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Jun 17, 2013

Being a light unto the nations regarding foie gras

MK Rabbi Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid) has been promoting a bill to ban the import and trade of foie gras - goose liver due to the cruel way in which the goose is treated and dealt with in order to fatten up the livers. The bill was proposed and then appealed by Ministers Yair Shamir and and Yiyzchak Ahronovitch. Shamir and Ahronovitch have now agreed to remove their appeal if the ban would not include personal imports but only trade - their rationale is that banning imports would be breaking trade agreements already in place with some European countries, and then those countries might retaliate and ban Israeli products.

I might note that Israel has already banned, a number of years ago, local production of foie gras due to cruelty to animals, but still allows imports.

What is interesting to me about this story is a new development.

Various news media have reported that Rav Yirmia Menachem Cohen, the Av Beis Din of Paris, has protested Lipman's law proposal, even in the possibly amended form proposed by Shamir. Cohen has sent a a letter to Shamir expressing his reservations.

In the letter he wrote that such a law would do great damage to shechita in Europe. The greens have been pushing anti-shechita laws throughout Eurpoe, and governments are sympathetic to them. How would it look for Israel to be the first country to ban the importing of these livers based on cruelty to animals when these countries have deemed the methods to not be considered cruel? Such a law would be handing the sword over to our enemies.

Rav Cohen writes that the methods have changed and he himself has seen how the geese are healthy and strong, not like it used to be. The European veterinarians also see it and they approve of the methods used and do not consider it cruel. It would be absurd for Israel to be the "light unto the nations" and prove to the non-Jews that they are mistaken and prohibit this.

Rav Cohen concludes that not only would such a law do damage to Jewish interests by helping those who oppose shechita, and it would also help our enemies in their social causes against Israel and Jews when considering various practices to be cruel and inhumane.

I agree and don't agree.

One can debate whether the methods used are cruel or not. Perhaps the methods have changed over the years, as Rav Cohen says, and maybe it should be re-evaluated. Even the new methods might be overly cruel, even if they are a bit better. I don't know and am not offering an opinion on whether or not the process is cruel.

From a halachic perspective, we generally have a rule that anything that benefits humans is not considered cruel and is not prohibited. Obviously, allowing certain practices does not mean going overboard and doing things that might not be necessary or overly cruel for no added benefit of human consumption, but in general from a halachic perspective, stuffing geese should be fine.

That being said, perhaps the methods used are overly cruel with no added benefit.

I agree with Rav Cohen that we should not help those who are looking to ban shechita in general. If somehow this promotes that, and I am not sure how (perhaps in a retaliatory manner?), then perhaps it should be "rethunk". Sometimes one should look to see with whom he is getting into bed. We don't want it to come back and bite us later.  

However, yes, we do have an obligation to be the light unto the nations. If it is really is overly cruel, and I am not saying it is, than the reason given is not a good reason. Yes, we are meant to be the trailblazers in morality and proper behavior. Avraham was a trailblazer, going against the world to introduce monotheism - he did not sit back and say why make waves, and that is part of the responsibility given to us as being that light unto the nations. If stuffing geese is identified as being improperly cruel, then yes we should be the light unto the nations even if it means being the first to adopt such a ban..

Though, again, I don't personally know whether the methods used are deserving of such a categorization and, ergo, such a ban.

(disclaimer: I have only eaten foie gras once that I can remember)

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  1. Chicago banned it for 2 years, during which there were what was known as duckeasies.

  2. and then they repealed the ban? why?

  3. Mayor Daley (and Alderman Stone) were vehemently against it.

  4. In his Pninei Halacha series Rav Melamed talks about what's allowed in terms of harm to animals. It's not quite so simple (according to him) as whatever benefits humans is allowed. The question of how important the benefit is has to be weighed against how much suffering you want to cause and how aware the animal is of its suffering.

    So with a "simple" animal like an ant, a reason like "I don't want ants here" is good enough to kill ants, for a more complex animal like a rabbi, a reason like "I want waterproof mascara" might not be enough to test mascara. (Those aren't examples from the book).

    Wanting a tastier goose liver might be a benefit to humans, but still not enough of a benefit to justify cruelty.


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