Ritual slaughter ban would be unconstitutional, Belgian state body says


A Belgian government advisory body determined that any legislation that would prohibit ritual slaughter in the kingdom would violate its constitution.

The legal notice issued Wednesday by the Belgian Council of State came amid recent debates and planned legislation to ban the practice. The animal welfare minister in the government of the Flemish Region said last month it should be outlawed.

Religious laws in Islam and Judaism require animals be conscious when their necks are slit, though some religious leaders from both faiths allow stunning immediately after the cut. Many animal rights activists say the lack of stunning is cruel. Their opponents maintain ritual slaughter is more humane because it is not mechanized and less prone to accidents resulting in animal suffering.

In addition, many opponents of Muslim immigration and presence in Europe also oppose by extension the proliferation of Muslim slaughter, which has fewer restrictions on how it needs to be performed and by whom than the Jewish method, called shechitah.

In May, the Green Party of the Flemish Region — one of three entities that make up the federal kingdom of Belgium – filed a draft bill to the parliament commission on animal welfare. Amid opposition to the bill, the issue was brought to the review of the Council of State, which determined that if passed, a law banning the practice would be overturned by the country’s federal constitutional court because it would violate religious freedoms, the Jewish monthly Joods Actueel of Antwerp reported.

The animal welfare minister, Ben Weyts of the New Flemish Alliance, a center-right movement and the Flemish Region’s ruling party, vowed to keep fighting for a blanket ban on ritual slaughter and said he was disappointed by the legal notice.

Last month, Weyts said he blamed Muslim faith leaders for a situation that he said now requires a ban. He said they were intransigent when tried to reach compromises with them on ritual slaughter, particularly of mobile slaughtering areas set up on Muslim holidays.

Michael Freilich, editor-in-chief of Joods Actueel, said in an editorial Wednesday that compromises can be made on the part of faith communities, particularly on limiting the slaughter to qualified slaughterers with the expertise to prevent animal suffering. For Jewish communities worldwide, such limitations are a reality, with certified shochets doing the work based on training. But in Muslim communities, it is customary for untrained family heads to perform the butchering.

Notwithstanding, Freilich wrote, if Weyts refuses to recognizes constitutional limitations of the Belgian kingdom, “perhaps is it better if he resigns.”

Give Polish Jewry a kosher choice


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Poles ban kosher slaughter


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back in Krakow, Anna and Piotr are less certain.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helping mothers have it all


The much-discussed article in the July/August Atlantic magazine begins with a story that likely will be familiar to any working mother. The author, Anne-Marie Slaughter, is at an evening work event talking to very important, very professional people, and all that’s really on her mind is the plight of her teenage son, who’s floundering at home without her. At the time, Slaughter was serving as a top official at the State Department, working under Hillary Clinton, who famously wrote “It Takes a Village,” but Slaughter’s greatest preoccupation in that moment was with mothering, and despite all her professional success, she was still wondering how to be a successful working woman.

Welcome to the club. Or, should I say, I’m with you, sister.

Slaughter’s article, aptly titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” addresses a certain sector of women — the well-educated, ambitious, talented and highly likely to advance type. The women who succeed, but nevertheless don’t reach the top of the work chain, largely because of excruciating choices that they find themselves compelled to make: Volunteering at their kids’ school versus traveling with the boss. Being there at 3 p.m. for pickup and soccer delivery versus writing an extra exposé. It’s not that men can’t face these dilemmas, too; it’s just a fact that most don’t feel they need to at the same level.

Slaughter, an academic specializing in foreign affairs, admits that her two-year term working in the 24-hour work cycle of
government was an eye opener; her life at Princeton, despite a full teaching load, administrative duties and prolific publishing, allowed her flextime that most jobs don’t.

I remember the day I came back to work as a newspaper editor after the brief weeks of leave I took when my husband and I adopted our infant daughter. A parade of women dropped by my office to congratulate, and console, me. Life had changed for the better — and the worse, they advised. Welcome to the world of eternal guilt, was the message: You will never again feel you’re completely giving your all to your work, nor will you, as long as you continue to work, ever feel completely sure you’ve done enough for your child.

There is no single answer to the work-life balance when it comes to children — I have found that it’s a day-by-day process of trying to avoid the tipping point. Each woman finds her own way.

