Dog trainer Tamar Geller uses positive reinforcement — not fear — to build confidence. Photo by Janiece Benlty

Celebrities respond as Tamar Geller unleashes puppy love to train dogs

Israeli-born dog trainer Tamar Geller sat in her Bel Air living room surrounded by five well-mannered, tail-wagging canines, including Oliver, her golden retriever, who was mislabeled as aggressive by his previous owners and faced possible euthanasia. Nearby was Katy, her pit bull mix, who once wanted to attack “every male who came to my house,” Geller said, and a German shepherd who had come to her home for a weeklong “training vacation,” during which she will learn doggie “life skills,” as Geller put it.

When a UPS driver rang the doorbell with a delivery, some of the dogs started barking. “Shush,” Geller said. And when the pooches complied: “Good shush,” she told each pooch by name in a joyful voice.

Geller’s longtime client Oprah Winfrey has called her “a life coach for dogs and their people.” The trainer eschews the use of forceful practices in favor of cruelty-free methods. She doesn’t issue commands or use the word “no.”

“A lot of people who call themselves trainers say to the dog, ‘You’re going to shut up, and you’re going to be obedient,’ ” said Geller, 53. “But I don’t care about obedience. I also don’t care about ‘respect.’ Science has shown that dogs’ cognitive development is very much like the human toddler, and I don’t want a child to come to his mother with respect; I want him to come with love and trust. The dog has a story to tell, and it’s my job to [help], because in the process that’s tikkun olam — making the world a better place.”

Rather than using harsh words to curb continuing unwanted behavior, Geller might turn her back on a dog for, say, excessive jumping. For superb behavior, she “makes a party,” which involves praising the dog and offering treats. While initial training might involve lavish goodies, Geller tapers off the treat-giving to once in a while. Random rewards work best to ensure a well-mannered dog, she said, citing the renowned behaviorist B.F. Skinner — the dog behaves well because he never knows when he is going to get lucky.

Geller never set out to become a dog trainer. Rather, she aspired to become a psychologist, in part to understand the abuse she suffered at the hands of her parents while growing up on a moshav in Israel. Her parents often beat her, sending Geller to the hospital more than a few times with a dislocated shoulder.

Her childhood dog, Lori, a dachshund, also was mistreated. “My parents housebroke him by hitting him on the nose with a newspaper,” Geller writes in the first of her three books, the 2007 best-seller “The Loved Dog: The Playful, Nonaggressive Way to Teach Your Dog Good Behavior,” which has a foreword written by Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. “When the poor puppy innocently chewed up my father’s stereo wires one day, he beat the living daylights out of him. … After Lori had been disciplined and shamed, I would take him to my bed and cuddle him to sleep. I now know that my parents trained Lori the way they raised me.”

While later serving as an intelligence officer in the Israeli army’s elite special forces, Geller witnessed the brutal training of dogs for the military. “The idea of breaking an animal’s spirit was popular at the time, and they used what I have come to call ‘Spanish Inquisition’ methods — choke chains, prong collars, hitting, pushing and more,” she writes. And later: “I wanted to scream out, ‘Stop this right now!’ ” But she didn’t yet have any training alternatives to suggest. (The army’s methods have since changed, she said.)

After Geller finished her military service, she decided “to get away from humans for a while.” She headed to a research facility in the Arava Desert, where eventually she began observing the behavior of wild Asian wolves. She was impressed by how the alpha male used games to teach his pack members how to hunt and to behave. Geller eventually would use some of those games, including “chase” and tug of war, to train her own canine clients.

Her professional career with dogs began almost by accident. Geller traveled to Los Angeles in the late 1980s for what was supposed to be just a couple of weeks when she decided to volunteer for a dog trainer. One day, he received a call from a Beverly Hills resident whose pooch kept stealing his socks. The trainer didn’t want to deal with a potentially difficult, wealthy client, so he sent Geller instead, even though her English wasn’t good at the time. 

She diagnosed that the cocker spaniel in question had an attention-seeking issue. “He knew if he stole socks, his owner would drop everything and chase him,” she said. Geller taught the owner to play tug of war and other games with the spaniel, “so he got his needs met in a constructive rather than a disruptive way,” she said. The problem was solved in two days.

The client was the musician Kenny G, and before long he was telling his celebrity friends about Geller. “All of a sudden, Goldie Hawn and a bunch of other famous people were calling me,” she said.

One of those clients, actress Nicollette Sheridan, eventually introduced Geller to Winfrey. When the talk show host adopted three golden retriever puppies, she arranged for Geller to live with her for a month to train them.

Natalie Portman hired Geller to help her pick out her Yorkie from a shelter in Harlem.

For her efforts, Geller has become the resident dog expert for the “Today” show and has earned praise from celebrity clients such as Ellen DeGeneres, Jon Stewart, Ryan Seacrest and Charlize Theron. She has been featured in The New York Times, USA Today and other publications. And People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has collaborated with her to make dog training videos for the organization.   

“While some misguided trainers use yelling, yanking, and abusive devices like shock collars, choke and pinch collars, Tamar uses positive reinforcement to build confidence in dogs, not fear,” PETA Vice President Lisa Lange said in an email.

Geller doesn’t work only with celebrities; anyone can hire her to train their canine, with the fee based on the dog, the owner and the behavioral issue.

Do Geller’s methods merely coddle dogs? “I do not believe that giving love is in any way a negative connotation, particularly in the teaching process,” she said.

“Dogs come from a different culture; they’re foreigners to the human culture,” she added. “We have to teach them our ways, with endless sources of compassion.” 

A Charedi Orthodox man participating in the kapparot ritual in Ashdod, Israel. Photo by Dima Vazinovich/Flash90

Animal rights group appeals kapparot court ruling

Maryland-based animal rights organization, United Poultry Concerns, is appealing a recent federal court ruling that determined that Chabad of Irvine acted legally in its performance of kapparot, an ancient High Holy Day ritual involving the slaughtering of chickens.

The animal rights group is claiming that the use of the chickens violates California’s business code. However, Judge Andre Birotte Jr. of the Central District of California ruled on May 12 that the Chabad was not engaged in a “business act” because the ritual is supported by donations.

The case now goes to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The case began last year when United Poultry Concerns argued that the Chabad was violating the Unfair Competition Law, which prohibits “intentional killing of an animal and does not contain an exception for religious sacrifice.” The group alleged that the Chabad group was engaging “in business practices for profit in which they charge a fee to kill and discard animals.”

The Chabad typically accepts donations of $18 from each participant of kapparot, according to Rabbi Alter Tenenbaum, Chabad of Irvine’s spiritual leader.

In an interview, Tenenbaum praised the judge’s decision.

“I think he saw through it — that this is nonsense, this whole case is nonsense. We do kapparot once a year with 100 chickens. That issue today of animal rights is bogus,” he said. “We do it legally.”

Tenenbaum said the organization has not been donating the chickens, as is customary, but that an organization picks them up and discards them.

Bryan Pease, the attorney for United Poultry Concerns, said that while the judge determined that the practice failed to meet the criteria of an unfair business act, he did not address the legality of slaughtering chickens without the intention of eating or donating them.

“We’re charting legal territory here that hasn’t been covered — whether an institution accepting donations for this kind of ritual is considered a business practice,” Pease said. “It’s appropriate for the Ninth Circuit to weigh in.”

Tenenbaum defended the practice as comporting with thousands of years of Jewish history.

“It is a service we are offering people,” he said. “If people want to do it the right way, the original way, they have the ability to do it, and I don’t think it’s the government or any agency to tell us how we practice religion, as long as we are staying within the confines of law.”

Performed annually around the time of Yom Kippur, when community members atone for their sins, kapparot is an ancient ritual that involves transferring one’s sins to a slaughtered chicken. The atoning person waves a live chicken around his or her head, and the chicken is slaughtered afterward in accordance with kosher laws. According to, “its monetary worth [is] given to the poor, or, as is more popular today, the chicken itself is donated to a charitable cause.”

The practice has become problematic with animal rights organizations, prompting some Jews to perform the ritual by waving a bag of coins around their heads instead of using live chickens.

Those opposed to it include progressive faith-based organizations. Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) has long opposed kapparot. Rabbi Jonathan Klein, executive director at CLUE, said he was disappointed over the federal judge’s decision in the Irvine case. He said his organization would continue to fight against the practice.

“I don’t think it’ll change the momentum or the desire to stop it. So in terms of organizing, it will not change much of anything,” he said. “I think it’s a disappointing decision — I’m not surprised by it — but nevertheless we will continue to really focus on just the audacity of the ritual in public spaces.”

Vegan Passover recipe: Chocolate matzo brittle

My favorite Passover treat is Matzo Brittle—a sweet and festive way to end the meal. Try out this recipe below from VegKitchen:

Chocolate Matzo Brittle

  • 1 cup dairy-free chocolate chips
  • 2 Tbsp. agave nectar or maple syrup
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • 2 matzos, broken into pieces slightly larger than bite-size
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup lightly toasted nuts (e.g., sliced or slivered almonds, chopped walnuts, pecans, or pistachios)
  • 1/2 cup dark or golden raisins, dried cranberries, or other chopped dried fruit, such as apricots, mangoes, or pineapple


Line two large plates with wax paper or parchment.

Combine the chocolate chips, agave nectar, and cinnamon in a medium saucepan. Cook over low heat until smoothly melted. Remove from the heat.

Add the broken matzo. Stir to coat evenly with the chocolate. Spread in a more or less single layer onto two parchment- or wax paper–lined plates. Sprinkle the nuts and raisins over the top. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Just before serving, break up into large chunks and transfer to a serving platter.

Terminally ill Simpsons co-creator Sam Simon to donate his $100 million fortune to charity

Back in 2012, Sam Simon — best known as one of the creators of The Simpsons — was told he had terminal colon cancer and only three to six months to live. Since then, he’s been preparing to give away his entire fortune to the causes that matter most to him.

In a recent interview with NBC News, Simon explained that most of these causes directly involve animals. He as worked closely, for example, with PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk.

“I think that my passion for the animals and against animal abuse is based on the knowledge that these creatures who feel and think can’t speak for themselves and they’re dependent on us for that,” he told interviewer Maria Shriver. “And so I feel it’s my responsibility to speak for those that can’t speak for themselves.”

Read the full story at

Letters to the editor: Iron Dome, Tesla crash, PETA and more

Prayers Overseas

David Suissa’s article was terrific, and I pray for his daughter’s safety (“Israel Needs an Irony Dome,” July 18). I also have a lot of family in Israel now. … I have often thought lately that the Journal was too tough on Israel but seems better now. Keep up the great work; we need you.

Chic Lippman, Century City

Physical Repairs, Emotional Reparations 

I was shocked to learn of a stolen car crashing into Congregation Kol Ami in Hollywood on July 3 (“Tesla Crashes Into Kol Ami; Damage Undetermined,” July 11). 

While the physical damage to Kol Ami was serious, it doesn’t begin to address the emotional costs to our members. Raising funds to erect the building took effort and diligence over a number of years and built a sense of pride in the founding members. The visible harm to our building has been repaired, but a life has been needlessly lost. 

I have only a brief, one-year history as a member of Congregation Kol Ami, yet I know that the surrounding Jewish community might benefit from knowing more about our sacred side, with Rabbi Denise Eger leading the way. She, along with Cantor Mark Saltzman and the family-like congregation, open the doors and their hearts to those who suffer from pain caused by finances, health and family loss. 

