“I consider it an honor and a mitzvah to commend Professor Richard Schwartz’s work and all his endeavors to bring Jewish teachings on diet, health, the environment, and related issues to public attention, especially to those of us who seek to lead a religiously observant lifestyle, in keeping with the precepts and goals of the Torah. May his efforts merit Divine blessing and success.”—Rabbi David Rosen, Former Chief Rabbi of Ireland; President for Israel of the International Jewish Vegetarian Society
“Few books have ever been more timely or more needed than this one. Humankind stands on the brink of one of the greatest catastrophes in history and, once again, Richard Schwartz has rallied to the cause. Proving himself to be the true tzadik that he is, he addresses issues that will help humanity face a future too ghastly to contemplate if we do not immediately do something to curb the coming cataclysm. And it all starts at a very simple place . . . on our dinner plates!”—Lionel Friedberg, film producer, director, cinematographer, and writer of many documentaries, including A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World
“I applaud Richard Schwartz’s valiant efforts to raise the issue of a plant-based diet within the Jewish community. He taps into a millennia-old Jewish tradition supporting compassion toward animals, and does so at a time when all life on Earth depends on wise human action. He thoughtfully examines what type of food consumption fits with the ethics of kosher, which means appropriate. May God bless his holy efforts!”—Rabbi Yonatan Neril, Founder and Executive Director of the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development and of Jewish Eco Seminars
“Once again Richard Schwartz has produced a thought-provoking book. It will be a very positive addition to our libraries. His writing is powerful in applying Jewish teachings to current critical issues. As always, Richard is not afraid to challenge us.”—Rabbi Michael M. Cohen, Director of Development at the Friends of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies
“This book is so crucial and urgently necessary! We once again owe deep gratitude to Professor Richard Schwartz for opening our minds and hearts to the essence of Jewish ethics!”—Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, Founder and CEO of Shamayim v’Aretz: Jewish Animal Advocacy, and author or editor of over a dozen books of Judaica, including three on Jewish dietary teachings
“No one has been more creative, committed, and consistent than Richard Schwartz in arguing for a Judaism that can address in all its depth the world crises that all humanity and all the life-forms of our planet face today.”
—Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of The Shalom Center, author of Down-to-Earth Judaism, Seasons of Our Joy, and many other works on Jewish thought and action
“If you think Judaism consists of occasional visits to a synagogue or Temple where congregants perform rituals and recite prayers without feeling and attend mainly to socialize, then this book is a must read. Schwartz reminds us that the very essence of Judaism is to struggle to find what is right and to have the courage to do right, including speaking out against evil. Worship accompanied by indifference to evil, the prophets warned, is an abomination to God. Schwartz fulfills the best of Judaism by urging us to cry out against immorality, injustice, deceit, cruelty, and violence toward all living beings, rather than condone it with our silence. For, in condoning empty rituals and standing silent in the face of immoral deeds, we make a mockery of Judaism itself.”—Nina Natelson, Director of Concern for Helping Animals in Israel (CHAI)
“I commend Dr. Schwartz for his integrity in reminding the Jewish community of its historic mission to serve as a light unto the nations. While most Jewish leaders are content to tell people what they want to hear, Dr. Schwartz, in his new book, speaks out in true prophetic spirit, courageously challenging our people to live up to the highest ideals of our heritage by acting as responsible stewards of our planet, speaking out for the voiceless, taking the side of the oppressed, and practicing kindness towards animals. Dr. Schwartz serves as a lightning rod to stimulate critically needed discussion about what it really means to be Jewish in more than just name alone, and how to live a Jewish life.”—Rabbi Barry Silver, serving Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor in Boynton Beach, Florida, former State Representative, founder of the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition and founder and leader of the Interfaith Justice League
“We are stewards of God’s creation—how do we treat those with whom we share this world? Here is a passionate and compassionate guide to choosing what we eat and why.”—Rabbi David Wolpe, rabbi at Sinai Temple in California and the author of many books on Jewish teachings
“This book by Prof. Richard Schwartz not only offers the reader a comprehensive research into Jewish teachings and their relevance to contemporary science and world affairs. It challenges the reader with an urgent cry out for action. For about forty years Schwartz has been a world authority on the deep linkage between Judaism and vegetarianism. Now he shows that a vegan revolution has been starting—in Israel and worldwide. But is it fast enough to save us from ecological catastrophe? And is the Jewish establishment assuming the role it should play within it? These are questions Schwartz addresses.”—Yossi Wolfson, vegan and animal rights activist in Israel and coordinator of the Israeli Jewish Vegetarian Society in Jerusalem
“A timely, comprehensive, and much-needed contribution to our movement, Richard Schwartz’s latest book presents an utterly compelling case for Jewish veganism, and more widely, for conscious consumption.”—Lara Balsam, Director, UK-based Jewish Vegetarian Society
“Richard Schwartz has been a consistent, clear, compassionate voice for the planet. This book once again illustrates his wisdom, insight, and willingness to speak up. If the Jewish community takes this book to heart and makes the necessary changes, the world can follow. We can co-create a world that respects all life.”—Rae Sikora, co-founder Plant Peace Daily, Institute for Humane Education, and Vegfund
“Reading the first edition of Richard Schwartz’s book Judaism and Vegetarianism changed my life. It made me a vegetarian and an animal rights activist and led me to write and edit several books about these issues. I have worked with Richard now for decades in his tireless efforts to create a more compassionate, just, and environmentally sustainable world. Now, the vegan/vegetarian movement is the most important movement of our time, affecting the environment and our lives, and Richard’s superb new book is an important continuation of his long-time efforts to elucidate this point.”
—Roberta Kalechofsky, PhD, author or editor of many books, including Jewish Vegetarianism, Rabbis and Vegetarianism, and Judaism and Animal Rights; Founder and Director of Jews for Animal Rights
“When I consider Judaism and its highest ideals, I realize how consistent it is with veganism: being respectful and compassionate, protecting life and resources, guarding and increasing health, pursuing peace and justice, living
by one’s values. I have worked with Richard Schwartz for a long time and know him to be extraordinarily sincere, diligent, conscientious, respectful, caring, compassionate, intelligent, and deeply dedicated to Judaism, so much so that he is deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize. As with his previous books that have illuminated so many lives with their insight and wisdom, I likewise heartily recommend this book. Well-researched, well-written, well-thought-out, and absolutely vital for the continuation of life on our planet. Especially in this era of population explosion, overconsumption, globalization, and our climate crisis, this book needs to be read and shared.”—Dan Brook, PhD, professor of sociology at San Jose State University and a board member of San Francisco Veg Society
“Richard Schwartz’s new book is a clarion call, a shofar blast, to disturb the slumber of indifference and to align Judaism with its noblest values.”
—Jeffrey Spitz Cohan, executive director of Jewish Veg, formerly Jewish Vegetarians of North America
“No one has done more than Richard Schwartz to advance the understanding of the relationship between Judaism, the environment, and respect for non-human animals. Like a modern-day prophet, Schwartz sees Jews straying from biblical edicts for Earth stewardship and prods us to embrace divinely ordained and inspired environmental action.”—David Krantz, President and Chairperson at Aytzim: Ecological Judaism
“This pioneering book by Richard Schwartz, the world’s greatest living authority on the teachings of Judaism on protecting animals and nature, provides nothing short of the revolution in our way of thinking and acting that is now required in efforts to avert a climate catastrophe and other environmental disasters. This compelling, magisterial book is a must read. Its message must be heeded. Our future depends on it.”—Lewis Regenstein, author of “Commandments of Compassion: Jewish Teachings on Protecting the Planet and Its Creatures,” Replenish the Earth, and other writings on Judaism and animals
Lantern Publishing & Media l Brooklyn, NY
Lantern Publishing & Media
128 Second Place
Brooklyn, NY 11231
Copyright © 2020 Richard H. Schwartz, PhD
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written permission of Lantern Publishing & Media.
Printed in the United States of America
Quotations from the Tanakh are taken from “The Complete Tanakh (Tanach)—Hebrew Bible: The Jewish Bible with a Modern English Translation and Rashi’s Commentary”
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Schwartz, Richard H., author.
Title: Vegan revolution : saving our world, revitalizing Judaism / Richard H. Schwartz, PhD.
Description: Brooklyn, NY : Lantern Publishing & Media, 2020. | Includes bibliographical references.
Identifiers: LCCN 2020022490 (print) | LCCN 2020022491 (ebook) | ISBN 9781590566275 (paperback) | ISBN 9781590566282 (ebook)
Subjects: LCSH: Veganism—Religious aspects—Judaism. | Jewish ethics.
Classification: LCC BM538.V42 S39 2020 (print) | LCC BM538.V42 (ebook) | DDC 296.3/693—dc23
LC record available at
LC ebook record available at
To all the world’s vegans, who are the vanguard of a movement that can help shift our imperiled planet onto a sustainable path and help revitalize Judaism and other religions; and
To my very devoted, supportive wife, Loretta, and our children and their spouses, our grandchildren, and our one great-grandson, with my hope that this book will help produce a more compassionate, just, peaceful, and environmentally sustainable world for them to enjoy; and
To my beloved sister, Muriel Gursky, who passed away as this book was being completed, as she approached her ninety-second birthday. May her memory continue to be a blessing. As Scottish poet Thomas Campbell expressed it: “To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”


  1. Why Jews Should Be Vegans………………………………………………………………1
  2. The Vegan Revolution……………………………………………………………………..11
  3. Health……………………………………………………………………………………………19
  4. The Treatment of Animals………………………………………………………………33
  5. The Climate Catastrophe…………………………………………………………………45
  6. The Environment……………………………………………………………………………59
  7. Hunger………………………………………………………………………………………….75
  8. Peace…………………………………………………………………………………………….83
  9. The Fishes of the Sea………………………………………………………………………91
  10. Veganism and Animal Rights………………………………………………………….99
  11. The Future for Cultivated Animal Products…………………………………….117
  12. Living as a Vegan and a Jew………………………………………………………….127
    A. Voices of Veg*nism……………………………………………………………………….137
    B. Dialogue between a Jewish Vegan Activist and a Rabbi……………………..153
    C. The Jewish Vegan Year………………………………………………………………….163
    D. A Vegan View of the Biblical Animal Sacrifices………………………………..197
    E. Tefillin and Other Animal-Based Ritual Items………………………………….203
    About the Author
    About the Publisher

About the Cover
Before this book was published, I showed some family members
and advisors the cover design to see if they had suggestions for
improvements. Although the response was very positive and sometimes
extremely complimentary, several were puzzled about why the Hebrew
capital letter ayin was on the front cover.
My short answer was that it looks like the V in the words vegan and
revolution that compose the title of this book and adds a Hebrew touch to
the cover, something very appropriate in a book that bases its arguments
on fundamental Jewish values.
But there are several much deeper reasons. Ayin is not just a Hebrew
letter; it is also a word that means “eye.” This is very meaningful for my
book because its major aim is to help Jews and others see the world and
human activities from a new perspective—to see, recognize, and act on
the knowledge that veganism is the diet and lifestyle most consistent with
basic Jewish teachings on preserving our health, treating animals with
compassion, protecting the environment, conserving natural resources,
feeding hungry people, and pursuing peace; and that animal-based diets
are contributing substantially to an epidemic of life-threatening diseases,
climate change and other environmental threats, wasteful use of natural
resources, widespread hunger, and other societal problems.
In addition, Judaism has many lessons on the importance of properly
seeing situations and foreseeing the consequences of one’s actions.
The Hebrew sages asked the question, “Who is wise?” One response
was, “The person who foresees the consequences of his or her actions”
(Tamid 32a). The failure to foresee the negative consequences of having
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
animal-based diets and agriculture has led to the current epidemic of
heart disease, cancer, and other life-threatening diseases, climate and
other environmental threats, and other negative outcomes.
As I write this, many people have perished because our leaders did
not have the vision to see and recognize that our continued massive abuse
and consumption of animals could lead to the devastating coronavirus
pandemic, ignoring the lessons learned from many previous pandemics,
including SARS, MERS, Ebola, swine flu, and avian flu, that were caused
by eating animals after raising them in close, unsanitary confinement. A
Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace is the title of a collection of the vegetarian
writings of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook (Rav Kook), first chief
rabbi of pre-state Israel, who believed that the Messianic period would
be vegetarian.
The Hebrew words nega and oneg have the same letters, nun, gimmel,
and ayin. Nega translates to “plague” and oneg to a “ joyous event”: quite
different meanings. Why is this significant? For the word nega, the ayin
comes at the end of the word, symbolically denoting that when we act
before envisioning the possible consequences of our actions, the results
can be very negative. By contrast, the word oneg has the ayin at the front
of the word, symbolically suggesting that when one takes the time to
envision the consequences of a potential action before acting, a positive
result will be far more likely.
The Torah discusses a nega, a skin condition called tzaarat that
afflicted many Israelites. The Jewish sages thought it was due to spiritual
failings, one of which they considered to be zarut ayin, or “narrowness of
vision.” Narrow vision means not paying attention to the wider ramifications
of one’s actions. It is a decision-making process guided purely by
the desire for immediate gratification, and not a larger plan to reach a
positive goal.
Today, the world is, in effect, also suffering from narrowness of vision,
as most people concentrate on immediate satisfactions, blocking them
from seeing how horribly farmed animals are treated, how the planet is
being threatened, and other negative effects of animal-based diets. This
has resulted, as in biblical times, in a skin condition, but this time for the
surface of the entire world, as deserts expand, forests are scorched, and
oceans become increasingly polluted, heated, and acidified.
When the watchword of the Jewish faith, the Sh’ma, appears in the
Torah in the Book of Deuteronomy, the ayin in the first word and the daled
in the final word in the opening sentence are written larger, spelling the
Hebrew word aid, which means “witness” in Hebrew. Jews are mandated
to be God’s witnesses, striving to make the world closer to God’s desires,
based on observations of unjust aspects of society. By coincidence, the
word aid means to help in English, which describes the Jewish mission
to help others.
Interestingly, this book’s wonderful publisher has the name of
Lantern. The purpose of a lantern is to shine a light into a dark area.
That is also basically the purpose of this book, which aims to spotlight
issues about animal-based diets and agriculture that most people seem
to prefer to stay in the dark about.
There are additional interesting Jewish connections with the letter
ayin and the importance of vision in the Jewish tradition.
The two letters ayin and daled also spell out the Hebrew word ad,
which can mean “eternal.” People always believed that humanity would
exist eternally. Due to climate change causing a much warmer world,
this is no longer assured. It is the purpose of this book to increase awareness
of this major threat and the urgent need to take steps to prevent it.

Rabbi David Rosen
The sages of the Midrash declare in relation to the laws of kashrut
that the Commandments were given only to refine God’s creatures.
In keeping with this idea, both Maimonides and Nachmanides
affirm that the purpose of the precepts of the Torah is to improve human
character, instilling noble traits—above all, compassion.
Accordingly, even though Judaism permits the slaughter and
consumption of certain animals and their products, it lays down
extremely demanding conditions for such, which both the sages of the
Talmud and later rishonim (commentators from the eleventh to fifteenth
centuries) understood as having the purpose of minimizing animal pain
and promoting compassion in consonance with the prohibition of tza’ar
ba’alei chayim (causing needless cruelty to animals).
In more modern times, Rav Kook, first chief rabbi of pre-state Israel,
expanded extensively on this theme,1 highlighting a plant-based diet as
the biblical ideal; that the consumption of animal products was a temporary
concession; and envisioning the ideal society, the Messianic age, as
one in which this understanding and compassion is manifest.
Indeed, compassion is portrayed by our sages as the defining Jewish
character trait, so much so that they declare (Beitzah 32b) that it is
compassion that proves whether or not one is an authentic descendent of
the patriarch Abraham (thus questioning the provenance of one lacking
in compassion). Moreover, compassion is at the heart of the key mitzvah
1 Hazon Hatzimhonut Vehashalom, ed. David HaCohen (Berlin: HaPeles, 1903).
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
to cleave to/emulate the Divine. Psalm 145:9 declares: “God’s mercies
are upon all His works” and thus we are told: “Just as He is compassionate
and merciful, so you be compassionate and merciful” (Shabbat 133b;
Yerushalmi, Pe’ah 3; Sofrim 3:17).
Accordingly, our sages declare that it is by showing compassion
toward living creatures that we elicit God’s compassion toward us
(Shabbat 151b. See also Sefer Hassidim, 87).
The Talmud indicates that our sages urge us to go even beyond the
letter of the law regarding compassion for animals, as reflected in the
famous story of Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, who received Divine punishment
for refusing to protect a frightened calf that sought his refuge while
being taken to slaughter (Bava Metzia 85a).
The tension between the Torah’s permissive mandate to use animals
and even take animal life for legitimate human needs versus our obligations
to care for and be compassionate toward animal life has always
raised the question in Jewish jurisprudence of determining what and
when is a legitimate human need. Today, however, the questions in this
regard are more dramatic than ever before.
There were surely many places and times in the past where the ability
to find adequate sustenance from a plant-based diet would have been
very difficult indeed. But today, the vast majority of us live in a world
where we can obtain all necessary nutrients without needing to consume
animal products.
However, the enormous problem and challenge in terms of halachah
( Jewish law) and ethics for the overwhelming majority of Jews today is
the fact that the consumption of animal products involves massive desecration
of Jewish precepts and teachings.
It is not only the horrendous cruelty involved in conditions and
production as never before that desecrates the above-mentioned prohibition
against causing tza’ar ba’alei chayim; it is also the enormous waste of
natural resources involved in modern factory farming that contravenes
the prohibition of bal tashchit (against wastage). Judaism also understands
the injunction in Deuteronomy 4:15, “You shall diligently guard your
soul,” to be a prohibition against doing anything that threatens our
health. However, in order to survive the condition of factory farming
and meet the public demand, animals are injected with hormones and
antibiotics that are retained in the animal flesh and that pose a danger
to human health (even beyond other health dangers involved in meat
Moreover, contemporary animal food production poses a very great
threat to our environment (which humanity is charged in Genesis 2:15
to develop and protect), inordinately contributing to climate change
(more than all the forms of transport in our world combined), imperiling
human welfare and survival, which we are obliged to preserve and
nurture. Indeed, Judaism’s very affirmation that our world is a Divine
Creation means that actions that lead to its degradation and destruction
are in fact violations against the Creator.
There are those of our co-religionists who argue that these violations
do not in themselves compromise the kashrut of products, as long as the
actual slaughter and preparation are done in accordance with the letter
of the law.
To begin with, one must respond that this is a dubious contention
when the end result is perforce contingent upon known and willful transgressions.
Moreover, the idea that one can consider a product kosher
because the final fulfillment of the letter of the law is legitimate even
when it is part and parcel of a major desecration of the spirit and purpose
of kashrut makes a mockery of the precept. However, there is unquestionably
an incontestable halachic violation in consuming these products
today, as such consumption perforce encourages the continuation of the
aforementioned violations and transgressions. This falls under the prohibition,
“You shall not put a stumbling block in front of a blind person”
(Leviticus 19:14), which Jewish sages understand to apply to any action
which encourages others to violate religious prohibitions.
For all these reasons, the honest conclusion must be that it is virtually
impossible today to live in accordance with Jewish religious requirements if one is
party to the consumption of animal products, especially in Western society; and that
a contemporary dietary lifestyle that is consistent with kashrut in practice and in
spirit must be a plant-based diet.
I thus consider it an honor and a mitzvah to commend Professor
Richard Schwartz’s work and all his endeavors to bring this imperative
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
to public attention, especially to those of us who seek to lead a religiously
observant lifestyle in keeping with the precepts and goals of the Torah.
May his efforts merit Divine blessing and success, in keeping with
the words of Psalm 90:17: “And may the pleasantness of the Lord our
God be upon us and the work of our hands established for us; indeed
may You establish the work of our hands.”
Rabbi David Rosen is former chief rabbi of Ireland and president for Israel of
the International Jewish Vegetarian Society.
A Lifelong Journey
The time is short and the work is great. . . . We are not obligated to
complete the task, but neither are we free to desist from doing all we can.
—Pirkei Avot 2:21
At the age of eighty-six, I find my attention increasingly focused on
the future of those I love, the future of humanity, and the future of
all of Earth’s other inhabitants. Like many, I am deeply concerned about
climate change, and I am distressed by humanity’s refusal to confront
this threat in meaningful ways. Vegan Revolution argues that, for practical
and spiritual reasons, it is crucial that personally and collectively
we shift toward a vegan diet. The book highlights my Jewish religion,
but its principles apply to every religion and to every ethic that includes
concern for others.
Writing this book has given me an opportunity to reflect on the
long and circuitous journey I’ve taken to where I am today—a person
of faith, a vegan, and someone living in Israel. Until January 1, 1978, I
was a “meat and potatoes” person. My mother would be sure to prepare
my then-favorite dish, pot roast, whenever I came to visit with my wife
and children. It was a family tradition that I would be served a turkey
“drumstick” every Thanksgiving. Yet, I now devote a major part of my
time to writing, speaking, and teaching about the benefits of veganism
and about related issues. What caused this major change?
In 1973, I created a course, “Mathematics and the Environment,”
at the College of Staten Island and taught it until 1999, when I retired
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
from full-time teaching. The course was designed to show liberal-arts,
non-science students, who were generally poorly prepared and poorly
motivated in their study of mathematics but were required to take one
mathematics course to meet a graduation requirement, that mathematics
could be interesting, important, and fun. The course used basic
mathematical concepts, including statistics, probability, sequences, and
graph interpretation, to explore critical issues, such as climate change,
pollution, resource scarcities, hunger, energy, population growth, the
arms race, nutrition, and health.
While reviewing material related to world hunger for the course,
I became aware of the tremendous waste of grain associated with the
production of beef, at a time when hundreds of millions of people were
chronically malnourished. Despite my own eating habits, I often led class
discussions on the possibility of reducing meat consumption as a way to
help lessen global hunger. After several semesters, I took my own advice
and gave up eating red meat, while continuing to eat chicken and fish.
I then began to read about the many health benefits of vegetarianism
and about the horrible conditions for animals raised on factory
farms and how cruelly fishes were killed. I was more and more attracted
to vegetarianism, and on January 1, 1978, I joined the London-based
International Jewish Vegetarian Society. After becoming more aware of
the negative effects of producing and eating dairy products and eggs, I
became a vegan in 2000.
After becoming a vegetarian, I started to investigate connections
between Judaism and vegetarianism. I did much background reading
and attended a course, “Judaism and Vegetarianism,” taught by
Jonathan Wolf, founder and first president of Jewish Vegetarians of
North America ( JVNA), at Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York
City in 1979. I became convinced that important Jewish mandates
to preserve our health, treat animals compassionately, protect the
environment, conserve natural resources, share with hungry people,
and seek and pursue peace point to vegetarianism as the ideal diet for
Jews (and everyone else), and weren’t being heard. To get this message
to a wider audience, I wrote Judaism and Vegetarianism, which was first
published in 1982. Later editions came out in 1998 and 2001.
As I learned more and more about the shocking realities of the
production and consumption of meat and other animal-sourced foods
and their inconsistencies with fundamental Jewish values, I came to
view vegetarianism and later veganism as not only important personal
choices, but also as religious and societal imperatives, essential components
in responding to many national and global problems.
I have always felt good about my decision to become vegetarian and
then vegan. Putting principles and values into practice is far more valuable
and rewarding than hours of preaching. When people ask me why
I do not eat meat and other animal products, I welcome and use the
opportunity to explain the many benefits of veganism. While my family
was initially skeptical about my change of diet, they have grown ever
more understanding and supportive. My wife is now also a vegan, as
are one of our daughters and two grandsons, and a granddaughter is a
vegetarian. I’m very thankful and pleased to say that they are happy,
healthy, and energetic.
It has been a source of pleasure and pride that I’ve been able to
contribute to the cause of Judaism and vegetarianism and veganism
(veg*sm) in the course of my life. I became president of the Jewish
Vegetarians of North America (now Jewish Veg), where I produced
almost weekly email newsletters to keep Jewish vegetarians informed. I
followed Judaism and Vegetarianism with another work, Judaism and Global
Survival, and these works as well as hundreds of articles and two dozen
podcasts are now available in their archives (
I remain president of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians
(SERV), an interreligious group dedicated to spreading vegetarian and
vegan messages in religious communities (, and
was for several years director of Veg Climate Alliance, a group dedicated
to spreading awareness that a major shift to plant-based diets is essential
to efforts to avert a climate catastrophe.
In recent years, I’ve been spending much time attempting to maximize
awareness of the need to switch toward vegetarian, and preferably
vegan, diets to reduce diseases and to help shift our imperiled planet
onto a sustainable path. I’ve appeared on many radio and cable television
programs, had many letters and op-ed articles published in a
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
variety of publications, spoken frequently at conferences and meetings,
given dozens of talks, and met with four Israeli chief rabbis and other
religious leaders in Israel.
As I reflect on the above, I’m grateful that I have been able to be
part of a movement that includes many compassionate, dedicated people
who work tirelessly to raise awareness of the many benefits of veganism.
Of course, much more needs to be done, and I hope to be able to devote
much of any future time I will be blessed with to continuing the struggle.
The Making of a Jewish Activist
I am a ba’al t’shuvah—“a Jew who has returned”—in that I started
practicing Judaism late in life. I did not grow up in a religious family,
and I did not receive a yeshiva education, as observant Jewish children
generally do today. Most of my current Jewish learning comes not from
formal education, but from extensive reading and conversations with
Jews from many different backgrounds, plus Torah classes and lectures
over the past few decades.
Like most Jewish children growing up in New York City during the
1940s, I went to a Talmud Torah school a couple of afternoons a week
after public school in order to prepare for my bar mitzvah. But I was not
particularly interested in Jewish teachings or societal issues.
One aspect of Judaism that did interest me in my early years was
the wisdom teachings contained in a section of the Mishnah (part of the
Talmud) called Pirkei Avot, the “Ethics of the Fathers.” This tractate
contains short, pithy sayings from the early Talmudic rabbis and
scholars, providing a basic manual on how to be a good Jew. Pirkei Avot
is still my favorite section of the Mishnah, and its teachings, especially the
following, have helped guide me through life:
• You are not required to complete the task, but neither are
you free to desist from doing all that you can. (2:21)
• Be of the disciples of Aaron [the brother of Moses]: love
peace and pursue peace, love all people, and bring them
closer to the Torah. (1:12)
• Who is rich? The person who rejoices in his or her portion.
Who is wise? The person who learns from every other
person. (4:1)
After graduating from high school in 1952, I was not sure what career
to pursue. I finally decided to study civil engineering, mainly because
that was the field my older brother had chosen. Because I didn’t want
to go to an out-of-town college, and because tuition was free at the city
university, I attended the City College of New York. Since the campus
was far from my home in Far Rockaway, I decided to take advantage of
the option to take my pre-engineering courses for two years at Queens
College, which was closer.
This decision was a major turning point in my life. Had I started
at City College, I would have interacted primarily with engineering
students, people interested mostly in mathematical, scientific, and technical
concepts. At Queens College, I took liberal arts courses along with
students who had a broader range of views and interests. Because I didn’t
drive at the time, I traveled in various carpools to and from the campus.
This put me in contact with a wide variety of students, whose views
ranged from very conservative to extremely radical. These conversations
prompted me to investigate social justice issues, and I gradually
came to see that I had an obligation to personally engage in the struggle
against injustice. I began reading books like The Grapes of Wrath and
viewing films like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which inspired me to try
to learn more and to strive to improve society.
During this time, my involvement with Judaism diminished to practically
nothing. I viewed the synagogues and Jewish groups as being
primarily concerned with ritual for the sake of ritual. They didn’t seem to
be involved with the societal causes of the day and consequently seemed
totally irrelevant to me. In fact, I was now so committed to working to
end society’s injustices that I seriously considered becoming an English
major, in order to write and make others aware of what I was learning.
I loved reading novels and non-fiction books about historical events and
social issues. I yearned to learn more and to apply my knowledge in
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
the struggle toward a more just, peaceful, humane, and environmentally
sustainable world.
However, family members, fellow students, and college advisors all
pointed out how well I was doing in my pre-engineering classes (I had
the top grade-point average of all the students in the department), and
stressed that I would have a much easier time making a living as an engineer
than as a writer. I took their advice and remained in civil engineering,
but my feelings about social issues were so strong that I seriously
considered not being involved in the world of commerce and business.
Instead, I thought about moving to Israel after graduation to work
on a kibbutz. I saw that system of communal living, cooperative efforts,
and desire to serve one’s community as a model of an ideal community
most consistent with my views at that time. I even planned a trip to Israel
immediately after graduating from City College, in order to further
explore that possibility.
Then, in my final semester, something occurred that represented
another major turning point in my life. Because I had the highest gradepoint
average in my civil engineering class, I was offered a position as an
instructor in the Department of Civil Engineering at City College, starting
in the spring semester of 1957. I saw this as a great opportunity and
quickly accepted the position. This would enable me to help people, and
I would stay out of the business world, which I then felt involved trying
to advance one’s career at the expense of others. As a college instructor,
I would be able to apply and teach the many concepts I had learned in
my studies. I would also be working with material that I had mastered
and enjoyed.
I did go to Israel in the summer of 1957, and I spent some time
working on a kibbutz. But my interest in living on a kibbutz was reduced
by my great excitement at the prospect of teaching and the honor I felt
at being chosen to be a member of City College’s Civil Engineering
Department, working side-by-side with teachers whom I admired.
I recall spending my last day in Israel excitedly preparing lecture
notes for the course on “Strength of Materials” that I would be teaching
shortly after my return. At the same time, I had a deep love for Israel,
which I regarded as a modern-day miracle. Shortly after I returned to
the United States, I gave a talk at a “cousin’s club” meeting at which I
extolled many aspects of life in Israel.
The next major change in my life came when I married Loretta
Susskind, my partner of now over sixty years, in 1960. When I began
dating Loretta, she was a social worker in Harlem. We shared an interest
in addressing social ills and helping less fortunate people. Loretta came
from a more religious family and background than I did. She had continued
her Jewish studies beyond the pre-teen Talmud Torah classes and
had graduated from Marshalia Hebrew High School. Loretta wanted to
introduce Jewish rituals into our family life once we were married. So
she presented me with some books on the Sabbath, the mikveh ( Jewish
ritual bath), and other Jewish practices.
