Give Polish Jewry a kosher choice


Remember “Had Gadya”? What satisfaction when, onto the scene of carnage, walks the Holy One of Blessing, and destroys the angel of death that slew the butcher that killed the ox that drank the water that quenched the fire that burned the stick that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the kid. And what relief! But only momentarily. For where are we in this lineup of violence? It is forever, for us, the question of what am I, now, an angel of death or the little white kid that daddy bought for two zuzim? And can I be both? And do I have to be either?

To be human is to be aware of one’s own morality. To be able to act morally, we must have the freedom to choose to do or not to do so, which demands we have the freedom to reject morality. Without that freedom, we are but tools in other people’s hands. 

In the recent debate on the Polish government’s decree de-legalizing shechitah, or kosher ritual slaughter, we hear strident voices from many sides. Some say the only motivation for the decision was to prevent needless animal suffering. Other voices argue that skillfully performed shechitah causes the animal less pain than all the other feasible methods of killing it. Others still express discontent, outrage or fear, due to the fact that discontinuing kosher slaughter effectively makes it impossible for observant Polish Jews to eat meat altogether.

I do not know which is worse: a shochet’s knife to the throat, or a killing machine in a meat plant. I know that, kosher or not, slaughterhouses are cruel places, where overworked butchers have to do their quota of killing, and helpless animals experience horror and pain. While I realize that Poland cannot, for reasons of its largely agriculture-based economy, its traditions and customs, opt out of mass production and consumption of meat, I would like government experts to conduct an inquiry into all killing of animals — not just the preparation of kosher meat — to ensure that animals’ deaths can become less traumatic than they are now. As important is an inquiry into how these animals live before they find their deaths in Polish slaughterhouses. I imagine a national commission, made up of Muslim leaders, Progressive Jewish leadership, Orthodox rabbinate, philosophers and ethicists, as well as animal behaviorists and farm engineers, working together to design ways to lessen the severity of pain we inflict on livestock as it is reared, handled and killed. 

Once a viable system is designed and a door is opened about kosher (and halal) slaughter, it may be easier to open it for all slaughter. So what I imagine as a solution now is a law that would keep wholesale butchering for export markets outlawed, but would ensure that Polish faith communities that require kosher (or halal) meat are enabled to butcher the chickens, the calves, the cows and the kids whose meat they want to eat. In other words, I want a law that, while keeping the ban on mass killing for foreign markets, would ensure the existence in Poland of slaughterhouses producing meats for local communities and provide for this meat’s fair distribution. 

My current choices don’t really give me a choice. Could the sages of our government work with our rabbis to devise a law that would return to Polish Jews the freedom currently enjoyed, at least potentially, by non-Jewish Poles, of pondering in meat shops the decision of whether to participate, with just a flick of my credit card, the animal hecatomb people have carried on since Noah and the flood, or refusing to do it? For Jews to be able to exercise such a choice, the meat bought or rejected must be kosher meat. 

We are a complex people. We embrace our diversity. Given the freedom to choose, some of us will want to go and butcher that kid that they can buy for two zuzim. Some will let it live. Some will focus on whether the kid can live a life where it is treated with care and regard for its needs, and whether it dies as painless and humane a death as possible. Some will flicker between choices, depending on a myriad of reasons why. Even though I hold with one of these choices only, I respect them all. After all, only the Knower of Secrets, the Holy One of Blessing, knows what lies deep at the root of our choices and how we arrive at our decisions. And it is only when He, the final player in the “Had Gadya” we sing here on Earth, says so, will the world break up the cycle of violence. In the meantime, each Polish Jew should be granted the freedom to choose for herself or himself whether they will or will not become, by virtue of buying their meat or refusing it, the halef — an instrument that transforms life into death.


Dr. Joanna Auron is a new board member of Beit Polska, the Poland-wide Progressive Jewish umbrella organization of Jews affiliated with the European Union for Progressive Judaism and the World Union for Progressive Judaism. She lives and works in Poland.

Poles ban kosher slaughter


In their Krakow home, Anna Makowka Kwapisiewicz and her husband, Piotr, skim through an online article about Poland’s recent ban on kosher slaughter.

What they find even more disturbing than the actual news are the comments posted by other readers.

Hundreds of comments calling on Jews to leave Poland have appeared beneath news articles in the days since the country’s parliament defeated a bill that would have reversed a ban on kosher slaughter, or shechitah, first imposed in January.