I invite all unaffiliated Jews to share in the blessings as well as the frenzy caused by the car crash. As we head into the High Holy Days, please join us in welcoming Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Wendy Goldman, West Hollywood

Fine Feinstein

Thank you for spotlighting Michael Feinstein this week — the man is a treasure (“Michael Feinstein Sings Gershwin,” July 18).
To those of us who work in the archival and musical worlds of the Great American Songbook, Michael is a true hero. He travels throughout North America teaching this wonderful music to high school students, he has established an archive and a museum in the Indianapolis suburb of Carmel, and he hunts down rare and meaningful items from the worlds of the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Yip Harburg, Jerome Kern and so many others.

Here at the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation, we are proud to support his work.

What a mensch!

Fran Morris-Rosman, Los Angeles

For Those Who Can’t Speak for Themselves

Life in the circus may be an adventure for circus chef Matt Loory, but for the animals used by Ringling Bros., it’s a living nightmare (“Pie in the Eye Is Just Dessert for This Circus’ Young Chef,” July 18). 

Elephants spend most of their lives chained in boxcars, robbed of family, the freedom to walk for many miles on fresh grass, and all that is natural and important to them. 

Bullhooks (weapons resembling a fireplace poker with a sharp steel hook on the end) are used to keep elephants submissive and afraid. A former Ringling staffer gave PETA chilling photos of baby elephants who were torn away from their mothers, tied up with ropes and terrorized until they gave up all hope.

Ringling paid a record $270,000 fine to settle violations of federal law and has been cited repeatedly by federal authorities for failing to provide veterinary care, causing trauma and physical harm, unsafe handling of dangerous animals and failure to provide adequate care in transit.

Ringling employees have the choice to come and go. Animals do not.

Jessica Johnson, PETA

Happy to Have You

My name is Mark Winn and I am Jewish by osmosis, not by birth, but I grew up in what I’ve coined the Lower Borsht Belt — Fairfax Avenue between Olympic and San Vicente boulevards. I was a Fairfax High graduate, class of 1971, when Fairfax was 75 percent Jewish. Also, I was a member of the Westside Jewish Community Center and played flag football against the temples. I purchased a poster that featured a young African-American boy biting into a piece of Levy’s rye bread — I am African-American, by the way — over which read:

“You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s.”

I pick up the Jewish Journal at various libraries around, and I enjoy reading the diversity of articles and viewpoints expressed therein.

And in conclusion, I want to add: You don’t have to be Jewish to read and love the Jewish Journal.

Mark Winn, Los Angeles


The California runoff race between Ben Allen and Sandra Fluke was incorrectly identified in a July 18 article (“Jews and Education: An Unusual Difference of Opinions”). They are running against one another for state Senate.

Has the era of the kosher cheeseburger arrived?

When the world’s first lab-grown burger was introduced and taste-tested on Monday, the event seemed full of promise for environmentalists, animal lovers and vegetarians.

Another group that had good reason to be excited? Kosher consumers.

The burger was created by harvesting stem cells from a portion of cow shoulder muscle that were multiplied in petri dishes to form tiny strips of muscle fiber. About 20,000 of the strips were needed to create the five-ounce burger, which was financed partially by Google founder Sergey Brin and unveiled by Mark Post of Maastricht University in the Netherlands.

PETA hailed the event as a “first step” toward humanely producing meat products. A University of Amsterdam study shows that lab-grown meat could significantly reduce the environmental impact of beef production.

For kosher-observant Jews, the “cultured” burgers could open the door to radical dietary changes — namely, the birth of the kosher cheeseburger.

That’s because meat produced through this process could be considered parve – neither meat nor dairy — according to Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the Orthodox Union’s kosher division. Thus under traditional Jewish law, the burger could be paired with dairy products.

Several key conditions would have to be met to create kosher, parve cultured beef. The tissue samples would have to come from an animal that had been slaughtered according to kosher rules, not from a biopsy from a live animal, Genack said.

The principle underlying this theory is much like the status of gelatin in Jewish law: Though it is derived from an animal, it is not meat (the OU certifies some bovine-derived gelatin as parve).

Genack noted another source for viewing cultured meat as parve: a 19th century Vilna-born scholar known as the Heshek Shlomo wrote that the meat of an animal conjured up in a magical incantation could be considered parve. It may not be too much of a stretch, then, to apply the same logic to modern genetic wizardry.

But kosher chefs aren’t heating up the parve griddles just yet.

The lab-born burger, which cost $325,000 and took two years to make, is still a long way from market viability, kosher or otherwise. If mass produced, it could still cost $30 per pound, researchers said.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Jeff Nathan, the executive chef at Abigael’s on Broadway, a kosher restaurant in Manhattan. “Until it’s in my hands and I can touch it, smell it and taste it, I don’t believe it.”

Even if cultured beef became commonplace, consumers still might not be interested, said Elie Rosenfeld, a spokesman for Empire Kosher, the nation’s largest kosher poultry producer.

“Parve burgers made of tofu and vegetables have been on the market for years,” Rosenfeld said. “But customers are still looking for the real deal, a product that’s wholesome and genuine.”

Nevertheless, Nathan sounded an enthusiastic note about the potential for parve meat.

“I’m all for experimentation and science,” he said. “Let’s see what it tastes like!”

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,

Human rights court rejects PETA appeal on Holocaust campaign

Germany can bar the animal rights group PETA from comparing the fate of animals today with that of Holocaust victims, Europe's highest court for human rights ruled.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on Thursday upheld a 2009 German Supreme Court ruling that banned People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals from using photos of concentration camp inmates and other images of the Nazi genocide alongside photos of abused animals in its campaign Holocaust on your Plate. PETA has three months to appeal the ruling, according to German news reports.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany, which had fought the PETA campaign since it was launched here in 2004, welcomed the ruling.

“The judges were correct in determining that the [German] ban did not infringe on freedom of expression, but that rather the poster campaign trivialized the Holocaust in an irresponsible manner,” Dieter Graumann, head of the council, said in a statement Thursday.

The German PETA campaign included eight large panels showing black-and-white images of emaciated concentration camp inmates next to full color photos of chickens, turkeys and other animals fattened for the slaughter. One poster bore the slogan, in German,  “Final Humiliation” and another read “For animals, all people are Nazis.”

A photo of children in a concentration camp stood next to one of piglets in a stall. Under them was the caption “Child Butcher.” According to reports, the PETA campaign in Germany was even more explicit than the U.S. ad campaign that was launched in 2003.

The Central Council sued PETA in 2004. The late Paul Spiegel, then head of the council, called the ad campaign “the most disgusting abuse of the memory of the Holocaust in recent years.” The project also was condemned in the United States by the Anti-Defamation League and other groups.

PETA lost and appealed to Germany's Supreme Court, which ruled against it in 2009, noting that the comparison of human to animal suffering could prove extremely hurtful to Jews.

Comparing animal rights and the Holocaust

On Oct. 2, Alex Hershaft, a Holocaust survivor and founder of the nonprofit Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM), sat on the ground with some 100 other protesters in front of the Farmer John pig slaughterhouse in Vernon, Calif., blocking the entrance from two bi-level trucks carrying 200 pigs that had arrived to be slaughtered that day. In the next 24 hours, the pigs would be among 6,000 animals that would be stunned by electrical shock, hoisted up by their hind legs and their necks slit in the plant, which is the largest pig slaughterhouse on the West Coast. 

The demonstration was just one of more than 100 such protests held across the United States and in other countries commemorating FARM’s annual World Farm Animals Day.

“You could hear the pigs on the trucks crying,” Hershaft, 78, said quietly in a phone interview from his Bethesda, Md., home several days later. “Despite my advanced age, I made the trip to Vernon and risked arrest, because, as a Holocaust survivor, I am honor-bound to call public attention to this ongoing tragedy.”

As a 5-year-old in the Warsaw Ghetto, Hershaft witnessed brutal beatings and shootings and saw Jews dying of typhus in the streets. After being smuggled out of the ghetto by a family maid, he survived the war by passing as an Aryan. Upon liberation, he learned that his father had died following internment in a German slave labor camp, and that most of his other relatives had also perished.

Eventually, Hershaft earned a doctorate in chemistry at Iowa State University and, while teaching at the Technion in Haifa in the early 1960s, he witnessed a Druze family celebrating the birth of a baby by ritually sacrificing a baby goat. “I saw the irony of killing one child to celebrate the birth of another,” said Hershaft, who in 1961 decided to become vegetarian. “I just couldn’t bear the thought of taking a beautiful, living, breathing being and hitting him over the head, cutting his body into pieces and then shoving them in my face.”

He began to see parallels between the Nazi Holocaust and animal slaughter, including “the crowding, cattle cars, brutality and the routine and efficiency of mass extermination,” he said. “I am not equating the Holocaust with the millions of animals slaughtered every week for U.S. dinner tables, for we differ in many ways,” he added. “Yet, we all share a love of life and our ability to experience many emotions, including affection, joy, sadness and fear.”

Hershaft, who is now vegan, became an animal-rights activist after attending the World Vegetarian Congress in 1975, and in 1981 he founded FARM, which along with groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has became a force in the struggle for improved treatment of farm animals and vegan advocacy. 

Today, Hershaft said, FARM has an annual budget of $250,000, as well as 85,000 subscribers to its newsletters. Hershaft said tens of thousands of volunteers participate in FARM’s grassroots activities, including The Great American Meatout, Gentle Thanksgiving and a new 10 Billion Lives project, which encourages veganism. 

On the phone, Hershaft recalled how Farmer John’s bucolic mural of pigs cavorting in a meadow reminded him of the deceptive sign, “Work Makes You Free,” above the gates of Auschwitz. “I echo the wisdom of famed Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer: ‘For the animals, life is an eternal Treblinka,’ ” he said.

For more information about FARM, visit

Even after Agriprocessor scandal, inhumane methods still used in kosher slaughtering overseas

Agriprocessors’ 2008 kosher slaughter scandal provoked solemn vows of reform among producers of glatt kosher meat in the U.S. But despite some industry improvements, America’s leading kosher certification authority continues to authorize the sale of millions of pounds of glatt kosher beef slaughtered by means that animal welfare experts condemn as inhumane, a Forward investigation has found.

The questionable practices occur in South and Central America, where the primitive slaughter method known as shackle and drag is used in factories that supply American glatt kosher distributors.

Though the Orthodox Union, the country’s largest kosher certification agency, has said that it objects to the practice, it has continued certifying meat produced by this method despite years of public criticism. O.U. officials say they must also take into account the impact that banning import of such meat would have on beef prices.

But some animal rights activists are now calling the huge kosher certification agency to account.

“Years of inaction have demonstrated that the O.U. is, in fact, complicit in this abuse” despite rhetorical opposition to these practices, wrote Hannah Schein, manager of undercover operations for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, in an e-mail to the Forward.

Beginning in 2004, successive investigations by various groups, government agencies and media outlets, including PETA and the Forward, revealed a pattern of mistreatment of animals and workers at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa. An infiltration of the plant by undercover PETA operatives found that cattle were allowed to struggle on the floor for up to three minutes after their throats were cut.

Agriprocessors filed for bankruptcy in November 2008, months after a massive federal immigration raid on the plant. Meanwhile, religious groups and activists called for reform in the kosher slaughter industry.

Three years later, some practices have improved at the kosher plant that was at the heart of the controversy. But other practices that kosher officials call problematic continue, both at the former Agriprocessors plant and elsewhere in the industry.

Observant Jews in America generally seek meat slaughtered under the glatt kosher standard, which has effectively replaced the less stringent non-glatt as the religiously acceptable certification for kosher beef in the United States. The O.U. has not certified non-glatt beef since the 1980s, and while mass producers like Hebrew National continue to produce kosher beef that is not glatt, they do not cater to the observant Jewish market.

The glatt kosher beef industry, like the meatpacking industry at large, is opaque. Information on the slaughterhouses is surprisingly hard to find. Even basic figures like the size of the glatt kosher beef market in the United States are nearly impossible to gauge.