I read these books somewhat reluctantly at first, but then with growing
interest. I began to see that the Jewish worldview included my ideas
about working for a better world. I now understood that the “task” from
which Pirkei Avot says we are not free to desist is the ongoing process of
improving the world. There was plenty of opportunity for a fulfilling
spiritual, socially activist life within my own tradition! In fact, the whole
saga of Jewish history involved a struggle to maintain the Jewish people
and its ethical teachings in the face of oppression, anti-Semitism, hatred,
and violence.
The more I read, the more I became interested in learning about all
aspects of Judaism. In the process, I began to incorporate some Jewish
practices into my own life. At first, I didn’t attend synagogue services on
Shabbat mornings, but would find a nice quiet place outdoors and read
Jewish books on a wide variety of topics. Around this time, Loretta and
I purchased a set of five wonderful anthologies: A Treasury of Jewish Quotations,
A Treasury of Jewish Poetry, A Treasury of Jewish Folklore, A Treasury of
American Jewish Stories, and A Modern Treasury of Jewish Thought.
As I read A Modern Treasury of Jewish Thought, I was thrilled to discover
brilliant Jewish thinkers who wrote eloquently about applying Jewish
values to the world. I was especially excited by the writings of Rabbi
Abraham Joshua Heschel. I relished his radical analysis of Judaism and
his challenging criticism of “religious behaviorism,” which he defined as
performing the mitzvot without any real devotion or any attempt to relate
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
them to the realities of our society. And I loved how his words expressed
his challenging ideas with a combination of poetic beauty and compelling
It was also very important to me that Rabbi Heschel was both a
religious Jew and an activist. He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King,
Jr., was an early advocate for the liberation of Soviet Jews, helped reform
hateful Catholic teachings about Jews by meeting with the Pope and
other Catholic leaders, and spoke out courageously against what he (and
I) regarded as an illegal, unjust, and immoral war in Vietnam—despite
disapproval of his views and activities from many Jewish leaders.
Through Rabbi Heschel, I recognized that my earlier rejection of
Judaism was not because of any problems inherent in the religion itself;
rather, it was because of what the practice of Judaism in the mid-twentieth
century had become. As Heschel put it:
Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it
became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is
completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by
habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor
of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living
fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority
rather than with the voice of compassion, its message becomes
I learned that Judaism supported all my social ideals and that it
provides a structure for leading a meaningful and involved spiritual
life—if only people would really practice it! I was inspired by Jews who
had maintained their beliefs and practices in spite of rejection and persecution
in many lands and historical periods.
Discovering Martin Buber’s writings reinforced my emerging
conviction that I was struggling against a distorted understanding of
Judaism. I concluded that, in a sense, my religion had been “stolen,”
as I would much later devote a whole book to exploring. Back in the
2 Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism (New York: Farrar,
Straus and Giroux, 1955), 3.
1960s, many observant Jews around me seemed to be locked into ritual
for its own sake, without seeing or applying the deeper values that could
challenge an unjust status quo. People were reading in the Torah about
Moses confronting Pharaoh, but few were confronting the oppressors of
our own time.3
While teaching at City College, I studied for my master’s degree in civil
engineering. I was enjoying my teaching and interactions with students
so much that I decided to make college teaching my career. However,
I didn’t want to seek a PhD, because it would involve doing research
in a relatively narrow area. Back then, many engineering colleges were
accepting professional engineering licenses in lieu of a PhD, so I decided to
pursue that path instead. This involved getting some experience working
in industry and passing several tests. My teaching experience and strong
academic background made passing the tests a relatively easy matter, but
I had to leave teaching for a while to get the required experience.
Before entering the engineering field, I decided to take care of my
military obligations. At that time, the United States was in a major
technological race against the Soviet Union. In 1958, the Soviets surprised
the world by launching Sputnik I, the world’s first artificial satellite. This
was a wake-up call to the U.S. government, a warning that we were
falling behind in technology. As a result, engineers were classified by the
military into a special category called “Critical Skills.”
The government’s philosophy at the time was that everyone should
get some basic training in order to be ready if the United States was
attacked, but that people with special skills should not be taken away
for long periods from the important work of improving the nation’s
technological abilities. Therefore, I only had to be in the U.S. Army for
three months. Those few months in the army were the only substantial
time in my adult life when I was not focused on studying for tests,
preparing class lectures and other talks, researching and writing articles
3 Although, as the resources at the end of this book indicate, there are several active
Jewish vegan, animal rights, environmental, and social justice organizations, far more
needs to be done in the Jewish community to address current social issues.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
and books, and dealing with other professional concerns. It was a
valuable time for organizing my thoughts about social issues.
After leaving the army, I worked at an engineering company before
seeking a position teaching civil engineering at a college. The only civil
engineering department willing to hire me was at Rutgers University, but
only if I also enrolled as a PhD candidate there. Seeing no other possibility
that would enable me to resume teaching, I agreed. So I moved to
New Brunswick, New Jersey, with my wife Loretta and our first child,
Susan Esther.
I enjoyed my new teaching activities, and once again did well in
my engineering studies. However, I had difficulty choosing a topic for
my PhD thesis. Fortunately, I finally found a workable topic, “Analysis
of Circular Plates on Elastic Foundations under Radially Symmetrical
Loadings,” which enabled me to use my mathematical skills as well
as others. I also received National Science Foundation grants for two
consecutive summers, which provided me with some income, enabling
me to work full-time on the project. In 1967 I received my PhD in applied
mechanics. This enabled me to continue my teaching career until my
retirement from the College of Staten Island as a full professor in 1999.
In 1968, Loretta and I moved to Staten Island to be closer to Pratt
Institute, where I served in the mechanical engineering department.
By then, we had three children: Susan Esther, David Elliot, and
Deborah Ann. In 1970, I learned there was an opening at Staten Island
Community College (SICC). The college was only about five minutes
by car from my house, which would make it easier to help out with the
kids. The position had a better salary and benefits as well, so I decided
to apply. I was accepted, but only as a substitute in the civil technology
department for a professor who had left for a year to help set up Hostos
Community College in the Bronx. I was told that the professor for whom
I was substituting probably wouldn’t come back. However, he did decide
to return, and that put me in a very difficult position. I had given up
a tenured position at Pratt Institute to be a substitute at SICC. Now it
looked like I would have to leave. My efforts at finding another position
were not panning out, and I was becoming increasingly desperate.
But, as the Chinese philosopher Lin Yutang says in his book The
Importance of Living,4 one does not know what is “good luck” or “bad luck”
until the end of a sequence of events, because what appears to be a negative
event often leads to a positive result and vice versa. In the Jewish
tradition, there is a similar teaching. Joseph, who is sold into slavery by
his brothers, ends up becoming an important official in Egypt and saves
many people from famine, including those very same brothers who had
betrayed him in the first place.
And so it turned out for me: my “bad luck” became my good fortune.
During the difficult period when I was trying to find a new teaching
position, I went to the director of an experimental department at SICC
known as The Place, which offered a number of interdisciplinary courses.
I asked about the possibility of teaching in their department. They had
no opening at the time, but later, after I was teaching in the mathematics
department, they asked me to teach a course on “The Impact of Science
on Human Values and Problems.”
At first, I hesitated. This topic was completely different from
anything I had previously taught or even considered before. At the same
time, it offered the possibility of applying my interest in social issues. I
decided to accept the offer. That was another major turning point in my
life, because teaching that course started me on the path of environmental
and vegetarian/vegan activism that I still pursue today.
Through the study of essays, short stories, and plays, the students and I
explored the implications of the rapid explosion of scientific and technological
advances on society and its problems. This was right after the first Earth
Day in April 1970, when there was widespread interest in environmental
threats, so we devoted a lot of class time to environmental issues.
As my concern about the environment intensified, the original course
was replaced by a new one called “Environmental Issues on Staten
Island.” I was a relatively new resident of Staten Island, so I had to rely
on local resources to help me teach the course. I pored over old newspapers
and reports, interviewed Staten Island environmentalists, invited
guest speakers, and showed films and videos. We also went on field trips
to places like Fresh Kills Landfill (then the world’s largest garbage dump).
4 Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living (New York: William Morrow, 1998), 23.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
We also visited different types of housing developments, sewage treatment
plants, and natural areas. Instead of a final examination, the students
were required to write a report and give an oral presentation about some
current environmental issue impacting Staten Island.
Because this course was so different from anything I had previously
taught, I devoted a great deal of my time, energy, and thinking
to developing it. In the process, I became more active in responding to
environmental issues, often writing letters to the editor and articles for
publication in the Staten Island Advance about local, national, and global
environmental and other societal concerns. I also spoke on these topics
to various groups at the college and in the community.
After a number of years teaching “Environmental Issues on Staten
Island,” budgetary considerations led to an end of The Place. As a result,
I was no longer able to offer the course. At first, this was a big disappointment.
But I soon recognized that this “disaster” had, in fact, freed
up a lot of time and energy that I could now devote to other activities.
I was determined to continue educating people about environmental
issues, and it dawned on me that perhaps I could teach a course that
related mathematics to environmental and other global concerns. This
led to the creation of my “Mathematics and the Environment” course
discussed earlier. The course was well received. I found plenty of valuable
material in the daily newspapers and weekly magazines, which I
used to create mathematical problems. The annual World Population Data
Sheet of the Population Reference Bureau and that organization’s many
demographic reports were also very valuable.
Analyzing the computer-generated graphs in a book entitled The
Limits to Growth, we saw that the world would face severe future problems
if global population and industrial production continued to accelerate.
Once again, instead of a final exam, I required written and oral reports
on environment-related topics, using the mathematics that students had
learned in the course.
Designing this course resulted in my reading, thinking, and teaching
about a wide variety of environmental crises. As I worked with the statistics
related to these issues, my awareness grew of environmental threats
and the urgent need to respond to them. During my first sabbatical, in
the 1978–79 academic year, I wrote a course textbook called Mathematics
and Global Survival. This book was updated and revised every few years
to reflect changing conditions, and became the foundation for my later
book Judaism and Global Survival, which is still in print today.
Throughout my academic career, my involvement in Judaism was also
growing. After moving to Staten Island in 1968, my family immediately
joined the local modern Orthodox synagogue, the Young Israel
of Staten Island. I have met wonderful, generous, sincere, and deeply
committed people in this congregation. I have found many members
to be extremely charitable, kind, and deeply involved in learning and
davening (praying).
Given these involvements and my personal friendships, as well as
an awareness of my limitations and weaknesses, it has not been easy to
criticize my community. But I came to see that criticism in the form of
respectful dialogue is necessary for any religion to thrive and have a
meaningful role in society. I have been deeply disturbed by the seeming
lack of concern for universal issues among many of my religious Jewish
brethren (as well as most other people). Within their own communities
they are very caring and generous, but they often seem to have little
interest in applying Jewish values to issues that affect the rest of humanity.
For this reason, I often went outside my immediate synagogue group
to find support for my Jewish activism. Through my articles, talks,
books, and letters to editors, I have been able to express my societal
concerns, but I have often felt alienated from my local community in the
process. How grateful I am to be living in the age of email, the Internet,
and social media! The electronic age has enabled me to be in regular
contact with many like-minded people around the world, express my
ideas to a wider audience, and to reach beyond the limitations of my
own community.
In the early 1970s, partly in an attempt to enhance my synagogue’s
involvement in social justice issues, I became co-editor of the synagogue’s
newsletter and frequently contributed articles. I was (and still
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
am) searching for ways to demonstrate Judaism’s meaning and relevance
to the world. I sensed a great gap between the glorious Jewish teachings
on social justice that I was learning about and the realities that I was
seeing in my synagogue and Jewish community. Judaism teaches that
God chose Jews to be His servants, a light unto the nations, and a holy
people, descendants of the prophets, champions of social justice.
I saw great potential for applying the values I was reading about in
Jewish texts to the real world around us. I wanted to help revitalize Judaism,
to harness it to help save our imperiled planet. My reaction to the
Judaism of the time is summed up in the following paragraph from one
of my articles for the synagogue newsletter:
It is generally not religious values that dominate in synagogues
today, but rather materialistic, middle-class values. The problem
is that far too few people (sometimes including myself) take
God and religious teachings seriously enough. If we did, would
we fail to protest against the destruction of the precious planet
that God has given us as our home? Would we be so apathetic
while millions of people die of hunger and its effects annually
(when God has provided sufficient food for every person on
Earth), and additional millions suffer from poverty and a lack
of shelter, clean water, and other necessities, while hundreds of
billions of dollars are spent creating newer and better ways to
wage war? If a person took God and religious values seriously,
he or she would be among the greatest critics of society, where
religious values are generally given lip service, at best. She or he
would be among the greatest champions of peace and justice.
Unfortunately, these editorials were like crying in the wilderness.
Nobody appeared to be listening. I felt as if I were tilting at windmills.
Recognizing that not enough was being done in the Jewish community
in response to climate and other environmental threats, I next wrote
Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to
Help Heal Our Imperiled Planet, published in 2013 and 2016. The book
argues that Jews should be doing far more to help shift our imperiled
planet onto a sustainable path.
Why This Book?
Climate change, which only came into focus for me (as it did for many
others) in the 1990s, has obviously become the defining crisis of our
time, and is the central reason for this book, which also draws on material
from my previous three books. Vegan Revolution r eflects forty y ears
of growing consensus about the dire consequences of ignoring climate
change, and the urgency of doing something about it now rather than
wait another four decades to act. Indeed, given the outsized role that
animal-based agriculture plays in greenhouse gas production, habitat
loss, and food insecurity, the issue of veganism has never been more
Since becoming a vegan, I have seen interest in it expand as more
and more people understand how a diet free of animal products is
good for animals, health, and the planet. I have also been astonished
and greatly gratified at the surge in vegan products available in stores,
and am intrigued by the emergence of cellular or cultivated meat: this
book reflects these realities, too. Nonetheless, as the name of this book
suggests, veganism is still a revolutionary project, overturning our longheld
preconceptions about our supposed dominion over animals and our
rights to use them as we wish, as well as our need to reimagine our entire
food system.
I write this “Introduction” in March 2020, as the world scrambles
to confront the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. If nothing else, the
pandemic is a wake-up call for us to sharply reduce, if not eliminate,
the consumption of animals, or at least to end those practices in which
animals are raised in dirty, cramped, stressed, disease-prone conditions.
By the time the disease has run its course, or we have developed
a vaccine, hundreds of thousands of people will have died, millions of
people will have lost their jobs, trillions of dollars will have been spent
or vanished in value, and many businesses and industries will have gone
bankrupt. Is eating animals worth all of this devastation?
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
Vegan Revolution is also a culmination of my commitment to Judaism.
In 2015, I spent two months in Israel on a speaking tour, during
which I talked (and listened) to many about how Israel was grappling
with the climate catastrophe. The following year, my wife and I moved
to the country, where I have remained active in promoting veganism
and related causes through letters to editors, articles, talks, and personal
conversations. As someone who has celebrated the weddings of three
grandchildren and become a great-grandfather after moving to Israel,
I have a special interest in creating a decent, habitable world for future
generations. I hope you will join me in this essential task.
I welcome comments, suggestions, questions, and constructive
criticisms about the ideas I present in this book. You may contact me at
Why Jews Should Be Vegans
There are several reasons why Jews should be vegans, all of which
will be explored in this book.
The first is that veganism is the diet most consistent with basic
Jewish teachings. Judaism emphasizes that people should carefully
preserve their health and their lives. However, many scientific studies
have linked animal-derived diets to a raised risk of heart disease, stroke,
many forms of cancer, and other potentially fatal diseases. Judaism
teaches that “[t]he land and the fullness thereof are the Lord’s” (Psalm
24:1) and that we are to be God’s partners and co-workers in preserving
the world. However, modern intensive livestock agriculture contributes
disproportionately to climate change, soil erosion and depletion, air
and water pollution, overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the
destruction of tropical rainforests and other habitats, desertification,
and other environmental damage.
Judaism mandates bal tashchit (that we are not to waste or unnecessarily
destroy anything of value, and that we are not to use more resources
than are needed to accomplish a purpose). Nonetheless, animal agriculture
requires us to squander grain, land, water, energy, and other
resources. Judaism, furthermore, emphasizes that we are to assist the
poor and share our bread with hungry people. However, 67 percent of the
crops grown in the United States is fed to animals destined for slaughter,
while an estimated nine million people worldwide die because of hunger
and its effects each year.1
Judaism forbids tza’ar ba’alei chayim, inflicting unnecessary pain on
animals. In spite of this, most farmed animals—including those raised
1 Brad Plumer, “How Much of the World’s Cropland Is Actually Used to Grow Food?”
Vox, December 16, 2014; Rebecca Lake, World Hunger Statistics: 23 Thought-Provoking
Facts, n.d.,
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
for kosher consumers—are reared on factory farms, where they live in
cramped, confined spaces and are often drugged, mutilated, and denied
fresh air, sunlight, exercise, and any enjoyment of life before they are
slaughtered and eaten. Finally, whereas Judaism stresses that we must
seek and pursue peace and that violence results from unjust conditions,
the wasteful depletion of vital resources by diets full of animal products
sows hunger and poverty, which breed political instability and war.
In view of these important Jewish mandates, committed Jews (and
others) should sharply reduce or eliminate their consumption of animal
One could say dayenu (it would be enough) after any of the preceding
arguments because each constitutes a serious conflict between Jewish
values and current practices that should impel Jews to switch to a plantbased
diet. Combined, they make a compelling case for change.
Rabbi David Rosen reinforces the above arguments, stressing that
eating meat and other animal-products is unjustifiable today.2 (He
has since become a vegan and has informed me that he would refer to
veganism today rather than vegetarianism in the statements below.):
[T]he current treatment of animals in the livestock trade definitely
renders the consumption of meat as halachically unacceptable as
the product of illegitimate means.
Indeed a central precept regarding the relationship between
humans and animals in halacha [ Jewish law] is the prohibition
against causing cruelty to animals, tza’ar ba’alei chayim. . . . Practices
in the livestock trade today constitute a flagrant violation of this
prohibition. I refer not only to the most obvious and outrageous
of these, such as the production of veal and goose liver, but also
to common practices in the livestock trade, such as hormonal
treatment and massive drug dosing.
Today not only are we able to enjoy a healthy balanced
vegetarian diet as perhaps never before, and not only are there
in fact the above-mentioned compelling halachic reasons for not
2 Rabbi David Rosen, “Vegetarianism: An Orthodox Jewish Perspective,” in Rabbis and
Vegetarianism: An Evolving Tradition, Roberta Kalechofsky, ed. (Marblehead, MA: Micah
Publications, 1995), 53–60.
Why Jews Should Be Vegans
eating meat, but above all, if we strive for that which Judaism
aspires to—namely the ennoblement of the spirit—then a
vegetarian diet becomes a moral imperative . . . [an] authentic
Jewish ethical dietary way of life for our time and for all times.
Rabbi Rosen has stressed that “products from animal sources on the
market today are not truly kosher.”3
Reinforcing Rabbi Rosen’s message is Jerusalem-based Rabbi
Nathan Lopes Cardozo in his book Jewish Law as Rebellion: A Plea for
Religious Authenticity and Halachic Courage:
Since when is the actual shechita [ritual slaughter] more
important than the laws of tza’ar ba’alei chayim [the prohibition
against causing harm to animals]? . . . Are not [mistreated
farmed animals] as treif (non-kosher) as any other animal that is
not slaughtered according to Halacha ( Jewish law)? Can we hide
behind the laws of shechita and look the other way when the laws
of tza’ar ba’alei chaim are violated?
In all honesty: How many of our glatt [strictly] kosher
kitchens, including my own, are still truthfully kosher?4
I admire my fellow Jews who try to live according to the kashrut
laws. But, I wonder, respectfully, how many can confidently answer
“yes” to the above question, since it is hard to reconcile eating animals
with the spirit and letter of these laws?
The third reason why Jews should be vegans is that scripture makes
clear that veganism is the ideal Jewish diet. God’s first dietary regimen,
given in the very first chapter of the Torah, is strictly vegan: “And God
said, ‘Behold, I have given you every seed bearing herb, which is upon
the surface of the entire earth, and every tree that has seed bearing fruit;
it will be yours for food’” (Genesis 1:29). As indicated below, this is consistent
with modern scientific findings that humans are closer to herbivorous
3 Rabbi Rosen emailed me this quote upon reviewing this section. He discusses all
aspects of Jewish teachings on veganism in a video, found at
4 Nathan Lopes Cardozo, Jewish Law as Rebellion: A Plea for Religious Authenticity and Halachic
Courage ( Jerusalem: Urim Publications, 2018), 405.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
animals than to omnivorous or carnivorous animals, in terms of our
hands, teeth, intestinal system, stomach acids, and other features.
God’s original dietary plan represents a unique statement in humanity’s
spiritual history. It is a blueprint of a vegan world order. Yet many
millions of people have read Genesis 1:29 without fully considering its
meaning. Although most Jews eat meat today, the high ideal of God—the
initial vegan dietary law—stands supreme in the Torah for Jews and the
whole world to see: an ultimate goal toward which all people should strive.
According to Rav Kook, as well as other Jewish scholars, the Messianic
period will also be vegan, based on Isaiah’s prophecy (11:6–9): “And
a wolf shall dwell with a lamb . . . and a lion, like cattle, shall eat straw. .
. . They shall neither harm nor destroy in all my holy mount.”
Rav Kook affirmed that the high moral level of the veganism practiced
by the generations before Noah was a virtue of such great value it
cannot be lost forever.5 In the future ideal period, he believed, people
and predatory animals would again not eat flesh.6 Human lives would
not be maintained at the expense of animals’ lives.
In his booklet summarizing many of Rav Kook’s vegetarian/vegan
teachings, Joseph Green, a twentieth-century South African Jewish
vegetarian writer, concludes that Jewish religious and ethical vegetarians
are forerunners of the Messianic era. They are leading lives that
make the coming of the Messiah more likely.7
Jewish tradition asserts that one way to speed the coming of the
Messiah is to adopt the practices that will prevail in the Messianic time.
For example, the Talmud teaches that if all Jews properly observed two
consecutive Shabbats, the Messiah would immediately come (Shabbat
118b). This may mean symbolically that when all Jews have reached the
level of fully observing Shabbat through devotion to God and compassion
for people and animals, the conditions would be such that the Messianic
period would have arrived.
5 Rabbi Alfred Cohen, “Vegetarianism from a Jewish Perspective,” Journal of Halacha and
Contemporary Society (Fall 1981), 45.
6 Rabbi J. H. Hertz, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs (London: Soncino Press, 1938), 5.
7 Joe Green, “Chalutzim of the Messiah: The Religious Vegetarian Concept as Expounded
by Rabbi Kook” (1971 lecture in Johannesburg, South Africa), 1.
Why Jews Should Be Vegans
Hence, based on Rav Kook’s teaching, if all Jews become vegans in the
proper spirit, working to honor and preserve all of God’s world, the spiritual
conditions arguably will have been fulfilled for the Messianic period.
As was touched on above, and as I discuss more fully in chapters
three through eight, animal-based diets have major negative effects on
human health, animal welfare, environmental sustainability, resource
conservation, hungry people, and prospects for peace. However, we
humans are creatures of habit, resistant to changing our ways, even
when negative consequences are clearly pointed out to us.
Human beings clearly aren’t carnivores, as we need plant foods
in order to thrive, but are we omnivores or herbivores? Actually both.
People are omnivores in practice, with most eating from both the plant
and animal kingdoms. However, physiologically/biologically we orient
toward herbivorousness, as explained later. As I will discuss in chapter
three, the differences between our eating habits and our natural conditions
and inclinations are why so many people are suffering and dying
from heart disease, cancer, and other life-threatening diseases.
Keeping Kosher
A more specific reason why Jews should be vegans stems from the many
scandals that have rocked the kosher meat industry. Israel’s 2017 annual
State Comptroller Report cited widespread corruption and mismanagement
in Israel’s kosher certification process.8 The first chapter blamed
the local religious councils and the Israeli Chief Rabbinate for failing to
create significant reforms in the system.
One of the report’s major criticisms was that the vast majority of
supervisors received money from the businesses they supervised, creating
a conflict of interest and the potential for bribery. Another criticism
raised was that supervisors were receiving pay for hours they did
not work. Incredibly, a supervisor was reportedly paid for working
8 Jessica Steinberg, “Comptroller Slams Corrupt Kosher Supervision Process,” The Times
of Israel, May 16, 2017; also see Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz, “On the Ethics and Politics of
Kosher Food Supervision,” in Kashrut and Food Ethics, Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, ed.
(Boston, MA: Academic Studies Press, 2019).
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
twenty-seven hours a day! Still another area of concern was widespread
reports of nepotism, with unqualified inspectors being appointed.
Rabbi Aaron Liebowitz, a Jerusalem council member who founded
Private Supervision, an alternative supervisory agency that is more
attentive to restaurants, praised the comptroller’s report for spotlighting
the “significant violations, failures, lies, and corruption” of the main
kosher inspection system. He commented: “It’s very sad to see how the
rabbinate and some of the local religious councils brought kosher supervision
in this country to levels of extreme violation and the absurd.”9
Rabbi David Stav, chairman of Tzohar, an organization of Israeli
Orthodox rabbis working to bridge the gaps between Israel’s religious
and secular populations, observed: “The kashrut system in this country
is in a downward spiral” and needs to be privatized.10 In a Jerusalem Post
story, “Has the Religious Minority Taken over Israel?” Rabbi Stav is
quoted as saying, “The reputation of the rabbinate supervision is very
low. Most of the supervisors who give certification won’t eat in the places
they certify,” and “that the [kashrut inspection] system is broken everybody
knows. That it is corrupt everyone knows.”11
Likewise, Rabbi Cardozo has asserted that he has doubts “about the
kosher slaughtering of animals in America and here in Israel,” because
“the number of cows and chickens which have to be slaughtered every
day is so enormous that I can’t see how this will ever work halachically.”
He concludes: “I don’t believe that any piece of meat today is kasher
l’mehadrin (perfectly kosher). We should start educating people to no
longer eat meat.”12
Animal slaughter is not the only area of kashrut open to abuse. On
November 1, 2017, the Jerusalem Post ran a story featuring a number of
religious authorities, such as Rabbi Professor Daniel Sperber, president
of Advanced Torah Studies at Bar-Ilan University, who likewise argued
that modern meat production made it impossible to maintain shechita
9 Steinberg, op cit.
10 Quoted in ibid.
11 Quoted in Shoshanna Keats-Jaskoll, “Has the Religious Minority Taken over Israel?”
The Jerusalem Post, June 30, 2017.
12 Quoted in David Israel, “Orthodox Rabbi Teaching Halakha Beyond the Shulkhan Arukh,
Judaism Beyond the Commandments,”, May 25, 2016 (parentheses and
italics in the original).
Why Jews Should Be Vegans
laws, or for mashgichim (supervisers) to do their job carefully. Indeed, Sabi
Amar, a shochet (slaughterer), quit his job because of what he saw as the
utter disregard of religious requirements in Jewish slaughterhouses. His
response was blunt: “There is no kosher meat in this industry.”13
After reading the article, Rabbi Cardozo emailed me:
This is a most important article. In fact, totally shocking and
the situation is much worse than I imagined. I thought that the
chickens were at least a little better off.
But that is clearly not true. It seems that any meat eating
person seems to run the risk to eat treifa (non-kosher) and helps
an industry which is violating the most basic Jewish religious
values, and the rabbinate does not say a word.
How can we stop this tragedy?
This concern was very dramatically reinforced when the Jerusalem
Post reported on May 12, 2020, that the head of the Chief Rabbinate’s
Kashrut Division took bribes to declare foods kosher, starting eight years
previously! One has to wonder how many of the kashrut inspectors he
was supervising were also less than diligent and honest in carrying out
their responsibilities.14
Lest this be considered only a problem for Israelis, in 2019, Roseman’s
Delicatessen, the main kosher eatery for Jews in Liverpool, England, was
found to have been selling non-kosher meat and chicken.15 The Liverpool
Kashrut Commission wrote in a letter to residents that “serious breaches
of kashrut have taken place at Roseman’s Delicatessen.” Rabbi Natan
Fagelman, a member of the Liverpool Kashrut Commission, called on
the deli’s patrons not to use “all utensils that have ever been used to cook
meat/poultry bought at Roseman’s” and to discard all food bearing the
Liverpool Kashrut Commission symbol. The Jewish News opined in an
editorial: “Beyond the immediate cost and disruption to families, there
13 Quoted in Uri Bollag, “Thou Shalt Not Be Indifferent,” The Jerusalem Post, November 1,
14 Jeremy Sharon, “Head of Chief Rabbinate Kashrut to Be Indicted for Bribery,” The
Jerusalem Post, May 12, 2020.
15 Marcy Oster, “Owner of Liverpool Deli Accused of Selling Non-Kosher Meat Found
Dead,” The Jerusalem Post, June 21, 2019.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
must be a serious investigation into how non-kosher food was sold in good
faith as kosher. It’s truly scandalous.”16 In situations like the Liverpool
case, Jews who are trying to observe the kosher laws and are being very
careful to do everything possible to avoid violating them have suddenly
found out that their dishes, silverware, and pots are not kosher. Needless
to say, this is very frustrating to them.
A similar scandal occurred at a Jerusalem slaughterhouse, as
reported in the Jerusalem Post: “Meat that in all likelihood was not kosher
was used to make processed meat products.” Making the situation even
more scandalous was that “[t]he kashrut inspector at the plant knew of
this situation but continued to allow the factory to operate in this manner
while granting it a kashrut license and failing to report the situation to the
Jerusalem Rabbinate or the Chief Rabbinate.”17
Based on the above, as well as the other considerations in this chapter,
it seems that the best way to keep kosher today is to be a vegan, or at
least a vegetarian.18
Another reason for Jews to maintain a vegan diet, and a direct result
of the immediately preceding one, is that it is much easier and even
cheaper to maintain a kosher household on a vegan diet, which might
attract new adherents to keeping kosher and eventually to other Jewish
practices. A vegan need not be concerned with using separate dishes
and other utensils for meat and dairy foods; waiting three or six hours,
depending on their tradition, after eating meat before being permitted to
eat dairy products; storing four sets of dishes, pots, and silverware (two
sets for regular use and two for Passover use); and many other factors
that the non-vegan who wishes to observe kashrut strictly must consider.
In addition, a vegan is in no danger of eating blood, which is prohibited,
or the flesh of a non-kosher animal. (For a more comprehensive discussion,
see Appendix C.)
