Haifa Chief Rabbi rebukes PETA for "misuse of his name"

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals cited Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen in their campaign against kosher slaugher practices at AgriProcessors of the US.

Chief Rabbi of Haifa Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen, has issued a sharp rebuke over what he terms "the misuse of his name" in a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) campaign against kosher slaughter (shechita) practices at the AgriProcessors plant in Postville, Iowa.

Cohen, who is also a senior member of the court of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, was recently cited by PETA in media reports about shechita at AgriProcessors. In a letter to the "Forward", Cohen protested the use of his name "in declaring the slaughtering of animals at the AgriProcessors plant in Iowa as non-kosher."

Cohen's letter continues, "As I already have written to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, I forbid further use of my name as questioning the kashrut of the AgriProcessors plant. The PETA videotape that I saw did not disclose the name of the plant involved or, more importantly, the name of the rabbi that supervises the plant under authority of the kashrut division of the Orthodox Union -- whose credentials are impeccable. Furthermore, it apparently does not show the full picture of the shechita, or ritual slaughter, process.

The Orthodox Union (OU) is the world's largest kosher certifying agency.

"I fully endorse the statement by my OU colleagues, OU executive vice president Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb and Rabbi Menachem Genack, the rabbinic administrator of the kashrut division, which declares the shechita of the AgriProcessors plant 100% kosher. I am indeed pleased to note that all rabbis involved reaffirm their commitment to prevent inhumane treatment of animals and congratulate the OU together with the AgriProcessors's executives for making further efforts and introducing changes that will stop the procedure that might have caused unnecessary suffering to the animals."

Cohen also stated that the PETA official who contacted him had misrepresented himself as a baal teshuva (a returnee to Orthodox Judaism).

Earlier this month, leaders of the Chief Rabbinate in Israel and the Orthodox Union in the US, issued clarifications regarding statements attributed to them in the media as being critical of AgriProcessors.

Rabbi Ezra Harari Raful, Chief Rabbinate director of overseas shechita and meat imports, denied that he said that an animal after shechita is not dead for 30 seconds. "I never said that, the truth is exactly the opposite. I said and stressed that after some 2-3 seconds following shechita there no longer is any blood supply to the brain and the animal is absolutely dead."

Raful added: "I never said that the shechita seen in the [PETA] video is not kosher. What I did say is that the Chief Rabbinate does not approve of an animal that gets up after shechita because of 'marit ayin' (perception) but that the animal is kosher. I also never said that that the Rabbinate will not accept shechita where the arteries have not been severed."

In another letter sent to Rabbi Chaim Kohn of Khal Adas Jeshurun, which certifies shechita at AgriProcessors, Rabbi Raful notes: "The manner of slaughter known as 'shechita munachas' (where the animal is on its back) is the accepted shechita practice by the Chief Rabbinate. This is also our requirement for all animals slaughtered in plants abroad for export to the State of Israel."

Rabbi Meir Rosenthal, assistant to Israel's Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, denied that the Chief Rabbinate had in any way intervened in shechita matters at AgriProcessors.

Rosenthal's statement read: "I wish to make clear that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel does not interfere in shechita matters in the United States" because of the continued ban on the import of US meat to Israel as a result of Mad Cow Disease. He noted that meat produced by AgriProcessors was in the past authorized to sell in Israel, and expressed the hope that the ban would be lifted, and the AgriProcessors meat would again be brought into Israel.

In a sweeping statement posted on its Web site, the OU expressed support for AgriProcessors' shechita practices.

"An animal rights group known as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) recently released an undercover video showing scenes of cows staggering in apparent agony for several minutes after their throats were cut by the shochet. PETA focused its attention on one particular plant, AgriProcessors, Inc., but these accusations have implications for all kosher shechita, particularly because the video has received attention in the media world, beginning with an article in 'The New York Times', on Tuesday, November 30th, 2004.

"The Orthodox Union is very concerned about these accusations. We are sensitive to the inhumane treatment of animals, and empathize with those who are upset by the images of apparent cruelty recorded on this video. As is well known, Judaism abjures cruelty to animals and enjoins us to be as humane as possible in our legitimate utilization of them. That shechita is a very humane method of slaughtering animals has been substantiated over the past century by numerous scholarly articles and scientific opinions.

After carefully studying the video, Rabbi Menachem Genack, Rabbinic Administrator of the OU Kashrut Division, and Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, one of its distinguished poskim (rabbinic decisors), traveled to Postville, Iowa, to review the procedures at the AgriProcessors plant. They found that these procedures meet all OU standards to the highest degree, and that the shochtim (rabbinic slaughterers) are all highly proficient, skilled and knowledgeable. Nevertheless, the OU and AgriProcessors have worked together to make certain changes, namely that the trachea will no longer be removed following shechita, and that any animals that appear to have survived the procedure will be promptly stunned or shot.

"Slaughtering animals for human consumption is never a pretty sight. An abattoir is obviously a place where one will see living, vibrant animals transformed into meat. This is generally a bloody and unpleasant experience, but this is universal. Indeed, PETA acknowledges that the shechita process is better than most general slaughtering.

