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Jewish Vegetarian Groups and Activities

This is chapter 10 from the 2001 3rd edition of my book, “Judaism and Vegetarianism.” The complete book can reread at www.JewishVeg.org/schwartz.


            Vegetarians are sprouting up all over. (slogan on a t-shirt)

International Groups.

The international center for Jewish vegetarian activities is “The International Jewish Vegetarian and Ecological Society,” often referred to as the “International Jewish Vegetarian Society” (IJVS), or just the “Jewish Vegetarian Society” (JVS). Its headquarters are at Bet Teva in London. The society has published a quarterly magazine, The Jewish Vegetarian, since September 1966. Generally, each issue includes an editorial, articles relating Judaism to vegetarianism, information about vegetarianism in Israel, local issues, Jewish vegetarian groups and individuals, announcements of society and related events, book reviews, recipes, and news about the society and its members.
The Jewish Vegetarian Society sponsors many events and activities related to its goals. Its motto, which appears on the masthead of The Jewish Vegetarian, comes from Isaiah’s prophecy about the future ideal age: “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain” (Isaiah 11:9). The Society has branches in many parts of the world, and is a member of both the European Vegetarian Union and the International Vegetarian Union.
The Society publishes and distributes many articles showing the relationship between Judaism and vegetarianism. It has an official cookbook, Jewish Vegetarian Cooking, by Rose Friedman (see Bibliography for information about this and other books mentioned in this chapter). There are two types of membership available: one for practicing vegetarians, who do not eat flesh foods, and another for non-vegetarians who are in sympathy with the movement.
The origins of the society show how one person, one letter, one simple act can have a great influence. Vivien Pick wrote a letter about vegetarianism to the London Jewish Chronicle in 1964, in which she asked people interested in joining a Jewish vegetarian group to contact her. The response was great, and the result was the Jewish Vegetarian Society.
From the start of the Society in 1964 until his death in 1992, Philip Pick, Vivien’s father, was its president and editor of The Jewish Vegetarian. After many years of devoted service, he was made honorary life president. He was a passionate vegetarian who campaigned vigorously for the vegetarian cause. Largely through his efforts, the Society grew from a handful of people to an international organization with chapters in sixty- five countries. He wrote many powerful articles and editorials and spoke at conferences all over the world furthering vegetarianism from a positive Jewish perspective. He also edited The Tree of Life, a collection of articles and editorials which appeared in the magazine. An example of his many strong editorials and other writings is given below:
“Shall we participate in the use of poisoned carcasses of birds and beasts for food, and ask for a perfect healing? Above all, shall we harden our hearts to the cries of tormented creatures reared in the captivity and darkness of factory farms, and ask for pity and compassion for ourselves and our infants?2”
On October 31, 2000 I gave the first annual “Philip Pick Memorial Lecture at Bet Teva.
According to the March 2000 issue of The Jewish Vegetarian, the patrons of the Jewish Vegetarian Society are Rabbi Raymond Apple (Australia), Justice Zvi Berenson (Israel), former Knesset member Mordecai Ben Porat (Israel), Haifa Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen (Israel), The Count Gentile, K.O.C., K.O.L. (U.K.), Rebbetzin Goren (Israel), Prof. Alex Hershaft (U.S.), Dr. Michael Klaper (U.S.), Prof. Richard Schwartz (U.S.), Rt. Hon. The Lord Wetherill, P.C., D.L. (U.K.), and Prof. Louis Berman (U.S.).
In 2000 the JVS International Council members were Naomi Fellerman (Chairperson), Harry Binstock, Laurie Binstock, Jonathan Briggs, Michael Freedman, Jeffrey Goldberg, Minna Pick, Hon Secretary
Shirley Labelda, Julie Rosenfield, John Schlackman, Margaret Toch, Henry Toch, and Leonard Waxman. Naomi Fellerman is currently the editor of The Jewish Vegetarian.
Because of recent expansions, the Society has three regional presidents: Stanley Rubens, LL.B., of Melbourne, Australia, is President of the southern regions; Rabbi Noach Valley (to be discussed later) is President for North America; Rabbi David Rosen (see “Biographies of Famous Jewish Vegetarians”) is President for Israel and the East.
The IJVS office is run by Shirley Labelda and Ruth Hyman. From 1994 to 1999, The Jewish Vegetarian was edited by Julie Rosenfield (who also contributed many articles), with help from Shirley Labelda. Additional information about IJVS and other groups discussed in this chapter is in the Appendix.
