“To be Jewish is to strive to make the world less cruel and more just, not only for one’s people but for everyone. One doesn’t have to consider animals equal to humans to give them a place in this inspiring idea.”
-Jonathan Safran Foer in the documentary “If This Is Kosher”
Since the celebration of Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) begins next Thursday evening, I was motivated to finally watch the 2006 documentary If This Is Kosher narrated by Jonathan Safran Foer. The DVD has been sitting in its cellophane-wrapped box on my desk for years in a small pile of “Things To Do.” I have no idea why it took me so long to watch this powerful video.
As you may know, Jonathan Safran Foer is the author of Eating Animals, Everything Is Illuminated, and Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close, and he’s a vegetarian. Foer is the middle son in a tight-knit Jewish family, and his mother is a child of Holocaust survivors who was born in Poland and is now the Director & CEO of the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. Foer graduated from Princeton in 1999 with a degree in philosophy.
If This Is Kosher is a shocking exposé of the animal abuses which have occurred in the kosher certification process. More specifically, videos of undercover investigations at the world’s largest glatt kosher slaughterhouse, AgriProcessors Inc., and at other kosher slaughterhouses are revealed, and they are not pretty. For many in the Jewish community, the gravity of these abuses and the failure of kosher authorities to denounce them have raised fundamental questions about the consumption of meat in general.
*Note: AgriProcessors Inc. is now bankrupt and has been cited for issues involving animal treatment, child labor, environmental safety and hiring of illegal workers.
I was moved by the film’s underlying plea to Jewish people to face up to the animal abuses taking place all over the world, even in the kosher trade. The Rabbis in the film interpret “Kashrut” or Kosher law, and its fundamental principles of compassion and reducing animal suffering…
“Laws of Kosher are based on a modified vegetarianism. The Bible makes it clear that in the ideal world, everyone would be vegetarian. People should not live by killing another living thing in order to live. In the Torah, permission to eat meat is an ‘exemption’ or ‘compromise’ based on reverence for life. If we must eat meat, we should do so with respect for other creatures in the world, with humility.”
The undercover videos depicting the egregious animal abuses which occurred at AgriProcessors Inc., and at other kosher processing plants, provide overwhelming evidence that radical violations of the laws of Kosher took place.
As one of the Rabbis in the documentary states…
“The reality of Kosher farming in the United States and abroad is antithetical to the spirit of Kashrut that many of us hold dear.”
The Rabbis’ discussions made it clear that it is the Jewish tradition to hold animal welfare in high regard and to teach compassion for animals.
”Kashrut is to make gentle our savage side. It is to be empathetic, kind, and gentle in every way possible to cause little to no pain.”
Jonathan Safran Foer stated…
”Does the reality of Kosher meat correspond to those Jewish ideals? Can we really take comfort in laws of Kashrut?”
Clearly, he answered his own questions by becoming a vegetarian…
“My choice to be vegetarian is one of the cornerstones of my ethical life. To be vegetarian is to choose reason over hunger, to choose life over death.”
In my opinion, If This Is Kosher is a must-see for all, but especially for those who take comfort in the laws of Kosher and may not be aware that all is not what it seems. Please note that the video is quite graphic, but succeeds in highlighting the question of whether fundamental Jewish values and kosher principles are being violated by today’s kosher farming methods. I decided not to post the video here, but the short version can readily be seen on You Tube. Free downloads are also available at Humane Kosher.
I attempted to research the issue of what changes, if any, have been made in kosher slaughterhouses since the AgriProcessors scandal, but I wasn’t able to find any articles I felt comfortable linking to. However, below is a link to an interesting article about what has happened with kosher certification overseas since the AgriProcessors scandal was revealed.
For those of you who celebrate, have a wonderful New Year!