Frequently Asked Questions About Judaism and Vegetarianism
1. What is Jewish about vegetarianism and veganism?
Note that when the word vegetarianism is used below it implies both vegetarianism and veganism. he word vegetarian implies both vegetarian and vegan.
All the reasons for becoming vegetarian can be connected to important Jewish values. These include taking care of our health, showing compassion to animals, protecting the environment, conserving resources, helping hungry people, and seeking and pursuing peace. As later responses indicate, many teachings in the Torah, the Talmud, and other sacred Jewish texts can be used to argue that vegetarianism is the diet most consistent with Jewish values.
2. Why did God give people permission to eat meat?
People are not always ready to live up to God’s highest ideals. By the time of Noah, humanity had degenerated greatly. “And God saw the earth, and behold it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth” (Gen. 6:12). People had sunk so low that they would eat a limb torn from a living animal. As a concession to people’s weakness, permission to eat meat was then given after the great flood:
Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; as the green herb have I given you all. (Gen. 9:3)
3. Weren’t people given dominion over animals? Didn’t God put them here for our use?
Dominion does not mean that we have the right to conquer and exploit animals. Immediately after God gave people dominion over animals (Gen 1:26), he prohibited their use for food (Gen. 1:29). Dominion means guardianship or stewardship — being co-workers with God in taking care of and improving the world.
The Talmud interprets “dominion” as the privilege of using animals for labor only. (Sanhedrin 59b) It is extremely doubtful that the concept of dominion permits breeding animals and treating them as machines designed solely to meet our needs.
Rav Kook stated that dominion does not imply the rule of a haughty despot who tyrannically governs for his own personal selfish ends and with a stubborn heart. He rejected the idea that such a repulsive form of servitude could be forever sealed in the world of God whose “tender mercies are over all His work.” (Psalm 145:9)
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch stressed that people have not been given the right or the power to have everything subservient to them. In commenting on Genesis 1:26, he stated, “The earth and its creatures may have other relationships of which we are ignorant, in which they serve their own purposes. Thus, above people’s control over nature there is a divine control to serve God’s purposes and objectives, and people have no right to interfere. Hence, people, according to Judaism, do not have an unlimited right to use and abuse animals and other parts of nature.”
4. If God wanted us to have vegetarian diets and not harm animals, why were the Temple 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 wrote 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 accutomed,” For this reason, God allowed Jews to make sacrifices, but “He transferred to His service that which had served as a worship of created beings and of things imaginary and unreal.” The elements of idolatry were removed. Maimonides concluded: By this divine plan it was effected that the traces of idolatry were blotted out, and the truly great principle of our Faith, the Existence and Unity of God, was established. This result was thus obtained without confusing the minds of the people by the abolition of a service they were accustomed to and which was familiar to them. The Jewish philosopher Abarbanel reinforced Maimonides’ argument. He cited a Midrash that indicated that the Jews had become accustomed to sacrifices in Egypt. To wean them from these idolatrous practices, God tolerated the sacrifices but commanded that they be offered in one central sanctuary: Thereupon the Holy One, blessed be He, said “Let them at all times offer their sacrifices before Me in the Tabernacle, and they will be weaned from idolatry, and thus be saved.” Rabbi J. H. Hertz, former Chief Rabbi of England, stated that if Moses had not instituted sacrifices, which were admitted by all to have been the universal expression of religious homage, his mission would have failed and Judaism would have disappeared. After the destruction ofthe Temple, Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai stated that prayer and good deeds should take the place of sacrifice.
Rashi indicated that God did not want the Israelites to bring sacrifices; it was their choice. He bases this on the haphtorah (portion from the Prophets) read on the Sabbath when the book of Leviticus which discusses sacrifices is read: “I have not burdened thee with a meal-offering, nor wearied thee with frankincense”. (Isaiah 43:23)
Biblical commentator David Kimchi (1160-1235) also believed that the sacrifices were voluntary. He ascertained this from the words of Jeremiah:
“For I spoke not unto your fathers, nor commanded them on the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifices; but this thing I commanded them, saying, “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people; and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you.” (Jeremiah 7:22-23)
Kimchi noted that nowhere in the Ten Commandments is there any reference to sacrifice, and even when sacrifices are first mentioned (Lev. 1:2) the expression used is “when any man of you bringeth an offering,” the first Hebrew word ki being literally “if”, implies that it was a voluntary act.
