Jewcology Blogs


Jewish Teachings on Social Justice

This posting is chapter 3 of the 2nd edition of my book, "Judaism and Global Survival." The entire  book can be freely read at www.JewishVeg.org/schwartz ----------------------------------------------------------------- Justice, justice shall you pursue. (Deuteronomy 16: 20) The pursuit of a just society is one of the most fundamental concepts of Judaism. The prevalence of injustice in today’s world makes all the more urgent Judaism’s emphasis on the importance of actively seeking a just society. Note two things about the Torah verse above, which is a keynote of ...

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Jewish Teachings on Human Rights and Responsibilities

This posting is from chapter 2 of the 2nd edition of my book, “Judaism and Global Survival" (Lantern Books, 2002) "One person (Adam) was created as the common ancestor of all people, for the sake of the peace of the human race, so that one should not be able to say to a neighbor, 'My ancestor was better than yours.' "One person was created to teach us the sanctity and importance of every life, for one who destroys a single life is considered by scripture to have destroyed an entire world, and one who saves a single life is considered by scripture to have saved an ...

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Jewish teachings on Involvement and Protest

This material is chapter one from my book, "Judaism and Global Survival" "Whoever is able to protest against the transgressions of his own family and does not do so is punished [liable, held responsible] for the transgressions of his family. Whoever is able to protest against the transgressions of the people of his community and does not do so is punished for the transgressions of his community. Whoever is able to protest against the transgressions of the entire world and does not do so is punished for the transgressions of the entire world." Babylonian Talmud ...

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Looking to the Sky, Remembering Our Ideals

Recently, I read an article in the New York Times Magazine that talked about the way that people do or say things, say, supporting a good cause or political opinion, not because they really believe in it, but because they want to signal to their social network that they are virtuous. Apparently, there is a popular new label for this behavior: “virtue signaling.” The author reports that this term is most often used by people on the right against people on the left (“Virtue Signaling Isn’t the Problem. Not Believing One Another Is,” August 8, by Jane Coaston)...

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Old Habits, New Opportunities

We are creatures of habit. Mostly, that’s a good thing. I almost never forget to brush my teeth, close the windows and lock the doors before I go to bed at night. In the morning I can almost sleep walk while I make my favorite breakfast (fried rice, sardines and kale… I know, it’s not a classic breakfast like cereal and milk, or eggs and toast, but I like it and the kids like it, too. My wife, not such a big fan of sardines…) But, as much as those habits help us stay on an even keel, too much habit can keep us from changes that we want to make. As we enter ...

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A New Kind of Community

My family and I just got back from ten days at our annual “dance camp.” This gathering, which has been happening for more than 30 years, is about dancing, but more so, it’s ten days of living like a village in a tight knit, inclusive and caring community. My oldest son had a great summer this year: Jewish wilderness camp, basketball camp, beaches and more. He loved all of them, but he said that dance camp was the best: it was because he got to hang out with a tight group of teens who spent a ton of time together dancing (he’s becoming a great salsa dancer!), ...

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Tree of Knowledge, Tree of Life

My work at Organic Torah starts with asking a question about chochma/Jewish wisdom: Must the Tree of Knowledge be separated from the Tree of Life? The Tree of Knowledge is what we have become used to in much of our Western education—it begins with breaking things apart into smallest components. Our education system is divided into discreet subjects: math, science, English—too often devoid of context and the vibrancy which comes from what Gregory Bateson called “the pattern which connects.” And if we go to college or grad school we might study a “discipline” ...

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Is Eating Meat a Mitzvah That Comes From an Aveirah (Sin)?

Judaism places much stress on performing mitzvot, carrying out God's commandments. However, a "mitzvah haba'ah b'aveirah" - a mitzvah based on an aveirah (sin or "illegitimate means") - is forbidden and is not considered a mitzvah. For example, if one uses a stolen lulav and esrog on Sukkot, it is not a proper mitzvah. Similarly, if money is stolen, it cannot be used to give tzedakah (charity). In fact, the sages indicate that it is better not to do the mitzvah at all than to do a mitzvah haba'ah b'aveirah. Eating meat is arguably a mitzvah haba'ah b'aveirah, actually ...

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A Dialogue Between a Jewish Vegetarian Activist and a Rabbi

  For a long time, I have been trying to start a respectful dialogue in the Jewish community. Because I have had very little success, I am presenting the fictional dialogue below. I hope that many readers will use it as the basis of similar dialogues with local rabbis, educators, and community leaders. Jewish Vegetarian Activist: Shalom rabbi. Rabbi: Shalom. Good to see you. JVA: Rabbi, I have been meaning to speak to you for some time about an issue, but I have hesitated because I know how busy you are, but I think this issue is very important. ...

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Eighteen Reasons Jews Think They Should Not Be Vegetarians (and Why They Are Wrong)

1) The Torah teaches that humans are granted dominion over animals (Genesis 1:26), giving us a warrant to treat animals in any way we wish. Response: Jewish tradition interprets "dominion" as guardianship, or stewardship: we are called upon to be co-workers with God in improving the world. Dominion does not mean that people have the right to wantonly exploit animals, and it certainly does not permit us to breed animals and treat them as machines designed solely to meet human needs. In "A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace," Rav Kook states: "There can be no doubt in the ...