Some Jews today reject kashrut because of the higher costs involved
for kosher foods. However, they could obtain proper (generally superior)
16 Ibid.
17 Jeremy Sharon, “‘Kosher’ and Non-Kosher Meat Products Made in Same Factory
under Jerusalem Rabbinate Supervision,” The Jerusalem Post, June 19, 2017.
18 Of course, the vast majority of kashrut inspectors are honest and dedicated people.
But when human beings are involved, there is always the possibility of error and
Why Jews Should Be Vegans
nutrition at far lower costs with a balanced, kosher, vegan diet. Also,
although religiously observant Jews try to be very careful about properly
maintaining the laws of kashrut, mistakes can happen when they partake
of meat and dairy products daily in their kitchens, year after year. Being
vegan makes it far less likely that a Jew will violate the laws of kashrut.19
It’s my belief that each of the above concerns should be enough to
convince an omnivorous Jew to become a vegan or to at least sharply
reduce their consumption of meat and other animal products. If you are
a currently meat-eating religious Jew, I respectfully ask you to reconsider
your dietary practice. If you are not ready to become a vegan now, you
can take some intermediate positive steps, hopefully on your path to
veganism. These include initially going vegetarian, eating meat only on
Shabbat and holidays or only when eating out, eating smaller portions,
stopping eating meat while continuing to consume dairy products, and
giving up eating red meat. You will set an example and perhaps convince
others to do the same, thus mitigating much suffering in the world today.
The remainder of this book demonstrates how.
19 Any kashrut questions should be discussed with a trusted rabbinic authority.

The Vegan Revolution
In the previous chapter, we discussed the problems associated with
keeping kosher in Israel. This chapter showcases the extraordinary
vitality of the vegan movement in that country, and around the world.
According to an article in the Jerusalem Post (see citation on next page)
that focused on a large foodtech conference in Tel Aviv, Israel is leading
a “meatless revolution—a culinary uprising that promises to transform
the way humanity consumes its food.” The article noted that “Israel has
secured its place as an early and leading player in the fields of plant-based
culinary innovation and cultured meat, grown in the laboratory from
extracted animal cells.”
The conference targeted professionals and suppliers from the food
industry. Attendees munched on innovative food products, including
“bleeding” vegan burgers and chickpea-based ice cream. Experts from
the industry presented lectures on the future of meat and alternative
The chairwoman of Meatless Monday, Or Benjamin, told the
reporter: “Everyone is here to learn what can be served instead of meat,
fish, eggs and dairy to people who want to reduce their animal product
consumption. . . . We believe that plant-based food is not only for vegans,
but that everyone can benefit from moving to a more plant-based diet.”
She added: “With the growing range of plant-based solutions on offer,
there is no longer any need to compromise on taste, enjoyment, or culinary
interest when reducing meat consumption.”
She continued: “There are both more and less processed products
here, ranging from vegetables to burgers that simulate the experience of
a beef hamburger, but they do so without the deforestation and without
a lot of the resources that go into producing meat. This is a very exciting
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
conference where the culinary scene meets the foodtech scene, and it is
interesting to thousands of people visiting today.”1
The conference showcased a startling reality about Israel’s presence
in the plant-based and cultured meat ecosystem. The market for meat
substitutes in Israel and elsewhere is growing rapidly, and more than 350
high-tech firms are currently operating in Israel’s agri-food sector, many
of them having only begun in the last five years. Some companies, such
as InnovoPro, are partnering with other Israeli companies to develop
chickpea protein–based products—which include a chickpea-based milk
substitute, an entirely plant-based egg, and two vegan ice cream flavors,
which some customers believe is indistinguishable from creamy, dairybased
ice cream. Its founder and CEO, Taly Nechushtan, told the Post:
“New raw materials need to be based on technology, and that’s why
Israel—the Start-Up Nation—is a magnet of foodtech.”
Many of the visionaries working in this space not only sense the
market possibilities in Israel and beyond, but are driven by a commitment
to addressing global concerns. As Gil Harley, head of alternative
protein export sales at Mixoy, another Israeli food start-up, said to the
Post: “What we have invented is a plant-based raw material that serves
as a substitute for livestock, while giving the same level of protein that is
required.” He added: “Our larger objective is to provide protein security.
Because of the dry product’s shelf life, it is a solution for emergency
services, governments, local municipalities, armies and organizations
tackling hunger in Third World countries. You can just ship it dry, mix it
with water and you have your dishes. It’s a dream, a 360-degrees vegan
solution, that gives you the same nutritional value and makes the world
a better place.”2
Israel has (at 5 percent) the highest national percentage of vegans
in the world, a number that has more than doubled since 2010, with an
additional 8 percent calling themselves vegetarians. The Israel Defense
Forces (IDF) provide vegan food, boots, belts, and hats to their soldiers,
and the current IDF chief of staff, Aviv Kohavi, is a vegan. Israeli
1 Eytan Halon, “Major Meatless Meet-up Showcases Israeli Foodtech,” The Jerusalem Post,
February 20, 2020.
2 Ibid.
The Vegan Revolution
president Reuven Rivlin is a vegetarian, and the current prime minister,
Benjamin Netanyahu, is sympathetic to animal rights and supports
Meatless Mondays, which the Knesset (Parliament) practices.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that InnovoPro should be using the chickpea
for its products, since it’s the major ingredient of the staples, hummus
and falafel. Nor, given the many mandates against animal cruelty in the
Hebrew scriptures, might it come as a shock to note that Israel has strong
laws to protect their welfare, with an Animal Welfare Fund to provide
education, information, and aid to animal welfare groups. Indeed, in
2003, the Israeli Supreme Court outlawed the production of pâté de foie
gras, a “delicacy” obtained by force-feeding huge amounts of grain down
the throats of ducks and geese to expand their livers. Sadly, in June 2020
the Israeli Chief Rabbinical Council declared imported foie gras to be
glatt kosher.
Supermarkets are filled with vegan products; major metropolitan
areas have many vegan restaurants; animal rights marches often take
place in the country; and in June 2019 a Vegan Fest in Tel Aviv attracted
50,000 people.3
All of the factors discussed in chapter one form a background to
the emergence of Israel as a center of the vegan revolution. However, it
took Gary Yourofsky, a secular American Jew, to provide the impetus
for the major shift to veganism in Israel.4 His talk, called “Best Speech
You Will Ever Hear,” was initially presented at the Georgia Institute of
Technology in 2010. It was very dramatic, hard-hitting, and challenging
and had a great influence in moving people to vegan diets. When
it was shown widely in Israel, with Hebrew subtitles, it went viral, was
seen by an estimated million Israelis, and influenced many Israelis to
become vegans. His challenging, transformative speech has been seen
with subtitles in many languages, by millions of people worldwide. It can
be seen on YouTube, and I strongly recommend it.
3 The facts in these paragraphs are sourced from: Ariel Dominique Hendelman, “Kosher
Vegan: Bringing Two Values Together—Under God?” The Jerusalem Post, August 10,
2018; Rachel Frazin, “How Israel Became the Global Center of Veganism,” The Tower,
September 2016; and Daphne Rousseau, “Israel, the Promised Land for Vegans,” The
Times of Israel, October 22, 2014.
4 Gary Yourofsky, “Best Speech You Will Ever Hear—How Israel Was Taken by Storm,”
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
1 4
Around the World
It is not only in Israel that there has been a shift toward veganism. Some
indicators point to accelerating momentum worldwide. In December
2018, The Economist magazine predicted that the most popular topic of
2019 would be veganism, “the year that veganism goes mainstream.”5
Forbes likewise predicted that more people “would embrace a plant-based
lifestyle” in 2019.6 The Economist reported that interest in veganism was
soaring, with a quarter of Americans ages twenty-five to thirty-four
identifying as vegetarians or vegans. It noted that vegan food sales grew
ten times faster than food sales overall from January to June 2018, and
that many companies were investing heavily in plant-based food.7
New food companies, such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods,
have experienced exponential growth, bringing out a range of plantbased
meat products for retail, institutional, and service industries.
When Beyond Meat debuted on the New York Stock Exchange in
May 2019, its initial share offering of $25 rose to $155.20. (It surged
again during April 2020’s coronavirus pandemic.)8 Meanwhile,
Impossible Foods, according to Reuters, is available “at more than 7,000
restaurants worldwide, including White Castle, Qdoba and Red Castle,
as well as Disney theme parks.”9 Furthermore, Burger King now offers
the “Impossible Whopper,” which uses Impossible Foods’ plant-based
patties, nationwide, having trialed it successfully around the United
Some school districts and hospitals are now serving plant-based meals.
The largest U.S. grocer, Kroger, predicted that one of the five top food
5 Davide Banis, “Everything Is Ready to Make 2019 the ‘Year of the Vegan.’ Are You?”
Forbes, December 31, 2018.
6 See Julie Cappiello, “2019 Will Be the ‘Year of the Vegan,’ Major News Outlets
Report,” Mercy For Animals, December 26, 2018, https://mercyforanimals.
7 John Parker, “The Year of the Vegan,” World in 2019, The Economist, https://
8 Max Reyes, “Beyond Meat Stock Price Soars Amid Fear of a Coronavirus Beef and
Pork Shortage,” Los Angeles Times, April 25, 2020.
9 Angela Moon, “Exclusive: Impossible Foods Raises $300 Million with Investors Eager
for a Bite of Meatless Burgers,” Reuters, May 13, 2019.
The Vegan Revolution
trends in 2019 would be plant-based foods,10 with Whole Foods naming
vegan “meats” as a healthy food trend in 2019.11 By way of confirmation
of this momentum, an August 8, 2019, issue of the newsletter for VegNews
magazine included the following headlines, reinforcing the message that
a vegan revolution has begun: “Burger King Now Serves Vegan Whoppers”;
“New Vegan Meat Line Coming to Whole Foods”; “Plant-Based
Meat Is About to Become Cheaper”; “Subway to Debut ‘Beyond Meat’
Sub”; and “Just Mayo Back in Stock.”
Progress toward veganism is not only indicated by the major increases
in meat substitutes, but also by the substantial growth of activism by Jewish
vegan groups. For example, Jewish Veg, formerly Jewish Vegetarians of
North America, has made great progress since its new director, Jeffrey
Spitz Cohan, converted it into a professional organization in 2012. The
group has set up a board of directors, an advisory council, and a rabbinic
council, and has taken major steps to spreading vegan messages based
on Jewish values through wide use of social media and live presentations.
Among the group’s recent accomplishments are setting up a website,
organizing several vegan Birthright trips to Israel, arranging speaking
tours of college campus Hillels by Israeli vegan activist Ori Shavit, creating
several vegan-related videos, and initiating a vegan pledge campaign.
They also led efforts that resulted in seventy rabbis signing a statement
urging Jews to become vegans.
Another example of a U.S. organization actively promoting veganism
is Shamayim v’Aretrz, meaning Heaven and Earth, so named because
they want to symbolically bring Heaven down to Earth. Initiated and
directed by Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, Shamayim v’Aretrz holds an
annual leadership retreat bringing together Jewish animal rights activists,
sponsors a campus fellowship each year to train young Jewish vegan
leaders, and engages synagogues in a Synagogue Vegan Challenge in
order to have a deep impact within Jewish institutional life.
10 Sarrie Collins, “America’s Largest Grocer Predicts Vegan Food Will Be Top Trend
in 2019,” Mercy For Animals, October 29, 2018,
11 Phil Lampert, “The Top 10 Food Trends for 2019, According to Whole Foods,” Forbes,
November 15, 2018.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
Veganism in the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom and Europe have seen a similar amount of
business activity, investment, and interest in veganism. In May 2019, the
Netherlands-based vegan fast-food company Vivera brought its plantbased
steaks to the U.K. supermarket chain Tesco, and in later months
to dozens of supermarkets across the Netherlands and Belgium.12 Each
January since 2014, individuals in the United Kingdom and beyond have
been invited to take a pledge to go vegan for that month—“Veganuary.”13
Participants receive daily recipes, tips, and information about how
a vegan diet benefits the environment, animals, and people’s health.
According to Veganuary, 750,000 people from 192 countries have taken
the pledge, with about half signing up for 2020. Hollywood stars like
Joaquin Phoenix, Alicia Silverstone, and Mayim Bialik have publicly
supported the cause. And on New Year’s Eve, before the start of 2020,
Natalie Portman urged her 5.9 million Instagram followers to take the
pledge. “Fight climate chaos with your fork,” she wrote.14
Veganuary’s effect doesn’t stop there. Come February 1, many
participants decide to stay vegan; in 2018, 62 percent opted to keep
avoiding animal products.15 That year, Simon Winch, chief executive of
Veganuary, said: “Right across the world, people are recognizing that
each of us can truly make a difference to our health, to animals, and to
the environment, and we can do it easily—and tastily—three times a
day. Small changes that we make have a huge collective impact.”16
One reason for the individuals maintaining a vegan diet might be
due to the U.K. vegan charity Viva!, which has launched an app, called
30 Day Vegan, designed to help people continue their Veganuary challenge
for an additional thirty days.17 The app provides vegan recipes,
12 Cappiello, “2019 Will Be the ‘Year of the Vegan.’”
13 Charlotte Pointing, “3 Million People Expected to Go Vegan in 2019,
Survey Finds,” Live Kindly, January 5, 2019,
14 Alyson Krieger, “Pledging to Go Vegan, at Least for January,” The New York Times,
January 18, 2020.
15 Pointing, “3 Million People Expected.”
16 Ibid.
17 Maria Chiorando, “‘Interest in Veganism Is Soaring,’ Says Charity Boss as She
Launches App,” Plant Based News, January 29, 2019. More information about this app
can be found at
The Vegan Revolution
1 7
comprehensive information about veganism, and answers to common
questions about animal-free eating. Juliet Gellatley, founder and director
of Viva!, notes: “The interest in veganism is soaring. The demand
for plant-based alternatives is increasing and this is reflected in the availability
of vegan products. Supermarkets and restaurants are rushing to
provide delicious and accessible products for vegan consumers.”18
The more people who take the pledge to go vegan, the more restaurants
and food purveyors see opportunities to satisfy a growing market.
In the United Kingdom, Pizza Hut launched a new jackfruit-topped
vegan pizza; McDonald’s debuted new vegan-friendly options in January
201819; and Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer, Iceland, Frankie & Benny’s,
and TGI Fridays also released vegan products that month. Here we can
see the positive iterative effects across sectors of the economy when people
shift their diet.
As in Israel, the United Kingdom has seen an exponential rise in
those calling themselves vegan. Since 2006, England has seen an astonishing
360 percent rise, and veganism is one of the United Kingdom’s
fastest growing lifestyle movements. This shift is being driven by young
people: 42 percent of vegans in the United Kingdom are between fifteen
and thirty years old, compared to only 14 percent over age sixty-five.
Social media is a major driver: countless blogs and social media sites
enable vegans to share their ideas and opinions, provide advice, and raise
questions. Many offer thoughtful video messages on YouTube. Among
those sharing useful information and ideas are nutritionists, chefs, video
bloggers, bodybuilders, environmentalists, and animal rights advocates.
Some myths about veganism are promoted, but many more about veganism
are shattered. As Charlotte Le Hardy observes: “Today, a new change
is sweeping the nation, and indeed the planet. While it may not be new in
itself, its increase as of late is unprecedented. It is one not of technology,
but of values and morals.”20
18 Ibid.
19 Quoted in David Bentley and Clare Youell, “Veganuary Sees Gregg’s and McDonald’s
Launch New Veggie and Vegan Options,” EssexLive, January 4, 2019.
20 Charlotte Marie Le Hardy, “Green for Go: The Rise in Veganism and Changes in
Consumer Consciousness,” Richtopia, n.d.,
veganism-revolution-changes-consumer-consciousness. The information
in this paragraph comes from this article.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
Jewish activists in the United Kingdom have both caught and accelerated
the vegan momentum. In June 2019, the world’s first Jewish vegan
center opened at Finchley Road, headquarters of the Jewish Vegetarian
Society ( JVS).21 Their leader, Lara Balsam, said about the opening:
We are delighted to open the doors to the world’s first Jewish
vegan centre at just the right time, when community centres are
in short supply, and when the production of animal products is
crueler than ever.
We hope to inspire the creation of many more such hubs
around the world, servicing the ever-expanding demand for and
interest in Jewish veganism.22
21 Liam Gulliver, “London Becomes First City to Open Vegan Jewish Center,” Plant Based
News, June 9, 2019.
22 Ibid.
1 9
Since maintaining a healthy and sound body is among the ways of God . . . ,
one must avoid that which harms the body and accustom oneself to that which
is helpful and helps the body become stronger.
As this book illustrates, there are many reasons to adopt a vegan
diet. One of the most popular is concern for one’s health.
This decision has particular resonance for Jews, since taking care
of one’s health is arguably the most important mitzvah. Of the 613
mitzvot (plural for mitzvah) in the Torah, 610 of them must be violated
if considered potentially necessary to help save a life. For example,
observing the Sabbath day is a major mitzvah; however, saving a life
overrides prohibitions related to the holy day. The commandments were
given to live by, not die by. The only exceptions are prohibitions against
the “three cardinal sins”: murder, idolatry, and sexual immorality.
Furthermore, of the 613 mitzvot, only one includes the Hebrew word meod,
very, and that relates to the mitzvah of safeguarding health. Jews are to
be very diligent in taking care of their health (Deuteronomy 4:15). Finally,
one can’t properly carry out mitzvot if one is not in good health.
1 Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Deuteronomy 4:1, quoted in Feasting and Fasting: The
History and Ethics of Jewish Food, Aaron Gross, Judy Meyers, and Jordan Rosenblum, eds.
(New York: New York University Press, 2019), 334.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
The Jewish Approach to Health
Contemporary Western medicine has generally focused on the treatment
rather than the prevention of diseases. Medical schools teach that
prescription drugs are the most powerful tools doctors have for combatting
illness; diet and other lifestyle changes are seldom stressed as therapeutic
tools. The generally accepted medical response to many diseases today is
to prescribe medications first and perhaps recommend lifestyle changes
later. Judaism’s historic approach is fundamentally different from that
of modern medicine. Although treating sick people is certainly a Torah
obligation, Judaism puts a priority on prevention.
The foundation for the Jewish emphasis on preventive medicine can
be found in the verse in the Torah where God is described as the rofeh
(healer) of the Israelites:
And He said, “If you hearken to the voice of the Lord, your God,
and you do what is proper in His eyes, and you listen closely to
His commandments and observe all His statutes, all the sicknesses
that I have visited upon Egypt I will not visit upon you,
for I, the Lord, heal you.” (Exodus 15:26)
The great medieval scholar Rashi’s commentary notes this verse means
the following:
I am the Lord, your healer, and I teach you the Torah and the
commandments in order that you may be saved from these
diseases—like a physician who says to a person: “Do not eat this
thing lest it will bring you into danger from this illness.”
What are the implications for modern medicine? Just as God’s healing
role in the above Torah verse is to prevent illness, so too a physician
should emulate the Divine role by stressing disease prevention. For we
are obligated to “to walk in all His [God’s] ways” (Deuteronomy 11:22;
Sotah 14a).
A story about the great philosopher Maimonides is instructive.
During the period when Maimonides served as the royal physician to
the Sultan of Egypt, the Sultan never became ill. One day, the Sultan
approached his physician with a question:
“How do I know that you are an expert physician, since during
the period that you have been here, I have never been ill, and
you have not had the opportunity to test your skills?”
Maimonides replied: “In truth, the great and faithful physician
is the Holy One, Blessed be He, as it is written, ‘I am the
Lord, your healer.’ And this great and faithful physician was
able to promise his people that because He is their Physician, He
will be able to protect them from all the illnesses that were put
on Egypt.” Maimonides concluded: “Therefore, we learn that
the ability of a physician to prevent illness is a greater proof of
his skill than his ability to cure someone who is already ill.”2
As this story shows, it would seem that physicians should put far greater
emphasis on preventive medicine, advising their patients about dangers
related to smoking, high-fat diets, and other lifestyle choices.
However, the Torah does not place the entire responsibility of maintaining
good health on physicians. In fact, Jewish sages have averred
that the major responsibility falls on the individual. To take care of one’s
health is a mitzvah, mandated in the words, “But beware and watch
yourself very well” (Deuteronomy 4:9), and again, “You shall watch
yourselves very well” (Deuteronomy 4:15).
Samson Raphael Hirsch, the outstanding nineteenth-century
German rabbi, expands on the mitzvah of guarding our health:
Limiting our presumption against our own body, God’s word
calls to us: “Do not commit suicide! Do not injure yourself! Do
not ruin yourself! Do not weaken yourself! Preserve yourself!”
You may not in any way weaken your health or shorten your life.
Only if the body is healthy is it an efficient instrument for the
spirit’s activity. . . . Therefore you should avoid everything which
might possibly injure your health. . . . And the law asks you to be
2 Yalkut Lekach Tov, Shmot, and B’Shalach.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
even more circumspect in avoiding danger to life and limb than
in the avoidance of other transgressions.3
Judaism regards life as the highest good, and we are obligated to
protect it. An important Jewish principle is pikuach nefesh, the duty to
preserve a human life. The Talmudic sages applied the principle “You
shall observe My statutes and My ordinances, which a man shall do and live
by them” (Leviticus 18:5 [my italics]) to all the laws of the Torah. Hence, as
Rabbi Hirsch’s statement indicates, Jews are to be more particular about
matters concerning danger to health and life than about ritual matters.4
Biblical medicine is unique because of its many regulations for social
hygiene. Of Judaism’s 613 commandments, 213 are medically related.5
Hygiene and prophylaxis became religious mandates designed for the
preservation and well-being of the nation. To keep military camps clean,
latrines were established outside their bounds, and soldiers were equipped
with spades with which they were to dig holes and cover their excrement
(Deuteronomy 23:13–15). Lepers and others who might spread serious
diseases were excluded from the camp for specific quarantine periods
(Leviticus 15:1–15; Numbers 5:1–4).
The rabbis also emphasized the importance of public measures to
protect people’s health. The Talmud indicates that no tannery, grave,
or carcass may be placed within fifty ells of a human dwelling (Baba
Batra 2:9), and rabbis stressed that streets and market areas be kept clean
(Yalkut Shimoni 184). The sages declared it forbidden for a scholar to reside
in a city that did not contain a public bath (Sanhedrin 17b).
Rabbinic literature also extended these hygiene teachings to individual
behavior. The rabbis regarded the human body as a sanctuary
(Ta’anit 11a, b). They gave much advice on types of food conducive to
good health (Chulin 84a, Berachot 4 0a) a nd s tressed t he i mportance o f
regular nutritious meals (Shabbat 140b). T hey m andated t hat one must
wash one’s face, hands, and feet daily in honor of one’s Creator (Shabbat
3 Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb, Dayan Dr. I. Grunfeld, trans. (London: Soncino
Press, 1962), Section 62, No. 428.
4 Chulin 9a, Choshen Mishpat 427, Yoreh De’ah 116.
5 Fred Rosner, Medicine in the Bible and Talmud (New York: Ktav Publishing House, 1995),
50b), and also wash one’s hands on specific occasions, including after
rising from bed each morning and after using the toilet.6
The Many Health Benefits of Vegan Diets
There is much evidence that vegetarian diets (and even more so, vegan
diets) have many health benefits and can reduce and in some cases
reverse several life-threatening diseases.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, formerly known as the
American Dietetic Association, a valuable, respected source for health
and nutrition information, concludes that:
Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals
during all stages of the life cycle, . . . are associated with a lower
risk of death from heart disease, . . . [result in] lower low-density
lipoprotein cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower
rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes, . . . [and in] lower
body mass index and lower overall cancer rates.7
Many different kinds of studies have shown that vegan diets have greater
health benefits than animal-based diets. For instance, when Japanese
people migrate to the United States and shift to the standard American
diet, their rates of chronic degenerative diseases rise sharply.8 Likewise,
when the meat supply was sharply reduced for Denmark during World
War I9 and Norway during World War II,10 the death rates due to diseases
sharply decreased, only to return to pre-war levels after the conflicts
ended and people returned to their animal-centered diets.
6 Shulchan Oruch, Orach Chaim 4:18.
7 W. J. Craig and A. R. Mangels, “Position of the American Dietetic Association:
Vegetarian Diets,” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 109, no. 7 ( July 2009):
8 Katherine C. Harting, et al., “Mortality Outcomes for Chinese and Japanese
Immigrants in the USA and Countries of Origin (Hong Kong, Japan): A Comparative
Analysis Using National Mortality Records from 2003 to 2011,” British Medical Journal
(October 28, 2016), doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-012201.
9 Cited in Nathaniel Altman, Eating for Life (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing
House, 1977), 22.
10 Cited in John A. Scharffenberg, Problems with Meat (Santa Barbara, CA: Wadsworth,
1977), 28.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
2 4
The China-Cornell-Oxford study,11 the largest study of its kind
in history and dubbed by the New York Times as “the Grand Prix of
epidemiology,” investigated the health and mortality conditions for
6,500 people in sixty-five Chinese communities, in each of which the diet
conditions were relatively uniform. The researchers concluded that the
more animal protein and fat in the diet the greater the risk for serious
diseases. Other epidemiological studies have reached similar conclusions.12
Countries like China and Japan that have shifted toward animalconcentrated
diets in recent years have seen a sharp uptick in potentially
fatal diseases.13 By contrast, Finland has sharply reduced its meat
consumption and made other positive lifestyle changes, resulting in an 80
percent decrease in heart disease.14
Dr. Dean Ornish, clinical professor of medicine at the University
of California, San Francisco, carried out a study with patients who had
severe heart problems. Twenty-eight patients went on a mainly vegan
diet, along with making other positive lifestyle changes. Twenty served
as a control group, adopting the diet recommended by the U.S. medical
establishment, involving up to 30 percent fat and permitting chicken
without the skin and fish. Both groups were randomly chosen. After
one year, almost everyone on the vegan diet saw sharp decreases in
coronary blockages and a complete or nearly complete disappearance
of chest pains, whereas none of the people in the control group saw an
improvement, and some experienced greater heart problems. Other
doctors have found comparable results from similar studies. Initially,
insurance companies would not reimburse people who were treated
using Dr. Ornish’s approach. However, some have recognized that this
form of treatment is far less expensive and more permanent and now
reimburse for it.15
11 For more on the China study, visit
12 See Thomas Colin Campbell, “A Plant-based Diet and Animal Protein: Questioning
Dietary Fat and Considering Animal Protein as the Main Cause of Heart Disease,”
Journal of Geriatric Cardiolog y 14, no. 5 (May 2017): 331–37.
13 Asian Science Newsroom, “Cardiovascular Disease on the Rise in Asia, Particularly in
Japan,” Asian Scientist, July 24, 2015.
14 Emily Willingham, “Finland’s Bold Push to Change the Heart Disease of a Nation,”
Knowable Magazine, March 7, 2018.
15 For more on Dr. Ornish’s work, visit
nutrition/ or read Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease (New York: Random
House, 1990).
Based on a comprehensive review of studies such as those listed
above, Robert M. Kradjian, MD, a breast cancer surgeon for thirty years,
concluded that the main cause of breast cancer is animal-concentrated
diets.16 He argued that prevention, not early detection, is the best defense
against the disease.
These and many other studies help explain why former chief rabbi
of Ireland David Rosen has said: “As it is halachically prohibited to harm
oneself and as healthy, nutritious vegetarian alternatives are easily
available, meat consumption has become halachically unjustifiable.”17
Herbivorous Humans (and Other Reasons for Veganism)
So, why might it be the case that a meat-and-dairy-intensive diet might
prove detrimental? One reason may be that, on the whole, the human
body is not optimally designed to eat animal products. Our small and
large intestines, like those of primates, are up to four times longer in
proportion to height than those of omnivores. Because of the length of
the intestines, meat passes very slowly through the system. Indeed, it takes
up to four days, during which the disease-causing products of decaying
meat are in constant contact with the digestive organs.
Our saliva is alkaline, like that of our closest ape ancestors; it contains
ptyalin to digest carbohydrates. Carnivores and omnivores have acidic
saliva, and their stomach acids are up to twenty times stronger than
those of human beings. Moreover, omnivores have proportionally larger
kidneys and livers than humans; they need these larger organs in order
to handle the greater amount of nitrogenous waste of a flesh-based diet.
Unlike omnivorous animals, humans do not have claws that can rip flesh.
Our nails are rounded, which suggests that we are not constituted to
prey upon animals. Instead, we have hands for picking fruits, vegetables,
leaves, flowers, seeds, etc. Nor do we possess long, hard, dagger-like teeth
for biting into flesh. Our so-called canine teeth are not truly canine like
16 See Robert M. Kradjian, MD, Save Yourself from Breast Cancer: Life Choices That Can Help
You Reduce the Odds (New York: Berkley Publishing Group, 1994).
17 Rabbi David Rosen, “Vegetarianism: An Orthodox Jewish Perspective,” in Rabbis and
Vegetarianism: An Evolving Tradition, Roberta Kalechofsky, ed. (Marblehead, MA: Micah
Publications, 1995), 54.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
those of lions, tigers, bears, and other carnivorous and omnivorous
A further reason why we continue to eat animal products is the
prevalent erroneous belief that abundant amounts of protein and calcium
are needed for proper nutrition. Indeed, probably the most common
question that vegetarians and vegans get asked is, “How do you get
enough protein?” The assumption that humans need a lot of protein came
about largely as a consequence of the fact that much of the initial protein
research was based on experiments with rats. Whereas a female rat’s
milk has almost 50 percent of its calories in protein, a human mother’s
milk, ideal for a human infant who will double his or her birth weight
in about six months, has only 6 percent of its calories in protein.19 Many
plant foods (such as nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, and spinach) and even
some fruits (including melons) have far more than 6 percent, and positive
health effects besides.
It’s also commonly believed that consuming large amounts of
calcium, especially in the form of dairy products, is the best way to
stave off osteoporosis. However, the countries that consume the most
dairy products, including the United States, Israel, and Scandinavian
countries, have the highest percentages of people with osteoporosis.20
Most East Asians are lactose intolerant and therefore consume fewer
dairy products, resulting in less calcium in their diets. Yet they are
afflicted far less by osteoporosis, although this is changing as their diets
shift to greater consumption of dairy products. Several plant foods,
including green, leafy vegetables and soybeans, are good sources of
18 Michael Bluejay, “Vegetarian Guide: Humans Are Natural Plant-eaters, According
to the Best Evidence: Our Bodies,” June 2002, updated December 2015, https://
19 John McDougall, The McDougall Plan (La Vergne, TN: Ingram Book Company, 1983),
20 Ibid., 68. For more on milk and osteoporosis, visit Cleveland Clinic, “Can Drinking
Too Much Milk Make Your Bones More Brittle?” November 10, 2014, https://health.