Today, as our daughter is about to turn 17 and I see her slipping away toward adulthood, I still feel the pull. Now it’s not so much about being a necessary presence anymore — she can drive herself where she needs to go — but I still need to be a presence in her mind, so that she knows I can be there quickly when needed. That I am there for her. And that’s what still haunts me as I stay extra hours at the office.

Slaughter writes of the deference people in her office felt for an Orthodox Jewish man who made a point of leaving early on Fridays to observe Shabbat with his family. And, she noted, no such respect would likely be given to a mother who simply wanted to skip Saturday meetings to spend time with the kids.

The gift of Shabbat turns out, for me, to be the resounding message of Slaughter’s piece. Shabbat teaches us that, religiously observant or not, we ought to set aside some special time — time to interact, to find peace, perhaps even joy, in our lives — time that is not work time.

I often hear younger women today talking about “feminism” as if it’s a bad word. A big part of what many of my generation fought for over the past three decades was the ability to achieve what men have — executive offices, respect and equal pay. And feminism represented that movement, for us. Today’s young women want something more — to avoid the guilt of the balancing act, as well as, perhaps, the identification with a sisterhood. They imagine a working world defined by a kind of human-ism that is not gender-defined.

And they share this vision with many younger men who are, as well, more drawn to engage with their own children. Willing to change diapers, to get home in time for dinner and to find some flextime.

What we all need, Slaughter argues, is what flextime allows: valuing that other part of our lives. Shabbat’s regularity offers this to us, but we also must assume the mantle throughout our lives. To believe that a deep breath can benefit all parts of our lives, including our interaction with our children, our spouses and friends, and even our workplace.

Jonah Lehrer, who writes brilliantly about the science of the brain, explains in his new book, “Imagine,” how great creativity often occurs when the mind is at rest. Plowing through those extra work hours without a break is not always productive; in fact, it’s often over that glass of beer, or in the shower, that the light bulb turns on. Perhaps even at the moment of stopping to watch your child play.

Lehrer’s brain science offers the answer to what true work-life balance might look like. If we can close the door on the office and go home — without turning on the computer and checking our phones and e-mail obsessively — we might find clearer minds in the morning to get it all done. We also might appreciate our families and friends more.

But as working women, we can all begin, at least for now, by taking a lesson from Torah: by requiring Shabbat observance — secular or religious — for us all. So you’re not just thinking about where you wish you could be, but can actually be there — in the present.

Dutch Senate to appoint ritual slaughter commission


The Dutch Senate has delayed its vote on banning ritual slaughter and will appoint a commission to study putting new standards for such slaughter into place.

Undersecretary for Agriculture Henk Bleker said Wednesday that he will appoint the commission to establish standards for ritual slaughter, including how long an animal can remain conscious, The Associated Press reported.

The upper house of the Dutch government froze the vote after a majority of senators expressed their objection to the ban on kosher slaughter, or shechitah. The measure had passed the lower house of the Dutch parliament in June.The Senate had been scheduled to vote on Dec. 20.

Proposed by the Animal Rights Party and supported by the anti-Muslim Party for Freedom led by Geert Wilders, the bill requires that animals be stunned before slaughter. Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter must be performed with the animal fully conscious.

Animal Rights Party leader Marianne Thieme said she would submit a new bill banning ritual slaughter to parliament if the current one is defeated by the Senate in January, when it is likely to vote on the measure.

The European Union requires animals to be stunned before slaughter but makes exceptions for religiously mandated ritual slaughter. Nevertheless, ritual slaughter is banned in Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. 

About 1 million animals are ritually slaughtered each year in the Netherlands, according to The Jerusalem Post, of which a few thousand undergo shechitah.

Polish president reaffirms right to shechitah


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

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

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

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

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

Jewish groups plan strategy to counter ban on ritual slaughter


Jewish organizations met to discuss taking political and legal action against proposed legislation to ban kosher slaughter in Holland.

Participants at the meeting Wednesday called by the European Jewish Congress included Shechita UK, prominent members of the Dutch community and the European Conference of Rabbis, according to the EJC.

Among the steps they decided on were legal action; lobbying members of the Dutch Senate, which still must ratify the legislation before it becomes law; and seeking an independent renowned expert to assert that kosher slaughter is equally humane, if not more so, than most other means of slaughter.

Under a bill passed by the lower house of the Dutch Parliament at the end of June, animals are required to be stunned before slaughter. Both Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter must be performed while the animal is fully conscious. The Dutch Senate is expected to take up the measure before the end of the year.

