The Root Cause of All Discrimination, Oppression and Even Terrorism
The Beet-Eating Heeb has been thinking it, studying it, questioning it and ultimately confirming it. Now he’s just going to blurt it out:
The mistreatment of animals is the root of all oppression.
Yes, whether its racism, sexism, homophobia, or even terrorism, it all starts with justifying the torturing and killing of farmed animals.
BEH was prompted to finally write about this by two seemingly unrelated phenomena that entered his field of bespectacled vision.
One is the sickening spate of terrorist attacks in Paris, in Beirut and in the skies over the Sinai Peninsula.
The other is BEH’s recent reading of “The Question of the Animal and Religion,” by Aaron Gross, a professor of religion and animal studies at the University of San Diego.
He did mention that these seemed unrelated, right?
Here’s the connection:
It is the binary division of the world into two parts – namely, us and them – that leads to discrimination, oppression, violence, and even wholesale slaughter.
ISIS views the world this way, dividing the world into two camps: those who subscribe to their twisted version of Islam, and those who don’t. Never mind that people in both camps eat, sleep, defecate, procreate, bleed, dream and die. If you fall into the latter camp, ISIS would like to chop – or blow — your head off.
Meat-eaters, whether they acknowledge it to themselves or not, also have a binary world view: there are humans, and there are farmed animals. Never mind that humans and farmed animals are alike in that they eat, sleep, defecate, procreate, dream, bleed and die. If you have the misfortune of being a farmed animal, (most) humans would like to chop you into bite-size pieces and eat you.
Gross, whose book came out earlier this year, doesn’t put it quite so bluntly, but he does write:
“If we find there are profound limits to our ability to change the deeper structures of sexism and racism, … it is because we sometimes focus on the tip of an iceberg. If we actively defend something like the present human/animal binary, we constrain our ability to rethink the other binaries to which it is linked.
“Trimming back the relatively small part of a weed that is above ground will not eliminate it if one is simultaneously fertilizing its roots.”
By this point, you might have already posted a nasty comment on this post. How dare you, BEH, equate meat-eaters with ISIS terrorists?
Relax, this is not about the moral equivalency of meat eating and terrorist attacks. We can affirm that human life has more value than animal life, at least from a Jewish perspective.
What BEH is saying is that once we start basing our attitudes and actions on such binary, us-and-them thinking, it is a slippery slope.
In practical terms, we cannot totally free ourselves from dividing the world in binary fashion. After all, there are some differences between whites and blacks, men and women, Jews and Moslems, and humans and animals.
The trouble starts when we begin emphasizing the differences and ignoring the similarities, focusing on what separates us rather than on what unifies us.
The Torah reminds us, again and again, that humans and animals are fellow travelers on this journey through life.
For instance, in Genesis 6, humans and animals are both referred to as basar, or flesh. In Genesis 9, God tell us five times that the Divine Covenant encompasses both humans and animals. We’re even told that animals must be given a day of rest on Shabbat, just like humans (Exodus 20:10).
BEH could go on and on, but you get the point. The emphasis is on our commonalities.
When we ignore these teachings, things start going very badly – for animals, then for us.
Almost inevitably, the oppression of animals influences the oppression of people. The sordid history of slavery in America provides a perfect illustration. The whole motif of slavery – the buying and selling of lives at auctions, branding, whipping, forced labor – emanated from animal agriculture.
Author Charles Patterson, in his seminal book “Eternal Treblinka,” identified similar connections in the Holocaust. It’s not just that Jews were transported to concentration camps in cattle cars, or that Nazi propagandists likened Jews to rats and other animals. The very philosophical underpinning of Nazism – namely, eugenics – originated in animal agriculture.
The good news is, we can genuinely hope to end all forms of discrimination and oppression – including the most violent manifestations – if we can get our relationship to animals right.
