Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from

Why Jews Should Be Vegans

From Richard Schwartz
August 2022

The consumption of meat and other animal products, and the ways in which they are produced today, seriously violate fundamental Jewish teachings in at least six important areas.

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1. Judaism mandates that we preserve our health and our lives, and numerous scientific studies have linked animal-based diets directly to heart disease, stroke, many forms of cancer, diabetes, and other life-threatening diseases. Also, adopting a plant-based diet would reduce the chances for a future pandemic, as the current coronavirus pandemic and many previous pandemics were caused by the massive mistreatment and consumption of animals.

2. Jews are to be rachmanim, b’nei rachmanim, compassionate children of compassionate ancestors, emulating God, Whose compassion its over all His works (Psalms 145:9), and to avoid tsa'ar ba'alei chayim, inflicting unnecessary pain to animals, However, most farmed animals -- including those raised for kosher consumers -- are raised on "factory farms" where they live in cramped, confined spaces, and are often drugged, mutilated, and denied fresh air, sunlight, exercise, and any enjoyment of life, before they are slaughtered and eaten. As just one example, dairy cows are artificially impregnated annually on what the industry calls ‘rape racks,’ and then the calves are taken away shortly after birth, causing great emotional stress to both.

3. Judaism teaches that "the earth is the Lord’s" (Psalm 24:1) and that we are to be God's partners and co-workers in preserving the world. But, modern agribusiness contributes substantially to climate change, soil erosion and depletion, air and water pollution, extensive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, destruction of tropical rain forests and other important habitats, and other environmental damage. A 2006 UN Food and Agriculture report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” demonstrated that the livestock sector emits more greenhouse gases (in CO2 equivalents), than all the cars, planes, ships, and all other means of transportation worldwide combined.

4 Judaism mandates bal tashchit, that we are not to waste or unnecessarily destroy anything of value or use more than is needed to accomplish a purpose. However, animal-based agriculture wastes much grain, land, water, energy, and other resources. For example, a person on an animal-based diet uses up to 13 times as much water, largely to irrigate land growing feed crops, than a person on a vegan diet.

5. Judaism stresses that we are to assist hungry people. However, about 70% of the grain grown in the United States is fed to animals destined for slaughter, while over ten percent of the world’s people are chronically hungry and an estimated nine million people worldwide die each year because of hunger and its effects. Making it even more shameful, healthy foods, like corn, soy, and oats, which are high in fiber and complex carbohydrates and devoid of cholesterol and saturated fat, are fed to animals, resulting in unhealthy foods with the opposite characteristics.

6. Judaism stresses that we must seek and pursue peace and that violence results from unjust conditions. However, animal-centered diets, by wasting valuable resources, help to perpetuate the widespread hunger and poverty that often lead to instability and war.

One could say "dayenu" (it would be enough) after any of the arguments above, because each one constitutes, by itself, a serious conflict between Jewish values and current practice that should impel Jews to seriously consider a plant-based diet. Combined, they make an urgently compelling case for the Jewish community to address these issues.

The above case is strengthened by the fact that God’s first dietary regimen was strictly vegan: “And God said: ‘Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree that has seed-yielding fruit -- to you it shall be for food.’” (Genesis 1:29) This is consistent with modern scientific findings that humans are closer to herbivorous animals than to omnivorous and carnivorous ones, in terms of our hands, teeth, intestinal system, stomach acids, and other features. In addition, according to Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook, first chief rabbi of pre-state Israel, as well as other Jewish scholars, the Messianic period will also be vegan, based on Isaiah’s prophecy (11:6 - 9): “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, . . . the lion shall eat straw like the ox, . . . and no one shall hurt nor destroy in all of [God’s] holy mountain.”

In summary, to be healthier, have a healthier planet, and be more consistent with basic Jewish values, Jews should be vegetarians, and preferably vegans.


Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, College of Staten Island
Author of Vegan Revolution: Saving Our World, Revitalizing Judaism; Judaism and Vegetarianism; Judaism and Global Survival; Mathematics and Global Survival; and Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal Our Imperiled Planet; and over 250 articles at
President Emeritus, Jewish Veg; President, Society Of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians (SERV):
Associate producer of A SACRED DUTY; "Like" Jewish Veg on Facebook

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