Animal Rights: A History

Isaac Bashevis Singer

 

The Deeper Minds Of All Ages Have Had Pity For Animals
Friedrich Nietzsche

Related links: Animal Rights and Why they Matter

 

Home

About think Differently About Sheep

Sentient Sheep

Sheep in religion and mythology

Sheep in Art

Sheep Breeds

Liberate our Sheep

Vegetarianism/veganism

Animal Rights

Factory Farming

Sentience in Farm animals

Why Animal matter:
A Religious and Philosophical perspective

Vegan Rambles

Farm Animal Facts

Animal Rights and Why they Matter

Photograph Gallery

Art Gallery

Clip art

Quotations

Portrait Gallery: Animals do Not all Look the Same

Links

Useful Links: Action You Can Take

Contact

 

 

This page is part of the section: Animal Rights:A History

Isaac Bashevis Singer

[M]y vegetarianism is a great protest. And I dream that there may be a whole religion based on protest against everything which is not just: about the fact that there is so much sickness, so much death, so much cruelty. My vegetarianism is my religion, and it's part of my protest against the conduct of the world.
Isaac Bashevis Singer

I did not become a vegetarian for my health, I did it for the health of the chickens. Isaac Bashevis Singer

Isaac Bashevis Singer (1902 -1991) was a Jewish American Author. Most famous for his short stories and among the most powerful of pro-animal voices of the twentieth century Isaac Singer was born in Leoncin a village near Warsaw, Poland. In 1935 as a result of the growing Nazi threat in neighbouring Germany, Singer left Poland and followed his elder  brother Joshua to the USA.

He was parted from his common law wife  Runia Pontsch and son Israel Zamir who instead went to Moscow and then Palestine, they would not meet again until 1955. Sadly his mother, younger brother, and many members of his extended family who remained in Poland were killed. In New York where Singer made his home he worked as a Journalist for the a Yiddish-language newspaper.  In 1938, he met Alma Wassermann  a German-Jewish refugee from Munich whom he married in 1940. After which time and after some initial despondence Singer became a prolific writer and one of the leading figures in the Yiddish literary movement; he received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1978.

 

In a Newsweek interview, 16 October 1978, after winning the Nobel Prize in literature Singer Said:

The same questions are bothering me today as they did fifty years ago. Why is one born? Why does one suffer? In my case, the suffering of animals also makes me very sad. I'm a vegetarian, you know. When I see how little attention people pay to animals, and how easily they make peace with man being allowed to do with animals whatever he wants because he keeps a knife or a gun, it gives me a feeling of misery and sometimes anger with the Almighty. I say "Do you need your glory to be connected with so much suffering of creatures without glory, just innocent creatures who would like to pass a few year's in peace?" I feel that animals are as bewildered as we are except that they have no words for it. I would say that all life is asking: "What am I doing here?"

Singer  wrote and published in Yiddish and then edited his novels and stories for their American versions, which than became the basis for all other translations; he referred to the English version as his "second original"  His writing accomplishments include at least 18 novels, 14 children's books, however Many of his stories and novels remain unpublished. He also wrote a number of memoirs, essays and articles. His short stories appeared in over a dozen collections.  His novels include Enemies, a Love Story, which is set 1949 New York and follows the life of Holocaust survivor Herman Broder in which the famous quote appears.

As often as Herman had witnessed the slaughter of animals and fish, he always had the same thought: in their behaviour toward creatures, all men were Nazis. The smugness with which man could do with other species as he pleased exemplified the most extreme racist theories, the principle that might is right.
Isaac Bashevis Singer, Enemies, a Love Story

Most of Singers' later novels and stories set in America are about survivors of the holocaust and it was a perspective from which he often viewed the world, most particularly concerning the exploitation and slaughter of animals which greatly distressed him. He used some of his stories and novels as a platform to expresses his opinion concerning the exploitive and abusive treatment of animals. Singer often employs first-person narrators in his fiction that are clearly meant to represent him personally as in the above quotation.