Sacrifices, especially animal sacrifices, were not the primary concern of God. As a matter of fact, they could be an abomination to God if not carried out together with deeds of loving kindness and justice. Consider these words of the prophets, the spokespeople of God:
“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” (Hosea 6:6)
“To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me?” says the Lord. “I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs or of he-goats… bring no more vain oblations…. Your new moon and your appointed feasts my soul hates;… and when you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; yes, when you make many prayers, I will not hear; your hands are full of blood.” (Isaiah 1:11-16)
“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I will take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Though you offer me burnt-offerings and your meal offerings, I will not accept them; neither will I regard the peace-offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from me the noise of thy song; and let Me not hear the melody of thy psalteries. But let justice well up as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” (Amos 5:21-4)
Deeds of compassion and kindness toward all creation are of greater significance to God than sacrifices: “To do charity and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice” (Prov. 21: 3 ).
5. Why were the laws of kashrut (the kosher laws) given?
Along with permission to eat meat, many laws and restrictions (the laws of kashrut ) were given. These laws were designed to sanctify the act of eating, and to keep people from taking the everyday act of eating for granted.
Rabbi Kook’s belief that the regulations related to the consumption of meat implied a reprimand and is an elaborate apparatus designed to keep alive a sense of reverence for life, and to lead people away from their meat-eating habit is echoed by Torah commentator Solomon Efraim Lunchitz in K’lee Yakar, his commentary on the Torah:
“What was the necessity for the entire procedure of ritual slaughter? For the sake of self-discipline. It is far more appropriate for man not to eat meat; only if he has a strong desire for meat does the Torah permit it, and even this only after the trouble and inconvenience necessary to satisfy his desire. Perhaps because of the bother and annoyance of the whole procedure, he will be restrained from such a strong and uncontrollable desire for meat.”
A similar statement is made by a modern rabbi, Pinchas Peli, in his book, Torah Today:
“Accordingly, the laws of kashrut come to teach us that a Jew’s first preference should be a vegetarian meal. If however one cannot control a craving for meat, it should be kosher meat, which would serve as a reminder that the animal being eaten is a creature of God, that the death of such a creature cannot be taken lightly, that hunting for sport is forbidden, that we cannot treat any living being callously, and that we are responsible for what happens to other beings (human or animal) even if we did not personally come into contact with them.”
6. During the Messianic Period, when the Temple in Jerusalem is rebuilt, won’t the sacrificial services be restored and won’t people have to eat meat?
Rav Kook and Joseph Albo believed that in the days of the Messiah people will again be vegetarians. Rav Kook stated that in the Messianic Epoch, “the effect of knowledge will spread even to animals…and sacrifices in the Temple will consist of vegetation, and it will be pleasing to God as in days of old….” He believed that at that time human conduct will have advanced to such high standards that there will no longer be a need for animal sacrifices to atone for sins. Only nonanimal sacrifices (grains, for example) to express gratitude to God would remain. There is a midrash (teaching based on Jewish values and tradition) that states: “In the Messianic era, all offerings will cease except the thanksgiving offering, which will continue forever.” Rav Kook based his view on the prophecy of Isaiah:
“And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, And the leopard shall lie down with the kid; And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little child shall lead them And the cow and the bear shall feed; Their young ones shall lie down together, And the lion shall eat straw like the ox…. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain.” (Isaiah. 11:6-9)
7. Wasn’t Genesis 1:29 (the first dietary law) overridden by later Biblical commandments and teachings?
As indicated previously, while God’s original intention was that people be vegetarians, God later gave permission for meat to be eaten as a reluctant concession to people’s weakness. As also indicated, many Biblical commentators look at vegetarianism as the ideal diet, and modern science has verified that our body structure and digestive system are most consistent with this type of diet.
In a teshuvah (response to a question related to Jewish law), R. Moshe Halevi Steinberg expressed his belief that the fact that meat was initially forbidden and later permitted indicates that each person is thereby given a free hand to either be a vegetarian as was the first human, or to eat meat, as Noah did.
The question is then on what basis should that choice be made. Should it be on the basis of convenience, habit, and conformity, or on considerations of basic Jewish values and teachings.
