1: The Torah teaches that humans are granted dominion
over animals (Gen. 1:26), giving us a warrant to treat animals in any
way we wish.
Response: Jewish tradition interprets "dominion" as
guardianship, or stewardship: we are called upon to be co-workers with
God in improving the world. Dominion does not mean that people have the
right to wantonly exploit animals, and it certainly does not permit us
to breed animals and treat them as machines designed solely to meet
human needs. In A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace, Rav Kook states:
"There can be no doubt in the mind of any intelligent person that [the
Divine empowerment of humanity to derive benefit from nature] does not
mean the domination of a harsh ruler, who afflicts his people and
servants merely to satisfy his whim and desire, according to the
crookedness of his heart. It is unthinkable that the Divine Law would
impose such a decree of servitude, sealed for all eternity, upon the
world of God, Who is 'good to all, and His mercy is upon all His works'
(Ps. 145:9)." This view is reinforced by the fact that immediately after
God gave humankind dominion over animals (Gen. 1:26), He prescribed
vegetarian foods as the diet for humans (Gen. 1:29).
2: The Torah teaches that only people are created in the
Divine Image, meaning that God places far less value on animals.
Response: While the Torah states that only human beings
are created "in the Divine Image" (Gen. 5:1), animals are also God's
creatures, possessing sensitivity and the capacity for feeling pain. God
is concerned that they are protected and treated with compassion and
justice. In fact, the Jewish sages state that to be "created in the
Divine Image," means that people have the capacity to emulate the Divine
compassion for all creatures. "As God is compassionate," they teach, "so
you should be compassionate."
3: Inconsistent with Judaism, vegetarians elevate
animals to a level equal to or greater than that of people.
Response: Vegetarians' concern for animals and their
refusal to treat animals cruelly does not mean that they regard animals
as equals. There are many reasons to be vegetarian besides consideration
for animalsóconcerns about human health, ecological threats, and the
plight of hungry people, to name a few. Because humans are capable of
imagination, rationality, empathy, compassion, and moral choice, we
should strive to end the unbelievably cruel conditions under which farm
animals are currently raised. This is an issue of sensitivity, not an
assertion of equality with the animal kingdom.
4: 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 improve human health, help conserve food and other
resources, and put less strain on endangered ecosystems. In view of the
many threats related to today's livestock agriculture (such as
deforestation and global climate change), working to promote
vegetarianism may be the most important action that one can take for
5: By putting vegetarian values ahead of 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 but are challenging the
Jewish community to apply Judaism's teachings at every level of our
daily lives. Jewish teachings that we treat animals with compassion,
guard our health, share with the hungry, protect the environment,
conserve resources, and seek peace, are best applied through vegetarian
6: Jews must eat meat on Shabbat and Yom Tov (Jewish
Response: According to the Talmud (T. B. Pesachim 109a),
since the destruction of the Temple, Jews are not required to eat meat
in order to rejoice on sacred occasions. This view is reinforced in the
works Reshit Chochmah and Kerem Shlomo and Rabbi Chizkiah Medini's Sdei
Chemed, which cites many classical sources on the subject. Several
Israeli chief rabbis, including Shlomo Goren, late Ashkenazic Chief
Rabbi of Israel, and Shear Yashuv Cohen, Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of
Haifa, have been or are strict vegetarians.
7: The Torah mandated that Jews eat korban Pesach and
other korbanot (sacrifices).
Response: The great Jewish philosopher Maimonides
believed that God permitted sacrifices as a concession to the common
mode of worship in Biblical times. It was felt that had Moses not
instituted the sacrifices, his mission would have failed and Judaism
might have disappeared. The Jewish philosopher Abarbanel reinforced
Maimonides' position by citing a midrash (Rabbinic teaching) that
indicates God tolerated the sacrifices because the Israelites had become
accustomed to sacrifices in Egypt, but that He commanded they be offered
only in one central sanctuary in order to wean the Jews from idolatrous
8: Jews historically have had many problems with some
animal rights groups, which have often opposed shechita (ritual
slaughter) and advocated its abolishment.
