I recently completed a Chabad course, ‘Faith and Food,’ which discussed how to sanctify eating. I was very disappointed because the moral and halachic (Jewish law) issues related to the production and consumption of meat and other animal-sourced foods were not addressed. I felt that Chabad missed a great opportunity. So I posted the message below when asked to evaluate the course:
Kol hakavod to Chabad, Rabbi Kaplan and everyone else involved in preparing and presenting this course.
However, as president emeritus of Jewish Veg, formerly Jewish Vegetarians of North America, and author of three editions of my book, “Judaism and Vegetarianism, I feel a great opportunity was missed to address some key issues related to the production and consumption pf meat and other animal foods as I indicate below. I would very much welcome an opportunity to have a dialogue/debate with Rabbi kaplan and/ot another Chabad rabbi on, “Should Jews be Vegetarians (or even vegans)?” I think it would be a kiddush Hashem and would also improve the image of Chabad. it would likely improve the health of many Jews, reduce violations of Jewish laws, and help reduce climate change, and other environmental threats to humanity, thus helping shift our imperiled planet onto a sustainable path.
Below are some of the points not covered in the ‘Food and Faith’ Course that I believe Chabad and other Jewish groups should consider.
Meat consumption and the ways in which meat is produced today conflict with Judaism in at least six important areas:
1. While Judaism mandates that people should be very careful about preserving their health and their lives, numerous scientific studies have linked animal-based diets directly to heart disease, stroke, many forms of cancer, and other chronic degenerative diseases.
2. While Judaism forbids tsa’ar ba’alei chayim, inflicting unnecessary pain on animals, most farm 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.
3. While 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, modern intensive livestock agriculture contributes substantially to soil erosion and depletion, air and water pollution, overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the destruction of tropical rain forests and other habitats, global warming, and other environmental damage.
4 While Judaism mandates bal tashchit, that we are not to waste or unnecessarily destroy anything of value, and that we are not to use more than is needed to accomplish a purpose, animal agriculture requires the wasteful use of grain, land, water, energy, and other resources.
5. While Judaism stresses that we are to assist the poor and share our bread with hungry people, over 70% of the grain grown in the United States is fed to animals destined for slaughter, while an estimated 20 million people worldwide die because of hunger and its effects each year.
6. While Judaism stresses that we must seek and pursue peace and that violence results from unjust conditions, animal-centered diets, by wasting valuable resources, help to perpetuate the widespread hunger and poverty that eventually lead to instability and war.
In view of these important Jewish mandates to preserve human health, attend to the welfare of animals, protect the environment, conserve resources, help feed hungry people, and pursue peace, and since animal-centered diets violate and contradict each of these responsibilities, committed Jews (and others) should sharply reduce or eliminate their consumption of animal products.
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.
I hope my response might serve as a model of how to respectfully challenge rabbis to stop ignoring or downplaying how animal-based diets are seriously inconsistent with basic Jewish teachings.