Most experts agree that three major firms sell the lion’s share of glatt kosher beef in America. Two of them, Agri Star Meat and Poultry based in Postville, Iowa, and Minnesota-based Noah’s Ark Processors Corp., own their own slaughterhouses in the United States; the third, Maspeth, N.Y.-based Alle Processing, rents time at a slaughterhouse in Illinois and imports frozen beef.

It’s largely that imported frozen beef that has animal rights advocates up in arms.

No meatpacking plants in Central and South America certified by the O.U. to supply glatt kosher beef to the United States use upright pens — the humane gold standard — to slaughter cattle, according to Rabbi Menachem Genack, rabbinic administrator of the O.U.’s kosher division. American abattoir certified by the O.U. use upright pens almost exclusively.

The slaughter methods used in Central and South America, on the other hand, have been all but banned from American glatt kosher plants.

“It’s not the system we recommend or have been advocating,” Genack said of the Central and South American plants’ practices. “There’s an attempt to wean [the Latin American operations] away from the system, which is what we would like. It hasn’t happened yet.”

But the O.U.’s chief kosher official has said this before, notably in a 2008 article in the Forward and in a 2010 article in the Los Angeles Times.

“I know it’s a long period of time, but we’re juggling,” Genack said. “There are competing considerations here. It’s quite easy to say, ‘Why don’t we just cut out South America?’ But it would represent a disruption of supply and inevitably would mean kosher meat would go up higher in price. We’re trying to supply a modest cost for struggling families. That’s the whole concept behind the O.U.”

Genack acknowledged that the Central and South American plants’ use of the controversial shackle and drag method of slaughter was problematic. In this process, the cattle’s legs are bound and the animals are flipped onto the ground before the shokhet, or ritual slaughterer, cuts the animal’s throat.

The method is used in part because these Latin American plants ship most of their product to the Israeli beef market, and kosher guidelines enforced by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate require cattle to be inverted during their slaughter. The inverted position of the cow is thought to keep the animal from pushing against the slaughterer’s knife. Excessive pressure exerted by the cow or the shokhet would make the kill unkosher.

The upright pens used in the United States are considered by animal welfare experts to be far more humane than other methods. They keep the animal standing during the slaughter, and secure their heads to keep them from applying pressure to the knife.

In the shackle and drag method, “they’re just dragging them out of a box and holding them down on the floor with five guys on top of them,” said Temple Grandin, a humane slaughter expert whose innovations in animal handling have been adopted industrywide.

An article published by Grandin on her website calls the shackle and drag method a “serious problem” and indicates that a slaughterhouse using the method would fail an animal welfare audit.

Central and South American plants also use the better-known shackle and hoist method — a practice outlawed in the United States since 1958 — though there are signs that this practice is declining.

In a shackle and hoist kill, live cattle are raised in the air by a chain tied around their leg before they are slaughtered. The American law banning this practice permitted an exception for ritual slaughter. And the method is said to continue at a few small abattoirs in the United States. But no slaughterhouses certified by the O.U. in the United States employ shackle and hoist or shackle and drag.

Both shackle and hoist and shackle and drag are thought to be more dangerous for slaughterhouse workers than the upright pen.

In 2000, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, the highest authority on Jewish law in Conservative Judaism, unanimously ruled that shackle and hoist is a violation of Jewish laws against cruelty to animals and unnecessary risk to human life.

It’s impossible to know exactly how much glatt kosher beef is imported from Latin American plants that continue these problematic practices.

An extensive search using the paid online database Import Genius, which catalogs all shipboard deliveries into the United States, revealed that Alle has imported nearly 30 million pounds of frozen beef from Latin America since 2006.

Imports by the firm have remained relatively steady over the past five years, with the exception of a huge spike in imports in late 2008 and the first half of 2009, when the Agriprocessors plant went offline. Over the past 12 months, Alle has imported at least 850,000 pounds of beef.

Most of that meat has come from two plants: Frigorifico Las Piedras, in Uruguay, and Centro Internacional de Inversiones S.A., in Costa Rica. An official at the Uruguayan plant would not comment on the plant’s slaughter practices; an official at the Costa Rican plant missed a scheduled interview without explanation and did not respond to a subsequent attempt to contact him.

Sam Hollander, Alle’s owner, also did not respond to a request for comment. His firm sells processed and frozen beef under its Mon Cuisine and Meal Mart brands, and also sells kosher meat to airlines under its Schreiber brand.

Although no other kosher firms were listed in the Import Genius database, that database would not include beef sent into the country by truck or train and would miss imports delivered to intermediary companies contracted by the kosher firms to facilitate the delivery process.

In a statement, Agri Star said that all the meat used in its “fresh meat operation” is processed locally, but a spokesman would not say whether that applied to its frozen and processed meat products.

Genack maintained that kosher standards in the Latin American slaughterhouses are controlled by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and practices at the plants are ultimately outside the purview of the O.U. Genack said that he had spoken with Yona Metzger, Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi, about the Latin American plants as recently as this past summer.

A spokesman for Metzger, Avi Blumenthal, said that Metzger opposed shackle and hoist, but he could only request change and not enforce it, as the matter is “not connected to kashrut.”

Blumenthal claimed that the vast majority of glatt kosher beef shipped to Israel from Latin America came from plants using high-tech inverting pens, which flip the cows upside down and are considered more humane than the shackle and drag method. But Blumenthal’s claim puzzled Genack, who said that the O.U. is unaware of any inverting pens in use in Central or South America.

“I don’t understand what they’re referring to,” Genack said. The Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s kashrut authority certifies more slaughterhouses in Central and South America than the O.U., and Genack said it was possible that the inverting pens were being used in places where the O.U. had no presence. But he said, “If an [inverting pen] was in the slaughterhouses that we were at and they were using it, we’d be using it, as well.”

In fact, some progress appears to have been made. Genack said that a plant in Mexico which he would not name is now using the more humane upright pen for beef imported by Alle.

But according to Genack, that progress has not reached the Uruguayan and Costa Rican plants.

The Latin American cattle are grass fed, in contrast to grain-fed American cattle, and some argue that the Latin American animals have an overall better quality of life. But Naftali Hanau, founder and CEO of Grow and Behold, which sells pasture-raised beef and poultry from North American farms, said he isn’t so sure. “They arguably do have a better life than a typical American feedlot cow,” Hanau told the Forward. But “when you factor in the end of the line, when it comes to transportation and handling and being slaughtered through a system that is arguably more inhumane, it’s a question of values. Personally, I’m not going to buy that meat.”

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at or on Twitter @joshnathankazis

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]

PETA slams N.Y. kapparot ritual [VIDEO]

PETA anti-kapporot video

NEW YORK (JTA) — For the second year, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has complained about the High Holy Days ritual of swinging a chicken over one’s head, a sin-transference ceremony.

In a letter sent Monday to the New York agriculture department’s Kosher Law Enforcement division, PETA alleges that thousands of dead chickens were thrown away after the ritual last year in one Brooklyn center. The letter singles out the kapparot center run in Crown Heights by Rabbi Shea Hecht and asks the state to investigate whether consumer fraud occurred. Jews who bought chickens for the ritual expected the birds “to be processed for meat that would be distributed as tzedakah,” or charity, the letter states.

Last summer’s complaint to the state and city was more wide ranging, alleging a variety of health and safety violations as well as animal cruelty. It spurred a meeting of more than a dozen rabbis in Brooklyn, and they sent out directives to kapparot centers saying they needed full-time rabbinic supervision.

A related letter was submitted to the Kashrus Information Center, an independent association of more than 100 rabbis that monitors kosher affairs in Brooklyn. Rabbi Moshe Weiner, the Kashrus center’s rabbinic administrator, said that Hecht’s site and others operated by communal organizations are well run. While there have been problems in the past from “fly-by-night” kapparot centers, Weiner said proactive steps taken by rabbis last year significantly cut down on such problems.

Agriprocessors raid fallout continues: Jewish liberals plan rally in Postville

NEW YORK (JTA)—An interfaith coalition is planning to demonstrate next week in Postville, Iowa, in support of justice for workers and comprehensive immigration reform.

Spearheaded by Jewish Community Action, a Minnesota social justice group, the rally comes in response to allegations of worker mistreatment at Agriprocessors, the largest kosher meat producer in the United States.

The rally, scheduled for July 27, will follow by one day a visit to Postville by members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The group, led by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), will meet with the families of plant workers, as well as community organizers and local religious leaders.

“An immigration system that is predicated on fear tactics and piecemeal, deportation-only policies profoundly worsens our immigration crisis by creating broken homes and tearing the fabric of our society,” Gutierrez said. “It is my sincere hope that in bringing the stories of the parents, children and workers of Postville back to Congress, our lawmakers will see the very real consequences of punitive actions in the absence of comprehensive immigration reform.”

Both the congressional visit and the rally promise to keep the spotlight on Agriprocessors, whose Postville facility was the target of a massive immigration raid May 12.

In the wake of the raid, the plant’s workers claimed they were underpaid and made to suffer an atmosphere of rampant sexual harassment, among other allegations. Company officials have denied the charges.

Among the groups supporting the rally are the Chicago-based Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the Jewish Labor Committee and Workmen’s Circle. Funds for transportation were provided by Mazon, a Jewish hunger relief group.

“There are two targets here,” Jane Ramsey, the executive director of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, told JTA. “One is a message to the government for comprehensive immigration reform on the one hand, and secondly to Agriprocessors for the permanent implementation of livable wages, health-care benefits and worker safety.”

The plant’s purchase in 1987 by the Brooklyn butcher Aaron Rubashkin injected a much-needed dose of economic vitality into Postville, which was a struggling farm community. With a workforce of approximately 1,000, Agriprocessors was said to be the largest employer in northern Iowa.

The arrest of nearly half its employees in the raid has significantly cut the plant’s production.

Agriprocessors is hardly alone. According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, 4,940 workplace arrests were made in the 2007 fiscal year, up from 510 in 2002. As of May, the agency has made 3,750 arrests this year.

Critics say such arrests are devastating to workers and their families and can have crippling effects on communities. Jewish Community Action raised $10,000 for Postville familes, according to its executive director, Vic Rosenthal. Jewish Council on Urban Affairs has delivered another $5,000.

“We think that this was a very poorly conceived action by ICE that hurt people and didn’t bring any further safety to you and me,” Ramsey said. “Who did this help? They swept into a little town of 2,500 that has now been devastated, that has a just-opened playground and now there are no children for that playground.”

Steven Steinlight, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Study and a leading critic of the mainstream Jewish position on immigration, says such stories are sad on a human level but are not a basis for making policy.

“I can’t get bleary-eyed about these people,” Steinlight said. “They’re here in violation of federal immigration law. You don’t know if these people are from Mexico or from al-Qaida. They have engaged in identity theft. They have engaged in felonies. These are not minor issues. I don’t consider the violation of America’s sovereignty to be a minor issue.”

While Steinlight defends the raid as a legitimate exercise in law enforcement, he shares the sense of outrage over allegations of worker mistreatment even as he opposes the call for a path to legalization for Postville workers.

“The reason they’re hired is because they are exploitable,” Steinlight said. “And if they were legalized, they wouldn’t be any better off.”

Chaim Abrahams, an Agriprocessors representative, said the company is commited to abiding by all state and federal laws.

“Mr. Steinlight has apparently joined the chorus of those who accept the allegations and several newspaper accounts as fact,” Abrahams said. “Agriprocessors will have no further comment on those allegations, as they are part of an ongoing investigation. It merely urges all fair-minded people to reserve judgment until this investigation process has run its course.”

The demonstration is scheduled to begin with an interfaith service at St. Bridget’s, the Catholic church that has taken the lead in providing relief to immigrant families. It will be followed by a march through town to the plant and then back to the church for a rally. Organizers expect about 1,000 people to attend.