“The ban is bad enough because it’s the result of disinformation, but it opened the door to anti-Semitism that’s very evident in these comments,” said Piotr, who with his wife is a founding member of Czulent, an association of young Krakow Jews.

The shechitah ban and ensuing anti-Semitic outbursts come as painful reminders that despite years of government-led projects celebrating Jewish tradition, Poland still has a long way to go to become a place “where minorities feel at home and not just guests,” as Anna put it.

“There’s a view that Poland is a paradise for Jews,” Anna said. “But now everyone sees there’s no paradise and Poland is a country like all others. It needs to work on tolerance during difficult times, when populism and nationalism flourish throughout Europe.”

In January, a constitutional court, responding to a petition filed by animal welfare activists, outlawed religious slaughter in Poland. A law that would have reinstated shechitah was rejected by the Sjem, the Polish parliament, on July 12 by a vote of 222-178.

On July 16, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said he had no plans to reintroduce legislation to lift the ban.

The Polish ban is not the first time a European country has put animal welfare concerns above the religious freedom of its Jewish and Muslim minorities.

In 2011, a large majority of the lower house of the Dutch parliament passed a bill banning the practice, but it was scrapped by the Dutch Senate. Laws banning kosher slaughter also are on the books in Norway, Switzerland, Latvia, Sweden and Iceland.

The view of Poland as something of a Jewish paradise has been bolstered by initiatives such as Warsaw’s ambitious $100 million Museum of the History of Polish Jews and Krakow’s Jewish Culture Festival, a weeklong affair that attracts tens of thousands of participants — projects carried out with significant government support. Poland also is seen as a robust Israeli ally.

But the government has lagged on other issues of Jewish concern, like Holocaust restitution. It is the sole European country that does not offer private property restitution to survivors and their heirs.

Poland also has shown a worrying indifference to instances of anti-Semitism.

Last month, a prosecutor in the northern city of Bialystok called swastikas “symbols of prosperity” in explaining the refusal to investigate the painting of Nazi symbols on municipal property. Earlier that month, a Polish official said the courts were “powerless” to stop a declaredly anti-Semitic political party from running in elections.

In April, a survey found that 44 percent of 1,250 Warsaw teenagers polled said they would rather not have Jewish neighbors. More than 60 percent said they did not want Jewish spouses.

A year ago, Jonathan Orenstein, director of the Krakow Jewish Community Center, said in an interview that “there’s no better place to be Jewish” than Poland. Interviewed again this week, the New York-born Orenstein sounded less upbeat.

“For the first time in my 11 years in Poland, I feel that things are going backward,” he said.

Poland is home to some 25,000 Muslims, according to a 2010 U.S. government estimate, and a Jewish population of approximately 40,000, according to Rabbi Michael Schudrich, the country’s American-born chief rabbi.

But Jews and Muslims are not the only ones affected by the ban, which has shut down the country’s robust export industry of kosher and halal meat. Estimates place the value of the ritual slaughter industry at more than $500 million.

“Yet the talk in media and online was about how the Jews should not be allowed to make money off the misery of animals,” said Piotr Kadlcik, president of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland. “This kind of talk created a very uncomfortable feeling.”

The ban has created a rift as well within the Jewish community. In the wake of the parliamentary vote last week, the director of the Brussels-based European Jewish Association, Rabbi Menachem Margolin, called on Schudrich to resign. Representatives of two other European Jewish groups also said in interviews that they were dissatisfied with Schudrich’s performance in connection with the July 12 vote.

Schudrich said that Margolin’s words constituted “unwarranted hate,” adding that he had been in contact with the European Jewish Congress and the Conference of European Rabbis about the issue. Schudrich has said he would resign if the bill is not reversed.

Rabbi Shalom Ber Stambler, the Chabad movement’s emissary to Warsaw, said he believes this will happen because “there is enormous interest and good will toward Jews in Poland.”

Back in Krakow, Anna and Piotr are less certain.

“We are certainly working to make this happen through education and the struggle against intolerance, but there are no guarantees,” Anna said. “Not in Poland or anywhere else.”

