A “Pressing” Issue

This morning, The Jewish Vegetarians of North America put out a press release that condemns the goat schecting at Hazon’s food conference.  As a Jew and a vegetarian, I support this statement.  Or rather, I support the legitimate concern for animal welfare and environmental integrity at the foundation of the statement.  Still, I think that unless the JVNA plans to condemn ALL the simchas, events, and conferences in the Jewish community that serve meat – then perhaps Hazon’s Food Conference is the one meat-serving conference they should endorse

Like the majority of Jewish events, The Hazon Food Conference will not promote mindless or wasteful meat consumption, nor will it violate tsa’ar ba’alei chaim by promoting animal mistreatment.  On the contrary, the schecting and consumption of the goats at the Food Conference will encourage participants to take responsibility for their food choices.

More importantly, the schecting will not happen in a vaccuum.  It will be one of several sessions throughout the weekend that get participants thinking about meat consumption (ethical, kosher, industrial, abstinence from and otherwise).  Regardless of whether or not participants attend the schecting or eat the goat meat, they will be surrounded by thoughtful conversations about JVNA’s central question, ”Should Jews be Vegetarians?”  For some participants the answer will be no – but if JVNA is serious about the question, they ought to support the Food Conference’s serious engagement with it.

I’ve been a committed Jewish vegetarian for 8 years, but I realized a long while ago that the day I once hoped for (the one where all Jews renounce meat forever) was simply never going to come.  And in the meantime, there is a lot of work to be done to ensure that the Jews who do decide to eat meat are doing it in a way that respects the land, the animal, and themselves.

Read the JVNA’s full Press Release below the jump.

For Immediate Release: November 27, 2007
Contact: Richard H. Schwartz, President of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA)  Phone: (718) 761-5876

Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) today announced that it sharply condemns plans by Hazon to slaughter goats at its upcoming food conference on December 6-9 at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, Connecticut.

JVNA has long supported Hazon’s environmental bike rides and its efforts to increase awareness of environmental and food-related issues in the Jewish community and has often placed announcements of Hazon events in its newsletter. JVNA also appreciates Hazon’s objective of increasing awareness of the slaughter process, but feels that its objective can far better be carried out by showing videos of slaughterhouse practices.

“In addition to violating tsa’ar ba’alei chaim, the Torah mandate to avoid causing unnecessary cruelty to animals, Hazon is ignoring the very negative effects that animal-based diets are having on human health and the environment;” stated JVNA president Richard Schwartz. “They are also ignoring the fact that the production and consumption of meat and other animal products is inconsistent with basic Jewish mandates to preserve human health, treat animals with compassion, protect the environment, conserve natural resources, help hungry people and pursue peace. Hazon would do far more good by a thorough consideration of these issues at its conference than by slaughtering some of G-d’s defenseless creatures. We challenge Hazon to engage with us in a respectful dialogue/debate on ‘Should Jews Be Vegetarians?’”

JVNA also stated that at a time when the world is so imperiled by global warming and other environmental threats, dietary concerns should be considered in terms of environmental impacts. Rabbi Barry Silver, a JVNA advisor, stated: “In view of the many current environmental threats to humanity, it is scandalous that the world is not only trying to feed 6.6 billion people, but also over 50 billion farmed animals; that animal-based agriculture emits more greenhouse gases (in CO2 equivalents) than all the world’s forms of transportation; that 70 percent of the grain produced in the United States and over a third produced worldwide are fed to animals raised for slaughter; and that the standard American diet (SAD) requires up to 14 times as much water as a vegan diet.”

To increase consideration of such issues in the Jewish community and other communities, JVNA has just released a one-hour documentary A SACRED DUTY: APPLYING JEWISH VALUES TO HELP HEAL THE WORLD. They will send a free DVD to anyone who contacts them and indicates plans to consider using the movie to help increase awareness of environmental and food-related issues.

Further information about these issues can be found at JewishVeg.com. JVNA welcomes opportunities to dialogue and work with others to increase awareness of Jewish teachings on dietary concerns.

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8 Responses to “A “Pressing” Issue”

  1. Rabbi Shmuel Says:

    “JVNA also appreciates Hazon’s objective of increasing awareness of the slaughter process, but feels that its objective can far better be carried out by showing videos of slaughterhouse practices.”

    What a sucker punch if I’ve ever seen one. I screened their movie the other day and it’s basically Richard’s generic talking points (and boy can he talk) with scandalous stock footage of factory farms – the footage is designed not to educate or stimulate debate – it’s designed to inflame, disgust and intimidate. Then there’s the cow shedding a tear, a cinematic subtlety that they had to show three (count ‘em) times and in slo mo to underscore the point! obviously a hamfisted tribute to the commercial which showed a Native American canoing and shedding a tear over the pollution. Their touching footage of pigs under factory farm conditions were especially touching and certainly relevant to Richard’s intended audience.
    Leah, I agree that they should be the first ones to support Hazon’s efforts on this one. Their failure to do so reveals their extreme underlying agenda of eliminating any animal consumption. I’m glad the conference -and it’s center stage publicity stunt – outed them.