His profound sensitivities to suffering including the suffering of animals is expressed in his autobiographical book, Lost in America:

There reposed within me an ascetic who reminded me constantly of death and that other's suffered in hospitals, in prisons, or were tortured by various political sadists. Only a few years ago millions of Russian peasants starved to death just because Stalin decided to establish collectives. I could never forget the cruelties perpetrated upon God's creatures in slaughterhouses, on hunts, and in various scientific laboratories. 

Singer's writings have had a great influence by highlighting the plight of animals and human mistreatment of them.

For the last thirty-five years of his life Singer was a prominent Vegetarian, he often included such themes in his writings. For example in his short story The slaughterer  wherein he describes the anguish that a slaughterer had trying to reconcile his compassion for animals with his job of slaughtering them.

In this extract from his short story Singer tells how the killing of animals effects one man - the Slaughter. In this except the slaughterer Yoineh Meir haunted  with misgivings takes a stroll in the night

Since Yoineh Meir had begun to slaughter, his thoughts were obsessed with living creatures. He grappled with all sorts of questions. Where did flies come from? Were they born out of their mother's womb or did they hatch from eggs? If all the flies died in winter, where in the new ones come from in the summer? And the owl that nested under the synagogue  roof - what did it do when the frost came? Did it remain there? Did it fly away to warm countries? How could anything live in the burning frost, when it was scarcely possible to keep warm under the quilt?

An unfamiliar love welled up in Yoineh Meir for all that crawls and flies, breeds and swarms. Even the mouse - was it their fault that they were mice? What wrong does a mouse do? All it wants is a crumb of bread, a bit of cheese. Then why is the cat such an enemy to it?

Yoineh Meir rocked back and forth in the dark. The rabbi may be right. Man cannot and must not have more compassion than the Master of the universe. Yet he, Yoineh Meir, was sick with pity. How could one pray for life for the coming year, or for a favourable writ in Heaven, when one was for robbing others of the breath of life? 

Yoineh Meir thought that the Messiah Himself could not redeem the world as long as injustice was done to beasts. By rights everything should rise from the dead: every calf, fish, gnat, butterfly. Even in the worm that crawls in the earth there glows a divine spark. When you slaughter a creature you slaughter God...

Quoted in the The vegetarian Magazine article, The Compassionate writer by Duba Descowitz

books.google.co.uk/books?Isaac+Bashevis The slaughterer The Vegetarian Times

The above is an insightful article into the compassion of Isaac Bashevis Singer regarding animals

Singer considered that the eating of meat was a denial of all ideals and all religions. "How can we speak of right and justice if we take an innocent creature and shed its blood? How can we pray to God for mercy if we ourselves have no mercy?

Concerning vegetarianism Isaac Singer wrote:
Vegetarianism is my religion. I became a consistent vegetarian some twenty-three years ago. Before that, I would try over and over again. But it was sporadic. Finally, in the mid-1960s, I made up my mind. And I've been a vegetarian ever since.

When a human kills an animal for food, he is neglecting his own hunger for justice. Man prays for mercy, but is unwilling to extend it to others. Why should man then expect mercy from God? It's unfair to expect something that you are not willing to give. It is inconsistent.

I can never accept inconsistency or injustice. Even if it comes from God. If there would come a voice from God saying, "I'm against vegetarianism!" I would say, "Well, I am for it!" This is how strongly I feel in this regard.

In orthodox religious circles, this would be considered heretical. Still, I consider myself a religious man. I'm not against organized religion, but I don't take part in it. Especially when they interpret their religious books as being in favor of meat-eating. Sometimes they say He wants sacrifice and the killing of animals. If this is true, then I would never be able to comply. But I think God is wiser and more merciful than that. And there are interpretations of religious scriptures which support this, saying that vegetarianism is a very high ideal.

Whether the mass of people accept the vegetarian interpretation of religion or not really doesn't matter. At least not in my life. I accept it implicitly. Of course, it would be wonderful if the world adopted vegetarianism, on religious grounds or any other. But this is not likely. I am a skeptic, it's true, but I'm also realistic. In any event, what the people in general do will not affect me. I will continue to be a vegetarian even if the whole world started to eat meat.