BEH freely admits that this is a subject matter better suited to book form than blog post. But BEH doesn’t have time to write a book, and even if he did, you probably wouldn’t have the time – or the inclination – to read it.
So BEH will instead distill this issue to its simplest terms: If we’re not going to oppress animals, we’re sure as heck not going to oppress people. If we tip over the first domino, the others — racism, sexism, violent religious extremism — will begin falling in short order.
Put another way: Call BEH immediately if you find out that even one ISIS terrorist is an ethical vegan.
Reform the Scandal-Prone Kosher Meat Industry? Let’s Get Real.
Here we go again.
Two years after Israeli animal-rights investigators filmed shocking abuses of chickens and turkeys at the Soglowek kosher-meat plant, equally egregious practices were caught on film again this summer.
In a well-intentioned op-ed published in Ha’aretz on July 16, rabbinical student Ayalon Eliach observed that “the gulf between the purpose of keeping kosher and the practice of keeping kosher is now greater than ever.”
That’s an understatement.
But an even greater gulf – one of tragically enormous proportions – has emerged between the core Jewish principal of tza’ar baalei chayim and the practices of the kosher-meat industry.
It’s not just the morally repugnant practices we’ve observed in undercover videos shot in the largest kosher slaughterhouses, whether its Soglowek in Israel or Agriprocessors in the United States.
It’s the fact that the kosher-meat companies obtain virtually all of their animals from the same factory farms that serve the secular meat industry. And you thought kosher meat was more humane?
The Torah mandate of tza’ar baalei chayim forbids Jews from inflicting unnecessary suffering on an animal. Indeed, the Torah – both the Five Books of Moses and the Torah writ large – expresses exquisite sensitivity to the needs and natures of animals.
Yet unnecessary suffering is universal in factory farms, the source of more than 95 percent of our meat.
In the beef industry, cows are typically branded, castrated and dehorned, all without anesthetic. And, in the dairy industry, mother cows are permanently separated from their calves just hours after birth, causing extreme emotional distress for parent and child alike, all so that the farmer can monetize all the milk.
Chickens in the poultry industry have it worst of all. They are generally crammed into windowless warehouses, in which as many as 50,000 chickens are given an average of less than one square foot of space apiece. These are breeding grounds for disease, as we have seen this year in the U.S., where a bird-flu epidemic has resulted in the loss of almost 50 million birds.
And this is just scratching the surface of the tip of the iceberg. How’s that for an effective mixed metaphor?
All of these practices – which are the standard modus operandi of modern animal agriculture – constitute egregious violations of tza’ar baalei chayim. This is exactly why many leading rabbis now say that no meat can truly be considered kosher.
For instance, in a recent interview, former Chief Rabbi of Ireland David Rosen identified himself as a vegan and said:
“Anybody with eyes in their head can see that (factory farming) is a categorical transgression and desecration of the prohibition on causing cruelty to animals.”
Last time The Beet-Eating Heeb checked, most people do have eyes in their head.
To expound on Rabbi Rosen’s statement:
In Jewish thought, we are not allowed to fulfill a mitzvah by committing an averah, a sin. Hence, even if the laws of kosher slaughter are scrupulously observed, the meat cannot be kosher if tza’ar baalei chayim was violated along the supply chain.
Simply put, kosher-meat companies are subsidizing the infliction of unnecessary suffering, every time they purchase another animal from a factory farm.
Why is this allowed to continue?
Could it be because the kosher-meat companies are a significant source of revenue for the Orthodox community, both through kosher-certification fees and through corporate philanthropy?
BEH commends Mr. Eliach for calling for reforms in the kosher establishment. However, such calls for change have been made and heard many times before, with little effect. The industry and its rabbinic allies are highly resistant to reform.
Fortunately, there is a practical solution within our reach – and it’s found in the Torah, and in the teachings of many of our greatest rabbis.
The solution is to wean ourselves off meat, dairy and eggs altogether and to move toward a vegan diet.
