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Factory Farming


Those who work in education delight in their successes and regret the failures. Very often those one expected to shine burnt out and those one expected to struggle shone. One of my pupils was such a disaster academically at school that I wrote on one of his reports that “he was heading like a lemming to disaster”, and indeed at that time he was. But he was such a cute and charming little terror that it was hard to be too tough on him. Besides, anyone who is strong enough to defy peer group opinion to become a vegetarian has got to have guts. Today Jeremy Coller is highly successful in the world of finance. He still defies category, convention, and “normality”.

One of the big questions anyone who works hard to make money and succeeds way beyond expectations ought to be asking himself or herself is what then? Not enough do. There is no tradition in Judaism of seeing money as the source of all evil or of disparaging wealth. Neither is there a tradition of thinking that wealth in itself says anything about those who have it. Money is only a means to an end, and if one has it, one has an obligation to use it positively and humanely.

The crucial question that one really needs to ask is what the end is; to what purpose one will put one’s wealth? Some of the richest men and women do indeed set up foundations and charities to give away vast sums. The sad fact is, however, that those who do remain a very small minority. Most fritter and waste or pass on their wealth to those unworthy or incapable of looking beyond their own appetites.

My late father often used to say disparagingly, usually when people who could refused to help him with his educational dreams, “You can tell what God thinks of money by the sort of people he gives it to.” He once had to apologize to a wealthy property man who refused to help him with Jewish education but gave millions to the Monkey House at London Zoo. At a fundraising dinner for Israel, my father had commented on why someone would want to give money to monkeys rather than humans and had said that obviously he had more in common with monkeys. (But that was my father. Witty, articulate, emotional, and sometimes shooting from the hip and regretting it afterwards. We are a family of mavericks.)

So when Jeremy told me he had set up a foundation and one of its primary aims was to stop factory farming, I was impressed. The url is, where you will find the heading FAIRR (Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return). If you are interested you can see it for yourself. I deplore factory farming. Altogether I believe that the process of killing animals for food is an industry of cruelty from rearing to transport to slaughter. I also believe that most of those who seek to ban Shechitah (the Jewish method of slaughter) are anti-Semites, because if they REALLY cared for animal welfare they would try to ban ALL animal slaughter.

I also believe that the kosher meat industry is largely complicit in the betrayal of values in regard to cruelty to animals about which the Torah is clearly concerned. Orthodox Jews in general look askance at vegetarianism. Partly because it is seen as coming from a different cultural world, partly because the Torah approved of animal sacrifices as well as vegetable, and partly because of the tradition on Sabbaths and festivals of feasting on meats! On a recent flight my Charedi neighbor noticed I had ordered a kosher vegetarian meal, and he leaned over and asked me how I, as an apparently religious Jew, could eat vegetarian!!!

I look forward to the day when modern techniques of artificially producing substitutes will change and then eradicate the industry altogether. I also identify with those great rabbinic authorities who called it pure paganism to swing chickens over your head as Kapparot, atonement before Yom Kipur. They called it Darkei Emory, Emorite custom. So I am on board 100% with the aims of the foundation.

The only question I have is over the limited aims of eliminating factory farming as opposed to outright banning of all animal slaughter. But I can see that it makes sense to proceed in stages against what is, after all, one of the most popular of human activities and one of the major providers of jobs. Besides, I believe that time, economics, and ecology will bring about the end of the business eventually. Meanwhile, day by day, billions of sentient creatures are being treated inhumanely.

But there are two other issues: the “Hitler loved his dog” argument and the priority argument. Hitler apparently was a vegetarian and so opponents of vegetarianism will often say that this proves that vegetarians love animals more than humans. Anyone familiar with the laws of logic or the limitations of generalizations will realize how facile such an argument is.

A similar faulty argument is the priority argument, which says that one should give to human charities first. Of course there are priorities in life. But prioritizing does not necessarily require to focus on only one area of charity. As the Talmud (Bava Metziah 71a) says, “The poor of your city come first.” But that did not stop the Talmud (Gitin 61a) from saying that “one should provide for the poor of the non-Jewish world in addition to one’s own poor.”

It is true that I have argued previously that there are so many more members of other religions (and of no religion at all) that one ought, as a Jew, to give priority to Jewish charities. But that does not mean one should not give to other causes too. I deplore those Jews who refuse to give to any Jewish charity at all as much as I deplore those Jews who give large sums to organizations that actively try to undermine Judaism or Israel. But that doesn’t mean I am in favor of giving ONLY to Jewish charities. However, I do believe in giving only to charities that support the values that I do. It is obvious to me that the Torah is concerned with treating animals humanely. Perhaps that’s a subject for another occasion, as is the rabbinic dispute as to whether the laws in the Torah that appear to be motivated by concern for animal welfare may in fact be intended to heighten human sensitivity.

Either way, Jeremy Coller’s mission strikes me as fully consonant with Jewish values (although I very much doubt that is why he got involved). Besides, he gives to Israeli and Jewish causes too. I am delighted that he has proved me, and the rest of those who feared disaster, wrong!

7 thoughts on “Factory Farming

  1. I can only comment about the treatment of animals. I am not sure how Jewish farms in the Uk work but maybe better than lots of regular farms. I have to eat red meat because my iron level keeps dropping. I am already eating too little. A human diet is very diverse as we are born as omnivores not herbivores. It is natural and is more balanced to have a bit of everything. I wish that every farm treats their animals humanely. That is the problem that should be addressed and changed. When Jewish people have all these laws against animal cruelty it should be especially practiced on those farms. Then I doubt that kosher meat is actually kosher.

    1. Of course health trumps most other considerations and those who need animal protein should get it. But increasingly there will be visible alternatives.
      Shabbat Shalom

    2. Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach have a very high level of iron. Perhaps you could look into increasing your intake of those to help. Also there are iron supplements, of course.)

  2. Sabine Ottlitz appeal to nature fallacy argument holds no water. Plenty of human behaviours maybe natural but have no place in a civilized society. Killing fellow sentient beings purely because we have done it in the past or to satisfy your taste buds can never be humane. If you see your dog or cat as an individual how can you choose to the ignore the plight and cruelty of others who's bodies or fluids you consume.
    While the end of factory farming maybe a step forward it may just make people more comfortable about eating animals so it achieves nothing. Jews and Israel are leading the way with the largest number of Vegans per capita and this is the way to go.
    As pointed out there are plenty of plant sources of iron for example legumes and brassica vegetables. Although less readily absorbed than iron from meat you can help by eating foods high in vitamins C at the same time. Spinach is not a good source of iron due to high oxalic acid which prevents absorption.

    1. Anon:
      Thank you so much for that obviously well informed response. It always amazes me this human capacity to believe and try to justify one's preconceptions or desires.

  3. When people mention Hitler as this animal lover who could commit atrocities, they forget to mention that he tested the cyanide pills on his dog first, had his dog's puppies killed, and killed off Eva's dogs. If he was really some champion of animal rights, I doubt he'd be so eager to kill dogs who wouldnt have been subject to being tortured and tried by the Allies.

    If a religious person has a problem with a philanthropist donating money to help prevent animal cruelty, they can take solace in it fighting against tsar baalei hayim

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