Saturday, July 14, 2012

Meat & (Jewish) Ethics: The Mercies of the Wicked

My husband came home from his internship spouting a new philosophy that made little sense to me. He was using words like "grass-fed," "free-range," "CAFO," and "Monsanto," none of which meant anything to me. He pushed the chicken I had prepared for dinner around his plate with a decidedly queasy expression on his face. Then, he introduced me to a world of information through having me watch "Food, Inc" alongside him on our date night.

The opening words of the film sound eerily like the classic introduction to Twilight Zone episodes I hungrily devoured on YouTube during my days as a tired undergrad. The narrator begins:
The way we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than in the previous 10,000. But the image that's used to sell the food is still the imagery of agrarian America. You go into the supermarket and you see pictures of farmers- the picket fence and the silo and the 30s farmhouse and the green grass. It's the spinning of this pastoral fantasy. The modern American supermarket has on average 47,000 products. There are no seasons in the American supermarket. Now, they're tomatoes all year round, grown halfway around the world, picked when it was green and ripened with Ethylene gas. Although it looks like a tomato, it's kind of a notional tomato; I mean, it's the idea of a tomato. In the meat aisle, there are no bones anymore. There is this deliberate veil, this curtain, that's dropped between us and where our food is coming from. The industry doesn't want you to know the truth about what you're eating. Because if you knew, you might not want to eat it. 
If you follow the food chain back from those shrink-wrapped packages of meat, you find a very different reality. The reality is a factory- it's not a farm; it's a factory. That meat is being processed by huge, multinational corporations that have very little to do with ranches and farmers. Now our food is coming from enormous assembly lines where the animals and the workers are being abused. And the food has become much more dangerous in ways that are being deliberately hidden from us. You've got a small group of multinational corporations that control the entire food system. From seed to the supermarket, they're gaining control of food. This isn't just about what we're eating. This is about what we're allowed to say, what we're allowed to know. It's not just our health that's at risk - the companies don't want farmers talking. They don't want this story told.
 Wait, what's this they're saying? I questioned. What do they mean that our animals are being produced on a factory?

The film introduced me to the idea of factory farming. Unbeknownst to me, who had imagined that steers and cows were being raised on farms and ranches across America and then shipped to slaughterhouses, where they were humanely slaughtered (after all, I've attended two Shechitas), the reality could not be further from my wishful thinking.

It all harks back to our over-production of corn, a fact explored at great length in The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. In short, our government changed the way in which farmers would be compensated for certain crops, especially corn. Now, farmers are compensated for each bushel of corn they sell, and rather than the government holding it back in a national granary to keep from flooding the market (which would lower prices), they do flood the market with it. This to the point that farmers in other countries can be put out of business and out of work due to the fact that it is cheaper to import American corn than it is to buy corn produced by farmers in the native country.

Now that we have a surplus and overabundance of corn, we must come up with uses for it. Luckily, scientists have come up with many uses for it in our food (corn syrup, various 'gums', corn, cornstarch and so forth). But they've also had the bright idea of trying to tamper with either God, evolution or both by deciding to feed it to animals who do not naturally eat it, and who are not cut out for eating it. Enter the idea of CAFOS (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), otherwise known as factory farms. CAFOs are feed lots where animals live under cramped, packed-in conditions, standing and sleeping in their own manure, where they are fed food that is naturally bad for them and which they can only keep down due to the cocktail of antibiotics we give them.

Before we talk about why we are feeding corn to cows even though their stomachs are not built to digest it, let's talk about how cows have traditionally interacted with the land. To put it in Pollan's words:

