Monday, July 30, 2012

The Dark Knight Plummets

(Warning: This post contains spoilers for "The Dark Knight Rises")

Unfortunately, I was disappointed by "The Dark Knight Rises." Christopher Nolan hit a high point with "The Dark Knight" and sadly, "Dark Knight Rises" failed to live up to the hype.

The greatest departure from the former Batman movies lay in the lack of critical character development. In contrast to "The Dark Knight," which engages in moral and ethical dilemmas that face the people of Gotham, Batman, Commissioner Gordon and Harvey Dent, this film contains lots of action sequences. And more action sequences. You could rename DKR as 'The Nolans Blow Things Up.'

In addition, many odd things happen. Alfred decides that Bruce Wayne is suicidal and therefore decides to abandon him. He hies off to who knows where while everything goes down in Gotham city. Bane, a man who is wearing a less-audible version of the Darth Vader mask, is certainly intimidating, but he seems far less able to play mind games than the Joker was. (And it's really quite annoying that you cannot understand every third word that comes out of his mouth due to the shoddy manufacturing of his raspy breathing device).

The plot meanders. Rather than the rising action you got with the second movie, where you are always wondering how the Joker is going to raise the stakes next, here, you get thirty different narratives punched into one film. A pretty lady with an accent has commissioned Wayne Industries to build a nuclear fission sustainable energy pump, which they do. However, the pump then gets coopted by Bane and turned into a nuclear bomb. Bane decides to give the city back to the people by blowing stuff up and promoting anarchy. It's clearly a scene based on the Hurricane Katrina New Orleans looting and violence- and it resonates. Things that don't make sense here include that some random guy with glasses (it is eerily like a Kafkaesque trial, except with a cartoon character flinging around the gavel) is sentencing people to death by exile onto ice patches where they fall through and drown or to death by rifle. Why would the people follow this random glasses guy?

Bruce Wayne meets Selina Kyle/ Catwoman and is interested in her, but instead decides to sleep with the pretty lady with the accent. We're not sure why, but it will serve as a plot-point for later in the movie. Anyway, long story short, Bane sticks Bruce Wayne down a pit (a la Joseph or Moshe, take your pick) and forces him to watch live feeds of everything that Bane is doing to destroy Gotham. Ra's al Ghul, who had formerly founded the League of Shadows, shows up in a hallucination to inform Bruce Wayne that Gotham deserves to be demolished for its decadence, which seems to echo Sodom and Gomorrah from the Bible. In this Old Testament remake, Batman plays Abraham, with a little bit of God thrown in for good measure.

Bruce hears a tale of one child who escaped from this pit, and he assumes this child is Bane. Eventually, he too is able to escape from the pit and make his way back to Gotham, where he faces off with Bane and tells Joseph Gordon Levitt to save the children (this is the Moshe scene with the typical 'Let my people go' except that bureaucracy and 'I was only following orders' gets in the way), only to discover that in fact the pretty lady with the accent is the child that escaped and his arch-nemesis. She stabs him and explains that Bane was the man who saved her back in the day and that is why she loves him. Her father (Ra's al Ghul) excommunicates Bane because he cannot bear to be reminded of what happened to his wife and daughter because of his actions. That's when Bane and Ra's' daughter meet up and become the dynamic duo. We in the audience don't really understand why the man who would risk his life to save a child's life (aka pretty woman with accent) in the name of innocence would then decide to blow up an entire city, but this is left unexplained.

Enter a convoluted scene in which several people try to stop the nuclear bomb from detonating, but in the end of the day, Batman flies his Bat airplane, picks up the bomb and drops it in the middle of the ocean. Never mind the logic that says that everyone would still be sick due to radiation poisoning- according to the cheers and hurrahs, he saved the city. And that there's a major plot point missing here- WHY THE HELL DIDN'T HE DO THAT IN THE FIRST PLACE? If all he needed to do is take the Bat airplane, pick up the bomb and throw it in the sea, couldn't he have done that before all the craziness with Commissioner Gordon/ Bane/ Pretty Woman with Accent went down? Why didn't he do that the second he got back from pit-in-the-middle-of-the-desert?

In a scene that echoes that of the season finale of "House," but with less finesse, we discover that Batman has faked his own death and actually he is living happily with Catwoman. Authors need to learn to be crueler. Harry Potter should have died when he walked into Voldemort's arms and Batman should have died in the fallout of a massive nuclear explosion. This ending just feels fake where the ending of the second movie (with Batman nobly taking the blame for Harvey's actions) was heroic.

In short: watch this movie, then be sad that the clarity, intensity and brilliance of the second movie is utterly lacking.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Meat & (Jewish) Ethics: Would You Like Some Feces With Your Water?

I went to the public library before Shabbat and when wandering through the Reading List aisles (always my favorite section), happened across And The Waters Turned to Blood by Rodney Barker. It seemed to be a science fiction novel about the discovery of a deadly organism that was killing fish, could affect short-term memory (causing its loss and lack of comprehension) and that enjoyed eating human blood. I like a good thriller, so I picked it up.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that the content of the book was actually real.

Pfiesteria piscida is a dinoflagellate that attacks fish but enjoys human blood as well (and perhaps blood of all mammals). It has a very complex life cycle. In its simple form, it kills fish. However, a microfaunal predator eats this dinoflagellate. Therefore, the dinoflagellate in its sexual stage undergoes an amazing transformation where it morphs into a "bizarre, bristly amoeba" (76) that eats the microfaunal predator that kills it in its smaller form. Thus, "the dinoflagellate actually appeared to be acting in a somewhat protective role toward the smaller stages in the life cycle, coming to the rescue of its little brothers and sisters."

The reason the discovery of pfiesteria piscida was so important is because it explained one of the reasons for fish kills that were going on in North Carolina and eventually Maryland in the late 1980s and 1990s. Pfiesteria can also cause adverse effects in humans who were directly exposed, such as lesions, sores, short-term memory loss and confusion.

Barker's book is fascinating in that it shows the lengths to which North Carolina's Department of Health was willing to go to try to pretend that there was nothing to the pfiesteria issue- to the point that they were lax about putting up signs advising beachgoers, waders, swimmers or others out and about on the water that there had been fish kills caused by pfiesteria.

