Kapparot With Chickens: On Ritual Slaughter and Human Greed

kapparot chicken heart candle vigilI had the opportunity to spend a considerable amount of time this past week saving the lives of sixty-three chickens and protesting a despicable tradition which stems back millennia.  Our protests throughout the week were heavily covered by various media outlets .  We were featured on KTLA 5 (channel 5), CBS News (channel 2), the front page of The Los Angeles Times (twice — no, thrice, and one more time), Jewish Journal (twice — no, thrice), The Jerusalem Post, JTALA WeeklyLAistMSN News, and KFI AM 640.

It is a ritual called Kapparot (also known as Kapparah, Kaporos, Kaparot, Kaporot and Kapores) that is part of the observance of the highest of Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement).  In this ritual a rabbi swings a live chicken over a person’s head to channel the sins of the human into the chicken.  This is to ensure a good year for the human full of health and prosperity.  A rooster is used for men and a hen is used for women.  A few passages are read from the Torah (the “Old Testament”) and the following is recited three times:

“This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my atonement.  This rooster (or hen) will go to its death, while I will enter and proceed to a good long life and to peace.”

The chicken is then killed with a sharp blade dragged across his or her throat.

Many Jews prefer to use money instead of chickens because of their acknowledgement that the use of chickens in the Kapparot ritual is animal cruelty.  To many Jews, the use of chickens in Kapparot directly violates a principle which bans “unnecessary” animal cruelty, known by Jews as “Tza’ar ba’alei chayim” (literally translating to “the suffering of living creatures”).  They say that because money is an acceptable alternative, it is not necessary to use chickens.

A week ago, I didn’t know about any of this.  My father mentioned the ritual to me a long time ago, telling me how his grandfather used to practice the ceremony on him when he was a child and how much he hated seeing a chicken suffer in that way, but over time I forgot about it.  I was invited to a protest against the use of chickens for Kapparot, organized by Rabbi Jonathan Klein and Gina Palencar, co-founders of Faith Action for Animals.  Over one-hundred activists and locals (many of them Jews) showed up for the protest on Sunday.

We expected to be met with resistance.  We expected to see chickens suffering.  But we could never have expected what actually transpired.

A protest which originally was supposed to last one day stretched on to an entire week, beginning on Sunday, September 8th and ending Friday, September 13th.  Whatever plans I had for this past week were forgotten.  Protesting and rescuing became my entire existence.  My life has been consumed by chanting, crying, laughing, screaming, hugging, supporting, driving, standing, walking, pacing, debating and trying to maintain my sanity.  My garage has been the half-way house between misery and freedom for almost all the sixty-three chickens who were fortunate enough to make it out alive.  Many of us have put in 12-hour days, having only enough time for one meal a day and three or four hours of restless sleep each night.  My body feels like I got hit by a bus.  The incredibly disturbing things we have seen, heard and smelled over the course of one week are enough to make anyone question their faith in humanity.

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We witnessed firsthand horrifying cruelty and neglect.  Chickens, who were crammed in cages, stepping on each other, bleeding, defecating and laying eggs over each other that would crack open and ooze through the wire cage floor onto the chickens below, becoming caked on what few matted feathers they had.  Chickens with nails two inches long.  Chickens panting in the 90 degree heat.  Chickens with puss-filled holes where their eyes used to be.  Chickens who were given no food or water except for the occasional hose-down after enough pleading from activists to “please be merciful” (though we tried to give them as much water as we could from our own bottles).

Activists in Los Angeles protesting Kapparot slaughter of chickens in front of Ohel Moshe synagogue.
Activists in Los Angeles protesting Kapparot slaughter of chickens in front of Ohel Moshe synagogue.

We witnessed firsthand disgusting exhibits of waste, environmental destruction and malice.  Workers dumping entrails and blood into storm drains.  Garbage bags full of stinking, rotting chicken corpses.   Workers throwing the hacked up remains of chickens at protesters and laughing about it.

We witnessed firsthand the early indoctrination of speciesism and human supremacy onto little children not even old enough to walk.  Families with children of all ages from infancy to young adulthood witnessing the slaughter of chickens in the wooden huts erected to shield their despicable acts of torture and murder from the public eye.  Children begging their parents to not take them inside.  Other children picking out which chicken they wanted to have slaughtered, “This one is fluffy and cute!  I want this one!”, stroking and petting the trembling chickens who would be murdered in front of their own eyes a few moments later. Continue reading “Kapparot With Chickens: On Ritual Slaughter and Human Greed”

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I Lost My Friend Today

falcor, chow-lab mix
Falcor

It was one and a half years ago that I met my dear friend who I would come to know as Falcor.  The name was picked out by my partner who said she reminded him of the dog-dragon from the Neverending Story.  She was a chow-lab mix with a fluffy beige coat, a pink and purple tongue and nose, and big brown hound-dog eyes.

