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Activists Who Exposed Meat Industry Reveal Their Own (Kosher) Identity

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  • CyberBrook
    *Activists Who Exposed Meat Industry Reveal Their Own (Kosher) Identity * By Marissa Brostoff /The Forward/, Wed. Apr 30, 2008
    Message 1 of 1 , May 2, 2008
      *Activists Who Exposed Meat Industry Reveal Their Own (Kosher) Identity *

      By Marissa Brostoff
      /The Forward/, Wed. Apr 30, 2008

      When AgriProcessors, America's largest kosher slaughterhouse, was caught
      on tape conducting what a federal agency later called "acts of inhumane
      slaughter," officials at the plant knew they had been infiltrated by
      undercover investigators. What the company didn't know was that two of
      those infiltrators were a married couple who keep kosher themselves.

      Meet Hannah and Philip Schein, undercover investigators for the animal
      rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Now, for the
      first time, they are going public with their identities.

      Since 2002, the Scheins have taken on about 20 undercover cases, as well
      as others they have conducted publicly. The targets of their stings have
      run the gamut from an egg farm managed by Trappist monks, to a Canadian
      bear-baiting operation that has supplied fur to the British Royal
      Guards, to songstress Beyoncé Knowles, once an enthusiastic wearer of fur.

      But thanks to their background and their knowledge of the laws of
      kashrut, Hannah, 33, and Philip, 43, have come to specialize in
      investigating kosher slaughterhouses. Indeed, PETA had not investigated
      kosher operations until the Scheins came on board; since then, the group
      has been involved in about eight such cases. Philip in particular has
      been credited with becoming an expert on kosher slaughter.

      "If it weren't for Philip and his interest and pursuit of this issue,
      I'm not sure that we would have been able to do those investigations,"
      said Daphna Nachminovitch, PETA's vice president of cruelty
      investigations. "They were Philip's brainchild."

      The Scheins' --- and PETA's --- first investigation of a kosher
      slaughterhouse took place in 2004, when the organization obtained
      footage of cows walking around with their throats cut at AgriProcessors'
      plant in Postville, Iowa. Hannah had trained the investigators who went
      undercover for the exposé, and Philip analyzed the video footage that
      PETA subsequently received.

      Under pressure from rabbis as well as animal rights groups and
      government agencies, the company promised to change its slaughtering
      procedures, though AgriProcessors has been the subject of several more
      of the Scheins' investigations.

      An AgriProcessors representative declined to comment for this article.
      But Norman Schlaff, the owner of the Musicon Farm in Gosha, N.Y., was
      willing to discuss his experience with the Scheins, who paid an
      undercover visit to his kosher deer slaughterhouse last year.

      Schlaff said that two young people who appeared to be a Modern Orthodox
      couple toured the farm and, like many of his visitors who wish to ensure
      that their meat is kosher, took videos and photographs of the
      slaughtering process.

      "The next day, PETA called and said, 'Go on the Internet,'" Schlaff said.

      He found a page on the group's Web site that accused slaughterers at the
      farm of sitting on the deer to hold them down while their throats are
      slit, an allegation that Schlaff denies. "It was really very
      disturbing," Schlaff said of the unwelcome attention he received after
      the PETA article. "I got thousands of e-mails, including some death
      threats from people saying, 'We're going to do to you what you do to the

      The Scheins maintain that they want only for kosher slaughter to live up
      to what they consider its original purpose: to minimize the suffering of
      the animals. Orthodox Jewish standards of kashrut have "gotten so
      focused on the letter of the law that they've lost sight of the fact
      that [kashrut] is about reducing suffering," Hannah said.

      But according to Rabbi Menachem Genack, head of the Orthodox Union's
      kashrut division, liberal Jews such as the Scheins are using the term
      "kosher" as a "generic phrase" to denote practices they consider morally
      acceptable, thus missing the "fundamental issue" of kashrut: obedience
      to Jewish law.

      Hannah and Philip are currently working (openly) on a project to reform
      what they say are animal abuses committed in ultra-Orthodox
      neighborhoods in the course of observing the pre-Yom Kippur absolution
      ritual known as kapparot.

      The kapparot crackdown may cause a stir in such Orthodox enclaves as
      Brooklyn's Boro Park, but it probably will not get as much attention on
      celebrity gossip blogs as Hannah's encounter last year with Beyoncé.
      After PETA won a dinner with the singer in an auction, Hannah and a
      second PETA employee, armed with a hidden camera, sat down with her ---
      and accused the star of being complicit in the abuse of animals by using
      fur in her wardrobe and in her clothing line, House of Deréon.

      "I can't tell you how quickly they escorted us out of there," Hannah
      said. She added that Beyoncé has not been seen in fur since.

      Though a glimpse at the Scheins' career makes them sound like Erin
      Brockovich-style crusaders, their partnership started out far more
      innocuously. Hannah and Philip met at a 1998 orientation for new
      professionals in the Jewish campus organization Hillel. They married a
      year later in New Jersey, right after Hillel's 1999 conference ended.

      In 2002, Hannah took a job in PETA's investigations department, and the
      Scheins moved from upstate New York, where both had been working on
      graduate degrees, to a town near Norfolk, Va., where PETA is
      headquartered. Shortly thereafter, Philip, a longtime vegan and animal
      rights advocate, joined Hannah at the organization.

      The Scheins have decided to go public as part of a publicity bid for
      PETA. Despite the sensitive nature of their undercover work, they say
      they are not worried about the media attention.

      Their confidence in their ability to carry on undercover investigations
      --- and to have carried out so many in the first place --- appears to be
      rooted in the techniques they use when they go undercover, which they
      will not divulge.

      "We're still active investigators, so we don't really share our
      methods," Hannah said.

      But she added, "Everything we do is legal."

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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