“We think that Jews as consumers of kosher food need to understand the importance of who is producing the food and how they get treated, how they get paid,” Rosenthal said. “We really want to energize the Jewish community to think much more clearly about the role they play as consumers.”

But Is It Kosher?

In September 2003, Whole Foods quietly removed one brand of kosher chicken from its shelves and replaced it with a different brand.

The switch received little notice — outside of a Jewish Journal article — but it caught my eye. A representative for Whole Foods claimed the previous chicken brand didn’t meet the chain’s standard; its feed was not organic, and the chickens weren’t raised and slaughtered in the most humane way possible.

Up until then I’d assumed that kosher meant, well, kosher. It surprised me that a company well-known for its concern for animal well-being and food safety would deem anything kosher treif, or unfit. Long before Whole Foods was even a glimmer in the eye of the Prius-tocracy, hadn’t we Jews been telling ourselves and others that we were practicing humane slaughter and thoughtful animal husbandry — embodied in the very laws of kashrut? What did Whole Foods know that I didn’t?

It turns out Whole Foods was on to something seriously wrong with the kosher food industry, and the industry is due for a change.

I grew up eating meat of all kinds. One afternoon during my sophomore year at college, I found myself on an idyllic Maine isle, plunging a live lobster into a pot of boiling water. By dusk I was a vegetarian, and I stayed that way for the next 14 years. I wasn’t squeamish: I’d fished my whole life, and even hunted. As a cook in various restaurants, I’d gutted shoals of fish, whacked through sides of beef and deconstructed flocks of poultry. But at that moment I figured, if I could survive without taking another life, so much the better.

Then I met my wife, Naomi Levy, rabbi and carnivore.

I loved the woman very much, so I had to come to terms with two of her seemingly contradictory traits: She loved meat, and she didn’t cook. I still love her; she still loves meat, and she still doesn’t cook.

The thought of cooking two entrees a night for the rest of our lives didn’t appeal to me. I compromised and began eating fish. Then came the first of many Friday night meals together. I put a piece of grilled salmon on the Sabbath table, and Naomi put on her best game face: What’s Sabbath without roasted chicken? So I started eating chicken. And then came her pregnancies, when she expressed numerous times that a) she would kill for a big juicy grilled steak and b) she was carrying our baby.

So there was the occasional steak.

All along, I rationalized the meat on our table by its kosher pedigree. In my mind, and in the minds of most Jews, the meaning of “kosher” had long swelled beyond its strict Levitical denotation of permitted and forbidden animals and their prescribed method of slaughter. I believed that “kosher” meant a higher concern for cleanliness, for the health and welfare of the animals, for the sanctity of Creation.

And it wasn’t just me. The dictionary definition of “kosher” includes “genuine and legitimate.” If I had to kill to eat, at least the meat was kosher.

But the alarm bell that Whole Food rang was soon followed by a cacophony of criticism and investigation.

In December 2004, the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released an undercover video taken at the AgriProcessors Inc. plant, a kosher beef abattoir in Postville, Iowa. The plant supplies kosher beef for the Aaron’s Best/Rubashkin brand. The tape showed practices that were obviously cruel and created a firestorm of criticism and countercharges. The Orthodox Union, which overseas the kashrut of the plant, said the offending practices would be corrected — they have been — and accused PETA of launching an assault on the institution of shechitah (kosher slaughter) itself.

The made-for-media PETA fracas birthed a larger, more thoughtful crossdenominational concern over current kosher slaughter practices. Earlier this year, Jonathan Safran Foer, author of the best-selling novel “Everything Is Illuminated” (Houghton Mifflin, 2002) and last year’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” (Houghton Mifflin), released a PETA-produced video over the Internet that condemned modern kosher slaughter practices, calling them anathema to the spirit of the kosher laws.

The author’s calm, well-reasoned arguments are buttressed by on-camera interviews with Rabbi David Wolpe of the Conservative Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, the Orthodox founder of CLAL — The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

The video, titled “If This Is Kosher …,” is available for download at It interweaves Foer’s and the rabbis’ comments with footage from the AgriProccessors plant and from kosher egg and meat suppliers in Israel. In one scene, egg industry workers fill a plastic-lined, 55-gallon garbage can with live male chicks, superfluous to the process. In another shot, the bags are sealed and dumped.

“To be Jewish,” Foer says in the video, “is to strive to make the world less cruel and more just — not only for oneself and not only for one’s people but for everyone. One doesn’t have to consider animals as equal to humans — I don’t — to give them a place in this inspiring idea.”

Wolpe and Greenberg — both vegetarians — signed on to a letter, along with dozens of rabbis, calling on the Orthodox Union to do more to promote humane treatment of animals in the kosher facilities it oversees.

In the midst of these criticisms came the results of another investigation by The Forward newspaper last month charging the Rubashkin factory with unfair labor practices, unsafe working conditions and labor intimidation. “AgriProcessors’ final product — sold under the nationally popular Aaron’s Best brand — is priced significantly higher than standard meat,” reporter Nathaniel Popper wrote. “Its kosher seal gives it a seeming moral imprimatur in an industry known for harsh working conditions. But even in the unhappy world of meatpacking, people with comparative knowledge of AgriProcessors and other plants — including local religious leaders, professors, and union organizers — say that AgriProcessors stands out for its poor treatment of workers.”

The manager of the plant, Sholom Rubashkin, denied the charges, but the plant has been subject to half the violations in all Iowa meatpacking plants so far this year, according to The Forward’s analysis of OSHA statistics.

“The bottom line here is that I’m not sure these devout Jews are using Jewish ethics to treat their workers,” one critic said.

I don’t know if Rubashkin is the exception or the rule in an industry that is increasingly concentrated in a few large hands, and whose imprimatur of kashrut comes from a handful of rabbinic authorities.

But I do know my definition of kosher is now much more narrow. In marketing terms, the brand has been tarnished. Kosher is not necessarily clean, or humane, or just. Long synonymous in our hearts and minds with good and pure, kosher is in danger of meaning just one small group’s interpretation of what’s legal.

What happened?

The purveyors of kosher goods became prey to the same market forces that have undermined the integrity of the entire American food chain. The food industry has fed America’s insatiable appetite by disregarding health concerns and riding roughshod over animal welfare and environmental welfare.

The demand for meat has led to the industrialization of farming, to feedlots holding up to 100,000 cattle, to the rapid and often sloppy dispatch of thousands of animals per day.

Kosher slaughterers piggyback — so to speak — on this industry by sending rabbis into nonkosher slaughterhouses to kill selected animals. Rubashkin itself noted that it slaughtered 18,000 cows in a seven-week period, which it said inevitably leads to error.

Kosher food, which we had always taken to stand apart from and above from the larger culture, has acquiesced to some of the industry’s worst practices.

Strictly speaking, the laws of kashrut do not address issues of responsible, ethical food production and healthful eating.

“The nature of kashrut is thus at once mysterious and obvious,” scholar Meir Soloveichik wrote in a penetrating essay in the journal Azure’s winter issue. “While God does not explain the importance of cud-chewing or leaping, of split hooves or scales, the Bible insists that it be perfectly clear to the non-Jew that the Torah-observant Israelite lives a life that reminds him constantly of his unique relationship with God.”

The exact meaning of these laws may remain obscure, but they are clearly meant to set us apart and elevate our souls.

For someone who loves both to pet animals and to eat them, the laws of kashrut speak to the tension between our higher and lower impulses, between the hunter Esau and the shepherd Jacob; between the carnivore wife and the conflicted husband.

Perhaps no religion better understands this eternal and inherent contradiction than Judaism. The laws of kashrut help us shuttle between our hungry selves and our compassionate ones, between the sanctity of all God’s creatures and their deliciousness.

If the kosher food industry is interested in retaining the deeper meaning of the label it bestows, its manufacturers and rabbis must figure out how to restore the spirit of kashrut to kashrut. The Jewish teaching of tza’ar ba’alei chayim — forbidding cruelty to animals because they are part of God’s creation — is the obvious place to start.

Kosher certifiers should cooperate with organizations like Animal Compassion Foundation, founded with a grant from Whole Foods, which are in the vanguard of conscientious animal husbandry and slaughter. The kosher label should not just imply the humane, responsible treatment of animals and the just treatment of food industry workers, it should certify it.


A Holocaust-Inspired Vegetarian

Recently, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) issued an apology for its Holocaust on Your Plate campaign and exhibit, which showed concentration camp images next to photos of animal abuse on factory farms. The comparison was extraordinarily tasteless, and widely condemned. PETA expressed surprise at the negative reaction, and while they should have known better, their campaign has thankfully ended.

However, we should not go as far as some who disavow any consideration of the Holocaust in reacting to cruelty to farm animals. PETA’s display was vulgar and offensive, but it taps into a deep call for justice that should speak to anyone who still feels the utter horror of the Final Solution, which continues to cast its dark shadow over the Jewish collective memory.

I remember as a child listening to survivors’ stories of utter inhumanity, trying to imagine the incomprehensible magnitude of suffering. I once started counting to 6 million, calculating that it would take months to do so even without stopping to eat or sleep.

Long after the war, my grandfather, an Auschwitz survivor, would cover his mouth in panic attacks, believing he smelled the gas. On Holocaust Memorial Day, I always confronted the unfathomable question of how so many people could act with a complete lack of compassion or basic moral decency. While such monstrous evil flourished, people went about their lives averting their eyes.

For me, these stories were defining elements of my moral character. The ethnic cleansings in Bosnia, the genocide in Rwanda — these were different from the Holocaust in important ways. And yet, the specter of concentration camps and gas chambers hangs over my head when I read about these atrocities, while the world does nothing.

I still remember when I first learned about factory farms. Animals crammed in crates and cages so tightly they could not turn around, lie down or stretch a limb; living in their own filth, beaten with iron bars and electric prods. Body parts torn off with pliers or mutilated with hot knives. Animals’ bodies hormonally and genetically manipulated to grow so fast that their legs deform and break under their own weight. Animals never allowed to breathe fresh air, feel sunlight, experience any mental stimulation or feel any affection. And then meeting their final fate, often skinned alive or drowned in tanks of scalding water.

Raised with storybook pictures of pigs rolling in the mud and chickens pecking in the barnyard, the reality of modern agriculture shocked me. The enormity of it — literally billions of animals each year suffering this miserable fate in our country alone — was incomprehensible. I’d never heard about it before — why was nobody talking about it? Could I justify these horrific abuses just for the momentary pleasure of flesh on my tongue? After all, these cruelties were not driven by ideology, but by economics: they were doing it because I was paying them to.

Had I not been raised under the shadow of the Holocaust, I might very well have chosen simply not to think about it. How easy it would have been to avert my eyes and enjoy my chicken wings. But the memory of 6 million murdered Jews spoke to me. Not because of some offensive equating of concentration camp victims with animals, or of the Holocaust with farming, but because I could not let myself be like the Germans who allowed themselves to be complicit in a massive crime. One does not have to offensively compare Jews with cows, or an ideology of hate with profit-driven cruelty, to see the application of what for me was a central lesson of the Holocaust: When the strong abuse the weak, we should not remain silent.

This was how the Holocaust inspired me to stop eating animal products. And I am hardly alone. Just as Holocaust memories have inspired so many Jews to fight for civil rights, religious freedom and other forms of social justice, they have also inspired many of us to fight against the horrors of factory farming. Doubtlessly, PETA was hoping for this kind of thinking with their wildly inappropriate exhibit, expecting that the injustice of the Holocaust would wake our consciences about another, albeit completely different, injustice. Unfortunately, in spite of their repeated assertions that they were not equating humans and animals, their exhibit appeared to do just that. People were rightly outraged.

