Will the Postville Horrors Shock Jews Into Returning to Jewish Values?
Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D.

The horrific scenes of the mistreatment of animals videotaped at the Postville glatt kosher slaughterhouse and the efforts of some Jewish groups to defend the facility’s procedures raise questions that go to the heart and soul of Judaism: If slaughterhouse procedures are not consistently monitored for strict adherence to the ideals of shechita, are we carrying out our mandate to be "rachmanim b’nei rachmanim" (compassionate children of compassionate ancestors)? Are we failing to properly imitate G-d, Whose "tender mercies are over all His creatures" (Psalms 145:9)?

Even if shechita is carried out perfectly and pain and distress during slaughter are minimized, can we ignore the many violations of Jewish teachings on compassion to animals as billions of animals on "factory farms" in the United States and worldwide experience pain, suffering, and agony for their entire lives?

If, as is recited at synagogue services every Sabbath and Yom tov (holiday) morning, "the soul of every living creature shall bless G-d’s Name," can we expect these cruelly treated animals to join in the praise?

If "the righteous person considers the life of his or her animal" (Proverbs 12:10), how will we be judged, based on our vicarious treatment of the animals raised, trucked and slaughtered for our tables?

And, can we ignore the many other ways that animal-based diets and modern livestock agriculture severely violate Jewish values:

While Judaism stresses that we are to assist the poor and share our bread with hungry people, an estimated twenty million human beings worldwide die each year because of hunger and its effects, and nearly a billion are chronically malnourished. While the solution of widespread hunger is complex, it doesn't help that over 70 percent of the grain grown in the U.S. and almost 40 percent worldwide is produced to fatten food animals, not to feed the world's most impoverished human citizens, many of whom are displaced from their land by animal feed growers.

If Judaism is to remain relevant to many of the great problems of today, it is my heartfelt belief that all Jews must very seriously consider adopting a sustainable vegan, vegetarian or plant-based diet. In my view, it is a moral, social and ecological imperative. While Jews are a small percent of the world’s people and thereby responsible for only a small part of the problems related to modern intensive livestock agriculture and other current practices, it is essential, in view of the many threats to humanity today, that we strive to fulfil our challenge to be a "light unto the nations," and to work for "tikkun olam," the healing, repair, and proper transformation of the world.