The coevolutionary relationship between cows and grass is one of nature's underappreciated wonders; it also happens to be the key to understanding just about everything about modern meat. For the grasses, which have evolved to withstand the grazing of ruminants, the cow maintains and expands their habitat by preventing trees and shrubs from gaining a foothold and hogging the sunlight; the animal also spreads grass seed, plants it with his hooves, and then fertilizes it with his manure. In exchange for these services, the grasses offer ruminants a plentiful and exclusive supply of lunch. For cows (like sheep, bison and other ruminants) have evolved the special ability to convert grass- which single-stomached creatures like us can't digest- into high quality protein. They can do this because they possess what is surely the most highly evolved digestive organ in nature: the rumen. About the size of a medicine ball, the organ is essentially a twenty-gallon fermentation tank in which a resident population of bacteria dines on grass. Living their unseen lives at the far end of the food chain that culminates in a hamburger, these bacteria have, like the grasses, coevolved with the cow, whom they feed.
Truly, this is an excellent system for all concerned: for the grasses, for the bacteria, for the animals, and for us, the animal's eaters. While it is true that overgrazing can do ecological harm to a grassland, in recent years ranchers have adopted rotational grazing patterns that more closely mimic the patterns of the bison, a ruminant that sustainably grazed these same grasses for thousands of years before the cow displaced it. In fact, a growing number of ecologists now believe the rangelands are healthier with cattle on them, provided they're moved frequently. Today, the most serious environmental harm associated with the cattle industry takes place on the feedlot. 
So then why is it that steer number 534 hasn't tasted a blade of prairie grass since October? Speed, in a word, or in the industry's preferred term, "efficiency." Cows raised on grass simply take longer to reach slaughter weight than cows raised on a richer diet, and for half a century now the industry has devoted itself to shortening a beef animal's allotted span on earth. "In my grandfather's time, cows were four or five years old at slaughter," Rich explained. "In the fifties, when my father was ranching, it was two or three years old. Now we get there at fourteen to sixteen months." Fast food, indeed. What gets a steer from 80 to 1,100 pounds in fourteen months is tremendous quantities of corn, protein and fat supplements and an arsenal of new drugs. 
~pages 70-71
You're probably curious what exactly cows are being fed, then, aren't you? Here's what they get: a mash-up of corn, liquefied fat (carted in from the nearby slaughterhouse), protein supplement (consisting of molasses and urea). Oh, and antibiotics, because their stomachs are not made to digest corn and thus they get sick while eating it. These antibiotics consist of Rumensin (buffers acidity in the rumen), Tylosin (a form of erythromycin which lowers the incidence of liver infection).

But hey! At least it's not as bad as it was. We used to feed cows to cows because "rendered bovine meat and bonemeal represented the cheapest, most convenient way of satisfying a cow's protein requirement (never mind these animals were herbivores by evolution)" (73) and we only stopped (in 1997) because we figured it was causing mad cow disease. And actually, the rules still permit "feedlots to feed nonruminant animal protein to ruminants. Feather meal and chicken litter (that is bedding, feces and discarded bits of feed) are acceptable cattle feeds, as are chicken, fish, and pig meal" (76).

Pollan writes that "most of the health problems that afflict feedlot cattle can be traced either directly or indirectly to their diet" (77). Apparently it is the norm for the cows to be sick to some extent- the issue is just that they don't get 'too' sick per one Dr. Mel Metzin, the staff veterinarian at one CAFO called Poky. Here's what can happen to cows fed corn:

1. Bloat- "The fermentation in the rumen produces copious amounts of gas, which is normally expelled by belching during rumination. But when the diet contains too much starch and too little roughage, rumination all but stops, and a layer of foamy slime forms in the rumen that can trap gas. The rumen inflates like a balloon until it presses against the animal's lungs. Unless action is taken promptly to relieve the pressure (usually by forcing a hose down the animal's esophagus), the animal suffocates" (77-78).

2. Acidosis- "Unlike our own highly acidic stomachs, the normal pH of a rumen is neutral. Corn renders it acidic, causing a kind of bovine heartburn that in some cases can kill the animal, but usually just makes him sick. Acidotic animals go off their feed, pant and salivate excessively, paw and scratch their bellies, and eat dirt. The condition can lead to diarrhea, ulcers, bloat, rumenitis, liver disease,and a general weakening of the immune system that leaves the animal vulnerable to the full panoply of feedlot diseases- pneumonia, coccidiosis, enteroxtoxemia, foodlot polio" (78).

3. Death- "Cattle rarely live on feedlot diets for more than 150 days, which might be about as much as their systems can tolerate" because "over time the acids eat away at the rumen wall, allowing bacteria to enter the animal's bloodstream. These microbes wind up in the liver, where they form abscesses and impair the liver's function. Between 15 percent and 30 percent of feedlot cows are found at slaughter to have abscessed livers" (78).

