Richard H. Schwartz, Ph. D.
The most basic line of demarcation in the realm of
Halacha is the one between
the permitted and the forbidden. Yet, in the realm of the permitted, we
a further line between the accepted and the ideal.
Within this context, it is essential that we not only
ask which foods God permits
but that we also consider the diet that God prefers for us. The
ments are submitted in furtherance of my view that God's preference for
is vegetarianism. My hope is that this presentation will start a
on this important issue.
Argument #1: People were originally vegetarian.
God's first dietary law was strictly vegetarian: "And God said: 'Behold
given you every herb yielding seed which is upon the face of the earth,
every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed - to you it
shall be for
food" (Genesis 1:29). That God's first intention was that people should
vegetarians was stated by Jewish classical Biblical commentators, such
Rashi, Abraham Ibn Ezra, Maimonides, and Nachmanides, and later
such as Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Moses Cassuto, and Nehama Leibowitz.
 It is significant that after giving these dietary laws, God saw
He had made and "behold, it was very good." (Genesis 1:31).
Argument #2: G-d's allowance to eat meat was only a
What about G-d's permission, given to Noach and his descendants, to eat
meat? According to Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, first Chief Rabbi
pre-state Israel and one of the outstanding Jewish thinkers of the
century, this permission was only a temporary concession to human
He felt that G-d who is merciful to all of His creatures would not
everlasting law which permits the killing of animals for food. 
The Torah connects further the consumption of meat with
(Deuteronomy 12:20), while vegetarian foods are looked on with favor:
For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a
land of brooks, of
water, of fountains and depths, springing forth in valleys and hills; a
of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates; a land of
olive-trees and honey; a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without
ness; thou shalt not lack anything in it... And thou shalt eat and be
and bless the Lord thy G-d for the good land which He hath given thee.
Rabbi Kook furthermore believed that the many laws and
restrictions related to
the preparation and consumption of meat (the laws of kashrut) supported
outlook. To Rabbi Kook, these regulations implied a reprimand and served
an elaborate apparatus designed to keep alive a sense of reverence for
with the aim of eventually leading people away from their meat-eating
This idea is echoed by Torah commentator Solomon Refrain Lunchitz,
of K'lee Yakar:
What was the necessity for the entire procedure of
ritual slaughter? For the
sake of self discipline. It is far more appropriate for man not to eat
only if he has a strong desire for meat does the Torah permit it, and
this only after the trouble and inconvenience necessary to satisfy his
Perhaps because of the bother and annoyance of the whole procedure, he
will be restrained from such a strong and uncontrollable desire for
This argument is further supported by the belief of Rav
Kook and Rabbi Joseph
Albo that in the days of the Messiah, people will again be vegetarians.
base this on the prophecy of Isaiah:
And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, And the lion
shall eat straw like the ox,
And none shall hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain.
Argument #3: Manna was the preferred food in the desert.
According to Isaac Arama, author of "Akedat Yitzchak", God established
another non-meat diet, manna, when the Israelites left Egypt.  This
seem to further indicate G-d's preference for this diet. Manna is
cribed in the Torah as a vegetarian food, "like coriander seed" (Numbers
This diet furthermore kept the Israelites in good health for 40 years in
We should also note that when the Jewish people cried
for flesh, God only
reluctantly provided it (in the form of quails). A great plague
out and many people died. The place where this occurred was named, "The
Graves of Lust", perhaps an early warning of the negative health effects
to the consumption of meat.
These three primary arguments while presenting
vegetarianism as an ideal still
accept the fact that Jews do have the choice to eat meat. The following
ary arguments, outlining the effects of meat consumption on other
concerns, limit, I believe, this choice in our age.
Argument #4: Vegetarianism provides a healthier diet.
Judaism regards the preservation of health as a religious command of the
est importance. The Talmud teaches that Jews should be more particular
matters of health and life than ritual matters.  If it could help
save a life, one
generally must (not may) violate the Sabbath, eat non-kosher foods, and
eat on Yom Kippur. The only laws that cannot be violated to preserve a
those prohibiting murder, idolatry, and sexual immorality. 