Nevertheless, I worry that many Jews will remember the Holocaust but forget its lessons. We should never avert our eyes to cruelty, and say, “I don’t want to think about it.” Critics of the PETA exhibit universally concede that the factory farm cruelties are wrong, but have let PETA’s exhibit distract them from speaking out against these cruelties. With the exhibit over, we no longer have any excuse.

Right now animals are being squeezed into trucks so tightly that their innards prolapse. Animals with broken legs are being dragged to the slaughterhouse by chains behind trucks. Animals are being branded with hot irons and castrated without painkillers. Sick or injured animals are left without medical care to die slow, painful deaths. The abuses go on and on. While we shouldn’t need to remember the Holocaust to know this cannot be justified merely to please our palates, that memory serves for me as a stark reminder that I want no part in mercilessness.

Noam Mohr is coordinator of Jewish Vegetarians of North America. The views
expressed here, however, are his own.


Letters to the Editor


Campus Turmoil

This past edition’s cover story on UCI (“Campus Turmoil,” March 11) shook me to the point that three days after reading it, I can’t stop thinking about its repercussions. The article was written in such a way as if Marc Ballon was peeling an onion … almost living down at UC Irvine watching the events unfold (“Campus Turmoil,” March 11). The more I kept reading, the more upset I kept becoming that this type of anti-Semitism could happen in a place where Jews living in the “U.S. melting pot” were supposedly safe.

I was also upset because college was such an impressionable time for me, and I was wondering how many Jewish students on this campus will be affected by this “type of discrimination” and what the lifelong impact will be on their personal connection to Judaism.

Laura Cohen
Via e-mail

In response to your recent cover story “Turmoil on Campus,” I felt the need to express my view of the atmosphere at UC Irvine as a freshman living, working and studying on campus. I returned home for a day to spend some time with family and found myself being questioned by everyone regarding the so-called “turmoil” that I was experiencing. Everyone seemed to have a newly found negative view of my campus and some even worried about my safety as a Jew living there. This article gives off the incredibly false impression that anti-Semitism is a common occurrence around campus and that it is such a serious issue that it demands a cover article. I don’t get this impression, and neither do most people here.

All of my friends, many of whom are Jewish, are completely apathetic, most having no idea anything happened. I’m not denying that some anti-Semitism exists on campus, but rather I am disappointed at the media’s constant need to amplify the issues far beyond what they actually are thereby degrading UCI’s reputation in the Jewish community. If you want to come to UCI, this is an incredible university with a student body that overall is open and respectful. Don’t let these articles scare you away by saying otherwise.

Jacob Knobel

Two things occur to me about Marc Ballon’s article on anti-Semitism (cloaked, as always, as anti-Zionism) at UC Irvine. The first is that university administrators are as cowardly and inept in dealing with determined ideological thugs in 2005 as they were in dealing with Nazi students in the 1920s-1930s in Germany and with radical leftist students in 1968 at Columbia and other American universities. The second is a sense of amusement when Muslim/Arab ideologues excoriate Israel for “illegally occupying Palestinian land” as they strut around illegally occupied Indian land (i.e., America). The irony of the latter point might escape advocates of the “religion of peace,” given that Arab raiders conquered a vast empire and imposed their own religion (Islam) and – to a lesser degree – language (Arabic) on numerous peoples.

Chaim Sisman
Los Angeles

It is extremely bothersome for me as a Zionist, Jewish and liberal Democrat to see that the campus left has been hijacked by anti-Semites. This has been a phenomenon that has been going on for at least 20 years and I witnessed it firsthand as an undergraduate student at UC San Diego. It was there where I saw the following: 1) Pro-Palestinian and anti-Apartheid activists joining together to draw parallels between Israel and South Africa in a single joint presentation; 2) Imam Siddiqi (the same one from the article) giving a scathing denunciation of Israel as an illegal state while at the same time defending the ancient Muslim custom of subjecting Jews to dhimmi status; and 3) Edward Said receiving a visiting professorship in literature where he was given a regular podium to denounce Israel on campus property and money.

It is certainly no coincidence that where the left has become intolerant of dissent, anti-Semitic and increasingly outside of the mainstream, the primary reason is the embrace of the Arab “cause.”

Jeffrey Hoffer
Westlake Village

Heritage Via Bags

As an avid needleworker, I found your article “Knitters Spin a Yarn About Tallit Bags” most interesting (March 11). I feel that one of the ways I can pass my heritage on to the next generations is in the making of tallit bags, for our children, our grandchildren, our great nieces and great nephews. To this date I have made 18 and have plans for six more. I hope they will always be a treasure, made and received with love, which will recall one of the most important milestones in their lives. My daughters and I also derive great pleasure in doing the handwork on the tallisim, including the atarah and the four corners.

For those who are not aware, there is a national organization dedicated to Judaic needlework. Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Needlework’s main focus is in the inculcation and furthering of knowledge and understanding of our history through needlework. Chapters are located throughout the United States from Anchorage, Alaska to Atlanta, Georgia, and beyond, and are open to all who are interested.

Fran Shuster
Woodland Hills

Golden Rule

James Besser (“The Golden Rule of Jewish Leadership,” March 11) is from the “old” school. He makes it sound as if it is a bad thing that those who contribute the most set the direction. There is nothing wrong with a contributor giving to organizations with which s/he agrees; in fact, it actually makes sense. Working ones way up in the trenches is also not a bad thing, but should not be the only deciding factor in organizational leadership.

Paul Jeser
Los Angeles


In “A Small Piece of Jerusalem’s Past” (March 11) the photo is from the Scottish Rite Auditorium.

Irving vs. Lipstadt

I do not understand how a professor, such as Barry Steiner, can make such an absurd statement that “a man’s abominable political views are in themselves no evidence that his craft or profession is being used fraudulently or wrongly” (“Letters,” Mar. 11). The lawsuit that David Irving brought proved that Irving, who admits to be a Nazi sympathizer and Holocaust denier, could not be a good historian, since he had omitted in his later works any reference to the Holocaust and denied that it ever happened. Steiner’s assertion that because he found Irving’s earlier works did not show a thread of linkage to Nazi sympathies is specifically the reason that Deborah Lipstadt found him to be such a powerful force that had to be exposed because of his later denials re the Holocaust.

I could not find anywhere in Lipstadt’s work that she disagreed with Steiner’s final assertion that he refused to reject the earlier scholarly work because of Irving’s political sympathies. So why does he think that somehow he was raining on Lipstadt’s parade. I think that his letter makes him look rather foolish. It is inconceivable that Steiner read the book wherein the judge’s findings are set out.

“Judge Gray declared it ‘incontrovertible that Irving qualifies as a Holocaust denier.’ He had denied the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz frequently and ‘in the most offensive terms,’ … Irving had ‘repeatedly crossed the divide between legitimate criticism and prejudiced vilification of the Jewish race and people.'”

I do not understand why Steiner would want to use any of Irving’s works. I would think that would devalue any writings that he does when he uses them.

I thought that Lewis Carroll was writing his letter.

Yale Harlow
Los Angeles

Strains of Democracy

Leonard Fein is one of those who do not value Israel as a Jewish state (“Israel Feeling Strains of Democracy,” March 11). He is more concerned that it be a democracy.

He needs to repeat Political science I. It was founded explicitly as a Jewish state, but, like the United States, as a republic, not a democracy; and with definite elements of theocracy.

The state owes citizenship and equality to all Jews. It owes nothing to Muslims, but, as a favor, grants them equal status (actually privileged status – no draft). They are owed nothing because they are foreigners who entered our country in the seventh century as invaders; and, after desolating it and largely abandoning it, re-entered it as infiltrators from the neighboring countries. They are settlers there, and guilty of terrible devastation, oppression and ethnic cleansing of our people, massacres and unspeakable atrocities.

No other nation, with far less provocation, has shown such forbearance after defeating colonialists. We certainly don’t owe them the “right” to subvert the Jewish character of the state.

I disclaim any desire to discomfort the Christian Arabs, who are as much targets of the Muslims as we are, and our natural allies.

Louis Richter

Ritual Slaughter

To PETA, I have this to say: While you were eating each other; while you were pitting man against beast in stadiums for your entertainment, Torah-observant Jews were stopping to help relieve the burden of a tired donkey, even when it belonged to an enemy (“PETA Renews Fight on Ritual Slaughter,” March 11). While you were out hunting for sport, Torah-observant Jews were trying to decide whether milk and eggs are kosher since they are taken from a live animal. While you hung antlers in your dining room, and wiped your feet on animal skin, Torah-observant Jews made sure to send away the mother bird before taking her eggs. While you were shooting animals in the head before sitting down to a feast, Jewish people would study countless laws, sharpen their knives to a razor and carefully perform a procedure designed to kill the animal without pain. Torah-observant Jews taught the world what it means to be kind to animals. And now, in this moment of remarkable arrogance, the student presumes to become the teacher?

To The Journal, for agreeing to run PETA’s ad, and to all of the Conservative rabbis that have joined in this farce, I have this to say: Shame on you. Shame on you that you so desperately seek the approval of your flamboyant, pseudo-humane friends in organizations like PETA. Shame on you, that you now seek to cast aspersions on practices that have the Torah’s approval, even if you lack the courage do defend them as your own.

And when Moshiach comes, and we are once more able to bring the daily sacrifices and burnt offerings, will you then, too, stand beside your PETA friends denouncing Torah observance? When PETA send its undercover investigators to a kaparot site on the day before Yom Kippur, will you stand beside them waiving your indignant little fists, and declare this age-old custom a violation of tza’ar ba’alei hayyim as well?

Torah was meant be a light unto the nations. Do not darken its light by inviting PETA’s warped perceptions of right and wrong into Torah-observant slaughterhouses.

Shlomo S. Sherman
Via e-mail


Kosher Slaughtering Proves Humane


Many people expressed concern about the standards for humane treatment of animals at a kosher slaughterhouse after viewing a well-publicized video of kosher slaughter at the AgriProcessors plant in Iowa, which was released by the animal rights organization PETA.

Any slaughterhouse, whether kosher or nonkosher, is by definition a disconcerting, blood-filled and gruesome place. Torah law, however, is most insistent about not inflicting needless pain on animals and in emphasizing humane treatment of all living creatures.

Kosher slaughter, shechitah, involves cutting the trachea and esophagus with a sharp, flawless knife. At the same time, the carotid arteries, which are the primary supplier of blood to the brain, are severed.

The profound loss of blood and the massive drop in blood pressure render the animal insensate almost immediately. Studies done by Dr. H.H. Dukes at the Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine indicate that the animal is unconscious within seconds of the incision.

After the shechitah at AgriProcessors, an additional cut is made in the carotid arteries to further accelerate the bleeding. This is not done for kashrut reasons, for after the trachea and esophagus have been severed, the shechitah is complete, but rather for commercial reasons to avoid blood splash, which turns the meat a darker color. The carotid arteries are attached to the trachea, and at AgriProcessors, the trachea was excised to facilitate the bleeding.

In the overwhelming number of cases, the animal is insensate at that time. However and inevitably, particularly when it is considered that 18,000 cattle were slaughtered during the seven-week period when the video was shot, there was a tiny percentage of animals whose carotid arteries were not completely severed, so they were not completely unconscious. Although this is very infrequent, the removal of the trachea immediately after the shechitah has now been discontinued.

It should be kept in mind that in a nonkosher plant, when the animal is killed by a shot with a captive bolt to the brain, it often has to be re-shot, sometimes up to six times, before the animal collapses. The USDA permits up to a 5 percent initial failure rate.

