You might assume that The Beet-Eating Heeb dreads Passover.
After all, the very name of the holiday relates to the smearing of lamb’s blood on the doorposts of the Hebrews.
It would be one thing if the lambs had willingly donated a pint or two at the local blood bank. We all know that’s not how it happened.
Furthermore, the Ashkenazic prohibition on eating legumes (which is pointless) really limits The Beet-Eating Heeb’s diet. This means eating even more beets than usual. Not such a bad thing, but he really misses lentils.
Believe it or not, though, BEH looks forward to Pesach every year as a holiday whose main spiritual themes intersect with veganism.
You might find that to be quite a stretch, especially if your mother is making her brisket for the Seder again this year.
But hear BEH out.
Without further fanfare, or actually any fanfare, The Beet-Eating Heeb presents:
The Top 3 Reasons Passover is a Vegan Holiday
At Passover, we celebrate our freedom, our deliverance from slavery.
It seems like a good time to abstain from meat, dairy and eggs, since the animals from which those products are derived are treated like slaves, or worse.
Actually, anthropologically speaking, the very motif of slavery comes from animal agriculture. (This may be the most intellectual sentence BEH has ever written.)
Buying and selling living beings, binding them with chains, and branding them with hot irons are all actions that we associate with slavery. And these are all actions that originated in animal agriculture.
In modern factory farming, what animals experience is even worse than slavery. BEH will spare you the details this time around. But suffice it to say, during Passover, it would be a little hypocritical to celebrate our freedom while participating in the confinement, mutilation and killing of other sentient, soulful beings.
At Passover, we seek to free ourselves from our own personal mitzrayim, our bad habits.
And meat-eating is a very bad habit. Bad for your health. Bad for the planet. And very bad for the animal involved.
Pesach provides the perfect opportunity to make changes in our lives. Reducing or eliminating animal products from your diet is one of the best changes you can make.
Why do we eat matzah, the bread of affliction?
It’s not because we enjoy the feeling of constipation. (A feeling vegans rarely get, by the way.)
We rid our homes of chametz and we eat matzah to remind ourselves to remain humble.
The whole concept of killing animals for food is based on the misguided notion that we are far superior to our furry and feathered friends.
The rabbis of the Talmud realized that humans would have a tendency to be anthropocentric. (BEH is on a roll.) Yes, anthropocentric. Look it up, if you have to.
Those rabbis found many ways to make the point that if human beings are superior by animals, it’s not by much. Take, for instance, the mitzvah of feeding your animals before you feed yourself. That’s humility, baby.
So, you see, The Beet-Eating Heeb has good reason to engage in vegan advocacy, right there at his Seder table.
If we take the spiritual significance of Passover seriously, then we must consider going veg.
The Jewish holiday of Purim is about to make its annual appearance, as it has for the last two millenia or so.
But this year, it will assume special significance.
For Jews who need a quick refresher, and for non-Jewish readers of this blog, here is the story of Purim, CliffsNotes style.
A Persian prime minister orders the extermination of all the Jews in the kingdom. Esther, one of the king’s wives, uses her feminine charms to persuade the monarch to overturn the order. The Jews live happily ever after.
Jews have been re-reading and re-hearing this story, which is recorded in the Book of Esther, every year for more than 2,000 years.
So what’s special about Purim this time around?
This year, a new Esther has arrived. Just like her ancient namesake, this modern Esther is quite a charmer. And like her predecessor, our contemporary Esther is desperately trying to prevent a slaughter.
Who is this 21st Century version of the Purim heroine?
Some readers of this blog are already familiar with this special sow, and are nodding their head in agreement at this very moment.
Those who have never heard of Esther the Wonder Pig may think The Beet-Eating Heeb has gone off the deep end.
But let BEH quickly explain how a hog became an international celebrity — and a savior for her species.
To their surprise, their new pet grew. And grew. And grew some more. She now weighs 400 pounds.
This Canadian couple, Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter, had been duped. This was no miniature pig. This was the same type of pig that, if not for a mysterious twist of fate, would have been someone’s Canadian bacon, rather than a beloved pet.
Lifelong carnivores, Steve and Derek morphed into the king in the Purim story. Just like the ancient King Ahasuerus, they were charmed by Esther. And like the king, our Canadian friends have taken
action to prevent the slaughter.
Not only have Steve and Derek adopted a vegan diet, they have turned Esther into a wildly popular media sensation, creating a platform for her to work her charms on literally hundreds of thousands
of other people. Perhaps millions.
The Facebook feed of Esther the Wonder Pig might have you smiling and crying at the same time. Smiling at the photos of this friendly, affectionate pig cuddling with Steve and Derek, napping contentedly on their couch, and hanging out with the other pets. Crying at the thought that millions of pigs just like her are cruelly confined to small cages for most of their miserable lives, before they’re trucked to a slaughterhouse to have their throats slit.
For years, we vegan advocates have been trying to show people that farm animals are every bit as intelligent, friendly, affectionate and personable as are dogs and cats. Steve and Derek have astutely recognized that, in Esther, they have an incredibly powerful and persuasive vehicle to drive this point home.
