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As I get older, I find I have less patience for reading fiction. I don’t feel entirely comfortable knowing that my emotions are being manipulated with made-up stuff. Oh, I still enjoy a good read, if perhaps not quite as much any more. But I haven’t forgotten the feeling of heart-pounding, cold-sweating excitement I used to get from a good thriller/mystery. The Odessa File by John Forsythe was one such book. Maybe you saw the movie starring Jon Voight as a young German journalist named Peter Miller who makes it his business to track down a notorious S.S. commandant named Eduard Roschmann (a true historical figure by the way), also known as the Butcher of Riga.
I especially remember the thrilling confrontation, near the very end of the book, where Miller confronts Roschmann with the photograph of a man he had murdered. That man was….Miller’s father!…a Wermacht officer whom, in the last days of the war, Roschmann had shot in the back in order commandeer a ship to facilitate his own escape the advancing Russian army. Of course, everyone had assumed that Miller was an idealist who was motivated by outrage at the Holocaust. “So…it wasn’t the Jews after all?” asks an astonished Roschmann? “Oh, I felt sorry for the Jews all right,” answers Miller. “But not that sorry.”
To be perfectly honest, I also remember feeling a distinct tinge of resentment at Miller…that he placed a higher priority on avenging the personal murder of his father over the much more enormous crime of what Roschmann had done to the Jews. Oh, it was a brilliant dramatic twist, no doubt…but did Forsythe have to give the Jewish tragedy a back seat to Miller’s personal family tragedy? It bothered me more than a little.
But that isn’t why I bring up the book today. No, I wanted to tell my our readers that I’ve started buying free-run eggs. Not all the time, but fairly often. Not when the regular eggs go on sale of course…I can’t pass up the chance to stock up at $2.00 a dozen…but when they’re not on sale, if it only costs 50 cents more to buy free run, I’m down with that. The fact is, I feel sorry for the poor little chickens, cooped up in those tiny cages, forced to sit in one place their whole life. Not that sorry, but sorry enough to cough up an extra 50 cents now and then. (And for some reason, every time I do, I think of Jon Voigt.)
Which brings me to the real point of today’s article: cruelty to animals. To what extent are we, as human beings, entitled to bring suffering to the animals we eat, simply for the sake of a slightly cheaper cut of meat? Don’t we have a duty to pay just a little more at the meat counter if it means that an innocent animal might have enjoyed a better quality of life?
This is not a joke. You should watch some of the documentary footage available of the appalling suffering in large-scale commercial pig barns. It is especially heart-wrenching when you see how playful and spirited pigs can be when allowed their freedom. Yes, in the end they are all going to be slaughtered for meat…but aren’t they entitled to a decent life up to that point?
I know what your thinking…what does this have to do with the Jews? Well, I’m wondering what would happen if we could find 100 orthodox rabbis to come forward and say that for the sake of tzaar bale-khayim, that they were going to sit down to a Sabbath meal of free-run pork.
What in the world would be the point of that, I hear you ask? I’m thinking it would send a pretty powerful message to the rest of the world. After all, we are famous for regarding khazer-fleisch as an abomination. Wouldn’t it say something to the world if all those rabbis were willing to break one of our most sacred commandments in order to encourage more humane treatment of animals?
For two thousand years our people have distinguished themselves by the extraordinary lenghts to which we have gone to follow God’s laws to the letter, even in the face of the greatest difficulties. Many of our religious leaders have preached that if only by reaching perfection in our obedience to those commandments can we hasten or bring about the coming of the Messiah. Now, I can’t pretend that I am personally a believer, but what if…what if the real reason we were given those laws was to test us, not to see how obedient we could be, but to see if we had the courage and the clarity of vision to understand when we ought to break those rules instead of following them?
It’s something to think about.