Chanukah and Moving Towards a Vegan (or Vegetarian) Diet

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 vegan diet, or at least 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, and even more so vegans, represent non-conformity. At a time when most people in the wealthier countries think of animal products as the main part of their meals, when the number of fast food establishments is growing rapidly, when almost all celebrations involve an abundance of animal foods, vegetarians are resisting and insisting that there is a better, healthier, more humane diet. 

2. Chanukah represents the victory of the few, who practiced God’s teachings, over the many, who acted according to the values of the surrounding society. Today, vegetarians are a small minority in most countries, but Jewish vegans believe that veganism is the dietary approach most consistent with God’s original diet (Genesis 1:29) and with Jewish mandates to preserve our health, treat animals with compassion, protect the environment, preserve natural resources, and share with hungry people. 

3. Chanukah commemorates the miracle of the oil that was enough for only one day, but miraculously lasted for eight days. Today, with science academies worldwide and the vast majority of climate scientists warning of an impending climate catastrophe, it sometimes seems as if only a miracle will prevent it. However, many recent studies have shown that animal-based agriculture is a major contributor to the warming of the planet, so shifts to vegan diets can make a major difference. 

4. The ratio of eight days that the oil burned compared to the one day of burning capacity that the oil had is the same ratio (8 to 1) that is often given for the pounds of grain that are necessary to produce a pound of beef in a feed lot. The miracle of the oil brings the use of fuel and other resources into focus, and vegetarian diets make resources go much further, since far less water, fuel, land, pesticides, fertilizer, and other agricultural resources are required for plant-based diets than for animal-centered diets. 

5. Chanukah also commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after the Syrian-Greeks defiled it. The Hebrew root of the word Chanukah means dedication. Today, a shift to vegetarianism, and even more so veganism, would be a major factor in the rededication and renewal of Judaism, because it would show that Jewish values are relevant to everyday Jewish life and to addressing current problems, such as hunger, pollution, resource scarcity, climate change, and huge health care expenditures. 

6. Candles are lit during each night of Chanukah, symbolizing a turning from darkness to light, from despair to hope. According to the prophet Isaiah, the role of Jews is to be a “light unto the nations” (Isaiah 42:6). Veganism is a way of adding light to the darkness of a world with slaughterhouses and factory farms, as well as other places of oppression. 

7. On the Sabbath during Chanukah, the prophetic portion indicates that difficulties can best be overcome “not by might and not by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). Today, Jewish vegans are arguing that the way to a better world is not by exercising our power over animals, but by applying the spirit of God, “whose tender mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:9). 

8. At the morning services during each day of Chanukah, there is a recitation of Hallel, the psalms of praise from Psalms 113 to 118. During the Sabbath of Chanukah and every other Sabbath during the year, the morning service has a prayer that begins, “The soul of all living creatures shall praise God’s name.” Yet, it is hard for animals to join in the praise of God when about nine billion animals are killed annually in the U. S. for their flesh after suffering greatly on factory farms.

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