Anyway, the point that I found most interesting was that pfiesteria thrives in "nutrient-rich" waters, which can also refer to polluted or soiled water. Well, guess what can create nutrient-rich waters? Factory farming. Here's the excerpt straight out of the book:
Although there were some who refused to abandon the belief that Texasgulf was to blame, Burkholder did not consider a single industry responsible for Pfiesteria. She was unable even to point to a particular factor, over and above the other contributors, that might have pushed the state over the brink- until the spring of 1995, when she read a series of investigative articles in the News & Observer. In a matter of just a few years, it was revealed, a virtual hog revolution had taken place in North Carolina. 
She would never forget, and could recite from memory a year later, the opening paragraphs of the first article she read: 
"Imagine a city as big as New York suddenly grafted onto North Carolina's coastal plain. Double it. 
"Now imagine that this city has no sewage treatment plants. All the wastes from 15 million people are simply flushed into open pits and sprayed onto fields. 
"Turn these humans into hogs and you don't have to imagine at all. It's here." 
The series made a devastating case that North Carolina had sold its soul and sacrificed its environment to corporate hog farming. It reported how the state, committed to maintaining a semblance of an agriculture industry and seeking alternatives to tobacco, had courted the swine industry with tax breaks, protection from local zoning, and exemptions from tough environmental regulations. It described how an alliance between pork producers and elected officials had transformed the political landscape, allowing laws to be passed that gave hog farms the preferential treatment traditionally extended to family farmers, when the reality was that hog operations were more like factories, with climate-controlled confinement barns and automated feeding equipment that produced hogs in numbers that had attracted international markets and was generating $1 billion a year, propelling North Carolina to the nations' number two spot in hog production behind Iowa. 
The news that a major industry that depended upon lax state laws to maximize its profits had snuck through the back door was sobering to Burkholder, as it was to a lot of readers. But what really got to her were the articles that dealt with the waste generated by these large farms. This vast swine city, as it turned out, was essentially allowed to use the equivalent of outhouses for disposing of ten million tons of waste each year. 
According to the wisdom advocated by the industry, hog manure could be handled satisfactorily by flushing it into clay-lined holes in the ground called lagoons, where bacteria were supposed to biodegrade the sewage, which would then be sprayed on nearby croplands as fertilizer. But it was an approach to waste disposal that critics called inadequate and environmentally foolhardy, in light of eastern North Carolina's sandy soils and its shallow water table, which was especially vulnerable to groundwater pollution. Making matters worse, most of the lagoons were conveniently located near waterways; these received the runoff when the surrounding lands couldn't abosrb the fertilizer sprayed on them, not to mention the documented cases of farmers deliberately discharging lagoon waste into ditches that led to streams. 
The water-quality implications for coastal North Carolina were monumental: Manure that was rich in nitrogen and phosphorus was finding its way into already overloaded "nutrient sensitive" waters. And as if that weren't enough, the series went on to point out that this expansion had been aided by state agencies that ahd been slow to act on the growing range of problems resulting from the earlier increase. While state law required all new livestock operations to have certified waste management plans, government officials were leaving certification up to the hog farmers, nor were they sending out inspectors to make sure the plans were being fulfilled or to check for violations. Echoing Burkholder's own conclusions about DEM, the articles declared: "the state's anti-pollution cop has neither the staff nor the will to get the job done." 
When the series, which would eventually win a Pulitzer Prize for the News & Observer, finished its run, Burkholder was more cynical than ever about the way business was conducted in North Carolina. It was a miserable situation, she thought; one primed to get worse, because leakage from lagoons and intentional releases weren't the only way harmful animal waste could enter the waterways. Sooner or later, she knew, an accident resulting in a major spill was bound to happen.  
~pages 233-235
In June 1995, there was a huge hog manure lagoon spill that released "twenty-five million gallons of hog feces and urine: that was twice the size of the Valdez oil spill and by far the largest such spill in state history" (236).

I'm not a tree-hugging environmentalist, but after reading this book, it came to me that all of this is related. When we treat the environment badly (say, by deciding to create factory farms and use manure lagoons to store the hog waste), we end up the losers (say, because the manure lagoons overflow into our water and we end up with water that is full of feces, and that also makes it easier for fish-killing dinoflagellates, amidst other bacteria, to exist and cause problems for the fish and for us). There's a reason that God developed the world in the way that He did, and that Adam and Eve were to care for all the trees and crops (and not a monoculture like corn). We create what we get, and right now what we've created with factory farming (at least per the books I've read so far) is a monstrosity- the animals are treated cruelly, the waste is deposited in an absymally poor way, and should the waste flow into our water, we help to kill our fish and destroy the ability of the water to nurture healthy creatures.

 (Granted: Hopefully there have been updates to hog farming since the time this book was published in 1997, and hopefully manure lagoons, if they are still being used, are being created in a more mindful way. But it's still pretty disturbing that something like this happened, even if it's hopefully not happening anymore.)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Friday Night Lights

Usually, when people watch TV, they watch it for its entertainment value. But when I watch TV, I watch it because I want it to stir me up, to shake me up inside. I want it to make me feel. I want to connect to the characters; I want to fall in love with them. I want to care about them so desperately that I can't wait till the next episode comes out. Sure, I sometimes watch silly or stupid shows just to put my brain on autopilot, but generally I like to be challenged by the TV I watch.

People have told me how much they like "Friday Night Lights" in the past but I never thought it would be the show for me. A show about football? For me? Seriously?

But then I watched it. And it shook me up inside. It was powerful and moving and raw and gritty and real. It had so much heart. It held so much meaning. And the characters just tore you up and touched you. You wanted them to succeed. You felt their highs and lows; you saw their weaknesses and flaws.

Football is as much of a character in this TV show as any of the people speaking. This show is about the way that football touches the lives of all the players. There's the kid who is desperate to go pro and get a scholarship to a good college. There's the kid who just wants to stand out in some way. There's the kid who was in juvie who has gotten a second chance. There's the partying kid who is always drunk who has got a heart of gold. And there's the coach and his wife and their incredible, impressively strong marriage.

There are some really memorable scenes. For me, those are the scenes between Tim Riggins and Jason Street where Tim tells Jason how much he loves him. The scene where he hands him the football and the other scene where they're on the booze cruise and he tells him he will do whatever it takes to get him back home to Texas safe and sound. But it's also the scenes where Tim Riggins is noble (whether it's with Lyla or Bo or his brother Billy or anybody else). It's the scene where Matt Saracen is in the shower with the water raining down on his face and he's saying how everyone has left him. It's the locker room after the Panthers lose State. There are the good times and the bad times, the high points and the low ones, and it's beautiful because it's real and it's the story of life and why life matters. It's a life-affirming story. And that's why that show makes me feel so much.

It's also why Season 1 of that show is probably some of the best TV I've ever seen. So if you have nothing else to do...and you want a show that makes you think and makes you smile and makes you this one.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Meat & (Jewish) Ethics: Foer's 'Eating Animal's & A Defense of Factory Farming

Jonathan Safran Foer has published a screed in his book Eating Animals. More than that, it's an angry screed. His alarmist, overly emotional, hyperbolic, intense, indignant and adjective-strewn work is one of the the last pieces on earth that would convince me to care about the issues raised within it (factory farming, aquaculture and hog farms to name a few).