The bill was put forward by the Animal Rights Party, which claims that stunning before slaughter causes less pain to the animal. The Jewish and Muslim communities have a year to prove otherwise or the law will go into effect.

“The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union is extremely clear on the protection of religious freedom, especially when weighed against the protection of animals,” said Albert Guigui, the chief rabbi of Belgium.

Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, said the Jewish community is united and has a plan of action that will be implemented to fight a “tremendous battle ahead.”

“This law will not provide a mere inconvenience to the Jews of Holland, it could severely curtail Jewish life on the whole continent of Europe, and we need to act accordingly to this threat,” he said.

Some 40,000 Jews and about 1 million Muslims live in the country.

Opinion: Dutch must find compromise on ritual slaughter ban


The Jewish community in Holland has its roots in those who fled persecution and discrimination to a land that has become acclaimed for its freedom of religion and expression.

This freedom may be eroding, however, as a central component of Jewish life may be outlawed in the very near future.

The Dutch Parliament passed a bill last week that proscribes religious animal slaughter without prior sedation. If the Senate votes to ratify the measure, the effects on the centuries-old Jewish life in Holland and Europe will be incalculable.

In practice, it would mean an end to Jewish ritual slaughter, shechitah, in direct opposition to Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, namely the right to freedom of religion.

This convention, drafted in 1950 following the nearly fulfilled Nazi attempt to destroy European Jewry, was meant to prevent future atrocities and human rights violations. One of the first enactments of the Nazis against the Jews of Europe was to proscribe shechitah.

Following the Holocaust, which wiped out nearly three-quarters of Dutch Jewry, Europe ruled that religious minorities should feel safe and free to practice their way of life unfettered and unhindered within Europe’s borders. This decree determined that freedom of religion can only be restricted when practices compromise other laws.

The proposed Dutch legislation is based on the flawed premise that shechitah causes additional, unnecessary pain to the animal than stunned slaughter. There is no scientific evidence to merit this conclusion. In fact, a study conducted at Wageningen University in Holland proved the opposite—that shechitah is more animal friendly than many other types of slaughter.

Professors and researchers from Europe, the United States and elsewhere concur and have demonstrated this in various studies. In the United States and Canada, the humaneness of shechitah is acknowledged in the Humane Methods of Animal Slaughter Legislation.

The debate surrounding the legislation is being conducted as if sedating an animal is an ideal, stress-free process without any expert reference to how much stress is caused to animals by sedation procedures as opposed to the stress of kosher slaughter without sedation.

The Jewish slaughterer must undergo extremely rigorous training that entails an expert slaughter with minimum pain for the animal. Good treatment of animals is an ancient guiding principle in Jewish law and tradition, and everything surrounding this principle is adhered to during the slaughter.

It is incumbent on Dutch legislators in the Senate to find a compromise that will allow shechitah to continue, in accordance with the freedom of religion, while attending to the important needs and requirements of animal welfare. If a compromise is not found and this bill becomes law, it could result in a dangerous domino effect that could spread to other parts of Europe.

If more nations in Europe, or the European Union itself, proscribe shechitah, it will further compromise a Jewish community already suffering from growing anti-Semitism and discrimination.

The Jews of Europe have endured millennia of slavery, expulsions, inquisitions and attempted genocides, but a ban on a central tenet of Jewish life, even if well meaning, could well spell disaster for the Jewish community.

If the oldest minority community in Europe is shaken in such a way, it would bode extremely poorly for other minorities, some not yet acclimatized to the European way of life.

Nothing less than the integral fabric of European life could be compromised if religious or national traditions that do not compromise other laws are proscribed. As Europe projects itself as a post-conflict continent that seeks to integrate vastly different histories and customs into a single union, it is incumbent that differences are embraced, not compromised.

If The Netherlands, with its reputation as a tolerant and open society, circumscribes a major facet of religious life, then surely we are on a downward spiral of intolerance and narrow-mindedness.

It was once said that “Compromise, if not the spice of life, is its solidity. It is what makes nations great.”

Holland has always been a great nation, especially for the Jewish people who traveled to its borders seeking sanctuary. It is vital that Dutch legislators seek a compromise before it is too late and the die is cast.

(Dr. Moshe Kantor is president of the European Jewish Congress.)

