Judaism and Vegetarianism

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Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion

Judaism and Vegetarianism

Claudette Vaughan, Editor of Abolitionist Online, interviews Richard Schwartz of Jewish Veg, May 2007

Convincing, compassionate and comprehensive! That’s Richard’s seminal work “Judaism and Vegetarianism”. Every argument is supported by facts and every fact is documented. Former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, David Rosen, said of his book “Judaism and Vegetarianism”, “It is hoped that this major publication will not only adorn the bookshelf of many a Jewish home, but also will become guide to an every-increasing movement of Jews towards vegetarianism, born out of an sincere religious conviction rooted in our most sublime teachings”. Here is our interview with Richard Schwartz.

Abolitionist: What is your understanding from all your research on Jewish Holy Scripture and law regarding Jewish teachings on the proper treatment of the non-human animal kingdom?

Richard: Although it is not well known, Judaism has very powerful teachings about the proper treatment of animals. If Jews took these teachings seriously, they would be among the strongest protesters of many current practices related to animals.

According to Judaism, animals are part of God's creation and people have special responsibilities to them. The Jewish tradition clearly indicates that Jews are forbidden to be cruel to animals and are to treat them with compassion. These concepts are summarized in the Hebrew phrase tsa'ar ba'alei chayim, the Torah mandate not to cause "pain to any living creature."

Psalms 104 and 148 show God's close identification with the animals of the field, creatures of the sea, and birds of the air. Sea animals and birds received the same blessing as people: "Be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1:22). Animals were initially given a vegetarian diet, similar to that of people (Gen. 1:29-30). The important Hebrew term nefesh chaya (a "living soul") was applied in Genesis (1:21, 1:24) to animals as well as people. Although the Torah clearly indicates that people are to have "dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creeps upon the earth" (Gen. 1-26), there was to be a basic relatedness, and the rights and privileges of animals were not to be neglected or overlooked. Animals are also God's creatures, possessing sensitivity and the capacity for feeling pain; hence they must be protected and treated with compassion and justice.

God even made treaties and covenants with animals just as with humans:

As for me," says the Lord, "behold I establish My Covenant with you and with your seed after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the fowl, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that go out of the ark, even every beast of the earth. (Gen. 9:0-10)

And in that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field and with the fowls of heaven and with the creeping things of the ground. And I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the land and I will make them to lie down safely. (Hos. 2:20)

The Psalms indicate God's concern for animals, for "His tender mercies are over all His creatures" (Ps. 145:9). They pictured God as "satisfying the desire of every living creature" (Ps. 145:16), "providing food for the beasts and birds" (Ps. 147:9). and, in general, "preserving both man and beast" (Ps. 36:7).

Perhaps the Jewish attitude toward animals is best summarized by the statement in Proverbs 12:10, "The righteous person regards the life of his beast." This is the human counterpoint of "The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His creatures." (Ps. 145:9). In Judaism, one who is cruel to animals cannot be regarded as a righteous individual.

There are many Torah laws involving compassion to animals. An ox is not to be muzzled when threshing in a field of corn (Deuteronomy 25:4). A farmer should not plow with an ox and an ass together (so that the weaker animal would not suffer pain in trying to keep up with the stronger one) (Deuteronomy 22:10). Animals, as well as people, are to be allowed to rest on the Sabbath day (Exodus 20:10). The importance of this verse is indicated by its inclusion in the Ten Commandments and its recitation as part of kiddush on Shabbat mornings.

Based on the question of the angel of God to Balaam, "Wherefore has thou smitten thine ass?" (Numbers 22:32), the Talmud states that animals are to be treated humanely. Based on Deuteronomy 11:15, "And I will give grass in the fields for thy cattle and thou shall eat and be satisfied," the Talmud teaches that a person should not eat before first providing for his or her animals.

Many great Jewish heroes were chosen because they showed kindness to animals. Moses and King David were considered worthy to be leaders (Exodus Rabbah 2:2). Rebecca was judged suitable to be Isaac's wife because of her kindness in providing water to the camels of Eleazar, Abraham's servant.

Abolitionist: Jews are making large strides in turning vegan and vegetarian, Richard. What do you ascribe this to?

Richard: Judaism has very powerful teachings on compassion, including, as indicated before, on compassion to animals. The Talmud teaches that "Jews are rachmanim b'nei rachmanim (compassionate children of compassionate parents), and one who shows no pity for fellow creatures is assuredly not of the seed of Abraham, our father." The rabbis considered Jews to be distinguished by three characteristics: compassion, modesty, and benevolence. Jews are instructed to feel empathy for strangers, "for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Deuteronomy 10:19). The birkat ha-mazon (grace recited after meals) speaks of God compassionately feeding the whole world.