21 Extensive information and research about the health benefits of plant-based, animalfree
diets can be found on the website of Michael Greger, MD, at https://nutritionfacts.
2 7
Is Chicken Healthy?
Most people are aware of the negative effects to their health of eating red
meat.22 However, many believe chicken to be a suitable alternative and
that dairy products and eggs have positive health benefits.
Many chickens are raised in intensive confinement systems around
the world. In order to promote rapid growth and to prevent the spread
of infections, the chickens’ feed is routinely loaded with antibiotics.
Scientists are sounding the alarm that this nontherapeutic use of
antibiotics (as much as 80 percent in animal agriculture) is leading to
the evolution of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, which may make
it much harder for doctors in the future to treat people for everyday
infections, the curing of which we currently take for granted.23 Indeed,
scientists are warning that antibiotic-resistant diseases could lead to 10
million deaths each year by 2050.24
Chickens are also like us in that they are susceptible to bugs: in the
case of chicken meat, these are salmonella, campylobacter, and other
germs and bacteria. Some reports show harmful bacteria in as many as
97 percent of sampled chickens.25 Indeed, E. coli, infamous for causing
bouts of diarrhea, is a concern, because “broiler” chickens (birds raised
for their flesh, not their eggs) often end up contaminated with feces
due to the extremely congested and unhygienic sheds in which they’re
raised. Traces of fecal matter may remain even after the birds are rinsed
following slaughter. The result of E. coli contamination could end with the
bird acquiring a urinary tract infection, pneumonia, or respiratory illness.
Even if the chicken meat is thoroughly cleaned and cooked to remove
infections, its consumption presents health consequences. Although
22 The material in this section is largely taken from, “What Are the Side Effects of Eating
Chicken?” New Vision, February 28, 2017,
23 Michael J. Martin, et al., “Antibiotics Overuse in Animal Agriculture: A Call to Action
for Health Care Providers,” American Journal of Public Health 105, no. 12 (December
2015): 2409–10.
24 World Health Organization: Interagency Coordination Group on Antimicrobial
Resistance, “No Time to Wait: Securing the Future from Drug-Resistant Infections,” April
25 Beth Hoffman, “Report Finds Harmful Bacteria on 97% of Chicken,” Forbes, December
19, 2013.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
chicken is healthier for you than cold cuts and fatty red meats, it does have
several negative outcomes. Chicken has high levels of cholesterol. Indeed,
a 3.5-ounce chicken contains about 85 mg of cholesterol, almost as much
as beef sirloin, which has about 89 mg.26 When measured in terms of
calories rather than weight, chicken is actually higher in cholesterol than
beef. This raises the risks for heart disease and stroke. If the chicken
meat is deep fried, especially if it is cooked in animal fat or reused oil, it
contains trans fats and high levels of saturated fats. Furthermore, as the
China study illustrated, the high protein content of chicken enhances the
risks for cancer and osteoporosis.
Dairy Products
In the case of dairy products,27 the industry spends considerable effort
attempting to convince people that milk is nature’s ideal food. Actually,
in the case of cow’s milk they are correct, but only for calves, not humans,
since cow’s milk was designed for them. For humans, it’s a very different
story, as there are many negative effects from consuming milk and other
dairy products.
A major twenty-year study in Sweden found that women who
consumed more than three glasses of milk daily had almost twice the
mortality rates of women who consumed less than one glass each day.
Also, those who consumed high amounts of milk had more fractures,
especially those of the hip, contrary to the milk industry’s arguments that
high consumption of milk strengthens bones.28
Many peer-reviewed studies have shown that milk consumption
boosts risks for prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, diabetes, multiple
26 Healthline, “Cholesterol Control: Chicken vs. Beef,” n.d., https://www.healthline.
27 Much of the material in this section comes from: Thomas Campbell, MD, “12
Frightening Facts About Milk,” CNS, October 31, 2014, updated on November 1, 2018, See also, Michael Greger,
“Nutrition Facts: Dairy,” n.d.,
28 Karl Michaëlsson, et al., “Milk Intake and Risk of Mortality and Fractures in Women
and Men: Cohort Studies,” British Medical Journal 349 (2014),
2 9
sclerosis, high cholesterol levels, acne, constipation, and ear infections.
Milk is also perhaps the most common self-reported food allergen.29
It is noteworthy that humans are the only species that consumes milk
from another species and beyond the weaning period. These choices
may represent significant reasons for these negative outcomes and may
explain why about 65 percent of the world’s populations has some degree
of lactose intolerance.30 Indeed, although this is not widely known, the
majority of Jews, especially Ashkenazi Jews, are lactose intolerant.31
Fortunately, the momentum behind veganism and allergenic reactions
to animal milks have led to the creation of many plant-based substitutes
for cow’s milk, including rice, almond, soy, oat, and coconut milk (many
fortified with extra calcium and vitamin D), as well as vegan cheeses and
ice creams. These now make it entirely unnecessary to consume products
that are both unnatural and harmful to people and animals.
Eating Eggs
The egg industry also tries to convince people that eggs are a healthy
food choice.32 However, there are reasons to be skeptical. About 80
percent of the calories in eggs are from fat, much of which is saturated,
and eggs are a very concentrated source of cholesterol, with about 200
mg in an average size egg, more than double the amount in a Big Mac!
This augments the potential for heart disease and other cardiological
problems, colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, rectal cancer, and diabetes.
29 Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, “Health Concerns about Dairy,” n.d.,
30 U.S. National Library of Medicine, “Lactose Intolerance,” n.d., https://ghr.nlm.nih.
31 Josie Glausiusz, “Jewish Genetics: 75 Percent of Jews Are Lactose Intolerant and 11
Other Facts,” Haaretz, July 8, 2015.
32 Much of the material in this section comes from: Health Concerns with Eggs: Eggs Can Be
Hazardous to Your Health, a report by Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine,
Additional negative effects of eating eggs are in Michael Greger, MD, “Eggs
and Nutrition: the Latest Research,” See also,
Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, “Eggs: Are They Good or Bad for My Cholesterol?” Mayo
Clinic, n.d.,
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
In his November 1, 2010, editorial entitled “It’s the Cholesterol, Stupid!”
in the American Journal of Cardiolog y, William Clifford Roberts, MD, a
former long-time editor of the publication, asserted that the only true risk
factor for coronary heart disease was cholesterol. We humans make our
own cholesterol, usually to an adequate level. It is reckless to believe that
adding more cholesterol to our diet would be health-affirming.33
The egg industry, like other animal-oriented industries, tries to
hoodwink people through false or misleading studies. This is not a
random decision. Between 2010 and 2019, 60 percent of studies on
eggs were funded by the industry, and 49 percent of them arrived at
conclusions that did not match the results of the research.34 One example
used to deceive involves measuring cholesterol levels many hours after
a meal during which eggs are eaten, when the spike in cholesterol level
immediately after a meal has decreased.35
A final word is worth mentioning about another aspect of public
health, connected to our feeding of nontherapeutic antibiotics to farmed
animals, and that is zoonotic diseases. About two-thirds of the major
pandemic diseases that have affected humankind have their origins in
wild animals (thus the term, zoonotic). This is likely true of the 2019–2020
COVID-19, as it is of Ebola, HIV, SARS, MERS, avian flu, and swine
flu.36 Whether we are moving into habitat and converting it into grazing
land or feedstock; whether we’re farming and eating wild or exotic
animals; or whether we’re confining domesticated animals in intensive
systems, we’re providing the means by which viruses can find a home in
human bodies. Scientists believe that zoonotic spread will broaden with
climate change as temperatures rise and people move in great numbers.37
Given our continued and accelerating destruction of animal habitat and
our turning of that habitat into a confined space, we’re only reinforcing
33 William Clifford Roberts, “It’s the Cholesterol Stupid!” American Journal of Cardiolog y
106, no. 9 (November 2010): 1364–66.
34 Tim Newman, “Eggs and Cholesterol: Is Industry-Funded Research Misleading?”
Medical News Today, December 18, 2019,
35 Michael Greger, MD, “How the Egg Board Designs Misleading Egg Studies,” n.d.,
36 Joshua Emerson Smith, “HIV, Ebola, SARS and now COVID-19: Why Some Scientists
Fear Deadly Outbreaks Are on the Rise,” Los Angeles Times, April 6, 2020.
37 Science Daily, “Changing Climate May Affect Animal-to-Human Disease Transfer,”
May 1, 2019,
the possibilities that COVID-19 will only be the start of more frequent,
and perhaps more deadly, pandemics in the future.38
Now, as someone who trained as a scientist and was a long-time consumer
of meat, I am skeptical about any claims (and would expect you to be
also) without seeing the evidence. You should feel free to conduct rigorous
research, question the sources, and ensure that there is neither a financial
nor economic reason why a study affirms a particular perspective. You
should also have regular medical checkups, including blood tests, to
assure that you are obtaining all necessary nutrients—no matter what
diet you are eating—as well as getting enough exercise, sleep, and social
interactions, and reducing stress. I would urge everyone, including
vegans, to avoid excessive consumption of sugar, salt, oils, and refined
foods because of their negative effects.39
All that said, it seems to me that the preponderance of evidence and
the numerous halachic rules prohibiting dangerous activities should be
extended by rabbis to include a very strong recommendation that Jews
eliminate the consumption of meat and other animal-sourced foods, or
at least reduce them to a minimal level. Such an extension by leading
rabbinic authorities of our time, with proper awareness-raising, would
save many lives and improve the health, sense of well-being, and life
expectancy of Jews.
38 See Ichiko Sugiyama, “Are the Risks of Zoonotic Diseases Rising in the Anthropocene
Due to Climate Change?” EGU Blogs, March 16, 2020,
39 In all cases, consult a medical doctor before changing your diet.

The Treatment of Animals
There are probably no creatures that require more the protective Divine
word against the presumption of people than the animals, which like
people have sensations and instincts, but whose body and powers are
nevertheless subservient to humans. In relation to them people so easily
forget that injured animal muscle twitches just like human muscle, . . . that
the animal being is just as sensitive to cuts, blows, and beatings as humans.
Thus people become the torturer of the animal soul.
—Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch1
It is a source of pride to me that Judaism contains many authoritative
teachings on the proper treatment of animals. If Jews applied these
teachings, I believe, we would be in the vanguard of the struggle against
humanity’s widespread cruelty to other creatures.
Jews are mandated to be rachmanim b’nei rachmanim, compassionate
children of compassionate ancestors (Beitzah 32b), emulating a compassionate
God. God is referred to in daily Jewish prayers as Ha-rachaman
(the compassionate One) and as Av harachamim (Father of compassion).
Since Judaism teaches that human beings, uniquely created in God’s
image (Genesis 1:27; 5:1), are to imitate God’s positive attributes, we
should surely strive to be exemplars of compassion.
The Talmud states that one who is not compassionate cannot truly
be of the seed of Abraham, our patriarch (Bezah 32b). It also avers that
Heaven grants compassion to those who are compassionate to others, and
withholds it from those who are not (Shabbat 151b).
1 Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb, Dayan Dr. I. Grunfeld, trans. (London: Soncino
Press, 1962), Vol. 2, 203 (Section 60, No. 415).
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
3 4
In the Baruch Sheh’amar prayer, recited daily in the morning (Shacharit)
services, Jews proclaim: “Blessed is the One [meaning God] Who has
compassion on the earth; blessed is the One Who has compassion on the
creatures.” Hence, in imitating God, we should also exhibit concern and
compassion toward our Earth’s environment and all of God’s creatures.
The Ashrei prayer (Psalm 145), recited three times in the Jewish
daily prayers, declares that “[t]he Lord is good to all, and His mercies
are on all His works” (verse 9). According to Rabbi David Sears, author
of The Vision of Eden: Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and
Mysticism, this verse is “the touchstone of the rabbinic attitude toward
animal welfare, appearing in a number of contexts in Torah literature.”
Referring to the Talmudic teaching that we are to emulate God’s ways,
Sears observes: “Compassion for all creatures, including animals, is not
only God’s business; it is a virtue that we too must emulate. Moreover,
compassion must not be viewed as an isolated phenomenon, one of a
number of religious duties in the Judaic conception of the Divine service.
It is central to our entire approach to life.”2 In the spirit of the above
teachings and writing of our capacity to imitate God’s compassion and
other positive attributes, the Chofetz Chaim, a Jewish sage of the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, stated:
The existence of the entire world depends on this virtue. . . .
Hence, whoever follows in this path will bear the Divine image
on his person; while whoever refrains from exercising this virtue
and questions himself, “Why should I do good to others?”
removes himself completely from God, the Blessed One.3
According to Judaism, animals are part of God’s creation and
people have special responsibilities to them. The Jewish tradition clearly
indicates that we are forbidden to be cruel to animals and that we are
to treat them with compassion. These concepts are summarized in the
Hebrew phrase tza’ar ba’alei chayim, the Torah mandate not to cause “pain
2 David Sears, The Vision of Eden: Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and
Mysticism, 2nd edition (Create Space, 2014), 19.
3 Chofetz Chaim, Ahavath Chesed: The Love of Kindness as Required by God ( Jerusalem/New
York: Feldheim, 1967), 82.
The Treatment of Animals
to a living creature.” Perhaps the Jewish attitude toward animals is best
summarized by the statement in Proverbs 12:10: “A righteous man has
regard for the desire of his beast.” In Judaism, one who is cruel to animals
cannot be regarded as a righteous individual.
There are many Torah laws involving compassion to animals. An ox
is not to be muzzled when threshing in a field of corn (Deuteronomy 25:4).
It would be less than compassionate to prevent the ox from stealing an
occasional bite of the fruits of his labor. A farmer should not plow with an
ox and an ass together, so that the weaker animal would not suffer pain
in trying to keep up with the stronger one (Deuteronomy 22:10). Animals,
like people, are to be allowed to rest on the Sabbath day (Exodus 20:10;
Deuteronomy 5:12–14). The importance of the latter verse is indicated by
its inclusion in the Ten Commandments and its recitation as part of kiddush
(sanctification ceremony using wine or grape juice) on Sabbath mornings.
Many Jewish heroes were chosen because they showed kindness to
animals. Moses and King David were considered worthy to be leaders
because of their tender care of animals when they were shepherds (Exodus
Rabbah 2:2). Rebecca was judged suitable to be Isaac’s wife because of
her kindness in providing water to the ten thirsty camels of Eliezer,
Abraham’s servant, who had just crossed a desert (Genesis 24:20).
Psalms 104 and 148 show God’s close identification with the animals
of the field, creatures of the sea, and birds of the air. Sea animals and
birds receive the same blessing as people—“Be fruitful and multiply”
(Genesis.1:22)—while the important Hebrew expression nefesh chaya
(“living soul”) is applied in Genesis (1:21, 1:24) to people and animals
alike. Animals are initially given a vegan diet in the garden of Eden,
similar to that of people (Genesis 1:29–30).
Although the Torah indicates that people are to “rule over the fish
of the sea and over the fowl of the heaven and over the animals and
over all the earth and over all the creeping things that creep upon the
earth” (Genesis 1:26), the sages have interpreted dominion as responsible
stewardship and stressed that the rights and privileges of animals are
not to be neglected or overlooked. Animals, they note, are also God’s
creatures, possessing sensitivity and the capacity for feeling pain; hence
they must be protected and treated with compassion and justice.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
The Jewish scriptures indicate that God made treaties and covenants
with animals, just as with humans:
And I, behold I am setting up My covenant with you and with
your seed after you. And with every living creature that is with
you, among the fowl, among the cattle, and among all the beasts
of the earth with you, of all those who came out of the ark, of all
the living creatures of the earth. (Genesis 9:9–10)
And I will make a covenant for them on that day with the beasts
of the field and with the fowl of the sky and the creeping things
of the earth; and the bow, the sword, and war I will break of the
earth, and I will let them lie down safely. (Hosea 2:20)
Ecclesiastes discusses the kinship between people and animals. Both are
described as sharing the common fate of mortality:
For there is a happening for the children of men, and there is a
happening for the beasts—and they have one happening—like
the death of this one is the death of that one, and all have one
spirit, and the superiority of man over beast is nought, for all is
vanity. All go to one place; all came from the dust, and all return
to the dust. Who knows that the spirit of the children of men
is that which ascends on high and the spirit of the beast is that
which descends below to the earth? (Ecclesiastes 3:19–21)
God considers animals, as well as people, when He admonishes
Jonah: “Now should I not take pity on Nineveh, the great city, in which
there are many more than one hundred twenty thousand people . . . and
many beasts as well?” ( Jonah 4:11). The Psalms indicate God’s concern for
animals, for, as discussed above, “God’s mercies are upon all His works”
(Psalm 145:9). They portray God as “satisfying the desire of every living
creature” (Psalm 145:16); “He gives the animal its food, to the young
ravens which call out” (Psalm 147:9); and, in general, “You save both
man and beast, O Lord” (Psalm 36:7).
The Treatment of Animals
3 7
God is depicted as giving animals the attributes necessary for
survival in their environment. For example, camels possess short tails so
they won’t become ensnared when feeding upon thorns; oxen have long
tails that can be swung to keep away gnats when they are feeding on the
plains; the feelers of locusts are flexible so they won’t be blinded by their
feelers breaking against trees.
Based on the angel of God’s reproachful question to Balaam, “Why
have you beaten your she-donkey?” (Numbers 22:32), the Talmud argues
that animals are to be treated humanely. Based on Deuteronomy 11:15,
“And I will give grass in your field for your livestock and you will eat
and be sated,” the Talmud concludes that Jews should feed their animals
before they themselves eat.
A World of Pain
Unfortunately, the conditions under which animals are raised for food
today are quite different from any that the Torah would condone, or would
even be recognized by the sages of the past. Modern animal agriculture
primarily involves placing animals in dense numbers in huge facilities
that seek maximum profits by treating animals as industrial units rather
than sentient creatures.4
Cattle and Veal
The suffering of cows begins almost from the moment they’re born.5 They
are commonly dehorned, castrated, and branded with hot irons, without
any painkillers. When workers drag calves shortly after birth from their
4 For a glimpse at some of the conditions for animals in human confinement around the
world, visit We Animals Media,
5 Abuses of farmed animals are described in detail in Diet for a New America: How Your
Food Choices Affect Your Health, Happiness and the Future of Life on Earth, 25th Anniversary
Edition (Kindle, 2012) by John Robbins, and The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help
Save Your Life and Our World by John Robbins, 10th Anniversary Edition (San Francisco,
CA: RedWheel/Weiser, 2011); Old McDonald’s Factory Farm by C. David Coats (New
York: Continuum, 1989); and Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer (New York: Little,
Brown, 2009), as well as in many other books listed in the bibliography. Many videos
of undercover investigations also show the horrors of factory farming. For the context
of this work, see The Ghosts in Our Machine, directed by Liz Marshall (Toronto: Ghosts
Media, 2013).
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
mothers, they throw them on the ground to punch holes in their ears
through which to put name tags.
Whereas calves, like human infants, would nurse for nearly a year if
there were no human intervention, it is usual practice to separate mother
and calf, which is traumatic to both, very early. In the veal industry, male
calves are torn from their mothers within days, if not hours, after birth.
Those calves are raised in narrow stalls that prohibit movement so that
the flesh is kept soft, and they are unable to suckle—an intense desire for
a newborn. Lest you imagine this is a mere byproduct of the beef and
dairy industries, “veal” is inherent, because cows only provide milk after
being impregnated and giving birth, and many female calves and nearly
all the male calves are considered surplus. Those cattle that are bred
for beef are generally slaughtered between one and five years of age, a
fraction of their natural lifespan.
Dairy Cows
Today’s modern milk factories raise cows for maximum milk production
at minimum cost, resulting in much cruelty to the cows.6 For cows to
produce milk they must lactate, which means they must give birth. In
order to ensure there is no downtime between pregnancies, farmers
artificially inseminate each cow annually so that the mother cow will
constantly produce milk for human consumption. She lives with an
unnaturally enlarged and sensitive udder and is milked up to three times
a day.
Although the dairy industry would have you believe that its cows are
content, today’s factory-bred cows have to be fed tranquilizers to reduce
their anxiety. As soon as their milk production wanes to an unprofitable
level, after only about five years, they are culled and sent to slaughter to
produce hamburgers. Broken down by a lifetime of “sweat shop” service
to the food industry, they are still biologically young; the domestic cow’s
natural life span is about twenty-five years.
6 Much valuable information about the widespread mistreatment of dairy cows is in Farm
Animal Welfare: Cows, a report from MSPCA Angell,
protection/farm-animal-welfare-cows/. For more on industrial farming, see Philip
Lymbery, Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat (London: Bloomsbury, 2014).
The Treatment of Animals
3 9
The following story by Dr. Michael Klaper, the author of several
books, including Vegan Nutrition: Pure and Simple and Pregnancy, Children, and
the Vegan, dramatically illustrates the cruelty of the dairy industry:
The very saddest sound in all my memory was burned into my
awareness at age five on my uncle’s dairy farm in Wisconsin. A
cow had given birth to a beautiful male calf. The mother was
allowed to nurse her calf but for a single night. On the second day
after birth, my uncle took the calf from the mother and placed him
in the veal pen in the barn—only ten yards away, in plain view
of the mother. The mother cow could see her infant, smell him,
hear him, but could not touch him, comfort him, or nurse him.
The heartrending bellows that she poured forth—minute after
minute, hour after hour, for five long days—were excruciating
to listen to. They are the most poignant and painful auditory
memories I carry in my brain. Since that age, whenever I hear
anyone postulate that animals cannot feel emotions, I need only
to replay that torturous sound in my memory of that mother cow
crying her bovine heart out to her infant. Mother’s love knows no
species barriers, and I believe that all people who are vegans in
their hearts and souls know that to be true.7
Egg-laying Hens
There is no less cruelty in the egg industry.8 Most “layer” hens (hens bred
to lay eggs) live their lives confined inside rows of stacked wire cages,
with five hens generally squeezed into each eighteen-by-twenty-inch
cage. Overcrowding is so severe that a hen cannot fully stretch even one
wing. As a result of these very unnatural conditions, the birds are driven
to pecking at each other, which harms and sometimes kills their fellow
cellmates, thus reducing the producers’ profits. To avoid this, the lighting
7 Vegan Peace Initiative, “Choose Life Over Death, Kindness Over Killing,” n.d., http://
8 Much information about the mistreatment of egg-laying hens can be found in Jaya
Bhumitra, “Costco’s Egg Supply: Cruelty Cracked Wide Open,” Mercy For Animals,
n.d., For a full
view of the lives and deaths of poultry in today’s factory farms, see Karen Davis, For the
Birds: From Exploitation to Liberation (Brooklyn, NY: Lantern, 2019).
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
4 0
is kept very dim (chickens are diurnal and not as active in low light), and
the chickens are “debeaked.” Debeaking is a very painful, often debilitating
procedure that involves cutting off much of the hen’s beak with a hot knife
while her head is held by hand or in a vise. There is neither anesthesia nor
painkillers. This is the industry’s callous strategy to maximize profit at the
expense of providing its animals with adequate space, exercise, fresh air,
and other essentials of life. Because male chicks have no value to the egg
industry and, unlike “broilers,” have not been bred to grow fat, fast, they
are discarded within hours of birth. Each day in the United States, hatchery
workers stuff over half a million live male chicks into plastic bags where they
die of suffocation, or they feed them into macerators to be ground up alive.
Chickens raised for slaughter spend their shortened lives in long,
windowless, crowded sheds, unable to see sunlight, breathe fresh air, or
get any exercise. When the tiny chicks arrive, there is plenty of room,
but they have progressively less and less of it as they grow. The shed
quickly becomes too crowded for the birds to move properly; just prior to
slaughter, the area that each chicken occupies—about half a square foot
on average—is barely enough to move. Overcrowding and stress mark
the lives of these chickens, and they are generally slaughtered when only
about six weeks old. By contrast, a normal chicken’s lifespan is eight to
ten years.
The chickens are made to grow so fast that they frequently cannot
even walk without pain. Air suffused with ammonia causes severe skin
and throat irritation, blindness, and fatal respiratory problems. Abuse
from factory farm workers is also rampant. Video footage taken by
the animal welfare group Mercy For Animals shows workers stabbing
chickens with spiked clubs, stomping birds to death, and ripping limbs
from live chickens. In his April 14, 2003, article in The New Yorker, Michael
Specter describes his first visit to a chicken farm:
I was almost knocked to the ground by the overpowering smell
of feces and ammonia. My eyes burned and so did my lungs,
and I could neither see nor breathe. . . . There must have been
The Treatment of Animals
4 1
thirty-thousand chickens sitting silently on the floor in front of
me. They didn’t move, didn’t cluck. They were almost like statues
of chickens, living in nearly total darkness, and they would spend
every minute of their six-week lives that way.9
Confronting the Hypocrisy of the Meat on Our Tables
In 1964, just two years following the publication of Silent Spring by
Rachel Carson, the book that helped launch the modern environmental
movement, a Quaker humanist of Jewish origin named Ruth Harrison
was among the first thinkers to sound the alarm on a growing moral
threat: factory farming. In her seminal book, Animal Machines, to which
Carson contributed the foreword, Harrison wrote:
How far have we the right to take our domination of the animal
world? Have we the right to rob them of all pleasure in life simply
to make more money more quickly out of their carcasses? Have
we the right to treat living creatures solely as food converting
machines? At what point do we acknowledge cruelty?10 . . .
Farm animals have always been exploited by man in that
he rears them specifically for food. But until recently they were
individuals, allowed their birthright of green fields, sunlight, and
fresh air; they were allowed to forage, to exercise, to watch the
world go by, in fact to live. Even at its worst . . . the animal had
some enjoyment in life before it died. Today the exploitation has
been taken to a degree that involves not only the elimination
of all enjoyment, the frustration of all natural instincts, but its
replacement with acute discomfort, boredom, and the actual
denial of health. It has been taken to a degree where the animal
is not allowed to live before it dies.11
9 Quoted in Leah Garces, “Why We Haven’t Seen Inside a Broiler Chicken Factory Farm
in a Decade,” Food Factory News, January 24, 2013. For a visit inside an intensive chicken
farm, see Nicholas Kristof, “Abusing Chickens We Eat,” The New York Times, December
3, 2014.
10 Ruth Harrison, Animal Machines (London: Vincent Street, 1964), 12.
11 Ibid., 3.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
4 2
Since the publication of Harrison’s influential book, many more
thinkers of conscience have questioned the morality of so much of the
food on our tables. In 1971, John Harris challenged readers to overcome
their lack of sensitivity:
Every year millions of animals are born and bred for the sole
purpose of satisfying those who like the taste of meat. Their
lives vary in length from a few weeks to a few years; most live
a fraction of the time they would in more natural conditions.
They die in slaughterhouses where, if the tranquilizers have
their effect, they know only a few moments of the awful fear of
death before they are stunned and their throats cut. This is what
all meat-eaters actively support, for there would be no batteries,
no sweatboxes, no need to castrate male animals or artificially
inseminate females, no cattle markets and no slaughterhouses if
there was no one insensitive enough to buy their products.12
By the late 1980s, author C. David Coats described the cycle of misery
that results from our addiction to meat, laying bare the pretense of “old
McDonald’s factory farm”:
Aren’t humans amazing? They kill wildlife—birds, deer, all
kinds of cats, coyotes, beavers, groundhogs, mice and foxes by the
million in order to protect their domestic animals and their feed.
Then they kill domestic animals by the billion and eat them.
This in turn kills people by the million, because eating all those
animals leads to degenerative—and fatal—health conditions
like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and cancer. So then
humans spend billions of dollars torturing and killing millions
more animals to look for cures for these diseases.
Elsewhere, millions of other human beings are being killed
by hunger and malnutrition because food they could eat is being
used to fatten domestic animals.
12 John Harris, “Killing for Food,” in Animals, Men, and Morals: An Inquiry into the Maltreatment
of Non-humans. S. R. Godlovitch and John Harris, eds. (New York: Taplinger Publishing
Co., 1972), 98.
The Treatment of Animals
4 3
Meanwhile, few people recognize the absurdity of humans,
who kill so easily and violently, and once a year send out cards
praying for “Peace on Earth.”13
Can such a diet—and all that flows from it—truly be considered
kosher? By the 1990s, Rabbi Aryeh Carmell, a twentieth-century Torah
scholar living in Jerusalem, had ventured an opinion: “It seems doubtful
from all that has been said whether the Torah would sanction factory
farming, which treats animals as machines, with apparent insensitivity
to their natural needs and instincts. This is a matter for decision by
halachic authorities.”14 For Rabbi David Rosen, the decision would soon
become plain: “The current treatment of animals in the livestock trade
definitely renders the consumption of meat as halachically unacceptable
as the product of illegitimate means.”15 Rosen makes clear that he is
not referring only to the production of veal and goose liver, “the most
obvious and outrageous” examples of animal mistreatment, but also to
common practices in the livestock trade, such as massive drug dosing
and hormonal treatment.16
We have already discussed the mismanagement of some kosher
venues in Israel and the United Kingdom. In addition, the kosher meat
inspection industry tends to focus only on the actual moment of slaughter,
and the packing and preparation of the meat afterward. Very little, if
any, attention is paid to how the animals are treated before slaughter. One
has to wonder if this can be reconciled with kashrut, because kashrut is
designed to be humane. But how can it be humane if most kosher meat,
dairy, and eggs come from the same abominable factory farm conditions
as does non-kosher food?
Shouldn’t we—whether we’re Jewish or not; whether we keep kosher
or not—be concerned, indeed alarmed, about the ways that meat and
other animal products are produced? As Harrison observed, in the past,
13 C. David Coats, Old McDonald’s Factory Farm (New York: Continuum, 1989), preface.
14 Rabbi Aryeh Carmell, Masterplan: Judaism—Its Programs, Meanings, Goals (New York/
Jerusalem: Feldheim, 1992), 69.
15 Rabbi David Rosen, “Vegetarianism: An Orthodox Jewish Perspective,” in Rabbis and
Vegetarianism: An Evolving Tradition, Roberta Kalechofsky, ed. (Marblehead, MA: Micah
Publications, 1995), 53.