At AgriProcessors and at other plants it supervises, the Orthodox Union (OU) is committed to maintaining the highest ritual standards of shechitah without compromising the halacha (Jewish law) one bit. The OU continues to vouch for the kashrut, which was never compromised, of all the meat prepared by AgriProcessors.

As I indicated previously, images of slaughter — especially selected images in an abbatoir — are jarring, particularly to the layman. Statements by PETA that animals were bellowing in pain after the shechitah are an anatomical impossibility. After the animal’s throat and larynx have been cut, it cannot vocalize.

PETA is well known for the passion it brings to the issue of animal rights, but it is an organization devoid of objectivity. PETA’s comparison of the killing of chickens to the Holocaust is, at a minimum, morally obtuse. So to whom should we turn for an objective view about the situation at AgriProcessors and about kosher slaughter in general? Here are the opinions of some experts:

1. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge inspected the plant. She found the handling of the animals to be humane and commendable.

She said after viewing the shechitah that the animals were unconscious within two to three seconds. She also said that chickens were handled more carefully by the rabbis than by her own “grandmother on the farm.”

2. AgriProcessors is under constant USDA inspection. Dr. Henry Lawson, the USDA veterinarian at the plant, told me that he considers the treatment of the cattle at AgriProcessors to be humane, and that the shechitah renders them unconscious within a matter of seconds. He determines this by certain physiological criteria related to the eyes, tongue and tail of the animal.

3. Earlier, Rabbi Dr. I.M. Levinger, a veterinarian and one of the world’s foremost experts on animal welfare and kosher slaughter, called the shechitah practices at AgriProcessors “professional and efficient,” emphasizing the humane manner in which the shechitah was handled.

Levinger was also highly impressed with the caliber of the ritual slaughterers. He issued his evaluation following a thorough two-day on-site review of shechitah practices and animal treatment at the plant. He viewed the kosher slaughter of nearly 150 animals.

4. AgriProcessors has hired an animal welfare and handling specialist to evaluate the plant processes. The specialist was recommended by both Dr. Temple Grandin, a foremost expert in animal welfare, and also by the National Meat Association. In reviewing the shechitah process last week, the specialist made the following observations:


• The shechitah process was performed swiftly and correctly;


• The shechitah cut resulted in a rapid bleed.


• All animals that exited the box were clearly unconscious.

The OU and AgriProcessors are committed to the Torah principles of humane treatment of animals. At the OU, we constantly review our procedures, evaluate them and if necessary, improve or correct them. We don’t want ever to be wedded to a mistaken procedure.

AgriProcessors has been completely cooperative in working with the OU and shares our philosophy.

As Torah Jews, we are imbued with the teachings which require animals to be rested, along with people, on the Sabbath and fed before the people who own them, and that the mother bird must be sent away before her young are taken to save her grief. These and similar statutes make it clear that inhumane treatment of animals is not the Jewish way.

Kosher slaughter, by principle, and as performed today in the United States, is humane. Indeed, as PETA itself has acknowledged, shechitah is more humane than the common nonkosher form of shooting the animal in the head with a captive bolt, for reasons noted above.

The Humane Slaughter Act, passed into law after objective research by the U.S. government, declares shechitah to be humane. For Torah observant Jews, it cannot be any other way.

Rabbi Menachem Genack is the rabbinic administrator of the Orthodox Union’s Kosher Division.


Letters to the Editor


Garbage Mouth

I was surprised, astonished and shocked to read William Donohue’s comments as reported in your editor’s column last week (“Garbage Mouth,” Dec. 17). In fact, I was unaware of Donohue’s comments until I read them in The Jewish Journal. I unequivocally reject Donohue’s remarks.

The Catholic and Jewish communities in Los Angeles have long enjoyed a deep and abiding affection for one another. We live in the same neighborhoods and send our children to the same schools. We socialize together and often attend each other’s religious services as invited guests. Our shared moral values have brought us together to work for stronger families, and a more just and tolerant society.

Twelve years ago, in a pastoral letter to members of the entertainment industry – as well as to those who are its customers – I wrote of the awesome moral power of the media, which is second only to the human family in its capacity to “communicate values, form consciences, provide role models and motivate human behavior.”

The best and most successful films produced by Hollywood always say something meaningful about human dignity, freedom and justice. As I also said in my pastoral letter, these values “are the exclusive property of no single religious community, ethnic grouping, educational level, economic class or political party…. Being human values, they are recognized and affirmed by all the people.”

Let us refocus our efforts on producing and patronizing film and television projects that uplift the human spirit common to all of us, Catholic and Jew, religious and secular.

Cardinal Roger Mahony
Archbishop of Los Angeles

Kindest Cut

Thanks to Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman for putting the Iowa slaughterhouse controversy up front (“The Kindest Cut,” Dec. 10). It is important for readers to understand that PETA is not challenging kosher slaughter. PETA’s position is the same as ours: that kosher slaughter is more humane than the processes employed in other slaughterhouses. PETA is claiming, however, that slaughter at the Agriprocessors plant in Iowa is unkosher, and since it follows neither kashrut nor government regulations, it is illegal. Anyone who views the videos posted on the PETA Web site must agree. The suffering depicted is beyond the pale. The “kosher meat man” quoted by Eshman, who says “Nobody gives a sh– about PETA” had better be wrong. We cannot turn a blind eye to the suffering of animals and call ourselves Jewish. Have the Orthodox abandoned the commandments?

Naomi Zahavi
Via e-mail

The real story behind the Agriprocessors kosher slaughter PETA video is the tale of two Orthodox Jewish organizations and two distinctive worldviews. Agudath Israel and its lawyer, Nathan Lewin, clearly viewed the PETA project as an assault motivated by anti-Semitism, while the Orthodox Union and its principled leader, Rabbi Zvi Hersh Weinreb, asserted that “The Orthodox Union will not engage in maligning PETA in any way, nor in questioning their motives.” He then announced that he would ask Agriprocessors to “stop letting workers tear the trachea and esophagus out of animals” (following shechita). He is further quoted to have said that he found the procedure especially inhumane.

The OU required these changes even though it was possible to argue that the shechita had been performed in accordance with the letter of the halachic strictures. Weinreb, however, understood that if, as Jews, we were to continue to claim that kosher slaughter adheres to the most humane standards, then rabbinic decisions regarding shechita must reflect the highest ethical and humane ideals. In this swift and unapologetic way, Weinreb transformed what could very well have degenerated into a damaging chilul Hashem (desecration) into a Kiddush Hashem (a sanctification of God’s name and of the halachic process).

Hats off to you Rabbi Weinreb for your courageous decision,

Rabbi Chaim and Doreen Seidler-Feller

Lonely Jews on Xmas

The headline of the Dec 17 issue and the complaining of this type of Jew makes us see red (“When Xmas Enters the Classroom,” Dec.17). My grandparents were Orthodox Jews in Latvia. Although Saturday was a school day for my mother, her parents did not complain because they wanted her to have an education and that was the way it was. There were no Jewish school groups or mention of Chanukah in schools, as described in your article. On one Christmas Eve, I recall my grandma singing “Silent Night” in German and telling me, joyously, of the Christmas celebrations they shared with their Christian neighbors.

As a child, I remember asking my mother about Christmas and Easter observances in my public school (in a mostly Jewish neighborhood). My mother explained that we live in a “Christian country” where we are a tiny minority and God bless this Christian country. Jews have never had the freedoms and opportunities as we have here. To the people who resonate with those complaints – quit your bitchin’. Welcome the warmth of the season and enjoy your blessings.

Adelaide and Milt Meisner

I appreciate The Journal’s ongoing attempts to chronicle the melding of Jewish tradition with American culture (“Merry Chrismukkah to You,” Dec. 10). However, I was somewhat dismayed by the coverage given to “Chrismukkah” concept. This new “holiday” (which is somewhat reminiscent of Frank Costanza’s Festivus on “Seinfeld”) is essentially a celebration of assimilation, interfaith marriage and dominating impact of Christian culture on Jewish experience.

The loss of Jewish identity that ideas like this represent is not something to be celebrated or reported with such a whimsical tone.

David Schwartz
Los Angeles

Bach Humbug

In David Finnigan’s article (“Singing Klezmer Isn’t Hard to Do,” Dec. 3) he states: “Yet, Sedaka admits that for all the pop hits he has written … writing pop music is not bubble gum and can require as much elaborate creation as a Bach symphony.” As J.S. Bach wrote no symphonies, this would be impossible to do. The symphonic form was developed by composers living after Bach.

Lewis C. Holzman
Rancho Palos Verdes

Jews on Xmas

Very sad reading about Grant High School, but funny, too (“When Christmas Enters the Classroom,” Dec. 17). How times change. When we moved from San Gabriel Valley to the San Fernando Valley in the mid-’60s, I had only one requirement: Where ever we lived, it had to be in the Grant High district. Not only was Grant outstanding academically, but it was the first school I had ever heard of that sent home notes around the holidays, asking if your child would be attending school during Rosh Hashanah and/or Yom Kippur. I thought that was wonderful. Having grown up in New Orleans (where there wasn’t even a Jewish neighborhood, we were just scattered around the city), I knew what my kids had gone through in San Gabriel. I’m sorry Grant High and other schools are not like that anymore, but with a strong Jewish influence at home, and at temple, hopefully today’s teens will grow up to be mothers and fathers who will work at the school level to honor all Holidays.

Paulette Vision Pistol

Your cutsie interfaith Chanukah-Christmas cards and gifts stories running the last few weeks would have the Maccabees turn in their graves. Jews did and do not sacrifice their lives to make a mockery of Judaism. Where do you draw the line?

J. G.
Los Angeles

My 14-year-old granddaughter attended a Jewish day school from kindergarten through sixth grade. During those cozy and comfortable years, she viewed Christmas carols, lights and the holiday in general as simply quaint, nothing more (“There’s No Santa but Keep It Quiet,” Dec. 17). In seventh grade, we switched her to a non-Jewish private school. We assumed her upbringing at home, plus her day school background, would buffer her against the December dilemma. Not!

Now, in ninth grade, most of her girlfriends are non-Jews. She has lost interest in lighting the menorah with me. She bought a Santa hat (I chewed her out on both of those). She clearly is losing interest in her Jewish identity. Can anyone out there offer any suggestions on how I can get her back in the Jewish groove, to feel proud of her Judaism?

Name Withheld Upon Request
Sherman Oaks

Kindest Cut

Reporters and readers alike are debating whether or not the method of slaughter employed in Postville, Iowa, is halachically correct (“The Kindest Cut,” Dec. 10). These worries miss a vital point.

By focusing on the last few seconds of life, otherwise educated and loving Jews ignore the question of animal treatment during the preceding 99 percent of their lives.

Most cattle are raised on coarse feed that creates painful gastric problems (they do not graze on grass for most of their lives). They are kept in fields not shielded from sun. They are denied exercise, lest they burn calories. They are castrated, branded and dehorned without anesthesia or follow-up veterinary care. They are transported long distances in overcrowded trucks, often without food and water. Kosher animals might “enjoy” a less painful death than nonkosher animals, but virtually all animals raised for consumption (kosher or nonkosher) live lives of pain, crowding and abusive treatment. Were it a dog or cat being treated this way, the handlers would be arrested and jailed.

Judaism teaches kindness and compassion toward animals. It is intellectually dishonest to ignore 99 percent of an animal’s life, in favor of the last 1 percent.