He begins the work by stating:
To be perfectly honest (and to risk losing my credibility on page 13), I assumed, before beginning my research, that I knew what I would find- not the details, but the general picture. Others made the same assumption. Almost always, when I told someone I was writing a book about 'eating animals,' they assumed, even without knowing anything about my views, that it was a case for vegetarianism. It's a telling assumption, one that implies not only that a thorough inquiry into animal agriculture would lead one away from eating meat, but that most people already know that to be the case. (What assumptions did you make upon seeing the title of this book?) 
I, too, assumed that my book about eating animals would become a straightforward case for vegetarianism. It didn't. A straightforward defense for vegetarianism is worth writing, but it's not what I've written here.  
-page 13
This sounds promising. Well, until you get to page 195, where Jonathan launches his full-scale attack against any form of meat eating. He starts off by stating "It seems to me that it's plainly wrong to eat factory-farmed pork or to feed it to one's family," continues with "for similar reasons, I wouldn't eat poultry or sea animals produced by factory methods," and then raises the question with the following given: since eating animals is "in absolutely no way absolutely necessary for my family- unlike some in the world, we have easy access to a wide variety of other foods- should we eat animals?" He decides that he can't, and goes on to explain why he won't even eat animals on farms like Paul Willis' pig farm or Frank Reese's poultry ranch. Here's Jonathan's reasoning:
Even though he does everything he can, Paul's pigs are still castrated, and still transported long distances to slaughter. And before Willis met Diane Halverson, the animal welfare expert who assisted his work with Niman Ranch from the beginning, he docked (cut off) pigs' tails, which shows that even the kindest farmers sometimes fail to think of their animals' well-being as much as they can. 
And then there's the slaughterhouse. Frank is quite candid about the problems he has getting his turkeys slaughtered in a manner that he finds acceptable, and an optimal slaughterhouse for his birds remains a work in progress for him. As far as pig slaughter goes, Paradise Locker Meats really is a kind of paradise. Because of the structuring of the meat industry, and USDA regulations, both Paul and Frank are forced to send their animals to slaughterhouses that they have only partial control over. 
Every farm, like every everything, has flaws, is subject to accidents, sometimes doesn't work as it should. Life overflows with imperfections, but some matter more than others. How imperfect must animal farming and slaughter be before they are too imperfect? Different people will draw the line in different places with regard to farms like Paul's and Frank's. People I respect draw it differently. But for me, for now- for my family now- my concerns about the reality of what meat is and has become are enough to make me give it up altogether. 
~pages 196-197
Granted, he isn't directly telling you what to do, only what he has decided to do. On the other hand, it's pretty disingenuous. After all, he's the author, and you've been following his footsteps the entire time, so if this is the conclusion he comes to, it's pretty clearly the conclusion he wants you to come to as well.

My main contention with the book, however, other than its incredibly emotional portrayal- see his statement about 'Kosher' slaughter that ends with the direful sentence 'We have no reason to believe that the kind of cruelty that was documented at Agriprocessors has been eliminated from the kosher industry. It can't be, so long as factory farming dominates' (page 69)- is that he consistently conflates humans with animals in a way that is completely different from Pollan's relatively reasoned, measured approach (granted, he is at times given to florid phrases as well). Where Pollan writes
Watching a steer force-marched up the ramp to the kill-floor door, as I have done, I have to forcibly remind myself that this is not Sean Penn in Dead Men Walking, that the scene is playing very differently in a bovine brain, from which the concept of nonexistence is thankfully absent.
Foer deliberately invites the comparison and has us imagine ourselves in the chicken's situation- to great, if misrepresented, effect. When talking about the battery cage, he writes:
Step your mind into a crowded elevator, an elevator so crowded you cannot turn around without bumping into (and aggravating) your neighbor. The elevator is so crowded you are often held aloft. This is a kind of blessing, as the slanted floor is made of wire, which cuts into your feet. 
After some time, those in the elevator will lose their ability to work in the interest of the group. Some will become violent; others will go mad. A few, deprived of food and hope, will become cannibalistic. 
There is no respite, no relief. No elevator repairmen is coming. The doors will open once, at the end of your life, for your journey to the only place worse (see: processing). 
~page 47
This comparison is useful in that it shows us the conditions under which these chickens live, but it is not useful in that it assumes that our human desires for freedom, not to have our bare feet against wire etc are the same as the chicken's desires. And while that may be true, it is not necessarily true, and thus is really not the best way of proving a point. You must explore the animal's needs based on what you know of them, not based on what you know of humans.

The only saving grace of Jonathan's book consists of the letters he published within it showcasing different viewpoints across various people- a factory farmer, an animal rights activist, a vegan who builds slaughterhouses etc. I found the defense of factory farming very interesting- and did not feel like Jonathan adequately answered the questions raised in this letter. I'm publishing the letter below. It can be found on pages 94-97 of the book.