16 Ibid., 54.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
4 4
farmed animals ran free in pastures or open country, grazed on grass,
and were slaughtered only for special occasions, such as when Abraham
slaughtered a calf for his angelic guests. Chickens were hatched naturally
under mother hens and Jews generally ate them only on Shabbat and
holidays—and then only after the birds had a life of freedom to scratch,
peck, and live as a chicken was created to live. There was nothing
remotely resembling the year-round factory farm conditions under which
food animals are raised today. And those farms that practice these forms
of husbandry are vanishingly rare, as industrialized farming consolidates
and globalizes throughout the world—even in Israel.17
Therefore, although the Torah does permit eating meat, generally
considered by the Jewish sages as a concession to human weakness,
the conditions under which animals are raised today do not remotely
resemble those for the flocks of our ancestors. So, just as the rabbis widely
agree that humans and nonhumans differ in fundamental ways, one
need not believe that human beings and animals have the same value to
protest against the extremely brutal treatment that animals are subjected
to today.
In summary, in view of the horrible conditions under which almost
all animals are raised today, Jews who eat meat are in effect supporting a
system contrary to basic Jewish principles and obligations. They should
seriously consider becoming vegans, and, if they find this diet and lifestyle
too difficult for them, they should at least strive to be as vegan as possible.
Being an advocate for improved conditions for animals is not a rejection
of Judaism, but an attempt to apply Judaism’s splendid teachings. It is
essential that these messages become widely known and practiced in
order to end the horrendous realities within which so many animals
currently exist, very much contrary to basic Jewish values, and to show
the applicability of Judaism’s eternal values to some of today’s critical
17 For an overview of the globalization of factory farming in select countries around the
world, see the publications of Brighter Green,
For an examination of intensive animal agriculture, see Joyce D’Silva and John Webster,
eds., The Meat Crisis: Developing More Sustainable Production and Consumption (London:
Earthscan, 2010).
4 5
The Climate Catastrophe
In the hour when the Blessed Holy One created the first human being,
God took him and let him pass before all the trees of the Garden of Eden
and said to him: “See my works, how fine and excellent they are! All that
I have created, for you have I created them. Think upon this and do not
despoil and destroy My world. For if you destroy it, there is no one to set
it right after you.”
—Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:28
In ancient times, Jews may have wondered about the significance of
this midrash (rabbinic teaching). How could it be possible to destroy
the world that God had created? Did humans have such power? Today,
we know that it is not only possible, but probable. This chapter demonstrates
that a dietary shift away from the planet-heating effects of animal
agriculture may be the single most significant change we can make to
stop the destruction.
How Serious Are Climate Threats?
The greatest threat to humanity today is climate change, even more so
than the 2020 global coronavirus pandemic and other zoonotic diseases
that I talk about later in this chapter. Our human civilization is set on
a path that could lead to a possibly uninhabitable planet by the end of
the century—or one so torn asunder by climate disaster and its social,
political, economic, and health consequences that few of us would want
to inhabit it.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
4 6
Is this alarmism or an outrageous exaggeration, given how many
in the past predicted an end to the world? Not according to scholars
worldwide, including some 97 percent of climate scientists, and virtually
all peer-reviewed papers (thousands of them) on the issue in respected
scientific journals. They convincingly argue that global warming and
the resulting climate change we see today are the product of our own
activities (we cannot blame it on natural cycles—not this time) and pose
an existential threat to humanity.1
The leaders of the 195 nations who attended the December 2015
Paris Climate Change conference, including Israel and the United States,
agreed that immediate steps must be taken to avert a climate catastrophe,
and almost all the nations pledged to reduce their greenhouse gas
emissions.2 Although this was an important step forward, climate experts
believe that even if all the pledges are kept (they are not binding), the
measures would still be insufficient to prevent severe climate disruption
later this century.
Indeed, in October 2018, when the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change (the IPCC) released its much anticipated update on
the science (the fruit of ninety-one climate experts from forty countries
reviewing thousands of the latest climate-related studies and reports),
the authors warned that the world has until 2030 to make “rapid,
far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” if we
are to have a reasonable chance of limiting global warming to 1.5ºC
above pre-industrial levels and averting the climate disasters that are
likely to follow if we don’t.3
A year later, the urgency of the IPCC’s report was echoed when over
11,000 scientists signed on to a paper in the journal BioScience declaring
1 NASA, “Science Consensus: Earth’s Climate Is Warming. State of the Planet Report,”
n.d. For a grim overview of the realities,
see David Wallace-Wells, The Uninhabitable Earth (New York: Crown, 2019) and Dale
Jamieson, Reason in a Dark Time: Why the Struggle against Climate Change Failed—and What
It Means for Our Future (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2014).
2 UN, “UN Climate Change Conference Paris 2015, Sustainable Development Goals
Report,” n.d.,
3 IPCC, “Summary for Policymakers of IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of
1.5°C Approved by Governments,” October 8, 2018,
The Climate Catastrophe
4 7
that “the climate crisis has arrived and is accelerating faster than most
scientists expected.”4 “It is more severe than anticipated,” they warned,
“threatening natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity.”5
“We declare, with more than 11,000 scientist signatories from
around the world, clearly and unequivocally, that planet Earth is
facing a climate emergency,” the paper began. “To secure a sustainable
future,” it continued, “we must change how we live. [This] entails major
transformations in the ways our global society functions and interacts
with natural ecosystems.”6 The scientists’ prescription for humanity
included leaving fossil fuels in the ground, ending population growth,
and halting forest destruction—and massively reducing the amount of
meat produced and eaten.7
A UN report on November 26, 2019, was also extremely alarming.8
It pointed out that, despite many nations’ pledges to reduce them,
greenhouse gases are still rising perilously, growing an average of 1.5
percent annually in the past ten years. The report asserted that countries
need to make their emissions-reductions goals five times greater in order to
limit warming to 1.5ºC—the threshold scientists believe is a dangerous
line to cross for global warming. Even if all the countries involved in
the Paris Agreement brought emissions down to the levels they initially
pledged to meet, the report noted, the world would still be on track for
3.2ºC warming since the start of the Industrial Revolution, three times
the present rise. That’s 5.76ºF, a scenario that would dramatically
augment the severity of current wildfires, hurricanes, heat waves, and
droughts. Since many of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters are
not on track to meet their climate reduction pledges, the final warming
number could be substantially greater even than this.9
4 William J. Ripple, et al., “World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency,” BioScience
70, no. 1 ( January 2020): 8–12,
5 Michael Slazek, “Climate Emergency Declared by 11,000 Scientists Worldwide Who
Warn of ‘Catastrophic Threat’ to Humanity,” ABC News Australia, November 9, 2019.
6 Damian Carrington, “Climate Crisis: 11,000 Scientists Warn of ‘Untold Suffering,’”
The Guardian, November 5, 2019.
7 Ibid.
8 Somini Sengupta, “‘Bleak’ U.N. Report on a Planet in Peril Looms Over New Climate
Talks,” The New York Times, November 26, 2019; and Tierstein Zoya, “Paris Agreement
Targets Need to Be 5 Times Stronger to Actually Work,” Grist, November 26, 2019.
9 Fiona Harvey and Jennifer Rankin, “Paris Climate Deal: World Not on Track to Meet
Goal Amid Continuous Emissions,” The Guardian, December 4, 2019.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
4 8
How Climate Change Makes Violence, Terrorism,
and War More Likely
Another profound implication of climate change has been analyzed by
the Pentagon, U.S. intelligence agencies, and other nations’ military
organizations, for obvious reasons. The reality is that climate change
will escalate the potential for instability, terrorism, and war by reducing
access to food and clean water, and causing tens of millions of desperate
refugees to flee from droughts, wildfire, floods, storms, and other disasters
wrought by climate change.10
Compelling evidence exists that major droughts caused or worsened
by climate change helped spark recent civil wars in Darfur11 and Syria.12
Syria experienced a very severe drought between 2006 and 2011, which
led to widespread crop failures, resulting in many farmers leaving their
land for the cities at a time when many refugees fleeing the violence in
Iraq were pouring into Syria. The instability caused frustration, tension,
and anger, which eventually exploded into a civil war that was exploited
by jihadists and fanatics, including ISIS.
The negative effects of climate change in Darfur and Syria are
especially frightening when one considers that drought and desertification
due to climate change are causing chaos in many other countries in the
Middle East as well as central and north Africa, fanning the flames of
social revolutions and civil wars.13 Such unrest poses major security threats
to Israel and the West, with drought-induced hunger leaving populations
angry, frustrated, and vulnerable to radicalization and recruitment.
Drought, famine, and violence are also causing major migrations,
furthering the potential for more chaos, instability, and violence.
Unless we take drastic action, the disruption, human rights tragedies,
and economic costs of destabilization in countries like Syria and Iraq will
10 Andrew Johnson, “Retired Generals, Admirals Warn Climate Change Is a ‘National
Security Issue,’” National Review, May 14, 2014.
11 Julian Berger, “Darfur Conflict Heralds Era of Wars Triggered by Climate Change,
UN Warns,” The Guardian, June 23, 2007.
12 Mark Fischetti, “Climate Change Hardened Syria’s Civil War,” Scientific American,
March 2, 2015.
13 Janpeter Schilling, et al., “Climate Change Vulnerability, Water Resources and Social
Implications in North Africa,” Regional Environmental Change 20, no. 15 (2020), https://
The Climate Catastrophe
4 9
no longer be outliers: they are essentially illustrative of what is already
evident. Contrary to the myth popular among many climate change
deniers, the world’s temperature has risen significantly in recent years.14
Every decade since the 1970s has been hotter than the previous one, and
all twenty years of this century are among the twenty-one hottest years
recorded since global temperature records started being kept in 1880 (the
only other year in the top twenty-one is 1998). The year 2016 was the
hottest globally, breaking the records held previously by 2015 and before
that by 2014, the first time that there had been three consecutive years
of record world temperatures. The six warmest years recorded are those
from 2014 to 2019. July 2019 was the warmest month in recorded history,
and scientists are forecasting that 2020 may be the hottest year on record.15
There is only one credible cause for this persistent warming trend,
according to the climate scientists who measure its relationship to all of
the natural and anthropogenic (human-caused) warming and cooling
forces on Earth, from sunspots to tailpipes.16
Just as a person with a high fever suffers from many of its effects, our
planet has experienced many negative consequences from the warmer
global temperatures.
The number and severity of droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods
have also increased. Such climate events have always occurred, but
climate change has made them more frequent and destructive. They are
also connected: as more moisture evaporates in warmer temperatures
and warmer air holds more moisture, the potential for heavier storms is
enhanced. Sea levels have risen, which exacerbates storm surges, and as
the waters are warmer, more energy is added to the storms, meaning they
are likely to be more destructive.17
A December 2019 report from the World Meteorological
Organization was even more frightening, indicating that climate change
14 Many facts about recent temperature increases are in Stephanie Ebbs, “2018 Makes
Last 5 Years the Warmest in History, Scientists Say, as Democrats Put Climate Change
on the Agenda,” ABC News, February 6, 2016.
15 Doyle Rice, “2020 Expected to be Earth’s Warmest Year on Record, Scientsts Say,”
USA Today, April 16, 2020.
16 Dana Nuccitelli, “Study: Humans Have Caused All the Global Warming Since 1950,”
The Guardian, April 19, 2016.
17 Henry Fountain, “The Hurricanes, and Climate Change Questions, Keep Coming.
Yes, They’re Related,” The New York Times, October 10, 2018.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
was accelerating, with climatic conditions likely to get far worse in the
near future.18 Among the worrying trends cited in the report is that seas
are warming and rising faster, putting many cities at risk of tidal flooding
(there is already “sunny day flooding” in coastal cities like Miami, Florida,
due to higher tides). Polar icecaps19 and glaciers worldwide20 have been
melting rapidly, faster than scientific projections. Glaciers are “reservoirs
in the sky,” providing vital water for irrigating crops every spring, so their
retreat will pose a major threat to future food supplies for the rising world
population. These are melting at a pace many researchers did not expect
for decades, and Arctic sea ice has declined so rapidly that the region may
have ice-free summers by the 2030s.21
To give you a sense of just how rapidly this is occurring, in June 2019
temperatures in Greenland were 40°F above normal, causing the melting
in a single day of two billion tons of ice, the equivalent of 800,000 Olympic
swimming pools. The Arctic permafrost has begun to thaw seventy years
before scientists had predicted only a few years ago, potentially liberating
vast quantities of greenhouse gases that had been trapped underground
for millennia. In the spring of 2019, Arctic sea ice coverage approached
record lows.22
In addition to these ongoing system-transforming modifications of
the planet, hundred-year or once-in-a-lifetime weather events are likely
to become decade, half-decade, or even annual occurrences. Nor will
they necessarily happen sequentially. For instance, on March 18, 2019, a
deadly cyclone devastated several countries in southern Africa, causing
almost a thousand deaths,23 and catastrophic floods inundated several
U.S. Midwestern states, possibly causing a “breaking point for farms,”
18 Henry Fountain, “Climate Change Is Accelerating: ‘Things Are Getting Worse,’” The
New York Times, December 4, 2019.
19 Damian Carrington, “Polar Ice Caps Melting Six Times Faster than in 1990s,”
The Guardian, March 11, 2020; and Theresa Braine, “Greenland Ice Sheets Melting
Exponentially Faster Than in 1990s, Study Shows,” The Jerusalem Post, December 15,
20 Stephanie Pappas, “How Fast Are Glaciers Melting? Just Listen to Them,” Scientific
American, May 29, 2018.
21 Ibid.
22 Thomas Gaulkin and Raymond Pierrehumbert, “Hooray, the Arctic Is Melting! Say
WHAT?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, June 25, 2019,
23 Norimitsu Onishi and Jeffrey Mayo, “Cyclone Idai Destroys ‘Ninety Percent’ of a City
of Half a Million in Southern Africa,” The New York Times, March 18, 2019.
The Climate Catastrophe
which were already experiencing falling incomes.24 Different regions of
the world will be able to handle crises such as these with relative ease or
difficulty; however, no nation state will be able to absorb year upon year
of ruinous climatic events and remain stable or prosperous.
Indeed, largely because of huge financial losses from such severe
climate events, the same month of the floods in southern Africa and the
American Midwest, Munich Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurance
companies, declared that some properties may soon be essentially
uninsurable.25 The company lost $24 billion in 2018 due to the severe,
widespread wildfires in California. Their chief climatologist announced:
If the risk from wildfires, flooding, storms or hail is increasing,
then the only sustainable option we have is to adjust our risk
prices accordingly. In the long run it might become a social issue.
Affordability is so critical [because] some people on low and
average incomes in some regions will no longer be able to buy
Climate Change and Israel
Israel is especially threatened by climate change. Rising seas could cause
the coastal plane, where much of Israel’s population and infrastructure
are located, to be inundated. Climatologists project that the Middle East
as a whole will become significantly hotter and drier, and military experts
believe that this makes instability, terrorism, and war more likely.27
In a report presented at the 2019 United Nations Framework
Convention on Climate Change held in Madrid, Spain, between December
2 and December 13, the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection
projected that the average temperature in Israel will rise by 0.9 to 1.2ºC
24 Mitch Smith, Jack Healey, and Timothy Williams, “‘It’s Probably Over for Us’: Flooding
Pummels Midwest When Farmers Can Least Afford It,” The New York Times, March 18,
25 Arthur Neslen, “Insurance Could Become Unaffordable, Due to Climate Change,”
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March 22, 2019,
26 Ibid.
27 Ruth Schuster, “Mideast Climate Change: Hotter, Drier, and More Dangerous,”
Haaretz, February 11, 2015.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
by 2050, while rainfall will decrease by at least 15 to 25 percent by the end
of the century.28 To indicate how serious these projections are, the average
world temperature rise since the start of the Industrial Revolution is 1.1ºC;
and Israel already faces a serious water problem during some years.
The gravity of the climate threats to Israel was captured in the
December 4, 2019, headline in The Jerusalem Post: “Hot and Dry: Climate
Report Spells Disaster.” The ministry’s report focused on four climate
trends expected to negatively affect Israel: higher temperature, higher
humidity, rising sea levels, and extreme weather fluctuations.29 It warned
that everyday Israeli life would be profoundly impacted, with more
dangers of floods, famine, natural disasters, water contamination, and
exacerbated tensions on the country’s borders.30 Israel is also vulnerable
to the climate change–induced shortages that food and climate experts
now believe the United States, China, and India could experience as
severe weather and crop failures become annual events. Israel imports 90
percent of its grains and legumes.31
Israel received a potent reminder that these grim possibilities are no
longer a distant threat. In May 2019, with temperatures throughout Israel
near or above 40°C (104°F), “dozens of homes were burned to the ground
and 3,500 people were evacuated from their homes . . . as more than
20 fires raged across the state.”32 Yet, despite these present and looming
climate threats, Israel remains far behind most countries in responding
to climate change.33
Potential Tipping Points
It’s clear that urgent preventive action is needed, not least because, as
climate scientists warn, the present pace of climate change could speed
28 Lior Gutman, “Israel Will See Less Rain, Higher Temperatures by 2050,” CTech
Newsletter, December 3, 2019.
29 Idan Zonshine, “Hot and Dry: Climate Report Spells Disaster, The Jerusalem Post,
December 4, 2019.
30 Ibid.
31 Ruth Schuster, “Revealed: Israel Is Dangerously Unprepared for Global Food
Shortages,” Haaretz, July 11, 2019.
32 Seth Frantzman, et al., “Thousands Evacuated as Homes Burned in Cross-country
Heat-wave Inferno,” The Jerusalem Post, May 24, 2019.
33 Schuster, “Revealed.”
The Climate Catastrophe
up dramatically if self-reinforcing positive feedback loops—vicious cycles
in the climate system—trigger irreversible tipping points, causing climate
change to spin out of control, beyond the reach of any mitigation.34,35
Once the genie is out of the bottle—as massive polar ice sheets begin
sliding into the sea, to give one example—there is no stuffing him back
in. As Jerry Brown, the former governor of California, a state subjected
to many severe climate events recently, commented: “Humanity is on a
collision course with nature.”36
The feedback loops can take several forms: stronger and more
prevalent wildfires will burn more trees, which absorb CO2. Carbon is
released from the burning trees into the atmosphere, which warms the
atmosphere more, exacerbating the potential for additional wildfires and
other climatic events. Another feedback loop occurs when ice, a reflector
of the sun’s rays, melts. The darker soil or water revealed absorbs more of
the sun’s energy, causing more ice to melt, and faster. Yet another is that
as temperatures go up, people use more air conditioning, which means
more fossil fuels are burned, resulting in more greenhouse gas emissions,
and thus more warming. This in turn leads to more people employing air
conditioning . . . and the cycle continues and intensifies.
I’m afraid the news only gets worse. Prior to the December 2019
Madrid climate conference, scientists warned in the prestigious journal
Nature37 that irreversible climate tipping points are more likely and could
occur at lower temperature increases than recently thought. Humans
were, said the writers, in effect playing Russian roulette with Earth’s
climate by ignoring the growing risks.38
Will Steffen, a climate researcher with the Australian National
University and co-author of the cautionary paper in Nature, told reporters:
“What we’re talking about is a point of no return, when we might actually
34 Fiona Harvey, “‘Tipping Points’ Could Exacerbate Climate Crisis, Scientists Fear,” The
Guardian, October 9, 2018.
35 Yasemin Saplakoglu, “The Planet Is Dangerously Close to the Tipping Point for a
‘Hothouse Earth,’” Live Science, August 6, 2016.
36 David Siders, “‘Humanity Is on a Collision Course with Nature, California Governor
Says,” The National Memo, May 19, 2014.
37 Timothy M. Lenten, et al., “Climate Tipping Points—Too Risky to Bet Against?”
Nature, November 27, 2019.
38 Bob Berwyn, “Climate Tipping Points Are Closer Than We Think, Scientists Warn,”
InsideClimateNews, November 27, 2019.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
5 4
lose control of this system, and there is a significant risk that we’re going
to do this. It’s not going to be the same conditions with just a bit more heat
or a bit more rainfall. It’s a cascading process that gets out of control.”39
The scientists warned of nine potential tipping points that are
now active: Arctic sea ice; the Greenland ice sheet; the boreal forests;
permafrost; the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation; the Amazon
rainforest; warm-water corals; the West Antarctic Ice Sheet; and parts of
East Antarctica.40
To illustrate how serious these potential tipping points are, if the major
ice sheets on Greenland, West Antarctica, and part of East Antarctica
collapsed, it would result in around ten meters (about 33 feet) of sea-level
rise worldwide.41 If tipping points were reached in rainforests, permafrost,
and boreal forests, additional massive amounts of greenhouse gases would
be released, amplifying warming, making other tipping points not only
more likely, but closer in time.42
The study also showed that far from reducing the amount of CO2
and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, we are adding to them,
faster than ever. Climatologists have argued that concentrations of
350 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric CO2 is a threshold level for
climate stability. The world has not only exceeded 400 ppm,43 but the
CO2 level is continuing to grow.44 In May 2019, data from the Mauna
Loa Observatory in Hawaii showed that the atmospheric carbon dioxide
level, which had hovered below 285 ppm for thousands of years prior
to the Industrial Revolution, had surpassed 415 ppm, the highest value
in human history.45,46 Of course, every year that CO2 emissions do not
39 Ibid.
40 Ibid. Also, University of Exeter, “Nine Climate Tipping Points Now ‘Active,’ Warn
Scientists,” Science Daily, November 27, 2019,
41 Ibid.
42 Ibid.
43 Jonathan Watts and Agencies, “Global Atmospheric CO2 Levels Hit Record High,” The
Guardian, October 30, 2017.
44 Josh Gabbatiss, “CO2 Levels Expected to Rise Rapidly in 2019, Met Office Scientists
Warn,” Independent, January 25, 2019.
45 Ryan W. Miller and Doyle Rice, “Carbon Dioxide Levels Hit Landmark at 415 ppm,
Highest in Human History,” USA Today, May 13, 2019.
46 Chelsea Harvey, “CO2 Emissions Will Break Another Record in 2019,” Scientific
American, December 4, 2019.
The Climate Catastrophe
decrease, and especially if they increase, it becomes harder to meet any
CO2 reduction targets.
It’s sometimes hard to grasp these seismic changes in human terms:
the processes seem too vast and impersonal. However, the scope and scale
of the effects of climate change cannot disguise the very real consequences
to human well-being.
One area will be in the spread of illnesses caused by extreme weather,
heat stress, and mosquitos, including malaria.47 According to World
Health Organization (WHO) expert Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum:
WHO considers that climate change is potentially the greatest
health threat of the 21st Century. The reason for that is that unless
we cut our carbon emissions, we will continue to undermine our
food supplies, our water supplies and our air quality—everything
that we need to maintain the good health of our populations.48
Maria Neira, director of WHO’s Department of Environment,
Climate Change, and Health, told a news briefing at the December
2018 Madrid climate conference: “Health is paying the price of the
climate crisis. Why? Because our lungs, our brains, our cardiovascular
system is very much suffering from the causes of climate change which
are overlapping very much with the causes of air pollution.”49 Yet less
than one percent of international financing for climate action goes to the
health sector, she said, calling it “absolutely outrageous.”50
The Power of Denial
Given the overwhelming evidence that confirms anthropogenic climate
change, and the larger number of catastrophic meteorological events
accompanying it, why are there still a considerable number of people,
including some in power, who remain either skeptical or in denial? When
47 Stephanie Nebehay, “Climate Change Hits Health, Yet Funds Lacking: WHO,” Reuters,
December 3, 2019.
48 Ibid.
49 Ibid.
50 Ibid.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
Ipsos MORI, one of the United Kingdom’s largest market research
companies, carried out a survey of people in twenty countries on the
issue,51 it discovered that only 54 percent of Americans agreed with the
statement, “The climate change we are currently seeing is largely the
result of human activity.” This put the United States bottom of the list,
ten points below the next lowest countries, Australia and Britain.
The survey also found that whereas 93 percent of people from China
agreed with the statement, “We are heading for environmental disaster
unless we change our habits quickly,” only 57 percent of Americans
concurred, again placing the United States last among the nations
According to James Hoggan, author of Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to
Deny Global Warming, the oil, coal, and other industries that profit from the
status quo are willing to go to great lengths to mislead people so they can
continue to prosper. Hoggan, who was initially a skeptic about climate
change, writes in the preface to his book that the industry’s cover-up of
climate change threats is a “story of betrayal, a story of selfishness, greed,
and irresponsibility on an epic scale, . . . a story of deceit, of poisoning
public judgment.”52
Although the denialism is thankfully receding as we enter the
third decade of this century, there are still conservative politicians and
commentators who are downplaying the significance of climate change—
most notoriously, U.S. Republican Senator James Inhofe, who called it
the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”53
No wonder some are confused. On one side you have vociferously
opinionated media pundits, bloggers, and politicians like Senator Inhofe
(who received close to a million dollars in campaign contributions from
the oil and coal industries between 2000 and 2008) and Donald Trump
(who has called climate change a Chinese “hoax”)54; on the other are the
51 Michael Roppolo, “Americans More Skeptical of Climate Change than Others in
Global Survey,” CBS News, July 23, 2014.
52 James Hoggan, Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming (Vancouver, BC:
Greystone Books, 2009).
53 Michael Mann, et al., “Senator Inhofe on Climate Change,” RealClimate, January 10,
54 Justin Worland, “Donald Trump Called Climate Change a Hoax. Now He’s Awkwardly
Boasting about Fighting It,” Time, July 8, 2019.
The Climate Catastrophe
5 7
genuine experts, typically more cautious in their assertions. For sure, a few
examples of scientific misbehavior have occurred, unfairly seized upon
and exaggerated by climate change deniers. But follow-up investigations
have demonstrated that there were no efforts by the scientific community
to mislead the public deliberately.55
In the end, the situation is too dire and the warning signs too stark for
climate change to be a partisan issue, associated with the knee-jerk
identities of our political parties. It is, I would suggest, the greatest moral,
environmental, economic, and social justice issue of our time. Every
aspect of our lives must be reconsidered: a shift to renewable forms of
energy; improved transportation systems; more efficient cars and other
means of transportation; the massive reduction of the production and
consumption of animal-based foods; and lower population growth. All
these, and more, need to be in service to lowering our greenhouse gas
emissions and keeping future temperature rises to no more than another
half—or at the most, one—degree Celsius.
I’m pleased to say that the Jewish voice on mitigating climate change
is being heard. On October 29, 2015, a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate
Crisis, signed by 425 rabbis, called for “vigorous action to prevent
worsening climate disruption.”56 It is my hope that this initiative will
inspire many more rabbis and additional Jews to play major roles in
addressing climate threats.
Like many of you, I have a personal stake in the future of Israel and
the world—one that is brought home to me whenever I hear of a couple
getting married or a baby being born. In the last few years, three of my
grandchildren have married, and one has given birth to a boy, making
me and my wife great-grandparents. This child will be almost as old
as I am now when the clock turns to 2100. What kind of world will he
55 Union of Concerned Scientists, “Debunking Misinformation About Stolen Climate
Emails in the ‘Climategate’ Manufactured Controversy,” December 8, 2009, https://
56 To see the signatories and read the letter, visit The Shalom Center, https://
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
live in? Will he have a house to call his own, or a homeland at all? Will
he look back at his ancestors and wonder how it was possible they—
we—didn’t do more, when the evidence was so stark and compelling,
and when we had the means in our hands, and on our plates, to make
a difference?
5 9
The Envi ronment
Now the Lord God took the man [Adam], and He placed him in the
Garden of Eden to work it and to guard it.
—Genesis 2:15
The earth was not created as a gift to you. You have been given to the
earth, to treat it with respectful consideration, as God’s earth, and everything
on it [must be seen] as God’s creation, . . . and to be respected, loved,
and helped to attain their purpose according to God’s will.
—Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch1
When confronted with the prospect of catastrophic climate change,
it can be difficult to remember that there are other—although
related—shocks that harm species and habitats, cause pollution and soil
erosion, and lead to loss of biodiversity. As with climate change, the
effects of human behavior on the planet’s ecosystems are widely known
and have been settled science for at least three decades.
In July 1992, a month after the world gathered in Rio de Janeiro
for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development
(commonly known as the “Earth Summit”), 1,670 scientists—including
104 Nobel laureates (a majority of the then living recipients of the prize in
the sciences)—issued a sobering statement titled “1992 World Scientists’
1 Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch, Nineteen Letters ( Jerusalem/New York: Feldheim, 1969)
(Rabbi Joseph Elias edition), Letter 4.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
Warning to Humanity.”2 “Human beings and the natural world are on a
collision course,” their document began:
Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on
the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many
of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish
for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may
so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the
manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are
to avoid the collision our present course will bring about.
They issued a stern prescription for humanity:
We the undersigned, senior members of the world’s scientific
community, hereby warn all humanity of what lies ahead. A
great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it is
required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global
home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.
In 2017, a new generation of scientists returned to issue a second
warning. Reflecting on those who issued the 1992 message, 15,364
signatories from 184 countries responded as follows:3
On the twenty-fifth anniversary of their call, we look back at their
warning and evaluate the human response by exploring available
time-series data. Since 1992, with the exception of stabilizing the
stratospheric ozone layer, humanity has failed to make sufficient
progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental
challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse.
Especially troubling is the current trajectory of potentially
catastrophic climate change due to rising greenhouse gases from
2 Union of Concerned Scientists, “1992 World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity,” July 16,
3 William J. Ripple, et al., “World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency,” BioScience
70, no. 1 ( January 2020): 8–12,
The Environment
burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and agricultural production—
particularly from farming ruminants for meat consumption.
Moreover, we have unleashed a mass extinction event, the sixth
in roughly 540 million years, wherein many current life forms
could be annihilated or at least committed to extinction by the
end of this century.
Humanity is now being given a second notice, as illustrated
by these alarming trends. We are jeopardizing our future by not
reining in our intense but geographically and demographically
uneven material consumption and by not perceiving continued
rapid population growth as a primary driver behind many
ecological and even societal threats. By failing to adequately
limit population growth, reassess the role of an economy rooted
in growth, reduce greenhouse gases, incentivize renewable
energy, protect habitat, restore ecosystems, curb pollution, halt
defaunation [extinction of animal species], and constrain invasive
alien species, humanity is not taking the urgent steps needed to
safeguard our imperilled biosphere.
