Friday, July 20, 2012

Meat & (Jewish) Ethics: Rabbi Moshe Feinstein on Veal

Anonymous 8:43am gave me some sources to read on the issue of animal cruelty and צער בעלי חיים in Judaism. I've now read through "Vegetarianism and Judaism" by J. David Bleich and "Vegetarianism from an Jewish Perspective" by Rabbi Alfred Cohen. Both of these articles focus largely on the issue of vegetarianism and the insinuation that the death of animals, by virtue of the fact that we kill them, is a bad thing. They do not touch upon the issue of factory farming, CAFOs, force-feeding animals food that is not good for them, and so forth.

Yair was kind enough to send me a scan of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's teshuva in Even HaEzer IV: 92:2. You can see it below.

The question Rabbi Feinstein was addressing referred to whether it was ethical to raise veal. The veal raising process consists of taking young calves (8 months old- they are babies), limiting their movements (they are raised in stalls that do not allow much space if any to move about) and deliberately feeding them a milk-based diet that contains little to no iron in order for the meat to acquire a beautiful white tinge. The lack of iron leads to anemia which can damage the immune system and cause the calves to feel sick.

Rabbi Feinstein came out against this practice, citing (among other issues) that it did not actually improve the quality of the meat but only made the meat appear to be 'prettier' due to the white tinge. Rabbi Feinstein writes quite starkly:

   עכ"פ חזינן שלא כל דבר רשאי האדם לעשות בבבהמות
שמצער אותם אף שהוא להרויח מזה אלא דבר
שהוא הנאת האדם ממש כשחיטת הבהמות לאכילה ולעבוד בהם וכדומה

He ends up determining that fattening veal and raising veal is Tzaar Baalei Chayim and should not be done. However, since his reasoning seems to be in part due to the fact that it did not actually improve the meat, that opens the door for R' Elyashiv to rule that creating foie gras (force-feeding geese through a method called gavage in order to create a fatty liver) is perfectly fine. R' Elyashiv's logic appears to be (although I haven't read any formal teshuva that he wrote) that here the pain is being suffered in order to improve the animal for human consumption. I find it shocking that he would permit this and wonder to what degree the process was actually explained to him.

I wonder what Rabbi Feinstein would think of the CAFOs and factory farming systems that today are the norm. Cattle on feedlots are kept in small spaces and not allowed to roam about and they are fed a diet that is bad for them (corn and antibiotics). Broiler chickens are fattened to the point where they cannot even walk, or if they do walk, they suffer from arthritis and severe pain in their joints and limbs. And egg-laying hens live in cages, sometimes five birds or more to a cage, with very restrictive conditions. Aren't all of these at least as disturbing as the veal situation? Especially since we do have alternatives to these processes, should we choose to make them the norm- those alternatives consisting of raising free-range and pastured chicken and meat?

In short: what do we choose to see as 'Hanaas Ha'Adam Mamash'?


Traditionalist said...

See also Rav Bleich's more recent article on the subject

Larry Lennhoff said...

I have heard it said that Rav E and others rule as they do because they fear that environmentalism and animal rights are leading people back towards paganism and earth mother worship. To counteract the PETA approach that 'a rat is a dog is a boy' they are making it clear that man is the purpose of creation and all things exist to serve him. (The flip side of this is that man is also the steward of God's creation, and it is his responsibility to preserve it. I wonder if someone presented factory farming, clearcutting of forests, and mountaintop removal as secular's society's betrayal of our duty of stewardship whether they might pasken in the other direction.)

Anonymous said...

It may be allowed, but it is certainly not required.

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing the factory approach is less expensive, so that would also have to be taken into account (i.e. at what expense, if any, is tzaar baalei chaim allowed)
Joel Rich

Sam said...

Joel, from reading the teshuva it seems like R' Feinstein does not consider expense or profit to be a consideration.

Additionally, it is interesting to me that we are not allowed to muzzle an ox as he is threshing (m'dorayta), even though presumably it would be cheaper to do so, but you think there might be grounds to say it is okay to physically afflict animals (while farm-raising them) for the sake of profit.

Larry, I remember reading recently that the only reason God allowed people to eat meat was because (1) before the flood in the time of Noah, people treated animals and humans equally, and (2) that they therefore treated both humans and animals equally bad (i.e. they thought they can kill people just like they can kill animals). I think it was said by R' Bleich in the name of R' Kook.

However, even though we're allowed to eat or work animals in order to demonstrate our superiority over them, we're still supposed to be compassionate toward them. That is why there are laws about not being allowed to muzzle and ox, and, according to Maimonides, for other laws as well:

It is prohibited to kill an animal with its young on the same day, in order that people should be restrained and prevented from killing the two together in such a manner that the young is slain in the sight of the mother; for the pain of animals under such circumstances is very great. There is no difference in this case between the pain of people and the pain of other living beings, since the love and the tenderness of the mother for her young ones is not produced by reasoning but by imagination, and this faculty exists not only in people but in most living creatures. (Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, 3:48)

In other words, "a rat is a dog is a pig is a boy" according to the Rambam, in terms of the prohibition of causing emotional pain or psychological suffering to an animal.

Cows who are used for milk on CAFOs have their baby calves taken away from them so that the milk of the cows could be sold, instead of consumed by calves (see links below). So according to the Rambam, such practices would likely be halachikally forbidden. And yet we all drink milk from factory farmed cows.

A side point: R' Moshe says a ba'al nefesh should not eat "from calves such as these" but he seems to say that only *raising* calves this way is assur m'dorayta.

Sam said...

My last point is regarding the teshuva of R' Moshe about cows raised for veal.

Also, here are some sources on the subject that people might find interesting.

Masterplan: Judaism, Its Program, Meanings, Goals
By Aryeh Carmell (page 69)

Anonymous said...

See index here for enhanced discussion of all these issues and then some