Rabbi Yossi Feintuch Says Vegetarianism is a Religious Ideal

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Rabbi Yossi Feintuch Says Vegetarianism is a Religious Ideal

"When you read about the abuse of animals in our own industrial meat production, then you cannot say that God's idea about compassion for animals is achieved," he says.

Feintuch blames the nature of modern-day factory farming. "When a shepherd slaughters his sheep, he has some personal sentiments for her, and he will do his best to make sure that she suffers the least, but that is not a value in the meat factory," Feintuch says. "Judaism cannot be a part of that, as I see it."

Born in Israel, Feintuch has been the rabbi of Columbia's only synagogue, Congregation Beth Shalom, for the past 11 years, where he often discusses vegetarianism as a Jewish ideal. He was ordained in 1994 by the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati and spent three years at a congregation in the Caribbean, on the island of Curacao. He also holds a bachelor's degree from Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a master's degree from New York University and a doctorate from Emory University.

Feintuch considers himself to be a vegetarian with a vegan ideology: no meat, limited eggs and limited dairy. ... ... Now, at the mere mention of vegetarianism, Feintuch can quickly list biblical passages that speak to his cause. In Hillel's student lounge at MU, he pauses only to look behind him for text to pull out and support his points. "I teach this stuff, and this is a part of the Torah," he says, somewhat combatively. "This is not extrapolation. This is what you read in text, so you don't need to stretch your mind too much to understand it. This is really the facts as they are." He often mentions the biblical prohibition of "tsa'ar ba'alei chayim," or inflicting unnecessary pain on animals. ... Zevi Feintuch is now a vegan no meat, milk or eggs and disagrees with his father's emphasis on vegetarianism as a religious ideal. He says to his father: "The one thing about taking the religious aspect is that you can only affect people in your religion with that."

Yossi Feintuch responded by saying that other religions, not just Judaism, place emphasis on animal welfare.

National organizations share Feintuch's belief in religion-based vegetarianism. In an e-mail to religious leaders, Richard Schwartz, president of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America, writes: "This dietary change would be consistent with important Jewish mandates to preserve our health; treat animals with compassion; protect the environment; conserve natural resources; help hungry people; and pursue a more peaceful, less violent world." His Web site, along with that of the Society for Ethical and Religious Vegetarians, offers statistics and text to support a commitment to spiritual vegetarianism.

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