M. Gross
Via e-mail

Election 2004

I found the article “Idea of Dumb Bush Voters Lacks Reality” (Dec. 3) to be perplexing, to say the least The implication is that Democrats consider people who voted for Bush to be dumb. On the contrary, people voted for Bush for a variety of reasons. The voters included those who believed in one or more of the following: the Republican Party best supported Israel (blatantly false), provided the best defense against terrorism, believed in the Iraq war, held ideological beliefs consistent with the evangelical right-wing Republican Christians or knew their financial future was assured with this candidate. Of course, there were others who had concerns with Sen. Kerry or perceived that the Democrats lacked a clear message regarding a wide range of topics (e.g., peace, jobs, outsourcing, fairness for everyone, health care, etc.). However, implying that Democrats are not reflecting deeply on their vision and mission is simply untrue. A quick review of the op-ed section of the New York Times (Dec. 8) reveals no less than four articles regarding the need for the Democratic Party to energize itself. Many ideas are being considered such as engaging citizens in the rural communities and using new methods to increase Democratic turnout in 2006.

Letters I have received from California Sen. Barbara Boxer and the New Democratic Network, as well as articles from The Nation, also voice the need and commitment for the Democratic Party members and leaders to reflect deeply regarding a new vision that will attract a new base of Democrats for the future. I see nothing dumb about this intelligent and thoughtful response.

Marcia Albert
Los Angeles

Carin Davis

Ms. Davis, did you ever think you would ever get a fan mail letter from someone who is probably old enough to be your grandfather? Well, you got one now.

I generally skim over the singles articles but your pretty smile and the interesting title caught my eye so I read the article (“Single Woman of Valor,” Nov. 26). I enjoyed it for several reasons: 1) I married one and she still is; 2) we have a bright, attractive, professionally successful daughter whose sentiments are identical with yours and 3) I really liked your-no-holds barred approach to the rights of a single woman. You know, I have trouble understanding young men today. In my dating days I always enjoyed interesting, stimulating girls like you. Are men just afraid of bright women nowadays?

If so, who needs them?

Anyway, thanks for expressing your views so well. You’re certainly my nominee for a WOV.

Sanford Rothman
Via e-mail

Garbage Mouth

The editorial report (“Garbage Mouth,” Dec.17) on the anti-“secular Jewish” comments by Catholic lay leader William Donohue may be regarded as the chickens coming home to roost.

Two years ago in November, there was much resentment in Catholic circles against an anti-church film from Mexico, “The Crimes of Father Amaro,” being distributed in the U.S. The Journal and other newspapers disclosed that the distribution company, Samuel Goldwyn Films, was headed by a Jewish executive, Myer Gottlieb. The Catholic community was well aware of this, and expressed its outrage.

At the time, I wrote The Jewish Journal:

“If Jews hope to receive Catholic support in the struggle against … anti-Semitism, they should at least have enough self-control to prevent Jewish sponsorship of public material that is gratuitously hostile to a major Christian religion. I regard the conduct of this Jewish executive to be in reckless disregard of the current worldwide struggle against anti-Semitism. I am astounded at the silence of our Jewish leadership in this matter.”

The Journal published neither this letter, nor any letter or comment criticizing such silence. Apparently the view in Jewish leadership circles was as usual, that the controversy would blow over. Well, it didn’t blow over; it remained in the memory banks of those offended, and resentment generated then is being expressed now.

The chickens are coming home to roost, something the Jewish leadership should keep in mind in its present state of indignation over the current attack on “Hollywood’s secular Jews.”

Larry Selk
Los Angeles


Letters to the Editor


Special-Needs Support

I read with great interest your article on Jewish special education (“Support Still Lags for Special Needs,” Nov. 12). Like I do with any article related to this topic, it penetrates to my very being because I am a person with special needs.

I was born in the early ’50s with moderate cerebral palsy. Making a place for me in Jewish life was provided by compassionate religious school teachers and camp staff.

I was the token one. Yes, I benefited but could have benefited beyond my wildest dreams if there were programs designed for me.

Today, I’m an advocate for one of the regional centers. Although this agency is not Jewish, our mission is the same – inclusion. Inclusion, that’s the key word we advocate in all our presentations. We have come far in raising people’s consciousness, but we have somewhat further to go.

I’m wondering if the Commission of Jews With Disabilities is still in existence. I was once a member of this group that was composed of members with and without disabilities. We tried hard to shake the Los Angeles community with thought-provoking innovative ways of demonstrating that this population had many viable messages to teach.

I respect the notion that more has to be done in this arena. I look forward to hearing about future progress.

Susan Cohn
San Jose
Kosher Slaughter

Agriprocessors’ and Agudath Israel of America’s responses to PETA’s accusations are shameful, slanderous and insulting. Whether one believes that shechitah [ritual kosher slaughtering] is humane is irrelevant to this complaint, and PETA’s representative has stated as much (“Kosher Slaughter Controversy Erupts,” Dec. 3).

Agriprocessors demeans both the Jewish community as a whole and the events of the Holocaust by stating, “We’ll put them [PETA] on the wall with Hitler.” A recent inappropriate advertising campaign by PETA, which equated the meat industry with the Holocaust, was appropriately denounced by the Jewish community; Agriprocessors assertion equating PETA with Hitler should also be denounced.

Whether one agrees with the underlying motivations of the parties involved in this dispute, Jewish organizations should avoid accusations of anti-Semitism where none exist. This habit of crying wolf will seriously undermine legitimate claims in the future.

Dr. Alexander Werner
Studio City

Interfaith Marriage

Shame on The Jewish Journal (“A Happy/Merry Solution,” Dec. 3). Never would I have thought that a Jewish paper would accept interfaith marriages. It is one thing to condone interfaith marriages (95 percent of my friends have interfaith marriages). It is another thing to accept them, and tell them how and where to buy Chanukah/Christmas cards.

Are the Torah and Talmud just antiquated short stories? Does Jewish identity mean nothing to you guys? A Christmas tree does not belong in a Jewish person’s home. Plain and simple.

Interfaith marriages are forbidden by Jewish law. If you don’t believe in that, you might as well change your name to the Jewish-Christian Journal.

Eric Muscatel
via e-mail

L.A. Museum of the Holocaust

As the executive director of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, I feel that I must respond to some recent letters by Rabbi Harry A. Roth and Lawrence Weinman in regard to our capital campaign to build a permanent museum in Pan Pacific Park (Letters, Nov. 26).

The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust is the oldest Holocaust museum in the United States. We have been in existence since 1961 and have been providing Southern California with ground-breaking educational progamming over the last four decades.

Thousands of schoolchildren, mostly non-Jewish, tour our museum annually, and we are the only museum in Los Angeles that is always free and open to the public, a true blessing in a city where many students and school districts simply cannot afford field trips. The museum pays for busing for districts that cannot afford transportation, as well.

The plan to construct a museum in Pan Pacific Park is not a new idea and has been the ultimate goal for the last 20 years. The new building will create a cohesive unit in Pan Pacific Park, as it will encompass the already existing Holocaust Monument that has stood there for many years.

From our new location, we will continue our important work, work that is not repeated by other cultural and religious institutions in the city. The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust has partnered with the Museum of Tolerance, the Anti-Defamation League, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the University of Judaism, the Skirball Cultural Center, UCLA, the Gay and Lesbian Center of Los Angeles, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and countless other organizations.

I would encourage those who have not been to the museum or attended any of our programs to do so immediately. I can assure you, once you walk through our doors, you will not be disappointed.

Finally, I am not sure why Weinman and Roth see a connection between the oldest Holocaust museum in the country and the day school crisis in Los Angeles. Weinman and I disagree: I do not see us as a “community of limited resources” but rather a community of endless talent, resource and possibility.

Rachel Jagoda
Executive Director
Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust

Peace Recipe

I was touched by reading “Whose ‘Land’ Is It?” (Nov. 19), Gaby Wenig’s insightful, personal review of Barbara Grover’s photographic exhibit, “This Land to Me,” which helps us listen equally to Israeli and Palestinian stories that matter.

When our fears from this conflict hijack our best judgment and wisdom, art like Grover’s and other shared, positive human experiences can help us realize the equal humanity of the “other” and begin to treat one another far better.

Here on the San Francisco Peninsula, my wife, Libby, and I are part of a 12-year-old Jewish-Palestinian living-room dialogue group, preparing for our 151st meeting, still learning to change “enemies” into partners. There are now 10 similar groups here.

Another art – shared foods – and the human stories behind them, inspired us to print last month a first-of-its-kind 100-page cookbook, “Palestinian and Jewish Recipes for Peace.” Like Grover’s exhibit, it seeks to reveal the humanity of our two fine peoples. It’s described more at

Since I grew up in Westwood and graduated from University High, I was interested that “This Land to Me” was generously backed by Wally and Suzy Marks, who also helped develop the historic Helms Bakery Building.

I was raised on Helms breads and Knudsen milk. Later in my life, it was educator Gene Knudsen Hoffman, daughter of the creamery’s founder, who first said what I’ve learned is profoundly true: “An enemy is one whose story we have not heard.”

When Grover’s exhibit leaves, Libby and I encourage your Jews and Palestinians there to keep listening to one another’s stories. It can do small miracles. And sometimes big ones.

Len Traubman
San Mateo

Stands Firm

In response to Sandra Helman and Eric Gordon who disagreed with my stand on travel to Cuba (Letters, Dec. 6), I stand by my statements that travel to Cuba really only benefits Castro.

Yes, it feels good to help a few people. It’s nice to think of all the conversions and the revival of the Cuban Jewish Community.

I’m glad you try to stay in Paladors. The ad I complained about promoted tourist hotels.

The most important thing for Cubans is how they are going to survive. This means that they participate in Castro’s rallies, they pretend to be Jewish or Presbyterian or anything to get handouts. Synagogues are a source of needed items. This is not revival this is survival.

Cuba’s recent apparent relaxation of laws regarding religion is deceiving. Religion is infiltrated by and under the control of state security. (Castro’s equivalent of Hitler’s SS). Cuba’s Jewish community relies on many outside organizations for assistance. That’s money, which always ends up in Castro’s pockets, since his Mafia-type regime controls all retail stores on the island.

I won’t enumerate the human rights abuses, the involvement in international terrorism, the trafficking in human persons, the prostitution; this is documented by many sources, including the State Department.

Tourism is Cuba’s most important moneymaker. It is also an apartheid industry. The average Cuban is excluded from the tourist areas, suffers from food shortages, has no freedom of speech, no freedom of the press, no freedom to travel and no freedom to choose how to educate their children.

The island is a prison. The president vetoing the lifting of the travel ban is correct.

The fact that countries do business with Cuba, including Israel, and that tourism is flourishing, doesn’t make it right. I will wait until Cuba is liberated to visit.

Kathleen Sahl
San Pedro

Cause for Concern

In the review of Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America,” I can find something of comparable concern in the events of today (“When We Elected Lindbergh,” Nov. 12). I’m sure many of your readers will see the same parallel, also in your article “The Left and the Islamists”

We Jews are in a worrisome situation as a result of the reports following the election. It is astonishing to see the joint support of Kerry by the Jewish community of 75 percent and the Muslim community of 90 percent.

We also worry about Kerry’s desire to seek support from “allies” in conducting his foreign policy. Would he subordinate the American foreign policy to the U.N? Would Kofi Annan be able to veto our foreign policy? In effect would Kofi Annan be president by default?

Jews, typically liberal, and the Muslims currently most threatening to the West is a strange alliance, very dangerous to us Jews.

Of 26 members of Congress who are Jewish, only one is a Republican supportive of the president. Of the ll Jewish senators only two are Republicans supportive of the president’s support for Israel.

If Kerry would have shown an inadequate concern for fighting terrorism, would his election have been a serious cause for concern for Israelis as well as our American Jews?

Jerome Greenblatt
via e-mail

Horrific Business

As a Jew, I appreciate the condemnation by rabbis across the country of the abuses videotaped at the largest kosher slaughtering plant in America (“The Kindest Cut,” Dec. 10). However, simply being outraged by animal cruelty isn’t enough. Each one of us must take responsibility as consumers and realize that our choices have consequences that can’t be ignored.