In addition, Jews, like many others, are increasingly concerned about the negative effects of animal-based diets and agriculture on human health and environmental sustainability.

I also hope that the Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA), through our weekly newsletters, our constantly growing web site (JewishVeg.com) and our other activities, is making a positive difference.

Having stated all this, I believe that the movement of Jews toward vegetarianism and veganism is still far too slow.

Abolitionist: On your website you provide access to a video 'If This Is Kosher'. Please tell us about that?

Richard: The video was produced by PETA and it is narrated by noted author Jonathan Safran Foer. It features two influential rabbis, one Orthodox and one Conservative, discussing Jewish teachings on compassion to animals, and scenes of animal abuses, including some filmed by a hidden camera at the world's largest kosher slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, that were.

Abolitionist: In your article 'Is An Animal Based Diet a Chillul Hashem?' you wrote 'It seems to be a Jewish trait to put numbers on concepts. For example, there are 613 mitzvot in the Torah according to Jewish sages. It also seems to be a Jewish trait to try to reduce concepts to a reduced number of basics. Hence the prophet Micah stated that what God wants from us are three basic things: "To do justly, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." You have stated that you would like to build on these concepts by arguing that the Jewish case for vegetarianism can be built on just one Jewish concept, that we should strive to make our actions a kiddush HaShem, a sanctification of God's name, and avoid causing a "chillul HaShem", a desecration of God's Name. Can you please make that case for us here?

Richard: Yes, it can be argued that the Jewish case for vegetarianism can be built on just one Jewish concept, that we should strive to make our actions a kiddush HaShem, a sanctification of God's name, and avoid causing a "chillul HaShem", a desecration of God's Name. This idea was connected to vegetarianism by Rabbi Dr. David Rosen, former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, and present Honorary President for Israel of the International Jewish Vegetarian Society, who wrote, "Perhaps the most powerful argument in favor of vegetarianism today more than ever before . . . is the prohibition against 'chillul HaShem', the desecration of God's name. Surely it is precisely such a desecration when observant Jews eat animals produced under conditions of cruelty that flagrantly violate Jewish teachings and prohibitions . . . " (Rabbis and Vegetarianism: An Evolving Tradition, edited by Roberta Kalechofsky, p. 58).

For Jews, our purpose in life is to enhance God's Name through mitzvot, that is to perform acts that will result in a "kiddush HaShem", a sanctification of God's name; hence great care should be taken to avoid acts of chillul HaShem. However, in expanding on Rabbi Rosen's insightful comments:

* Since Judaism stresses that we should avoid tsa'ar ba'alei chayim, causing any unnecessary pain to an animal, isn't it a chillul HaShem that chickens are raised in confined spaces so small that they can't raise their wings and that they are painfully debeaked to prevent them from pecking each other due to the very unnatural conditions under which they are raised, that male chicks at egg-laying hatcheries are immediately killed because they cannot lay eggs and they have not been bred to provide much meat, that veal calves are taken away from their mothers shortly after birth to be raised in cramped conditions where they are denied exercise and essential nutrients in their diets, that geese are raised for pate de fois gras by having huge amounts of grain forced down their throats, and that other animals suffer from the many horrors of modern intensive animal agriculture?

* Since Judaism mandates that people be very careful about preserving their health and their lives, isn't it a chillul HaShem to consume animal products that (according to many scientific studies) are major contributors to heart disease, stroke, several forms of cancer, and other degenerative diseases, as well as the rapid rise of antibiotic-resistant, disease-causing bacteria?

* Since Judaism stresses that we are to share our bread with hungry people, isn't it a chillul HaShem that over 70% of the grain grown in the United States is fed to animals destined for slaughter, as an estimated 20 million people worldwide die annually because of hunger and its effects?

* Since Judaism teaches that "the earth is the Lord`s" and that we are to be partners with God in preserving the world, isn't it a chillul HaShem that animal-centered diets contribute significantly to global climate change, soil erosion and depletion, extensive air and water pollution related to chemical fertilizer and pesticides, the destruction of tropical rain forests and other habitats, and many more environmental problems.

* Since Judaism mandates bal tashchit, that we are not to waste or unnecessarily destroy anything of value, isn't it a chillul HaShem that livestock agriculture requires the very wasteful use of food, land, water, energy, and other resources?

