A Jew is expected to be obsessed with compassion. The Sages taught that being compassionate is a prerequisite to truly be Jewish: “Jews are compassionate children of compassionate ancestors (rachmanim b’nei rachmanim) and one who is not compassionate cannot truly be a descendant of our father Abraham” (Beitzah 32b).
The Shulchan Aruch teaches that “It is forbidden, according to the law of the Torah, to inflict pain upon any living creature. On the contrary, it is our duty to relieve the pain of any creature.” One of the greatest violations of this sacred covenant of compassion is found today in the treatment of animals on mass production farms. Secret video footage of the abuse of cows at a California slaughterhouse in 2008 led to the largest beef recall in American history, and did a great service for the health of Americans. Instead of acknowledging this or improving conditions, however, local governing bodies are now pushing for less transparency on how those animals are treated and for barring those involved in animal welfare work from even working at these institutions. The cattle industry and the corporate group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have sponsored or written many of these bills. For example, in California, the absurdly misnamed “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act” would impose a fine upon anyone who did not turn over evidence taken secretly (including video) at a slaughterhouse to law enforcement authorities within 24 to 48 hours. Similar laws have been proposed in Nebraska and Tennessee, while in Arkansas, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, proposed laws would outlaw making a video at any agricultural operation.
In other words, these laws would criminalize the act of documenting something already classified as a crime. As Matt Dominguez, from the Humane Society said, “Instead of working to prevent future abuses, the factory farms want to silence them. What they really want is for the whistle to be blown on the whistle-blower.” These perverse, shameless bills must be rejected. Just a basic survey of the videos that have been released have shown how farm workers are punching and kicking pigs, tossing baby piglets into the air, caging hens alongside rotting bird corpses, burning and snapping off chick beaks, stomping and throwing turkeys against a wall, and burning the ankles of horses with chemicals.
I believe that most Americans continue to support these companies because they just don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes. Rather than actively or passively covering up these atrocities, we must demand transparency. Our elected and agency officials should know that we want animals to be treated humanely, and that those who exhibit such cruelty to animals should be brought to justice.
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Founder and President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Senior Rabbi at Kehilath Israel, the Founder and C.E.O. of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute, and the author of “Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century.” In 2012 and 2013, Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America!”