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.
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.