Ben Goldsmith of PETA has written a response to the most recent Shechita-gate article by Agudath Israel's Rabbi Avi Shafran.
- PETA has no interest in undermining rabbinic authority, and it is not our desire to “impose new rules on Jewish ritual.” The issue here should be halacha, not an imagined power struggle. Our only objective is to assure that rabbinic authorities live up to the precepts of Jewish law that forbid causing unnecessary suffering to animals.
You can read it all after the jump.
PETA's Ben Goldsmith Responds To Agudath Israel's Rabbi Avi Shafran
I appreciate Rabbi Shafran’s thoughtful consideration of my response. As I said before, it is evident that we share similar concerns about animal welfare and adherence to Jewish law.
In light of this common cause, I hope Rabbi Shafran will agree that there need not be a dichotomy between the welfare standards proposed by humane organizations and those advocated by certain religious leaders. Surely the two are not mutually exclusive, and given our shared concern for the welfare of animals, I hope we can work together to ensure that kosher slaughterhouses live up to the requirements of Jewish law. Rabbi Shafran should not view PETA as a threat to rabbinic authority.
As I said before, I am glad that AgriProcessors has made a few small improvements; but without the proper guidelines for kosher slaughter in place, they could resume their shoddy killing practices after the current scandal fades from memory. This is why we are encouraging AgriProcessors and the OU to adopt a set of standards that will guarantee that kosher slaughter is humane without fail.
The changes that PETA has requested of AgriProcessors were recently summarized by their lawyer, Nathan Lewin, as follows: “Repair your unloading ramps. Restrict the use of electric prods. Ensure that no more than 5 percent of cows vocalize. Ensure that each chicken is held one at a time, by one person, for slaughter. Provide fresh, clean water for all animals at unloading. Ensure that all animals are calm at all stages of processing. Engage in self-audits on a regular basis.”
Reading their own lawyer’s recitation of the changes that we are suggesting, I am left wondering why AgriProcessors or anyone else in the Jewish community would object to our recommendations. If AgriProcessors had made these simple, very reasonable improvements two years ago when we first approached them, they could have avoided the scandal and subsequent public scrutiny that they face today.
The Food Marketing Institute standards that we are asking AgriProcessors and the OU to adopt do indeed “go far beyond what the government has determined to be the requirements of humane slaughter.” The scientists who developed the standards are very proud of this fact. Doing more for animal welfare than the bare minimum dictated by the government should be a goal to which kosher slaughterhouses continually aspire.
If there are issues with the FMI standards, the OU and other authorities should address those issues. As we read the standards, it’s unclear to us what is at issue; the authors of the standards, also, have not heard from any OU or other authorities that there is any issue with the standards, other than the pen. That should be something to work on, rather than something that causes the standards to be discounted entirely. Since the OU prefers the pen, perhaps the OU could use its considerable influence to help change the preference of the Chief Rabbinate in Israel; since the Chief Rabbinate’s stance appears to be based in humane considerations, this endeavor would seem likely to meet with success.
PETA has no interest in undermining rabbinic authority, and it is not our desire to “impose new rules on Jewish ritual.” The issue here should be halacha, not an imagined power struggle. Our only objective is to assure that rabbinic authorities live up to the precepts of Jewish law that forbid causing unnecessary suffering to animals. We are pleased to be told that the OU shares our concern and will do all that it can, within Halachic parameters, to ensure the most humane slaughter possible. Our goal in this case is precisely that[, doing] so with unannounced audits of AgriProcessors, to ensure compliance at all times.
The fact remains that AgriProcessors was slaughtering animals horribly—that fully one-quarter of the animals showed unarguable signs of consciousness even after they had been mutilated (throats ripped out) and dumped onto the concrete, and that Mr. Rubashkin and his attorney, Mr. Lewin, continue to defend all practices; they continue to argue that these animals were not conscious, in complete denial of what is scientifically true. Extrapolated over the 2,500 to 3,000 cattle AgriProcessors slaughters each week, we’re talking about 600 to 750 or so still conscious, every week, fully a minute after shechita. And that doesn’t even address the mutilation, which no expert contacted by PETA or anyone else has ever indicated having seen. These overt violations of the Jewish commitment to kindness should be concerning to anyone who cares about Jewish values, as should be AgriProcessors continued defense of these horrors.
Rabbi Perry Raphael Rank, the President of the Rabbinical Assembly of the conservative movement, stated that “the disturbing video that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals produced of incidents during shechita at the AgriProcessors’ plant in Postville, Iowa should be regarded as a welcome, though unfortunate service to the Jewish community.” We hope that Rabbi Shafran will join the other religious leaders who recognize that they should do everything in their power to address this problem, and not become preoccupied with attacking the messenger.
Finally, I feel odd that we even have to continue to discuss the often-misquoted statement of Ingrid Newkirk, our President. It is a rare thing for someone to insist that he knows what an organization stands for better than its representatives. In fact, it is simply true that physiologically, in the capacity to feel pain, as well as in other biological needs, other animals are our equals. They were designed this way by G-d. That was the whole point, regardless of an attack article by Fred Barnes in Vogue Magazine, which is run by one of the most animal-unfriendly women in the history of publishing. That it was repeated incorrectly by others who are opposed to PETA’s mission only proves that we do upset the likes of Philip Morris by opposing their cruel experiments, KFC by opposing their breeding and drugging animals so that they can’t even walk, and other large corporations with the resources to misrepresent us.
But PETA actively recognizes the different moral standings of animals and humans. One of our primary differences lies in the human ability to show compassion in choosing the foods we eat. When given the choice between cruelty and kindness, we believe that humans should choose the latter; in calling on AgriProcessors to make improvements in its slaughterhouse, we are fulfilling our obligation to act kindly towards animals. This is very much in accordance with Jewish law.
I understand Rabbi Shafran’s concerns, but I am also certain that our position on animal welfare closely matches that of the Jewish community—one does not have to choose between the two. Again, rabbinic authorities should not view this as a power struggle; instead, they should focus their energies on improving animal welfare. We all want to ensure that kosher slaughter is consistently quick and humane, in keeping with Jewish law, and PETA maintains that by adopting a uniform set of standards, Jewish leaders will be doing their part to guarantee that kosher slaughter will never again cause animals the horrible and wholly unnecessary suffering that was the norm at AgriProcessors for some years. I am confident that this is a goal we can all embrace.