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Frequently Asked Questions About Animal Sacrifices

1. If God wanted us to have vegetarian diets and not harm animals, why were the Biblical sacrificial services established? During the time of Moses, it was the general practice among all nations to worship by means of sacrifice. There were many associated idolatrous practices. The great Jewish philosopher Maimonides stated that God did not command the Israelites to give up and discontinue all these manners of service because "to obey such a commandment would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that to which he is used to." For this reason, ...

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Purim and Vegetarianism

There are many connections between vegetarianism and the Jewish festival of Purim: 1. According to the Talmud, Queen Esther, the heroine of the Purim story, was a vegetarian while she lived in the palace of King Achashverus. She was thus able to avoid violating the kosher dietary laws while keeping her Jewish identity secret. 2. During Purim it is a mitzvah to give "mat'not evyonim" (added charity to poor and hungry people). In contrast to these acts of sharing and compassion, animal-based diets involve the feeding of over 70 percent of the grain in the United States ...

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Why Jews Should Oppose Ag-Gag Laws


The current widespread mistreatment of animals in the food industry, especially on factory farms, is inconsistent with Judaism’s ethic of compassion for animals. Nevertheless, most Jews are eating foods that entail animal abuse in almost all major phases of animal agriculture. In addition to institutionalized abuses that are integral to the raising of animals for food, many undercover videos have revealed sadistic mistreatment of animals by workers. But instead of taking the necessary steps to put an end to such abuses, the animal food industries would rather cover ...

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Book Review of “A Plate of Resistance: Vegetarianism as a Response to World Violence”

A Plate of Resistance: Vegetarianism as a Response to World Violence By Helene Defossez; translated from the French by Katie Chabriere: illustrated by Marc Defossez; New York: Lantern Books, 2014 Reviewed by Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D. A Plate of Resistance is a very welcome addition to the rapidly growing number of books on vegetarianism and veganism. The book is relatively slim – only 141 pages, including a foreword, preface, bibliography, notes, and a list of background resources - and it does not aim to present a comprehensive coverage of all aspects of ...

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A Tu B’Shvat Seder to Heal the Wounded Earth

The New Year – for Rebirthing Trees: [This version of the Haggadah for Tu B’Shvat has been greatly adapted by Rabbi Arthur Waskow of The Shalom Center from a Haggadah shaped by Ellen Bernstein, as published in Trees, Earth, and Torah: A Tu B’Shvat Anthology (Jewish Publ. Soc., 1999, ed. by Elon, Hyman, & Waskow). Bernstein wrote introductory remarks to sections of that Haggadah, many of which have been included or adapted for this one. They are indicated in the text by the initials “EB.” * The desire for such a Haggadah grew from ...

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Lessons From Trees: a Tu Bishvat Message

Some of my most important lessons in life I learned from Jewish verses about trees. From the following I learned that I should be an environmental activist, working to help preserve the world: In the hour when the Holy one, blessed be He, created the first person, He showed him the trees in the Garden of Eden, and said to him: "See My works, how fine they are; Now all that I have created, I created for your benefit. Think upon this and do not corrupt and destroy My world, For if you destroy it, there is no one to restore it after you." (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:28) From ...

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For Tu Bishvat: Quotations from Jewish Sources about Trees

Since Tu Bishvat is considered the "birthday for trees," a time when trees are to be judged regarding their fate for the coming year, I hope the following Jewish quotations about trees and fruits will be helpful for celebrations of this increasingly popular holiday. 1. 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) 2. In the hour when the Holy one, blessed be He, created the first person, He showed him the trees in the ...

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WHY IS THIS NIGHT DIFFERENT? THOUGHTS ON TU BISHVAT

One of the highlights of the Passover Seder is the recitation of the four questions that consider how the night of Passover differs from all the other nights of the year. Many questions are also appropriate for Tu Bishvat, which starts on Wednesday evening, January 15 in 2014, because of the many ways that this holiday differs from Passover and all other days of the year. While four cups of red wine (or grape juice) are drunk at the Passover Seder, the four cups drunk at the Tu Bishvat Seder vary in color from white to pink to ruby to red. While Passover is a holiday ...

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Creating a Jewish Vegetarian Consciousness

Based on my over 30 years of promoting vegetarianism and veganism in the Jewish community and beyond, I believe that it is essential that there be a major shift to plant-based diets to help shift our imperiled planet onto a sustainable path. Jews can and should play a major role in accomplishing this goal. As indicated in my article below, a major societal shift by Jews (and others) to veg diets is essential to efforts to avert a looming climate catastrophe, major food, water, and energy scarcities, and other potential environmental disasters. "Environmental Catastro...

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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. If you do, please let me know how it turns out. Thanks. 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 ...

