protesters hold signs saying "humane killing is a lie"
Animal rights protesters disrupt a Purim part at the Urban Adamah farm in Berkeley, March 11, 2017. (Courtesty/Rein Held)

Animal rights protesters at Urban Adamah are way off base

In this country, protesters have a constitutionally guaranteed right to assemble. But people ought to pick their battles.

The contingent of animal rights activists who disrupted Urban Adamah’s Purim party last weekend provided a textbook example of misplaced anger. They not only ruined the event for one of the Bay Area’s most exemplary Jewish organizations, they did nothing to improve conditions for factory farm animals, sentient beings that could use strong advocates.

Calling themselves Jewish Animal Liberationists, the protesters slipped into the Purim party Saturday night at Urban Adamah’s Berkeley farm. There the organization raises egg-laying hens, providing them with excellent care over a period of years, and then slaughters them under the rules of kosher shechita when their egg production ceases. They make food from the chickens, which is donated to the hungry in the community.

This is not a black-or-white issue. There is no disputing the fact that factory farms are monstrously abusive to animals. Most chickens, pigs and cows live out their short lives in horrid overcrowded conditions, and die in fear and agony. That is a shanda, a shame, and should be loudly protested. It often is, leading in the best cases to changes in laws.

But we would ask these Jewish Animal Liberationists who were so exercised in Berkeley last weekend: Why picket Urban Adamah, which teaches reverence for nature from a Jewish perspective, and which raises only a few hens at a time?

Wouldn’t it be better to show up at the massive poultry farms up the road in Petaluma? Why not head down I-5 to Coalinga and protest at the Harris Ranch slaughterhouse, which kills thousands of cows every week?

Abuse of animals is indeed a violation of Jewish ethics. That is why Urban Adamah treats its hens well, giving them free run of the place for their lifespan. But vegetarianism is not a Jewish mandate. Most people eat meat, and that means killing animals.

Organizations like Urban Adamah, a pioneer in the growing field of sustainable farming, are dedicated to finding an ethical and logistical balance between the natural and human worlds. It’s a process that should be supported, not lambasted.

The solution is personal. Those moved to do so should speak out against animal abuse where it is a real problem. And they may choose vegetarianism, a laudable dietary practice.

But going after a soft target like Urban Adamah, which is laughably far from being an animal rights abuser, is not only a waste of energy — it’s wrong-headed.