In view of these teachings, could God possibly want
people to eat meat, when
such diets have been strongly linked to heart attacks, strokes, various
cancer, and other diseases? In this regard, it is interesting to note
Chapter 5 of Genesis tells of the very long lives of people in the
the vegetarian period from Adam to Noach.
Argument #5: Modern livestock agriculture is cruel to
Judaism has many beautiful teachings concerning proper treatment of
Moses and King David were chosen for leadership, and Rebecca was deemed
suitable to be a wife for Isaac, because they were kind to animals.
12:10 teaches that "The righteous person considers the life of his
psalmist states that, "The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies
all His creatures" (Psalms 145:9). Concern for animals is even expressed
Ten Commandments. Many Biblical laws command proper treatment of
Shechitah, Jewish ritual slaughter, insures that when animals are
for food, it is done in the swiftest and most painless way possible. 
Obviously, the argument that we must be concerned for
animals can be used
to argue directly against the killing of animals for meat. Yet, the very
of meat challenges such an extension. The modern treatment of livestock
preparation for slaughter, though, may be a further consideration.
raised to ensure the highest return on investment, without sufficient
tion for their personal benefit. In view of the above stated arguments,
favor the consumption of flesh when it involves raising animals under
conditions in crowded cells, where they are denied fresh air, exercise,
fulfillment of their natural instincts?
Argument #6: Vegetarianism favors the environment.
Judaism teaches that the earth is the Lord's and that people are to be
and co-workers with God in protecting the environment. The Talmudic
indicated great concern about reducing pollution.  While God was able
say, "It is very good" when the world was created, today the world faces
environmental threats. Thus, could God favor meat-centered diets which
extensive soil depletion and erosion, air and water pollution related to
widespread production and use of pesticides, fertilizer, and other
and the destruction of tropical rain forests and other habitats?
Based on Deuteronomy 20:19, 20 which prohibits the
destruction of fruit-
bearing trees in time of warfare, the Talmudic sages also prohibited the
or unnecessary destruction of all objects of potential benefit to
Samson Raphael Hirsch stated that this prohibition (bal tashchit) is the
most general call of G-d: We are to "regard things as G-d's property and
them with a sense of responsibility for wise human purposes. Destroy
Waste nothing!"  He also stated that destruction includes using more
(or things of greater value) than is necessary to obtain one's aim.
Hence, could God favor flesh-centered diets which
require up to 20 times more
land, ten times more energy and water, and far more pesticides,
other resources, than vegetarian diets?
Argument #7: The non-economical use of resources to
consumption yields many negative repercussions for humanity.
Helping the hungry is fundamental in Judaism. The Talmud states,
charity weighs as heavily as all the other commandments of the Torah
bined" (Baba Batra 9a). Farmers are to leave the gleanings of the
the corners of the fields for the poor. On Yom Kippur, the holiest day
Jewish year, while fasting and praying for a good year, Jews are told
the words of the Prophet Isaiah, that fasting and prayers are not
must work to end oppression and "share thy bread with the hungry"
Hence, could God possibly favor a diet that involves the
feeding of over 70
percent of the grain grown in the U.S. to animals destined for slaughter
20 million people die annually due to hunger and its effects? Could He
a diet that involves the importing of beef (the U.S. is one of the
importers) from countries where people are starving, to satisfy the
fast-food restaurants? Using grain and similar resources to directly
beings rather than in the preparation of meat could greatly offset these
While not a pacifist religion, Judaism mandates a
special obligation to work for
peace. While many commandments require a certain time and/or place for
their performance, Jews are to constantly "seek peace and pursue it"
According to the Talmudic sages, God's name is peace,
all blessings, and the first words of the Messiah will be a message of
While the Israelites did go forth to battle, they always yearned for the
"nations shall beat their swords into plowshares..and not learn war any
more." (Micah 4:3,4)
Since the sages taught that one of the roots of war is
the lack of bread and
other resources , could God support the notion of a diet that
wasteful use of land, water, energy, and other agricultural commodities,
thus perpetuates the widespread hunger and poverty that frequently leads
instability and war?
The above arguments strongly indicate to me that
vegetarianism is the diet most
consistent with Jewish values and God's preferences. I invite the reader
further investigate these arguments and sources, including other
and understandings that would defend meat consumption as acceptable
the ideal diet for Jews. I believe that my position would still remain
strong. I feel,
however, that to complete my arguments, some of the challenges to the
tion that the ideal diet for Jews is vegetarianism should be addressed.