BEH cannot help but think that the Hand of Hashem is at work here.
Perhaps you can dismiss as a mere oddity that a pig who ordinarily would have been carved up into pork chops has instead landed in the home of two guys with big hearts and media savvy.
But here’s where it gets downright mystical: Steve and Derek named her Esther for reasons they can’t even fully understand. As they said in a recent interview, “For whatever reason, Esther seemed like a very traditional, human name and it just clicked. There wasn’t really any sort of inspiration in particular, it just worked.”
In Jewish mysticism, it is believed that God can plant thoughts in your head. Is this what happened to Steve and Derek when they were deciding on a name for this pig?
They’re not Jewish and were not familiar with the Purim story. Is it just a coincidence that it “just clicked” to give her the name Esther, the name of an ancient Jewish heroine whom they had never
A coincidence? Unlikely.
Steve told BEH that he is open to the idea of a metaphysical explanation.
“We can’t help but feel there’s something special happening here, she found us for a reason,” he said. “It’s a very strange and sometimes overwhelming feeling but all we can do is run with it, and see where the path takes us.”
This much is beyond dispute: A new Esther has arrived on the scene this Purim. In her own way, she is every bit as charming as the Persian version.
May she be equally effective in stopping slaughter.
This is not about equating animal life with human life. But this is about preventing senseless bloodshed.
From their perch in America, many Diaspora Jews look at the Orthodox Rabbinate in Israel as a bunch of Neanderthals who use clubs to beat back any modern innovation or progressive idea.
No offense to any Neanderthals.
But The Beet-Eating Heeb, for one, might have to revise his assessment of Israel’s Rabbinical leadership.
On one issue that is near and dear to BEH’s heart, and probably to yours as well, the newly elected Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel recently made a very enlightened statement. And BEH is all for giving credit where credit is due.
Chief Rabbi Lau, after viewing televised footage of horrific abuses of animals at (yet another) kosher slaughterhouse, issued an unusually strong statement of condemnation.
His statement came in response to seeing chickens packed in filthy cages without food or water, writhing turkeys tossed into metal boxes with their throats cut, and several other forms of cruelty at a Soglowek slaughterhouse in Northern Israel.
“As a human being and as a Jew, I was shocked by the footage, by the brutal behavior of those employees toward helpless animals,” said Lau, according to Israel’s Ynet website. “Such things shouldn’t happen. The Torah forbids us to act in this way and obliges us to be extra vigilant with regard to animal welfare. We cannot remain silent in the face of such things. We will act firmly and sternly against this factory.”
The slaughterhouse, after a brief closure, has reopened. It remains to be seen whether Soglowek will improve its practices.
Nonetheless, Lau’s tough talk heartened The Beet-Eating Heeb for two reasons.
The rabbi specifically invoked “tzar baalei chaim,” the Jewish prohibition on inflicting unnecessary suffering on animals. He acknowledged the reality that the laws of kosher slaughter only apply to the last seconds of an animal’s life. What happens in the modern factory farm and during transport to the slaughterhouse typically involves multiple forms of cruelty, but is not governed by kashrut.
Second, Lau’s response to the Soglowek scandal stands out in vivid contrast to how America’s kashrut establishment has reacted to similar situations in U.S. slaughterhouses.
The most obvious example is the infamous Agriprocessors case, in which undercover investigators from 2004-2008 documented shocking cruelty at what was then the world’s largest glatt-kosher slaughterhouse. In response, the Orthodox Union, the country’s largest kosher-certification agency, repeatedly denied that anything was amiss.
Indeed, the Orthodox Union engaged in a public-relations campaign on behalf of Agriprocessors, essentially telling kosher consumers, and veterinary experts, not to believe what they were seeing with their own eyes.
Don’t take The Beet-Eating Heeb’s word for it, although you certainly can. Documentary evidence of the OU’s shenanigans can be found in the archives of the OU’s own Website.
Why would Orthodox rabbis bend over backwards to defend the perpetrators of cruelty?
BEH can answer in one word: Money.
The OU is the United States’ largest certifier of kosher products. It’s a very big business. The amount of money that the OU collects from kosher certification is not available on Guidestar, but suffice it to say, the total amount has quite a few zeros.
Agriprocessors was the sordid intersection of the country’s largest slaughterhouse and largest kosher certifier. Compassion, ethics, and concern for animals didn’t stand much of a chance. Neither did Judaism or Jewish values, for that matter.
Mark BEH’s words. There will be another Agriprocessors. There will be another videotaped, well-documented case of heart-wrenching, stomach-turning cruelty at a large American kosher slaughterhouse.
After all, kosher slaughter in the modern, factory-farming era resembles an assembly line. Make that a disassembly line. The point is, the sheer volume of animals, and the rapid line speed of the slaughter, all but ensures that cruelty will occur.
We can only hope that next time, America’s Orthodox rabbinate will not sacrifice compassion on the altar of economic expediency.