Sixty senior rabbis call for end to ‘evil crime’ of live animal shipments

Chief rabbi of Beersheba says every rabbi should join protest; anyone buying such meat is complicit in activity that is against human and Torah morality

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Screenshot from Australian TV's "60 Minutes" broadcast about live shipments, "Sheep, Ships and Videotape," shown April 8, 2018.
Screenshot from Australian TV's "60 Minutes" broadcast about live shipments, "Sheep, Ships and Videotape," shown April 8, 2018.

One of Israel’s most senior rabbis has ruled that anyone buying meat from animals shipped from overseas to Israel for slaughter in cruel conditions is a partner to a crime.

In a letter released Thursday by animal rights activists, Rabbi Yehuda Deri, chief rabbi of the southern city of Beersheba and a member of the Chief Rabbinate’s Council, called on every rabbi in Israel to protest the long-distance shipments of sheep and cattle for fattening and slaughter in Israel.

He said he planned to raise the issue at an upcoming meeting of the council.

“It is clear… that whoever buys this meat is a partner to and helps those committing an evil crime, ” he wrote. “Every rabbi in Israel must take part in this protest until the issue is resolved.”

The letter was released along with a petition against the shipments signed by 60 leading rabbis from across the religious spectrum.

Screenshot from Australian TV’s “60 Minutes” broadcast about live shipments, “Sheep, Ships and Videotape,” shown April 8, 2018.

It came in the wake of an exposé by Animals Australia, broadcast on Australian TV’s “60 Minutes,” into the appalling conditions in which sheep were shipped to the Middle East on five journeys.

The petition says it is “neither the way of the Torah nor of human morality to allow such cruelty to animals.”

The signatories include members of the Chief Rabbinate’s Council — Rabbi Deri, Rabbi Ratzon Arusi and Rabbi Shimon Elitov; as well as Israel Prize laureates Rabbi Prof. Daniel Sperber, Rabbi Avraham Steinberg and Rabbi Eli Sadan; and the late Rabbi Elyashiv Knohl, who died two weeks ago.

Among other names are Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall; Avigdor Nebenzahl, a former chief rabbi of Jerusalem, who serves on the faculty of the Yeshivat HaKotel and is rabbi of the Ramban Synagogue in the Old City; kashrut expert and veterinarian Dr. Israel Meir Levinger; Itamar Wahrhaftig, a Bar-Ilan University expert on Jewish law; Ronen Neubert, a co-founder of the Beit Hillel organization; and Shlomo Sheffer, Bar-Ilan University’s rabbi.

“We were shocked to discover the harsh facts about the great suffering of calves and sheep, God’s creatures, sent by ships from Australia and Europe to be slaughtered in Israel,” says the petition, which reflects the biggest rabbinical mobilization to date to stop the shipments, which, from Australia, can take three weeks or more.

“The causing of such extreme suffering to animals solely to satisfy our desire for fresh meat is not the way of Torah, and it is not human morality to permit such harsh cruelty to animals… in addition to which, the meat produced from them costs more than fresh meat that is imported to Israel chilled.”

The petition concludes by saying that the shipments must be stopped.

Disturbing footage from the documentary, shot by a whistleblower on the ship and subsequently broadcast on Israel’s Hadashot news, showed overcrowding on board, with animals packed so tightly that many could not reach food and water.

עזרו לנו לעצור את זה

כמה כבשים עוד יעברו גיהנום עד שיופסקו המשלוחים החיים?בואו לצעוד איתנו ב-28.4 בדרישה לעצור את המשלוחים עוד הקיץ! צעדת ענק – עוצרים את המשלוחים החיים! >>

Posted by ‎אנימלס‎ on Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Unable to sit or lie down, most stood covered in their own excrement, gasping for air in scorching temperatures — a sign that they were about to die from heatstroke.

“They literally cook from the inside while alive during the journey,” veterinarian Yuval Samuel told Hadashot TV news.

On one of the journeys documented, 2,400 sheep perished and were thrown overboard.

The rabbinical protest is being led by two Bar Ilan University professors — British-born Sperber, president of the Higher Institute of Torah Studies and a vegetarian, and Yael Shemesh of the Bible department and the center for women’s research, a vegan — in conjunction with the animal rights organizations Anonymous for Animal Rights and Let Animals Live.

Rabbi Prof. Daniel Sperber at the June 9, 2015 ordination celebration of the first cohort for Har’el Beit Midrash. (Sigal Krimolovski)

Sperber said, “I have no doubt that anyone who sees these pictures will find that this situation is completely forbidden by [Jewish law]. This is indescribable animal suffering…it is so horrific and certainly absolutely forbidden.”

Rabbi Deri said in his letter that “there is no doubt that this phenomenon completely contradicts the spirit of our Holy Torah and stands in complete contradiction to certain mitzvot of what is and is not allowed and the many [Jewish ritual] laws that followed in the Talmud.”

Deri went on to quote examples from Jewish law prohibiting cruelty to animals and ruling that while Jews are allowed to eat meat, they must do everything they can to minimize suffering.

Following the broadcast in Australia, the Australian Agriculture Ministry said it would open an inquiry into the standards of livestock shipping from Australia to the Middle East.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called for a complete halt, or at least a significant reduction, to what he termed the “cruel” shipments.

Rabbi Yehuda Deri, April 4, 2011. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

He told Hadashot that there was insufficient supervision of the conditions on the long-haul voyages, and that all effort should be made to reduce or preferably stop the shipments to Israel and the “serious abuse” of animals involved.

The prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, took to Facebook to register her “shock” after seeing the broadcast.

Last year, 499,265 live cattle and sheep were shipped to Israel for the meat industry from Australia and various European countries — a slight reduction from 2016, when 571,972 heads arrived at Israeli ports, but nearly double the number for 2015 — 292,274, according to Israel’s Agriculture Ministry.

Ships resembling multi-story parking lots carry from 1,000 to 20,000 cattle, or 100,000 sheep, or a combination.

Once in Israel, the animals are loaded onto trucks for journeys that can take hours to slaughterhouses or to pre-slaughter fattening facilities. They are treated with antibiotics against the infections that overcrowding causes.

While the Australian exposé did not directly relate to shipments to Israel, footage from a quarantine station at Kibbutz Eilot in the south of the country released at the same time by Anonymous for Animal Rights showed the same sort of abuse after ships’ arrivals to the country, with animals being whipped through a narrow passage.

A worker filmed beating a cow at a quarantine station at Kibbutz Eilot in Israel’s south after the unloading of cattle for slaughter at the Eilat port.(Anonymous/Hadashot News screenshot)

Lawmakers from the Knesset’s cross-party Lobby for Animal Rights said in a statement following the broadcast that despite “explicit promises” from the agriculture ministry that live shipments would be reduced and imports of chilled meat increased, “the investigation today shows that nothing has changed.”

At present, the government exempts totally or partially from tax the import of live animals for slaughter while imposing ceilings on tax exemptions for the import of chilled meat.

It has said in the past that it will gradually increase the amount of tax exempt chilled meat allowed into the country and phase out live shipments.

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