Whether we look at modern Jewish social justice work or ancient rabbinic rulings, Jews have always insisted on the importance of having compassion for animals and reducing unnecessary animal suffering—tsa’ar ba’alei chayim in Hebrew.
Put most simply, when I choose not to eat meat, I feel that I am choosing life over death.… –Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Everything is Illuminated, winner of the National Jewish Book Award
Increasingly, this fundamental reverence for life has led Jewish leaders to advocate vegetarianism. From the first chief rabbi of pre-state Israel, Rav Abraham Isaac Kook, to giants of Jewish culture such as Albert Einstein and Nobel Prize for literature winner Isaac Bashevis Singer, the vegetarian diet first prescribed in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1:28-29) has been held forth as “a kashrut [dietary law] for our age.”
We can all agree that animals should be treated humanely. Today’s kosher meat comes from the same abusive factory farms as all other meat. Despite the humane intention and spirit of the Jewish dietary laws, there are no standards to ensure that kosher slaughter is any less cruel than conventional slaughter. In some instances, it’s been shown to be much worse.
In the face of horrifically cruel and ecologically devastating factory farms and a kosher industry that has sanctioned even the most grisly abuse of animals, it’s difficult to see how eating animals is compatible with Jewish values.
The following are examples of the cruelty and suffering that animals endure in the food industry.
- Chickens and turkeys killed for their flesh in kosher slaughterhouses often suffer broken legs and wings as a result of rough handling and malfunctioning equipment. When they are slaughtered incorrectly, these sensitive animals survive for several minutes as they hang upside-down from metal shackles and can only writhe in pain as they slowly bleed to death.
- Hens used for eggs live with up to six other birds in battery cages that are the size of file drawers, thousands of which are stacked tier upon tier in huge, filthy warehouses. Male chicks are of no use to the egg industry and are often thrown into garbage bags and left to suffocate.
- Cows used for their milk are drugged and bred to produce unnatural amounts of milk. Their babies are stolen from them shortly after birth to be sent to notoriously cruel veal farms.
- Cattle raised for kosher meat are castrated, their horns are ripped from their heads, and third-degree burns (branding) are inflicted on them—all without any painkillers . The cruelty discovered during PETA’s investigation into AgriProcessors was shocking, but according to kosher authorities, it is not unique to this particular slaughterhouse. Watch video footage.
- When Kosher Isn’t Kosher’ by Aaron Gross
- ‘If This Is Kosher…’
- Passover Recipes
- Bruce Friedrich Debates AgriProcessor’s Lawyer
- How You Can Help
- Resources for Rabbis, Educators, and Youth Leaders
- AgriProcessors Kosher Slaughterhouse
- Shocking Kosher Slaughter in South America
- ‘Bambi Butchers’ Horror
Additional information about Judaism and vegetarianism can be found here.