The IJVS has supported the Orr Shalom Children’s Homes in Israel for many years, centers where homeless children receive loving care within a family atmosphere. Meals at the homes are strictly vegetarian and it is hoped that the home will help spread vegetarian ideas and ideals throughout Israel. The homes were established by Hal and Shelly Cohen, who recognized the need for an alternative to the traditional system for deprived children.
Orr Shalom is now helping about 180 at-risk children to become contributing men and women in Israeli society. They are seeking additional funds to enable them to continue their recent expansion.
B. Vegetarianism in Israel
A center for the International Jewish Vegetarian Society was established in 1992 at 8 Balfour Street (adjacent to the French Square) in the heart of Jerusalem. This was the fulfillment of Philip Pick’s dream of over a quarter of a century and many years of hard work.
There was a “Housewarming Ceremony” at the Center on April 2, 1992. Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen, Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Haifa and Patron of the Society, was out of the country but sent a message of congratulations and good wishes. Mark Weintraub, then chairman of the Israel Jewish Vegetarian Society, opened the proceedings and welcomed
the eighty-five people present at the historic event. In his address to the gathering, Rabbi David Rosen, President of the Israel Jewish Vegetarian Society and former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, told the assembly that “the sublimest of our Jewish teachings are expressed through authentic Jewish vegetarianism and will be a source of redemptive light in keeping with prophetic vision that will shine forth from Jerusalem.” Philip Pick, founder and President Emeritus of the International Society, said that the Society had made impacts in all parts of the world and expressed his dream that the historic occasion would be “the forerunner of the days when the movement shall encompass all the people of Israel in their adherence to the divine will of compassion for all creation, when the war against nature will cease.”
The hundredth issue of The Jewish Vegetarian (March, 1992) informed members of the new Jerusalem Center. In an editorial in that issue, Philip Pick wrote: “Although the road to Jerusalem has been long and arduous, it is with joy that we embark on the next stage of our efforts, in the knowledge that once again the message will go out from Jerusalem to foster love and compassion for all living creatures and a diminishment of the current war against creation.”
The Jerusalem Center is increasingly involved in important activities, including setting up lectures by local and visiting experts; having an annual Tu B’Shvot program; becoming a center for vegetarian-related books, magazines, videos and other material; and becoming a source for nutritional and general dietary information. It is hoped that it will become a center for a number of interns and other volunteers who can carry out valuable projects, such as translating material from Hebrew and into Hebrew, organizing letter writing campaigns to newspapers and other media outlets, and organizing additional projects to help spread information related to the Jewish vegetarian cause.
From 1995 to 2000, the Assistant Director of the Center was Aden Bar-Tura. In 2000, Elihu Menzin took over that position.
Vegetarianism is an active movement in Israel today. Its increasing popularity is indicated by the rapid growth of health food stores and vegetarian restaurants, and increasing interest in such topics as nutrition,
health, animal rights, and ecology. In addition, most supermarkets and many corner grocery stores carry granolas, whole-wheat flour, brown rice, and other natural foods.
A valuable resource for vegetarian restaurants and health food stores in Israel is the Guide to Vegetarian Restaurants in Israel, edited by Mark Weintraub, the first director of the Jerusalem Vegetarian Center, and published by the Vegetarian Resource Group. In addition to its information about and ratings of restaurants and listing of health food stores, the book has a list of animal rights, vegetarian/vegan, and environmental groups in Israel, a short vegetarian Hebrew–English dictionary, a discussion of vegetarian foods commonly found in Israel, and information about the Jewish Vegetarian Society and Jewish vegetarian books. For a free copy of this important resource, send two dollars to cover postage and handling to the Vegetarian Resource Group (see Appendix).
Amirim is a completely vegetarian community (moshav) in Israel. Located in the Galilee, near the city of Safed, its high elevation enables residents and visitors to see both the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Galilee. Many of the eighty vegetarian and naturalist families in Amirim provide lodging and vegetarian meals to vacationers. Visitors can eat at a variety of homes to sample different types of meals and meet a variety of people. The village store contains a full range of organic foods but no meat, poultry, fish, or cigarettes. There is a swimming pool and other recreational facilities available for vacationers, and some members of the community provide massages and other health therapies. Among the potential activities for visitors and residents are hikes, visits to Safed, tours of the Galilee, and visits to gravesites of famous Jewish leaders and scholars, such as Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
A valuable source of information about animal issues and groups, primarily in Israel, is ProAnimal magazine. Each of its issues discusses activities of Israeli animal rights and animal welfare groups and has an extensive list of the groups, along with contact information. The editor and publisher is Suzanne Trauffer.