Kosher Without Sacrifice? Parashat Shemini (Leviticus 9:1-11:47


The most elaborate, comprehensive and effective system for the prevention of animal cruelty was not invented by the FDA or even PETA; it was devised by the Book of Leviticus. This may seem a strange idea. Without question, it swims rather roughly against that trusty river of intuition. Pigeon slaughter is rarely good for pigeons. Bull offerings are not something cows easily stomach. As far as “becoming a sacrificial lamb,” I have it on good authority that this is not what most sheep dream about when they are kids. 

To an untrained imagination, a “bustling Tabernacle” is a strange cross between an abattoir and a synagogue. A PETA activist might describe its practices as “murder in the name of God, differing from the Crusades only by the choice of its victims.” Well, my friends, I believe this is wrong on many counts. 

There is a peculiar phrase that accompanies nearly every mention of sheep, goat and cattle offerings throughout the Bible. In the Torah, where no word is out-of-place and no letter believed superfluous, repetition is a cause of interest, and should never be dismissed as careless writing. The word I refer to is “tamim,” and it means “whole, complete, unharmed, pure, without blemish.” At the start of Leviticus, we read: “A person who brings an elevation offering … shall bring an offering without blemish [tamim]” (Leviticus 1:2-3). Concerning peace offerings, they, too, are brought “without blemish” (Leviticus 3:1). Similarly, the paschal lamb had to be tamim, just as the red heifer (parah aduma temima) had to perfect in every way. To bring a blemished animal to the Lord was sinful, and Leviticus states this repeatedly. 

What this meant for any animal potentially destined for the altar is that it could not be harmed, injured or mistreated. Remarkably, if we compare the rules of blemishes to the sort of miseries and maladies routinely inflicted upon factory-farmed animals, something astonishing comes to light. Factory-farmed meat, served in our homes, would never be offered in the House of the Lord. 

Animals that are surgically mutilated or castrated, a regular practice among meat growers wanting more malleable livestock, would be grounds alone for disqualification (Kiddushin 25b). Animals pinioned in cages of their own muck could be disqualified on account of their disgusting odor (Temurah 28b). Most birds and cattle pumped with near lethal amounts of antibiotics to prevent their succumbing to illness would be disqualified for their being sickly (ibid). 

One often reads of meat growers stimulating rapid growth through steroids, genetic chicanery, artificial lighting, hormone-enhanced feed, all in an attempt to get meat faster to market. Such practices would be eliminated by the routine biblical requirement that offerings of sheep, goats or calves be minimally 1 or 2 years old (Leviticus 9:3; Rosh Hashana 10a). A 3-month-old calf the size of an elephant would be barred from the Temple gates.

This week’s Torah Portion, Shemini, shifts away — from sacrifices to general food prohibitions: kashrut. Numerous beasts are prohibited from the hog to the hare, to kites, crocodiles and chameleons. The many (often confounding) dietary laws are often believed to be beyond the pale of rationale explanation, yet that has not stopped commentators from trying to explain them. Historically, there are two well-known schools of thought. One is based on ethics. Laws such as, “Do not stew a kid in its mother’s milk,” and “shooing away the mother-bird,” teach us to be merciful. If we eschew animal cruelty, all the more so, we should eschew cruelty to our fellow human beings (R. Bachaya ben Asher; Ibn-Ezra). Another approach explains kosher laws as a means to teach people “temperance and self-control” (Philo, Maimonides).

In the sacrificial system, each view is valid. To raise an animal fit for sacrifice required both constant discipline and tenderness toward the animal in one’s keep. Farmers sacrificed time and resources to raise fowl, herd and flock. In approaching the altar, both animal and owner had to be tamim.

Today, we live without the Temple, and therefore without the mitigating requirement that meat not only be fit for eating but fit for sacrifice. It happens that in our day, thank God, modern Jewry has ready access to kosher products. Meat, rinsed and salted, is easily obtained. In Los Angeles, with little ado, we order cooked lamb, chicken, beef, bison in restaurants and supermarkets. Yet with so much available, lessons of temperance and ethics fall away. 

“Kosher” means “fit” or “proper,” but how “fit” is an animal when the finest moment of its life was the day its life of misery was ended in a slaughterhouse? Moreover, how tamim are we who celebrate our faith, and sanctify the Lord, by consuming endless plates of chicken and beef in our homes? With several meanings in mind, one might ask: “Can there be kosher without sacrifice?”

Rabbi Yehuda Hausman is a Modern Orthodox rabbi who teaches at Ziegler Rabbinic School, The Academy of Jewish Religion, and runs an independent Modern Orthodox minyan in Beverlywood. He writes about the weekly parasha on his blog, rabbihausman.com.