The shelter said she was six years old when we got her, but I had a feeling she was probably a little older.  (Shelters do that sometimes to boost a dog’s chances for adoption, but I wouldn’t have cared either way.)  She was always a timid, gentle dog, especially on her first day at our house.  We did our best to make her feel comfortable while still giving her enough space so she would be able to get used to us on her own terms.

When we first got her, she was the fattest dog I had ever seen with my own eyes.  She had difficulty walking and her breathing was labored.  For the most part, she tried to stay sitting or laying.  She wouldn’t even get up to eat.

We had already been feeding our younger dog, Layla (a 2-3 year old german shepherd-husky mix), a vegan diet and had seen good results, so there was no question that we would feed Falcor vegan food as well.  After a few weeks of feeding her vegan food we noticed that she was able to move around a little easier and could come get her food rather than having it brought to her where she was sitting.  We started giving her some exercise.  Nothing too tough at first, but soon enough she was keeping up with Layla running laps around the pool, chasing squirrels and rough-housing with us.  Within a few months time she slimmed down to a normal, healthy weight and even our veterinarian was impressed by the unlikely turn-around.

Layla had been an “only-dog” in our house for a year before Falcor joined our family and she would sometimes assert her dominance over Falcor in very nasty, scary fights.  One particular fight landed me in the emergency room with blood running down my left arm and leg and chunks of adipose sticking out from the wounds.  Someone didn’t close the door to the room where our three rabbits live and the dogs must have seen them and gotten excited.  I’ve heard you’re not normally supposed to get in between two dogs in the middle of a fight, but I had to push them out of the room where rabbits were hopping around without any barrier between them and the dogs.  I don’t blame either of them for what happened.

Falcor would always lose their fights and after the first one she realized that I was protecting her from getting beat up.  She started following me around everywhere.  When new people would come to the house she would stay close to me and when people would pet her she would look to me to see if it was safe to trust them.  She considered me her guardian and I was honored to have that duty.

She loved getting pets and rubs and would do this funny thing with her head if you stopped rubbing her, even for a few seconds.  She would snap her head back and give this disapproving stare back as if to say “I didn’t tell you to stop”.  Wherever I went, she wanted to go too.  When I would be finished showering I would open the bathroom door and see her laying on the floor looking up at me with her head resting over her paws, waiting for me to come out.  When I would come home from work she would do this “happy dance” with her front feet as if the ground was really hot.  Any time I would say her name (I called her Falcorsies), she would wag her tail.

My fondest memory of Falcor would have to be right after the first time we had her groomed. My partner brought her home smelling like flowers with a big pink bow on her collar.  She was glowing with happiness.  She must have felt like a princess.  Moments like that is what rescuing a dog is all about.  She would have languished and died in a shelter, wondering where her family went, feeling afraid, alone and confused, but in that moment she was the happiest, most loved dog in the world.

One night she couldn’t stop panting.  She panted so loudly I wasn’t able to sleep.  I took her to an after-hours emergency clinic.  She didn’t want to go into the back with the veterinary technician without me.  She took a few steps, looked back, noticed I wasn’t following her and promptly planted her butt on the ground and pulled against the leash.  She wasn’t going anywhere without her protector.  They let me come in with her.

They took x-rays of her abdomen and discovered that she was full of fluid that had collected around her lungs, making it difficult for her to breathe.  They would have to do a tap to remove the fluid.  After about an hour and just over two liters of fluid removed from her chest, the vet recommended that we send the fluid to a lab to see if her condition was caused by an infection or cancer.  About a week later we had the results.  It was cancer. Continue reading “I Lost My Friend Today”

National Animal Rights Day 2013 Los Angeles

Opening ceremony for National Animal Rights Day in Los Angeles, California on June 9th, 2013
Opening ceremony for National Animal Rights Day in Los Angeles, California on June 9th, 2013 [image credit: Sarah Jane Hardt]

Sunday, June 9th, 2013 is a day that will be remembered by many as a turning point in their lives.  At the 3rd annual National Animal Rights Day in Los Angeles, CA, activists from far and wide came together for a historical demonstration of compassion, remembrance and solidarity.  It was the first time a demonstration of its kind had ever been done on U.S. soil.  A demonstration that had made a life-altering impact on the people of Spain, Australia, Israel and others before, and sent shock waves around the world in the form of social media and word of mouth powerfully telling the world “we demand equality for animals NOW”.