Rabbi Alfred Cohen wrote that, “the Torah does not establish the eating of meat as a desirable activity, only as something which is not forbidden to do.”
8. Inconsistent with Judaism, doesn’t vegetarianism elevate animals to a level equal to that of people?
Concern for animals and a refusal to treat them brutally and slaughter them for food that is not necessary for proper nutrition (indeed, is harmful to human health) does not mean that vegetarians regard animals as equal to people.
The test of our behavior toward animals should be, as the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) put it, “not can they reason, nor can they talk, but can they suffer?” And, the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides felt that animals are like people in fleeing from pain and death.
9. If Jews don’t eat meat, won’t they be deprived of the opportunity to do many mitzvot (commandments).
There are other cases where laws were provided to regulate things that God would prefer people not to do. For example, God wishes people to live at peace, but he provides commandments related to war, because He knows that human beings quarrel and seek victories over others. Similarly, the laws in the Torah related to slavery are a concession to human weakness.
As indicated before, by not eating meat, Jews are acting consistently with many mitzvot, such as showing compassion to animals, preserving health, not wasting, feeding the hungry, and preserving the earth. Also, by not eating meat, a Jew cannot violate several prohibitions of the Torah, such as mixing meat and milk, eating nonkosher animals, and eating blood or fat.
10. Judaism considers it an averah (sin) not to take advantage of the pleasurable things that God has put on the earth. As He put animals on the earth and it is pleasurable to eat them, is it not an averah to refrain from eating meat?
Can eating meat be pleasurable to a religious person when he or she knows that, as a result, health is endangered, grain is wasted, the environment is polluted, the climate is threatened, and animals are being cruelly treated? There are many other ways to gain pleasure without doing harm to living creatures. The prohibition against abstaining from pleasurable things only applies when there is no plausible basis for the abstention; vegetarians abstain because eating meat is injurious to health, because their soul rebels against eating a living creature, and/or because they wish to have a diet that minimizes threats to the environment, and that best shares resources with hungry people.
There are other cases in Judaism where actions that some people consider pleasurable are forbidden or discouraged, such as the use of tobacco, drinking liquor to excess, sexual relations out of wedlock, and hunting.
11. Don’t the laws of shechita provide for a humane slaughter of animals so that we need not be concerned with violations of tsa’ar ba’alei chayim ?
It is true that shechita has been found in scientific tests conducted in the United States and other countries to be a relatively painless method of slaughter. But can we consider only the final minutes of an animal’s life? What about the tremendous pain and cruelty involved in the entire process of raising and transporting animals? When the consumption of meat is not necessary and is even harmful to people’s health can any method of slaughter be considered humane? Is this not a contradiction in terms?
Some animal rights advocates have been critical of shechita because of the practice of shackling and hoisting, a very painful process in which the animal is raised off the ground by its hind leg prior to slaughter. It is important to recognize that shackling and hoisting is not a necessary part of shechita. It was instituted by the U. S. Department of Agriculture in 1906 in order to avoid the blood of diseased animals contaminating other animals when they were cast upon the floor.
Fortunately, an alternative, more humane method that is acceptable to Jewish law has been developed and put into practice in most slaughterhouses. Holding pens have been developed that meet the requirements of ritual slaughter and also Department of Agriculture requirements, while avoiding the use of shackling and hoisting. These pens have been endorsed by the Jewish Joint Advisory Committee on shechita, the Rabbinical Council of America, and prominent Orthodox rabbis.
Several animal rights groups have pushed for legislation banning shackling and hoisting. Unfortunately, some anti-Semitic groups have used the issue to try to attack shechita. The Jewish community must work to extend the use of humane alternatives to shackling and hoisting, primarily to avoid tsa’ar ba’alei chayim, but also to reduce criticism. Of course, as indicated earlier, the best way to be consistent with Jewish teachings concerning animals is to be a vegetarian.
12. Won’t a movement by Jews toward vegetarianism mean less emphasis on kashrut (the Jewish kosher laws) and eventually a disregard of these laws?
Quite the contrary. One of the purposes of the laws of kashrut is reverence for life, which is consistent with vegetarianism, and even more so veganism. Another purpose is to avoid pagan practices, which often involved much cruelty to animals and people. This too is consistent with vegetarian ideals.