I Am a Factory Farmer
"When people ask me what I do, I tell them I'm a retired farmer. I started milking cows when I was six. We lived in Wisconsin. My daddy had a small herd - fifty, give or take - which back then was pretty typical. I worked everyday until I left home, worked hard. I thought I'd had enough of it at that point, thought there must be a better way.  
After high school I got a degree in animal science and went to work for a poultry company. I helped service, manage, and design turkey breeder farms. Bounced around some integrated companies after that. I managed large farms, a million birds. Did disease management, flock management. Problem solving, you could say. Farming is a lot of problem solving. Now I specialize in chicken nutrition and health. I'm in agribusiness. Factory farming, some people might say, but I don't care for the term. 
It's a different world from the one I grew up in. The price of food hasn't increased in the past thirty years. In relation to all other expenses, the price of protein stayed put. In order to survive - I don't mean get rich, I men put food on your table, send your kids to school, get a new car as needed - the farmer had to produce more and more. Simple math. Like I said my daddy had fifty cows. The model now for a viable dairy farm is twelve hundred cows. That's the smallest that can stay in business. Well, a family can't milk twelve hundred cows, so you gotta get four or five employees, and each of them will have a specialized job: milking, managing illness, tending the crops. It's efficient, yeah, and you can squeeze out a living, but a lot of people became farmers because of the diversity of farm life. And that's been lost. 
Another part of what's happened in response to the economic squeeze is that you gotta make an animal that produces more of the product at a lower cost. So you breed for faster growth and improved feed conversion. As long as food continues to get cheaper and cheaper relative to everything else, the farmer has no choice but to produce food at a lower production cost, and genetically he's going to move toward an animal that accomplishes that task, which can be counter productive to its welfare. The loss is built into the system. It's assumed if you have fifty thousand broilers in a shed, thousands are going to die in the first weeks. My daddy couldn't afford to lose an animal. Now you begin by assuming you'll lose 4 percent right off the bat. 
I've told you the drawbacks because I'm trying to be up-front with you. But in fact, we've got a tremendous system. Is it perfect? No. No system is perfect. And if you find someone who tells you he has a perfect way to feed billions and billions of people, well, you should take a careful look. You hear about free range-eggs and grass-fed cattle, and all that's good. I think it's a good direction. But it ain't gonna feed the world. Never. You simply can't feed billions of people free-range eggs. And when you hear people talking about small farming as a model, I call that the Marie Antoinette syndrome: if they can't afford bread, let them eat cake. High-yield farming has allowed everyone to eat. Think about that. If we go away from it, it may improve the welfare of the animal, it may even be better for the environment, but I don't want to go back to China in 1918. I'm talking about starving people. 
Sure, you could say people should just eat less meat, but I've got news for you: people don't want to eat less meat. You can be like PETA and pretend that the world is going to wake up tomorrow and realize that they love animals and don't want to eat them anymore, but history has shown that people are perfectly capable of loving animals and eating them. It's childish, and I would even say immoral, to fantasize about a vegetarian world when were having such a hard time making this one work. 
Look, the American farmer has fed the world. He was asked to do it after World War II, and he did it. People have never had the ability to eat like they can now. Protein has been never been more affordable. My animals are protected from the elements, get all the food they need, and grow well. Animals get sick. Animals die. But what do you think happens to animals in nature? You think they die of natural causes? You think they're stunned before they're killed? Animals in nature starve to death or are ripped apart by other animals. That's how they die. 
People have no idea where food comes from anymore. It's not synthetic, it's not created in a lab, it actually has to be grown. What I hate is when consumers act as if farmers want these things, when it's consumers who tell farmers what to grow. They've wanted cheap food. We've grown it. If they want cage-free eggs, they have to pay a lot more money for them. Period. It's cheaper to produce an egg in a massive laying barn with caged hens. It's more efficient and that means it's more sustainable. Yes, I'm saying that factory farming can be more sustainable, though I know that word is often used against the industry. From China to India to Brazil, the demand for animal products is growing - and fast. Do you think family farms are going to sustain a world of ten billion? 
A friend of mine had an experiece a few years ago where two young guys came and asked if they could take some footage for a documentary about farm life. Seemed like nice guys, so he said sure. But they edited it to make it look like the birds were being abused. They said the turkeys were being raped. I know that farm. I've visited it many times, and I can tell you those turkeys were being cared for as well as they needed to survive and be productive. Things can be taken out of context. And novices don't always know what they're looking at. This business isn't always pretty, but it's a bad mistake to confuse something unpleasant with something wrong. Every kid with a video camera thinks he's a veterinary scientist, thinks he was born knowing what takes years and years to learn. I know there's a necessity to sensationalize stuff in order to motivate people, but I prefer the truth. 
In the eighties, the industry tried to communicate with animal groups, and we got burned real bad. So the turkey community decided there would be no more of it. We put up a wall, and that was the end. We don't talk, don't let people onto the farms. Standard operating procedure. PETA doesn't want to talk about farming. They want to end farming. They have absolutely no idea how the world actually works. For all I know, I'm talking to the enemy right now. 
But I believe in what I'm telling you. And it's an important story to tell, a story that's getting drowned out by the hollering of extremists. I asked you not to use my name, but I have nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing. You just have to understand there's a bigger picture here. And I've got bosses. I've gotta put food on the table, too. 
Can I make a suggestion to you? Before you rush off trying to see everything you can, educate yourself. Don't trust your eyes. Trust your head. Learn about animals, learn about farming and the economics of food, learn the history. Start at the beginning."
I found the factory farmer's letter compelling and am curious to know whether there are any books out that address the points he makes in greater depth. Does anyone know of any sources?

Meat & (Jewish) Ethics: Animal Welfare vs. Animal Rights

I was struck by a a section of Michael Pollan's book 'The Omnivore's Dilemma' and planned to type it up for your reading pleasure. Happily, I decided to google it first, which led to my discovering that in fact, the whole piece I wanted you to read had already been published in The New York Times Magazine in 2002.

Here's the link to the full article, entitled "An Animal's Place."

The part that I found most instructive was the distinction Pollan made between the ubiquitous 'animal rights' and what he is advocating, 'animal welfare.'
The vegetarian utopia would make us even more dependent than we already are on an industrialized national food chain. That food chain would in turn be even more dependent than it already is on fossil fuels and chemical fertilizer, since food would need to travel farther and manure would be in short supply. Indeed, it is doubtful that you can build a more sustainable agriculture without animals to cycle nutrients and support local food production. If our concern is for the health of nature–rather than, say, the internal consistency of our moral code or the condition of our souls–then eating animals may sometimes be the most ethical thing to do. 
There is, too, the fact that we humans have been eating animals as long as we have lived on this earth. Humans may not need to eat meat in order to survive, yet doing so is part of our evolutionary heritage, reflected in the design of our teeth and the structure of our digestion. Eating meat helped make us what we are, in a social and biological sense. Under the pressure of the hunt, the human brain grew in size and complexity, and around the fire where the meat was cooked, human culture first flourished. Granting rights to animals may lift us up from the brutal world of predation, but it will entail the sacrifice of part of our identity–our own animality. 
Surely this is one of the odder paradoxes of animal rights doctrine. It asks us to recognize all that we share with animals and then demands that we act toward them in a most unanimalistic way. Whether or not this is a good idea, we should at least acknowledge that our desire to eat meat is not a trivial matter, no mere “gastronomic preference.” We might as well call sex–also now technically unnecessary–a mere “recreational preference.” Whatever else it is, our meat eating is something very deep indeed. 
Are any of these good enough reasons to eat animals? I’m mindful of Ben Franklin’s definition of the reasonable creature as one who can come up with reasons for whatever he wants to do. So I decided I would track down Peter Singer and ask him what he thought. In an e-mail message, I described Polyface and asked him about the implications for his position of the Good Farm–one where animals got to live according to their nature and to all appearances did not suffer. 
“I agree with you that it is better for these animals to have lived and died than not to have lived at all,” Singer wrote back. Since the utilitarian is concerned exclusively with the sum of happiness and suffering and the slaughter of an animal that doesn’t comprehend that death need not involve suffering, the Good Farm adds to the total of animal happiness, provided you replace the slaughtered animal with a new one. However, he added, this line of thinking doesn’t obviate the wrongness of killing an animal that “has a sense of its own existence over time and can have preferences for its own future.” In other words, it’s O.K. to eat the chicken, but he’s not so sure about the pig. Yet, he wrote, “I would not be sufficiently confident of my arguments to condemn someone who purchased meat from one of these farms.” 
Singer went on to express serious doubts that such farms could be practical on a large scale, since the pressures of the marketplace will lead their owners to cut costs and corners at the expense of the animals. He suggested, too, that killing animals is not conducive to treating them with respect. Also, since humanely raised food will be more expensive, only the well-to-do can afford morally defensible animal protein. These are important considerations, but they don’t alter my essential point: what’s wrong with animal agriculture–with eating animals–is the practice, not the principle. 
What this suggests to me is that people who care should be working not for animal rights but animal welfare–to ensure that farm animals don’t suffer and that their deaths are swift and painless. In fact, the decent-life-merciful-death line is how Jeremy Bentham justified his own meat eating. Yes, the philosophical father of animal rights was himself a carnivore. In a passage rather less frequently quoted by animal rightists, Bentham defended eating animals on the grounds that “we are the better for it, and they are never the worse. . . . The death they suffer in our hands commonly is, and always may be, a speedier and, by that means, a less painful one than that which would await them in the inevitable course of nature.”

So that's what I wanted to clarify for readers of this blog. I think that we should be focusing on animal welfare. I am a meat-eater and I will remain a meat-eater. I just want to be an ethical meat-eater. And I think the best way to accomplish that goal is to ensure that I do not eat animals that were tortured until the time that they were killed.