Slaughtering is a horrific business, and, whether we want to admit it or not, the animals suffer greatly. As if a painful death isn’t bad enough, the animals endure systematic abuses throughout their abbreviated lives on factory farms. The vast majority of farmed animals never go outside, rarely move freely and often endure mutilations without painkiller.

These facts alone should be enough for all of us to truly follow God’s intention of compassion and mercy and remove animal products from our diet. It’s up to us.

Josh Balk
Outreach Coordinator
Compassion Over Killing
Takoma Park, Md.

Animal Slaughter

I am an Orthodox Jew who is horrified by the reporting of what goes on at the Agriprocessors meat processing plant (“Kosher Slaughter Controversy Erupts,” Dec. 3). Though I am well aware that PETA has a double agenda, promoting vegetarianism as well as stopping the inhumane treatment of animals – and I only identify with the second (though my daughter is a vegetarian) – I wholeheartedly support PETA’s campaign against inhumane killing of animals masquerading as the most kosher type of shechitah.

As of today, I will no longer purchase any Aaron’s Best Meats or Rubashkin’s Meats.

Dr. Chaim Milikowsky
Ramat Gan

The Orthodox Union is to be commended for initiating an end to the horrible treatment of animals at the Postville, Iowa, slaughterhouse that were revealed on the PETA videotapes. But what about the many other violations of Jewish teachings related to animal-based diets and agriculture?

When Judaism mandates that we treat animals with compassion, can we ignore the cruel treatment of animals on factory farms, where they are raised in cramped, confined spaces without sunlight, fresh air or opportunities to fulfill their natural instincts?

When Judaism stresses that we must diligently protect our health, can we ignore that animal-based diets are major contributors to the epidemic of heart disease, many forms of cancer and other killer diseases and ailments afflicting the Jewish community and others?

When Judaism mandates that we be partners with God in protecting the environment, can we ignore the significant contributions of animal-centered agriculture to air, water and land pollution; species extinction; deforestation; global climate change; water shortages, and many other environmental threats?

For the sake of our health, the sustainability of our imperiled planet, Jewish values, as well as for the animals, it is essential that we consider shifting toward plant-based diets.

Richard H. Schwartz
Staten Island, N.Y.

Bush Voters

With regard to the ridiculously sterile opinions article by Cathy Young (“Idea of Dumb Bush Voters Lacks Reality,” Dec. 3). I am going to speak as a humanitarian, to perhaps shed some light on why people believe Bush supporters are “dumb.”

We believe that people like myself (a full-time waitress, full-time student) should not be paying nearly $400 a month in taxes. We believe that fear is not a good enough reason to vote for someone.

We believe that there are more issues to worry about than the war in Iraq and Israel. We believe that the Patriot Act is, first and foremost, an infringement on our constitutional rights. We connect more with a woman and her status as a human being than with a fetus and its pending status as one.

Liberals could care less about political IQ. We’re too busy worrying about the people who inhabit our world.

Los Angeles

I found this article to be perplexing, to say the least The implication is that Democrats consider people who voted for Bush to be dumb.

On the contrary, people voted for Bush for a variety of reasons. The voters included those who believed in one or more of the following: the RNP best supported Israel (blatantly false), provided the best defense against terrorism, believed in the Iraq War, held ideological beliefs consistent with the evangelical right-wing Republican Christians or knew their financial future was assured with this candidate.

Of course, there were others who had concerns with Sen. Kerry or perceived that the Democrats lacked a clear message regarding a wide range of topics (e.g., peace, jobs, outsourcing, fairness for everyone, health care, etc.).

However, implying that Democrats are not reflecting deeply on their vision and mission is simply untrue. A quick review of the Op-Ed section of The New York Times (Dec. 8, 2004) reveals no less than four articles regarding the need for the Democratic Party to energize itself. Many ideas are being considered, such as engaging citizens in the rural communities and using new methods to increase Democratic turnout in 2006.

Letters I have received from Sen. Boxer and the New Democratic Network, as well as articles from The Nation, also voice the need and commitment for the Democratic Party members and leaders to reflect deeply regarding a new vision that will attract a new base of Democrats for the future.

I see nothing dumb about this intelligent and thoughtful response.

Marcia Albert
Los Angeles


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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.”


Campaign by PETA Profanes Holocaust

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) took its campaign equating factory-farm animals to Holocaust victims to the streets of Los Angeles this week with a protest in front of the Simon Wiesenthal Center Tuesday at noon (see story on page 12).

The protest speaks to PETA’s well-earned reputation for disordered priorities and its utter lack of sensitivity in promoting its cause, whatever the merits of that cause are. For the record, I am all for treating animals ethically and humanely.

But PETA’s exploitative campaign that expropriates photographs of starving victims of the Holocaust in Nazi concentration camps and compares them to chickens that are waiting to be slaughtered for food is abhorrent. On its Web site, PETA justifies this campaign, in part, because the late Jewish author Isaac Bashevis Singer, a vegetarian, once took the literary license of stating that, “in relation to [animals], all people are Nazis; for [them] it is an eternal Treblinka.”

Of course, whether or not the Nobel Prize-winner would have actually lent his name to PETA’s outrageous effort is open to question, at best.

In an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times, (“Animals Suffer a Perpetual Holocaust,” April 21, 2003), Singer’s grandson, Stephen R. Dujack, a Washington-based environmentalist, professed to speak for his deceased grandfather and proclaimed, “My grandfather would have been proud of PETA’s bold campaign.”

If that is the case, then in the face of such obscenity, I must speak for my grandfather, whose ashes lie buried somewhere in the dust of Auschwitz.

To begin with, attempts to genericize the term Holocaust are generally misguided. The Holocaust was a unique historical event and describes the attempt by Hitler and the Nazis to systematically destroy and physically eliminate European Jewry. To be sure, there were also other victims, including homosexuals, the disabled, the psychiatrically disturbed, political dissidents, Gypsies, Poles, Slavs and others who were targeted for elimination.

For the record, Dujack’s assertion in his article that lampshades were made from bodies of Holocaust victims is also historically inaccurate, because no evidence for this has ever been produced.

While it is tempting to compare all acts that we may individually find abhorrent to the Holocaust and while the event itself has become the benchmark for abject evil in the world, wholesale use of the term desecrates the memory of what actually happened during those terrible years.

Whatever the arguments are for or against animal slaughter for food, it is simply not the Holocaust. Dujack may as well call it the Crimean War.

Why can’t PETA and Dujack let the victims of the Holocaust rest in peace and leave them out of it? How do the Jewish people (as usual) get dragged into the middle of this argument?

The irony is that in Jewish law there are numerous examples of mitzvot (praiseworthy deeds) that advocate for the humane treatment of animals. An example is that a young bird should never be removed from the nest in the presence of its mother so as not to hurt the latter; indeed, the prohibition against eating milk together with meat derives from a similar sensibility.

In fact, the laws of kosher slaughter of animals are far more humane than was the slaughter of Jews by the Nazis, which was notable for its excessive and intentional cruelty.

Human consumption of animal products as food appears to be instinctual, has occurred for millions of years and is the accepted norm in most societies. The systematic suspension of human rights, imprisonment, torture, experimentation on and murder of a people that went on in full view of the world for 12 years in the middle of the 20th century is, thank God, an inexplicable aberration in human behavior that is so far out of the norm that it had to be given its own name — the Holocaust.

To conflate the two activities is absurd. To examine just how absurd and dangerous this game can be, we just need to turn it inside out a couple of times. If killing of animals for food is the same as exterminating Jews, then how convenient would it be the next time someone wants to commit a pogrom against the Jewish people just to turn it around the other way with the reply, “They kill chickens, don’t they?”

In the name of my grandfather and all other victims of the Holocaust, I call on PETA to retract and apologize for its shameful campaign. The shock value and attention have already been wrung dry.

Whatever the arguments for or against vegetarianism, in the interest of decency, let us leave the memories of the unfortunate victims of the Holocaust out of it.

Dr. Joel Geiderman is a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council in Washington, D.C.

Animal Activists Gone Wild

Holding up grisly posters that juxtaposed images of Holocaust victims next to animals in slaughterhouses, animal rights activists demonstrated Tuesday in front of the Museum of Tolerance.

While only 10 protesters attended the demonstration, which was staged by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the group’s latest "Holocaust on Your Plate" campaign comparing genocide to food manufacturing has caused most people to wonder: Have the activists gone too far this time?

In the past, PETA has been responsible for in-your-face activism like slinging red paint at people wearing fur coats and breaking into laboratories to set animals free. Their antics have at times influenced public opinion — such as turning the fashion tide against fur in the ’90s. But will this Holocaust campaign have a similar effect?

"It’s vile," said Ben Greenfield, 16, a junior at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles high school (YULA), who was walking by during his lunch break. "You have to set a limit and a standard. It’s pretty basic that you can’t compare the Holocaust to slaughterhouses. Human rights are just more sacred than animal rights."

The one-hour, peaceful noontime event attracted a smattering of security and onlookers, and garnered an occasional honk of support from a motorist.

But many who saw the signs at the intersection of Pico Boulevard and Roxbury Drive were insulted. One YULA student said PETA’s campaign was, "the most disgusting thing" she had ever seen in her young life.

While most museum staff and volunteers largely ignored the activists, one older museum volunteer confronted PETA protester Coby Siegenthaler, loudly denouncing the poster’s comparisons.

Yet the 78-year-old Siegenthaler, a Dutch immigrant and retired nurse who said she lived in Amsterdam during the war, was unfazed.

"In wartime, we had our house full of Jewish people, and now they could be a little more compassionate and eat a vegan diet," she said.

Comparing people to animals, said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the museum’s Simon Wiesenthal Center, "is an obscene parallel."

"There are no words, other than to say we have an obligation to stand with the pain of the victims," he said, adding that the radical PETA is steering away from any rational dialogue about treatment of farm animals and other animal concerns by the extremism of its traveling "Holocaust on Your Plate" exhibit.

"The outrage here is, it’s not as if the underlying issues [of vegetarianism] aren’t worthy of discussion, debate and action," he said.

About two weeks ago PETA asked the museum to exhibit "Plate," which traveled to 14 U.S. cities over the summer. In July, the group ran a TV commercial in Poland with anti-meat and Holocaust images.

Cooper said PETA’s request for space at his museum, "Wasn’t worth a postage stamp — and they knew that when they sent that."

He also chastised the group for Tuesday’s demonstration.

"For shame. It’s a shanda. For them [PETA] it works. They don’t care; you are wallpaper for their campaign. The victims of the Shoah are wallpaper, the Museum of Tolerance is wallpaper, The Jewish Journal is wallpaper."

But PETA activists said their campaign was about tolerance.

"Putting Holocaust images in front of people helps to develop empathy for Jews," said Bruce Friedrich, PETA’s director of vegan outreach. "And juxtaposing those images with the horrific things that we do to farm animals — it doesn’t seem to me that this in any way demeans anyone’s suffering."

Could PETA’s no-meat/no-cruelty message be conveyed without connecting it to a prominent historical issue like Nazi genocide?

"It can be made, certainly, absent of metaphor," Friedrich said. "But if you were attempting to find a comparison that resonates in the public consciousness, unfortunately most people are not aware of those other atrocities — Rwanda, Cambodia, Stalinist Russia — the same way that they are aware of the Holocaust. This forces people to think about that and the horrors of anti-Semitism, and simultaneously to think about what we’re doing today, which is also vile and immoral."

Yet, Cooper does not understand why PETA would "blatantly inflict pain on humans," with illegitimate human-versus-animal Holocaust comparisons.

"All I know is, I have to deal with the pain and the anguish of those who survived," he said.