  2. Gila Says:

    Why do you find it necessary to slaughter an animal when there is plenty of footage showing animal slaughter the way it is in the real world (brutal, filthy, painful, crowded, and terrifying)? This is what you should show.

  3. Richard Schwartz Says:

    Rabbi Shmuel,

    Thanks for your comments.

    Can you deny that animals are very cruely treated on factory farms, that the Torah mandate of tsa’ar’ar ba’alei chaim is violated; that animal-based diets have been scientifically linked to many chronic, degenerative dieases; that raising over 50 billion animals worldwide annually seriously harms the environment; that, as a UN FAO report indicated in 2006, animal-based agriculture emits more greenhouse gases (in CO2 equivalents) than all the cars, trucks and other forms of transport worldwide. At a time when there is increasing water and food scarcity in many areas, isn’t it scandalous to have a diet that requires up to 14 times as much water as a vegan diet and incvolves feeding 70 percent of the grain produced in the US to animals destined for slaughter, while an estimated 20 million people die of hunger and its effects annually worldwide? There is much more I could add, but I hope this will serve for starters.

  4. Leah Koenig Says:

    Gila – while there is some value in showing a video – it misses the point. Showing a video of factory farm brutality has the express purpose of outraging people enough that they stop eating meat. Fine – that’s a worthy goal. But the problems with it are 1. that tactic simply doesn’t work on everyone and 2. It sets up a false “dialogue” – with a prescribed answer.

    On the contrary, bringing together a group of people to bear witness to a schecting allows 1. the opportunity for people to see an alternative to factory farm cruelty 2. the opportunity for real discussion and self reflection. Some people might come away as vegetarians. Some might decide to only eat meat on very special occasions or if it can be raised and slaughtered in an ethical way (which at this point means not often!) Either way, that’s a much worthier goal than trying to shock people into doing something they’re not going to do.

  5. Chana Brock Says:

    I am infuriated that Hazon is planning to shecht a goat. I saw footage of slaughterhouse two decades ago on PBS. That is what turned me vegetarian. Plenty of video footage exists (of REAL slaughterhouses … the way it REALLY is in the REAL world … crowded, filthy, painful, terrifying) to use at the event. Killing a goat is absolutely horrifying and pointless.

    I’m with Gila. Ms. Koening, what is wrong with letting people see how their meat is obtained (in the REAL world)? To show shechitah in a way it really does NOT take place – in the real world, MOST of the time – is inaccurate. In fact, it’s outright dishonest. People can not get a true picture of where their meat comes from, nor make an informed decision.

  6. Gersh Says:

    I appreciate that you want everyone to become a vegan. You need to appreciate that not everyone wants to be.

  7. Batya Bauman Says:

    It’s true that not everyone wants to become a vegan, as Gersh says. But then, the animals do not want to be slaughtered either. Unfortunately, the animal loses here, because it is simply a case of the strong overpowering the weak. It is a case of a frivolous human desire to satisfy taste buds against the animal’s desire to live. “Choose life,” our sources tell us. Are we to interpret that as meaning only our own lives?
    How can the schechting of the goats be called humane? It may be humane up until the time the animal is being restrained and slaughtered. But who can honestly say that the very process of slaughtering is humane? Of course, if we are dealing in relative terms, it is more humane than prevailing slaughterhouse practices, kosher or not. But there is no way to humanely slaughter. Slaughter is an act of extreme violence, no matter into what cultural/religious/righteous frame of mind the slaughterer puts himself to absolve himself of blame for this purposeful violent act against another being. This act is the very opposite of what is meant by the Jewish prohibition against tsaar baalei chayim.

    I can understand that it is difficult to give up a lifelong habit of eating meat. But to make a virtue of not doing so is something I simply cannot understand. It would be more honest to admit a weakness rather than finding arguments to justify it.

    Killing an animal is possible only because of the human penchant to objectify other animals. It couldn’t be done otherwise. If we perceived other animals as fellow beings on this earth who are just as worthy of living their lives according to their own desires and agenda as we are, we would never be able to slaughter, cut them up, cook them and eat them.

    Instead of spending so much time and energy trying to justify killing and eating the flesh of other animals, maybe the time and effort would
    be better spent in working toward overcoming this terrible human
    condition: the desire to eat flesh. Granted, it is not easy, but slaughtering is not easy, either. Choose Life. Choose ultimate kashrut. Do it gradually if you must, but do have the goal of ridding ourselves of this terrible need to eat flesh.
    I like what Isaac Basheva Singer said: “To be a vegetarian is to disagree–to disagree with the course of things today. Starvation, world hunger, cruelty, waste, wars–we must make
    a statement against these things. Vegetarianism is my statement. And I think it’s a strong one.”

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