Polish president reaffirms right to shechitah


Polish President Bronisław Komorowski said he supports European Jews’ right to kosher slaughter, or shechitah.

“In Poland, we are proud to stand firm in supporting the Jewish community’s right to shechitah, and will play our full part in the EU deliberations,” the president reportedly told a delegation of rabbis from the Conference of European Rabbis at the presidential palace in Warsaw.

This week’s meeting took place amid growing concern about shechitah bans in Europe. Over the summer, the Dutch House of Representatives became the latest European body to ban the practice.

The meeting was part of this week’s convention of the Conference of European Rabbis in Warsaw.

“Today we are asking all the governments of Europe to unite with us in preserving the European tradition of religious freedom and religious pluralism,” Moscow’s chief rabbi, Pinchas Goldschmidt, said at the group’s gala dinner. “Together we must implore the Dutch Senate not to ratify a law which will ban a most humane and divinely appointed method of religious slaughter.”

PETA hidden camera expose costs Agriprocessors support of key expert [VIDEO]


An undercover video shot last month at the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant has raised new questions about the company’s slaughtering practices and cost it the support of one of the country’s leading experts on animal welfare.

Temple Grandin, an animal scientist who has served as consultant to scores of slaughterhouses across the country, said the practice shown in the video — in which two workers make “gouging,” saw-like cuts into the necks of animals immediately after the ritual cut performed by a rabbi — is inhumane.

Grandin said she hasn’t seen that type of second cut at any of the approximately 30 kosher slaughterhouses she has visited, nor did she see it when she toured the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa, in 2006, at which time she declared it satisfactory.

The practice also was not in evidence in a video released by a Long Island Jewish newspaper of a visit to Postville by 25 Orthodox rabbis on July 31. After visiting, the clergymen said the plant adhered to the highest standards of kosher practice.

The new video, shot Aug. 13 by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), has led Grandin to conclude that slaughterhouse visits are useless in determining whether animals are being treated properly. She has called for Agriprocessors to install round-the-clock video cameras on the kill floor that can be independently audited by a third party over the Internet.

“There’s no point,” Grandin said of the visits. “I’ve been in business 35 years, and I’m getting sick and tired of [it]. They act good when you’re there, and they don’t act good when your back is turned. They did the same thing for the rabbis they would do for me — put on a show.”

Agriprocessors did not respond to Grandin’s comments, but the company released a statement Sept. 5 after the PETA video was first reported by The New York Times.

“Agriprocessors fully complies with federal humane slaughter laws and is monitored by inspectors of the United States Department of Agriculture,” the statement said. “All kosher slaughter procedures are under the exclusive direction of the supervising agencies and rabbis who certify the kosher status of the animals, as is provided by law.”

Grandin’s criticism comes as Agriprocessors is working hard to revive its image, following a massive federal immigration raid in Postville on May 12 that led to the arrests of nearly 400 illegal workers.

Unlike other critics of Agriprocessors, which the company has sought to dismiss as “radical” or “fringe” groups pursuing narrow agendas, Grandin is a nationally renowned figure, whose judgments were previously touted when they were favorable to the company.

After PETA released a similar undercover video made in 2004, pressure mounted on Agriprocessors to have Grandin inspect its procedures, which she did two years later. Grandin concluded that the company had improved its procedures since the first video was shot, a fact publicized in news releases by both Agriprocessors and one of its supervising agencies, the Orthodox Union (OU).

“Temple is really important,” said Rabbi Menachem Genack, the OU’s head of kosher supervision. “She’s universally accepted. I think she’s a very honest person. Generally, Temple is someone who is accepted as an arbiter in terms of these issues of animal welfare. She doesn’t have an agenda against shechita [ritual slaughter] in any way.”

Grandin’s latest remarks strike at one of the central public relations vehicles the company has employed in its struggle to restore its flagging reputation: tours of the plant. The largest of these was the rabbinic visit on July 31, paid for by Agriprocessors and organized by the National Council of Young Israel, an Orthodox synagogue group. After a three-hour tour, the rabbis concluded that the company’s image as a chronic rule-breaker was inconsistent with reality.

