Animal Cruelty

farm animals (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
farm animals
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Dear Ladies,
Jews are to be rahmanim bnei rahmanim (compassionate descendants of compassionate parents), emulating God, whose compassion is over all His works (Psalms 145:9). We also have mitzvot to guard our health and protect the environment.
Reading articles like “The new kosher” (Jerusalem Post Magazine, August 10), one wonders how we can justify consuming meat, dairy and eggs in view of the following: 1. Animals are treated very cruelly on factory farms. Dairy cows are artificially impregnated annually on what the industry calls “rape racks” and their calves are taken away almost immediately, causing great anguish to both; 2. Animal-based diets have been linked scientifically to several life-threatening diseases; 3. Animal-based agriculture contributes significantly to climate change and other environmental threats to humanity and requires far more land, water, energy and other resources than plant-based agriculture.
Richard Schwartz Shoresh
Danit Shemesh: The concept of rahmanin bnei rahmanim is very close to the hearts of observing Jews. It’s our family tradition, an heirloom; handed down through generations.
It’s the symbol on our collective “business card,” refining and bettering our personhood to include others on our radar. But this compassion has no connection to animals; rather it’s about brother/sisterhood. Your stretch, Richard, is an academic ploy that I find disingenuous.
Prioritizing our compassion, a feat of utmost importance as implied in the pasuk you quoted, presumes intellectual honesty. We cannot make up rules as they please us, find psukim to fit our passion, shoot the arrow and then draw the circle around it.
But, no worries, we do have a pasuk against cruelty to animals. This is somewhat indicated by the fact that the strictest kashrut considers the condition of the animal at the slaughterhouse, the final station. We appreciate animals as Hashem’s [God’s] creation; as such, they deserve appropriate treatment. A kosher slaughter is the quickest and least painful way of preparing the animal.
The reason we eat meat is that there is a direct connection between pleasure and eating meat. Shabbat is a day of pleasure, where we eat the choicest food, the most refined, which is by and large meat.
I, for one, believe in the food chain. We humans are worth more than animals.
Another Jewish heirloom is guilt. I eat meat, I try to be compassionate and I don’t feel guilt!
Tzippi Shaked: Honestly, Richard, I think the argument must be reframed when it’s directed to the religious Jewish community.
Take the animal rights activist group PETA, for example. While it’s morally repugnant to compare factory-farming methods to the cruelties of the Holocaust, as they did, PETA’s arguments shouldn’t be ignored. And yes, the arguments do seem to fall on “religiously” deaf ears.
Why? As a nation, we are engulfed in turbulence on so many fronts that the last thing we want is someone also tampering with our dinner plate.
As a teen, to comply with my understanding of Jewish sensitivity, I stopped eating veal after learning of the terrible abuse to which young calves were subjected.
Being informed was key.
As an adult, I trained to work with battered women in my community. Our first mission was to educate local rabbis about domestic abuse. In the case of animal cruelty, too, we must educate rabbis with the language they best understand.
Unfortunately, modern kashrut practices may well violate the prohibition of placing a stumbling block in front of the blind, as well, possibly, as other prohibitions.
Animal rights activists would be better served by reframing arguments in Torah language that is less confrontational and more didactic.
While protests have been effective (ceasing live cattle exports from Australia to Israel due to mistreatment), education is crucial.
I commend your efforts, Richard, in producing the highly instructional film A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World. We can begin by watching it. Maybe then we will stop glorifying a good pot roast.
Pam Peled: Here’s a chance to share something told recently by an observant friend at work: “What’s the difference between an Orthodox vegetarian, a Conservative vegetarian and a Reform vegetarian?” Answer: An Orthodox vegetarian doesn’t eat meat. A Conservative vegetarian doesn’t eat meat at home, but eats it out. A Reform vegetarian eats meat.
Funny, right – or maybe not.
Your question has been much in the news lately with Natalie Portman’s PETA video quoting of Isaac Bashevis Singer, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor himself, who stated, “We do to God’s creatures what the Nazis did to us.” Perhaps suffering unspeakable horrors gives license to such astounding words; the juxtaposition appalls me.
Yet your question resonates: our Californian Orthodox rabbi forswore meat decades ago. Apparently, God prefers vegetarians: Adam and Eve were barred from chomping the animals they named. Only Noah, after saving the lives of those beasts, was given the go-ahead to spice and devour them. Some commentators claim that when the Messiah comes we’ll all return to meatless Mondays every day of the week.
As for sustainability: unfortunately and unscientifically, it seems that the more pious a community, the less environmentally aware. This generalization is only empirically based: witnessing incredible piles of trash immediately after Passover, for example, when ultra-Orthodox in their thousands hit public places, leaving astonishing amounts of garbage in their wake. Or surveying the streets in Bnei Brak. Environmental concerns do not appear to top ultra-religious concerns: sustainability experts advise having two kids for the good of the planet.
I am not (yet) a vegetarian; I can’t in good faith cast aspersions. But I get your concern.