In January 1994, Israel passed an “Animal Protection Act.” The complete text of the act was printed in the January 1995 issue of ProAnimal
magazine. Among the provisions of the act are that no person shall “torture an animal nor be cruel to an animal, nor ill-treat an animal in any way,” nor “organize animal fighting contests,” nor “work an animal which is not capable of doing so due to its physical condition.” While the legislation marks a major step forward, “the law does not apply to killing animals intended for human consumption” and “does not apply to animal experiments,” where other legislation applies. The application of the law to current intensive factory farming methods is being tested by a suit brought to the Israeli Supreme Court by Israeli animal rights activists who argue that the production of pâté de foie gras violates the law.
CHAI (Concern for Helping Animals in Israel) is a non-profit, tax- exempt organization established in 1984 by American animal activist Nina Natelson to assist animal protection efforts in Israel. CHAI sends funds and veterinary medical supplies to Israel’s animal shelters and helps build new shelters; sponsors humane education seminars and materials for teachers around the country. It built the “Isaac Bashevis Singer Humane Education Center” at the SPCA in Tel Aviv. The Singer Center is becoming the source for an extensive library of books and videos about animals and animal issues. It also conducts educational programs, including CHAI’s “Living Together” program that brings Jewish and Arab children together to learn about and help animals. CHAI is currently raising funds to help reduce the number of animals currently killed due to the inability to provide sufficient shelter. CHAI has also funded a scientist to develop a humane alternative to the practice of killing male chicks at birth.
Among CHAI’s other accomplishments are: it helped draft Israel’s first “Animal Protection Law” (discussed above); it replaced the routine strychnine poisoning of animals at municipal pounds with humane methods; it focused media attention on the benefits of the oral rabies vaccine in humanely controlling rabies instead of the strychnine poisoning of animals in the fields; and it urged the government to distribute the vaccine (the distribution began in March 2000).
CHAI has organized many campaigns that stopped abuses and changed policy in many areas. It convinced the Army to switch to alternatives instead of operating on dogs in paramedic training classes and
urged them to make a similar switch in emergency medicine classes for doctors. It stopped the Ministry of Tourism’s practice of offering free tickets and transportation to the spectacle of the sacrificing of lambs by the Samaritans; it organized support in the U.S. Congress and Senate and the Israeli Knesset to change the Ministry of Finance’s practice of imposing huge customs duties on animal ambulances donated to animal shelters while allowing similar ambulances donated to human hospitals to enter the country duty-free (the first animal ambulance was donated by CHAI to the new SPCA Tiberias and entered the country duty-free).
CHAI also co-sponsored, with the Ministry of Education, Israel’s first countrywide humane education contest—the first governmental initiative to promote humane values. CHAI has held many ground-breaking conferences which have brought media attention and public awareness for the first time to the issues, including: a conference co-sponsored by the Ministry of Education on the link between violence toward animals and toward people and the need for humane education; an international medical conference about alternatives to animals in laboratories (the proceedings were distributed worldwide); and humane education seminars for teachers countrywide, which empower teachers to reach thousands of students nationwide on the connections between animal overpopulation, factory farming, vivisection, vegetarianism, human health, and the environment.
A relatively new animal rights group that has been very active in Israel is Anonymous for Animal Rights. With David Massey as founder and Yossi Wolfson as coordinator, Anonymous has established an “Animal Rights and Education Center” at 93 Dizingoff Street in Tel Aviv (after many years at 48a Ben Yehuda Street), which has become a base for activities, meetings, and research. The center contains more than 200 books, over forty videos, and a large variety of journals and other publications. These resources are valuable tools for the many visiting students who come to do research on animal-related topics.
Anonymous has organized and participated in hundreds of activities in its first six years, including demonstrations in front of fur shops and fast food meat establishments, such as McDonald’s and Burger Ranch, marches and other protests against animal experiments, involvement in various school projects, and the distribution of printed material. Its campaign to ban animal circuses has had positive results, with a de facto ban on such circuses in Israel. Cooperating with other animal protection organizations, Anonymous has helped stop a plan to establish a breeding facility in the south of the country for monkeys raised for experiments. The group was also instrumental in a campaign that led Yossi Sarid, former Minister of Education, to ban animal dissection in all Israeli state-run schools. The group plans to focus increasingly on vegetarianism and veganism. To further these causes the group uses both traditional methods, such as publishing and distributing literature, and innovative ones, such as street theater.