In many ways becoming a vegetarian, and even more so a vegan, makes it easier and cheaper to observe the laws of kashrut; this might attract many new adherents to keeping kosher and eventually to other important Jewish values. As a vegetarian or vegan, one need not be concerned with separate dishes, mixing milchigs (dairy products) with fleichigs (meat products), waiting 3 or 6 hours after eating meat before being allowed to eat dairy products, storing four sets (two for regular use and two for Passover use) of dishes, silverware, pots, and pans, and many other considerations that must concern the non-vegetarian who wishes to observe kashrut strictly. In addition, a vegetarian or vegan is in no danger of eating blood or fat, which are prohibited, or the flesh of a nonkosher animal. It should be noted that being a vegetarian does not automatically guarantee that one will maintain the laws of kashrut as, for example, certain baked goods and cheeses may not be kosher. When in doubt, a trusted rabbinic authority should be consulted.
Some people today reject kashrut because of the high costs involved. Since a person can obtain proper nourishment at far lower costs with a vegetarian diet, this may prevent the loss of many kashrut observers.
There are several examples in Jewish history when a change to vegetarianism enabled Jews to adhere to kashrut . As indicated in the Book of Daniel, Daniel and his companions were able to avoid eating nonkosher food by adopting a vegetarian diet. (Daniel 1:8 – 16) The historian Josephus relates how some Jewish priests on trial in Rome ate only figs and nuts to avoid eating flesh that had been used in idol worship. Some Maccabees, during the struggles against the Syrians, escaped to the mountains where they lived on only plant foods to avoid “being polluted like the rest” (by eating non-kosher foods).
13. Isn’t a movement toward vegetarianism a movement away from Jewish traditions with regard to diet? Isn’t there a danger that once some traditions are changed, others may readily follow, and little will be left of Judaism as we have known it?
Jewish law is based on a two part structure: written law (the Jewish Bible) and oral law (Talmud, responsa literature, and other rabbinic writings). Although the written law remains the unchanging base, the oral law has components that are constantly adapting to current conditions. This system has kept Judaism as alive and applicable today as it was centuries ago. In contemporary times, the vast responsa literature of this century has enabled new traditions to form within halachic bounds.
A move toward vegetarianism is actually a return to Jewish traditions, to taking Jewish values seriously. A movement toward vegetarianism can help revitalize Judaism. It can show that Jewish values can be applied to help solve current world problems related to climate change, hunger, waste, and pollution. Hence, rather than a movement away from Jewish traditions, it would have the opposite effect.
14. Weren’t the Jewish sages aware of the evils related to eating meat? If so, why does so much of Talmudic literature discuss laws and customs related to the consumption of meat? Are you suggesting that Judaism has been morally wrong in not advocating vegetarianism?
Conditions today differ greatly from those in Biblical times and throughout most of Jewish history. Only recently has strong medical evidence linked an animal -centered diet to many types of life threatening disease. As indicated above, modern intensive livestock agriculture results in conditions quite different from those that prevailed previously. As indicated, to produce meat today, animals are treated very cruelly, they are fed tremendous amounts of grain (and chemicals) while millions of people starve, and much pollution and misuse of resources result. When it was felt that eating meat was necessary for health and the many problems related to modern intensive livestock agriculture did not exist, the Jewish sages were not morally wrong in not advocating vegetarianism.
15. By putting vegetarian values ahead of Jewish teachings, aren`t vegetarians, in effect, creating a new religion, with values contrary to Jewish teachings?
Jewish vegetarians do not place so-called vegetarian values above Torah principles. They are saying that Jewish values mandate that we treat animals with compassion, guard our health, share with hungry people, protect the environment, conserve resources, and seek peace, and hence point to vegetarianism as the ideal diet for Jews today, especially in view of the many problems related to modern methods of raising animals on factory farms. Rather than rejecting Torah values, Jewish vegetarians are challenging the Jewish community to apply Torah values to their diets in a daily meaningful way. They are respectfully challenging Jews to live up to Judaism’s splendid teachings.
16. Aren’t vegetarians being more righteous than God, since God gave permission to eat meat?
There is no obligation to eat meat today. God’s first dietary law (Gen. 1:29) was strictly vegetarian, actually mean; also, as discussed before, according to Rabbi Kook and others, the Messianic Epoch will be vegetarian.
