Sorry, PETA: Humans are different from animals

I wouldn’t call myself a great animal lover. Sure, I’ve had my fair share of childhood pets. There was MC Hamster, Flopsy the rabbit, a fish tank filled with your run-of-the-mill pet store fish and, finally, our longest living pet, Kishka, the runt of her doggy litter who outlived the rest of her brothers and sisters. That being said, and like many other children, I tended to be excited at the idea of pet ownership more than the day-to-day realities of pet rearing.
The one thing that has always stuck with me, though, is care for animals. Like abuses committed against peoples, the mistreatment of any sentient being has always struck deeply at my core and, as I would learn later on in my yeshiva years, the Torah prohibits such mistreatment (tza’ar ba’alei chayim in Talmudic terminology) amongst its Biblical commandments.
Personal confession: Even as a healthy, meat-eating American, I check the PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) website almost every week — and enjoy doing so. Much of its animal advocacy has led to positive changes in the world of animal welfare, and I am endlessly fascinated with its undercover journalism. Over time, though, I began to pick up on an unspoken, yet ever-present, wholly unkosher component of PETA’s ideology.
Biblically speaking, human beings are the caretakers of the Earth (see Beresheet 1:26) and, as such, are obliged to care and show compassion for the vulnerable creatures and the environment around them (See Ramchal’s Path of the Just, Chapter 1.) We may eat animals, as long as we slaughter them humanely, and we may utilize animals for their brute strength or soft pelts if needed. Never, though, may we needlessly abuse them.
In PETA’s world, that is not the case. It is not enough to exercise compassion when utilizing animals for the good of mankind. Even the most humane slaughter is barbaric in PETA’s eyes. This same blanket castigation goes for the usage of any and all animal-sourced products as well, no matter how humanely they may have been procured and no matter how necessary they may be for mankind. Why? Because in PETA’s eyes, human beings and animals are essentially the same. The murder of a man or a pig is murder, and no need can ever justify murder.
PETA’s ideology was on full display in its 2003 ad campaign “Holocaust on your Plate,” in which billboards compared Holocaust imagery with imagery of modern agricultural practices. In one ad, a billboard is split between a picture of Jewish children in a concentration camp, all wearing prisoner outfits and standing behind barbed wire, and another picture of young pigs peering through bars in a kennel of sorts. The title on top: “Baby Butchers.” In another, similarly designed ad, we see a picture of severely emaciated men lying down in a concentration camp barracks as well as a snapshot of chickens enclosed in coops. The title for this nauseating ad: “To Animals, All People Are Nazis.”
Yes, PETA is known for its affinity of shock-value advertising, meant to awaken sensibilities and garner publicity. But underneath all of that lies the ideological equivocation of human and animal suffering and of human and animal death.
As if to eliminate any doubt as to PETA’s ideological belief system, PETA recently released a new video featuring the voice and words of rapper RZA titled We’re Not Different in Any Important Way. Over a video of human faces slowly morphing into one another and eventually into the faces of animals, RZA speaks these words:
“We are all the same, in all the ways that matter. It doesn’t matter what we look like, how old we are, what language we speak, or who we love. It doesn’t matter if we have fur or feathers or fins, the length of our nose or the number of legs. We are not different in any important way. We all have thoughts and feelings. We all feel love and pain and loneliness and joy. We can all understand but we are not always understanding. We experience ourselves as separate from the rest, but none of us deserves to be treated with less respect. Our task must be to break free from prejudice, and to see ourselves in everyone else.”
At the end of the video these words appear on the screen: “Face it: Inside every body, there is a person.”
In PETA’s eyes, humans are truly not “different in any important way,” and inside every animal “is a person.” This is human/animal equivocation at its finest. And if randomly guided evolution is all one sees, then perhaps one has a point. For without a divine soul, “the superiority of man over beast is naught, for all is vanity” (Kohelet 3:19). And if we are all the same, as PETA suggests, what rights have we over the animals?
(Alternatively, one might argue that if we are but animals at our core, why must we behave any differently from other animals who hunt and kill animals for food? What would separate mankind apart from the rest of the food chain and obligate us in a wholly distinct code of consumption ethics?)
However, it is precisely because of man’s distinct nature that he would choose to care for the vulnerable beasts around him, rather than take advantage of them — something practically unheard of in the animal kingdom. Ironically, it is PETA’s very concern for animals that speaks to the soul of man, the very thing that indeed separates and elevates him from the likes of the cow, the pig and the fish — and the very reason that man is given responsible dominion over the earth and all of its creatures.
Rabbi Yogi Robkin is the co-director of DATA of Plano.

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