It turns out that when we eat corn-fed beef, we harm ourselves as well. First, "modern day hunter-gatherers who subsist on wild meat don't have our rates of heart disease" (75) and second, E. coli and other bacteria thrives in feedlot cattle (40% or more carry it in their gut) and when we eat contaminated meat, can cause us to die within a matter of days.

But even aside from our concern for ourselves, what about the animal? This is, after all, a living, breathing animal- God's creation- not an automobile. And this animal is living in a place without grass, packed into small spaces with thousands of others, standing and sleeping and walking around in tons of its own manure, is fattened up within an incredibly small amount of time while suffering all kinds of painful illnesses due to its diet, and then it is finally killed. In short, this animal is tortured in order to become our hamburger. (And this is to say nothing of the environmental issues caused when it comes to getting rid of and siphoning off the waste and manure produced at these CAFOs).

And compared to chickens (the majority of which live in total darkness in crowded cages where they peck at each other, impale themselves on the wires, defecate on other chickens or might be debeaked so as not to harm the others, never seeing the light of day or being allowed to walk around) or pigs (who live in gestation crates, which thank God are being phased out), these cows have a grand life.

(If you only watch one video on this issue, watch the one about pigs living in gestation crates - it will bring tears to your eyes.)

Here's the part that directly concerns you if you are a Jewish person: צער בעלי חיים, inflicting pain on animals.

I am not a vegetarian, nor do I intend to become one (because thank God, there are alternative meat sources available that allow me to eat animals that have not been tortured in the process of becoming meat). But I wonder whether there are halakhic implications when it comes to profiting directly from a system which absolutely tortures animals. Throughout Tanakh, we are taught to treat animals with respect. We are only permitted to eat animals due to the debt that they owe us because Noah saved them from the flood; original man and woman were vegetarians. We must cover an animal's blood (Leviticus 17:13), assist with the unloading of an enemy's beleaguered donkey (Exodus 23:5), and must allow animals to rest on the Sabbath day (Exodus 20:9). We cannot muzzle an ox to stop it from eating as it works the field (Deuteronomy 25:4). And all these laws, and other laws that are elucidated elsewhere (such as the need to feed your animals before you yourself can sit down to a meal) do not even touch on the stories that show us how to treat animals.

Our nation is a nation of people who treat animals kindly and justly. Yes, they profit from animals, and they even eat them, but they do not destroy their lives wantonly and they do not deliberately cause them suffering. Abraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe and David are all shepherds. Rachel is a shepherdess, and Rebecca offered to water the camels of the servant of Abraham. The story we tell of how Moshe first encountered God at the Burning Bush shows his kindness to the little lamb that had run away from the flock. Elijah owes a debt to the ravens who come to feed him. Jonah owes his life to the large fish that sheltered him. There is the story of King Shlomo and the palace of bird beaks, where the hoopoe teaches him compassion and kindness.

We are taught that one is not allowed to bring a sacrifice to God when the animal for the sacrifice was purchased with stolen money (or when the animal itself was stolen). On the other hand, there are other places (such as by Kilayim), where we ourselves are not allowed to combine plants together to create a new species, but we are allowed to eat what results if someone else who is not a Jew creates it - for example, a strawberry apple, or an apple pear. What I wonder is this: to which situation is the current practice more similar? Are we forbidden to profit (and to eat) animals that have been tortured in direct violation of Tzaar Baalei Chayim, or is this considered a lamentable practice, but since we ourselves are not directly responsible, it is still halakhically permissible?

Leaving that question aside, the question for you to consider is: what can you do? There are several campaigns underway. Here's what you can do in your own life to help.

1. Get informed! You can learn more at Food Inc- Take Part
2. Eat less meat- join the movement for Meatless Mondays
3. Become an ethical omnivore and eat ethically raised meat (pasture-fed or free range). Kosher options include Grow & Behold and Kol Foods
4. Consider becoming a vegetarian or a vegan

In Proverbs 12:10 we are instructed, "A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal; the mercies of the wicked, are cruel." I cannot think of a more obvious application for this axiom than the current CAFO practices. The 'mercies of the wicked' such as giving the animals antibiotics so that they can survive the assault on their stomachs caused by corn- are still cruel. And to be righteous is to choose not to block out that knowledge, but rather, to make decisions about meat (whatever they may be) in an ethical fashion.