As with climate change, one of the main drivers of these harms to our
ecosystems is animal agriculture.
The Impact of Animal-Based Diets on Climate Change
Many people express surprise when they learn about the contribution
that animal-based diets make to climate change.4 However, in 2006, the
United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a
study, Livestock’s Long Shadow, which found that livestock agriculture (at
14.5 percent) emits more greenhouse gases, per CO2 equivalent, than
all the cars, planes, ships, and other means of transportation worldwide
4 For an overview of animal agriculture’s effect on the environment and climate change,
see Christopher Schlottmann and Jeff Sebo, Food, Animals, and the Environment: An Ethical
Approach (New York: Earthscan/Routledge, 2019). Another overview can be found in
Tony Weis, The Ecological Hoofprint: The Global Burden of Industrial Livestock (London: Zed
Books, 2013).
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
combined.5 (Some have argued that the percentage is much higher.)6 The
FAO report also projected a possible doubling of meat consumption by
the middle of this century7 as newly affluent nations move up the food
chain. Animal-centered agriculture is an outsized contributor to climate
change mainly due to the emission of methane via enteric fermentation
in cows, sheep, and goats—alongside land-use change.8 Methane is about
eighty-four times as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2, even though (at
twenty years) it lasts less time in the atmosphere.9
However, the livestock industry is responsible for many other threats
to the environment. Before I show how environmental destruction is
inimical to Jewish values, it’s worth considering in detail how animal
agriculture lays waste to the natural world.10
Each year, about a billion tons of precious topsoil are lost to erosion,
either through overgrazing or poor or inefficient land use. Over half of
all United States rangelands are overgrazed, with billions of tons of soil
lost every year. Erosion is leading to lower yields and a reduction in soil
fertility worldwide.11
Animal agriculture contributes to water pollution in several ways:
excessive nitrogen and phosphorus from chemical fertilizers—much of
it used (in the United States) to grow crops such as wheat, corn, and soy
5 Henning Steinfeld, et al., Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options (Rome:
FAO, 2006), The FAO’s original
estimation that global livestock production was responsible for 18 percent of global
GHGs was lowered to 14.5 percent in 2013.
6 Jeff Anhang and Robert Goodland in their November/December 2009 article,
“Livestock and Climate Change,” for World Watch magazine suggested the number was
at least 51 percent.
7 Steinfeld, et al., Livestock’s Long Shadow.
8 Brent Kim, et al., “The Importance of Reducing Animal Product Consumption and
Wasted Food in Mitigating Catastrophic Climate Change,” CLF Report, 2015, https://
9 Environmental Defense Fund, “Methane: The Other Important Greenhouse Gas,”
10 Much information about the negative environmental effects of animal-based diets,
including many of the facts below, can be found in Diet for a New America by John Robbins,
Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé, and Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran
Foer. Additional valuable information on this issue is in the UN Food and Agriculture’s
report Livestock’s Long Shadow, and in Bibi van der Zee, “What Is the True Cost of Eating
Meat?” The Guardian, May 7, 2018.
11 John Sauven, “Why Meat Eaters Should Think Much More about Soil,” The Guardian,
May 16, 2017.
The Environment
for animal feed—runs off into waterways, leading to eutrophication.12
Animal waste from “lagoons” of excrement outside factory farms can
leach or overflow into bodies of water, in addition to producing foul odors
and flies.13 Animals also produce pathogens (like E. coli) in their manure,
as well as drug and hormone residue, feed additives, and toxic metals.14
Cattle are one of the leading causes of rainforest destruction: whether
for grazing or to grow crops to feed to livestock around the world.15 It
has been estimated that over a hundred plant, animal, and insect species
are lost every day due to the decimation of their habitats.16 A May 2019
report by the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biology and
Ecosystem Services (IPBES), written by 145 environmental experts from
fifty countries, found that one million of the planet’s eight million species
are threatened with extinction, largely due to human actions, including
animal-oriented agriculture and overfishing. Sir Robert Watson,
IPBES chair, concluded: “The health of ecosystems on which we and
all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever,” and
“transformative changes” are needed to save the planet.17
This loss of biodiversity is not only a tragedy for animals, but half of
the world’s plant species reside in tropical rainforests, and some may hold
secrets for cures of some of today’s deadly diseases.18 A further worry is
12 World Resources Institute, “Sources of Eutrophication,” n.d.,
our-work/project/eutrophication-and-hypoxia/sources-eutrophication. See also,
Tom Philpott, “The Gulf of Mexico Is About to Experience a ‘Dead Zone’ the Size of
Connecticut,” Mother Jones, June 17, 2016.
13 Christina Cooke, “North Carolina’s Factory Farms Produce 15,000 Olympic Pools
Worth of Waste Each Year,” Civil Eats, June 28, 2016.
14 Purdue University, “CAFOs and Public Health: Pathogens and Manure,” n.d. https://
15 Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, “Cattle Ranching in the Amazon
Region,” n.d.,;
and FAO, “Cattle Ranching and Deforestation,” Livestock Policy Brief 3, n.d., http://
16 Fred Pearce, “Global Extinction Rates: Why Do Estimates Vary So Widely?”
Yale Environment 360, August 17, 2015,
17 IPBES, “Media Release: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction
Rates ‘Accelerating,’” n.d.,
18 Walter Suza, “As Tropical Rainforests Disappear, So Do Potential Medicine
Reservoirs,” Undark, November 19, 2019,
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
6 4
that the decrease of rainforests may reduce rainfall and weather patterns
with potentially devastating effects on agriculture in many areas.19
Animal Agriculture, Water, and Energy
As part of a climate change mitigation strategy, international bodies such
as the United Nations are urging us to reduce our fossil fuel dependency
and conserve energy. Here, too, animal agriculture proves to be both
fossil fuel–dependent and energy inefficient.20
The production of meat requires ten to twenty times more energy
per edible ton than grain production. Indeed, growing feed crops for
farmed animals requires considerable energy for plowing, pumping
irrigation water, harvesting, producing pesticides and fertilizer, and
transportation. Additional energy is needed to process those crops.
Furthermore, the production of a pound of steak (500 calories of food
energy) uses 20,000 calories of fossil fuels, most of which is expended to
produce feed crops.21
Housing chickens and pigs in huge windowless sheds requires energy
for lighting, artificial ventilation, and conveyor belts. Slaughterhouses
also use energy and, because of the need to sluice away blood and
viscera, are water intensive. In fact, animal foods require much more
energy for processing, packaging, and refrigeration than do plant-based
foods. Whereas it is true that the growing of any kind of food requires
inputs of energy, it requires seventy-eight calories of fossil fuel to produce
a calorie of protein obtained from feedlot-produced beef, but only two
calories of fossil fuel to produce a calorie of protein from soybeans.22
19 Fred Pearce, “Rivers in the Sky: How Deforestation Is Affecting Global Water
Cycles,” Yale Environment 360, July 24, 2018,
20 These examples are based on material from “Meat and the Environment: Facts and
Resources,” report produced by the Toronto Vegetarian Association, drawing from
United Nations reports, February 2, 2007,;
and J. Frorip, et al., “Energy Consumption in Animal Production—Case
Farm Study,” Agronomy Research (Biosystem Engineering Special Issue) (2001) 1:39–48.
21 Frances Moore Lappé, Diet for a Small Planet, 20th Anniversary Edition (New York:
Ballantine Books, 1992), 10.
22 Ibid., 74, 75.
The Environment
Only 2.5 percent of the world’s available water is potable, and only
one percent is accessible.23 Around 790 million people, or 11 percent of
the world’s population, lack access to safe drinking water.24 Yet, in spite of
the fact that fresh water is being depleted at an alarming rate as glaciers
melt and aquifers shrink, our commitment to the very thirsty animal
agriculture continues.
Almost a third of the world’s water is consumed to produce meat and
other animal products,25 with 56 percent of the water in the United States
(or 14 trillion gallons) used to grow crops to feed animals,26 and between
20 and 33 percent of the world’s fresh water consumption employed for
animal agriculture.27
Because of the enormous amounts of water needed to produce feed
crops for animals or to keep the animals themselves hydrated, an egg
requires 53 gallons of water to produce; a pound of chicken, 468 gallons;
a gallon of cow’s milk, 880 gallons; and a pound of beef, 1,800 gallons.
Just one hamburger requires up to 660 gallons of water to produce,
the equivalent of about two months of showers for an individual. The
production of one pound of steak uses 2,500 gallons of water, while
only 25 gallons are required to produce a pound of wheat.28 Newsweek
calculated that “the water that goes into a 1,000 pound steer would float
a Naval destroyer.”29
As we saw earlier in this chapter, manure runoff from industrial
farms pollutes ground water and rivers. In fact, one-third of rivers in
23 National Geographic, “Freshwater Crisis,” n.d.,
24 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Global WASH Fast Facts,” n.d., https://
25 P. W. Gerbens-Leenes, et al., “The Water Footprint of Poultry, Pork and Beef: A
Comparative Study in Different Countries and Production Systems,” Water Resources and
Industry Vols 1–2 (March–June 2013): 25–36.
26 Michael F. Jacobson, “Six Arguments for a Greener Diet: How a More Plant-based Diet
Could Save Your Health and the Environment, Chapter 4: More and Cleaner Water”
(Washington, DC: Center for Science in the Public Interest, 2006),
27 Gerbens-Leenes, et al., “The Water Footprint of Poultry, Pork and Beef.”
28 Nicholas Kristof, “Our Water-Guzzling Food Factory,” The New York Times, May 30,
29 “The Browning of America,” Newsweek, February 2, 1981. See also, John Vidal, “Meat-
Eaters Soak up the World’s Water,” The Guardian, August 23, 2004.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
the United States have been polluted by animal excrement, fertilizer,
pesticides, and other toxic substances.30
Jewish Teachings on the Environment
Just as the Hebrew scriptures place an emphasis on compassion toward
animals, so too they emphasize a commitment to the planet on which we
all live. Perhaps the most fundamental Jewish environmental teaching
is: “The land and the fullness thereof are the Lord’s; the world and those
who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). The land and its fruits are a sacred trust
from God; they must be used to fulfill God’s purposes.
In a sense, no person has absolute or exclusive control over their
possessions. The idea that we are custodians of Earth, not its owners, is
illustrated by the following story from Rabbi Shlomo Riskin:
Two men were fighting over a piece of land. Each claimed
ownership and bolstered his claim with apparent proof. To resolve
their differences, they agreed to put the case before the rabbi. The
rabbi listened to their arguments but could come to no decision
because both seemed to be right. Finally he said, “Since I cannot
decide to whom this land belongs, let us ask the land.” He put his ear
to the ground and, after a moment, straightened up. “Gentlemen,
the land says it belongs to neither of you but that you belong to it.”31
There is an apparent contradiction between “The land and the fullness
thereof are the Lord’s; the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1)
and “The heavens are the heavens of the Lord, but the earth He gave to
the children of men” (Psalm 115:16). The discrepancy can be resolved as
follows: Before a person recites a b’racha—a blessing acknowledging God
as the Lord and Creator of the land and all the bounty that flows from
30 Scott K. Johnson, “About a Third of US Rivers Contaminated with Agricultural
Runoff,” ArtsTechnica, April 8, 2013,
31 Story told by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin in Biblical Ecolog y: A Jewish View, a television
documentary. As cited in my Judaism and Global Survival (New York: Lantern Books,
2002), 212.
The Environment
6 7
it—it is indeed true that “the earth is the Lord’s.” But once a person has
thoughtfully recited the b’racha, reflecting humbly on his or her place in
the scheme of things, both as the beneficiary of God’s earthly domain
and its steward in His name, then indeed can it conscientiously be stated
that “the earth He has given to humans” (B’rachot 30:5).
According to Judaism, the produce of the field does not belong solely
to the person who farms the land. The poor are entitled to a portion:
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not fully reap
the corner of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your
harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you
collect the [fallen] individual grapes of your vineyard; you shall
leave them for the poor and for the stranger. I am the Lord, your
God. (Leviticus 19:9–10)
These portions set aside for the poor were not voluntary contributions
based on kindness. They were, in essence, a regularly assessed payment.
Because God was the true owner of the land, He claimed a share of
His resources to benefit the poor and “the stranger”—including the
immigrant or refugee.
To remind us that that “the Earth is the Lord’s,” and we must
conserve it, the land must be allowed to rest and lie fallow every seven
years. This is called the Sabbatical Year:
Six years you may sow your land and gather in its produce. But in
the seventh [year] you shall release it and abandon it; the poor of
your people shall eat [it], and what they leave over, the beasts of
the field shall eat. So shall you do to your vineyard [and] to your
olive tree[s]. (Exodus 23:10–11)
Thus, the sabbatical year is a year of environmental conservation, of
stewardship that benefits soil fertility, the poor, the hungry, and wildlife
Judaism asserts there is one God who created our entire earthly
ecosystem as a harmonious whole, in ecological balance, and that
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
everything is interdependently connected. This vision is perhaps best
expressed in Psalm 104:
He [God] sends the springs into the streams; they go between the
They water every beast of the field; the wild donkeys quench
their thirst.
Beside them the fowl of the heavens dwell; from between the
branches they let out their voices.
He waters the mountains from His upper chambers; from the
fruit of Your works the earth is sated.
He causes grass to sprout for the animals and vegetation for the
work of man, to bring forth bread from the earth. . . .
How great are Your works, O Lord! You have made them all
with wisdom; the earth is full of Your possessions! (10–14, 24)
The talmudic sages were deeply concerned about preserving the
environment and preventing pollution. “It is forbidden to live in a town
which has no garden or greenery,” they declared (Kiddushin 4:12; 66d).
Threshing floors had to be placed far enough from a town that it would
not be dirtied by chaff carried by the winds (Baba Batra 2:8). Tanneries
had to be kept at least fifty cubits from a town and could be placed only
on the east side of a town, so that odors would not be carried by the
prevailing winds from the west (Baba Batra 2:8, 9). The rabbis express a
sense of sanctity toward the environment: “The atmosphere (air) of the
land of Israel makes one wise” (Baba Batra 158b).
The Psalms also give voice to this idea that God the Creator has
appointed us to be partners in the work of creation:
When I see Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and
stars that You have established,
What is man that You should remember him, and the son of man
that You should be mindful of him?
Yet You have made him slightly less than than the angels, and
You have crowned him with glory and majesty.
The Environment
6 9
You give him dominion over the work of Your hands; You have
placed everything beneath his feet. (Psalm 8:4–7)
The prohibition bal tashchit (“you shall not destroy”), which we came
across in chapter one, is based on Deuteronomy 20:19–20):
When you besiege a city for many days to wage war against it
to capture it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax
against them, for you may eat from them, but you shall not cut
them down. Is the tree of the field a man, to go into the siege
before you? However, a tree you know is not a food tree, you may
destroy and cut down, and you shall build bulwarks against the
city that makes war with you, until its submission.
This prohibition against destroying fruit-bearing trees in time of warfare
was extended widely by the Jewish sages into a general prohibition
against wastefulness. It is forbidden to cut down even a barren tree or
to waste anything if no useful purpose is accomplished (Sefer Ha-Chinuch
530): “Whoever breaks vessels or tears garments, or destroys a building,
or clogs up a fountain, or destroys food violates the prohibition of bal
tashchit” (Kiddushin 32a). In summary, bal tashchit prohibits the destruction,
complete or incomplete, direct or indirect, of all objects of potential value.
Rabbis considered the violation of bal tashchit very seriously. The
sage Rabbi Hanina attributed the early death of his son to the fact that
the boy had chopped down a fig tree (Baba Kamma 91b). Jews should be
taught when very young that it is a sin to waste even small amounts of
food (B’rachot 52b). Rav Zutra advised: “One who covers an oil lamp or
uncovers a naphtha lamp [actions that would cause a faster (hence wasteful)
consumption of the fuel], transgresses the prohibition of bal tashchit”
(Shabbat 67b). Indeed, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch observed that bal
tashchit is the first and most general call of God: We are to “regard things
as God’s property and use them with a sense of responsibility for wise
human purposes. Destroy nothing! Waste nothing!”32 He indicated that
32 Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb, Dayan I Grunfeld, trans. (London: Soncino
Press, 1982), Volume 2, 282.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
7 0
destruction includes using more things (or things of greater value) than is
necessary to obtain one’s aim.33
In the spirit of bal tashchit, the following midrash (biblical commentary)
contrasts the benefits of simplicity with the harms of excess:
Two men entered a shop. One ate coarse bread and vegetables,
while the other ate fine bread, fat meat, and drank old wine.
The one who ate fine food suffered harm, while the one who had
coarse food escaped harm. Observe how simply animals live and
how healthy they are as a result. (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 1:18)
The Ten New Plagues and a New Exodus
When I think of the threats to our land, water, and air; the existential
threat to our climate; and other environmental perils that we face, I am
reminded of the ten plagues that fell upon the Egyptians in Exodus.
Modern threats include: The rapid melting of polar ice caps,
permafrost, and glaciers: all of which could precipitate a sudden and
disastrous recalibration of Earth’s climate, for which we are utterly
unprepared, as well as destroy coastal communities and food-producing
wetlands, and swallow entire nations. The destruction of the world’s forests:
a repository of biodiversity, carbon sequestration, rainfall production,
climate regulation, natural capital, and numerous ecosystemic services.
A series of deadly heat waves, with each five-year span hotter than the
previous one. Increasingly widespread and severe wildfires because of
warmer temperatures and the resultant drier conditions in many areas.
Severe droughts that force huge population movements and the starvation
of cities and regions, and lead to conflict.
Huge die-offs of species—a sixth great extinction. Widespread
soil erosion and nutrient depletion—reducing fertility, causing further
desertification, and severely compromising humanity’s ability to feed itself.
The pollution of waterways; the loss of potable water; the contamination
by pesticides, inorganic fertilizers, and animal wastes from factory farms;
as well as fallout from smokestack and tailpipe air pollution. Epidemics
33 Ibid., 280.
The Environment
7 1
of heart disease, many types of cancer, and other chronic degenerative
diseases—largely due to gluttonous consumption of animal products and
junk foods, sedentary lifestyles, and toxic environmental chemicals.
More hunger and famine because of a human population that
is projected to approach 11 billion by 2100; greater affluence and
urbanization leading to an exploding demand for animal products—all
accompanied by reduced food production because of heat stress to plants
and animals, and other damaging effects of climate change.
These modern “plagues” are different from those that confronted the
Egyptians and the Jews. The Jews in Goshen were spared the biblical
plagues, whereas every person on Earth is imperiled by the modern ones.
The Egyptians were subjected to one plague at a time; these modern
ones threaten us all at once. Instead of an ancient Pharaoh’s heart being
hardened, our hearts apparently have been hardened by the greed,
materialism, and waste that are at the root of current environmental
God inflicted the plagues to free the Israelites from oppression. But
today we must apply God’s teachings to save ourselves. Had Pharaoh
heeded the warning of the first plague and simply let the Israelites go,
there would have been no need for the nine others. Unfortunately, he did
not. We must learn from Pharaoh’s mistake and heed the warnings that
are coming almost daily. We must apply our traditional Judaic teachings
in the light of modern science to save our earthly homes, before we are
destroyed because of our own hard-heartedness.
It is we ourselves who are the causes of these modern plagues, though
it is future generations who will be most severely afflicted. Instead of
recognizing that we are partners and co-workers with God in protecting
the environment, modern commerce is driven by the unsustainable
premise that nature is to be exploited for maximum profit, regardless
of the long-term consequences. Whereas Judaism stresses that we are
not to waste or unnecessarily destroy anything of value, wastefulness in
the United States is so great that, with less than 5 percent of the world’s
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
7 2
people, the United States consumes 23 percent of the world’s coal, 27
percent of its aluminum, and a quarter of the world’s oil.34
Judaism asserts that a wise person considers the long-range
consequences of their actions, including upon future generations. But
today we are perilously focused on instant gratification and short-term
gains. Although economies grow, environmental damage and destruction
The Call of the Hour
Since Jews are a small minority of the world’s population (about 0.2
percent), even if every Jew became vegan (a very unlikely scenario), the
effect on the climate and other environmental crises would be negligible.
However, as Isaiah 49:6 declares, Jews are mandated to be a “light unto
the nations,” and being vegan is one way to carry this out. The power
of a positive example should not be underestimated. It’s my view that if
many Jews became vegans or at least sharply reduced their consumption
of meat and other animal foods, and if veganism and related issues
became a major focus of Jewish life, members of other religions would
notice and might also shift toward veganism. This could spur secular
people to reduce their consumption of meat. A positive feedback loop
could result, with veganism being accepted as the most rational diet, with
many positive benefits to individuals and the world.
Given the extent of the crisis, it’s essential that we in the Jewish
community apply our rich tradition of environmental responsibility and
stewardship to the world’s fragile ecology. This means, for example,
embracing an energy policy based not on destructive energy sources, but
on CARE (conservation and renewable energy), consistent with Jewish
teachings on environmental stewardship, creating jobs, protecting human
life, and looking out for future generations.
Too often the Jewish establishment, like the rest of the world, has
been silent while our climate is rapidly changing, our air is bombarded by
poisons, our rivers and streams are polluted by industrial wastes, our fertile
34 Scientific American, “Use It and Lose It: The Outsize Effect of U.S. Consumption on
the Environment,” September 14, 2020,
The Environment
7 3
soil is eroded and depleted, and the ecological balance is endangered by
the destruction of rainforests and other vital habitats.
The Jewish community must become more actively involved. We
must proclaim that it is a chillul Hashem (a desecration of God’s name) to
pollute the air and water that God created pure; to slash and burn forests
that existed before there were human beings; and to wantonly destroy
the abundant resources that God has so generously provided for all of
humanity to enjoy and be sustained by. We have a choice, as proclaimed
in the Torah:
This day, I call upon the heaven and the earth as witnesses [that
I have warned] you; I have set before you life and death, the
blessing and the curse. You shall choose life, so that you and your
offspring will live. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

7 5
So far, we have charted the challenges of the climate crisis,
environmental destruction, the cruel treatment of animals, and
the issue of health: all of which are made worse by consuming animal
products, and all of which would be mitigated, alleviated, repaired, or
restored by leaving them off our plates. A further benefit of a vegan diet
is that it has the potential to reduce the scandal of widespread world
hunger. Given what we know about climate change’s effects on food
security—both its production and delivery—we’ve no time to lose to
address this perennial problem.
We have already seen that Israel is potentially food insecure because
of how dependent it is on imports.1 Food experts believe that national
emergency food reserves should last for at least a year, but Israel’s are
only enough to suffice for weeks or, at most, three months.2
However, Israel is relatively well off compared to other nations. Over
800 million people worldwide (over 10 percent of the world’s population)
are chronically hungry, and about nine million people die annually from
hunger and its effects on health and resistance to disease.3 The majority
of these hungry people live in rural areas in developing regions and
depend on agriculture to survive.
Hunger is a debilitating condition that involves far more than just
missing an occasional meal. People who are chronically hungry and
malnourished consistently lack the nutrients their bodies and minds
1 Ruth Schuster, “Revealed: Israel Is Dangerously Unprepared for Global Food
Shortage,” Haaretz, July 11, 2019.
2 Ibid.
3 Much of the material in this section is taken from Mercy Corps, “Quick Facts: What
You Need to Know About Global Hunger,” October 1, 2018, https://www.mercycorps.
org/blog/quick-facts-global-hunger; and Hunger Notes, “2018 World Hunger and
Poverty Facts and Statistics,”,
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
7 6
need. This deprivation prevents them from being able to succeed in
school, do well at work, and improve their lives. They often experience
developmental disabilities and recurring illnesses, resulting in low
productivity. They often must use most, if not all, of their financial and
physical resources simply to provide some food for themselves and their
families. This subsistence-level nutrition allows hunger to continue from
generation to generation.
In many countries, male-dominated social structures limit education,
financial services, and job opportunities for women, making them more
vulnerable to poverty and hunger. Girls and women constitute about
60 percent of the world’s hungry people. This impacts their children,
since hungry, malnourished, or undernourished women often have
complications during childbirth and deliver underweight babies,
sometimes with irreversible mental and physical disabilities—another
factor that augments the chances for continued poverty and hunger.
All of these debilitating facets of not having either enough food
or adequate nutrition will be exacerbated by climate change.4 A 2011
report from the National Academy of Sciences estimates that for every
one degree Celsius rise in global temperature, there will be a 5 to 15
percent decrease in overall crop production. Without climate change
mitigation, this means that there could be as much as a 35 percent
decrease in legume and vegetable production by the end of this century.
Given that 80 percent of the world’s crops depend on rainfall,
unreliable rainfall patterns around the world could directly damage crop
production, resulting in lower yields. Meanwhile, sea-level rise and more
severe storms will flood croplands—potentially overwhelming drainage
and sewage systems and allow toxins and pathogens from farms, roads,
and lawns to enter the food supply.
As droughts grow longer and harsher, and as temperatures rise,
evaporation and water shortages for irrigation will increase; pests,
diseases, and invasive plant and insect species will expand their numbers
4 Material in this section is from Renee Cho, “How Climate Change Will Affect Our
Food,” State of the Planet: Earth Institute, Columbia University, July 25, 2018, https:// See also, Concern
Worldwide US, “How Climate Change Threatens Food Security—And Why We’re All at
Risk,” October 23, 2019,
7 7
and ranges, and will survive longer due to earlier springs and milder
winters. More frequent heat waves will render livestock less fertile and
more vulnerable to diseases, and leave them more vulnerable to droughts
and severe storms. Warmer and more acidic seas (due to dissolved CO2)
threaten the already overfished oceans.
Veganism and Hunger
Perhaps the greatest scandal associated with hunger is that, although we
have an abundance of cereal crops that we could feed to human beings,
a large percentage of soy, corn, oats, and wheat is grown to feed farmed
animals instead of people.5 Indeed, the average person in the United
States consumes almost five times as much grain (most of it indirectly, in
the form of animal foods) as a person in a developing country. About 70
percent of the grain grown in the United States is fed to animals destined
for slaughter.6 Half of its arable land is devoted to feed crops or grazing,7
with 95 percent of corn being directed to livestock feed.8 What makes
this especially shameful is that foods healthy for humans are converted
into unhealthful animal products with the opposite characteristics.
It also wastes a colossal amount of land. An animal-based diet
requires about 3.5 acres per person, whereas a vegan diet requires only
about a fifth of an acre. For instance, it takes about a hundred calories
of grain to deliver twelve calories of chicken or three calories of beef.9
5 The facts in this section and many additional facts relating diet and the utilization of
resources can be found in Diet for a New America by John Robbins; Beyond Beef by Jeremy
Rifkin; Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer; and Vegetarian Sourcebook by Keith Akers.
Also used are “Cowspiracy Facts,” from the 2014 documentary film Cowspiracy, https://
6 Jeremy Rifkin, “There’s a Bone to Pick with Meat Eaters,” Los Angeles Times, May 27, 2002;
John Robbins, Diet for a New America: How Your Food Choices Affect Your Health, Happiness and the
Future of Life on Earth, 25th Anniversary Edition (Kindle, 2012).
7 US Department of Agriculture, “Farms and Farmland: Numbers, Acreage, Ownership,
and Use,” September 2014,
8 US Department of Agriculture, “Feedgrains Sector at a Glance,” n.d., https://www.ers.
9 Brad Plumer, “How Much of the World’s Cropland Is Actually Used to Grow Food?”
Vox, December 16, 2014.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
7 8
Meanwhile, protein conversion rates are 9 percent for pork, 21 percent
for poultry, and 3 percent for beef.10
This shocking waste and loss of food—and the finite resources, such
as topsoil, water, phosphorus, and land that go into its production—
is exacerbated by a global system that encourages raising animals or
feed crops for export dollars. In spite of dedicating so much of its land
and other resources to raising livestock, the United States is, as of 2020,
the world’s largest importer of beef.11 For example, although Honduras
suffers widespread poverty and malnutrition, it exports large amounts
of beef to the United States.12 In Central America, over half of the
agriculturally productive land is used for livestock production, for the
wealthy and for export.
The food being directed to farmed animals in the affluent nations
could, if properly distributed, sharply reduce and possibly end both
hunger and malnutrition throughout the world. A switch from animalcentered
diets would free land and other resources that could be used to
grow nutritious crops for people.
For all the waste and loss of water and land in food production, an
enormous amount of food is wasted and lost after it has been grown.
According to Feeding America, 72 billion pounds of food is wasted
annually in the United States, even though 37 million Americans go
hungry. That food is worth $218 billion; wastes 21 percent of fresh water;
and occupies a fifth of landfill area.13 So great is the amount of food
lost (left in the fields to rot, unable to make it to market because of poor
roads, lack of refrigeration, or because no one is there to pick it) or wasted
(thrown away as leftovers, or because it’s not considered suitable for sale)
that it alone is responsible for at least 6 percent of global greenhouse gas
(GHG) emissions. To put it another way, food waste is three times more
GHG-intensive than aviation, and if it were its own country, food waste
10 Alon Shepon, et al., “The Opportunity Cost of Animal Based Diets Exceeds All Food
Losses,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115, no. 15 (April 2018): 3804–09,
11 Rob Cook, “World Beef Imports: Ranking of Countries,” Beef2Live, https://beef2live.
12 Central America Link, “Honduras Exports Beef to United States,” March 7, 2017,
13 Feeding America, “How We Fight Food Waste in the US,” n.d., https://www.
7 9
would be the world’s third greatest emitter, behind the United States and
Animal products are part of that wasteful food chain—especially
when, for instance, in the case of cow’s milk, a glut in production means
it becomes financially inefficient to bring milk to market;15 or the market
itself collapses and there is too much supply.16 However, animal products
represent their own particular waste and loss because of the choices to
grow food to feed animals rather than people. In fact, a 2018 study found
that the opportunity costs of animal-based diets exceeded all food losses
because that lost food could have fed 350 million people.17
At a time when there is more than enough food produced annually to
feed all of of the world’s people if it were fed directly to them rather than
to animals, the current widespread hunger is a true scandal.
Jewish Teachings On Hunger
Jewish teachings on hunger are very clear and send a powerful message:
veganism is the way of life most consistent with Jewish values.
Feeding the hungry is a fundamental Jewish value. The Talmud
states: “Providing charity for poor and hungry people weighs as heavily
as all the other commandments of the Torah combined” (Baba Batra 9a).