“The current situation at the Agriprocessors plant is diametrically opposed to the rumors and innuendos that we had heard before we got here,” Rabbi Pesach Lerner, the council’s executive vice president, said following the visit. “We saw a state-of-the-art plant, a tremendous emphasis on safety and excellent standards of kashrut. While we have no personal knowledge of what may or may not have happened in the past, the Agriprocessors plant that we saw today is far different than what has been reported.”

Lerner declined to respond to Grandin’s comments. However, Genack said that the Orthodox Union had opted not to participate in the July trip for fear of being used as Grandin had — as a tool to buttress the company’s image.

“It was meant to give confidence on the public relations side,” Genack said of the rabbinic visit. “We didn’t want the OU to be either critic or apologist…. With all these issues remaining still unresolved, we didn’t attend because [we] wanted to be objective and separate from the story itself.”

Two OU rabbis accompanied the rabbis on their tour, but Genack said they were there solely to illustrate the plant’s kosher supervision, and he had specifically requested that they not be identified as members of the delegation.

After filming the controversial method on Aug. 13, PETA, which makes no secret of its opposition to all forms of animal slaughter, turned the footage over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and pressed for an investigation. According to the department, a so-called “second cut” is permissible only under direct rabbinic supervision.

USDA spokesperson Amanda Eamich said the department cited the company for a second-cut violation subsequent to Aug. 13 but added that the violation was “not egregious” and that the company was currently in compliance.

Agriprocessors has accused PETA of illegal conduct in producing the video, including breaking and entering, trespassing, industrial espionage and misrepresentation as an employee. PETA said the company is trying to deflect attention from its own misconduct.

“Our investigations are entirely lawful,” said Hannah Schein, a PETA investigations specialist. “Agriprocessors’ conduct is not.”

PETA says Agriprocessors misled rabbis about slaughter procedures [VIDEO]


Kosher slaughterhouse in Iowa dumps CEO


Mounting pressure from Jewish groups and members of Congress has led the largest kosher slaughterhouse in the United States to start searching for a new CEO less than two weeks after federal agents arrested nearly 400 of its employees in a massive immigration raid.

Aaron Rubashkin, the founder of Agriprocessors in Postville, Iowa, announced May 23 that he intends to find a replacement for his son, Sholom, as company CEO.

The announcement follows statements from three Jewish organizations raising the specter of a boycott, the launch of a campaign by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, and a call from Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) for an investigation of the company.

“The best course of action for the company, its employees, the local community and our customers is to bring new leadership to Agriprocessors,” the senior Rubashkin said in a statement.

The Brooklyn butcher and Chabad-Lubavitcher, who founded the company in 1987, added, “The company has begun the search for a new permanent chief executive officer. We have engaged a team of industry experts to help us identify and secure a new leader who can help us meet the needs of Agriprocessors today and in the future. We will make more information on the search process available by the end of next week.”

The statement reiterated that “due to pending legal issues,” the company would not respond to specific allegations. They include charges of hiring underage workers, sexual harassment and withholding of overtime pay.

Rubashkin’s move to replace his son comes as Agriprocessors is facing mounting legal problems and boycott threats following the recent raid. The company’s problems have raised fears about a possible shortage of kosher meat and fired up the debate over whether Jewish religious bodies should take a more active role in monitoring the working conditions at kosher factories.

In response to the raid and related allegations about the situation at the plant in Postville, Iowa, the Jewish Labor Committee issued a statement May 23 calling for a boycott of Agriprocessors.

The company sells its kosher meat under various labels, including Aaron’s Best, Aaron’s Choice, Rubashkin’s, European Glatt, Supreme Kosher, David’s and Shor Habor.

In its statement, the Jewish Labor Committee asserted that the company had displayed “a clear pattern of employer negligence and even lawlessness,” including the violation of child labor laws and toleration of various forms of worker abuse.

The committee’s statement was followed by a “request” from the Conservative movement’s top bodies that kosher consumers “evaluate whether it is appropriate to buy and eat meat products” from Agriprocessors.

That same day, Uri L’tzedek, a project started by students at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, a liberal Orthodox rabbinical school in Manhattan, began circulating a petition asking Agriprocessors to pay its workers at least the federal minimum wage, abide by laws pertaining to workers’ rights and treat employees according to Torah standards.

Organizers say that about 450 people from across the denominational spectrum had signed as of Monday.