Jewish vegetarians believe their diet is most consistent with God’s desires that we protect our health, be kind to animals, share with hungry people, protect the environment and conserve resources. Rather than being more righteous than God, they are urging people to live up to God’s highest ideals .
This viewpoint is conceded by Rabbi Alfred Cohen: “If a person tends toward vegetarianism because he sees it as a lifestyle consonant with the way the All- Mighty really wanted the world to be, there can be no denying that he has a valid point of view.”
17. How can you advocate making changes in Judaism?
What is really advocated is a return to Jewish values of showing, compassion, sharing, helping the needy, preserving the environment, conserving resources, and seeking peace. Also, rabbinic enactments to meet changing conditions have historically been part of Judaism. Of course, changes must be consistent with Jewish values and teachings.
Finally, global threats today – climate change, pollution, hunger, resource scarcity, violence -are so great that a new thinking or rethinking about values and new methods is necessary. Albert Einstein’s statement, “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything except our ways of thinking; hence we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe,” has a parallel to the effects of our diets today.
Jewish vegetarians are not advocating changes in the Torah, but that the Torah be used to master present world conditions, as it has in the past. Global survival today requires the application of Torah values to our diets, as well as other aspects of our lives.
18. Because the majority of Jews will probably continue to eat meat, isn’t it better that they do so without being aware of the Jewish principles such as bal tashchit, (the mandate not to waste resources), tsa’ar ba’alei chayim (the mandate to avoid causing unnecessary harm to animals), and pikuach nefesh (the mandate to protect human life) that are being violated? Shouldn’t a Jewish vegetarian abstain from meat quietly and not try to convert others to his or her type of diet?
This is a common attitude today. Many people feel that if there are benefits to vegetarianism and if some people want to have such a diet, fine. But they should keep it to themselves and not try to convert others.
The question really becomes one of how seriously we take Jewish values. Are we to ignore Torah mandates to preserve our health, show compassion for animals, not waste, help feed the hungry, preserve the earth, and many others that are violated directly or indirectly by meat centered diets? Is it proper that people be kept uninformed about the many violations of Torah law so that they can continue their eating habits with a clear conscience?
Judaism teaches that one should try to teach others and assist them to carry out commandments. A Chassidic teacher asserts: “Man, the master of choice, shall say: “Only for my sake was the whole world created!” Therefore every man shall be watchful and strive to redeem the world and supply that wherein it is lacking, at all times and in all places.”
19. Since Rabbi Kook felt that a vegetarian period would come later, after people had moved to a more ethical level and there was much progress in solving problems effecting people, shouldn’t we refrain from promoting vegetarianism today?
Since many problems related to modern intensive livestock agriculture have become far worse since Rabbi Kook passed away, one can only wonder what his view would be today if he were aware of the epidemic of disease, the soaring medical costs that result in cuts in other essential social services, the increasing environmental and climate threats, the widespread hunger, the cruel treatment of animals, and other negative effects of animal-centered diets.
As indicated previously, a consideration of vegetarianism is not a retreat from concern about improving people and their lives and is not focusing on issues that can wait for human improvement. It is arguably the most important thing that can be done to improve the lot of the world’s people and our imperiled planet, as well as to show that the Torah has a message that can help combat today’s many threats.
20. How would a Jewish vegetarian celebrate Pesach (Passover)?
Today there is no need to cook or eat meat on Passover. The eating of the Pascal lamb is no longer required now that the Temple has been destroyed. One is required to commemorate this act not to participate in it. The late Dayan Feldman stated that mushrooms, which have a fleshy appearance can be used on the Seder plate to commemorate the Pascal lamb. The Talmud indicates that a broiled beet can be used.
The proper celebration of Passover requires the absence of leaven and the use of unleavened bread, which we are commanded to eat “throughout your generations.” There are many vegetarian recipes that are appropriate for seders and other Passover meals, a number of which can be found in some of the books listed in the bibliography at my internet site, www.JewishVeg.org/schwartz.
Because Passover is the celebration of our redemption from slavery, we should also consider freeing ourselves from the slavery to harmful eating habits. As our homes are freed from leaven, perhaps we should also free our bodies from harmful foods. Because Passover is a time of regeneration, physical as well as spiritual, the maximum use should be made of raw fruits and vegetables, which have cleansing properties.