A midrash teaches:
God says to Israel, “My children, whenever you give sustenance
to the poor, I impute it to you as though you gave sustenance to
Me.” Does then God eat and drink? No, but whenever you give
food to the poor, God accounts it to you as if you gave food to
Him. (Midrash Tannaim)
14 Hannah Ritchie, “Food Waste Is Responsible for 6% of Global Greenhouse Gas
Emissions,” Our World in Data, March 18, 2020,
15 Jonathan Knutson, “‘There’s Too Much Milk’—Tough Times for Dairy Farmers,”
AgWeek, April 1, 2019.
16 P. J. Huffstutter, “U.S. Dairy Farmers Dump Milk as Pandemic Upends Food Markets,”
Reuters, April 3, 2020.
17 Shepon, et al., The Opportunity Cost.”
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
On Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, while fasting and
praying for a good, healthy year, Jews are told through the words of the
Prophet Isaiah that the type of fast acceptable to God involves helping
the hungry, among other positive acts:
Is this not the fast I will choose? To undo the fetters of wickedness,
to untie the bands of perverseness, and to let out the oppressed
free. . . . Is it not to share your bread with the hungry? (Isaiah
On Passover, Jews are reminded not to forget the poor. Besides providing
ma’ot chittim (charity for purchasing matzah and other Passover necessities)
for the needy, Jews reach out to them with the following words at Passover
seders from the Haggadah:
This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the land
of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are
in need come and celebrate the Passover.
Jews are even admonished to help our enemies, if they are in need: “If
your enemy is hungry, feed him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give
him water to drink” (Proverbs 25:21). This is consistent with the Jewish
teaching that the greatest hero is one who converts an enemy into a friend
(Avot de Rabbi Nathan, chapter 23).
It is a basic Jewish belief that God provides enough for all. In our
daily prayers, it is said, “You [God] open Your hand and satisfy every
living thing [with] its desire” (Psalm 145:16). Jews are obligated to give
thanks to God for providing enough food for us and for all of humanity.
In the bircat hamazon (grace after meals), Jews thank God, “[w]ho feeds the
whole world with goodness, grace, loving kindness, and mercy.”
The blessing is correct. God has provided enough for all. Nature’s
bounty, if properly distributed and properly consumed, would sustain all
people. Hundreds of millions of people are hungry today, not because of
insufficient agricultural capacity, but because of unjust social systems and
wasteful food production methods, including the squandering of crops to
grow meat for the affluent.
The Jewish conscience on the subject of world hunger is eloquently
summarized by Rabbi Marc H. Tanenbaum, former national interreligious
affairs director of the American Jewish Committee, in words that remain
as true today as when they were originally said:
If one takes seriously the moral, spiritual, and humanitarian values
of Biblical, Prophetic, and Rabbinic Judaism, the inescapable
issue of conscience that must be faced is: How can anyone justify
not becoming involved in trying to help save the lives of starving
millions of human beings throughout the world—whose plight
constitutes the most agonizing moral and humanitarian problem
in the latter half of the 20th century?18
18 Rabbi Marc H. Tanenbaum, “Remarks following ‘Report on Rome—The
Challenge of Food and Population,’” 1974. In the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the
American Jewish Archives: MS-603: Rabbi Marc H. Tanenbaum Collection, 1945–

  1. Series D. International Relations Activities. 1961–1992, http://collections., 11.

One major argument that is often overlooked in making the case for
a vegan diet is that it can reduce the potential for violence and war.
We have already seen that climate change will dramatically affect our
ability to feed the world, especially if we double down on our commitment
to setting aside so much of the world’s arable land and potable water for
grazing or to grow food for animals to eat. We have likewise noted that
hunger, environmental degradation, and catastrophic weather events will
enlarge the number of migrants (whether in-country or beyond borders),1
augmenting the strain on cities and border areas, and threatening
security. It is hard to overemphasize the potential for chaos raised by such
a situation, as Professor Michael T. Klare, an expert on the connections
between scarcity and global security, wrote in The Nation:
Two nightmare scenarios—a global scarcity of vital resources
and the onset of extreme climate change—are already beginning
to converge and in the coming decades are likely to produce a
tidal wave of unrest, rebellion, competition and conflict. Just
what this tsunami of disaster will look like may, as yet, be hard
to discern, but experts warn of “water wars” over contested river
systems, global food riots sparked by soaring prices for life’s basics,
mass migrations of climate refugees (with resulting anti-migrant
violence) and the breakdown of social order or the collapse of
states. At first, such mayhem is likely to arise largely in Africa,
1 The World Bank, “Climate Change Could Force Over 140 Million to Migrate Within
Countries by 2050,” World Bank Report, Press Release, March 19, 2018, https://www.
140-million-to-migrate-within-countries-by-2050-world-bank-report; and Francesco
Bassetti, “Environmental Migrants: Up to 1 billion by 2050,” Foresight, 2019, https://www.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
8 4
Central Asia and other areas of the underdeveloped South, but
in time, all regions of the planet will be affected.2
This is not a new concern. Long before climate change was acknowledged,
Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon observed in 1975:
Hunger and famine will do more to destabilize this world; [they
are] more explosive than all atomic weaponry possessed by the
big powers. Desperate people do desperate things. . . . Nuclear
fission is now in the hands of even the developing countries in
many of which hunger and famine are most serious.3
We have also known for decades about the potential for our food choices
to lead to conflict. Author and activist Jeremy Rifkin wrote in 1992:
Feeding grain to cattle and other livestock while people starve
has triggered bitter political struggles in developing countries
and political strife between northern industrial nations and the
poor nations of the southern hemisphere.4
Indeed, the awareness of the social costs of eating animals may go
back to antiquity. The relationship between animal-based resource usage
and conflict is dramatized by the following dialogue between Socrates
and Glaucon from Plato’s Republic on what happens when the healthy
State is “no longer sufficient”:
[Socrates:] Will not tutors be also in request, and nurses wet
and dry, tirewomen and barbers, as well as confectioners
and books; and swineherds, too, who were not needed and
therefore had no place in the former edition of our State, but
2 Michael T. Klare, “How Resource Scarcity and Climate Change Could Cause a Global
Explosion,” The Nation, April 22, 2013.
3 Mark Hatfield, “World Hunger: More Explosive than Atomic Weaponry,” World
Vision 19, February 1975, 5,
4 Jeremy Rifkin, Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture (New York: Dutton, 1992),
are needed now? They must not be forgotten: and there will
be animals of many other kinds, if people eat them.
[Glaucon:] Certainly.
[Socrates:] And living in this way we shall have much greater
need of physicians than before?
[Glaucon:] Much greater.
[Socrates:] And the country which was enough to support the
original inhabitants will be too small now, and not enough?
[Glaucon:] Quite true.
[Socrates:] Then a slice of our neighbors’ land will be wanted by
us for pasture and tillage, and they will want a slice of ours,
if, like ourselves, they exceed the limit of necessity, and give
themselves up to the unlimited accumulation of wealth?
[Glaucon:] That, Socrates, will be inevitable.
[Socrates:] And so, we shall go to war, Glaucon. Shall we not?
[Glaucon:] Most certainly.5
War and violence have many causes, and it would be simplistic
to suggest that a shift toward veganism would by itself eliminate all
conflicts. However, in the centuries-long national struggles for natural
resources, the fact that those resources are only going to be stretched
thinner in the upcoming decades means that those struggles will be
longer, more trenchant, and less easy to resolve. By adopting a diet that
dramatically utilizes fewer resources, we provide a greater chance of
reducing conflict.
Jewish Teachings on Peace
We don’t have to call on Plato or the ancient Greeks to make a case for
living more simply to avoid war. Judaism mandates a special obligation to
5 Benjamin Jowett, trans., The Dialogues of Plato (London: Macmillan & Co, 1892), 53–54.
Quoted in Dudley Giehl, Vegetarianism: A Way of Life (New York: Harper and Row, 1979),
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
work for peace. The Jewish scriptures do not command that Jews merely
love peace or merely seek peace, but that we actively pursue it.
The rabbis of the Talmud note that there are many commandments
that require a certain time and place for their performance, but with
regard to peace, “Seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:15) is a command
to be followed at every opportune moment (Leviticus Rabbah 9:9). The
famous Talmudic sage Hillel argued that we should “be of the disciples of
Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace” (Pirkei Avot 1:12).
On the special duty of Jews to work for peace, the sages commented:
“Said the Holy one blessed be He: The whole Torah is peace and to
whom do I give it? To the nation which loves peace!” (Yalkut Shimoni
Yithro 27).
The rabbis of the Talmud used lavish words of praise to indicate the
significance of peace:
Great is peace, for God’s name is peace . . . . Great is peace, for
it encompasses all blessings. . . . Great is peace, for even in times
of war, peace must be sought. . . . Great is peace since when
the Messiah is to come, He will commence with peace, as it is
said [Isaiah 52:7], “How beautiful upon the mountains are the
feet [footsteps] of the messenger of good tidings, who announces
peace.” (Leviticus Rabbah 9:9)
The whole Torah was given for the sake of peace, and it is said,
“All its paths are peace.” (Proverbs 3:17, Gitin 59b)
Many important Jewish prayers—such as the Amidah (also known as
Sh’moneh Esrei), the kaddish, the priestly blessing, and the grace after
meals—conclude with a prayer for peace.
Despite Judaism’s historical aversion to idolatry, peace is so important
that the rabbis taught: “If Israel should worship idols, but she be at peace,
God had no power, in effect, over them” (Genesis Rabbah 38:6).
The Jewish tradition does not mandate absolute pacifism, or peace
at any price. The Israelites often went forth to battle, and not only in
8 7
defensive wars. But they always held to the ideal of universal peace and
yearned for the day when there would be no more bloodshed or violence:
And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears
into pruning hooks; nations shall not lift sword against nation;
neither shall they learn war anymore. And they shall dwell every
man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make
them move; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken. (Micah
4:3–4; see also Isaiah 2:4)
Judaism recognizes that violence and war often result from injustice, and
that access to food is often at the root of conflict:
The sword comes into the world because of justice delayed,
because of justice perverted, and because of those who render
wrong decisions. (Pirkei Avot 5:11)
The Hebrew word for war, milchama, is derived from the word locham,
which means both “to feed” and “to wage war.” The Hebrew word for
bread, lechem, comes from the same root. This led the sages to suggest that
lack of bread and the search for sufficient food tempt people to make war.
The seeds of war are often found in the inability of a nation to provide
adequate food for its people. Hence, very inefficiently using feed crops to
fatten animals for slaughter, at the expense of feeding human beings, as
discussed earlier, is a prime cause for war. In view of this, we could say
that the slogans of the vegan and peace movements should, if you will
excuse a pun, be the same: “All we are saying is give peas a chance.”
When it came to the consideration of the welfare of animals as well as
humans, the Jewish sages felt that the biblical laws related to kindness to
animals were meant to condition people to be considerate of fellow human
beings. Several medieval Jewish philosophers, including Rabbi Isaac
Abarbanel (1437–1509) and Rabbi Joseph Albo (1380–1444), considered
vegetarianism to be a moral ideal because it avoids the meanness and
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
cruelty associated with meat consumption and the harsh treatment of
Regarding the biblical prohibition against taking a mother bird with
her young, Nachmanides commented:
The motivating purpose is to teach us the quality of compassion
and not to become cruel; for cruelty expands in a man’s soul, as
is well known with respect to cattle slaughterers.7
Maimonides indicated that the general obligation with regard to tza’ar
ba’alei chayim (avoiding causing pain to animals) is set down with a view
to protecting us from acquiring moral habits of cruelty and learning to
inflict pain gratuitously, and to be kind and merciful.8 The Sefer Hachinuch
compares the muzzling of an ox treading corn to the mistreatment of
human beings:
When a man becomes accustomed to have pity even upon animals
who were created to serve us, and he gives them a portion of
their labors, his soul will likewise grow accustomed to be kind to
human beings.9
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch stressed that vegetables are the
preferable food to help make the human body an instrument of the soul
and to implement its aims of holiness and proper actions.10 He indicated
that every food that makes the body too active in an aggressive direction
makes people more indifferent and less sensitive to the loftier impulses of
the moral life.11 He also stated, “The boy who, in crude joy, finds delight
6 See Rabbi J. David Bleich, “Vegetarianism and Judaism,” Tradition 23, no. 1 (Summer
7 Nachmanides, Commentary on Deuteronomy 22:6. Quoted in Martin D. Gaffe, ed., Judaism
and Environmental Ethics: A Reader (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2001), 354.
8 Moses Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed, 3:17. M. Friedlander, trans. Forgotten
Books, 2008), 493–94.
9 Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah 596.
10 Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb, Dayan Dr. I. Grunfeld, trans. (London: Soncino
Press, 1962), Vol. 2, 328.
11 Ibid.
8 9
in the convulsions of an injured beetle or the anxiety of a suffering animal
will soon also be dumb toward human pain.”12
The prophet Isaiah (66:3) proclaimed: “Whoever slaughters an ox
has slain a man.” In its original context, this refers to insincere animal
sacrifice. However, there are several ways of interpreting this verse from
a vegan point of view. We might say that by eating animals, we are
consuming the grain that fattened the animal; this grain could have been
used to save human lives. Furthermore, in developing countries, the ox
helps farmers to plow the earth and grow food. Hence the killing of an
ox leads to less production of food and hence more starvation. Moreover,
when a person is ready to kill an animal for his pleasure or profit, he may
be more ready to kill another human being.
Judaism emphasizes the pursuit of justice and harmonious relations
between nations to reduce violence and the prospects for war. The prophet
Isaiah declared:
And the deed of righteousness shall be peace, and act of
righteousness [shall be] tranquility and safety until eternity.
(Isaiah 32:17)
12 Quoted by Francine Klagsbrun, Voices of Wisdom (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980),

9 1
The Fishes of the Sea
I hope I have demonstrated in the previous chapters the strong case
to be made against eating animals—or at the minimum reducing
meat consumption, not least because the realities of animal-based diets
and agriculture are sharply inconsistent with basic Jewish mandates to
take care of our health, treat animals with compassion, preserve the
environment, conserve natural resources, share with hungry people, and
seek and pursue peace.
However, many Jews and others who abstain from eating mammals
and birds continue to eat fishes, sometimes arguing that the many
problems associated with the production and consumption of other animal
products do not apply to fishes. After all, these people reason, in many
cases erroneously, fishes are not raised under extremely cruel, confined
conditions on factory farms; unlike the raising of livestock, fishing does
not contribute to climate change, cause the erosion and depletion of soil,
require the destruction of forests to create pastureland and land to grow
feed crops, or require huge amounts of pesticides and irrigation water.
Also, they argue, the flesh of fishes is generally lower in fat than other
animal products, and is often considered a healthy food.
Because these are widely held beliefs, and because fishes have
regrettably generally not been considered as individual beings who suffer,
it’s worth dedicating a chapter to responding to these ideas and rethinking
our attitude about sea animals and the oceans.1
1 I have used the unusual plural of “fishes” in order to emphasize how these animals are
rarely considered as individuals. For more information on such issues, see Inhabitat,
“35 Facts That Will Make You Never Want to Eat Fish Again,” n.d., https://inhabitat.
com/35-facts-that-will-make-you-never-want-to-eat-fish-again/. For resources on facts
about conditions for all kind of marine life, see Fish Feel, “Fact Sheets,” n.d., http://
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
9 2
Fish Sentience
Fishes are vertebrates with highly developed nervous systems. In the
past fifteen years, Victoria Braithwaite and other ichthyologists have
found significant evidence that fishes experience conscious pain, just like
mammals and birds. Braithwaite has said: “More and more people are
willing to accept the facts. Fish do feel pain. It’s likely different from what
humans feel, but it is still a kind of pain.”2
When fishes are hauled up from the deep, the sudden change in
pressure on their bodies causes painful decompression that often leads
their gills to collapse and their eyes to pop out. As soon as fishes are
removed from the water, they begin to suffocate. Hooked fishes struggle
because of physical pain and fear. As Dr. Tom Hopkins, professor of
marine science at the University of Alabama, describes it, getting hooked
on a line is “like dentistry without novocaine, drilling into exposed
Fishes that are “farmed,” as opposed to caught, live an existence no
better than those land and air animals reared in intensive confinement.4
Most trout, catfish, and many other species eaten in the United States
are raised in modern “fish factories,” which involves large-scale, highly
mechanized production, much like the chicken industry.5
Like crowded broiler chickens, farmed fishes are crammed in
enormous pools called raceways,6 where they are pushed to gain weight
far faster than is natural. The aim is to raise the greatest number of
fishes per cubic foot of water in order to maximize profits. Under these
very crowded, unnatural conditions, fishes suffer from stress, infections,
2 Quoted in Ferris Jabr, “It’s Official: Fish Feel Pain,” Smithsonian, January 8, 2018. See
also, Victoria Braithwaite, Do Fish Feel Pain? (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press,
2010). For ongoing research on fish cognition, see Jonathan Balcombe, What a Fish
Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
3 Quoted in Animals Australia, “Unleashed,” n.d.,
4 Katie Wells, “The Problems with Fish Farming,” Wellness Mama, March 29, 2016,
5 Animal Welfare Institute, “Fish Farming,” n.d.,
6 Worldwide Aquaculture, “Quick & Easy Fish Farming—the Raceway Aquaculture
System,” January 22, 2015,
quick-easy-f ish-farming-the-raceway-aquaculture-system/.
The Fishes of the Sea
9 3
parasites, oxygen depletion, and gas bubble disease, akin to “the bends”
in human beings. To prevent the spread of diseases among the fishes,
large amounts of antibiotics are used—further reducing our ability to
ward off infectious diseases in the future.7
Fishes are not the only animals to suffer because of people’s appetite
for their flesh. Egrets, hawks, and other birds who eat fishes might be shot
or poisoned to prevent them from eating fishes at large uncovered pools
where fishes are raised.8 Also many non-target animals, including sea
turtles, dolphins, sea birds, and other fishes, die horribly in commercial
fishing nets. Indeed, the World Wildlife Fund observes that 300,000
cetaceans (aquatic mammals), 250,000 turtles, and 300,000 seabirds are
caught annually as “bycatch,” leading to their deaths. In fact, 40 percent
(or 38 million metric tons) of fishes removed from the ocean are caught
unintentionally. Most are thrown back into the sea, either dead, dying, or
seriously injured, or disposed of on land.9
Further loss of life in the fishing industry occurs because farmed
fishes are fed wild-caught fishes: one-third of all the seafood that is caught
around the world is fed to farmed fishes. Wild-caught fishes (in the form
of fish oil or feed) is in turn fed to pigs and poultry: one-quarter of all fish
meal produced is fed to livestock.10 Thus wild animals are being fed to
farmed animals, and those farmed animals are in turn being fed to other
farmed animals, before a human being eats the end result.
Fish is often considered a healthy food.11 H owever, a lthough fi sh
is generally lower in fat than other animal foods, it has no fiber and
virtually no complex carbohydrates. Fish also contains excessive amounts
7 Maisie Ganzler, “It’s Time for Aquaculture to Start Kicking Its Drug Habit,” Forbes,
May 6, 2019.
8 Glen E. Gebhart., “Bird Predation on Fish Farms,” Langston University, n.d., https://
9 World Wildlife Fund, “Bycatch—A Sad Topic,” n.d.,
10 Meg Wilcox, “Can Aquaculture Survive Without Forage Fish?” Civil Eats, August 16,
11 For more information, see Sofia Pinada Ochra, “Is Fish a Healthy Food, or Have We Just
Let It Off the Hook?” Forks Over Knives, October 29, 2015, https://www.forksoverknives.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
9 4
of protein and none of the protective phytochemicals and antioxidants
found only in foods of plant origin. The average American consumes far
more protein than required,12 and much less fiber than is necessary.13 The
overconsumption of protein has been linked to several health problems,
including kidney stones,14 while the lack of fiber may contribute to several
diseases related to the digestive process, such as colon cancer.15
Fish does possess the heart-protective omega-3 fatty acid EPA
(eicosopentaenoic acid). But EPA is made by both fishes and humans from
the essential omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and that in
turn is made in the chloroplasts of green plants (for example, algae and
spinach). ALA can be obtained from many plant foods, including green
leafy vegetables, flaxseed, canola, soybean, walnut oils, tofu, pumpkin,
and wheat germ, and these plant foods generally come without the
nutritional hazards of fish flesh.16
In any case, the possible benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are
largely limited to people at risk of heart disease, and for pregnant and
breastfeeding women. The largest study of cholesterol levels, carried out
in Framingham, Massachusetts, showed that people with cholesterol levels
below 150 have virtually no such risk. Because people on well-balanced
vegan diets generally have cholesterol levels below or around 150, the best
way to maintain cardiac health is to follow such a diet, thereby ensuring
that artery blockages don’t occur in the first place.17
A major health hazard from eating fishes comes from the depredations
we humans have caused in their natural environment. Fishes and
shellfishes are repositories for the industrial and municipal wastes and
12 Sophie Egan, “How Much Protein Do We Need?” The New York Times, July 28, 2017.
13 Julia Belluz, “Nearly All Americans Fail to Eat Enough of This Actual Superfood,” Vox,
July 15, 2019.
14 Daniel Pendick, “5 Steps for Preventing Kidney Stones,” Harvard
Health Publishing, October 4, 2013,
15 Cleveland Clinic, “New Study Points to Benefits of Fiber for Colon Cancer
Survivors,” November 2, 2017,
16 Cleveland Clinic, “Plant Sources of Omega-3s,” n.d.,
17 Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, “Lowering Cholesterol with a Plant-
Based Diet,” n.d.,
The Fishes of the Sea
9 5
agricultural chemicals flushed into the world’s waters.18 Other pollutants
that concentrate in sea creatures include pesticides; toxic metals
including lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, and arsenic;19 dioxins;
and radioactive substances such as strontium 90.20 Because of biological
magnification during movement up the food chain, these pollutants can
reach levels much higher than that of the water in which the fishes live,
and they have been linked to many health problems, including impaired
behavioral development in young children. Nursing infants consume
half of their mother’s load of PCBs, dioxins, DDT, and other deadly
Many people feel a false sense of security when they change from red
meat to a primarily chicken- and fish-based diet. However, as discussed
in chapter three, the study by Dr. Dean Ornish showed dramatic
improvements in the condition of patients with severe heart problems who
switched to vegetarian, almost vegan, very low-fat diets. In sharp contrast,
those who followed diets recommended by medical groups—such as the
American Heart Association, which involve 30 percent of calories from
fat, and include chicken without the skin, fish, and some dairy products—
showed little improvement, and in most cases became worse.21
Environmental Impacts
If you aren’t convinced by the previous discussions about the pain fishes
experience and by the harm eating fishes has on our health, perhaps you
might be by the impact the fish industry has on Earth’s environment.22
Researchers have found the biodiversity of the oceans rivals that of the
tropical rainforests, but today the world is effectively “clear cutting” these
precious underwater environments with our appetite for fishes. Modern
18 Environmental Defense Fund, “PCBs in Fish and Shellfish,” n.d., http://seafood.edf.
19 José G. Doréa, “Persistent, Bioaccumulative and Toxic Substances in Fish: Human
Health Considerations,” Science of the Total Environment 400, nos. 1–3 (2008): 93–114.
20 Jeff McMahon, “How Did Those Vermont Fish Get Radioactive?” Forbes, August 5,
21 Dean Ornish, et al., “Can Lifestyle Changes Reverse Coronary Heart Disease?” The
Lancet 336, no. 8708 ( July 21, 1990): 129–33.
22 Much of the material in this section is from Amber Pariona, “What Is the Environmental
Impact of the Fishing Industry?” World Atlas, n.d.,
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
9 6
commercial fishing uses giant energy-intensive “factory” trawlers with
huge nets that swallow up everything in their path. The result is that
many of the world’s major fisheries are depleted or are in serious decline,
and others are considered overexploited. Some marine biologists believe
that the oceans may be completely devoid of fishes by 2048.23 Some
waters that were once teeming with life are now so barren they have been
compared to a “dust bowl.”
Depleted fisheries generate negative outcomes throughout the entire
marine ecosystem. Major predator–prey situations have been changed.24
For example, a decline in pollock in western Alaska has caused a
major decline in Stellar sea lions, which led to their being designated
by the National Marine Fisheries Service as “threatened” in 1990 and
“endangered” in 1997. Loss of sea lions deprived killer whales of their
primary source of nutrition, and they have shifted to eating sea otters. As
a result, sea otters have also seen a major decline since 1990, resulting in
a surge by their prey, sea urchins. This trophic cascade demonstrates the
ecological principle that “everything is connected to everything else.”25
The environmental impact of aquatic farming is also cause for
concern, which even the industry itself is forced to acknowledge.26 First,
wild stocks can be displaced by farmed fishes, who compete for food.
Interbreeding pollutes the genetic pool.27 Modern commercial fishing is
extremely energy intensive. It requires as much as twenty calories of fossil
fuel energy to produce one calorie of food energy from fish. Production of
fish food is many times as intensive as the production of plant food, even
when the plant foods are produced with modern technology.28
23 John Roach, “Seafood May Be Gone By 2048,” National Geographic, November 2, 2006.
24 Mark V. Abrahams, et al., “Predator–Prey Interactions and Changing Environments:
Who Benefits?” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 362, no. 1487 (May 1, 2007),
25 SeaWeb, “Collapse of Seals, Sea Lions & Sea Otters in North Pacific Triggered by
Overfishing of Great Whales,” September 24, 2003,
26 Global Aquaculture Alliance, “What Is the Environmental Impact of
Aquaculture?” April 22, 2019,
27 C. Roberge, et al., “Genetic Consequences of Interbreeding between Farmed and Wild
Atlantic Salmon: Insights from the Transcriptome,” Molecular Ecolog y 17, no. 1 ( January
2008): 314–24.
28 James F. Muir, Fuel and Energ y Use in the Fisheries Sector: Approaches, Inventories and Strategic
Implications (Rome: UNFAO, 2015).
The Fishes of the Sea
9 7
Where fishes are grown in artificial ponds, vast amounts of water are
required as the medium of growth, to replenish oxygen, and to remove
wastes from the aquatic system.29 This great need for water has caused
further environmental destruction too, as aquaculture is routinely sited
on the coast, some of it cleared of mangrove forests, the prime breeding
and spawning ground for many fishes.30 Many of the world’s mangrove
forests have been cleared, drained, or filled, partly to make room for fish
or shrimp farms, especially in Southeast Asia.31
Seeking and Pursuing Peace
As we saw in the last chapter, Jewish sages, commenting on the fact that
the Hebrew words for bread (lechem) and war (milchamah) come from the
same root, deduced that shortages of grain and other resources made
war more likely. The truth of their words is illustrated by battles over
increasingly scarce fishes in many areas.32 With many vessels scouring
fished-out waters, confrontations between nations are inevitable,
sometimes leading to fatalities.33
Humans have always depended on fishes from the sea, and since there
have been fishermen, there have been conflicts over fishes. The open seas
are often lawless; piracy remains common, and the fishing industry is
a hotbed of modern-day slavery.34 However, as population grows and
incomes rise worldwide, the demand for food, especially protein, will rise
as well. To maintain local political support, leaders must ensure access
to the high-quality food, including fish, that their citizens demand. The
supply of both wild and farmed fishes is not keeping up with demand.
29 James F. Muir, Water Management for Aquaculture and Fisheries: Irrigation, Irritation or
Integration? Scotland: University of Sterling, Institute of Aquaculture, n.d.
30 Dyna Rochmyaningsih, “Aquaculture Is Main Driver of Mangrove
Losses,” Ecobusiness, June 28, 2017,
31 Zoe Osborne, “The Environmental Hazards of Intensive Shrimp Farming on the
Mekong Delta,” Pacific Standard, July 2018; and Patrick Lee, “Mangrove Forests
Disappearing,” The Star, March 14, 2015.
32 Much of the material in this section is from Kate Higgins-Bloom, “Food Fight: Why the
Next Big Battle May Not Be Over Treasure or Territory—But for Fish,” Foreign Policy,
September 12, 2018.
33 Matthew Green, “Plundering Africa: Voracious Fishmeal Factories Intensify the
Pressure of Climate Change,” Reuters, October 30, 2018.
34 Ian Urbina, “‘Sea Slaves’: The Human Misery that Feeds Pets and Livestock,” The New
York Times, July 27, 2015.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
9 8
Wild populations of both migratory fishes, including tuna, and less
mobile species, such as flounder, are being overfished. Pressure to meet
rising demand for fishes furthers the potential for conflicts, as nations fish
in contested waters or engage in illegal fishing, contrary to international
maritime laws.
Scarcity has already caused China to have its fishing fleets go further
and further afield, sometimes into disputed waters, in efforts to catch
fishes. This has led to disputes with Indonesia and other nations over
fishing rights in the South and East China Seas, as well as conflicts off
the coast of Mauritania and Senegal.35 Another factor that expands the
likelihood of fish wars is warming temperatures that cause commercial
fish species to move northward into territories controlled by other nations,
producing conflicts with neighbors that are suddenly forced to share.36
In summary, the “production” and consumption of fish is harmful
to human health, causes great suffering to fishes, threatens the ocean’s
biodiversity, wastes resources, and makes national conflicts more likely.
Hence, an end to, or at least a sharp decline in, the consumption of
fish and other sea creatures is both a societal imperative and a Jewish
35 Alfonso Daniels, “‘Fish Are Vanishing’—Senegal’s Devastated Coastline,” BBC,
November 1, 2018.
36 Craig Welch, “Climate Change May Spark Global ‘Fish Wars,’” National Geographic,
June 14, 2018; and Kendra Pierre-Louis, “Warming Waters, Moving Fish: How Climate
Change Is Reshaping Iceland,” The New York Times, November 29, 2019.
9 9
Veganism and Animal Rights
Most people think of veganism in the context of diet and lifestyle.
And it’s certainly true that many of those who espouse a plantbased
diet are centered on health and wellness. Furthermore, because
in terms of absolute numbers farmed animals constitute well over 90
percent of all the vertebrates deliberately killed by human beings—and
because factory farming has massively increased the number that are
raised and slaughtered for food, most animal advocates have over the last
two decades concentrated their attention on changing people’s diets.