Michael Zoldan said...

If grass is free, lightweight, and designed for their digestion, why would corn be a better feed?

I saw your point that it won't bring them up to slaughter weight as quickly, but paper producers have to wait years for trees to grow and they simply plan accordingly.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. There is some good news re the insane amount of antibiotics we feed animals.

Anonymous said...


The amount of grass on a given field is finite - not so with corn (one would think).

As for waiting for years for cows to grow, there is simply too high a demand for cows *right now* to tell the industry to wait. Aside from which, the antibiotics used to inject cows with make it so that cows would grow to unnatural sizes if they were kept alive any longer - and they need those antibiotics to survive the horrible conditions in CAFOs.

Chana said...

Michael Zoldan,

Great question. Here's how Pollan answers it in 'The Omnivore's Dilemma' on pages 72-73. Below is the excerpt:


What got corn on the menu at this and almost every other American feedlot is price, of course, but also USDA policy, which for decades has sought to help move the mountain of surplus corn by passing as much of it as possible through the digestive tracts of food animals who can convert it into protein.


Its chief advantage is that cows fed corn, a compact source of caloric energy, get fat quickly; their flesh also marbles well, giving it a taste and texture American consumers have come to like.


The economic logic behind corn is unassailable, and on a factory farm there is no other kind. Calories are calories, and corn is the cheapest, most convenient source of calories on the market.

Ben-Torah said...

If you care about this topic,
Eating Animals
Jonathan Safran Foer

Chana said...


Heshy (my husband) is almost finished reading that book. It's sitting on his desk. I'm next in line after him.

Shocked said...

What an eye-opener!
This is "The curious Jew" at her best.
I hope this info gets spread to the masses.
We must make this system unprofitable for the industry!
Sure meat prices will rise, but I'd rather pay more or eat less if I can then eat with a clear conscience.

Question: In view of the fact that the current system causes various internal injuries to the ruminant, such as described in this post, why doesn't this present a kashrus problem?

MindySchaper said...

I became vegan almost a year ago when I learned about the terrible lives factory farm animals had.

Two books addressing this from a Jewish perspective are:

Judaism and Vegetarianism. Richard Schwartz. (it's on Amazon for 4.39)

The Vision of Eden. Dovid Sears.

A Google search on "Vegetarianism in halacha" will surface some interesting articles.

Joseph the Dreamer said...

I am no halacha-expert, but from a common sense perspective factory-farmed animals seem more similar to the case of theft than to kilayim. In kilayim, no one is harmed; in theft, animals, the planet, and people are harmed (though people and the planet are harmed indirectly).

See here and here.

Also, given the title of this post, I find it interesting that according to a poll by the Vegetarian Journal, at least when eating out, Jews have the highest percentage of vegetarians than any other group surveyed.

Anonymous said...


Why do you think 2/3 of animals slaughtered at Kosher abbatoirs are sold as non-kosher meat?

(It depends on the plant. The above info applies to Rubashkin's former plant, in Israel the numbers are even higher.)

Anonymous said...


The Smithfield undercover investigation is by no means atypical. There are hundreds of such videos online. Another video investigation was just released, also about gestation crates.

Tzipporah said...

I LOVE this post, and yet I did kind of a chuckle. It's fun getting to "watch" someone learn all of this for the first time. It's insanely eye-opening isn't? It's also incredibly difficult to know how to handle it.

Some become vegetarian, some activists, some swear off anything but grass-fed meats, and some grow/raise their own foods.

I have been aware of this issue for quite some time--before becoming observant I spent many of my years changing priorities and "living minimally" to afford to be able to eat what I felt to be ethically. Than I had to go get religious and it screwed everything up! :) Now I'm living in a jewish community ($$$) and have to pay for Shabbos weekly ($$$) and have to feed not just two but now going on four kids ($$$) and to top it off I now have to spend extra money on some crazy thing called "kosher foods" ($$$$$$$$)

And now? I'm honestly lucky if I manage to even have enough money to feed my kids the basics of nutrition every week. I walk by the "organic" and "grass fed" labels that used to fill my freezers and cabinets and I instead fill my cart full of labels like "manager's special" and "discount".

