We Need Dialogue not Protests, Why I Stand by Urban Adamah and am Appalled by the Actions of the JVNA
In August of 2012, I ran one of my first kosher slaughter workshops at the Urban Adamah educational farm in Berkeley. I explained the kosher process and demonstrated live slaughter and processing on a few of their spent laying hens. Several participants cried during the slaughter and while some were inspired to eat better meat afterwards, others said they wanted to become vegetarians or vegans as a result of the experience. The class not only facilitated a tremendous amount of dialogue, growth and learning for all involved, it also provided a highly nutritious and tasty heritage chicken soup for farm visitors. This past Sunday, Urban Adamah had once again set up a workshop where they were slated to slaughter the remaining 15 hens of their laying flock. Things were going very smoothly until animal rights activists found out about the event and began to organize a mass protest. Their threat eventually caused the farm’s landlord to request a cancellation and despite holding strong until that point, farm founder Adam Berman was forced to scrub the workshop in the face of this large and disruptive demonstration.
In my eyes the most disappointing part of this event is the role that the Jewish Vegetarians of North America played as one of the central mobilizers of the protest. While I disagree with much of the JVNA philosophy I’ve always had much respect for them as an organization and especially for their President Emeritus, Dr. Richard Schwartz, who did so much to foster a dialogue about animal rights in Judaism where none existed. But their involvement and attitude here has left a bitter taste and caused me to lose much of the respect I once held for the organization. Don’t get me wrong; I whole hardheartedly support JVNA’s right to be opposed to the slaughter workshop and their right to express that opposition in a public forum. Do I think they would be better served by putting their attention elsewhere? Yes, but if they prefer to focus their energy on a small class of fellow Jews that cares about animals and uses extremely high welfare practices rather than protest the atrocities that go on daily in industrial farms and slaughterhouses, then who am I to stop them?
If they had decided to write articles and send out press releases expressing their opposition I wouldn’t have held it against them. If they had taken the opportunity to set up a debate about the ethics of animal slaughter I would have applauded them. But instead JVNA decided to mount a protest; instead of engaging in intelligent and meaningful dialogue they decided to scream and yell so loud that the other side would have no recourse. According to JVNA’s director Jeffrey Cohan they did attempt to engage in dialogue with Urban Adamah in order to avoid this process. But sadly this effort for dialogue seemed to be little more than an ultimatum for them to give the hens to a sanctuary or else. This demonstration was not slated to take place at a huge poultry plant which could easily operate during such an event but rather at a small urban farm that would have little to no chance of continuing with its workshop in the face of such an outcry.
One of the most important core principals in Judaism is machloket, the tradition of spirited debate, a respectful yet assertive back and forth. By organizing a protest in order to stop the slaughter class, JVNA decided to ignore this principal. Instead of starting a dialogue in which people could explore their thoughts and feeling about animal slaughter they decided to give an ultimatum and worked to force their opinions on others by getting the class canceled. According to the JVNA this was a life and death struggle in which they needed to resort to desperate measures to save the life of 15 chickens but I put little stock in this narrative when millions of chickens are scalded to death in industrial slaughterhouses each year.
To add insult to injury, JVNA Facebook followers used the JVNA Facebook page to organize ways to publicly humiliate and injure Urban Adamah in order to bully them into canceling the class. While the JVNA never directly encouraged that these steps be taken they also did nothing to stop it and refuse to apologize or show remorse for their role in the defamation. The JVNA did take down the Facebook events page on which these comments were posted but this was too little too late as Adamah's facebook rating space was already filled with one star ratings and malicious attacks from animal rights protesters that had never once stepped foot inside the farm. After all this hostile action, JVNA even had the gall to commend and thank Urban Adamah for cancelling the class when it was largely because of their aggressive tactics that the class was canceled in the first place.
I am utterly disappointed by these actions but there is a way that the JVNA can make amends. There exists another very important value in Judaism, that of tshuvah, which means repentance or return. The JVNA needs to commit to the fostering of intelligent and thoughtful dialogue rather than the path of forceful intolerance that they’ve chosen. While intolerance and negative publicity is what many have come to expect from some animal rights groups, until now the JVNA were always the ones to take a higher road. I expect much less from the JVNA than I once did but I hope that in the future I’ll be able to hold them up to a high level of behavior once again.
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.