In other news, this Shabbat Heshy and I ate our first sandwich steaks produced by Grow & Behold. They were delicious! What astonished me is that there really was a difference in flavor. If I simply licked a piece of the meat, I could taste flavor, in the same way that if you were to lick ice cream in a cone, you would get that delicious creamy cold enjoyment on your tongue. Normally, when I simply lick a piece of meat, I don't get that kind of flavor- I would have to bite into it first.

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'?


In our tradition, four men entered the garden of dreams, the Pardes. Three did not survive the encounter with everything that was a part of them, whether that was their soul, their mind or their life, intact. Only Rabbi Akiva survived.

Pardes also represents the different levels of Torah knowledge. Peshat is the simple meaning. Remez is that which is hinted to in the text. Derash is the more complex meaning of the Torah. And then there's Sod, the most secret and mystical of secrets.

Pardes is also the name of a new restaurant in Brooklyn. It's located on Atlantic Avenue, in a rather trendy and hip neighborhood. What sets Pardes apart is the talent and skill of its head chef, Moshe Wendel. Moshe's life story is fascinating. He experienced France and French cuisine, then "served as sous chef at the legendary Manon Restaurant under Jean-Michelle Dumas. He later served as chef de cuisine at Pif, and Executive Chef of La Boheme, and Django- all Philadelphia-area restaurants on the cutting edge of food culture."

Wendel decided to become a Baal Teshuva, but he didn't wish to give up the creativity and talent that he found in food. So he decided to bring culture, class, creativity and the height of elegant, delicious and fine dining to the Jewish kosher world. He succeeded brilliantly in Pardes.

My friends and I went to the restaurant this past Tuesday night. Our server was a delightful lady named Julia who was extremely knowledgeable about everything offered on the menu and who made helpful suggestions based on our taste. In addition, it was lovely to see how professionally the servers interacted with the Chef. Throughout the meal, they referred to him as 'Chef' in terms that suggested respect and even a bit of reverence. At one point, Julia asked us whether we had called her over, and when she realized we hadn't, said 'Oh, then it must have been Chef.' It reminded me of the respect that students give their beloved Rebbe.

The seating is intimate, the ambience elegant. The room was packed- so when you go, be sure to make reservations in advance. Menus were given to us on clipboards- the first page encompassed appetizers, entrees and dessert while the subsequent pages were devoted to the expansive wine (and beer) list. (I chose to get sangria- it really did taste like summer.) I was impressed to see that the menu deviated in some ways from the one that appears on the website - clearly the Chef is always updating and changing his offerings, using seasonal ingredients to great effect.

Our table ordered sweetbreads, lamb tartare and Pardes fries as appetizers. For entrees, we chose Duck Confit with White Chocolate sauce and Blueberries, Black Angus Rib Eye (done medium-well) and Black Angus Hanger Steak (more on the rare side). A member of our party was actually a chef himself (having studied in culinary school in Israel and having interned at restaurants in Italy and elsewhere) and he noted that the cook on the rare steak was fantastic, and relatively tricky to do well. For dessert, we chose to indulge in the Georgia Peach Crumble, Chocolate Mousse with Strawberries and the Ice Cream Sandwich with Edible Flowers.

Everything was delicious. But it was more than that. It was beautiful to behold. The presentation was stunning. When our food arrived, we spent several minutes simply looking at it before we could bear to eat it. It was plated exquisitely, textures contrasted and complemented one another, the taste was extraordinary and the overall experience was simply magical.

The best part is that Pardes uses pastured meats, which means that the food you are eating has been ethically produced- and is delicious. Addendum: My husband called the restaurant and discovered that contrary to what I had thought, one cannot assume all the meats are pastured. Ask each night to find out what on the menu has been created through using pastured meats.

I've had the pleasure of eating at Abigael's, Le Carne, Mike's Bistro, Prime KO, Prime Grill, Wolf & Lamb and Le Marais...and Pardes is better than all of them.

This is the place to go if you want to truly experience food.

This is the Duck Confit with White Chocolate Sauce and Blueberries, amid other flavors and reductions.

Chocolate Mousse with Strawberries. The strawberries were done different ways- and included a puree and strawberry pop rocks! 

Ice Cream Sandwich with Edible Flowers- this tasted exquisite and the cookies themselves housed inner chocolate that was truly decadent.

                Georgia Peach Crumble, Maple Bacon and Walnut Ice Cream- spoon licking good.

I owe Heshy Fried of Frum Satire for first reviewing this restaurant. I found out about it through him- and I'm so glad I did!

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.

Monday, July 09, 2012

I ♥ Steve Behnke

There's a part of 'The Center Cannot Hold' by Elyn R. Saks that is just incredible, and that is in one of her first encounters with Steve.

Excerpt follows.


It was late one blustery fall night, in the bowels of the law school, when I was struggling badly, not so long after I'd told Steve about myself. "You can't imagine what it's like in an emergency room- it's god-awful, the way they tie you down and make you wait all night till someone has time to see you. They walk into your room at the crack of dawn, because they're ready to talk. What do they possibly expect you to say except "Let me f'ing go!'"

Steve looked at me with an impish grin. "Quote Hamlet, perhaps?" And in his best Shakesperean accent he intoned, "Lo, noble physician, the 'morn in russet mantle clad walks o'er the dew of yon high easterward hill. So loosen my chains, kind sir, for the tasks of the day await me."

He smiled. I laughed. He got it. I knew this man, whose depth of heart was equal to the speed of his mind, would be a lifelong friend.

-page 196


Thursday, July 05, 2012

Broken Tablets

My husband shared a beautiful idea with me at dinner today. Its source is Brachot 8b.

והזהרו בזקן ששכח תלמודו מחמת אונסו דאמרינן לוחות ושברי לוחות מונחות בארון

Be careful to respect an old man who has forgotten his learning through no fault of his own [due to old age] for it was said: Both the whole Tablets (Luchot) and the Broken Tablet were stored in the Aron.

I found this idea to be extremely compelling. I thought it was beautiful in that it teaches the value of respect, and especially respect for knowledge, learning and effort, through the use of such beautiful imagery. I now see in my mind's eye the mingled fragments of the Luchot next to the whole ones, each one important and beloved by God in its own right. 

Heshy says that he has actually witnessed this in his community. An elderly man who might be suffering from Alzheimers or dementia or some other illness that takes the mind on a journey to a dark place will still be honored and respected through the day he is buried. 

Monday, July 02, 2012

Book of Hearts

The book of Samuel actually seems to be about hearts. Leadership is obtained through God seeing into one's heart and ascertaining that you are a person who is after His own heart. In fact, God's seer may even be able to tell you what is in your heart due to the fact that God is giving you that new heart. Chana's heart grieves her before she has a son and Michal's heart shows that she despises her husband. There is symmetry between Amnon and Naval, both of whom have hearts that are merry with wine. Ought this to suggest that Naval views Abigail as a possession, much as Amnon viewed Tamar? Those who steal away the hearts of men (Absalom) end up pierced through the heart (a fitting death). Both Eli the Kohen Gadol and Saul the First King have hearts that tremble. That does not seem coincidental. There is also symmetry between the statement the armor bearer makes to Yonatan (Do all that is in your heart, for I am with thee) and the statement Nathan the Prophet makes to David (Do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with thee). Why is that statement repeated? The greatest leader, David, is one who demonstrates the importance of conscience. His heart smites him when he commits sins and he is quick to admit fault. This makes him unique from everyone else in the book, for nobody else in this book has that kind of heart.