It's depressing. Trying to decide between my two biggest concerns regarding food--kashrus vs. food ethics. Wondering if I'm holding the letter of the law over the spirit, or vice versa.

The way I see it, religion has ruined my morals!

Okay not really... but I certainly never thought I'd be forced to pic between the ethics of own beliefs and the foundations of my religion. Honestly, it isn't easy. at all.

I wish you luck and I hope that you can bring this more into the public view of Jewish life for more people. I'm sad to see how many are truly unaware of these very important issues.

Hatzlacha! :)

Joseph the Dreamer said...


Would you still have this kosher vs. ethical struggle if your family became vegetarian?

Stubborn and Strong said...

Grow and Behold is cheaper than Kol Food. 7 dollars per pound for chicken? Holy cow! (yes it is a pun). Is there any other company that I could buy for healthy meat?

Tzipporah said...

Joseph the dreamer--I don't PERSONALLY believe not eating meat is healthy for most people. I also have a fructose intolerance (think lactose intolerance, but for fruit and any veggies that contain fructose) so being vegetarian would be even worse for me as I'd be eating mainly carbs. Being celiac--well... you get the idea. I'd be eating a lot of meals of rice and mushrooms :)

I think meat is a very important part of the human diet and so I guess I'm not sure how to answer the question.

If you're asking if I feel as worried about vegetables as I am about meat in general--that's an interesting question. Clearly, I don't feel "sorry" for the vegetables in crowded conditions like I would the cows. However, I do believe the way most veggies are grown (and the damage from there of to the earth and to humans and so forth) to be highly unethical. I also question if it's the most "spiritual" way to be treating *anything* Hashem has given us.

Joseph the Dreamer said...

Tzipporah - you have rare circumstances indeed! However, most people (I don't know if this applies to others in your family) could be perfectly healthy without eating meat.

Interesting point about spiritual treatment of God's gifts to us.

Tzipporah said...

Joseph--while I do have a rare circumstance (my son as well!) I don't agree that a meatless diet is best for most people.
To be fair there is research to "prove" both sides of the coin. And I would never tell another person how they should or should not eat--as I think the more important issue is that they make their own decisions wisely. That said I personally believe firmly in a diet with meat products. How much/how often depends on the individual. Some don't have as high a protein need as others and some assimilate protein from plant sources amazingly better than others, for example. (I myself, don't.)

Joseph the Dreamer said...

Tzipporah - I hear your point about not telling people how to eat. However, the research clearly points to meat-eating not being healthy.

A look at all the studies (including those funded by the meat and agriculture industries) found that most studies find meatless diets most healthy.

See here -

And I quote: "The American Dietetic Association -- the largest body of nutrition professionals on the planet -- conducted a meta-analysis of all the studies that have ever been done on diet and disease, and found that vegetarians have lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and obesity than meat-eaters (they believe that the studies indicate causality, not just correlation)."

Joseph the Dreamer said...

Sorry *most studies find meatless diets UNhealthy

MindySchaper said...

Tziporah- funny that you find food-buying so expensive. Becoming vegan actually made our food bill really low (though I can see how your intolerance would complicate things). I also don't buy many processed foods, so that lowers the food bill as well.

And unlike you, I have no particular drawing to meat eating. Do you have the option of raising your own animals?

Jenifar said...

yes, of course. you are right Mr. Michael Zoldan . Why they corn will be eat. if grass is free... Great question. Have you seen this . It will be more helpful for Jewish Nation. Thank you Mr. Michael Zoldan for your great question.

Anonymous said...

Does a vegetarian who eats whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables have a healthy diet? No.

An overload of carbohydrates and fructose overwhelm the liver and make it fatty. This is a nightmare that millions of Americans are dealing with today!