The Preface Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote to Steven Rosen's "Food for Spirit: Vegetarianism and the World Religions

Source: ivu.org

Singer was among several writers who became vegetarian after making a comparison between the atrociously cruel way animals are treated in factory farms, eventually ending their lives in slaughter houses, and the Holocaust. He described this as an eternal Treblinka and made this comparison in several of his stories.

In the Letter Writer the protagonist says that in relation to animals all men are Nazis :

In his thoughts, Herman spoke a eulogy for the mouse who had shared a portion of her life with him and who, because of him, had left this earth. "What do they
know--all these scholars, all these philosophers, all the leaders of the world--about such as you? They have convinced themselves that man, the worst transgressor
of all the species, is the crown of creation. All other creatures were created merely to provide him with food, pelts, to be tormented, exterminated. In relation to
them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka.

Also in Enemies, A Love Story :

In The Penitent, the protagonist says "when it comes to animals, every man is a Nazi."

Many animal rights advocates have continued to make the comparison.

In 2001 Charles Patterson's book the The Eternal Treblinka our treatment of Animals and the Holocaust was published.

Review:

This book explores the similar attitudes and methods behind modern society's treatment of animals and the way humans have often treated each other, most notably during the Holocaust. The book's epigraph and title are from "The Letter Writer," a story by the Yiddish writer and Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer: "In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka."

The Foreword is by Lucy Rosen Kaplan, former attorney for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and daughter of Holocaust survivors. Her foreword, the Preface and Afterword, excerpts from the book, chapter synopses, and an international list of supporters can be found on the book's website at:
 

Selections from Chapter 7 the Boundless Slaughter House from The Eternal Treblinka by Charles Patterson that reflect Isaac Bashevis Singers' developing attitude toward animals. .

Singer was born in the small Polish village of Leoncin where his father was a Hasidic rabbi. Although he only lived there until the age of three, Singer remembered that their house had very little furniture, but many books. He also remembered the animals. "Every week there was a market, and many peasants would come to the town bringing livestock. Once I saw a peasant beating a pig. Maybe it had been squealing. I ran in to my mother to tell her the pig was crying and the man was beating it with a stick. I remember this very vividly. Even then I was thinking like a vegetarian."

After the family moved to Warsaw where his father served as a rabbi in a poor Jewish neighborhood, Singer took to catching flies and removing their wings. He would then place the wingless fly in a match box with a drop of water and a grain of sugar for nourishment. He did this until he finally realized he was committing "terrible
crimes against those creatures just because I was bigger than they, stronger, and defter." This realization bothered him so much that for a long time he thought about little else. After he prayed for forgiveness and took "a holy oath never again to catch flies," his thinking about the suffering of flies "expanded to include all people, all animals, all lands, all times."

His experience catching flies appears in his autobiographical novel, Shosha, which is set in Warsaw. When the narrator and Shosha pass the street where they both grew up, Shosha tells him, "You stood on the balcony and caught flies." The narrator tells her not to remind him. When Shosha asks him why not, he tells her what becomes a constant refrain throughout Singer's writings: "Because we do to God's creatures what the Nazis did to us."

In The Certificate, another autobiographical novel set in Warsaw, the young narrator stops in front of a sausage shop and stares at the sausages hanging in the window. He addresses them silently: "You were once alive, you suffered, but you're beyond your
sorrows now. There's no trace of your writhing or suffering anywhere. Is there a memorial tablet somewhere in the cosmos on which it is written that a cow named Kvyatule allowed herself to be milked for eleven years? Then in the twelfth year, when her udder had shrunk, she was led to a slaughterhouse, where a blessing was
recited over her and her throat was cut.