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Hey American Rabbis: Wake Up and Smell the Cruelty

From their perch in America, many Diaspora Jews look at the Orthodox Rabbinate in Israel as a bunch of Neanderthals who use clubs to beat back any modern innovation or progressive idea. No offense to any Neanderthals. But The Beet-Eating Heeb, for one, might have to revise his assessment of Israel’s Rabbinical leadership. On one issue that is near and dear to BEH’s heart, and probably to yours as well, the newly elected Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel recently made a very enlightened statement. And BEH is all for giving credit where credit is ...

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Thanksgivukah: Giving Thanks for Miracles

Dan Brook & Richard H. Schwartz For the first time since 1888 and then not again for about 78,000 years (!), Chanukah and American Thanksgiving coincide this year on Thursday, November 28. Some are calling it Thanksgivukah. Some are calling it another miracle! It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Hope springs eternal. Indeed, it's always been an integral part of Jewish and American history, spirituality, and politics. Without hope, there wouldn’t be a Chanukah; without hope, there might not even be a Jewish community; without hope, there ...

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Will Scandal at Israeli Slaughterhouse Change Jews’ Diets?

"We will not tolerate giving kashrus supervision to a factory that ignores animal cruelty issues." This statement by the recently elected Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau, along with his promise to look into the kashrus status of facilities where abuses of animals occur, has the potential to greatly change the ways that animals are raised and slaughtered, as well as the eating habits of Jews. Chief Rabbi Lau expressed his outrage and concerns after seeing a video shown on Israeli television’s channel 10 Kolbotek program on October 29. The video had underc...

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Chanukah and Vegetarianism

Jews can enhance their celebrations of the beautiful and spiritually meaningful holiday of Chanukah by making it a time to begin striving even harder to live up to Judaism's highest moral values and teachings by moving toward a vegetarian diet. Here are eight reasons, one for each night of Chanukah: 1. Chanukah represents the triumph of non-conformity. The Maccabees stuck to their inner beliefs, rather than conforming to external pressure. They were willing to say: This I believe, this I stand for, this I am willing to struggle for. Today, vegetarians represent non-conf...

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The Urban Adamah Fellowship Now Accepting 2014 Applications

Connect to Something Bigger: Earth, Community, Social Justice, Jewish Spirituality The Urban Adamah Fellowship, based in Berkeley, CA, is a three-month residential training program for young adults (ages 21–31) that combines urban organic farming, social justice training and progressive Jewish learning and living within the setting of an intentional community. Through the operation of Urban Adamah’s one-acre organic farm and internships with social justice organizations, fellows gain significant skills, training and experience in all aspects of ...

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Vegetarian Week Analysis: How Our Food Choices Can Help Avert a Climate Catastrophe

There is good news and bad news. Unfortunately, the bad news is extremely bad, perhaps the most inconvenient truth one can imagine: the world is rapidly heading toward a climate catastrophe. This is the view of science academies worldwide and of over 97% of climate scientists. Global temperatures have been rising. The 12 warmest years since temperature records have been kept in 1880 have occurred since 1998. Every decade since the 1970s has been warmer than the previous decade. Glaciers and polar ice sheets are melting far faster than the projections of climate scienti...

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G-d’s Forgotten Covenant

Jews around the world this week are reading the story of Noah in Genesis 9. (Was he the one who first said, “When it rains, it pours”?) Ironically, while most people associate this story with the saving of animals in the Ark, it is in this particular Torah portion that God first gives humans permission to kill animals for food. Yup, the animals had barely set foot on terra firma when God told Noah and his sons, “Every living thing that moves shall be food for you.” You can practically hear the cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys ...

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Sukkot, Simchat Torah, and Vegetarianism

There are many connections that can be made between vegetarianism and the joyous Jewish festivals of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret (the Eighth Day of Solemn Assembly), and Simchat Torah: 1. Sukkot commemorates the 40 years when the ancient Israelites lived in the wilderness in frail huts and were sustained by manna. According to Isaac Arama (1420-1494), author of Akedat Yitzchak, and others, the manna was God's attempt to reestablish for the Israelites the vegetarian diet (Genesis 1:29) that prevailed before the flood, in the time ...

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Yom Kippur and Vegetarianism

There are many connections that can be made between the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur and vegetarianism: 1. On Yom Kippur, Jews pray to the "Living God", the "King Who delights in life," that they should be remembered for life, and inscribed in the "Book of Life" for the New Year. Yet, typical animal-based diets have been linked to heart disease, stroke, several types of cancer, and other chronic degenerative diseases, that shorten the lives of over a million Americans annually. 2. On Yom Kippur, Jews pray to a "compassionate ...

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