Chapter 1

ח  וַיֹּאמֶר לָהּ אֶלְקָנָה אִישָׁהּ, חַנָּה לָמֶה תִבְכִּי וְלָמֶה לֹא תֹאכְלִי, וְלָמֶה, יֵרַע לְבָבֵךְ:  הֲלוֹא אָנֹכִי טוֹב לָךְ, מֵעֲשָׂרָה בָּנִים.8 And Elkanah her husband said unto her: 'Hannah, why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? am not I better to thee than ten sons?'
יג  וְחַנָּה, הִיא מְדַבֶּרֶת עַל-לִבָּהּ--רַק שְׂפָתֶיהָ נָּעוֹת, וְקוֹלָהּ לֹא יִשָּׁמֵעַ; וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ עֵלִי, לְשִׁכֹּרָה.13 Now Hannah, she spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice could not be heard; therefore, Eli thought she had been drunken.
Chapter 2

א  וַתִּתְפַּלֵּל חַנָּה, וַתֹּאמַר, עָלַץ לִבִּי בַּיהוָה, רָמָה קַרְנִי בַּיהוָה; רָחַב פִּי על-אוֹיְבַי, כִּי שָׂמַחְתִּי בִּישׁוּעָתֶךָ.1 And Hannah prayed, and said: my heart exulteth in the LORD, my horn is exalted in the LORD; my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in Thy salvation.

לה  וַהֲקִימֹתִי לִי כֹּהֵן נֶאֱמָן, כַּאֲשֶׁר בִּלְבָבִי וּבְנַפְשִׁי יַעֲשֶׂה; וּבָנִיתִי לוֹ בַּיִת נֶאֱמָן, וְהִתְהַלֵּךְ לִפְנֵי-מְשִׁיחִי כָּל-הַיָּמִים.35 And I will raise Me up a faithful priest, that shall do according to that which is in My heart and in My mind; and I will build him a sure house; and he shall walk before Mine anointed for ever.

Chapter 3


Chapter 4

יג  וַיָּבוֹא, וְהִנֵּה עֵלִי יֹשֵׁב עַל-הַכִּסֵּא יך (יַד) דֶּרֶךְ מְצַפֶּה--כִּי-הָיָה לִבּוֹ חָרֵד, עַל אֲרוֹן הָאֱלֹהִים; וְהָאִישׁ, בָּא לְהַגִּיד בָּעִיר, וַתִּזְעַק, כָּל-הָעִיר.13 And when he came, lo, Eli sat upon his seat by the wayside watching; for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city, and told it, all the city cried out.

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

ו  וְלָמָּה תְכַבְּדוּ אֶת-לְבַבְכֶם, כַּאֲשֶׁר כִּבְּדוּ מִצְרַיִם וּפַרְעֹה אֶת-לִבָּם:  הֲלוֹא כַּאֲשֶׁר הִתְעַלֵּל בָּהֶם, וַיְשַׁלְּחוּם וַיֵּלֵכוּ.6 Wherefore then do ye harden your hearts, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? when He had wrought among them, did they not let the people go, and they departed?
Chapter 7

ג  וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל, אֶל-כָּל-בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר, אִם-בְּכָל-לְבַבְכֶם אַתֶּם שָׁבִים אֶל-יְהוָה, הָסִירוּ אֶת-אֱלֹהֵי הַנֵּכָר מִתּוֹכְכֶם וְהָעַשְׁתָּרוֹת; וְהָכִינוּ לְבַבְכֶם אֶל-יְהוָה וְעִבְדֻהוּ לְבַדּוֹ, וְיַצֵּל אֶתְכֶם מִיַּד פְּלִשְׁתִּים.3 And Samuel spoke unto all the house of Israel, saying: 'If ye do return unto the LORD with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you, and direct your hearts unto the LORD, and serve Him only; and He will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.
Chapter 8

Chapter 9

יט  וַיַּעַן שְׁמוּאֵל אֶת-שָׁאוּל, וַיֹּאמֶר אָנֹכִי הָרֹאֶה--עֲלֵה לְפָנַי הַבָּמָה, וַאֲכַלְתֶּם עִמִּי הַיּוֹם; וְשִׁלַּחְתִּיךָ בַבֹּקֶר, וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר בִּלְבָבְךָ אַגִּיד לָךְ.19 And Samuel answered Saul, and said: 'I am the seer; go up before me unto the high place, for ye shall eat with me to-day; and in the morning I will let thee go, and will tell thee all that is in thy heart.

Chapter 10

ט  וְהָיָה, כְּהַפְנֹתוֹ שִׁכְמוֹ לָלֶכֶת מֵעִם שְׁמוּאֵל, וַיַּהֲפָךְ-לוֹ אֱלֹהִים, לֵב אַחֵר; וַיָּבֹאוּ כָּל-הָאֹתוֹת הָאֵלֶּה, בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא.  {ס}9 And it was so, that when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, God gave him another heart; and all those signs came to pass that day. {S}

כו  וְגַם-שָׁאוּל--הָלַךְ לְבֵיתוֹ, גִּבְעָתָה; וַיֵּלְכוּ עִמּוֹ--הַחַיִל, אֲשֶׁר-נָגַע אֱלֹהִים בְּלִבָּם.26 And Saul also went to his house to Gibeah; and there went with him the men of valour, whose hearts God had touched.
Chapter 11


Chapter 12

כ  וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל אֶל-הָעָם, אַל-תִּירָאוּ--אַתֶּם עֲשִׂיתֶם, אֵת כָּל-הָרָעָה הַזֹּאת; אַךְ, אַל-תָּסוּרוּ מֵאַחֲרֵי יְהוָה, וַעֲבַדְתֶּם אֶת-יְהוָה, בְּכָל-לְבַבְכֶם.20 And Samuel said unto the people: 'Fear not; ye have indeed done all this evil; yet turn not aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart;
כד  אַךְ יְראוּ אֶת-יְהוָה, וַעֲבַדְתֶּם אֹתוֹ בֶּאֱמֶת--בְּכָל-לְבַבְכֶם:  כִּי רְאוּ, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-הִגְדִּל עִמָּכֶם.24 Only fear the LORD, and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider how great things He hath done for you.
Chapter 13

יד  וְעַתָּה, מַמְלַכְתְּךָ לֹא-תָקוּם:  בִּקֵּשׁ יְהוָה לוֹ אִישׁ כִּלְבָבוֹ, וַיְצַוֵּהוּ יְהוָה לְנָגִיד עַל-עַמּוֹ--כִּי לֹא שָׁמַרְתָּ, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-צִוְּךָ יְהוָה.  {ס}14 But now thy kingdom shall not continue; the LORD hath sought him a man after His own heart, and the LORD hath appointed him to be prince over His people, because thou hast not kept that which the LORD commanded thee.' {S}
Chapter 14