“Until these changes are made, we feel compelled to refrain from purchasing or consuming meat produced by your company, and will pressure every establishment with which we do business to cease purchase of your meat,” the petition reads. “Effective June 15, 2008 we will stop patronizing any restaurant that sells your meat.”

Meanwhile, the food workers union has taken out advertisements in major Jewish newspapers detailing the allegations against Agriprocessors. The union, which has waged a legal battle over its still unsuccessful efforts to organize plant workers, also has launched a Web site, EyeOnAgriprocessors.org, to publicize claims against the company.

Last week, in a sign of the controversy’s impact, a supermarket in a heavily Jewish suburb of Philadelphia posted a sign stating that its kosher chicken was produced by Empire, a major poultry competitor.

The store director said that the market was unable to procure chicken from Aaron’s, which it had been selling for three years, and wanted to inform customers of the change.

The May 12 federal raid is said to be the largest of its kind in U.S. history. Of the 389 illegal immigrants apprehended, 297 pleaded guilty within days and were sentenced to short prison terms or probation, to be followed by deportation to their native countries.

Speculation is rife over whether prosecutors are investigating the company itself, especially after one Postville resident with ties to Agriprocessors confirmed last week that he had been summoned to appear before a grand jury.

A spokesman for the local U.S. Attorney’s Office would not comment on the matter.

In Washington, the House Committee on Education and Labor held a hearing May 20 on the raid, focusing mainly on its impact on the children of detained workers. But members of Congress also have expressed concern that the raids targeted illegal workers while letting their employers off the hook.

Braley, who represents the northeast Iowa area where the plant is located, has called for an investigation of the company.

Within the Jewish world, the loudest reactions have come from the Conservative movement and the liberal edge of Orthodoxy. Interviews with some of Postville’s Chabad residents and other observers suggest that the ultra-Orthodox, or Charedi community, is taking the flood of accusations against Agriprocessors with more than a grain of salt.

“The problem is, there’s a mind-set that you have to give the person the benefit of the doubt,” said Binyomin Jolkovsky, the editor of Jewish World Review and a longtime observer of Charedi Jewry. “But when 12 government agencies come in and do a sting operation, and after something that was so detailed, you got to wonder.”

In the Charedi community, Jolkovsky said, the sentiment tends to be much more focused on the bottom line for the consumer.

“They’re paying people $5 an hour labor, how come I’m paying $7 a pound for steak?’ That’s what they were saying,” he said.

Some Jewish Postville residents refused to even consider some of the government’s allegations, such as that methamphetamine was being produced at the plant or that the company was shorting its workers. In the days after the raid, several said that the affair was the product of an anti-Orthodox, if not anti-Semitic, agenda.


Kosher Slaughter Controversy Erupts


It’s not every day that people affiliated with a strident animal rights group talk turkey with those who oversee kosher slaughter.

But that’s exactly what happened this week, when an unpaid adviser to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) discussed allegations of improper slaughtering practices at an Iowa kosher meat plant with the head of the Orthodox Union’s kashrut division.

Tuesday’s late-afternoon talks involving Aaron Gross, a doctoral student at UC Santa Barbara, and Rabbi Menachem Genack were the latest development in a story that has placed the slaughter practices at Agriprocessors Inc. in Postville, Iowa, under question.

They came one day after PETA filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The complaint alleges that the plant is violating Jewish law by not instantly killing the animals, and therefore is violating U.S. slaughter laws, which allow for Jewish ritual slaughter.

The telephone discussion between PETA and the Orthodox Union ended in an impasse, participants said.

The controversy, which has alarmed some Orthodox institutions, is being seen as the most widely publicized dispute over kosher slaughter in the United States in a decade.

At issue is an undercover video taken by PETA-affiliated individuals over a seven-week period between July and September of this year. The video shows animals being slaughtered at the Agriprocessors plant, which processes meat for the Rubashkin/Aaron’s Best label. One of the plant’s supervisors is the Orthodox Union, a major supervisor of kosher food in the United States.

In the video, one slaughterer cuts a cow’s throat, resulting in extensive bleeding, while another takes the trachea out. Other clips show cows running around which appear to be alive after the killing is presumably completed.

“This not how shechitah is supposed to be done,” Tal Ronnen, a spokesman for the Norfolk, Va.-based PETA, said, using the Hebrew term for ritual slaughter. “If it’s done correctly, the animal is supposed to be dead in 30 seconds to one minute.”

