Every year when Jews come together to celebrate the miracle of Hanukah, we recount the story not just of how the oil amazingly lasted eight nights, but that this ragtag force of Maccabees defeated the odds and prevailed over a seemingly unbeatable army. The truly David vs. Goliath battle ended with David—or in this case, Judah—triumphant, and the Jews were again allowed to live relatively free from oppression.
In 2016, a similar story unfolded for animals, though the battle wasn’t physical and the stakes were fundamentally different. But David did slay Goliath again, this time in a land thousands of miles from the temple in Jerusalem—a land called Massachusetts.
For decades, the powerful agribusiness lobby has blocked many rules regarding its abuse of animals. Its influential lobbyists have enabled such lack of regulation that factory farms can mistreat animals essentially however they’d like. The result has been standard practices that are so inhumane, few people would even want to bear witness to them.
For example: locking animals in cages so small they can barely even move an inch their whole lives.
Such immobilization, as extreme as it is, has become the norm in the egg and pork industries. And that cruelty is exactly what Massachusetts voters were asked to weigh in on with Question 3 on the state’s ballot.
The measure, which would ban the sale of eggs, veal and pork in Massachusetts from animals who were kept in cramped cages, sent shockwaves throughout the nation’s agribusiness boardrooms. On one side was factory farming tycoons eager to maintain the status quo; on the other: animal welfare, environmental and food safety advocates.
The main financier of the opposition campaign was a Midwestern multi-millionaire oil and cattle baron who pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into ads to mislead Massachusetts voters about Question 3. His trail of financial influence was joined by another six-figure gift from the Iowa-based National Pork Producers Council.
Yet despite the campaign by such a powerful army of agribusiness interests, on election night, the animals prevailed—and like the Maccabees, in a dramatic way. A whopping 78 percent of voters approved the measure—a greater margin than had supported any animal protection measure in world history. You could almost feel the shivers going up the spines of those who want to keep animals locked in cages.
As with so many animal welfare campaigns, rabbis and Jews of various denominations and religiosity joined the fight to pass Question 3. With some of the earliest laws prohibiting animal cruelty coming directly from the Hebrew Scriptures, it’s not surprising that so many Jews work to fulfil Amos’ prophecy to let justice roll down like waters.
In the wake of what some political observers noted was a miraculously huge win in Massachusetts, just as with the victory over 2,000 years ago, the agribusiness empire of today needs to ask itself if some parts of the status quo are really worth fighting for.
Being part of the animal protection movement is one way to enable justice to roll down like waters, even in the face of a more powerful opponent. Fights like Question 3 in Massachusetts are helping lead us toward a different type of society—a more humane society. This movement is leading toward a society in which we recognize that our fellow creatures aren’t merely here for us, but rather are here with us.
Now that would be a miracle that’d also be worth celebrating for generations to come.