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February 6, 2015

3 minutes read

The Question of the Animal and Religion

Through an absorbing investigation into recent, high-profile animal abuse scandals involving one of the largest kosher slaughterhouses in the world, Farm Forward Founder and CEO Aaron Gross makes a powerful case for elevating the category of the animal in the study of religion in his new book The Question of the Animal and Religion: Theoretical Stakes, Practical Implications.

Major theorists of religion have almost without exception approached religion as a phenomenon that radically separates humans from other animals, but Gross rejects this paradigm, arguing that animals are intimately involved in the phenomena of religion. Our relationships with animals—especially farmed animals—have important religious dimensions. Religion has contributed to the attitudes that made factory farming possible and is increasingly a powerful force challenging factory farming. The Question of the Animal and Religion shows how religion and animals are bound together, for better and for worse.

Gross begins by detailing the animal abuse and related scandals that occurred at the Postville, Iowa Agriprocessors kosher slaughterhouse. The New York Times originally broke the story in 2004,1 leading to an enormous and ongoing outpouring of responses from the American and international Jewish community ever since. Gross argues that without a proper theory of “animals and religion,” we cannot fully understand how and why the events at Agriprocessors took place, or why. more than a decade later, the images of the animals that suffered there continue to inspire action.

“Starting from the scandal evoked by the revelation of grossly cruel practices in kosher slaughterhouses in the United States, and the subsequent defense of these practices by leading figures in Orthodox Jewry, Aaron Gross proceeds to a wide-ranging exploration into the justification of slaughter in Abrahamic religion and into our willed blindness to the animal as a religious subject. His philosophical and theological inquiries are driven by well-justified ethical concern at what factory farming, buttressed by so-called animal science, tells about the age we live in.”
—J.M. Coetzee, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature

Subsequent chapters recognize the significance of animals to the study of religion in the work of Ernst Cassirer, Emile Durkheim, Mircea Eliade, Jonathan Z. Smith, and Jacques Derrida, as well as contributions from indigenous peoples’ understanding of animals to the study of religion. Gross concludes by extending the Agriprocessors scandal to the activities at slaughterhouses of all kinds, calling attention to the religious attitudes currently informing the regulation of “secular” slaughterhouses.

“With this highly original and exciting book, Aaron S. Gross stands at the cutting edge of a radical reconsideration of the nature of religiosity and theological reflection.”
—Dr. Susannah Heschel, Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College.


“Echoing two heartbreaking cries to heaven, separated by eighteen hundred years—the plea of a calf seeking refuge from kosher slaughter in the robes of Rabbi Judah the Prince and the screams of cattle half-butchered but still alive in the now-infamous ‘kosher’ meat-processing plant in Postville, Iowa—this work makes its own unforgettable plea. . . . There will be no getting around this book.”
—Dr. Kimberley Patton, Harvard University.

Read an excerpt of The Question of the Animal and Religion and purchase the book either on Amazon or via Columbia University Press. (Receive a 30% discount if purchased directly through Columbia University Press using discount code GROQUE.)

With a donation of $50 or more, Farm Forward will send you a complimentary, signed copy of the book, upon requests made to [email protected] after donating.

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Donald G. McNeil Jr., “Videos Cited in Calling Kosher Slaughterhouse Inhumane,” The New York Times, 2004.