Orthodox officials, while admitting the video isn’t pretty, don’t agree, saying that reflexive movements by animals after they are slaughtered are not uncommon.

“We thought it was in consonance with the halachah,” Genack said after viewing the video.

PETA first raised the issue with Agriprocessors in June, after being tipped off to allegations of improper procedures inside the plant. In an exchange of letters, PETA raised objections and asked that an expert on slaughter be allowed to witness the process.

Agriprocessors responded through its attorney, Nathan Lewin, who said he asked for more specifics. PETA said it followed up with that request, but Lewin said he never received the second letter. PETA said that after it did not get a response from Lewin, it pursued the undercover investigation.

On Monday, PETA filed a complaint with the USDA, complaining that government regulations were not being followed at Agriprocessors. It sought suspension of the plant’s license and possible criminal proceedings.

PETA’s letter to the USDA detailed what it called violations of the 1902 Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act. The letter claimed that by violating halachic procedures, the company was violating the legislation, under which animals can be killed according to Jewish law.

Steven Cohen, a USDA spokesman, confirmed the agency had received the PETA letter, but said it was waiting to review the video before deciding how to handle the complaint.

Genack said he had discussed the issue with USDA officials, and is confident that government guidelines are being followed satisfactorily.

For its part, Agriprocessors released a statement this week saying it follows the practices set out by its kosher supervisors.

“Agriprocessors does not control anything that happens in the kosher ritual processes,” the statement said. “We adhere strictly to the instructions given to us by the rabbinic authorities and will continue to do so. As we always have, we will also continue to follow the strict guidelines set out by both federal and Jewish law for the humane treatment of animals during the slaughter process.”

One expert in slaughtering practices, who reported that she has visited 30 kosher slaughtering plants, said that from what she can tell from the video, the practices at Agriprocessors are poor.

“I’ve never seen trachea removal before,” Temple Grandin, an associate professor of animal science at Colorado State University, said in a telephone interview.

“Nobody else cuts out the trachea, and they’re doing it while the animal is still conscious,” said Grandin, who was the expert PETA had wanted to have access to the plant.

Orthodox Union officials said that the animal is unconscious after the throat is slit. Some Orthodox officials called PETA’s campaign an attack on shechitah more generally and part of a history of anti-Semitic canards.

“Shechitah often comes under attack by elements that are unsavory, and in general, PETA is not an organization that commands our great respect,” said Rabbi Avi Shafran, a spokesman for Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox organization.

He and others noted that the Nazis publicized photographs of Jews performing cruel slaughter practices as part of their campaign to inflame sentiment against Jews.

“We’ll put them on the wall with Hitler,” Nathan Lewin, an Orthodox Jew and a lawyer for Agriprocessors, said, referring to PETA. “The PETA folks might not like eggs, but they have eggs all over their face.”

Lewin, citing a 1997 judgment in which the American Broadcasting Co. was ordered to pay $5.5 million to the Food Lion supermarket chain following an investigative piece that alleged food safety violations, suggested that PETA could be subject to legal action.

PETA is known for its aggressive tactics in promoting its animal rights agenda. The group generated controversy last year when it compared the meat industry to the Holocaust.

In another one of its more controversial campaigns, it displayed ads a few years ago with the phrase, “Got prostate cancer?” and showing Rudolph Giuliani, the then-New York City mayor who had been recently diagnosed with the disease. The billboards also included the line: “Drinking milk contributes to prostate cancer.”

But in this case, PETA is presenting a more moderate face. Those affiliated with PETA said the group is not going after kosher slaughter but just those practices underway at Agriprocessors. Further, they said, PETA is sensitive to issues of anti-Semitism.

“PETA has gone out of its way” to avoid anti-Semitism, and agrees that shechitah, when properly practiced, is a “better procedure than general meat industry practices,” Gross said.

Gross, who describes himself as a liberal but active Jew — and a member of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America’s advisory committee — said he became involved in the issue after the exchange of letters with Lewin failed.

Kosher consumers extend across the Jewish community, but the issue generated an immediate response among those active in the Orthodox community. Participants at the Agudath Israel of America’s annual convention voted unanimously Sunday to condemn PETA’s attack.

When Rabbi David Zwiebel, an Agudath official, announced at the conclusion of the conference that the issue was going to hit The New York Times, “you could hear the murmurings,” Shafran said. “The hands just shot up for the vote. It was unanimous with gusto.”