Counter-argument #1: Inconsistent with Judaism,
animals to a level equal to or greater than that of people.
Response: Concern for animals and refusal to treat them brutally and
them for food that is not necessary for proper nutrition and, indeed, is
to human health, does not mean that vegetarians regard animals as being
to people. Also, as indicated, there are many reasons for being
than animal rights, including concern for human health, ecological
the plight of hungry people.
Because humans are capable of imagination, rationality,
and moral choice, we should strive to end the unbelievably cruel
under which farm animals are currently raised. This is an issue of
not an assertion of egalitarianism with the animal kingdom.
Counter-argument #2. Vegetarianism places greater
priority on animal
rights than on the many problems related to human welfare.
Response: Vegetarian diets are not beneficial only to animals. They also
prove human health, help hungry people through better sharing of food
other resources, put less stress on endangered ecosystems, conserve
resources, and reduce the potential for war and violence. In view of the
global threats related to today`s livestock agriculture, working to
vegetarianism may be the most important action that one can take for
Counter-argument #3. By putting vegetarian values ahead
Jewish teachings, vegetarians are, in effect, creating a new religion,
with values contrary to Jewish teachings.
Response: Jewish vegetarians are not placing so-called vegetarian values
above Torah principles. They are saying that basic Jewish teachings that
date that we treat animals with compassion, guard our health, share with
people, protect the environment, conserve resources, and seek peace,
vegetarianism as the ideal God directed diet for Jews today. Rather than
ting Torah values, Jewish vegetarians are challenging the Jewish
apply Judaism`s glorious teachings.
Counter-argument #4. Jews must eat meat on Shabbos and
Response: According to the the Talmud (T. B. Pesachim 109a), since the
destruction of the Temple, Jews are not required to eat meat in order to
in sacred occasions. Recent scholarly articles by Rabbi Alfred Cohen
Rabbi J. David Bleich  conclude that Jews do not have to eat meat in
to celebrate the Sabbath and Jewish festivals. The fact that several
including Shlomo Goren, late Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel, and
Yashuv Cohen, Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Haifa, have been or are strict
vegetarians reinforces this argument.
Counter-argument #5. The Torah mandates that we eat
and other korbanos (sacrifices).
Response: The great Jewish philosopher Maimonides believed that God
ted sacrifices as a concession to the common mode of worship in Biblical
 It was felt that had Moses not instituted the sacrifices, his
have failed and perhaps Judaism would have disappeared. The Jewish philo-
sopher Abarbanel reinforced Maimonides' position by citing a midrash
indicated that the Israelites had become accustomed to sacrifices in
and thus God tolerated the sacrifices but commanded that they be offered
in one central sanctuary in order to wean the Jews from idolatrous
Without the Temple, sacrifices are not required today.
And, Rav Kook felt,
based on the prophecy of Isaiah, that there will only be sacrifices
vegetarian foods during the Messianic Period. There is a midrash that
"In the Messianic era, all sacrifices will cease, except thanksgiving
(which could be non-animal) which will continue forever". 
Even if sacrifices will be restored at that time, as
many other Jewish sages
believed, this should not prevent people from adopting a diet that has
personal and societal benefits today.
Counter-argument #6. Jews have historically had many
some animal rights groups which have often opposed kosher shechita
and advocated its abolishment.
Response: Jews should consider switching to vegetarianism not because of
views of animal rights groups, whether they are hostile to Judaism or
because it is the diet most consistent with Jewish values. It is the
animal rights groups, that indicate how far the treatment of animals is
fundamental Jewish values. The powerful Jewish teachings on proper
of animals was eloquently summarized by Samson Raphael Hirsch:
Here you are faced with God's teaching, which obliges
you not only to refrain
from inflicting unnecessary pain on any animal, but to help and, when
to lessen the pain whenever you see an animal suffering, even through no
of yours. 
It is essential that the Jewish community start to
address the many moral issues
related to our diets. This is an issue of importance for Torah and for
of our endangered planet.
NOTE: References available by request. Contact editor
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