* Since Judaism stresses that we must seek and pursue peace and that violence results from unjust conditions, isn't it a chillul HaShem that animal-based diets, by wasting valuable resources, help to perpetuate the widespread hunger and poverty that eventually lead to instability and war.

The concepts of kiddush HaShem and chillul HaShem are very important in Judaism, and throughout Jewish history there have been examples of pious Jews sacrificing their lives rather than performing acts that would desecrate God's Name.

Hence, in view of the strong Jewish mandates to be kind to animals, preserve human health, help feed the hungry, protect the environment, conserve resources, and seek and pursue peace, and the very negative effects animal-centered diets have in each of these areas, I believe that the Jewish community should consider the many ways that vegetarian diets can avoid a chillul HaShem.

Abolitionist: Your book 'Judaism and Vegetarianism' is now one of the standard texts in animal advocacy literature. What motivated you to write it and what specific issues do you address in it?

Richard: First, thanks for your kind comment about my book.

I wrote 'Judaism and Vegetarianism' because the case for vegetarianism based on Jewish teachings seemed so strong and unassailable and yet relatively few Jews are vegetarians or seemed to be considering vegetarianism. The issue was not on the Jewish agenda for discussion and consideration. I wanted to very respectfully challenge Jews to seriously consider shifting toward vegetarianism.

The book discusses how animal-based diets and agriculture are very harmful to human health, the environment and, of course, animals, and thus violate basic Jewish mandates to guard our health, treat animals with compassion, protect the environment, conserve natural resources, help hungry people and pursue peace and justice.

Abolitionist: Kindness to animals has always been valued by the Jewish traditions. In the medieval work Sefer Chasidim, or The Book of The Pious, it says, 'Be kind and compassionate to all creatures that the Holy One, Blessed Be He, created in this world. Neither beat nor inflict pain on any animal, beast, bird or insect. Do not throw stones at a dog or a cat, nor should ye kill flies or wasps'. Please comment.

Richard: Yes, as indicated above, Judaism has very important teachings about compassion to animals. In the daily prayers, it states that God's compassion is over the earth and all the creatures, and Jews are to imitate God's attribute of compassion and God's other positive attributes. Of course, current methods of treating animals on factory farms are very far from these teachings.

Abolitionist: Judaism has no special blessings for meat dishes. Also for leather, it is written in the code of Jewish Law that 'One does not ask for forgiveness of sins while wearing articles made from the skins of slaughtered animals.' Please comment.

Richard: Yes, unlike for bread, wine, fruits and vegetables which have special blessings, there is no special blessing for meat or dairy products. It is the same blessing as for water, soup and juices.

Rabbi Yonassan Gershom, a contemporary Chassidic rabbi from Minnesota, stated: "Concerning the priority given to blessings, meat is on the bottom of the hierarchy". He notes that on Sabbaths and festivals, wine comes first. Otherwise, bread comes first, and a blessing over bread covers all other foods except wine. If there is no bread, foods are blessed in the following order: (1) wine, (2) grains, (3) tree fruits, (4) vegetables, (5) all other foods, including fish, meat, etc. In other words, meat has the lowest priority in the bracha (blessing) system. Also, when bread is eaten, a full birkat hamazon (grace after meals) is to be recited. After eating the grains and fruits (the seven species) mentioned in the Torah (Deuteronomy 8: 7-10), there is a shorter blessing recited (al hamichya), but if only other foods such as meat or fish are eaten, only one sentence is to be recited (borei nefashot). Since, as our sages taught, words have replaced sacrifices today, apparently flesh foods are least honored.

On Yom Kippur, the most sacred day of the Jewish year, when Jews fast, confess their sins, and pray for life and good health from God in the coming year, it is forbidden to wear leather shoes. One reason is that it is not proper to plead for compassion when one has not shown compassion toward other living creatures.

Rabbi Moses Isserles (c.1528 -1572), known as the Rema, asks: "How can a man put on shoes, a piece of clothing for which it is necessary to kill a living thing, on Yom Kippur, which is a day of grace and compassion, when it is written 'His tender mercies are over all His works?'"(Psalms. 145:9)

Jews are to recite a special benediction, "Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us in life, and has preserved us and enabled us to reach this season" when putting on a piece of clothing for the first time. However, an exception is made for furs and leather shoes because an animal had to be killed in making them.