Animal-based proteins, when enjoyed in moderate portions and accompanied by plant-based foods, can be incorporated into a healthful, balanced diet called the Mediterranean diet. You might want to look it up.

As far as the American Dietetic Association and its findings go, - everyone needs to stay in business. That’s all.

Sam said...

Anonymous July 16, 2012 9:53 AM,

Please back up what you say with sources. In any case, I agree eating meat in moderation (from a purely health-perspective) is better than the current typical American diet.

But - vegetarians eat much more than just what you said they eat. They eat tofu (there are hundreds of thousands of recipes online just for tofu), eggs, dairy, nuts (lots of peanut butter), whole wheat pasta, legumes, cereals, quinoa, etc.

Your cynical statement about the ADA makes no sense. They did not sponsor the studies done, nor were they involved in them. They simply collected all the studies and research done on the topic and came to a conclusion. You can follow the link, as there is more information there as to methodology.

Anonymous said...

Jenifar is a virus. Don't click on her name or link.

Anonymous said...



Sam said...


One of the links you posted proves my point and disproves yours.

" suggests general lifestyle changes for fatty liver disease treatment, part of which is to avoid diets rich in highly processed foods such as white bread, pasta, rice, sugary cereals and soft drinks. Healthier options are whole-grain products, brown rice and whole-wheat breads, fruits and vegetables. Additionally reduce the amounts of saturated fat in your diet and choose healthy fats from fish, olive oil and nuts."

The first link simply says not to eat too many carbs. Something easily done by vegetarians.

Anonymous said...

Even healthier carbs (if eaten in excess) lead to fatty liver disease due to the liver's inability to deal with excess carb load. Please do your own research to learn more about this. Many people are clueless as far as food portions go,so they overeat.
Healthy protein intake(plant or animal based) addresses satiety which carbs can't:

Sam said...


Thank you for posting those links. I see what you are saying about high-carb diets. I have not seen any research on whether vegetarians (pescatarians, flexitarians, etc.) are more likely to eat more carbs, but the solution in any case is to eat lots of peanut butter and tofu (and fish), not meat or chicken.

Sam said...

Sorry I mean nuts not peanut butter. And whatever diet one chooses the key is not to overeat.

Anonymous said...

It's not just how the animals are raised; shechita is no picnic. Although shechita is most humane when done properly, it is often not done properly.

Anonymous said...

Sam,you are welcome and glad you see the point I was trying to make. You are correct: proteins such as fish,tofu,some specific nuts, combined with lots of lower-starch green vegetables and Greek yougurt are better for one's health in the long run. Perhaps you can see now why the lower-starch version of the
Mediterranean diet makes so much sense to me.

Unfortunately,I work with people who either are not able to afford quality protein and/or choose to live on bread, pasta, and fruits. And I help treat fatty liver in those who live on carbs. It's scary what people can self-induce without proper understanding of nutrition or food portion control. In cases like these,low carb diet is considered the gold standard.Please read about it here:
I much prefer that people eat a bit of protein in each meal(fish, chicken,lean meat,tofu)and I don't care whether the chicken is free-range or not..., than go heavy on carbs and end-up with a medical condition.

Anonymous said...

Plenty of Jewish sources here

Srebrenica Genocide said...

Jewish ethics and morals are best visible on a Rabbi Arthur Schneier who, several days ago, came to the Bosnian Genocide Memorial in Potocari (near Srebrenica) to pay respect to the Srebrenica Genocide victims.

Rabbi's keynote speech can be read here

Thank you Jewish people!

Anonymous said...

chana,here are some halachic sources for you to consider.

Alfred Cohen, Journal of Halacha,

J. David Bleich, Tradition, Summer, 1987.

Iggerot Moshe, Even Ha'ezer IV, 92:2

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein is one of the only halachic decisors to directly address factory farming conditions in his responsa. This is because factory farming is a relatively new phenomenon.

Anonymous said...

Today radical vegetarianism is expressed by the organization PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). As one example, PETA’s shocking multi-media display, “Holocaust on Your Plate,” juxtaposes photos of Nazi concentration camp victims with photos of chicken farms, drawing a gross moral equivalence.