I was so deeply moved and inspired by the commitment and strength of my vegan brothers and sisters, standing united under the cause of animal rights, paying our respects to the animals we held in our hands.  Animals who had every right to be alive but had been deprived of that right by the greed, gluttony and vanity of humankind.  We broke down, we cried on each other’s shoulders, we held each other up — we came together.  We were one.

eva gutierrez holding a dead baby rabbit at NARD 2013 in LA
We earthlings are impermanent, but our message is immortal. [image credit: Sara Jane Hardt]

For me, it was the culmination of months of emotionally trying work that had finally reached its transformational conclusion.  Acquiring animals from slaughterhouses for the ceremony, carrying the physical and emotional weight of their deaths back with me at work and at home was no easy task but it had to be done and I am so thankful that I was able to fill that role.  During the ceremony, as I walked back for another animal to hand to the activists, feelings I had tried so hard to keep bottled up for so long had grown to such intense proportions that when the levee broke and I could hold them in no longer, they hit me all at once like an flood of pure emotion in waves of sorrow, gratitude, awe and relief so intense I almost fell to my knees.  To see on the faces of fellow activists the impact this event had on them moved me to tears.  To look at them looking down at the animals clasped in their hands with tears streaming down their faces, a mix of sorrow, pity, shame, despair, anger and resolve.  It was beautiful and profound in its bottomless sadness.  As I handed animals to Brenda Calvillo, Eva Gutierrez, Jessica Schlueter, Carol Glasser and others, I thanked each of them for their strength and dedication to the animals and for sharing such a powerful moment with each other and the world.

Nothing would have been accomplished if not for the hard work and dedication of all of my fellow organizers who for the past five months have been diligently and uncomplainingly working to make this event possible. Aylam Orian, Vida Jafari, Brenda Calvillo, Dave Simon, Robyn Hicks, Jill Ryther, Christine Hess — these people did the lion’s share of the work and deserve a medal for their hard work and dedication. Continue reading “National Animal Rights Day 2013 Los Angeles”

People For the Ethical Treatment of Plants: 4 Reasons Why the “Plant Sentience” Argument Doesn’t Work

plants have feelings too, carrot, eating, plant sentience, pain, murder
Right… because cows don’t eat plants. [image credit: lerms]
Whether you’re a vegan who has been called a “plant murderer” by a non-vegan, a non-vegan who is trying (and failing) to be funny, or just someone with an affinity for plants, this is information you need to read.  The issue of plant sentience is being brought up more and more as a reason to justify the continued consumption and use of animal products.  There are, however, a few things wrong with this argument.  Here are four reasons the “plant sentience” argument doesn’t work:

1. Plants are not truly sentient

Though certain scientific studies have shown that plants can react to stimuli, these reactions do not point to sentience because they lack three basic qualifications for requiring sentience:

  • Sensory organs — Plants don’t have organs which enable them to see, hear, taste, etc. like animals do.
  • Variability of response — Animals have a conscious perception which acts as an intermediary between their environment and their many different behavioral responses to it.  Plants lack this variability in that they will react in the same manner regardless of different scenarios (ex.: growing toward the sun).
  • Appetite and locomotion — Nature has enabled animals to be sentient because they have the ability to move around.  As I discussed briefly in my post about “ethical meat”, pain exists to teach sentient creatures what stimuli to avoid in the same way that pleasure exists to teach sentient creatures what stimuli to seek.

Plants do not feel pain the way animals do because they have no reason for it.  If a plant had the means to get up and walk away from an area that was too dry, wet or cold, it would make sense for nature to enable the plant to feel pain.  Enabling a living organism to feel pain without the ability for that organism to alleviate that pain is not something done by nature unless by some sort of mutation (i.e.: a creature being born without limbs or with mental or physical disabilities).

For more information on the science and philosophy explaining why plants are not sentient, click here and here.