There are other Passover themes related to vegetarian ideas. The call at the Seders for “all who are hungry to come and eat” can be a reminder that our diets can be a factor in reducing global hunger. The Passover theme of freedom is related to the horrible conditions of slavery under which animals are raised today.
21. In Jewish literature, it is stated that with the advent of the Messiah a banquet will be given by God to the righteous in which the flesh of the giant fish, Leviathan, will be served. Isn’t this inconsistent with the idea that the Messianic period will be vegetarian?
These legends concerning the leviathan are interpreted as allegories by most Jewish scholars. According to Maimonides, the banquet is an allusion to the spiritual enjoyment of the intellect. Abarbanel and others consider the expressions about the leviathan to be allusions to the destruction of the powers that are hostile to the Jews.
22. Isn’t much of Judaism today related to the use of animals for teaching and ritual purposes? (Consider the Sefer Torah, Tefillin, the shofar (ram’s horn) used on Rosh Hashanah and at the end of Yom Kippur), etc.?
The number of animals slaughtered for these purposes is minute compared to the billions killed annually for food. The fact that there would still be some animals slaughtered to meet Jewish ritual needs shouldn’t stop us from doing all we can to end the horrible abuses of factory farming. Also, most problems related to animal- centered diets-poor human health, waste of food and other resources, and ecological threats – would not occur if animals were slaughtered only to meet Jewish ritual needs. Our emphasis should be on doing a minimum amount of harm to other people, the environment, and animals. In addition, for hiddur (enhancement of) mitzvah, it would be better if ritual objects were made from animals who at least led cruelty- free lives. Also, tefillin can be made from the leather of animals that were raised without cruelty and died a natural death.
23. Some people believe that vegetarians are supposed to aspire to become vegans (people who don’t use milk, eggs, leather, honey, or any product from an animal). How can an orthodox Jew be a vegan since he would not be able to use tefillin, a shofar, a Sefer Torah, and other ritual items?
If a person became a vegetarian but not a vegan, he or she would still do much good for animals, the environment, hungry people, and the preservation of his or her health. If a person embraces veganism except in cases where specific mitzvot require the use of some animal product, even more good will be done.
Once again, it is important to emphasize that the religious items mentioned above can be made from animals that were raised compassionately and died natural deaths.
24. What would happen to butchers, shochtim, and others dependent for a livelihood on the consumption of meat?
There could be a shift from the production of flesh products to that of nutritious vegetarian dishes. In England during World War II, when there was a shortage of meat, butchers relied mainly on the sale of fruits and vegetables. Today, new businesses could sell such food products as tofu, miso, felafel, soy burgers, and vegetarian cholent.
The change to vegetarianism would probably be gradual. This would provide time for a transition to other jobs. Some of the funds saved by individuals and groups because of lower food and health costs should be used to provide incomes for people during the retraining period.
The same kind of question can be asked about other moral issues. What would happen to all the arms merchants if we had universal peace? What would happen to doctors and nurses if people took better care of themselves, stopped smoking, improved their diets, and so on? Immoral or inefficient practices should not be supported by pointing out that some people earn a living from them.
25. What if everyone became vegetarian? Wouldn’t animals overrun the earth?
This concern is based on an insufficient understanding of animal behavior, both natural and under present factory conditions. There are not millions of turkeys around at Thanksgiving because they want to help celebrate the holiday but because farmers want them to exist. The breeders, not the animals themselves, control the breeding behavior and thus the number of stock. Recent studies have shown that animals, in natural conditions, adjust their numbers to fit their environment and food supply. An end to the distortion of the sex lives of animals to suit our needs would lead to a decrease, rather than an increase, in animals.
We are not overrun by the animals that we do not eat, such as lions, elephants, and crocodiles. The problem often is that of the extinction of animals, rather than their overrunning the earth. There are many meat bearing animals today because they are raised under rigid breeding controlled environments.
26. Instead of advocating vegetarianism, shouldn’t we try to alleviate the evils of the factory farming system so that animals are treated better, less grain is wasted, and less health- harming chemicals are used?
