A disingenuous animal welfare article stabs Jewish community interests in the back
By R. Ari Zivotofsky
A growing number of US rabbis are engaged in advancing extra-halachic moral issues. While these are often worthy endeavors, it is imperative that they be promoted in a positive rather than negative manner. That is, the inherent good of the cause needs to be emphasized, rather than merely appearing to be morally superior by denigrating others. In addition, in order to maintain credibility, honesty must be strictly adhered to.
A text-book example of how not to do it was recently demonstrated in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article Why This Rabbi is Swearing off Kosher Meat (Houses of Worship, May 29, 2014) by Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz. The missive was a broad based attack on a huge swath of the kosher industry that contained misinformation and clever but dishonest tactics. I would first like to address the general issue of sticking to the positive and then briefly mention the specifics of this article.
I can speculate that by publishing this article in the WSJ, Yanklowitz may have had one of two goals in mind. He may have been hoping to influence the meat or dairy industries to radically overhaul their practices. The likelihood of a Yanklowitz article in the WSJ leading to such a change is negligible in my mind, comparable to the YCT modifying their modus operandi based on a Rabbi Avi Shafran article in Mishpacha magazine. Alternatively, the goal may have been to proselytize to the uninitiated and convince others to “boycott” kosher animal products. Possible, but I think unlikely that an article in the WSJ will persuade somebody to become a vegetarian.
Unfortunately, other than publicly declaring his moral superiority, a very likely result of Yanklowitz’s article is that when Jewish communal organizations are called upon to defend shechita in Europe or other places, the secular governments will now have one more piece of ammunition. They can pull out an article by a prominent “Orthodox” rabbi in the influential WSJ which supports their claim that shechita is unethical. I have personally been involved in shechita defense for many years, working behind the scenes clarifying the scientific and halachic facts about kosher slaughter to keep it legal in jurisdictions where that is threatened, and this is not a far-fetched scenario. It may not have been Yanklowitz’s intention, but it is, sadly, a likely result.
A few specifics about this article. He opens by setting up the strawman of kosher being healthier and then knocks it down. For Jews and Jewish law it was never about health and if he so claims, it is merely a sly tactic to then malign kosher.
He devotes a large section to factory farming and claims that his big beef is with those practices. If that is true, then he should write an article about why he hates factory farming and therefore went vegan. But he should not use his abhorrence of modern animal husbandry to malign the kosher industry, thereby harming the many observant Jews who still want to legitimately eat meat, including some who require it for health reasons.
He devotes considerable space to the treatment of downed (sic) calves. While this practice may be inappropriate, it is irrelevant to the kosher meat industry which does not use such animals, a fact that Rabbi Yanklowitz surely knows. He talks about “story after story” of Israeli kosher-slaughterhouse scandals. You can count the scandals (which are unfortunate and most certainly should be dealt with) on one hand. They are few and infrequent.
What makes this article truly disturbing is the blatant dishonesty involved. The article implies that after much painful soul-searching Yanklowitz recently reached his conclusion to stop eating kosher meat. In reality, he has been a vegan for several years. His ethical decision is not based on a new epiphany and it relates to all animal products. His eating habits are not related specifically to the manner in which kosher meat is slaughtered. This intentional misleading is nothing less than gneivat da’at.
Most Orthodox Jews who embrace vegetarianism do so with commendable motivations and do not feel a need to malign kosher slaughter to justify their choice. In contrast, Yanklowitz attacks the kosher industry, yet concludes with a personal prayer that the kosher meat and dairy industries will yet rectify their ways; implying that if so, he might renounce his veganism. If I invite him to a BBQ with a backyard raised lamb that I personally schecht gently and with compassion, will he partake? When the sacrifices are reinstated, as Orthodox Jews daily pray for, will he willingly eat from the Paschal sacrifice, after it is lovingly processed by our holy kohanim?
If Yanklowitz chooses to forego meat and other animal products he is entitled to his choice. He is not entitled to stand on a soap box and publicly misrepresent the facts about kosher slaughter. There are two serious problems with this WSJ article – the potential misuse of it and the deceit in its presentation. His claims, stated and implied, are false and destructive. In his stab at promoting animal welfare he is (I hope inadvertently!) harming the interests of the global Jewish community.
This article appeared at TORAH MUSINGS.