The Code of Jewish Law has a similar statement: 'It is customary to say to one who puts on a new garment: 'May you wear it out and acquire a new one.' But we do not express this wish to one who puts on new shoes or a new garment made of fur or leather... because a garment like this requires the killing of a living creature, and it is written: 'And His mercy is upon all His works.'' (Psalms. 145:9).

Abolitionist: What is the movement for animal rights and a diet consistent with animal rights like in modern day Israel today?

Richard: Israel has a very strong animal rights movement, and they have frequent demonstrations against animal abuses. Their largest animal rights group is 'Anonymous for Animal Rights,' a group with many young activists.

Israel has very strong laws against the mistreatment of animals. Based on these laws, the production of foie gras in Israel has been banned. Two Israeli chief rabbis have spoken out very strongly against the wearing of fur.

Israel also has several vegetarian societies, including a branch in Jerusalem of the International Jewish Vegetarian Society. I am to become director of that Jewish Vegetarian Society in 2007. I plan to try to make it into a center for vegetarian, animal rights, health and environmental awareness and activism in Israel.

Abolitionist: The Talmud (Avodah Zorah 18b) forbids association with hunters. Can you comment on that please?

Richard: Throughout the ages, the rabbis strongly disapproved of hunting as a sport. A Jew is permitted to capture fish, animals, or fowl only for purposes of human food or what is considered another essential human need, but to destroy an animal for "sport" constitutes wanton destruction and is to be condemned. Based on the statement "not to stand in the way of sinners" (Psalms 1:1), the Talmud prohibits association with hunters.

A query was addressed to Rabbi Yechezkel Landau (1713 - 1793) by a man wishing to know if he could hunt in his large estate, which included forests and fields. His response in the classic Nodah b'Yehudah stated: 'In the Torah the sport of hunting in imputed only to fierce characters like Nimrod and Esau, never to any of the patriarchs and their descendants... I cannot comprehend how a Jew could even dream of killing animals merely for the pleasure of hunting... When the act of killing is prompted by that of sport, it is downright cruelty.'

Abolitionist: Is xenotransplantation against Jewish religious teachings?

Richard: Judaism teaches that only human beings are created in God's image and does not put animals at the same level as human beings. So, if it might save a human life, Judaism would accept the transfer of an animal organ to a human being. However, there are two important factors to consider:

* Xenotransplantation can have harmful effects. As an item I found on the Internet indicates: 'Although the potential benefits are considerable, the use of xenotransplantation raises concerns regarding the potential infection of recipients with both recognized and unrecognized infectious agents and the possible subsequent transmission to their close contacts and into the general human population. Of public health concern is the potential for cross-species infection by retroviruses, which may be latent and lead to disease years after infection. Moreover, new infectious agents may not be readily identifiable with current techniques.'

* A switch toward plant-based diets and other positive lifestyle changes can do far more good than relying on xenotransplantation. It is far better to prevent diseases than to use very radical approaches to try to cure them.

Abolitionist: In your writings on Judaism and vegetarianism, you point out that Jewish mandates are not being served by lifestyles based on the consumption of animal products. Does this mean that you believe that a vegan lifestyle is the lifestyle most conducive to the realisation of these mandates?

Richard: I strongly agree with this. I believe that a switch to vegan diets has become a societal imperative because of the great economic and ecological costs of animal-based diets and production processes, as well as a spiritual imperative because the realities of the production and consumption of animal products are at sharp variance from basic religious values.

Abolitionist: You argue that veganism is presented as a positive ideal in the Torah. Yet there are extensive rules and regulations concerning the consumption of animal products to be found in the Torah. Do you have an explanation for this?

Richard: God's first dietary law was strictly vegan and the famous Jewish Torah commentator Rashi stated: "God did not permit Adam and his wife to kill a creature and to eat its flesh. Only every green herb shall they eat together". Many other Torah commentators agree with this. One of the most important supporters of a Jewish strictly vegetarian lifestyle was Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook (1865-1935), first chief rabbi of pre-state Israel and a highly respected Jewish spiritual leader in the twentieth century. Rav Kook said that the permission to eat meat was only a temporary one. The Eternal, who is merciful, would never institute an everlasting law permitting the killing of animals for food. According to Rav Kook, because people had sunk to such an extreme level of spirituality that they were in danger of eating each other when deprived of meat. In order to allow them to improve the relationships between people and to develop spiritually, a temporary dispensation was given until such time had been reached that people returned to a strict vegetarian diet. The many rules and regulations were needed, according to Rav Kook, to keep alive a sense of reverence for life and to prevent people from taking the killing of animals for granted.