ז  וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ נֹשֵׂא כֵלָיו, עֲשֵׂה כָּל-אֲשֶׁר בִּלְבָבֶךָ; נְטֵה לָךְ, הִנְנִי עִמְּךָ כִּלְבָבֶךָ.  {ס}7 And his armour-bearer said unto him: 'Do all that is in thy heart; turn thee, behold I am with thee according to thy heart.' {S}

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

ז  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-שְׁמוּאֵל, אַל-תַּבֵּט אֶל-מַרְאֵהוּ וְאֶל-גְּבֹהַּ קוֹמָתוֹ--כִּי מְאַסְתִּיהוּ:  כִּי לֹא, אֲשֶׁר יִרְאֶה הָאָדָם--כִּי הָאָדָם יִרְאֶה לַעֵינַיִם, וַיהוָה יִרְאֶה לַלֵּבָב.7 But the LORD said unto Samuel: 'Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have rejected him; for it is not as man seeth: for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.'
Chapter 17

כח  וַיִּשְׁמַע אֱלִיאָב אָחִיו הַגָּדוֹל, בְּדַבְּרוֹ אֶל-הָאֲנָשִׁים; וַיִּחַר-אַף אֱלִיאָב בְּדָוִד וַיֹּאמֶר לָמָּה-זֶּה יָרַדְתָּ, וְעַל-מִי נָטַשְׁתָּ מְעַט הַצֹּאן הָהֵנָּה בַּמִּדְבָּר--אֲנִי יָדַעְתִּי אֶת-זְדֹנְךָ וְאֵת רֹעַ לְבָבֶךָ, כִּי לְמַעַן רְאוֹת הַמִּלְחָמָה יָרָדְתָּ.28 And Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spoke unto the men; and Eliab's anger was kindled against David, and he said: 'Why art thou come down? and with whom hast thou left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know thy presumptuousness, and the naughtiness of thy heart; for thou art come down that thou mightest see the battle.'
לב  וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד אֶל-שָׁאוּל, אַל-יִפֹּל לֵב-אָדָם עָלָיו; עַבְדְּךָ יֵלֵךְ, וְנִלְחַם עִם-הַפְּלִשְׁתִּי הַזֶּה.32 And David said to Saul: 'Let no man's heart fail within him; thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine.'
Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

יג  וַיָּשֶׂם דָּוִד אֶת-הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה, בִּלְבָבוֹ; וַיִּרָא מְאֹד, מִפְּנֵי אָכִישׁ מֶלֶךְ-גַּת.13 And David laid up these words in his heart, and was sore afraid of Achish the king of Gath.
Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

ה  וַיְהִי, אַחֲרֵי-כֵן, וַיַּךְ לֵב-דָּוִד, אֹתוֹ--עַל אֲשֶׁר כָּרַת, אֶת-כָּנָף אֲשֶׁר לְשָׁאוּל.5 And it came to pass afterward, that David's heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul's skirt.
Chapter 25

לא  וְלֹא תִהְיֶה זֹאת לְךָ לְפוּקָה וּלְמִכְשׁוֹל לֵב לַאדֹנִי, וְלִשְׁפָּךְ-דָּם חִנָּם, וּלְהוֹשִׁיעַ אֲדֹנִי, לוֹ; וְהֵיטִב יְהוָה לַאדֹנִי, וְזָכַרְתָּ אֶת-אֲמָתֶךָ.  {ס}31 that this shall be no stumbling-block unto thee, nor offence of heart unto my lord, either that thou hast shed blood without cause, or that my lord hath found redress for himself. And when the LORD shall have dealt well with my lord, then remember thy handmaid.' {S}

לו  וַתָּבֹא אֲבִיגַיִל אֶל-נָבָל וְהִנֵּה-לוֹ מִשְׁתֶּה בְּבֵיתוֹ כְּמִשְׁתֵּה הַמֶּלֶךְ, וְלֵב נָבָל טוֹב עָלָיו, וְהוּא שִׁכֹּר, עַד-מְאֹד; וְלֹא-הִגִּידָה לּוֹ, דָּבָר קָטֹן וְגָדוֹל--עַד-אוֹר הַבֹּקֶר.36 And Abigail came to Nabal; and, behold, he held a feast in his house, like the feast of a king; and Nabal's heart was merry within him, for he was very drunken; wherefore she told him nothing, less or more, until the morning light.
לז  וַיְהִי בַבֹּקֶר, בְּצֵאת הַיַּיִן מִנָּבָל, וַתַּגֶּד-לוֹ אִשְׁתּוֹ, אֶת-הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה; וַיָּמָת לִבּוֹ בְּקִרְבּוֹ, וְהוּא הָיָה לְאָבֶן.37 And it came to pass in the morning, when the wine was gone out of Nabal, that his wife told him these things, and his heart died within him, and he became as a stone.
Chapter 26

Chapter 27

א  וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד אֶל-לִבּוֹ, עַתָּה אֶסָּפֶה יוֹם-אֶחָד בְּיַד-שָׁאוּל; אֵין-לִי טוֹב כִּי הִמָּלֵט אִמָּלֵט אֶל-אֶרֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּים, וְנוֹאַשׁ מִמֶּנִּי שָׁאוּל לְבַקְשֵׁנִי עוֹד בְּכָל-גְּבוּל יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְנִמְלַטְתִּי, מִיָּדוֹ.1 And David said in his heart: 'I shall now be swept away one day by the hand of Saul; there is nothing better for me than that I should escape into the land of the Philistines; and Saul will despair of me, to seek me any more in all the borders of Israel; so shall I escape out of his hand.
Chapter 28

ה  וַיַּרְא שָׁאוּל, אֶת-מַחֲנֵה פְלִשְׁתִּים; וַיִּרָא, וַיֶּחֱרַד לִבּוֹ מְאֹד.5 And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly.
Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31


Chapter 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Chapter 6

טז  וְהָיָה אֲרוֹן יְהוָה, בָּא עִיר דָּוִד; וּמִיכַל בַּת-שָׁאוּל נִשְׁקְפָה בְּעַד הַחַלּוֹן, וַתֵּרֶא אֶת-הַמֶּלֶךְ דָּוִד מְפַזֵּז וּמְכַרְכֵּר לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, וַתִּבֶז לוֹ, בְּלִבָּהּ.16 And it was so, as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out at the window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart.

Chapter 7

 וַיֹּאמֶר נָתָן אֶל-הַמֶּלֶךְ, כֹּל אֲשֶׁר בִּלְבָבְךָ לֵךְ עֲשֵׂה:  כִּי יְהוָה, עִמָּךְ.3 And Nathan said to the king: 'Go, do all that is in thy heart; for the LORD is with thee.'