In academia, too, Princeton University philosopher Peter Singer has written and lectured extensively on how the welfare of animals supercedes that of ill babies; he also calls for society to accept human-animal domestic partnerships.

Judaism’s permitting animals for food serves as a pragmatic hedge against such extremism: constantly reminding man of his unique status among God’s creation. The 18th century kabbalist, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lutzatto, explains that all living things—humans and animals—have souls. However, not all souls are created equal. Animals have a soul which animates them and carries within it the instincts for survival, procreation, fear, etc. Only humans, with a Divine soul, have the ability to forge a relationship with God, the transcendent dimension. Only humans have the ability to choose higher “soul pleasures”—like helping the poor, even at the expense lower “body pleasures” like hoarding more food for ourselves. You’ll never see a hungry dog say to his friends, “Let’s not fight over this,” or “Let’s save some for the other dogs who aren’t here.”
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (purportedly a vegetarian) writes that man was granted dominion over animals in order to underscore our spiritual superiority and heightened moral obligations. Were man to accord animals the same rights as humans, then just as we don’t expect high moral standards from animals, we would, tragically, lower our expectations of humans as well.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous July 17, 2012 10:06 AM,

It is true that PETA is a radical group, but that does not make vegetarianism inherently radical. As you pointed out, Rav Kook thought vegetarianism was fine, and he did not see this as a contradiction to man's God-given dominion over animals.

But even you have to admit PETA has done some good work, such as exposing abuses in factories, publicizing the torture of animals for leather, and ensuring circuses treat their animals properly. They even tried to put together a book with jewish sources for why frum people should become vegetarians.

I followed your link and nowhere does Peter Singer say that "the welfare of animals supercedes that of ill babies." He just says they are equivalent, according to Avi Shafran.

I agree that all souls are not created equal. However that does not give us the right to support their systematic torture and abuse.

Mutatis Mutandis, vegetarianism is more than an "animal welfare" issue. It is an issue of grave human concern. See

Re the other Anonymous (?), there are plenty of heavy-protein foods which are not made of meat chicken or fish. Those who become vegetarian and choose not to eat their foods reflect badly on their food choices, not on vegetarianism.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous July 17, 2012 10:06 AM:

I followed your link and nowhere does Peter Singer say that "the welfare of animals supercedes that of ill babies." He just says they are equivalent, according to Avi Shafran.

And are they? Equivalent? You have got to be kidding me.

Eitan Divinsky said...

Nice post and great blog! I, myself, love animals but am not a vegetarian or vegan because I feel there are other, better ways of caring about animals (other than not eating them). Just subsribed to you. Feel free to check out my blog :)

Anonymous said...

No, I don't think they are equivalent. Nor do I know whether Rabbi Shafran is accurately presenting Singer's arguments. I was just pointing out your (mistaken) misrepresentation. Shafran attributed a view of animals' superseding to Singer.

And I agree that Holocaust on your plate was a terrible campaign (despite PETA's half-baked apology). I just don't think PETA's bad behavior a valid excuse for not caring about factory farming.

Anonymous said...

* Shafran "never" attributed a view of animals' superseding to Singer.

Anonymous said...

“Never, never be afraid to do what's right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society's punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.

Anonymous said...

Is Empire Chicken ok?

Anonymous said...

In terms of how the chickens are raised, most problems mentioned in this blogpost, such as feeding animals corn and not allowing them to live a natural, free-range life, apply to Empire as well.

However, in terms of how they treat their workers and the environment they are amazing.

Some of their meat is sold as free-roaming, which is another way of saying factory farming, but not as bad as the other guys. Free range it is not.

Also notice how the link you posted tries to fool people by saying vegetarian-fed, as if they're doing a good thing by feeding chickens the typical factory-farm unnatural diet (mostly corn). Look specifically for the words "free-range" and "grass-fed." Any variation of that is meant to fool the uneducated consumer.

Anonymous said...

Here's what you can do in your own life to help.