Avi Pinkas, an Israeli engineer, has started a group called Hai-meshek, (Israeli Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Farm Animals). Its primary function has been to improve the treatment of farm animals on Israeli farms.
An Israeli animal rights umbrella group is Noah, the Federation of Animal Protection Societies in Israel. The organization was formally established in 1993, as the brainchild of Israeli animal rights Knesset member Avraham Poraz, a vegetarian lawyer, who wanted to see all of Israel’s animal welfare groups working together. Noah has approximately twenty member societies, including groups concerned about dogs, cats, horses, donkeys, farm animals, and laboratory animals. Noah has given the animal welfare movement in Israel a boost, since it represents so many organizations and has earned the respect of many groups (e.g., municipal and government bodies and the media).
Noah coordinates an annual “Knesset Day,” on which Israeli Knesset members address animal rights advocates on relevant animal issues. The group recently held a conference at which Israeli judges and law enforcement officials discussed legal issues related to punishing people who mistreat animals. Noah also is spearheading a campaign to get the Israeli Supreme Court to ban the force feeding of geese to create foie gras.
An active vegetarian group is the Vegetarians and Vegans Society, centered in Tel-Aviv. Recently, the society has become much more active, publishing new material and organizing outreach activities. An important
recent activity took place in Tel-Aviv on December 22, 1999. Under the title “Meatout: A Wonderful Day Without Meat,” the Society organized an evening of lectures and videos on different aspects of vegetarianism.
There are a number of additional vegetarian and animal rights/welfare groups, and animal shelters in many Israeli cities. Information about these groups and how to contact them can be found in each issue of ProAnimal magazine.
In the mid-1990s, I started a campaign for a “vegetarian-conscious Israel by 2000,” with the aim of increasing the awareness of Israelis to vegetarian-related issues and Jewish teachings on these issues. To further the campaign, I have spoken to many groups throughout Israel, had letters published in the Jerusalem Post, and have met with several chief rabbis and other Israeli leaders. An article on these activities appeared in the August 10, 1995 issue of the Jerusalem Post.
C. North American Groups and Activities
The Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) is affiliated with the International Jewish Vegetarian Society. It has several hundred members and its current president is Rabbi Noach Valley, spiritual leader of the Actor’s Synagogue in New York City. Rabbi Valley also helps coordinate a vegetarian group in Manhattan, which frequently has meetings with speakers and activities, and he coordinates a weekly vegetarian kiddush at his synagogue after Sabbath services. He often contributes articles to the JVNA newsletter, edited by Eva Mossman, assisted by her husband Israel and daughter Ziona. Israel Mossman is coordinator of The Jewish Vegetarians of North America and handles the membership in the USA and Canada.
The periodic JVNA newsletter keeps members informed about Jewish vegetarian activities in various communities and also includes articles, book reviews, and information about Jewish vegetarian contacts. A large number of American rabbis receive the newsletter.
In 1998, JVNA sent to over 3,500 North American congregational rabbis a special issue of its newsletter, which included a letter to the rabbis, urging them to put vegetarianism on their synagogues’ agendas. The letter
was signed by over twenty rabbis, and many doctors, nutritionists, other professionals, and vegetarian activists. Included with the letter were fact sheets showing contradictions between the realities of animal-based diets and basic Jewish mandates and this author’s article, “What Diet Does God Prefer for People.” The group also plans to sponsor an annual “Vegetarian Shabbat.”
Charles Stahler and Debra Wasserman were instrumental in the early years of the JVNA. They ran the group and edited the newsletter for many years, before turning over their responsibilities to the Mossmans, when Charles and Debra founded and ran the Vegetarian Resource Group, an important and influential national vegetarian information organization. Charles and Debra were extremely active in planning Jewish vegetarian conferences and in distributing literature at street fairs in various communities. Their diligent efforts provided the glue that kept the society functioning vibrantly and creatively for many years.
