Not Because of PETA, But Because of the Torah, We Must Be Involved

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Not Because of PETA, But Because of the Torah, We Must Be Involved

[Ed. Note: Don't miss our collection of articles, Jewish Vegan/Vegetarian Articles. And please read the text and/or watch the PowerPoint Vegetarianism and the Major World Religions.]

By Richard Schwartz, PhD, Jewish Vegetarians of North America

Rabbi Shafran properly points out that Judaism stresses the uniqueness, sanctity and dignity of every human life. Once again, this raises moral issues that the Jewish community does not seem to be getting.

What about the dignity of the over one million Americans stricken annually with heart disease, stroke, various types of cancer and other chronic degenerative diseases strongly connected to the consumption of animal products?

Animal-based diets and agriculture violate basic Jewish mandates to take care of our health, treat animals with compassion, protect the environment, conserve natural resources, help the hungry, and pursue a more peaceful world.

Rabbi Avi Shafran is correct in stating that Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA, does not get it when it comes to understanding why many in the the Jewish community were upset and outraged by PETA’s insensitive "Holocaust on Your Plate" exhibit and now feel that her recent apology is inadequate. However, this does not negate the fact that Jews should be actively involved in ending the widespread abuses of animals on factory farms and in other places and reducing the threat to public health and sustainability posed by animal-based diets. This is not because of anything PETA says or does. It's because Judaism mandates it.

While properly challenging PETA to get it, we should also consider issues that many in the Jewish community do not seem to get:

The mass production and consumption of animal products is causing an epidemic of human degenerative disease and is contributing significantly to global warming, rapid species extinction, the destruction of tropical rainforests and other habitats, a global fresh water crisis and many additional threats to humanity.

Animal-based diets and agriculture violate basic Jewish mandates to take care of our health, treat animals with compassion, protect the environment, conserve natural resources, help the hungry, and pursue a more peaceful world.

Rabbi Shafran properly points out that Judaism stresses the uniqueness, sanctity and dignity of every human life. Once again, this raises moral issues that the Jewish community does not seem to be getting:

Rabbi Shafran is also correct in pointing out that Judaism has very powerful teachings on compassion to animals. However, like many other Jewish leaders, he fails to relate these teachings to the many ways that animals are currently mistreated on factory farms and in other settings.

In view of the Jewish teaching of tsa’ar ba’alei chaim (the Torah mandate against causing unnecessary pain to animals), can we justify such routine and legal horrors of factory farming as:

Since we Jews are called to be rachamanim b'nei rachamanim (compassionate children of compassionate ancestors) and to worship a compassionate God, Whose mercies are over all of His creatures, can we continue in good conscience to follow diets that involve so much cruelty to animals?

Clearly, Jewish values and the consumption of animal foods are in serious conflict. If Judaism is to remain relevant to many of the great problems of today, I believe that all Jews must seriously consider adopting a more humane and sustainable plant-based diet. In my view, it is a moral, social and ecological imperative.

Jews comprise only a small percentage of the world’s people. We are responsible for only a small portion of the problems resulting from modern intensive livestock agriculture. However, it is essential that we Jews strive to fulfill our challenge to be a light unto the nations and to work for tikkun olam – the healing and repair of our imperfect and unjust world. This mission must include the lightening of the immense burden of our diets on animals, the environment and the world’s poor and hungry. To do so is to demonstrate the relevance of Judaism’s eternal teachings to the problems of the world today. I hope we and the rest of the world get it before it’s too late.