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Jewish World Review
Nov. 29, 2004
/ 16 Kislev, 5765
Radical vegetarian group seeking to slaughter one of the world's largest kosher meat processors
Binyamin L. Jolkovsky
PETA's latest ploy
The NYTimes gets scooped of its own story!
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the radical vegetarian group that in an advertising campaign once compared the slaughtering of chickens to the murder of Holocaust victims, is taking aim at one of the world's largest kosher meat processors.
AgriProcessors Inc., the Postville, Iowa-based firm that markets meat under the Rubashkin and Aaron's Best label and is found in America's biggest supermarket chains, is being accused by the group of violating humane slaughter laws and Halacha, or Jewish ritual procedure.
Complaints against the company began a year and a half ago, when PETA wrote the meat producer and in unspecific terms expressed its dissatisfaction with the company's operating procedures. The company's lawyer, Nathan Lewin, responded by offering to discuss and, if necessary, fix any problem the group had. But he said he never heard back from them.
Last week, Mr. Lewin, regarded as one of the country's leading authority on church-state issues, was contacted by the New York Times seeking comment on an undercover videotape the paper received from PETA, in which it claimed to document abuses by the meat manufacturer. On Friday, Mr. Lewin traveled from his home in Washington, D.C., to The New York Times' Manhattan offices to watch the video with Rabbi Chaim Kohn, Chief Dayan of Khal Adath Yeshurun, AgriProcessors' New York City-based kosher certifying agency.
The film, which Mr. Lewin describes as having no audio track but uses titles with dates of supposed abuses from August and September of this year depicts the slaughtering process in gory detail. Viewers see the shochet, or ritual slaughterer, cutting in one uninterrupted incision the esophagus and trachea. Then, another person facilitates bleeding in order to render the cow unconscious.
While there is much blood, explains Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, one of the nation's leading authorities on the kosher slaughtering process, and a head of the kosher division of the Orthodox Union, it is precisely the bleeding that renders the slaughter the most humane because it makes sure the animal feels absolutely no pain because it is totally unconscious.
Mr. Lewin charges that "all PETA wants to do is inflame the public against kosher slaughter." The group, he added, "just doesn't understand shechita what's permitted under Jewish, and consequently, American Law."
The video also shows cows appearing to still be alive after the slaughtering process. But, "reflexive movement", wherein dead creatures appear to be alive is quite common, Rabbi Belsky said. "Think of chickens running without heads," he said.
News of PETA's attack against a prominent kosher meat manufacturer forced a historic vote at the Agudath Israel of America's annual convention in Stamford, Connecticut. Moments before the end of the powerful Orthodox umbrella group's four-day strategizing session yesterday, David Zwiebel, its executive vice president of government and public affairs, took to the microphone urging all in the room to remain seated. By unanimous vote, the group condemned what it termed a "vicious and unethical attack on Jewish religious practice."
Though PETA had previously compared the slaughtering of chickens to the murder of Holocaust victims, the Agudath resolution noted that among the first organized efforts the Nazis did against Jews was "peddling photographs of allegedly 'cruel' kosher slaughter." PETA, the resolution added "now follows in that vile course." Jewish tradition, the proclamation said, "introduced human society to the concept of humane treatment of animals and that, even today, is well ahead of organizations such as PETA in its concern for welfare of all living creatures."
Agreeing with PETA, however, are two rabbis: Shear Yashuv Cohen, Chief Rabbi of Haifa and President of the Haifa District Rabbinical Courts, and Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee's director of Interreligious Affairs, according to Mr. Lewin. However, PETA did not point out in its material that both rabbis identify themselves as vegetarians.
PETA officials could not be reached yesterday for comment.
Rabbi Cohen was unaware that he was being used by PETA in any way, according to Mr. Lewin. He told the lawyer that he was approached by an Israeli animal rights activist, Tal Ronen, who told him he was a baal teshuva, or recently-turned Orthodox Jew, who was interested in the proper treatment of animals.
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Binyamin L. Jolkovsky is editor in chief of JewishWorldReview.com. This column appears in today's issue of the New York Sun. Comment by clicking here.
© 2004, JWR