As president of Jewish Veg, formerly Jewish Vegetarians of North America, and author of three editions of Judaism and Vegetarianism and over 250 related articles online, I very respectfully present the following reasons Jews should very seriously consider eliminating, or at least sharply reducing, your consumption of meat and other animal-based foods:
1. Many peer-reviewed studies in respected medical journals indicate that plant-based diets can significantly reduce risks for heart disease, stroke, several types of cancer, and other life threatening diseases. These findings are consistent with the fact that humans are very different from omnivorous and carnivorous animals, in terms of our hands, teeth, digestive systems, stomach acids, instincts, and other factors.
2. Jews are to be rachmanim b’nei rachmanim (compassionate children of compassionate ancestors), imitating God, ‘Whose compassion is over all His works’ (Psalms 145:9). However, billions of animals on factory farms are cruelly treated, generally denied satisfaction of their basic instincts. Three examples: (1) dairy cows are artificially impregnated annually on what the industry calls ‘rape racks’ so that they will constantly give milk, and their calves are almost immediately taken away, with great anguish to both, (2) male chicks are cruelly killed immediately after birth at egg laying hatcheries because they can’t lay eggs and have not been programmed to have much flesh, and (3) hens are kept in spaces so small that they can’t raise even one wing and their beaks are painfully cut off without the use of any pain killer, so they will not harm other hens when pecking at them in frustration at all their natural instincts being thwarted.
3. While climate scientists are warning with increasing urgency that the world may have only a few years to make ‘unprecedented changes’ to have a chance to avert a climate catastrophe, and there seem to be almost daily reports of severe, sometimes record breaking, heat waves, wildfires, storms, floods, and other climate events, animal-based agriculture is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, largely due to methane, a very potent greenhouse gas, emitted by cows and other farmed animals.
A UN Food and Agriculture Organization report, ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow,’ indicated that the livestock sector emits more greenhouse gases, in CO2 equivalents, than all the cars, planes, ships, and other means of transportation worldwide combined. Israel is especially effected by climate change because, among other problems, a rising Mediterranean Sea could inundate the coastal plain that contains most of Israel’s population and infrastructure, and (2) the hotter and drier Middle East that climate experts predict makes instability, terrorism, and war more likely, according to military experts.
4. Animal-based agriculture requires far more land, water, energy, and other natural resources than plant-based agriculture. For example, an animal-based diet requires up to 13 times as much water as a person on a vegan diet, largely because of huge amounts of water needed to irrigate land producing feed crops.
5. While an estimated nine million people die annually of hunger and its effects and over ten percent of the world’s people are chronically hungry, 70% of the grain produced in the US and about a third produced worldwide is fed to farmed animals. Making the situation especially distressing is that healthy foods like soy, corn, and oats, high in fiber and complex carbohydrates and devoid of cholesterol and saturated fat, are fed to animals, producing unhealthy foods that have the opposite nutrients.
6. While Judaism stresses that we must seek and pursue peace and that violence results from unjust conditions, animal-centered diets, by wasting valuable resources, help to perpetuate the widespread hunger and poverty that increase prospects for instability, terrorism, and war.
7. While most kashrut inspectors and food providers are no doubt ethical, honest people, there have been a number of recent scandals in the kosher food industry. Israeli Rabbi David Stav, a former candidate for Ashkenazic chief rabbi of Israel, recently wrote, “that the [kashrut inspection] system is broken everybody knows. That it is corrupt everyone knows.”
8. It is easier to avoid accidentally violating the kosher laws if there is no meat and/or dairy brought into the home.
9. The diet for the Garden of Eden was completely animal-free (Genesis 1:29), as will be the diet during the Messianic period, the other ideal time in the Jewish tradition, according to Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, first chief rabbi of pre-state Israel. He based his belief on the prophecy of Isaiah (11:6-9): “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, … the lion shall eat straw like the ox, … and no one shall hurt nor destroy in all of God’s holy mountain.”
10. Animal-free diets are most consistent with Jewish teachings on preserving human health, treating animals with compassion, protecting the environment, conserving natural resources, helping hungry people, and pursuing peace.
So for a healthier you and a healthier planet, and to be more consistent with basic Jewish teachings and the laws of kashrut, please consider becoming a vegan, or at least a vegetarian.