I watched an excellent and utterly tragic documentary over the weekend called Blackfish (now on netflix). It reveals the exploitation of killer whales and the reckless endangerment of workers by Seaworld and the marine mammal theme park industry. It does this within the backdrop of the story of Tilikum, a captive whale that’s killed at least two people and still performs at Seaworld Orlando today. Blackfish is reminiscent of the dolphin hunting and exploitation documentary The Cove, but focuses its attention squarely onto the mistreatment of whales being kept in captivity. Both films highlight something very important to my work with animals, venturing beyond the barnyard. While the vast majority of interest in animal welfare is directed towards farming, which admittedly does causes the most horrific and widespread problems, many complex and distressing zoological issues exist throughout society. In every place that we interact with our carnal brethren there is great potential for us to cause them needless harm. We have a duty to meticulously inspect each and every one of these interactions to ensure that the creatures with which we share this planet experience no needless suffering at our hands.
When I call myself a kosher omnivore I see it as representative of not only the things I eat but also of any way in which I benefit from the world. When I gain anything from an animal I consider it to be a form of animal consumption, but instead of eating flesh I am consuming something else it has to offer. Be it milk and eggs, companionship, entertainment or the advancement of medical research, if I’m gaining something the animal is almost always losing out. When benefiting from an animal in any way I will always ask myself, how is this creature suffering for my gain?
While most consider it acceptable to cause an animal suffering by killing it for food, justifying suffering in the name of entertainment or companionship is much more difficult. This distinction brings forth the central question behind the Jewish law of tzaar baalei chaim, the biblical commandment which prohibits causing needles suffering to animals. The query which lies behind this law is, what constitutes unnecessary suffering? I encourage all my readers to explore this question within each of their human animal relationships; whether your pet, a wild or farm animal, horse or even just a mouse. Ask yourself how might I be causing this animal to suffer and is this suffering justified by what I am receiving? In the future I'll continue to explore this question through the blog.
In order for Jews to lead righteous lives that can serve as an example to the rest of the world we must be asking ourselves this question constantly. Instead of spending hours debating what kind of sponge to use on Shabbat maybe we need to be spending at least half that time talking about whether we should go to zoos or debating the merits of animal testing. But many people don't have the tools and understanding to even start talking about these issues. So with the aim of remedying the situation I plan to one day start the world’s first Jewish Animal Welfare Institute, that can devote its full time and efforts towards raising awareness and creating dialogue. I dream of a day when humanity at large can let its conscience venture beyond the barnyard, so that we can all become truly kosher omnivores in every one of our human animal relationships.
About the blog:
Welcome to The Kosher Omnivore's Quest! My old blog on kosher slaughter, kosher meat, and animal welfare. For new content check out my new website, The Kosher Cut™. There you'll find: blog posts about shechita and related topics, educational slaughter presentations, kosher slaughter training, and a selection of high quality professional kosher slaughter equipment.