Who Stole My Religion?
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from All-Creatures.org


Robert Cohen, NotMilk.com
July 2016

[Also read Book Review: Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal Our Imperiled Planet By Richard Schwartz, PhD]

People ask me why I am a Jew. It is to you that I want to answer, little unborn grandson. I am a Jew because the faith of Israel demands of me no abdication of the mind. I am a Jew because in every place where suffering weeps, the Jew weeps. I am a Jew because at every time when despair cries out, the Jew hopes.
- Edmond Fleg (Frenchman), 1927

 There is a Jewish prayer with which my long-time friend and colleague, Dr. Richard Schwartz begins his new book, "Who Stole My Religion?"

The Shechianu:

Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has kept us alive and sustained us, and brought us to this season.

It is a simple prayer traditionally recited by one's rabbi at various celebratory plateaus of life. I last heard it (as it related to me) upon the (Hebrew) baby naming of each of my three daughters, and decades later at each of their weddings. My eyes tear up just to write these words. The book triggered deeply embedded feelings.

Often times men do not achieve their destiny. The same can be said for nations throughout history. The same can be said for many religions. Judaism in the 21st century is no exception.

Our planet is challenged. Crime. Terrorism. Global Warming. Poverty. Inequality. Injustice. On page 23, Dr. Schwartz writes:

Unfortunately too many Jews today seem to be paying insufficient attention to the words of Jewish prophets and sages, whose teachings resound with a passionate concern for justice, peace, and righteousness. There is too little active involvement or protest against injustice in the world at large. Instead, there is much complacency and conformity…Many Jews have forgotten the Jewish mandate to strive to perfect the world.

The author explains why he believes his religion has been stolen by identifying the intellectual evidence supporting his title:

The acts of helping the needy and caring for the world are not voluntary options, but responsibilities and divine commandments. There has been a major shift, primarily among orthodox Jews, towards support of very conservative policies and a Republican Party in the U.S. that puts a priority on helping corporations and wealthy people rather than the majority of people.

Dr. Schwartz notices a shift towards the political right. He notes a major denial of global warming and climate change among the Orthodox Jewish community and a move which Dr. Schwartz equates with Judaism being a radical religion.

The book was actually written long before the Presidential primaries, in which Iran and the development of a nuclear capability (and the American treaty) have become major campaign issues. Many people argued for war as an alternative to prevent war. How silly! The book is a timely read, as Dr. Schwartz brilliantly analyzes the alternatives to war and peaceful solutions in which all men are extended dignity. By the time this reader got to chapter 10 (beginning on page 16) I could not put the book down.

I felt as if I was watching a present-day rally, a debate, and two conventions. The title of Chapter 10: "How Should Jews Respond to Radical Islamists and to Bias and Hatred to Muslims? "

Chapter 13 (Judaism and Animal Rights) is one of Dr. Schwartz's best intellectual efforts. He writes:

Many great Jewish heroes were chosen because they showed compassion to animals. Moses and King David were considered worthy to be leaders because of their kind treatment of the sheep in their care when they were shepherds. Rebecca was judged suitable to be Isaac's wife because of her kindness in providing water to the ten thirsty camels…All of these teachings should lead us to care for the welfare of animals and to raise our voices in protest when they are mistreated.

Although there are 15 chapters, Dr. Schwartz saved (in my opinion) the best for Chapter 13 (page 220): "Should Jews be Vegetarians or Even Vegans? " (He doesn't mention it, but I've read and written about a Jewish Essene rabbi named Jesus who ate a plant-based diet long ago, observing biblical texts such as the dietary instruction offered to mankind in Genesis 1:19.) Dr. Schwartz writes:

As a vegetarian and later a vegan activist in the Jewish community for about 35 years, I believe it is essential that Jews consider how plant-based diets are most consistent with Jewish teachings. Plant-based diets can improve the health of Jews and others, can help stabilize the world's climate, and can help reduce human hunger and environmental dangers.

To that I say, amen.

Saving the world. That is what we try to do. We are never really truly successful, or are we? We can change one person per day and if we succeed, then we know success. We have saved the world.

I give the book two "bohenim" up!

One should see the world, and see himself as a scale with an equal balance of good and evil.
When he does one good deed the scale is tipped to the good - he and the world are saved.
When he does one evil deed the scale is tipped to the bad - he and the world are destroyed.

- Maimonides

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