2021 Annual Report
Letter from the Director
Building a Jewish communal response to factory farming
Ancient Jewish texts provide a template from which we learn about the need to bring our food system into economic and ecological balance, including an ethic of domestic animal care. For every six years of agricultural production, Jews are directed to let their ancestral land regenerate, and provide for the people and animals in the community.
This year happens to coincide with that year of Shmita, or release—a restorative practice that would be foreign to any conventional US farming model. This year in particular, Jewish leaders are reviving Shmita as a time for Jewish communities to attune ourselves to the impacts of industrial production. From JIFA’s perspective, communities can do much to enact the values of Shmita through the food they buy and serve.
When faith-based work emanates from authentic tradition and embedded leadership, the result is transformative: just this year, JIFA inspired over 250 Jewish leaders and 20,000 individuals to call out the gulf between what the word kosher means to traditional dietary practices (literally, fit for consumption) and what kosher now means for most certified animal products: factory-farmed.
According to national research that JIFA designed and commissioned, misperceptions about kosher labels are widespread, including the impression that kosher products come from farms that treat animals more humanely—a fact that points to widespread humanewashing among kosher meat products. Industrial agricultural methods, and their harms to animals, public health, workers, and the environment, lie at the root of Jewish leaders’ concern that kosher labels are incompatible with Jewish ethics.
Exposing humanewashing is instrumental in building a communal will to adopt food practices that align how religious communities eat with their religious values. As reported by Tablet Magazine, leaders in a variety of religious settings are urging communities to adopt more sustainable food practices.
[M]isperceptions about kosher labels are widespread, including the impression that kosher products come from farms that treat animals more humanely—a fact that points to widespread humanewashing among kosher meat products.
For Jews, this message takes on particular significance during the Shmita year. Prior to industrialization, foods that earned the status of kosher had achieved prestige that was consistent with Jewish community’s expectations; Jewish leaders have rallied behind our campaign to restore kosher to that original ideal. JIFA’s commitment to supporting institutional change through ethical food policies will continue to build a world in which kosher is synonymous with Jewish values, not factory farming.
Director, Jewish Initiative for Animals