Proposed Dutch ban on ritual slaughter is unfair, ill advised


Animal rights or Jewish rites? That is the question this week before the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament, as it considers a bill that effectively would prohibit shechitah, the Jewish ritual slaughter of animals.

According to the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam, in 1674 the first Ashkenazi Jew who settled in The Hague was a kosher butcher. Well over three centuries later the Dutch parliament, seated in The Hague, may soon send all the kosher butchers packing.

The minuscule Party for the Animals has introduced a bill to ban animal slaughter without prior stunning. While the proposal is in the spirit of defending animal rights and does not represent any anti-Jewish intent, the brunt would be borne by the Dutch Jewish community of nearly 50,000 people.

Such an unjust result should not surprise anyone, since the premise of the bill itself is unjust. Jewish law commands humane treatment of animals, and several scientific studies have shown that shechitah is indeed humane. According to a 2004 peer-reviewed paper, “Physiological Insights Into Shechita,” by Dr. Stuart Rosen of Imperial College in London, “shechitah is a painless and humane method of animal slaughter.”

Given the general use of stunning in non-ritual slaughter in the Netherlands and the wide acceptance of anesthetic stunning as permissible for Muslim ritual slaughter, the proposed law would be a de facto ban only on Jewish ritual slaughter, which does not allow for stunning under any condition.

The Party for the Animals says that “The European Court of Human Rights has determined that forbidding unanaesthetised ritual slaughter does not contravene the right to freedom of religion.” This argument oversimplifies the specific issues and narrow applicability of the Cha’are Shalom Ve Tsedek v. France case, which concerned the demand of a haredi Orthodox Jewish group for a shechitah facility separate from the existing facility in France under the supervision of the chief rabbi of France when the possibility existed of importing meat from a slaughterhouse of the same haredi Orthodox group in Belgium.

In other words, the party claims that banning shechitah in the Netherlands would not infringe on religious freedom if kosher meat can be imported from Belgium.

This line of reasoning leads to two obvious and disturbing questions that Dutch parliamentarians should ask themselves: May we indirectly discriminate against Dutch Jews as long as Belgium does not do the same? How available would fresh kosher meat be to Dutch Jews if all European countries were to adopt the position that it could be imported from a neighboring country?

It is a safe assumption that approval in the Netherlands would encourage animal rights activists to promote similar measures in other European parliaments. The potential for a domino effect should not be underestimated. According to a Belgian animal rights group, a 2006 poll showed that 72 percent of Belgians supported a ban on ritual slaughter without prior stunning.

Switzerland provides a vivid example of the power of European animal rights groups. In 2002, the Swiss government tried to do the right thing and remove the ban on shechitah that had been in place since 1893. The reaction of animal rights groups was fast and furious. They launched a campaign to ban even the import of kosher meat (using the same popular referendum process that in 2010 led to a constitutional ban on the construction of minarets in Switzerland.)

Faced with increasing popular support for the anti-import campaign, the Swiss Jewish community itself urged the government to back off and settle for a reaffirmation of the status quo. They rightly feared ending up with no kosher meat at all.

Aside from the potential practical consequences, the Dutch bill’s adoption would indirectly, but indisputably, convey a message of intolerance for traditional Judaism and for those who observe Jewish dietary laws. Dutch Jews, regardless of their observance of dietary laws, would be made to feel as second-class citizens.

In the 1581 Act of Abjuration, the Dutch declared independence from Spain, demanding “some degree of liberty, particularly relating to religion.” The practice of religious tolerance made the Netherlands a magnet for oppressed Jews from elsewhere in Europe.

Members of today’s Dutch parliament should be guided by their founding fathers’ championing of religious freedom, the Dutch tradition of religious tolerance and a commitment not to forsake that first kosher butcher who came to The Hague.

(Abraham H. Foxman is national director of the Anti-Defamation League and the author most recently of “Jews & Money: The Story of a Stereotype.”)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PETA says Agriprocessors misled rabbis about slaughter procedures [VIDEO]


Kosher slaughterhouse in Iowa dumps CEO


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kosher Slaughter Controversy Erupts


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Biblical Logotherapy


This week’s Torah portion discusses one of the most bizarre and indecipherable rituals in the Torah: parah aduma, which is the ritual of purifying a person who has come into contact with a dead body. During the ritual of parah aduma, the Kohen slaughters a red cow that has never born a yoke and then burns the carcass along with cedar, hyssop and a crimson substance until it has been reduced to ashes. The ashes are then mixed with water and sprinkled on the person who has come in contact with death, thus rendering him pure.