Abolitionist: Your publications are aimed at Jewish people who wish to live by the principles of their religion. Yet there are liberal and orthodox Jews, and there are specific traditions like the Hasidic tradition in Judaism. Would you say your message is meant for a broad public?

Richard: Yes, I believe that my message can be accepted by all Jews, no matter their degree of religious observance. Some religious Jews ask if vegetarians, by putting vegetarian values ahead of Jewish teachings, aren't creating a new religion, with values contrary to Jewish teachings. On the contrary, Jewish values are served by a vegetarian diet, especially in view of the many problems related to factory-farming. Rather than rejecting Torah values, Jewish vegetarians are challenging the Jewish community to apply precisely these values to their every day diets. We are respectfully challenging Jews to live up to Judaism's splendid teachings. It is not enough that a religion should have beautiful teachings; it is essential that these teachings be put into practice.

Abolitionist: You work hard for an official rabbinic statement in favor of (strict) vegetarianism. What would the impact of such a statement be?

Richard: This would be extremely important, and I often send material to rabbis in the hope that they will endorse vegetarianism. Rabbi David Rosen, a modern Israeli Orthodox rabbi and former Chief Rabbi of Ireland has stated that "the current treatment of animals in the livestock trade definitely renders the consumption of meat as halachically (according to Jewish law) unacceptable as the product of illegitimate means.

Abolitionist: What do you believe is the central challenge facing contemporary Judaism, and how does veganism fit in?

Richard: I believe that the central challenge facing contemporary Judaism is to revitalise Judaism while helping to heal the world so that Judaism and other religions can continue to be practiced. These goals can be accomplished by teaching and applying Jewish values related to protecting the environment, conserving natural resources, helping hungry people, pursuing justice, seeking and pursuing peace, and, in general, working for a more compassionate, sharing, and humane society. Unfortunately, many Jews are insufficiently aware of Judaism's splendid values and teachings and the powerful role that Judaism can play in helping to address current societal and global crises. A switch toward veganism is an essential step in reducing global climate change and other threats to humanity.

Abolitionist: How are you addressing this central challenge?

Richard: I have been trying to play some role in the revitalization of Judaism and the solution of current global threats through

a. my three books: Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, and Mathematics and Global Survival;

b. articles, talks, and letters to editors on current global threats, suggested responses, and Jewish connections;

c. my work on the internet and using email, including my over 130 articles and other items related to Judaism and vegetarianism and related issues at JewishVeg.com/schwartz;

d. my work as president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA), which involves sending out a weekly newsletter;

e. promoting a campaign for a "Vegetarian-conscious world by 2010;

f. my mathematics course at the College of Staten Island, "Mathematics and the Environment", a course that I created and taught for over 25 years, in which I relate basic mathematics to some of the key issues of today.

Abolitionist: What two things do you want people to know about you and your writings?

Richard:

1) I believe that the world is threatened as perhaps never before in terms of global climate change, air and water pollution, the destruction of tropical rain forests and other habitats, acid rain, soil erosion and depletion, the destruction of plant and animal species, increasing use of toxic chemicals, and widespread hunger. Judaism can and must play an important role in the solution of these problems. I hope that my book, Judaism and Global Survival, which relates Jewish values to the issues of today, will contribute to this effort

2) I believe that vegetarianism and, even more so veganism, is a societal imperative today because of the many negative ecological and economic effects of animal-centered diets and modern intensive livestock agriculture. A shift toward veganism is also a Jewish imperative, since it is the diet most consistent with basic Jewish values related to taking care of our health, treating animals with compassion, protecting the environment, conserving resources, sharing with hungry people, and seeking and pursuing peace; hence Jews should be in the forefront of efforts to move the world's people toward vegetarian diets.

Abolitionist: While your interests are wide, it is often true that teachers have an essential message they wish to impart. Is that true of you? And, if it is, what is your core teaching?

Richard: My essential message is that the world is threatened today as never before, that few people adequately recognise the threats, that perhaps the prime reason for current problems is that the values and actions of the world are contrary to basic Jewish values, and that therefore Jews must be actively involved in fulfilling our historic roles, to be a light unto the nations, to be God's witnesses, and to be co-workers with God in applying Jewish values in working for tikkun olam. A shift toward vegan diets is an important part of our response.

Abolitionist: What conflicts exist between veganism/vegetarianism and Judaism?

Richard: There are some common arguments that are used to try to show a conflict between Judaism and vegetarianism. I would like to respond to those arguments.

