Rabbi Shafran Responds to PETA

Oops. Turns out that PETA was misquoting their own fearless leader. This, in the very same letter in which PETA proudly claimed that it “has never been duplicitous.”

The Mishnah says that in the era before the Messiah’s coming, Chutzpah will proliferate. Truly the Messiah must be knocking on the door.

The following from Rabbi Avi Shafran:

I thank Mr. Goldsmith for his response to my piece on the AgriProcessors controversy.

The issue of PETA’s core philosophy is not one that I will use this space to discuss further; ample material is available to anyone who wishes to explore in that direction. But I do feel it necessary to note that, contrary to what Mr. Goldsmith writes, PETA’s co-founder and president declared that “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy” (Vogue magazine, 1989) not in the context of the sensation of pain but rather as a coda to her contention that “There is no rational basis for saying that a human being has special rights.” As she concluded, “They are all mammals.”

And so, with all due respect to Mr. Goldsmith’s assurance that PETA “has never been duplicitous” and “never would exaggerate,” I must remain skeptical as well about PETA’s assertion of a 25% rate of consciousness after shechita at the plant during the period in question. The current rate seems to be something less than 1%.

Mr. Goldsmith asserts that AgriProcessors, like “criminals [who] sometimes act in accordance with the law,” has simply changed its procedures. But the only relevant change instituted in the interim was something that, according to veterinary expert Dr. I. M. Levinger, who recently spent two days observing shechita at AgriProcessors, would have little or no impact on the rate of animals that remain conscious after shechita.

What Mr. Goldsmith characterizes as the “ripping” of animals’ tracheas and esophagi was in fact the manipulation of those neck organs to facilitate a second cut to the carotid arteries – to better bleed the animals, and hence render them unconscious even more quickly. Such manipulation is not required by Jewish law, however, and it is that procedure that has now been discontinued (although a second cut to the carotids is till being done). If the current practices at the plant yield an acceptably miniscule post-shechita consciousness rate, as Dr. Levinger and a host of government and rabbinic officials have testified, there is no reason to believe that a dramatically higher consciousness rate was the product of a procedure designed to stimulate even more rapid bleeding.

The discrepancy between what Mr. Goldsmith claims is shown on PETA’s full videotape and the unanimous testimony regarding the current situation at AgriProcessors is striking. More striking still is the internal tension inherent in Mr. Goldsmith’s response to my article.

On the one hand, he seems to accept the testimony that the procedures currently in place at AgriProcessors are entirely humane, and that only a tiny percentage of animals – well within normal and acceptable bounds – display signs of post-shechita consciousness. But then he goes on to insist that AgriProcessors must make yet additional changes to their procedures.

If shechita as currently practiced is in fact, as Mr. Goldsmith concedes, humane, whence the necessity for further changes?

Mr. Goldsmith asserts that his group is “not asking much” of AgriProcessors or other kosher meat producers. And, at least to an innocent eye, what PETA is in fact demanding of all kosher meat processing facilities sounds innocuous: that such facilities be held to “the widely-accepted regulatory standards for religious slaughter developed by the Food Marketing Institute.”

Those standards, though – which, incidentally, go far beyond what the government has determined to be the requirements of humane slaughter, and were unilaterally compiled without any consultation with kashrut authorities – are not at all “widely accepted.” On the contrary, they have been widely rejected, as they were adjudged by religious authorities many months ago to be incompatible with the ritual requirements of shechita. The incompatibility led fifteen Jewish kashrut experts and organizational heads, representing the full gamut of the glatt kosher meat producing and consuming community in the United States, to go on written record three-quarters of a year ago informing FMI that its standards “could improperly interfere with our religious ritual requirements.” And requesting that the standards be modified accordingly.

Which leads to the crux of the issue, my original article’s bottom line: Who will determine how shechita is done in the United States – rabbinic authorities or non-Jewish partisan groups? By petitioning U.S. governmental agencies to impose new rules on Jewish ritual (and despite the fact that no one is pointing to anything objectionable transpiring at AgriProcessors), by pressuring supermarket chains to stop doing business with kosher meat suppliers that are in full compliance with religious and federal law but do not follow the religiously objectionable and legally excessive standards unilaterally promulgated by the FMI, PETA has crossed a dangerous line. And that should alarm anyone committed to religious liberty.

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2 Responses

  1. Shmarya says:

    1. The second cut in the PETA video was done with a hook by a non-Jewish worker. The second cut done for Patty Judge was done by a shochet with a chalaf.

    2. If the shochtim Dr. Levinger saw made deep rather than shallow cuts, and that is reported to be the case, then those cuts would have severed the carotids and rendered the animal unconscious faster than a the shallow cuts seen on the PETA video.

    3. I’ll check the Vogue quote. If your representation of it is inaccurate, I’ll ask the Noviminsker, shelita, to have a discussion with you on the importance of truth.

  2. Yaakov Menken says:

    1 & 2 need no response. Every neutral expert from Temple Grandin to other Kashrus agencies said doing the trachea pull so quickly could be a problem, and Rubashkin has already changed its practice in response.

    3. I asked Rabbi Shafran about that, specifically the idea that Vogue might have misquoted her:

    When Ms. Newkirk provides an admission from the writer of the piece that the PETA founder was misquoted, I will accept that contention. Until then, the quote, which is quite clear and specific (and was, incidentally, repeated — in the context of rights, not pain — in the Washington Times, on August 29, 1999), remains a concise and accurate representation of what she and others at PETA truly believe. There are many less pithy but equally telling quotes from Ms. N. — like her response to a question about whether she would oppose experiments on rats if it would cure AIDS. She said (New Yorker, April 14, 2003), “Would you be opposed to experiments on your daughter if you knew it would save fifty million people?” Needless to say, that (and many other quotes on record) implies precisely the moral equivalence I cited.

    Someone wise once said “A ‘clarification’ is necessary when what was said was all too accurately rendered.” That is the case here.

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