This strange ritual, which in some aspects seems almost pagan, can be interpreted and understood metaphorically as a cathartic, therapeutic process, one meant to help a mourner overcome grief. Each physical step in the parah aduma ritual also works as a symbol that taps into the subconscious, intangible experience of death.

To begin the ritual, the first requirement is the red cow.

The living red cow embodies an abstraction: literally and symbolically. The cow stands in for the life force vanquished; it represents vitality, procreation and energy, as does its red color, a color associated with blood, the medium of life. Because the cow has never born a yoke, its death is untimely — it has not yet contributed to or affected the world. The parallel for a person would be a death that occurs without fulfilling one’s goals and or realizing one’s potential.

The substances burned with the cow also have symbolic meaning. In biblical times, cedar and hyssop stood for the two poles of the social gamut: the wealthiest and the poorest, the mightiest and the weakest. Turning all these elements to ashes suggests that no one can escape death. The burning of cedar and hyssop together with the parah aduma symbolizes utter destruction, the extermination of the entire gamut of existence. The cedar and hyssop also suggest that death is both a physical and a social phenomenon. This message assists the mourner in coming to terms with grief, indicating that along with the physical loss, there has been a loss of social bonds, of human connection. The symbolism of the parah aduma ritual reflects the complexity of the mourner’s feelings of loss. Through the ritual, the mourner’s need to grieve is acknowledged.

Grief can breed devastating results when not addressed appropriately. A mourner might question the purpose of his life and the worthiness of his actions; he can slip into the mode of thinking typified in phrases such as "My life is meaningless" and "I am nothing."

From there the road can be very short to suicidal tendencies and even to violent criminal acts against others, because the logical correlative to "I am nothing" is "you are nothing." Once life is meaningless, whatever damage a person causes to others is insignificant. In fact, such injury to others can, sadly, serve a cathartic purpose; as a person subjects another to anger and violence, he renders the other person as helpless and ineffective as he feels himself.

This negative disposition that results from death and loss is the reason for the mourner’s impurity for seven days. The impurity is a spiritual one that calls the mourner’s attention to the dangers, the precariousness, of his situation. But, simultaneously, the condition of impurity and separation allows the mourner an opportunity to express and experience his emotions and to heal.

On the third day of this healing process, the mourner is brought to the priest, and he returns on the seventh day for a second session. In the Torah’s description of these meetings between mourner and priest, a surprising but subtle linguistic shift occurs. The remainder of the red cow, which was initially referred to as "ashes" (efer in Hebrew), is now referred to as dust (afar in Hebrew). While only one letter has changed in the text, the symbolic meaning of the two words is completely different. The word "afar" in reference to death, transports us directly to the verse: "for you are dust and to dust you shall return." The word dust reminds the mourner that life is ephemeral and that death is inevitable. It also reminds him of the cycle of life: in the words of Rabbi Akiva, "Those living will die, those who were not born yet will be born."

Finally, the parah aduma ritual emphasizes and expands on this cyclical notion in a way clearly evident to ancient Israelites who lived in an agrarian society. While nothing can grow in ashes, dust can definitely serve as a fertile soil. A seed, buried in the dust, will resurrect as a plant.

Similarly, the mourner is encouraged to summon all his energy and to come back to life with energy and vitality. This concept is symbolized by the last step in the process, the pouring of fresh, living water, mayim hayyim, on the parah aduma’s dust. The positive power of life, contained in the water, will overcome the destructive power of death. Even though the loss that comes with a death will not be forgotten, life will be resumed with an emphasis on the positive experiences of the past and on the abundance and richness of the life we have lived and will live.

Haim Ovadia, rabbi of Kahal Joseph Congregation, can be reached at haimovadia@hotmail.com.

Holocaust Exploited


An emaciated death camp survivor stares blankly alongside a
gaunt steer. “During the seven years between 1938 and 1945, 12 million people
perished in the Holocaust,” the image declares. “The same number of animals is
killed every 4 hours for food in the U.S. alone.”

The poster forms the heart of a new national campaign
launched last week by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) that
compares the Holocaust and the meat industry — and that is ruffling Jewish
feathers.

Dubbed “The Holocaust on Your Plate,” PETA’s campaign and
its companion Web site,