Jewish Vegetarian - Vegan ArticlesD’Var Torah  - Vayikra
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D’Var Torah - Vayikra

By Roberta Schiff, presented at:
Congregation Shir Chadash – La Grange NY
21 March 2015 – 1 Nissan 5775

How many of you are praying for the re-building of the Temple in Jerusalem and the return of the sacrifices? The basic difference between Orthodox and Liberal Judaism is the way in which God is revealed. The Orthodox view is that everything was revealed by God; we believe that Torah contains the understanding of many people.

Maimonides wrote that sacrifice was a common form of worship since earliest times, reflecting the need for religious expression. The practice was incorporated into Torah so that this desire could be expressed directly to God.

One of the definitions of the English word ‘sacrifice’ is destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else. The Hebrew word ‘korban’ means to come closer, and for Jews, the nearness of God is part of the conception of goodness.

When an animal was brought to the Temple, animal (with all the rules and conditions) the death and burning of the animal was to give a strong visualization of what the sinner really deserved. In this chapter, God is called Elohim, denoting strict judgement, some believe that the God who commands these offerings is not vengeful or sadistic, but shows attribute of divine love and mercy. I do not agree.

This is year 2 of the Triennial – the readings go from Leviticus 3: 1-5 through  4: 24-26. Here is a truncated version of  4: 13-19

If the whole community of Israel has erred….and they realize their guilt…the congregation shall offer a bull… shall be slaughtered before the Lord……the Priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle it seven times before the Lord….and the rest poured out at the base of the alter……the fat shall be turned into smoke on the alter….then the priest shall make expiation for the people for their sins and they shall be forgiven.

I would need more study to determine if the distinction we have today of God forgiving only sins against God and people needing to ask their own forgiveness from family, friends and co-workers was made at that time. I do believe that a day of prayer and fasting, sincerely undertaken on Yom Kippur is more meaningful and more likely to bring about self-improvement than watching an animal die, be cut up and it’s blood bandied about.

Although there are groups in Israel and here anticipation the Third Temple and doing practice sacrifices – (Yes, I have video right here, but time does not permit viewing), I safely assume that none of you are among them.

It follows for some of us that if we find the practice of Korban offensive, and would not want to see it restored for religious reasons, that we also do not want to support the non-stop secular sacrifice that is happening around the clock. In the time that we are in this service, over one million animals will be killed, most of them extremely inhumanely, and that their flesh will be sold as food. The one million each hour translates into ten billion each year and that is only in the USA.

“I don’t want to hear about that” “Don’t tell me”, I am often told. The chance to explore this without offending people is squeezed into narrow corridors of time and space.

A good friend said: “I think I know most of what you want me to know, but I have chosen to compartmentalize it so that I can continue to eat what I want.”

Thus - Not OK for me to say – but very much OK for you to eat.

I cannot mention that eating eggs produced by chickens, debeaked with a hot iron, crammed, for their entire lives, into a cage where they can not stretch their wings supports cruelty. But her family can eat them. I must remain silent while they watch, with joy, a mother robin sitting on her eggs and then follow the daily progress of the chicks until they leave the nest. I can‘t say “Chickens are birds too.”

I would like to write an essay for every Jewish newspaper, magazine and synagogue and organizational bulletin entitled “Cream Cheese and Cruelty”. Most editors would cringe at the thought of their readers learning about the newborn calf being pulled away from it’s mother, never allowed to nurse or see her again. The cow, kept pregnant and lactating at the same time, manipulated to produce 10 times the milk her forbearers did in 1950. Her normal life span of 20 years reduced to four by anxiety, pain and stress. Her flesh, not pretty enough for the supermarket, produces quite acceptable food for prisons, hospitals and schools.

The milk from which cream cheese is made (10 pounds of milk for a pound of cheese) was meant to grow her 30-pound calf to 800 pounds. It has growth factors that are hard for our human bodies to deal with, some react right away while other have issues harder to figure out. When I ditched the dairy twenty-one years ago, my arthritis was gone in three weeks, never to return. Lactose intolerance is not a disease – we are supposed to lose the enzyme to digest milk at age two – and it works best on milk from our own mothers.

Torah teaches us to put the welfare of our animals before our own. To feed them first and allow them to observe rest on Shabbat. We are rather good at doing this with the animals we choose as our companions. We are horrified when we read that dogs are raised and slaughtered for food in China. Yet cows, lambs, chickens have a mother and a face. They feel pain. They have social and family lives – the instinct and desire continues even when confined and unable to carry them out. Horrifying cruelty is done so that they can be raised and slaughtered to provide abundant and affordable food. We do consume the hormones of fear that flood their bodies before slaughter. Yes, even Kosher Slaughter as it is done today.

70% of grain grown is used to feed animals, this uses huge amounts of water, fuel and electricity and is a wasteful way to produce calories. It is destructive to our environment and contributes to world huger.

We Jews were active in the Civil Rights Movement in numbers far higher than our percentage of the population.

Jews are active in the animal rights and animal welfare movements also, but many have left their synagogues and other organizations as they were not able to make any headway in effecting change or even have a discussion. Moses and David were chosen partly because of their kindness to animals. Modern, liberal Judaism seems stuck. We still eat some animals and their products in the synagogue, we eat more animals when we are out, (OK no shrimp or pork at out festive occasions, but still steak served with a special knife.)

Let me conclude with some Talmud: Bava Metzia 85a

About two thousand years ago, after the second temple was destroyed, Rabbi Judah HaNasi, a descendent of King David, put the Oral Torah into writing. He would have a BIG following on Twitter.

One day a bellowing calf came running towards him and took shelter under his robe. The calf was running away from a trip to the shochet  (the slaughterer). Go back to your owner said the learned Rabbi – For this you were created. They said in Heaven “as he has no pity, let us bring suffering upon him.” The Rabbi was rewarded with a toothache. (Maybe rewarded is not the right word). This was followed by many other painful conditions kidney stones, splitting headaches – all this pain continued for 13 years, making it so hard for him to study and make his momentous contributions. Then one day the housemaid came (even though surely she was not supposed to interrupt him).   “Excuse me Rabbi, but I have found a nest of weasels in the spare bedroom. Shall I swat them away with my broom?”

Rabbi Judah cleared his throat while contemplating and replied, “Leave them be. It is written in Psalms 145:9 that his tender mercies are over all his works”.

And with that, the myriad pains and accompanying suffering were gone – instantly.

The Talmud tells us: “Said they in Heaven, As he is compassionate, let us be compassionate to him”.

How can we take some action?

We can go to and choose     something to do

We can take a look at and sign up for their e-mails

We can read Judaism and Vegetarianism” by Richard Schwartz and/or “Vegetarian Judaism” by Roberta Kalechofsky

We can acquire at least one vegan cookbook – there are so many from which to choose

We can google vegan versions of favorite recipes

We can learn that synagogue onegs and bagel breaks do not need copious amounts of cheese to be delicious and satisfying

We can support the Catskill Animal Sanctuary and visit there and meet some farm animals now living natural and pleasant lives.

 We can make cruelty-free food choices –

 We can vote with our forks!

Online resources used:




Roberta Schiff – Rhinebeck NY   [email protected]   845.876.2626
Coordinator: Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society & Hudson Valley Vegans
Member: Congregation Shir Chadash – La Grange NY
and Temple Beth Shalom – San Juan PR

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