The Godly ideal of a plant-based diet is set forth in Genesis 1:29 and reinforced in passages across all five books of the Torah.
As Rav Avraham Kook, the chief Ashkenazic rabbi of pre-state Israel, so eloquently stated in his book “A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace”:
“The failure to heed the good and noble instinct to refrain from taking any form of life, whether for one’s needs or physical gratification, constitutes a moral lack in the human race.”
When the Famous Rabbi Met the Frightened Calf
If you have ever heard of the Talmud, chances are the mere mention of the word causes your eyes to glaze over.
Most people think of it as a vast compendium of hair-splitting arguments about arcane issues in Jewish law. And they would be mostly right.
However, amid all the details and debates are some amazing stories with messages and morals that remain highly relevant.
The Beet-Eating Heeb is pleased to share such a story with you right now. (If you have a copy of the Talmud at home, you can follow along at Bava Metzia 85a.)
About 2,000 years ago, shortly after the destruction of the Second Temple, there existed a rabbi named Judah HaNasi. He wasn’t just any rabbi. This was the guy who put the Oral Torah into writing, preserving it for posterity, creating what we call the Mishnah.
On top of that, he was a direct descendant of King David, hence the name Judah the Prince. In other words, he was a big deal. A very big deal.
One day, when he was putzing around in his front yard, a bellowing calf, eyes bulging with fear, came running toward him.
The calf hid himself inside the rabbi’s robe, tucking in his tail so that no part of him would be visible.
Rabbi Judah HaNasi, being a pretty smart guy, quickly sized up the situation.
This calf was trying to escape his owner, who was taking the young cow to the shochet, the slaughterer.
So what did the rabbi do?
Not what you might have hoped. Or expected.
Rabbi Judah HaNasi, in his sternest voice, lifted up his robe and scolded the calf.
“This is why you were created,” the rabbi said. “Go back to your owner!”
At least that wasn’t what the calf had expected.
The calf, with tears streaming down his face, made his way back to his owner. And met his demise later that day.
However, no sooner had the calf departed from the rabbi’s robe when a funny thing happened to Judah HaNasi. Actually, what happened isn’t that funny.
He immediately developed a painful toothache. Then kidney stones. And splitting headaches.
It seems God and His angels did not approve of the way Judah HaNasi treated that poor calf.
According to the Talmud, “They said in Heaven, ‘Since he has no pity, let us bring suffering upon him.’”
The intense pain from his ailments persisted. And persisted. And persisted some more. Year after excruciating year.
Keep in mind, there was no Vicodin or codeine back then.
Then one day, in Year 13 of The Pains, the rabbi’s housemaid came into his study, where he was struggling to concentrate on his work, as anyone who has suffered chronic pain can understand.
“Excuse me Rabbi,” the housemaid said. “I have found a nest of weasels in the spare bedroom. Should I swat them with my broom?”
The rabbi considered the matter for a moment, cleared his throat, and said:
“Leave them be. It is written (in Psalms 145:9) that His tender mercies are over all His works.”
And with that, his pain instantly disappeared. The toothache. The headache. The stomachache. All gone. Just like that.
What happened? The Talmud tells us:
“Said they in Heaven, ‘Since he is compassionate, let us be compassionate to him.’”
Quite a story, eh?
So why do you think this account of Rabbi Judah HaNasi’s misstep and redemption is recorded for posterity?
It’s because we are supposed to see ourselves as Rabbi Judah HaNasi.
Every time we choose what to eat, we face choices similar to the ones that confronted the great rabbi of yesteryear.
We can choose to eat the flesh, secretions and eggs of animals who were subjected to lives of abject misery, only to be brought to violent deaths. Or we can choose to eat the food that grows out of God’s wonderful earth, which is what God wants human beings to do, if the Torah is any indication.
Like Rabbi Judah HaNasi, we have a choice.
We can support cruelty. Or we can bring more chesed, more kindness, into the world.
The choice is yours.