Another person who was extremely important in the formation and early years of the JVNA is Jonathan Wolf. The group was founded in his living room in 1975, shortly after Jonathan and several other Jewish vegetarians attended the World Vegetarian Congress in Orono, Maine. Jonathan wrote articles and flyers for the JVNA beginning in 1976 advocating Jewish vegetarianism based on compassion for animals, concern for the environment, feeding the hungry, and preserving health. He is a committed Orthodox Jew, who told the New York Times in 1976 that all the reasons for people becoming vegetarian have roots in Jewish teachings. He has held many Jewish vegetarian events in his home and at synagogues in Manhattan, and he has periodically taught a unique course, “Judaism and Vegetarianism,” at Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York. In this course (which the author attended and from which many of the ideas and sources in this book derive) he examines connections between vegetarian and Jewish values, utilizing material from the Torah and Talmud, modern responsa, Jewish legal codes, the writings of Rav Kook, Joseph Albo, and other Jewish scholars, and fiction by vegetarian authors such as Isaac Bashevis Singer.
Jonathan has been extremely creative in connecting vegetarian values and menus to the calendar of Jewish holidays. For many years he hosted up to sixty guests for annual vegetarian Passover seders. Especially interesting is the vegetarian Tu B’Shvot seder which he has conducted since 1975 in his home, following and expanding the tradition of the 16th-century kabbalists of Safed (who loved trees and tasted a variety of fruits, but were not vegetarians). The Tu B’Shvot seders include a tasting of the seven species of grains and fruits of the land of Israel mentioned in the Torah, Prophets, Talmud, Midrash, and other holy writings, with four special cups of wine. The seders involve much singing, merriment, good feeling, warmth, community, games, and blessings of thanks. Jonathan has also often hosted vegetarian Sabbath and holiday meals, as well as discussions on vegetarian and environmental issues in his home.
Local chapters of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America have become active in many communities in the U.S. and Canada. A listing of groups and contact people can be found in the group’s newsletter.
Roberta Kalechofsky is founder and leader of Jews for Animal Rights (JAR). This group attempts to make Jews and others aware of Jewish values related to compassion for animals as contrasted with what the group regards as the “unprecedented modern abuse of animals.” The group produces literature and postcards related to Jewish teachings on treatment of animals.
Roberta has been prolific in producing Jewish vegetarian materials. Through her Micah Publications, which specializes in vegetarian and animal rights books, she has written or edited and published Vegetarian Judaism, The Jewish Vegetarian Year Book, Haggadah for the Liberated Lamb, Haggadah for the Vegetarian Family, Judaism and Animal Rights, Rabbis and Vegetarianism, and A Boy, A Chicken, and the Lion of Judea: How Ari Became a Vegetarian (see Bibliography). For many years, she produced a Jewish vegetarian calendar (“The Jewish Vegetarian Year”), which contained many recipes, ideas, and appropriate quotations. She has also published a series of “Green Mitzvah Booklets,” which relate Jewish values to a number of vegetarian and animal rights issues.
The JVNA presents a “Jewish Vegetarian of the Year Award” at its conferences. The first award was presented to the late Isaac Bashevis Singer in 1986. Since then, the award has been received by myself, the late Florence Mitrani, Roberta Kalechofsky, Rabbi Noach Valley, and Jay Lavine, M.D.
I recently gave a course on “Judaism and Vegetarianism” through e- mail and over 700 students registered. E-mail addresses of these students are on an e-mail distribution list, and this provides a group of interested people throughout the United States and several other countries who can help promote vegetarianism and provide feedback about articles and proposed vegetarian activities and projects. The author also has about 100 vegetarian-related articles and book reviews on the Internet at schwartz.enviroweb.org. He sends these articles out periodically to individuals and various e-mail distribution lists; for example, articles relating Jewish holidays to vegetarianism are sent before each holiday to an e-mail list of Jewish media.
Two major books relating Judaism and vegetarianism were originally published in the 1980s: this book (Exposition Press, 1982; Micah Publications, 1988, second edition) and Vegetarianism and the Jewish Tradition by Louis Berman (K’tav, 1982). Berman, professor of psychology and staff counselor at the Student Counseling Service, University of Illinois, Chicago Circle, has lectured on vegetarianism in Chicago, New York, Denver, Los Angeles, and Dayton, Ohio, and has taught an evening adult education class in vegetarian cooking in his home town of Evanston, Illinois. He has also published a Haggadah for Tu B’Shvot, which incorporates many vegetarian themes.
In summary, many exciting things are happening in the Jewish vegetarian world, and there is much about which to be optimistic. By actively seeking ways to build on these and other significant events and projects, there is great potential for increased progress toward a cruelty-free world.
END NOTES

1. Information for this chapter was obtained primarily from the Jewish Vegetarian, ProAnimal magazine, and the Newsletter of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America. Information about these publications is given in the chapter. Whenever possible, the material was verified with the individuals and groups discussed.

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