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Comments by Yonassan Gershom - 5 May 2010

In Reference to: Say No to Sanctified Animal Abuse

Ruth:

Deflecting the conversation by playing the “you are clergy so you must be polite to me” card will not work. Because you flaunt the fact that you left Judaism for idolatry (a bottom line that is as unacceptable to me as slaughter is to you) right there on your blog, you opened yourself up to questioning in that area. So don’t be surprised if Jews challenge you on that issue. You asked for it.

To be blunt, you do not understand how Judaism works, to the point that I wonder if you have any Jewish studies background at all.

You do not seem to understand a very basic thing: Judaism is not an all-or-nothing religion. Judaism recognizes that each mitzvah — each commandment — has a value in and of itself, independent of whether you are doing the other mitzvot. So even if someone is not doing it perfectly, they are still given credit for the things they are doing.

So, for example, if a person gives charity but does not keep the Sabbath, they still get credit for giving the charity. In the end, God weighs the good deeds against the bad deeds. And NOBODY has a 100% perfect score, either. We are all somewhere in the middle of God’s sliding scale.

As an over-60 Hasid reaching out to non-Hasidic Jews, I have long ago learned that NOBODY is going to drop everything and go from secular to Orthodox overnight. Very few of the people I talk to will ever be Hasidic. Some never will. But I do not write them off. If they take one more step toward observance, take on one more mitzvah as thier own practice — then they are moving forward and I acknowledge that.

So using this same model, Professor Schwartz and I do acknowledge that there are in-between steps to becoming a vegetarian (or anything else.) Some people jump in all at once, others take years to get there. And still others, like me, are in the middle somewhere.

I am ovo-lacto, which to you as a vegan is probably not good enough, but it is where I can be right now. It is a along way from the meat-oriented diet of my youth.

You, on the other hand, give no credit for anything that is not 100% there. Yes, you acknowledged I did a good thing to give up meat, but could not resist the extra dig to say it was still not good enough to satisfy you. You are constantly judging others, and putting them and their beliefs down if they are not perfect. Rabbi Lerner was right: This approach does not attract people, it turns them off.

I prefer to recognize that people do become vegetarians for different reasons, all of them equally valid — because Judaism does not have inquisitions or thought police trying to make you “believe properly.” Judaism is about ACTIONS. So one person may be vegetarian for health reasons, another for animal rights, another for environmental reasons — and they are ALL CORRECT! They all lead to the same action. Only God should be judging hearts.

You, on the other hand, give no credit whatsoever to anybody unless everything is 100% according to how you think it should be. Ahimsa or nothing — and no credit for trying, for being partway there, or for taking intermediate steps to get there. It is all or nothing. with you And so, people are going to choose nothing.

I am willing to bet that, in terms of actual animals not eaten, the efforts of Richard Schwartz have had far more impact over the past four decades than your approach has. Because of his books, many synagogues offer vegetarian alternatives at simchas, some have gone completely vegetarian, most are more accepting of vegetarian members. He has spoken to all kinds of Jewish orgs in the USA and Israel. His book was a B’nsi Brith selection on yerv – do you know how many mainstream Jews that alone reached?

And BTW, the video you disparaged as “chavinism” (your word) was not made to promote Judaism per se. It promotes vegetarianism and ecological action — which you would know of you had actually bothered to WATCH it. (Which you can do on YouTube from the http://jewishveg.com homepage.) It has been shown in many congregations both here and in Israel and has had a big impact. And gotten EXCELLENT reviews on numerous vegetarian websites. So at least WATCH it before condemning it as something it is not.

So what, exactly, have YOU done to make things better for vegetarianism in the Jewish community? Nothing, as far as I can tell.
I said earlier that you should learn from Gandhi. You know, he loved the Bhagavad Gita, but the Gita is not a pacifist text. In fact, Krishna tells Arjuna to go into battle and kill his relatives on the othercside of a civil war, because their karma has already determined who will die. Certainly not a Jainist book. And yet, Gandhi was able to read it as a moral parable and be inspired by it. The text has long since been re-defined from literal battle to the battle of life.

The same is true of the Jewish prayer book. The sages long ago said that reading the descriptions of the sacrifices was the same as actually offering them. It has been elevated from physical sacrifice to a sort of mantra chant. Maimonides was of the opinion that we never needed sacrifices, that this was a concession to the religious practices of the times, because everyone in the ancient words did that. Had the people not built the Calf, there would have been no sacrifices.

Rav Abraham Isaac Kook felt that when the Templec is rebuilt in the Messianic Age, we will be vegetarian and bring fruits and flowers. All of which you will no doubt write off as “not good enough,” but so be it.

And my apologies for all the typos. I am dyslexic and there is no spell checker here.

Rabbi Yonassan Gershom