In August 2012, I ran one of my first kosher slaughter workshops at the Urban Adamah educational farm in Berkeley.
I explained the kosher process and demonstrated live slaughter and processing on a few of the farm’s spent laying hens. Several participants cried during the slaughter, while some were inspired to eat better meat afterward. Still others said they wanted to become vegetarians or vegans as a result of the experience.
The class not only facilitated a tremendous amount of dialogue, growth and learning for all involved, it also provided a highly nutritious and tasty heritage chicken soup for farm visitors.
This past Sunday, Urban Adamah had once again set up a workshop to slaughter the remaining 15 hens of its laying flock. Things were going very smoothly until animal rights activists found out about the event and began to organize a mass protest. Their threats eventually caused the farm’s landlord to request a cancellation and, despite holding strong until that point, farm founder Adam Berman was forced to scrub the workshop in the face of a large and disruptive demonstration.
In my eyes, the most disappointing part of this event is the role that the Jewish Vegetarians of North America played as one of the central mobilizers of the protest. While I disagree with much of the JVNA philosophy, I’ve always had much respect for the group and its founder, Dr. Richard Schwartz, who has done so much to foster a dialogue about animal rights in Judaism where none existed.
But their involvement and attitude in this case has left a bitter taste and caused me to lose virtually all the respect I once held for the organization.
Don’t get me wrong; I wholeheartedly support JVNA’s right to oppose the slaughter workshop and express that opposition in a public forum. Do I think they would be better served by putting their attention elsewhere? Yes, but if they prefer to focus their energy on a small class of fellow Jews who care about animals and use extremely high welfare practices, rather than protest the atrocities that go on daily in industrial farms and slaughterhouses, then who am I to stop them?
If they had decided to write articles and send out press releases expressing their opposition, I wouldn’t have held it against them. If they had taken the opportunity to set up a debate about the ethics of animal slaughter, I would have applauded them. But instead, JVNA decided to mount a protest. Instead of engaging in intelligent and meaningful dialogue, they decided to scream and yell so loud that the other side would have no voice. This demonstration was not slated to take place at a huge poultry plant, which could easily continue operating during such an event, but rather at a small urban farm that had little to no chance of continuing with its workshop in the face of such an outcry.
One of the most important core principals in Judaism is machloket, the tradition of spirited debate, a respectful yet assertive back-and-forth. By organizing a protest to stop the kosher slaughter class, JVNA decided to ignore this principal. Instead of starting a dialogue in which people could explore their thoughts and feelings about animal slaughter, they decided to shove their opinions down everybody else’s throats and get the workshop canceled.
To add insult to injury, followers used the JVNA Facebook page to organize ways to publicly humiliate and injure Urban Adamah in order to bully it into canceling the class. After all this hostile action, JVNA even had the gall to commend and thank Urban Adamah for canceling the class when it was only because of their bullying that the class was canceled in the first place.
While I am utterly disappointed and terribly saddened by these actions, there is a way that the JVNA can make amends. There exists another very important value in Judaism, that of teshuvah, repentance or return. Both the JVNA and especially its leader, Dr. Schwartz, need to commit to the fostering of intelligent and thoughtful dialogue rather than the path of forceful intolerance that they’ve chosen.
While intolerance and bullying is what many have come to expect from some animal rights groups, I’ve always expected more from the JVNA. I hope that in the future I’ll be able to hold it up to this high level of behavior once again.
Yadidya Greenberg is a shochet, blogger and animal welfare/shechita educator based in Boulder, Colo. He hopes to found a Jewish animal welfare institute.