כא  בַּעֲבוּר דְּבָרְךָ, וּכְלִבְּךָ, עָשִׂיתָ, אֵת כָּל-הַגְּדוּלָּה הַזֹּאת--לְהוֹדִיעַ, אֶת-עַבְדֶּךָ.21 For Thy word's sake, and according to Thine own heart, hast Thou wrought all this greatness, to make Thy servant know it.

כז  כִּי-אַתָּה יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, גָּלִיתָה אֶת-אֹזֶן עַבְדְּךָ לֵאמֹר, בַּיִת, אֶבְנֶה-לָּךְ; עַל-כֵּן, מָצָא עַבְדְּךָ אֶת-לִבּוֹ, לְהִתְפַּלֵּל אֵלֶיךָ, אֶת-הַתְּפִלָּה הַזֹּאת.27 For Thou, O LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, hast revealed to Thy servant, saying: I will build thee a house; therefore hath Thy servant taken heart to pray this prayer unto Thee.

Chapter 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Chapter 13

כ  וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלֶיהָ אַבְשָׁלוֹם אָחִיהָ, הַאֲמִינוֹן אָחִיךְ הָיָה עִמָּךְ, וְעַתָּה אֲחוֹתִי הַחֲרִישִׁי אָחִיךְ הוּא, אַל-תָּשִׁיתִי אֶת-לִבֵּךְ לַדָּבָר הַזֶּה; וַתֵּשֶׁב תָּמָר וְשֹׁמֵמָה, בֵּית אַבְשָׁלוֹם אָחִיהָ.20 And Absalom her brother said unto her: 'Hath Amnon thy brother been with thee? but now hold thy peace, my sister: he is thy brother; take not this thing to heart.' So Tamar remained desolate in her brother Absalom's house.
כח  וַיְצַו אַבְשָׁלוֹם אֶת-נְעָרָיו לֵאמֹר, רְאוּ נָא כְּטוֹב לֵב-אַמְנוֹן בַּיַּיִן וְאָמַרְתִּי אֲלֵיכֶם הַכּוּ אֶת-אַמְנוֹן וַהֲמִתֶּם אֹתוֹ--אַל-תִּירָאוּ:  הֲלוֹא, כִּי אָנֹכִי צִוִּיתִי אֶתְכֶם--חִזְקוּ, וִהְיוּ לִבְנֵי-חָיִל.28 And Absalom commanded his servants, saying: 'Mark ye now, when Amnon's heart is merry with wine; and when I say unto you: Smite Amnon, then kill him, fear not; have not I commanded you? be courageous, and be valiant.'
לג  וְעַתָּה אַל-יָשֵׂם אֲדֹנִי הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶל-לִבּוֹ, דָּבָר לֵאמֹר, כָּל-בְּנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ, מֵתוּ:  כִּי-אם (  ) אַמְנוֹן לְבַדּוֹ, מֵת.  {פ}33 Now therefore let not my lord the king take the thing to his heart, to think that all the king's sons are dead; for Amnon only is dead.' {P}
Chapter 14

א  וַיֵּדַע, יוֹאָב בֶּן-צְרֻיָה:  כִּי-לֵב הַמֶּלֶךְ, עַל-אַבְשָׁלוֹם.1 Now Joab the son of Zeruiah perceived that the king's heart was toward Absalom.
Chapter 15

ו  וַיַּעַשׂ אַבְשָׁלוֹם כַּדָּבָר הַזֶּה, לְכָל-יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֲשֶׁר-יָבֹאוּ לַמִּשְׁפָּט, אֶל-הַמֶּלֶךְ; וַיְגַנֵּב, אַבְשָׁלוֹם, אֶת-לֵב, אַנְשֵׁי יִשְׂרָאֵל.  {פ}6 And on this manner did Absalom to all Israel that came to the king for judgment; so Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel. {P}
יג  וַיָּבֹא, הַמַּגִּיד, אֶל-דָּוִד, לֵאמֹר:  הָיָה לֶב-אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל, אַחֲרֵי אַבְשָׁלוֹם.13 And there came a messenger to David, saying: 'The hearts of the men of Israel are after Absalom.'
Chapter 16

Chapter 17

י  וְהוּא גַם-בֶּן-חַיִל, אֲשֶׁר לִבּוֹ כְּלֵב הָאַרְיֵה--הִמֵּס יִמָּס:  כִּי-יֹדֵעַ כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל כִּי-גִבּוֹר אָבִיךָ, וּבְנֵי-חַיִל אֲשֶׁר אִתּוֹ.10 then even he that is valiant, whose heart is as the heart of a lion, will utterly melt; for all Israel knoweth that thy father is a mighty man, and they that are with him are valiant men.
Chapter 18

יד  וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹאָב, לֹא-כֵן אֹחִילָה לְפָנֶיךָ; וַיִּקַּח שְׁלֹשָׁה שְׁבָטִים בְּכַפּוֹ, וַיִּתְקָעֵם בְּלֵב אַבְשָׁלוֹם--עוֹדֶנּוּ חַי, בְּלֵב הָאֵלָה.14 Then said Joab: 'I may not tarry thus with thee.' And he took three darts in his hand, and thrust them through the heart of Absalom, while he was yet alive in the midst of the terebinth.
Chapter 19

ח  וְעַתָּה קוּם צֵא, וְדַבֵּר עַל-לֵב עֲבָדֶיךָ:  {ס}  כִּי בַיהוָה נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי כִּי-אֵינְךָ יוֹצֵא, אִם-יָלִין אִישׁ אִתְּךָ הַלַּיְלָה, וְרָעָה לְךָ זֹאת מִכָּל-הָרָעָה אֲשֶׁר-בָּאָה עָלֶיךָ, מִנְּעֻרֶיךָ עַד-עָתָּה.  {ס}8 Now therefore arise, go forth, and speak to the heart of thy servants; {S} for I swear by the LORD, if thou go not forth, there will not tarry a man with thee this night; and that will be worse unto thee than all the evil that hath befallen thee from thy youth until now.' {S}

טו  וַיַּט אֶת-לְבַב כָּל-אִישׁ-יְהוּדָה, כְּאִישׁ אֶחָד; וַיִּשְׁלְחוּ, אֶל-הַמֶּלֶךְ, שׁוּב אַתָּה, וְכָל-עֲבָדֶיךָ.15 And he bowed the heart of all the men of Judah, even as the heart of one man; so that they sent unto the king: 'Return thou, and all thy servants.'
Chapter 20, 21, 22, 23

Chapter 24

י  וַיַּךְ לֵב-דָּוִד אֹתוֹ, אַחֲרֵי-כֵן סָפַר אֶת-הָעָם;  {פ}

וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד אֶל-יְהוָה, חָטָאתִי מְאֹד אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי, וְעַתָּה יְהוָה הַעֲבֶר-נָא אֶת-עֲו‍ֹן עַבְדְּךָ, כִּי נִסְכַּלְתִּי מְאֹד.
10 And David's heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. {P}

And David said unto the LORD: 'I have sinned greatly in what I have done; but now, O LORD, put away, I beseech Thee, the iniquity of Thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.'