “But we don’t want to
stop there. We want to do work with the non-religious people too.”
Israel’s largest animal rights advocacy organizations, Anonymous for Animal
Rights, expressed enthusiasm over the establishment of Compassion and the
increasing willingness of the country’s haredi population to support
“We’re very encouraged by the growing awareness to animal rights
among the religious public in Israel,” said Hila Keren, a spokeswoman for the
group Anonymous for Animal Rights. “The Orthodox Knesset members have played a
key role in the effort to ban forcefeeding of geese and ducks, explaining that
the prohibition to inflict pain on animals comes directly from the
“Recently, we’ve received the support of important rabbis from all
streams in our campaign to ban battery cages for laying hens, among them
Israel’s Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, Rabbi Benjamin Lau, Rabbi Yuval Cherlow,
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner and Rabbi David Rosen.”