The breeding of animals is a big business, whose prime concern is profit. Animals are raised the way they are today because it increases profits. Improving conditions, as suggested by this question, would certainly be a step in the right direction, but it would be strongly resisted by the meat industry and, if successful, would greatly increase already high prices.
Here are two counter questions. Why not abstain from eating meat as a protest against present policies while trying to improve them? Even under the best of conditions, why take-the life of a creature of God, “whose tender mercies are over all His works,” when it is not necessary for proper nutrition?
27. Isn’t it important that we keep our priorities straight? How can we be so concerned about animals when there are so many critical problems related to people today?
Certainly many critical issues face the world today; I have written here other books, “Judaism and Global Survival,” “Who Stole My Religion? Revitalising Judaism and applying Jewish Values to Help Heal Our Impaired Planet,” and “Mathematics and Global Survival,” which address current world problems.
There is an ecological principle that “everything is connected to everything else.” This means that every action has many ramifications. Hence, adopting vegetarian diets not only reduces brutal treatment of animals; it also improves human health, reduces stress on threatened ecosystems, conserves natural resources, and provides the potential to reduce widespread hunger. In view of the many threats related to livestock agriculture, next to attempting to reduce the chance of nuclear war, working to promote vegetarianism (and veganism) may be the most important action one can take for global survival.
While it is true that there are some people who love animals and are cruel to people, the reverse is more often the case: those who are cruel to animals are also cruel to human beings. Some of history’s greatest humanitarians were vegetarians and/or strong advocates of vegetarianism. These include: Plutarch, Leonardo da Vinci, Sir Isaac Newton, Jean Jacques Rousseau, General William Booth, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Percy Bythe Shelley, Dr. J. H. Kellogg, Horace Greeley, Susan B. Anthony, Leo Tolstoy, Upton Sinclair, H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Albert Schweitzer, and Mahatma Gandhi. Among Jewish vegetarian humanists are Isaac Bashevis Singer, Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Franz Kafka, and Isaac Leib Peretz, as well as several chief rabbis.
28. How can an Orthodox Jewish vegetarian pray for the restoration of the Temple sacrificial services?
This response is based on an essay by Rabbi David Rosen. He reminds us that Maimonides believed that the sacrifices were a concession to the times and that Rabbi Kook felt that the messianic period in which the Temple would be rebuilt will be a vegetarian period, and that the Temple service can be maintained without animal sacrifices, as is indicated by the previously mentioned teaching that states that “in the future all sacrifices will be abolished, except for meal offerings.” He argues that the liturgy in the Sabbath and festival musaph (additional) service need not be understood as expressing a hope for the restoration of animal sacrifices. Rather, it can be interpreted as a recognition on our part of the devotion and dedication to God that our ancestors showed and an expression of our hope that we may be inspired to show the same spirit of devotion in our own way.
29. If vegetarian diets are best for health, why don’t doctors recommend them?
According to Julian M. Whitaker, M. D., author of Reversing Heart Disease and Reversing Diabetes, there seem to be three aspects of modern medicine that work together to discourage the use of diet and exercise as primary tools of treatment:
- Modern physicians are taught to prescribe. Medical schools teach that prescription drugs are the most powerful tools available for treating disease. Unfortunately, nutrition is barely taught in medical schools and many doctors lack information about the relationships between food and health. The accepted approach today seems to be to prescribe first, and, perhaps, recommend a diet as an afterthought.
- There has recently been an explosion of technology in medicine, from which many alternative diagnoses and treatments have sprung. For example, in the heart disease treatment field, physicians can call on such diagnostic techniques as the CAT scan, the angiogram, the echocardiagram, and the thallium scan. Based on this diagnostic power, patients are increasingly funneled into increasingly more aggressive therapies, such as bypass surgery.
- There are many pressures to conform in the medical field. Conforming to medical norms provides a degree of safety during various phases of the physicians’ education and medical practice. Hence, the current enthusiasm for drugs and technology that is promoted by medical training is perpetuated by conformity in professional practice.
Despite all of the above, there is am increasing number of doctors who are promoting veg diets.
