An Orthodox Perspective on Vegetarianism

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An Orthodox Perspective on Vegetarianism

Submitted by Janine Laura Bronson, International Jewish Vegetarian and Ecological Society (Judaism Meetup, Rawfood Meetup, Alternative Meetup)

By Rabbi David O'Reilley McLashley

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Meeting at the strictly Kosher organic vegan restaurant, belonging to Rod Rotundi, called Leaf Cuisine, in West Los Angeles, Southern California, wonderful Orthodox Rabbi David O’Reilley McLashley gave us quite an interesting speech. Rabbi McLashley is a graduate of Hafetz Haim Yeshiva (Jewish Religious Seminary: the “Seekers of Life”) in New York City.

Rabbi McLashley: “I came up in County Cork, Ireland, only son of Irish parents, and a seventh-generation vegan. Our family converted from the Druid faith (traditionally usually vegetarians) four generations ago, on my mother’s side, and my father, had converted to Judaism, just in his teens, before he married my mother. Many Irish Jewish converts moved here to the USA. Since 1945, I have become an American, living here in the USA.

When living in Louisiana, near New Orleans, we were periodically going back and forth to Cork County, Ireland, while living in a Suburb of New Orleans called Metairie, which has now sadly been destroyed, by the Katrina hurricane.

First, I’d like to thank Dr. Richard Schwartz for his wisdom and great research on the subject of Judaism and Vegetarianism, many other learned Rabbis for their kindness, and to Gary Chase, for so graciously driving me here, (and back home again) at such short notice.

I was very fortunate, indeed, to have Gary to talk with on the way, for we had such an enlightening conversation, and I learned a lot of wonderful things from Gary. We both agreed that when we eat something that "disagrees" with us, we create a spiritual imbalance! This leads me to introduce my topic, today:

I’d like to briefly talk about a very spiritual topic; dealing with the close relationship and interesting contrast between the forces of the physical well being, and the spiritual malady, that is actually manifest in the forms of physiological illnesses.

Essentially, the way to ultimately explain this interesting phenomenon is to look closely, believing the assumption of this parallel to be true, by examining carefully what we put inside our bodies, because it may have an impact not only on our physical well being, but also have a greater impact on our souls; our spirituality.

This result, naturally, will be either good, or bad; depending on what we eat! Do you have any examples from your own past history, recollecting instances to relate to? Can you identify what the causes were?

What do I mean by that? Well, if you eat something that is not Kosher, the problem is that it actually imposes an impurity on our heart, and we absorb all of these impurities. In fact what’s in the heart, is at the center of what we are, spiritually, and this has a great influence on our characteristics, or on our “Midot,” and how we relate to others.

The spiritual world, and the physical world, are equally related. We have spiritual consequences, even though we sense it first occurring on the spiritual plane, it can actually manifest itself, in turn, in the physical realm, as well.

How does this relate to vegetarianism? Or to one who is on a purely vegan diet? Something developed on a level that involves not eating without “rachmanut,” or without compassion. Does this affect us if we don't?

Even though food may be considered “Kosher”, many of the physical maladies that afflict us today, make us realize that the vegan-Kosher lifestyle is the most logical diet to adopt; not Kosher alone.

What if we could analyze our vegan diet, and be happy, by which I mean that what we are saying would be, “We’re doing our part, I’m practicing a humane diet, and isn’t that enough, by itself?”

No! That’s NOT enough, we have to destroy other peoples’ appetites, if you will, AND make a difference in other peoples’ lives, too, because Judaism and vegetarianism go hand-in-hand.

There is a terrible misconception, abiding among some Orthodox Jews, that Judaism mandates the eating of meat. This is a drastic misconception!

Numerous reasons from the commentaries on the Torah, written by Chazal (our learned Rabbis, may their souls rest in peace) in the Torah She’beal-Pe (The Oral Torah) negate this.

Many Orthodox Jews love animals. And, no, I don’t mean those who like their animals broiled, baked, or Bar-B'queued!

How can we point to connections between Judaism and Vegetarianism/veganism, directly from the Torah, with an Orthodox viewpoint?

Let’s start with the book of B’Reishit (Genesis). The diet that The Almighty prescribed to Adam and Hava (Eve) in the Garden of Eden was vegetarian/vegan.

Genesis 1:29 Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing ...

Furthermore, it is difficult to understand the commandment, prohibiting eating ever min hachai. In other words, you cannot cut off a limb from a live animal; a sentient living creature, just like you and me!

We have a responsible obligation to treat animals ethically, whereby innocent animals should not have to suffer. However vile as it may seem, what the Torah prohibits, was actually common practice at that time.

You’ve got to do better. Look, we can’t just sit here and say, “Look, I’m practicing what I preach, and doing my part to not partake in the killing cycle, I’m a vegan.” We can’t have that attitude, and not have a guilty conscience…

When God created the first man, he took him around to all the trees in the Garden of Eden and said to him, "See my handiwork, how beautiful and choice they are... be careful not to ruin and destroy my world, for if you do ruin it, there is no one to repair it after you." - a midrash, MR Ecclesiastes 7:13 s.v. reKh

This oft-cited text is used in modern Jewish religious education and in political commentary (often from Jewish legislators who are speaking from the depth of their convictions and religious instruction) urging us towards conscientious ecological stewardship.

We all have to know that we have an obligation, especially I, as an Orthodox Jew, I have such a great obligation to spread the Torah, because it is my moral obligation to impart the true meaning of showing compassion towards all of the sentient beings that G_d created, and eat only of the plant kingdom.

It is very important, to understand that you can’t just sit around and preach to the vegan community, alone. Obviously, it would be very nice to always just be sitting around the table with like-minded people.

However, the truth of the matter is that it’s much more important to preach this message to people who are not going to be openly receptive to these ideas. These people would be more likely to say: "You know, look, it is necessary for us to eat meat, and not only is it acceptable, but it is praiseworthy, for there is a greater purpose..." and so on, and so forth...

However, I say that you can fulfill a Mitzvah, (blessed act, or good deed) but if you do it without the proper Kavana (Meaning) you are just paying lip service and don’t understand the spirit of the law, the real purpose of the Kashrut (the whole concept of keeping Kosher) which is to sensitize us to the existence of each of the spiritual souls present in ALL living beings.

This is one of the purposes stemming from it, stewardship, or whatever other term we use, in caring for animals, or if we take it one step beyond that, and look at the concept of unity, or “achdut” which is in how we examine our actions on a larger scale, in the entire world, from the microcosm to the macrocosm, how do we affect the environment? It is historically immoral NOT to care for this ecological balance in the world.

In conclusion, here’s a story, about a man who drilled a hole in the bottom of the boat, causing the other people in it to say to him, “Are you crazy? You’re drilling a HOLE? A hole in the bottom of our boat? Then we’re all going to sink!” The man responded, “We’re all in the boat together.”

Therefore, you too, have to understand the hidden message, not to take the path of inequality, you could say well, they’re drilling a hole in “their” own boat, but the very important thing is to know that this is the path that we ALL should believe in, and we have to take over, so we don’t all sink with the others because of their beliefs. Because, “If I’m for myself alone, then who am I?” and, “If not now, then when?” Be brave – speak out, now!"

We welcome your comments:

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