Glatt or Glut? - Part I

The very veggie people at PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) have caught-on well, and have learned to use and exploit Holocaust language and imagery for their rather over-the-top agenda. Last year, they caused an outrage by juxtaposing images of concentration camp inmates alongside those of caged chickens at factory farms.

Ellen W. Horowitz

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It is both frustrating and frightening to learn that after five-plus decades of obsessively reciting the mantra "never again", accompanied by intensive efforts on an international scale towards Holocaust education, that nearly 50% of the British have never heard of Auschwitz. At least that's what a BBC poll revealed last week. And, according to a recent German University study, almost 70 percent of the Germans say they are annoyed at being held responsible for the Holocaust and many believe that the Jews use Germany's Nazi past to their advantage.

But then again, I don't know why we Jews should be surprised, as we, not the gentiles, are the ones who are required to remember what Amalek did to us. It's also we, and not the gentiles, who are commanded to blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens (forgot that one, didn't you?).

As admirable and valuable as our attempts at promoting Holocaust awareness have been, perhaps we would have fared better had we also collectively channeled as much effort into being "a light unto the nations" and into keeping the commandments. Those museums, archives and films created with the purpose of jarring our collective memory, as well as the conscience of the world, are impressive. But while we inundated the international community with images of cattle cars and corpses, we also allowed the evil in our midst to proliferate.

Don't dismiss the above polls as being indicative of a strictly European phenomenon, because things aren't much better on the other side of the Atlantic.

It must be painfully perplexing for those of our people who have contributed so much to the greatest superpower in the world, and who have conscientiously endeavored for a couple of generations to be both good Jews and loyal US citizens, to suddenly become cognizant of the following: As far as the American media is concerned, not only do Jews burn wigs in Brooklyn, but they also slaughter cows in Iowa and run a spy network out of Washington.

Yep, we Jews should have been as intent on bolstering our many words and images of Nazi-era destruction with just as many teachers and leaders who could have guided us with regards to the potent lessons we needed to absorb, along with the images we were disseminating. Instead, we insisted that the international community reflect on those pictures of the past, while we encouraged unlimited freedom of expression. Left to their own devices, and with few limitations, a very liberal world drew some warped conclusions.

My grandmother used to say that "more is caught than taught". The very veggie people at PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) have caught-on well, and have learned to use and exploit Holocaust language and imagery for their rather over-the-top agenda. Last year, they caused an outrage by juxtaposing images of concentration camp inmates alongside those of caged chickens at factory farms. The campaign was entitled "Holocaust on Your Plate". A representative for PETA defended the strategy by saying, "Nazi concentration camps were modeled after slaughterhouses."

Last week, I informed some friends in an email that "we've glatt a problem," and I attached the press release of PETA's latest campaign, which depicts "shocking video footage of fully conscious cows writhing in agony as they are mutilated at Postville, Iowa-based AgriProcessors, Inc., the largest glatt kosher slaughterhouse in the world."

It would be great if we could dismiss all of this as part of some anti-Semitic or political agenda. But it appears that there may have indeed been some abuses, or at least questionable practices that may run contrary to Jewish tradition and that need to be addressed and rectified. In addition to PETA, the US Department of Justice, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) seem to have issues with the AgriProcessors plant, ranging from water pollution violations to investigating slaughterhouse techniques. I imagine it's the normal type of stuff that any large meat enterprise deals with, but to some in the media-saturated public, it would appear that those Jews are unjust, inhumane and just plain dirty.

PETA filmed and investigated AgriProcessors over a seven week period. In a radio interview addressing this issue, Rabbi Tzvi H. Weinreb, Executive Vice President of the Orthodox Union, noted that in seven weeks, the plant slaughters 18,000 animals and, therefore, "statistically, almost anything can happen."

Unlike PETA, I feel that the entire issue has little to do with whether one chooses to be a meat-eater or a vegetarian (we've all met cruel vegetarians) and everything to do with how one conducts themselves as a person, both in private and in public, before G-d, and before man. It will be interesting to see how the Jewish plant owners, the kashrut supervisors and all those involved handle this matter. One can only hope that they will be able to turn this potential chillul Hashem into a kiddush Hashem by conducting themselves in an exemplary fashion.

I also have a feeling that any sloppiness on the part of a kosher slaughterhouse (or any slaughterhouse, for that matter) may have something to do with the need to meet the quota required to satisfy the excessive appetite and consumerism of the West, and not with any flaws inherent in the laws of shechita. Eighteen thousand animals is a far cry from the neighborhood butcher shop in Pinsk, and this could very well be indicative of the problem.

But even in a bigger and more complex world, let it not be said that when a Jew is questioned concerning unethical or dubious practices, he or she responded with, "Duh... I dunno man... I just work here... I'm just following orders." We're not a robotic people of the assembly line. We're a thinking, feeling people, and whether we work in a meat factory, military setting or executive office, we're expected to keep our wits about us.

On a metaphysical level, a McDonald's-style meal simply isn't Jewish, and it's not only because the beef is treif - it goes deeper than that. Preparing a proper kosher meal, as simple as it may be, is like being a proper Jew - it requires time, preparation and some effort.

We enjoy Shabbat because of the efforts that go into the preparations, the time we spend with our family and the extra meaning connected with the day. We thank G-d before we eat and after. We sit with our families and hopefully discuss meaningful topics of substance. By nature, fast food and kashrut are as incongruous as life in the fast lane and traditional Judaism. This is primarily because a Jew is required to take time out to think and reflect on his or her actions, but in the mad rush of today's world, we've lost our sensitivity and ourselves.

On one hand, it's great that in our modern world, keeping kosher is relatively easy and that an observant Jew can enjoy a vast range of simple-to-make, readily available kosher products. On the other hand, is anybody or anything truly "kosher" anymore? If we Jews don't take a deeper and more introspective look at these issues, we stand to lose a lot more than just a hechsher.

[Part 1 of 2]