2. Logical fallacy: Tu Quoque

A person who uses the “plants have feelings too” argument is guilty of using the Tu Quoque (You Yourself Do It) logical fallacy.  This fallacy has to do with accusing your critic of being guilty of doing the same thing they accuse you of, even though the two situations being compared are not identical.  For example:

“If a vegan can kill plants, then I have the right to kill to animals.”

As I have illustrated above, plants are not sentient and comparing plant’s reactions to stimuli and animal’s proven sentience is not the same, and this renders your argument fallacious. Continue reading “People For the Ethical Treatment of Plants: 4 Reasons Why the “Plant Sentience” Argument Doesn’t Work”

The 1 Reason Your Vegan Diet Will Fail Every Time

vegan, text, word, repeated
Veganism is growing in popularity but are you sure you have what it takes to go the distance?

Veganism is everywhere.  It’s all over the news, grocery store aisles — even your friends and family are talking about it.  Whether people choose a plant-based diet to save animals, manage cholesterol, get in shape, save the environment, or just to know what they’re putting in their body, the word “vegan” is making the shift from marginal to mainstream.  But the one thing no one talks about is the #1 reason many vegan diets ultimately fail.  To find out whether you’re heading for a cliff, you’ll need to ask yourself a simple question, the answer to which can spell victory or defeat in your quest to go vegan.

First, you need to understand that veganism isn’t a diet — it is a lifestyle.  A diet is something you can go on and off for any given amount of time to achieve a short term result.  A lifestyle incorporates diet with other aspects of your life into an ongoing, long-term solution. Continue reading “The 1 Reason Your Vegan Diet Will Fail Every Time”

My Take on New York Times ‘Ethical Meat’ Contest

eat like you give a damn vegan vegetarian veganism vegetarianism green eco sustainable sustainabilityA contest called Put Your Ethics Where Your Mouth Is by The New York Times, has recently tried to figure out who can write the best argument supporting the idea that meat is ethical.  Panelled by Mark Bittman, Jonathan Safran Foer, Andrew Light, Michael Pollan, and Peter Singer, I was eager to read what their picks would be.

Overall I must admit that the finalists are better than I had expected, but nonetheless they have yet to make a truly good argument.  I was surprised that the majority of the essays were written by ‘ex-vegans’ and ‘ex-vegetarians’.  It’s easy to see why, as they obviously are familiar with both perspectives and are able to give a more rounded opinion on the subject.  Though many of the points made were refreshing compared to the usual “where do you get your protein” arguments I am so used to hearing every day, I found so much wrong with the essays that I felt the urge to write a response to give a vegan’s point of view on the subject.  In the six finalist essays I noticed a few recurring themes:

Theme #1: Meat is ethical as long as it is “humane”

“There is an ethical option — a responsibility, even — for eating animals that are raised within a sustainable farm system and slaughtered with the compassion necessitated by our relationship.  That, in essence, is the deal.” ~ This Is the Deal We’ve Made

“Many animals, however, while they can be well off or poorly off in certain ways at particular times (e.g., by experiencing pleasure and pain), seem unlikely to be capable of becoming better off in their lives considered as a whole — or at least not once they have had certain basic needs met. While they may be capable of relationships of a kind, it is doubtful that these can grow and develop in the ways ours can. Indeed, it is uncertain whether most animals even have identities that span weeks, let alone years.  If all this is right, then once such an animal has had her basic needs met, a painless death cannot harm her, at least not in the sense in which harm is necessary for an event to be bad. Since it is not bad to kill such animals, it cannot be morally wrong.” ~ Meat Is Ethical. Meat Is Bad.

To understand why “humane meat” is unethical we must understand what pain is and why it exists.  Pain didn’t just become a part of our biology for no reason — it serves a very valuable purpose: pain exists to help us learn from mistakes.  As children, many of us have put our hand in a flame and felt the incredible heat of the flame set off pain nerves in our hand which travelled up to our brain.  This taught us the valuable lesson that putting our hand in a flame is a bad idea, and we are sure to be more wary of repeating the behavior in the future.

The part of the brain that is activated when a sentient being encounters painful stimuli is located very near to the center of the brain.  The further into the brain you go, generally, the more primitive the function.  All sentient beings have had this amazing function for millenia because it is very effective at teaching us what to avoid, enabling us to live long enough to procreate and pass our D.N.A. on to the next generation.  This isn’t something exclusive to humans; this is one of the most basic functions of almost all animal life on our planet. Continue reading “My Take on New York Times ‘Ethical Meat’ Contest”