"While unnecessary cruelty to even one animal is intolerable, one has to look at the total picture before judging the matter. To those unfamiliar with the slaughter industry kosher or non-kosher scenes showing post-shechita movement of several animals, such as are shown on the video, can be very disturbing. But it must be realized that during the six or seven weeks during which the video was taken, approximately 18,000 animals were slaughtered by the plant in question. With such numbers, it is inevitable that aberrations do sometimes occur, and those shown in the video represent only a tiny percentage of the total number processed in that time span. Viewers of the video will also note that it does show regular instances of shechita where the animal expired rapidly, without the apparent suffering observed in other animals.

"It is also important to understand that such occurrences are not unique to the AgriProcessors plant, but happen in every abattoir, whether kosher or non-kosher. According to the USDA, a slaughterhouse in which up to 5% of animals killed by any method including the 'humane bolt' and shechita survive the first shot or cut, is still considered an approved plant. From now on, however, when this occurs at AgriProcessors, Inc., the animal will be promptly stunned or shot, so as not to prolong its suffering. Such animals will not be sold as kosher.

"The Orthodox Union is committed to maintaining the highest ritual standards of shechita without compromising the halacha (Jewish law) one whit. In keeping with these standards, we will strive to the best of our ability to see to it that animals are treated humanely and to see that, at all the plants we supervise, any halachically unnecessary practices which may be seen to be objectionable, are ceased.

"During shechita, the carotid arteries, which are the main supplier of blood to the brain, are severed. This results in an immediate and massive drop in blood pressure, which renders the animal insensate in a matter of seconds. At AgriProcessors, as at other plants, a second cut is made in the carotid arteries to facilitate and accelerate the bleeding. This secondary cut is both approved and encouraged by the USDA. The OU and AgriProcessors have concluded that this cut will now be made without excising the trachea.

"The US Department of Agriculture, with which we have a very cooperative working relationship, supervises this slaughterhouse and has found nothing amiss in its practices. Its on-site inspector, Dr. Henry Lawson, has confirmed to us his opinion that the conditions there are humane and that the shechita method of slaughter employed there renders the animal insensate. Other USDA officials have also visited the plant subsequent to the release of the video, and will be issuing a report.

"We continue to vouch for the kashrut of all of the meat prepared by AgriProcessors, which was never compromised. Like all the more than 6,000 plants producing all kinds of foodstuffs that are certified by the OU, it has always been under our regular supervision. When this story broke, several rabbis, in Israel and Europe as well as in the United States, at first commented negatively on the kashrut of this shechita. Almost all of them, including the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, have now said that their initial statements were based on misinformation, and have retracted them."

The PETA campaign against AgriProcessors is part of a larger campaign against the slaughterhouse industry in general. PETA itself stated that, "Kosher slaughter, done correctly, is kinder and quicker than standard slaughter methods in the United States."

However, PETA stated, "AgriProcessors, the world's largest glatt kosher slaughterhouse, has been ignoring the Jewish commitment to compassion and federal law by mutilating fully conscious animals, shocking them in the face, and slaughtering them in a way that has allowed many to stand and attempt to flee, even minutes after their throats had been slit."

In response to OU statements, PETA set out eight conditions for AgriProcessors to meet, "which are the barest of bare minimums, where humane treatment is concerned, and will mean the following:

  1. "Electric prods will be prohibited.
  2. "All shochets will be trained in humane handling, in order to create a calmer atmosphere for the animals. The cacophonic din in this place is unacceptable and terrifying.
  3. "The OU should explicitly recognize and train shochets (slaughterers) in the physiological signs of consciousness in cattleblinking, bellowing, standing, rhythmic breathing, and attempting to right one’s headto ensure that no conscious animals are touched or moved until they are unconscious. Note that this means that animals must be kept in the restraint until they are unconscious.
  4. "Animals should not be turned upside-down before their throats are slit. Rabbi Weinreb has stated to 'The New York Times' that the OU prefers the ASPCA kosher slaughter pen. Based on the OU’s statement ('prohibition of any halachically unnecessary practices which may be seen to be objectionable'), the ASPCA pen must be required and the upside-down pen eliminated.
  5. "All equipment must be inspected to ensure that it is not harming animals (e.g., conveyor belts should not trap chickens and break their legs).
  6. "The horrific practices of the Rubashkin plant in Uruguay that supplies the Postville plant should be immediately subjected to identical requirements.
  7. "All OU-approved plants should be supplied with these precise regulations and all certifying rabbis trained in these strictures.
  8. "To ensure compliance... it is essential that Dr. Temple Grandin (or someone of her impeccable credentials) be granted access (paid by the OU or AgriProcessors) to the plant, for periodic unannounced audits.

"The OU cannot mollify people who oppose cruelty to animals, without explaining, explicitly, what steps are being taken to end the horrific cruelty to animals at AgriProcessors, and those steps will have to include the eight points that we mention above, which are the barest of bare minimums for an organization that presents kosher slaughter in such terms as 'painless ritual fashion' and 'instantaneous death with no pain to the animal'".

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes.co.il - on Monday, December 20, 2004

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