Response: Jews should consider switching to
vegetarianism not because of the views of animal rights groups (whether
they are hostile to Judaism or not), but because it is the diet most
consistent with Jewish teachings. It is the Torah, not animal rights
groups, which is the basis for observing how far current animal
treatment has strayed from fundamental Jewish values. As Samson Raphael
Hirsch stated: "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 you can, to lessen the pain whenever you see an
animal suffering, even through no fault of yours."
9: The restrictions of shechita minimize the pain to
animals in the slaughtering process, and thus fulfill Jewish laws on
proper treatment of animals.
Response: This ignores the cruel treatment of animals on
"factory farms" in the many months prior to slaughter. Can we ignore the
force-feeding of huge amounts of grain to ducks and geese to produce
foie gras, the removal of calves from their mothers shortly after birth
to raise them for veal, the killing of over 250 million male chicks
immediately after birth at egg-laying hatcheries in the U.S. annually,
the placing of hens in cages so small that they can't raise even one
wing, and the many other horrors of modern factory farming?
10: If Jews do not eat meat, they will be deprived of
the opportunity to fulfill many mitzvot (commandments).
Response: By not eating meat, Jews are actually
fulfilling many mitzvot: showing compassion to animals, preserving
health, conserving resources, helping to feed the hungry, and preserving
the earth. And by abstaining from meat, Jews reduce the chance of
accidentally violating several prohibitions of the Torah, such as mixing
meat and milk, eating nonkosher animals, and eating forbidden fats or
blood. There are other cases where Torah laws regulate things that God
would prefer people not do at all. For example, God wishes people to
live in peace, but He provides commandments relating to war, knowing
that human beings will quarrel and seek victories over others.
Similarly, the Torah laws that restrict taking female captives in
wartime are a concession to human weakness. Indeed, the sages go to
great lengths to deter people from taking advantage of such
11: Judaism teaches that it is wrong not to take
advantage of the pleasurable things that God has put on the earth. Since
He put animals on the earth, and it is pleasurable to eat them, is it
not wrong to refrain from eating meat?
Response: Can eating meat be pleasurable to a sensitive
person when he or she knows that, as a result, their health is
endangered, grain is wasted, the environment is damaged, and animals are
being cruelly treated? One can indulge in pleasure without doing harm to
living creatures. There are many other cases in Judaism where actions
that people may consider pleasurable are forbidden or discouragedósuch
as the use of tobacco, drinking liquor to excess, having sexual
relations out of wedlock, and hunting.
12: A movement by Jews toward vegetarianism would lead
to less emphasis on kashrut (dietary laws) and eventually a disregard of
Response: Quite the contrary. In many ways, becoming a
vegetarian makes it easier and less expensive to observe the laws of kashrut. This might attract many new adherents to keeping kosher, and
eventually to other important Jewish practices. As a vegetarian, one
need not be concerned with mixing milchigs (dairy products) with
fleichigs (meat products), waiting three or six hours after eating meat
before being allowed to eat dairy products, storing four complete sets
of dishes (two for regular use and two for Passover use), extra
silverware, pots, pans, etc., and many other considerations incumbent
upon the nonvegetarian who wishes to observe kashrut.
13: If everyone became vegetarian, butchers, shochtim
(slaughterers), and others dependent for a living on the consumption of
meat would lack work.
Response: There could be a shift from the production of
animal products to that of nutritious vegetarian dishes. In England
during World War II, when there was a shortage of meat, butchers relied
mainly on the sale of fruits and vegetables. Today, new businesses could
sell tofu, miso, felafel, soy burgers, and vegetarian cholent (Sabbath
hot dish). Besides, the shift toward vegetarianism will be gradual,
providing time for a transition to other jobs. The same kind of question
can be asked about other moral issues. What would happen to arms
merchants if we had universal peace? What would happen to some doctors
and nurses if people took better care of themselves, stopped smoking,
improved their diets, and so on? Immoral or inefficient practices should
not be supported because some people earn a living in the process.