At the end of Singer's posthumously published novel, Shadows on the Hudson, the main character writes a letter from Israel in which he associates hunting with the seeds of fascism. "As long as the other nations continue going to church in the morning and hunting in the afternoon, they will remain unbridled beasts and will go on producing Hitlers and other monstrosities." Singer says he was astonished to read about "highly sensitive poets, preachers of morality, humanists, and do-gooders of all kinds who found pleasure in hunting--chasing after some poor, weak hare or fox and teaching
dogs to do likewise." He was also dismayed by people who said they wanted to go fishing when they retire, believing that fishing was a harmless pursuit that will launch a new period of peace and tranquility in their lives. "It never occurs to them for a moment that innocent beings will suffer and die from this innocent little
sport.

Excepts from Chapter Seven This Boundless Slaughterhouse The Compassionate Vision of Isaac Bashevis Singer, The Eternal Treblinka by Charles Patterson.
Authors website: powerfulbook.com/

Also of interest, an Interview with Author of Eternal Treblinka by Richard Schwartz, Ph.D

jewishveg.com/schwartz/interview.htm

Isaac Bashevis Singer Quotations

Even in the worm that crawls in the earth there glows a divine spark. When you slaughter a creature, you slaughter God.

As often as Herman had witnessed the slaughter of animals and fish, he always had the same thought: in their behaviour toward creatures, all men were Nazis. The smugness with which man could do with other species as he pleased exemplified the most extreme racist theories, the principle that might is right.
Isaac Bashevis Singer, Enemies, a Love Story

People often say that humans have always eaten animals, as if this is a justification for continuing the practice. According to this logic, we should not try to prevent people from murdering other people, since this has also been done since the earliest of times.

Even though the number of people who commit suicide is quite small, there are few people who have never thought about suicide at one time or another. The same is true about vegetarianism We find very few people who have never thought that killing animals is actually murder, founded on the premise that might is right . . . I will call it the eternal question: What gives man the right to kill an animal often torture it, so that he can fill his belly with its flesh. We know now, as we have always known instinctively, that animals can suffer as much as human beings. their emotions and their sensitivity are often stronger than those of a human being. Various philosophers and religious leaders tried to convince their disciples and followers that animals are nothing more than machines without a soul, without feelings. However, anyone who has ever lived with an animal be it a dog, a bird or even a mouse - knows that this theory is a brazen lie, invented to justify cruelty.

...as long as human beings will go on shedding the blood of animals, there will never be any peace. There is ouly one little step from killing animals to creating gas chambers a la Hitler and concentration camps a la Stalin . . . all such deeds are done in the name of 'social justice'. There will be no justice as long as man will stand with a knife or with a gun and destroy those who are weaker than he is.

Extracts from Singer's foreword to 'Vegetarianism, a Way of Life, by Dudley Giehl'

 

In his thoughts, Herman spoke a eulogy for the mouse who had shared a portion of her life with him and who, because of him, had left this earth. "What do they
know--all these scholars, all these philosophers, all the leaders of the world--about such as you? They have convinced themselves that man, the worst transgressor
of all the species, is the crown of creation. All other creatures were created merely to provide him with food, pelts, to be tormented, exterminated. In relation to
them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka.

Isaac Bashevis Singer, "The Letter Writer"
 


 

To be a vegetarian is to disagree - to disagree with the course of things today... starvation, cruelty - we must make a statement against these things. Vegetarianism is my statement. And I think it's a strong one.



There will be no justice as long as man will stand with a knife or with a gun and destroy those who are weaker than he is.



How can we pray to God for mercy if we ourselves have no mercy?




As long as people will shed the blood of innocent creatures, there can be no peace, noliberty, no harmony between people. Slaughter and justice cannot dwell together.




If there would come a voice from God saying, 'I'm against vegetarianism!' I would say, 'Well, I am for it!' This is how strongly I feel in this regard.



                      

 

Credits

Photo: Isaac Bashevis Singer

Original imagine and licensing details

commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Isaac_Bashevis_Singer_crop.jpg

 

important please note:

I am not an animal expert of any kind just your average person who loves animals, all animals, and feels deeply about the plight of many of our fellow creatures. Neither am I a writer, or any other expert. Therefore please keep in mind that the information included in this website has been researched to the best of my ability and any misinformation is quite by accident but of course possible.

Copyright, accreditations and other matters, please read