Will Scandal at Israeli Slaughterhouse Change Jews’ Diets?

“We will not tolerate giving kashrus supervision to a factory that ignores animal cruelty issues.”

This statement by the recently elected Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau, along with his promise to look into the kashrus status of facilities where abuses of animals occur, has the potential to greatly change the ways that animals are raised and slaughtered, as well as the eating habits of Jews.

Chief Rabbi Lau expressed his outrage and concerns after seeing a video shown on Israeli television’s channel 10 Kolbotek program on October 29. The video had undercover footage taken by an activist for Israel’s leading animal rights group “Anonymous for Animal Rights.” It showed widespread abuses at the Soglowek slaughterhouse, one of Israel’s largest kosher chicken and turkey slaughterhouses, where about 30,000 chickens and turkeys are slaughtered daily.

The video showed chickens in filthy, feces-filled, cramped cages, left for up to 19 hours without food or water. Some chickens had their limbs or their heads stuck between the bars of their cages. Chickens were handled very roughly, yanked by their limbs, and tossed onto conveyer belts that took them to the slaughter area, actions that seriously injured many chickens.

Because of these major abuses, the Israeli organizations Anonymous for Animal Rights and Let Animals Live demanded that the head of veterinary services at the Israeli Agriculture Ministry suspend permits for transportation to the slaughterhouse and close the slaughterhouse doors. They also filed a complaint to the police against Soglowek for serious violations of Israel’s Animal Welfare Law. Their complaint stated, “Chickens are falling from their cages onto the conveyor belt, sometimes from a great height – one under the other, one on top of the other, a terrifying mass of flapping wings and flying feathers.”

Chief Rabbi Lau’s outrage about the shocking video scenes is indicated by very powerful statements he made to Ynet, a major Israeli media outlet: “As a human being and as a Jew I was shocked by the footage, by the brutal behavior of those employees toward helpless animals. Such things shouldn’t happen. The Torah forbids us to act in this way and obliges us to be extra vigilant with regard to animal welfare. We cannot remain silent in the face of such things.” He indicated that the severe mistreatment of the chickens made their kosher status questionable. “We will act firmly and sternly against this factory . . . there are also serious problems of Kashrut here. The brutal use of sticks must have caused the birds internal injuries, and there’s no doubt that the dying chickens are not fit for Kosher slaughter . . . we’ll act firmly in this case. We will set up rules regarding imposing sanctions on such companies, and take steps that may even lead to the revocation of the Kashrut certificates.”

Rabbi Lau’s strong statements are very consistent with basic Jewish teachings on compassion to animals, including: (1) “God’s compassion is over all His works [including animals]” (Psalms 145:9); (2) “the righteous person considers the lives of his or her animals” (Proverbs 12:10); (3) the great Jewish heroes Moses and King David were deemed suitable to be leaders because of their compassionate care of sheep when they were shepherds; (4) farmers are not to yoke a strong and a weak animal together nor to muzzle an animal while the animal is threshing in the field; (5) the Ten Commandments indicate that animals, as well as people, are to rest on the Sabbath day; (6) and much more, summarized in the Torah mandate that Jews are to avoid causing tsa’ar ba’alei chaim (pain to animals).

These powerful teachings stand in sharp contrast to the widespread, egregious abuses of farmed animals, including ones raised for kosher slaughter, which occur daily on factory farms in the United States and Israel. Here are just a few examples: (1) Egg-laying hens are kept in cages so small that they can’t raise even one wing and part of their beaks are painfully seared off to prevent them from harming other birds by pecking from frustration in their very unnatural conditions. (2) Male chicks at egg-laying hatcheries fare even worse as they are killed almost immediately after birth, since they can’t lay eggs and have not been genetically programmed to produce much flesh. (3) Dairy cows are artificially impregnated annually on what the dairy industry casually calls “rape racks,” so that they will be able to continue ‘giving’ milk, and their babies are taken away almost immediately, often to be raised as veal under very cruel conditions.

As pointed out by no less a person than Chief Rabbi Lau, these severe contradictions between Judaism’s powerful teachings on compassion to animals and the daily brutal mistreatment of millions of animals on factory farms must soon end. Just as Jews are forbidden to eat non-kosher meat, we should also not eat meat and other animal products from animals that have been cruelly treated. Rabbinic kashrut certification should not be enough if the treatment of the animals is not considered.

Rabbi Lau later decided that the kosher status of the chickens was not affected by the abuses, perhaps partly because it would have made the ovens, pots, dishes, and silverware of many religious Jews non-kosher. But his strong initial statement of outrage should still be a wakeup call for Jews to do everything in our power to stop the violations of Jewish law related to the raising of animals. We should demand that our rabbis and kashrut supervisors no longer turn a blind eye to the mistreatments.

For many years Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA), of which I am president emeritus, has been working to increase awareness of the contradictions between Judaism’s powerful teachings on compassion to animals and the horrible ways that animals are raised on factory farms. We have been urging Jews to shift to plant-based diets, This would not only reduce abuses to animals, but also would be most consistent with Jewish teachings on preserving human health, protecting the environment, conserving natural resources, and helping hungry people.

Shifts to diets based on eating an abundance of fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes are especially important today because animal-based diets are a major contributor to climate change, which could soon spin out of control with catastrophic results, according to climate experts.

Shifts by Jews to more compassionate, plant-based diets can show the relevance of Judaism’s eternal teachings to current issues and help shift our imperiled planet onto a sustainable path.

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