14: If everyone became vegetarian, animals would overrun
Response: This concern is based on an insufficient
understanding of animal behavior. For example, there are millions of
turkeys around at Thanksgiving not because they want to help celebrate
the holiday, but because farmers breed them for the dinner table. Dairy
cows are artificially inseminated annually so that they will constantly
produce milk. Before the establishment of modern intensive livestock
agriculture, food supply and demand kept animal populations relatively
steady. An end to the manipulation of animals' reproductive tendencies
to suit our needs would lead to a decrease, rather than an increase, in
the number of animals. We are not overrun by animals that we do not eat,
such as lions, elephants, and crocodiles.
15: Instead of advocating vegetarianism, we should
alleviate the evils of factory farming so that animals are treated
better, less grain is wasted, and less health-harming chemicals are
Response: The breeding of animals is "big business."
Animals are raised the way they are today because it is very profitable.
Improving conditions, as suggested by this assertion, would certainly be
a step in the right direction, but it has been strongly resisted by the
meat industry since it would greatly increase already high prices. Why
not abstain from eating meat as a protest against present policies while
trying to improve them? Even under the best of conditions, why take the
life of a creature of God, "whose tender mercies are over all His
creatures" (Ps. 145:9), when it is not necessary for proper nutrition?
16: One can work to improve conditions for animals
without being a vegetarian.
Response: Animal abuse is a widespread problem and there
are many ways to improve conditions for animals. However, one should
keep in mind that factory farming is the primary source of animal abuse
in this country. According to FARM (Farm Animal Reform Movement), "The
number of warm-blooded animals brutalized and slaughtered each year is
approximately 70 times the number of animals killed in laboratories, 30
times the number killed by hunters and trappers, and 500 times the
number killed in pounds." They also reported that almost 10 billion farm
animals are killed annually to produce food. A typical meat-eating
animal welfare advocate is personally responsible for the slaughter of
twenty-two warm-blooded animals per year, 1,500 in an average lifetime.
17: If vegetarian diets were best for health, doctors
would recommend them.
Response: Unfortunately, while doctors are devoted to
the well-being of their patients, many lack information about the basic
relationship between food and health because nutrition is not
sufficiently taught at most medical schools. Also, many patients are
resistant to making dietary changes. The accepted approach today seems
to be to prescribe medications first and, perhaps, recommend a diet
change as an afterthought. However, there now seems to be increasing
awareness on the part of doctors about the importance of proper
nutrition, but the financial power of the beef and dairy lobbies and
other groups who gain from the status quo prevents rapid changes.
18: I enjoy eating meat. Why should I give it up?
Response: If one is solely motivated by what will bring
pleasure, perhaps no answer to this question would be acceptable. But
Judaism wishes us to be motivated by far more: doing mitzvot, performing
good deeds and acts of charity, sanctifying ourselves in the realm of
the permissible, helping to feed the hungry, pursuing justice and peace,
etc. Even if one is primarily motivated by considerations of pleasure
and convenience, the negative health effects of animal-centered diets
should be taken into account. One cannot enjoy life when one is not in
WE WANT TO HEAR from you! Use our direct link to share
your views. Or write to "Letters," Tikkun Magazine, 2342 Shattuck
Avenue, Suite 1200, Berkeley, CA 94704; Fax: (510) 644-1255. Please
include your name, address, and daytime phone number. Letters may be
edited for space and clarity.
Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D., is professor emeritus
of mathematics at the College of Staten Island and author of Judaism and
Vegetarianism and Judaism and Global Survival, and over 100 articles at
Contact Richard H. Schwartz at:
Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, College of Staten Island
2800 Victory Bulevard, Staten Island, NY 10314
Phone: (718) 761-5876 Fax: (718) 982-3631
E-mail address: [email protected]
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