Friday, August 28, 2015

I defeated the bullies: is mine again!

As I wrote in a previous article, I have been getting cyber-bullied around the Net for various stances I have taken on controversial issues.  One of these attacks consisted of some jerks putting up a bogus website under "," which was the URL of an old website I had that went defunct.  My alerts told me this week that this URL was now available, so I bought it.  Apparently my posting of a Ripoff Report, writing the blog post, and posting a notice on every one of my profiles that this was NOT me worked -- the bullies gave it up.

For now the URL is simply parked, I'm not sure what, if anything, i will do with it in the future.  But at least searches for my site will no longer take people to some phony escort service I was never, ever connected with.  Thank you to everyone who wrote protest letters and otherwise supported me in this!

Friday, July 3, 2015

In Memory of "Big Bird," my pet rooster

I am sad to report that Big Bird, the ten-pound yellowish-white rooster who appeared with me on posters and the cover of my latest book, has crossed the Rainbow Bridge.  He was the victim of a predator attack, probably coyotes, that also took the lives of two other chickens and a guinea fowl.  They will all be very much missed.

Big Bird was going on 11 years old -- a very long life for a chicken -- and was spending a lot of time in a cage anyway, because he could no longer fly up to the roost at night.   But he still loved going outside with the other birds on nice days.  So I let him take the risk and enjoy a more natural life as a free-range chicken.  At dusk he would come back to the coop, where I would put him in his cage for the night.  Last night he did not return, and stayed outside somewhere, along with a few chickens and two guineas who had taken to roosting outside instead of inside the building.  I looked for him but could not find him in the dark.  This morning I found the carnage, including the destroyed nest of a barred hen named Rockette who had been secretly incubating in the bushes.  I knew she was broody by her behavior when she came it to eat, but had been unable to find her well-hidden nest.  Last night the coyotes obviously did.

It is always very sad when this happens.  Nature is not Disneyland, and in the real world animals do attack and eat each other.  That's the reality of that "circle of life" that everyone is romanticizing lately.  Life is not a cartoon, and finding piles of feathers and other remains in the yard is not pretty.  I feel terrible when I lose a bird to predators, but at the same time, I still feel they would rather run free than be caged all the time.

I suppose it's a lot like letting your children run free instead of "helicoptering" them everywhere.  Yes there are dangers and risks, but there are also the joys of freedom and exploration.  I feel sorry for many of today's kids who don't have the "free range" experience I had back in the 1950s, when I rode my bike all over town and played for hours alone in the woods.  That experience shaped my love of nature and helped make me the writer that I am today.  Nowadays, parents are being arrested in some cities for letting their kids walk a couple blocks alone to the park.
(See for actual cases of these ridiculous ordinances.)

Big Bird was the poster child with me in the 2013 campaign against using chickens as Kapporos, by the Alliance to End Chickens as Kapporos.  (See poster above)

A different pose from the same photo shoot (My wife Caryl was the photographer that day) now immortalizes Big Bird on the cover of  my latest book, Kapporos Then and Now: Toward a More Compassionate Tradition,   In this book, I present the issue from both sides (practitioners and protesters), explaining why the vegan" meat is murder" argument does not work, and presenting other, more effective reasons for using money instead of chickens.

The best memorial  you could give to Big Bird is to buy a copy and educate yourself about the Kapporos controversy, then pass a copy on to your local Orthodox or Hasidic rabbi.  In this way, Big Bird will continue to help his fellow chickens live to lead longer, happier lives.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

New Book: "Kapporos Then and Now: Toward a More Compassionate Tradition" by Yonassan Gershom

Every year, right before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, there is a cultural war in certain Jewish neighborhoods over a ceremony called Kapporos, in which a chicken is slaughtered just before the holy day. The animal rights people show up claiming, “Meat is murder!” while the Orthodox and Hasidic Jews who practice this ceremony accuse the activists of antisemitism and violating their freedom of religion. Epithets fly and confrontations occur across the barricades, but nobody is really listening to each other.

In this book, I seek to build a bridge of understanding between these two warring camps. On the one hand, I oppose using live chickens as Kapporos, as I have written on this blog before. (Reade More...)  Like many other religious Jews before me, I advocate giving money to charity instead. But on the other hand, I am a Hasid who understands and believes in the kabbalistic principles behind the ceremony and Hasidic life in general. In fact, it is that very mysticism that has led me not to use chickens for the ritual.  And I believe it is essential for activists to understand and respect this mystical worldview if they want to be effective.

On the surface, my task in writing this book would seem easy: Explain to animal rights people the reasons why some Orthodox Jews use chickens in a religious ceremony, and explain to Orthodox Jews why animal rights people find this offensive and cruel in modern times. But there is much more to it than that. Beyond this specific ritual lies a vast chasm between two very, very different worldviews. On both sides of the issue I have found sincere, caring people who, in all good faith, believe in what they are doing. But at the same time, each side is appallingly ignorant of the other. Could I possibly write a book to bridge the gap?

To do this successfully, the book could be neither a vegetarian manifesto nor a "Torah-true" religious tract.   My methodology was to approach the subject as a combination of theologian, cultural anthropologist, and participatory journalist, examining the issue from the perspectives of both sides.   As Richard H. Schwartz, author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, wrote in his Foreword to my book:

“Rabbi Gershom has a very clear, conversational style of writing, scholarly yet very readable, and he explains complex issues very well. He is careful to put issues in context. He is not a polemicist, but seeks common ground and solutions. He uses examples from his own personal experience and also cites authorities.”

Chapter 1 opens with my involvement with the Alliance to End Chickens as Kapporos (Karen Davis' org), my reasons for leaving the Alliance over theological issues (read more on that...) but not the movement itself -- and how this ultimately led me to write this book.

In the rest of the book I trace the history of Kapporos and the impact of the modern meat industry on the ceremony, comparing it to my own experience raising and observing chickens in natural, free-range flocks on my hobby farm in Minnesota.   I explain how the very un-Jewish ideas of Descartes have affected Jews and gentiles alike.  And because I believe it is essential for activists to understand the mystical worldview of Hasidism, I devote an entire chapter to "raising Holy sparks," the question of whether animals have souls and/or consciousness, and how this relates to Kapporos.

In short, I explore the issue from many different perspectives and present what I believe to be a number of convincing arguments for why, in modern times, this ritual can best be accomplished by using money instead of chickens.  This will not be an easy book for either side to read, but I believe it fills an important educational gap on both sides.

You can order your copy now  on  It will eventually be available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. but if you order from Lulu you get a discount and I get a better deal as an author.

And if you would like to help me send copies to various Orthodox rabbis, Jewish publications, and activists, please consider donating through the GoFundMe link below.  (If for some reason the widget is not there, you can also use this link:  $10 will pay for a book and the postage to ship it.  As I have written on this blog before, I am not rich, nor do I have any congregation or organization supporting me.  My wife and I are on a very small fixed income with little to spare for projects like this,   So I need your help to get this book into the hands of people who really need it.