Argument #1. Jews must eat meat on Shabbos (Sabbath) and Yom Tov (holidays).

According to the Talmud, since the destruction of the Temple, Jews are not required to eat meat in order to rejoice in sacred occasions. Recent scholarly articles by Rabbi Alfred Cohen and Rabbi J. David Bleich, both non-vegetarians, conclude that Jews do not have to eat meat in order to celebrate the Sabbath and Jewish festivals. The fact that several 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 reinforces this argument.

Argument #2. The Torah mandates that we eat meat from korban Pesach (sacrifice on Passover) and other korbanos (sacrifices).

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 perhaps Judaism would have disappeared. The Jewish philosopher Abarbanel reinforced Maimonides' position by citing a midrash (rabbinical commentaries on the Scriptures) that indicated that the Israelites had become accustomed to sacrifices in Egypt. G-d tolerated the sacrifices but commanded that they be offered only in one central sanctuary in order to wean the Jews from idolatrous practices.

Without the Temple, sacrifices are not required today. And, Rav Kook felt, based on the prophecy of Isaiah, that there will only be sacrifices involving vegetarian foods during the Messianic Period. There is a midrash that states: "In the Messianic era, all sacrifices will cease, except thanksgiving offerings which could be non-animal, which will continue forever."

Argument #3: Inconsistent with Judaism, vegetarianism elevates animals to a level equal to or greater than that of people.

Concern for animals and the refusal to treat them cruelly and slaughter them for food that is not necessary for proper nutrition and, indeed, is harmful to human health, does not mean that vegetarians regard animals as being equal to people. There are many reasons for being vegetarian other than animal rights, including concern for human health, ecological threats, and the plight of hungry people.

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 egalitarianism with the animal kingdom.

Argument #4. Vegetarianism places greater priority on animal rights than on the many problems related to human welfare.

Vegetarian diets are not beneficial only to animals. They also improve human health, help hungry people through better sharing of food and other resources, put less stress on endangered ecosystems, conserve valuable resources, and reduce the potential for war and violence. In view of the many global threats related to today's livestock agriculture, working to promote vegetarianism may be the most important action that one can take for global survival.

Argument #5. By putting vegetarian values ahead of Jewish teachings, vegetarians are, in effect, creating a new religion, with values contrary to Jewish teachings.

Jewish vegetarians are not placing so-called vegetarian values above Torah principles. They are saying that basic Jewish teachings that mandate that we treat animals with compassion, guard our health, share with hungry people, protect the environment, conserve resources, and seek peace, point to vegetarianism as the ideal diet for Jews today. Rather than rejecting Torah values, Jewish vegetarians are challenging the Jewish community to apply Judaism's glorious teachings.

Argument #6. Jews have historically had many problems with some animal rights groups which have often opposed kosher shechita (slaughter) and advocated its abolition.

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 values. It is the Torah, not animal rights groups, that indicate how far the treatment of animals is from fundamental Jewish values.

Abolitionist: What do you predict for the future of Judaism and veganism/vegetarianism?

Richard: Well, it has been said that nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come. And I believe that the time has come for the idea that veganism is essential for people, for animals, for the environment, for our natural resources. We have to help make people aware that a shift to plant-based diets is one of the most important things, if not the most important thing, that we can do for people, for animals, and for our imperiled planet. Vegetarianism is not only a personal choice, but also a societal imperative, an essential component in the solution of many national and global problems.

Recently, I have noted some signs of increased interest in vegetarianism, and many people are concerned about dietary connections to health, nutrition, animal rights, and ecology. Yet, McDonald's is rapidly expanding in many countries, including Israel, China, and Russia. So there is much that still needs to be done. My hope is to be able to keep learning, writing, and speaking about vegetarianism, to help bring closer that day when, in the words of the motto of the international Jewish Vegetarian Society, " . . . no one shall hurt nor destroy in all of God's holy mountain." That's from Isaiah 11: 9.

Those who gain from the status quo unfortunately have the power of money, publicity, conventional wisdom and the establishment on their side, but we have truth, justice, morality, compassion, and, I hope, fervor and dedication on our side. And the case for vegetarianism based on Jewish values is so strong that it must eventually prevail. We shall overcome.


Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, College of Staten Island, Author of "Judaism and Vegetarianism," "Judaism and Global Survival," and "Mathematics and Global Survival," and over 130 articles at JewishVeg.com/schwartz, President of Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) and Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians (SERV), Phone: 718-761-5876 FAX: 718-982-3631, email

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