1. Get informed! You can learn more at Food Inc- Take Part
2. Eat less meat- join the movement for Meatless Mondays
3. Become an ethical omnivore and eat ethically raised meat (pasture-fed or free range). Kosher options include Grow & Behold and Kol Foods
4. Consider becoming a vegetarian or a vegan
1 and 2 are perfectly fine.
For 3 I didn't see any (mainstream or other) Rabbinic authorities quoted concerning this as ahalachic/ethical issue (IIRC R' H Schachter has been so quoted with regard to veal)
For 4 there are halachic issues which should be considered but perhaps you were including them in your "Consider"

Of course the more interesting question is where should this issue fit in the hierarchy of community resources. Perhaps a forthcoming post for you?
Joel Rich

Anonymous said...

Joel Rich,

Former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, Rabbi Dave Rosen has said "much of the current treatment of animals in the livestock trade makes the consumption of meat produced through such cruel conditions halachically unacceptable as the product of illegitimate means."
In addition he has argued that the waste of natural resources and the damage done to the environment by "meat production" make a compelling Jewish moral argument for adopting a vegetarian diet.

Those "halachic issues" have been addressed by Alfred Cohen from YU. They are practically non-existent. Especially if one is disgusted by factory farming products. And believe me, there are many reasons to be disgusted of animal products excluding the above post.



There are no "community resources" involved in stopping to eat meat. It is usually less expensive to do so, and does not prevent one from focusing on other important issues simultaneously.

Finally, there are health reasons not to eat meat. See the USDA's new guidelines here.

Anonymous said...

There are no "community resources" involved in stopping to eat meat.
There are community resources in publicizing the issue and for those who will switch to other meats there are costs.
Joel RIch

Anonymous said...

Anon July 18, 2012 1:20 PM :

"Finally, there are health reasons not to eat meat. See the USDA's new guidelines here".

This is a telling line.

You are clearly not a health professional who is aware of what's new and what's not...Please be advised that the DASH study trials took place between 1993 and 1997. So the so called 2010 new USDA guidelines are nothing but a new spin of good old DASH diet.

Anonymous said...

Joel Rich,

For those who would switch to other meats perhaps they should reduce their meat intake. No one is being forced to eat meat. Further, I don't see why one can't write an article in Jewish Action alongside other articles publicizing other important issues. Or having Gil Student write one more blog than he usually would. I still don't see how that would drain community resources.

Anonymous: I don't know about the DASH diet. I'm not a medical professional. guilty as charged. but I do know how to read newspaper articles and sometimes medical journals. Let me show you a sampling.

Are all these people lying?

Anonymous said...

Anon July 18, 2012 11:12 PM,
who said anything about "people lying"? You make erroneous inferences.

The comment was about DASH diet existing since 1997. This plant-based way of eating helps reduce and improve chronic disease, and, therefore, is healthier for the body. This is not a new idea and thus should not be considered a part of the new 2010 USDA's guidelines.

Anonymous said...

Further, I don't see why one can't write an article in Jewish Action alongside other articles publicizing other important issues. Or having Gil Student write one more blog than he usually would. I still don't see how that would drain community resources.
Sure, but if you really want a community to change you have to focus - if this is one of 100 messages, nothing will happen.
Joel Rich

Anonymous said...

Not Everything you wrote is exactly correct and there's alot which was not presented in that documentary. Pastured meat is alot healthier, but before you hop along the Vegan train, read Lierre Keith's book 'THE VEGETARIAN MYTH'. For anyone who is currently or who is thinking about becoming a Vegan, read this book. She used to be a Vegan for years.

Anonymous said...

Watch this:

Charlie Hall said...

An interesting read as we abstain from meat for the Nine Days. Some thoughts:

The corn surplus is history; much of the US corn crop has already been lost for the year as the result of the worst drought since the 1950s.

There are some quite prominent rabbis who were vegetarians; Rabbi David Rosen has already been mentioned. Baron Jonathan Sacks, Chief rabbi of the UK is also as a vegetarian, as is Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen, Chief Rabbi of Haifa.

One does not have to adhere to the ideology of either Peter Singer or PETA to see the numerous disadvantages of our carnivorous diet. It is also much easier to keep a kosher home when one only has one set of dishes in the kitchen!

It is also not clear to me that smaller agricultural operations are better than the huge multinational corporations. Does ConAgra (owner of the Hebrew National brand) really treat its animals worse than did Agriprocessors?