30. Why don’t medical and governmental authorities recommend vegetarianism?
There have been some medical and governmental indications of the benefits of vegetarian diets. For example, as long ago as June 1961, an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicated that a vegetarian diet can prevent 90% of strokes and 97% of heart attacks. The U. S. Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs recommended in February 1977 that Americans decrease their consumption of meat and increase their consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Also, the 1988 report of the Surgeon General indicated the many negative health effects of meat-centered diets, and recommended an increase in the consumption of plant-based foods. Perhaps more will be done in the future, but the factors given in the previous answer still have to be overcome.
This answer should be updated since much has happened since it was first written years ago.
31. Doesn’t humane legislation ensure the welfare of farm animals?
On both state and federal levels, the raising of animals for food is specifically exempted from every piece of humane legislation. Strong opposition from the powerful farm lobby has defeated every legislative effort to even study the treatment of farm animals.
32. Since animals kill each other in nature, why should we be concerned about killing animals for food?
Predator animals have no choice. They must eat other animals in order to live. Perhaps this is the way that nature takes care of old and weak animals that would not be able to survive much longer anyway. But human beings do have a choice, and we now know that we can be very healthy on a vegetarian diet, and, even more so on a vegan diet, in fact far healthier than on a meat-based diet. Hence, there is no good reason to raise and slaughter animals for food.
33. Do you believe that flesh should not be served at Jewish functions and that all Jews should be vegetarians?
Because the realities of livestock agriculture and the eating of meat are inconsistent with basic Jewish values, Jews should ideally be vegetarians or preferably vegans, and flesh should not be served at Jewish functions. But since the Torah does give permission for people to eat meat (as a concession to human weakness), people have been given the free will to make a decision. The purpose of these questions and answers is to give Jews and others the information to help them make a decision that is informed and is based on Jewish teachings.
34. Doesn`t the Torah mandate that we eat korban Pesach (the Passover sacrifice) and other korbanos (sacrifices)?
Without the Temple, these requirements are not applicable today. And, as indicated, Rabbi Kook felt, based on the prophecy of Isaiah, that there will only be sacrifices involving vegetarian foods during the Messianic Period.
35. Aren’t people who abstain from eating meat but who consume eggs and milk being hypocritical?
Many of the arguments made for not eating meat are valid with regard to eggs and milk. Factory farming also cruelly treats egg- laying chickens and dairy cows, wastes resources, and pollutes the environment.
The vegan diet (non -use of any animal products) is a more humane diet. However, an estimated 90 percent of vegetarians today are lacto- ovo vegetarians. Many hope to become vegans eventually.
Rather than looking at vegetarians who consume eggs and milk as hypocrites, I prefer to look at them as people who have made an important ethical decision, but who have not yet gone as far as they can in terms of a humane, sensible diet. One can become a vegetarian by degrees. What is important is to take the first step and then progress toward your goal.
36. Isn’t it hypocritical for a vegetarian to wear leather shoes and use other leather products?
It depends upon one’s reasons for being a vegetarian. If it is based upon health, rather than concern for animals, for example, it would not be inconsistent. Some vegetarians use leather products because these are by products of slaughter, rather than prime causes of it. Many vegetarians have changed to shoes of natural or synthetic non- animal materials. It has become easier to get such products recently as the demand for them has increased. Some vegetarians continue to wear leather products until they wear out and then purchase non-leather products.
37. Wasn’t Hitler a vegetarian?
Is it really relevant what Hitler ate or did not eat? Would anyone cite Hitler’s abstinence from smoking to discredit non- smokers? However, Hitler’s alleged vegetarianism is often brought up and hence this response.
Because he suffered from excessive sweatiness and flatulence, Hitler occasionally went on a vegetarian diet. But his primary diet included meat. In his definitive biography, The Life and Death of Adolph Hitler, Ralph Payne mentions Hitler`s special fondness for Bavarian sausages (p. 346). Other biographers including Albert Speer point out that he also ate ham, liver, and game.
38. I enjoy eating meat. Why should I give it up?
If one is solely motivated by what will bring pleasure, perhaps no answer to this question would be acceptable. But Judaism is motivated by far more: doing mitzvot, performing good deeds, sanctifying occasions, helping feed hungry people, pursuing justice and peace, and so on. I believe that that people who take such Jewish values seriously should be vegetarians.
Even if one is primarily motivated by considerations of pleasure and convenience, the negative health effects of a animal-centered diets should be taken into account. One cannot enjoy life when one is not in good health.