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.
Jews around the world this week are reading the story of Noah in Genesis 9.
(Was he the one who first said, “When it rains, it pours”?)
Ironically, while most people associate this story with the saving of animals in the Ark, it is in this particular Torah portion that God first gives humans permission to kill animals for food.
Yup, the animals had barely set foot on terra firma when God told Noah and his sons, “Every living thing that moves shall be food for you.”
You can practically hear the cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys saying, “Are you kidding me?”
A year ago this week, The Beet-Eating Heeb, as a service to readers and animals alike, explained why Genesis 9 doesn’t really condone meat-eating, after all.
But BEH left out an important point, which he will rectify right this very second.
If God really approves of us killing animals by the billions, why would He say that animals are explicitly included in His covenant?
It’s right there in Genesis 9, just a few short verses after humans supposedly got a permit to open slaughterhouses. (Emphasis on supposedly.)
In Genesis 9:12, God says, “This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations.”
Every living creature is in covenant with the Divine.
God was evidently concerned that humans would want to overlook this inconvenient truth, especially when there is meat on the grill.
So God repeated the statement not once, but three additional times.
Genesis 9, Verses 15, 16 and 17 all state that God includes animals in his covenant.
Sheesh, get the hint?
God does not want us to slash the throats of animals, or to abuse them in countless and hideous other ways, as we do in modern factory farms. Not if the word “covenant” means anything.
By definition, God would never have included the animals in His covenant if he didn’t care about their well-being. To which you’re probably saying, “No duh,” or amen.
To take it a step further, God could have established a covenant with animals without telling humans about it. But that would defeat the purpose. The reason this covenant is repeated four times in the Torah is because He is depending on us to make it a reality.
This is fundamental to Jewish thought. We are supposed to be God’s partners in perfecting creation. We are supposed to implement God’s will.
Sadly, we haven’t just ignored the fact that animals are partners to the same covenant we have with God. As the party responsible for making the covenant a meaningful reality, we have trashed it.
In the United States alone this year, 10 billion farm animals will be killed, while another 200 million animals will be killed by hunters, 100 million more in vivisection, and another 2 million in the fur industry.
And these figures don’t measure the brutality, the cruelty, the torture and the torment that these animals experience before they are killed.
This is how we honor the Divine covenant.
Animals shouldn’t be mad at God for what He said in Genesis 9:3. Technically, He may have given humans permission to eat meat. But He made it perfectly clear that He would strongly prefer that we don’t.
The animals should be mad at humans. We have betrayed them. And in so doing, we have betrayed God and His covenant.
Fortunately, we can begin to repair this covenant with a simple step.
One of the most dramatic and meaningful stories in the Bible is read this week in synagogues around the world.
It is a food-related story and it merits our attention, yet it is seldom discussed. Or depicted in movies.
The story, found in Numbers 11, describes part of the Israelites’ journey in the desert, before their thunderous encounter with God at Mount Sinai.
As you likely know, the Torah tells us that God sustained the Israelites on a diet of manna. And manna was described as similar to coriander seed. A vegan dish, to be sure.
It probably won’t shock you to learn that some of the Israelites complained about the fare and demanded meat, never mind that the manna was filling and healthy.
So who were these meat-lovers? The Torah described them, in Hebrew, as ha’asafsoof. The Jewish Publication Society translates that as “the riffraff.” Not exactly a neutral description. Just another case of the Torah expressing disdain for meat-eating.
Moses, who consulted public-opinion polls long before there was Gallup, heard the riffraff and relayed their concerns to God.
If The Beet-Eating Heeb can be so bold as to paraphrase God Himself, His response was something like this:
They want meat, do they? I’ll give them some meat, alright … until it’s coming out of their nostrils.
Actually, that’s pretty close to a direct translation.
God then called forth a mighty wind that deposited quails – yes, quails – throughout the Israelites’ camp.
Fire up the barbecue!
In normal circumstances, the fat and cholesterol might have killed the riffraff, but not for a few years. God decided to cut to the chase. The Torah says:
“The meat was still between their teeth, not yet chewed, when the anger of the Lord blazed forth against the people and the Lord struck the people with a very severe plague. That place was named Kibroth-hattaavah.
Kibroth-hattaavah? That translates to, “the graves of craving.”
Did The Beet-Eating Heeb say something about the Torah expressing disdain for meat-eating?
Nothing subtle here. First, God tells us explicitly, in Genesis 1:29, that we are to eat plants and only plants. Then, as if He hadn’t made His point perfectly clear, meat-eaters are described as “riffraff” who are struck down by a plague and buried in the “graves of craving.”
Don’t get The Beet-Eating Heeb wrong. He would never refer to today’s meat-eaters as riffraff. That’s a little too harsh.
And BEH would be the first to acknowledge that there is another, albeit complementary, interpretation of this story. Some theologians say the Divine wrath was provoked simply because some Israelites were not content with God’s beneficence. They wanted more. That the “more” was “meat” is not the key to the story, per this interpretation.
However, viewed in the context of the entire Torah, the fact that meat was involved appears significant. Very significant.
Consider this: In Numbers 11:4, the Hebrew word used to describe the riffraff’s desire for meat is “ta’avah.” JPS translates that as “gluttonous craving.”
Now fast forward to Deuteronomy 12:20, when the Israelites are getting their final instructions before entering the Land of Israel. They are told that they can eat meat, if they have the urge to do so. Well, not urge, exactly. Here again, the desire for meat is described as “ta’aveh.” A gluttonous craving.
So what’s going on here? Is the Beet-Eating Heeb crazy, or does it seem that God would prefer that we not kill animals for food?
To put this in contemporary perspective, God has given us an Earth with an incredible bounty of fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains to sustain us. Yet we succumb to our “ta’avah” and kill billions of animals a year.
As we recall from the recently observed holiday of Shavuot, it’s worth noting that the Israelites were only deemed spiritually worthy of receiving the Torah after they had returned to a diet of manna, not meat.
Interesting story, eh?