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Judaism’s Mission Today

What a wonderful path Judaism is! Judaism worships a God who is the Father of all humanity, Whose attributes of kindness, mercy, compassion, and justice are to serve as examples for all our actions. Judaism teaches that every person is created in God's image and therefore is of supreme value. Judaism asserts that people are to be co-workers with God in preserving and improving the earth. We are to be stewards of the world's resources and to see that God's bounties are used for the benefit of all. Nothing that has value can be wasted or destroyed unnecessarily. ...

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Should Jews Be Vegetarians? – a Debate

Richard H.Schwartz, PhD's debate with Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld, which appeared years ago in the Jerusalem Report ========== Introduction: In addition to its benefits for health, animals, and the environment, vegetarianism may be  called for by some of Judaism's most cherished tenets. Is it time to reconsider our dietary traditions? Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld, Rabbinic Coordinator of the Kashrut Division of the Orthodox Union in New York, debates Richard H. Schwartz, author of “Judaism and Vegetarianism” and Professor Emeritus at the College of Staten Island. ...

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A Potentially Game-Changing Rabbinic Statement on Vegetarianism

Jewish Veg Rabbinic Statement     “Judaism’s way of life, its dietary practices, are designed to ennoble the human spirit. It is therefore a contradiction in terms to claim that products that come through a process that involves inordinate cruelty and barbarity toward animal life can truly be considered kosher in our world. In our world today, it is precisely a plant-based diet that is truly consonant with the most sublime teachings of Judaism and of the highest aspirations of our heritage.” Rabbi ...

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Sukkot and Vegetarianism

by Richard Schwartz, Ph.D. ~The Sukkot holiday, including Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, is known as the "Season of Rejoicing", because people's worries about the success of the harvest are over. Since one must be in good health in order to fully rejoice, the many health benefits of vegetarian diets and the knowledge that such diets are less harmful than animal-based diets to the environment, hungry people, and animals are factors that can enhance rejoicing. There are many other connections that can be made between vegetarianism and these joyous Jewish festiva...

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The Custom of Kappparot (Kaporus) in the Jewish Tradition

Rabbi Yonassan Gershom is co-author of this article. Every year, before Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), some Jews perform the ceremony of kapparot. The following, in question and answer format, is a discussion of the ritual and its relation to the treatment of animals. What is kapparot [in Ashkenazic Hebrew or Yiddish, kapporos or shluggen kapporos]? Kapparot is a custom in which the sins of a person are symbolically transferred to a fowl (or a substitute object—as discussed below). First, selections from Isaiah 11:9, Psalms 107:10, 14, and 17-21, and Job ...

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Why Perform a Rite that Involves Killing Chickens as a Way to Seek God’s Compassion.

During the ten-day period starting on Rosh Hashanah and ending on Yom Kippur, Judaism's holiest day, Jews seek God's compassion and ask for forgiveness for transgressions during the previous year so that they will have a happy, healthy, peaceful year. Yet, many Jews perform the rite of kapparot (in Ashkenazic Hebrew kappores or in Yiddish, shluggen kappores) in the days before Yom Kippur, a ritual that involves the killing of chickens. Kapparot is a custom in which the sins of a person are symbolically transferred to a fowl. First, selections from Isaiah 11:9, Psalms ...

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Yom Kippur and Vegetarianism and Veganism

by Richard Schwartz, Ph.D. ~Yom Kippur, the culmination of the Aseret Y’mei Teshuva (the Ten Days of Repentance) that begins on Rosh Hashanah, is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. On this day, Jews refrain completely from food and water and spend many hours in synagogues, examining their deeds, vowing to repent for past transgressions, and seeking God’s blessings for a coming year of good health and positive outcomes. Yet, after Yom Kippur, most Jews return to animal-based diets that are arguably inconsistent with the values of Yom Kippur and Judaism in ...

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Our 2017 (5777) Collection of Earth Etudes for Elul

Introduction by Susan Levine~ Elul is the month before Rosh Hashanah, a time when we review our lives and think about how we will live the coming year. And during Elul this year, we have seen three category 4 hurricanes (Harvey, Irma, and Maria) wreak havoc in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and several other Caribbean islands. The scientists have blamed increased ocean temperatures for the high winds and rising floodwaters. What other evidence do we need to believe that climate change is real? Our earth etudes actually connect our earth with the spirit of Judaism--Tikkun ...

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Shana Tova — May You Have a Good Year

by Rabbi Katy Allen • photos by Gabi Mezger ~As you journey through these the Yamim Noraim, Days of Awe, may you find yourself more able to remain present in the moment, may you find meaning in unexpected places, and my your heart open ever wider. May you search among the needles for the gifts of seeds.   May you find beauty among that which at first glance seems no longer needed, but which in fact is vital. May your gaze turn upward toward vistas without end. May you notice gifts that pop up quickly in unexpected places. ...

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The Importance of Teshuva during the High Holidays

The Jewish high holidays are around the corner... During the 10 days of repentance, our prayers and forgiveness carry significantly more weight than any other time during the year. Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (the Shelah Hakadosh) said that our behavior during each day of the 7 days between Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur has the potential to correct our sins made during each of those days in the past year, and can affect the rest of the same days next year (Sunday corrects Sundays, Monday corrects Mondays etc). So how do we make the most out of those days and make sure ...

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