Reviewed by Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D.
Currently most Jews eat meat and other animal products and relatively few Jews seem concerned about the cruel mistreatment of animals on factory farms and in other areas. However, David Sears landmark book, now in its just released second edition, with its many examples of Jewish teachings about compassion for animals, has the potential to change all of this.
The Vision of Eden is a compilation of translations from various sources, ranging from the classic texts of Judaism to contemporary rulings in Jewish law, much of which has never before been translated to English. It also includes a number of essays by Sears that serve as prefaces to the translations and provide general overviews that discuss and analyze the source material. It is a companion volume to the author’s book, “Compassion for Humanity in the Jewish Tradition: A Source Book,” which was published by Jason Aronson, Inc., in 1998.
This book has great potential to start a respectful dialogue on vegetarianism, the proper treatment of animals, and related issues in the Jewish community. Here are some reasons:
1. Rabbi Sears has the background, wisdom, sensitivity, compassion, and commitment to effectively raise the consciousness of the Jewish community concerning Jewish teachings on animals. As a Breslav Chassid, his commitment to Jewish law and tradition cannot be challenged. No one can claim that he is just one more animal welfare advocate who doesn’t care about Judaism and is not concerned about human problems.
2. The author’s knowledge of Hebrew and Kabbalistic, Chassidic, and other Jewish sources has enabled him to find teachings that are not commonly known. His book will enable religious communities to discover the rich treasures of material about compassion to animals that will challenge them to live up to the highest ideals of Judaism.
3. His book goes beyond those of other Jewish scholars who have written about Jewish teachings on animals because he combines his extensive knowledge of Judaism with an awareness of how far realities related to how society treats animals differ from the demands of Jewish teachings, and he is committed to making others aware of the need to end these discrepancies.
4. Because of its scholarly merits and firm grounding in Torah and rabbinic tradition, The Vision of Eden will be a respectful but powerful message to the Jewish community that it will not be able to easily ignore. Because of the authenticity and authority of his sources, no intellectually honest person who reads his book would be able to say, “Animals, animals — why don’t you worry about people first?” While not a polemic (in working for completeness and objectivity, Sears discusses some passages that favor meat-eating), his book shows that the vast majority of Jews, including those who take Jewish law seriously, are negligent with regard to important Torah teachings related to animals. Many in the Jewish community will be interested in the book because of the uniqueness of a Chassid writing about Jewish teachings on animal welfare. Hence, it has the potential to raise the consciousness of the Jewish community with regard to animal-based diets, wearing fur coats, animal experimentation and other animal-related issues, and to get these issues onto the agenda of the Jewish community.
4. David Sears’ book also has great potential to eventually influence other religious communities and the general public.
As Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen, Chief Rabbi of Haifa, stated in an approbation in the book, “Every reader of this unique and holy book will benefit extensively from it. Indeed, this book, The Vision of Eden, makes one feel that he has been handed a key to open the closed gates of the Garden of Eden that were shut to us ever since Adam was expelled …”
It is essential that rabbis, Jewish teachers, and other influential members of the Jewish community and other communities become aware of the teachings in Sears’ book and put them into practice. The revitalization of Judaism and the sustainability of our imperiled planet depend on it.
Richard H. Schwartz, Ph. D, is the author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, Who Stole My Religion?, and Mathematics and Global Survival. He has over 200 articles on the Internet at www.jewishveg.com/schwartz, and frequently speaks and contributes articles on environmental, health, and other current issues. He is professor emeritus of mathematics at the College of Staten Island, president emeritus of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA), and president of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians (SERV).