However, as should be abundantly clear by now, many of us who
call ourselves vegans consider ourselves practitioners of a philosophy of
nonviolence and non-harm that impacts a wide range of choices. This
philosophy has its origin or is paralleled in many faith traditions, including
Judaism. In this chapter, I touch on a few of these other areas where
animals are mistreated. The first is the use of animals for their skins (fur,
wool, leather, and silk); the second is the use of animals in entertainment
and sport (circuses, hunting, and racing); and the third is the use of animals
in scientific experimentation. In each of these areas, I explain how these
are not commensurate with either vegan or Jewish values.
Fur, Wool, Leather, and Silk
Jewish worshipers chant every Sabbath morning Nishmat kol chai t’varech
et shim’chah, “The soul of every living being shall praise God’s name.” Yet
some come to synagogues during winter months wearing fur coats that
required the cruel treatment and slaughter of some of those living beings
whose souls, we declare, are praising God.1
1 For more information about fur farming, visit Humane Society International, “Fur,”
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
For all its supposed connection to glamor and status, the killing of
animals for their fur is a gruesome and sordid endeavor. Many of the
smaller animals are either trapped or raised in tiny cages on “fur farms.”
Here, millions of foxes, beavers, minks, ocelots, rabbits, chinchillas,
and other animals await death with little room to move and all their
natural instincts thwarted. There is no regard for their physical, mental,
or emotional well-being. These normally active animals go crazy and
exhibit neurotic behaviors, such as compulsive movements and selfmutilation.
2 In the end, they suffer hideous deaths by electrocution rods
thrust up their anuses, or through suffocation, poisoning (which causes
painful convulsions), or having their necks broken. According to Fur for
Animals,3 one fur garment requires up to 400 squirrels, 200 chinchillas,
120 muskrats, 70 mink, 50 martens, 40 raccoons, 40 rabbits, 22 bobcats,
20 foxes, 12 lynx, or 15 wolves.
Larger animals—such as wolves and coyotes—are caught in steeljaw
leg traps and suffer slow, agonizing deaths. Some are attacked by
predators, or freeze to death, or are in such tremendous pain that they
chew off their own limbs to escape. It has been said that one can get a
feel for the pain involved by slamming one’s fingers in a car door. Tens
of millions of wild animals are killed for their skins every year; several
species have become endangered or have disappeared completely in some
localities. Trappers discard millions of “trash” animals who do not have
valuable skins, such as birds, each year. Dogs and cats are other frequent
victims of these cruel devices. Many trapped animals leave behind
dependent offspring who are doomed to starve.4
Whether they are raised on a farm or trapped, these animals undergo
violent and abusive deaths, which are far from Jewish teachings on the
dignity and sensibility of animals. Jewish scriptures and tradition recognize
that the exploitation of animals and sometimes even killing of them
2 BBC News, “Inside a Russian Fur Farm” (video), April 27, 2016,
3 Fur for Animals: Fighting the International Fur Trade, “How Many Animals Have
to Die for a Fur Coat?” n.d.,
to-die-for-a-fur-coat/. The figure on wolves (and other animals) comes from
FADA, “Clothing—Skins,” n.d.,
4 See the Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals, “Trapping: Non-
Targets,” n.d.,
Veganism and Animal Rights
may have been necessary in the past for human survival. However, this
does not apply to furs.
There are now many non-animal–based coats and hats, including
“faux fur,” that provide warmth and have the added advantage of being
lighter and easier to care for than fur. As for style, imitation fur is produced
at such a high level of quality that even among Hasidim there is a small
but growing trend to wear synthetic shtreimlach.5
Thankfully, in recent decades religious authorities have been
recognizing the cruelty of fur. Based on the prohibition of tza’ar ba’alei
chayim, Rabbi Chaim David Halevy, former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of
Tel Aviv, issued a p’sak (rabbinic ruling) in March 1992 mandating that
Jews should not wear fur. Rabbi Halevy asked: “Why should people be
allowed to kill animals if it is not necessary, simply because they desire the
pleasure of having the beauty and warmth of fur coats? Is it not possible
to achieve the same degree of warmth without fur?”6
Motivated by Rabbi Halevy’s prohibition and by Israel’s strict laws
against mistreating animals, there have been several attempts to pass a
law in the Knesset banning the manufacturing of fur in Israel, with an
exception for Hasidic streimels for religious reasons. Had this law passed,
it would have made Israel the only country in the world with such a ban.
However, the bill has been blocked so far, despite widespread support.
Rabbi Yona Metzger, former Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel, ruled
against fur imports from China, where animals are often skinned alive.7
Do we really need the Knesset to pass a law or rabbinical rulings to
tell us what is right? In his book The Jewish Encyclopedia of Moral and Ethical
Issues, Israeli author and educator Rabbi Nachum Amsel states: “If the
only reason a person wears the fur coat is to ‘show off’ one’s wealth or to
be a mere fashion statement, that would be considered to be a frivolous
and not a legitimate need.”8 Indeed, one has to wonder what kind of
lesson young people are learning when they see worshippers arriving at
5 Gavriel Fiske, “Ultra-Orthodox Bigwig Calls for Synthetic Fur Hats,” The Times of
Israel, August 23, 2013.
6 Yonassan Gershom, Kapporos Then and Now: Toward a More Compassionate Tradition
(Raleigh, NC: Lulu Press, 2015), 84–85.
7 World Jewish Congress, “Israeli Chief Rabbi Issues Edict on Furs,” February 21, 2007,
8 Nachum Amsel, The Jewish Encyclopedia of Moral and Ethical Issues (Northvale, NJ:
Aronson, 1994), 298.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
the synagogue in fur coats on the Sabbath day. Instead of reinforcing
the many beautiful Jewish teachings about compassion to animals,
we are teaching them that expensive status symbols and conspicuous
consumption are more important than respect for God’s creatures.
If there were a reduction in the wearing of fur, not only would tens of
thousands of animals benefit from our compassion and concern, but we,
too, would benefit by becoming more sensitive and more humane Jews
and civilized human beings. We would be setting an example for the rest
of the world that says there is no beauty in cruelty.
When legislation was introduced into the New York City Council
to ban fur sales in New York City in 2019,9 Jewish Veg submitted a
statement. It began: “As a national nonprofit organization supported by
leading rabbis from across the denominational spectrum, Jewish Veg
supports legislation to ban the sale of fur for one simple reason: Judaism
mandates that we treat animals with exquisite and sensitive compassion,
and the practices of the fur industry grotesquely violate this mandate.”
The statement concluded: “Actually, when it comes to Judaism, this
legislation is itself an expression of our religious values, and thus we look
forward to its passage. No civilized society, whether governed by religious
or secular values, should blind itself to such suffering. Together, we will
create a more compassionate world and a fur-free city.”10
The ban on selling fur in New York City failed . . . for now. However,
Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other cities around the world have
banned its sale, and many countries have now moved to end fur farming,
prohibit fur-farmed products from entering their countries, or restrict the
importation of some furs.11 Even the iconic stores are now following suit:
Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s will no longer sell furs starting in 2021; and
Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, and now Michael Kors
are no longer designing with it.12
9 Corey Kilgannon, “Fur Helped Build the City. Now Its Sale May Be Banned,” The New
York Times, May 16, 2019.
10 The full statement can be read at
11 PETA, “A Guide to the Fur-Free Revolution: These Places Have Banned Fur,” n.d.,
12 Ana Colón, “All the Fashion Brands That Have Banned Fur,” Glamour, October 22,
Veganism and Animal Rights
Although many people think the production of wool is harmless since
animals need not be killed in producing it, there are good reasons why
vegans avoid wool.13 In order to meet demand, sheep-sheering can be
brutal and cruel. Not only can the sheep receive multiple cuts, but in
a barbaric process called mulesing, farmers take large chunks of flesh
and skin from lambs’ backsides to prevent a maggot infestation—itself a
result of the many folds of skin that merino sheep have been genetically
engineered to have so as to boost the surface area for wool. Mulesing
causes pain so severe that it can continue for weeks, and for some lambs
it never ends.
Thick wool may be a benefit in the winter, but it can lead to heat
stress in summer, especially in Australia, where many sheep are raised.14
As with cows, sheep stomachs produce a substantial amount of methane:
in fact, pound for pound, sheep and goats are the greatest GHG emitters
of all farmed species.15 Ending this cruel industry, therefore, would help
reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It would also provide a welcome boost
to the many cruelty-free, sustainable, and warm alternatives to wool,
including hemp, ramie, bamboo, and microfibers. Obviously, wool is a
byproduct of sheep, who are also bred for their flesh. Sheep for slaughter
are shipped in their tens of thousands around the world—some from as
far as Australia. In December 2018, Canadian photojournalist Jo-Anne
McArthur wrote about her experience of seeing the Bahijah, en route
from Australia to Egypt, unload a cargo of 22,000 sheep in Haifa. Israel,
she writes, was expected to import 700,000 live animals in 2018, up from
200,000 in 2012. Sheep constituted by far the largest number of animals.16
Just as wool production helps support sheep farming, so too does
leather for the meat industry—one that includes cows, buffalos, pigs, goats,
13 Material about some of the ethical and practical problems of wearing wool is taken from
Vegan Life, “8 Reasons Not to Wear Wool This Winter,” November 8, 2016, https://
14 Meat & Livestock Australia, “Fast Facts: Australia’s Sheep Industry,” 2017, https://–markets/documents/trends–
15 Environmental Working Group, “Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change & Health:
Climate and Environmental Impacts,” 2011,
a-meat- eater s -guide- to- cl imate- change-heal th-what-you- eat-mat ter s/
16 Jo-Anne McArthur, “‘We Could Smell the Boat Approaching’: The Grim Truth about
Animal Exports,” The Guardian, December 11, 2018.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
1 0 4
sheep, alligators, kangaroos, ostriches, horses, deer, elk, snakes, buffalo,
oxen, yaks, kangaroos, elephants, sharks, stingrays, cats, and dogs.17
Tanning—as the Talmud recognized (Baba Batra 2:9)—is a filthy and
polluting business.18 Turning skin into leather involves application of a
variety of polluting substances, including formaldehyde, mineral salts,
coal-tar derivatives, and various oils, dyes, and finishes—some of them
cyanide-based. It is also dangerous: Because of these chemicals, leather
workers suffer from leukemia and some types of cancer at far higher rates
than average workers.
Since their skin is considered a luxury product, unborn calves are
sometimes mutilated for leather. Some are purposely aborted, while
others are cut out of the bodies of slaughtered pregnant cows. Much of
the leather sold in the United States is imported from India, where cows
are either forced to march miles to slaughter in the heat and dust, without
water or food, or they are trucked in horrendous conditions. They arrive
exhausted, emaciated, and sometimes so malnourished that they can’t
stand up. Many suffer from broken bones, eye infections, and open
There are many natural and synthetic substitutes for leather, including
cotton, hemp, denim, and acrylic fiber. Synthetic pleather has the look
and feel of real leather. Two Mexicans have created leather out of cactus
leaves.20 The product feels like animal-based leather, and is partially
biodegradable, flexible, breathable, and lasts for at least ten years.21
17 Material below about problems wearing leather was obtained from Cistine Wells, “What’s
Wrong with Leather?” All-Creatures.Org, January 2013, https://www.all-creatures.
org/articles/ar-whatswrong-leather.html; and Rachel Krantz, “7 Reasons Wearing
Leather Is Actually the Opposite of Cute,” Bustle, March 29, 2016, https://www.bustle.
18 Andrew Tarantola, “How Leather Is Slowly Killing the People and
Places That Make It,” Gizmodo, June 3, 2014,
19 New Internationalist, “India’s Holy Cash Cow,” July 1, 2010,
currents/2010/07/01/india-leather-cows. For an overview of the fashion industry’s
use of animal materials, see The Discerning Brute, “Massive Fashion Industry Studies
Condemn Animal Materials,” August 7, 2017,
20 Jemima Webber, “Two Mexico Entrepreneurs Just Created Leather Out of
Cactus Leaves,” Live Kindly, November 26, 2019,
21 Ibid.
Veganism and Animal Rights
Although not as clearcut as the reasons not to eat meat or to wear
fur, the production of silk may involve harm as the silkworm cocoon is
harvested. To begin the unraveling of the cocoons to produce silk threads,
the cocoons are placed in boiling water, which kills the silkworms. It
requires about fifteen silkworms to make a gram of silk thread. About ten
thousand are killed to make just one silk sari.22
The irony is that a whole new industry is emerging that has the
potential to completely reimagine how we might think about leather, silk,
and other animal products. There are companies growing proteins to
develop leather without the need for an animal, or from mycelium, or
generating synthetic spider silk.23 Some are manufacturing pet food (even
for obligate carnivores) that supply all the nutrients without killing an
animal, or by cultivating meat from a cell.24 Others are fermenting milk
using dairy proteins and enzymes.25 However, it’s in the area of meat
production of all kinds that the most interest (and controversy) lies, and
this is the subject of the next chapter.
Circuses, Hunting, and Racing
Most of us probably grew up with images of the circus as a benign form
of popular entertainment, with lion-tamers, tigers leaping through hoops,
and dancing bears. Unfortunately, the realities of how the animals are
trained to perform these actions and their lives on the road are far from
glamorous or fun.26 Animals, who are bred in captivity, are whipped to
22 Margherita Stancati, “Taking the Violence Out of Silk,” The Wall Street Journal, January
4, 2011.
23 Eillie Anzilotti, “This Very Realistic Fake Leather Is Made from Mushrooms, Not
Cows,” Fast Company, April 2018,
is-made-from-mushrooms-not-cows; and John Cumbers, “Would You Buy a
Bag Made of Mushroom Leather? A Jacket Made with Spider Silk: The Future of the
Fashion Industry Is Here and It’s Made with Biology,” Forbes, September 17, 2019.
24 See Ernie Ward, et al., The Clean Pet Food Revolution: How Better Pet Food Will Change the
World (New York: Lantern, 2019).
25 Knvul Sheikh, “Got Impossible Milk? The Quest for Lab-made Dairy,” The New York
Times, August 2, 2019.
26 For more on this subject, see Emma Brazell, “Circus Animals: 10 Reasons Why the US
Needs to Ban Them Immediately,” VT, August 16, 2017,
circus-animals-why-the-us-needs-to-ban-them/; and PETA, “Circuses: Three Rings of
Abuse,” n.d.,
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
be trained to obey commands on stage. Elephants are often beaten with
bull-hooks (heavy batons with a sharp metal hook on one end), sometimes
until they bleed.
When they are not performing they spend many hours of the day
chained or in cages with barely enough space to turn around. Or they
are crammed into filthy, cramped, sweltering, poorly ventilated tractor
trailers. Because of the horrible conditions under which they live, circus
animals often become depressed and despondent, resulting in abnormal
behavior patterns, such as incessant pacing, head bobbing, and swaying,
sometimes even harming themselves. It’s not surprising then, that
sometimes animals have lashed out—going on rampages, attacking their
trainers, and causing human injuries and even deaths.
Thankfully, twenty-seven countries, including Israel, have banned
circuses that use wild animals,27 and cities and municipalities around the
United States have done the same.28 In 2017, Ringling Bros. & Barnum &
Bailey’s circus declared bankruptcy.29 It’s my belief that circuses that use
animals will go the way of other “entertainments” that abuse animals,
such as bear-baiting, cock-fighting, and dog-fighting, and be banned
across the entire United States. We may also hope that rodeos and bullfighting
follow suit.
Throughout the ages, rabbis have strongly disapproved of hunting as
a sport. A Jew is permitted to capture or kill animals only for purposes of
food, or for what is considered an essential human need. But to destroy an
animal for “sport” constitutes wanton destruction and is to be condemned.
People who have access to plant-based foods do not need to hunt and, for
them, the activity is fundamentally recreational, even if they eat the flesh
of killed animals. Based on the statement not to stand “in the way of
sinners” (Psalm 1:1), the Talmud prohibits association with recreational
hunters (Avodah Zarah 18b).
27 Priya, “These 27 Countries Have Banned Wild-Animal Circuses,” PETA UK,
September 11, 2019,
28 Four Paws in US, “Bans on Circuses,” n.d.,
29 Natasha Daly, “Why All of America’s Circus Animals Could Soon Be Free,” National
Geographic, May 20, 2017.
Veganism and Animal Rights
1 0 7
Rabbi Yechezkel Landau (1713–1793) once responded to a man
wishing to know if he could hunt in his large estate, which included
forests and fields, and still be consistent with Jewish teachings. Rabbi
Landau’s response is contained in his classic collection of responsa, Nodah
In the Torah the sport of hunting is imputed only to fierce
characters like Nimrod and Esau, never to any of the patriarchs
and their descendants. . . . I cannot comprehend how a Jew could
even dream of killing animals merely for the pleasure of hunting.
. . . When sport prompts killing, it is downright cruelty.30
It should be noted that meat from animals killed by hunting with a
gun or bow is not kosher according to Jewish law, and not to be eaten,
and therefore violates bal tashchit, the prohibition against unnecessary
destruction or waste.
Like many other industries involving animals, the racing industry
is built on the exploitation of animals, with cruelty and abuse common.
Nina Natelson, founder and director of Concern for Helping Animals
in Israel (CHAI), summarized the cruelty involved in horse racing in a
personal email:
Thousands of horses are bred annually, but only the few fastest
are chosen to race, with most of the rest sent to the slaughterhouse.
Trained and raced by age two, before their bones have hardened,
they often incur serious injuries. Pushed beyond their limits, they
suffer bleeding in the lungs, which can be fatal, and chronic
ulcers. They are drugged to improve performance and so they
can race even while injured, which worsens the injury.
Corruption is inherent in this industry based on greed, so,
for example, the legs of horses not fast enough to win have been
broken to collect on insurance policies.
30 Quoted in Mark H. Bernstein, Without a Tear: Our Tragic Relationship with Animals
(Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 80.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
When the horses are too old to possibly win, at around
six (though their natural lifespan is around 25), even former
champions are often sent to a slaughterhouse. The US Congress
held hearings on the industry due to the high level of breakdowns
and deaths in training and on the track. At the hearings, industry
leaders admitted that the industry could not police itself and
asked the government to start policing for illegal drug use and
other corrupt practices.
On July 30, 2006, Rabbi Shlomo Amar, the then Sephardic Chief
Rabbi of Israel, issued a p’sak halachah (rabbinical ruling) against horse
racing. The ruling concludes: “It seems self-evident that one ought . . .
not to participate in horse-races—neither in establishing them, nor by
watching them: because of the pain to animals caused thereby, because
it is ‘a dwelling place of scoffers,’ and because it is ‘playing with dice’ [the
Talmudic term for gambling].”31 Among the reasons the chief rabbi cited
for his conclusion was that racing involves the premature death of many
horses, and this violates the Jewish law against wanton destruction.
Racing, he claimed, would lead to animals being euthanized and
would create a risk that horse meat, which is not kosher, would be sold in
Israel, violating Jewish law. He argued that using horses for racing was
unnecessary, involved cruelty, and was conducted only for the purpose
of making some rich people richer. Furthermore, Judaism discourages
gambling because it enriches one person at the expense of another.
Horse racing has come under considerable scrutiny in the United States,
especially following the deaths of 495 thoroughbreds in 2018 alone.32 The
call for banning the “sport” in the United States is starting to become
much louder.33
This chapter features only a few of the ways that animals are casually
exploited for their bodies, outside of the consumption of their flesh or the
drinking or fermenting of their “lacteal secretions,” to use an industry
31 Concern for Helping Animals in Israel (CHAI), “Report of Chief Rabbi of Israel Against
Racing,” n.d.,
32 Rachel Fobar, “Why Horse Racing Is So Dangerous,” National Geographic, May 2019.
33 Patrick Battuello, “The Time for Horse Racing Has Passed. It’s Time to Outlaw It,”
Washington Post, October 8, 2019.
Veganism and Animal Rights
1 0 9
term.34 Some of these industries, such as animals in entertainment, are
dying out for lack of interest, an emerging recognition of their cruelty, or
(for instance) through the astonishing verisimilitude of CGI in film. Some
industries, such as the fur and seal skin trade, are only propped up by
subsidies, which support a relatively small number of people who barely
eke out a living from them.35 However, there are others that are still given
the validation of the state and the medical establishment, such as is the
case with animal experimentation.
Animal Rights and Experimentation
Throughout this book, I have tried to make it clear that a commitment to
the welfare of animals and the use of their bodies in animal agriculture has
been a fundamental part of veganism, and what I consider to be the vegan
identity. I have also argued that it should be part of our expression of Jewish
values. That said, many animal advocates regard organized religion as an
ideological opponent. The reasons for doing so are, I believe, in the case of
Judaism a misconception held by both those who are religious and those
who are secular animal advocates. I will address this in a moment, but first
it is worth exploring what for many will be the most contentious aspect of
veganism: the use of animals in scientific experimentation.36
Many still believe that experimentation on animals is necessary to
find cures for diseases. Because Judaism places a priority on human life
over that of animals, it is not, in principle, opposed to all uses of animals
if there are significant benefits for humans that could not be obtained
in any other way. Unfortunately, the manner by which experiments
are conducted raises serious doubts about their efficacy, let alone their
34 Jaya Saxena, “Got Lacteal Secretions? Virginia Tries to Limit the Legal Definition of
Milk,” Eater, January 31, 2020.
35 Ewa Demianowicz, “Canada’s Government Needs to Stop Providing Subsidies for Fur,”
Huffington Post Canada, March 11, 2015.
36 Data about animal experimentation can be found at Do Something, “11 Facts about
Animal Testing,” n.d.,
One of the most comprehensive overviews of the ethics and science surrounding
the use of animals in science is in Hugh LaFollette and Niall Shanks, Brute Science:
Dilemmas of Animal Experimentation (London and New York: Routledge, 1996). Ongoing
information about animal experimentation can be found at Citizens for Alternatives to
Animal Research and Experimentation (
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
In terms of the efficacy of experimentation, it is difficult to gain
insight into a human disease by studying an artificially induced pathology
in animals, no matter how similar the two diseases may seem. Indeed,
because of differences between species, studies conducted on animals
cannot reliably be extrapolated to humans. Many times, animals react
to medicines differently than people do, and there is an ever-growing list
of drugs that were deemed safe after very extensive animal testing, which
later proved to be carcinogenic, mutagenic (causing birth defects), or toxic
to humans.37
Guinea pigs generally suffer and sometimes die when given penicillin;
aspirin causes birth defects in rats and mice, but not in people; aspirin
is poisonous to cats; thalidomide was helpful when tested on laboratory
animals, but caused birth defects in people; and insulin causes deformities
in some laboratory animals, but not people. Animal test results can
sometimes be devastating for human health. In a number of cases,
effective therapies were delayed because of misleading animal models.
For example, the animal model for polio resulted in a misunderstanding
of the mechanism of infection, delaying the discovery of a vaccine.
Contrary to the assumption of many supporters of animal
experimentation, key discoveries in areas such as heart disease and cancer
were achieved through clinical research, observations of patients, and
human autopsies, not through animal experiments. The greatest medical
advancements in human health were likely the result of improved hygiene.
Animal tests gave results that, at best, paralleled previous findings
in humans. Furthermore, many alternative approaches to advancing
medical knowledge have been developed that are often more accurate
and cost effective. These include epidemiological studies, computer and
mathematical models, genetic research, cell and tissue cultures, stem cell
research, clinical pharmacology, diagnostic imaging (MRI, CAT, and
PET scans), and autopsies.
A further challenge to animal experimentation is that it is expensive.
Relying on animal experiments and transplants from animals keeps
37 For a comprehensive overview of the case against animal experimentation, see We
Animals Media/NEAVS, Gold Doesn’t Rust: The Failing Standard of Animal Testing
and Its Alternatives (dir. Kelly Guerin, 2019),
Veganism and Animal Rights
society from considering its basic responsibility to boost preventive health
measures that would reduce the number of expensive and extremely
complex medical procedures required to remediate chronic conditions.
If the billions of dollars spent on animal experimentation were instead
directed to educating people to eat and live more healthfully, there would
be far greater benefits for humankind.
Of course there are other factors that affect our health—including
genetics—that are beyond our control, but lifestyle changes can make
major differences in many cases. Perhaps because of the above factors,
animal experimentation has produced relatively little progress in many
areas of medicine. Despite (or perhaps because of) relying heavily on
extensive animal experimentation for medical advancement, health costs
in the United States and other countries have become very high, which
has contributed to major budgetary problems in many cities and states
and nationally, with the result that spending for many other human needs
has been reduced.
Even if animal experiments were useful for health reasons, how can
we account for the wasteful, unnecessary experiments? Must we force
dogs to smoke to reconfirm the health hazards of cigarettes? Do we have
to starve dogs and monkeys to understand human starvation? Do we
need to cut, blind, burn, and kill animals to produce another type of
lipstick, mascara, or shampoo?38
An animal rights position would argue that an individual animal’s
right to be free from torture or harm at our hands trumps any utility that
the animal’s use or death would provide to human beings. You don’t have
to hold such a view to recognize that animal experimentation is morally
problematic. In the last two decades, the United States, the European
Union, and countries around the world have either ended experimentation
on great apes, granted them legal rights, or banned harmful research.39
Bans on using animals for cosmetics testing are growing in number.40
38 Humane Society International, “About Cosmetics Animal Testing,” March 6, 2013,
39 Project R&R, “International Bans,” n.d.,
40 Tjasa Grum, “Global Ban on Animal Testing: Where Are We in 2019?” Cosmetics
Design-Europe, March 5, 2019,
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
But so is use of animals in the United States—from sheep, pigs, cats, and
dogs, to the proverbial guinea pigs—rising to 780,070 in 2018.41
It’s possible that given the growth of personalized medicine42 that one
day experimentation on animals will become too blunt an instrument for
diagnosis across species or for individual patients. It will either be obsolete,
too expensive to be viable, or simply morally objectionable.43 Until then,
however, the most parsimonious approach should be replacement and
reduction, and a commitment to prioritizing medicine that responds to
human needs first. It is instructive that, in moments of crisis, such as
the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, animal experimentation has been
sidelined in favor of direct human trials.44
Judaism and Animal Rights
I will be the first to admit that institutional religion can be resistant to
change; in fact, some of what attracts us to religions in the first place
is that they hold values that we hope are not subject to the whims of
fashion, political movements, or one individual’s choice. Their rigor and
structure can be appealing: a framework that supports our freedom and
life goals rather than a prison or straitjacket that confines us. That said, all
institutions, religious or otherwise, can fall victim to sclerosis, clericalism,
literalism, and complacency—and that is also true of any issue that
bedevils humanity, including our relationship with animals. Judaism,
thankfully, has scriptural sources and a long history of interpreting them,
and many fearless and compassionate sages who have called upon us both
41 Speaking of Research, “U.S. Statistics,” n.d.,
statistics/. To put that number in perspective, around nine billion chickens are killed
each year for food in the United States alone, which is approximately 34,246 a minute.
It thus takes only twenty-three minutes for the number of chickens killed to outstrip the
entire population of animals used in research.
42 For more information, see “Personalized Medicine Coalition,” http://www.
43 Patrick J. Kiger, “Will Alternative Technologies Make Animal Testing Obsolete?
How Stuff Works,” February 8, 2018,
44 Nicoletta Lanese, “Researchers Fast-track Coronavirus Vaccine by Skipping Key
Animal Testing First,” LiveScience, March 13, 2020,
Veganism and Animal Rights
to reimagine the meanings of the scriptures for today and to look for the
deeper truths within them.
Concerning Judaism, the negative presumption held by animal
activists toward the religious and by the religious toward animal advocates
is largely due to the misunderstanding of two important biblical verses
that, when properly understood, actually endorse the struggle to improve
conditions for animals.45 The first misunderstanding is that the biblical
teaching that humans are granted dominion over animals (Genesis 1:26,
28) gives us a warrant to treat them in whatever way we wish. As we
discussed earlier, however, this biblical teaching does not mean we have
the right to wantonly exploit them, and it certainly doesn’t permit us to
breed animals and then treat them as inanimate objects, designed solely
to meet human needs, as is common today. For instance, if you hire a
gardener to take care of your garden, you are in effect giving him or
her “dominion.” Of course, this does not give the gardener license to be
destructive. Likewise, a mother has dominion over her infant, but this
does not give her a right to mistreat the child.
In “A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace,” Rav Kook states:
There can be no doubt in the mind of any intelligent person that
[the Divine empowerment of humanity to derive benefit from
nature] does not mean the domination of a harsh ruler, who
afflicts his people and servants merely to satisfy his whim and
desire, according to the crookedness of his heart. It is unthinkable
that the Divine Law would impose such a decree of servitude,
sealed for all eternity, upon the world of God, Who is “good to
all, and His mercy is upon all His works” (Psalms 145:9), and
Who declared, “The world shall be built with kindness” (Psalms
This view is reinforced by God, who gives humankind dominion over
animals (Genesis 1:26, 28), but then prescribes vegan foods as the diet for
humans (Genesis 1:29) and declares Creation “very good” (Genesis 1:31).
45 I want to express appreciation to Rabbi Dovid Sears for his contribution to this section.
46 Rav Kook, A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace, Rabbi David Cohen, ed., Jonathan Rubenstein,
trans. (2013),
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
1 1 4
Adam and Eve’s original vegan diet was consistent with the stewardship
that God entrusted to them and to all humankind. That “dominion”
means responsible stewardship is reinforced by Genesis 2:15, which
indicates that humans are to not only work the land, but also protect
it. As indicated in the main text, Jews are to be coworkers with God in
preserving the natural environment.
The second error is thinking that the biblical teaching that only
human beings are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27, 5:1) means
that God places little or no value on animals. The Torah declares that
animals are also God’s creatures, possessing sensitivity and the capacity
for feeling pain. God is concerned that they be protected and treated with
compassion and justice. In fact, the Jewish sages state that to be “created
in the Divine Image” means that people have the capacity to emulate
the Divine compassion for all creatures. “As God is compassionate,” they
teach, “so you should be compassionate.”
In his classic work Ahavat Chesed (“The Love of Kindness”), the
revered Chafetz Chayim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan of Radin) writes
that whoever emulates the Divine love and compassion to all creatures
“will bear the stamp of God on his person.” Rabbi Samson Raphael
Hirsch discusses the concept that human beings were created to “work
it [the Garden of Eden] and to guard it” (Genesis 2:15). He observes that
this actually limits our rights over other living things. He writes:
The earth was not created as a gift to you. You have been given to
the earth, to treat it with respectful consideration, as God’s earth,
and everything on it as God’s creation, as your fellow creatures—
to be respected, loved, and helped to attain their purpose
according to God’s will. . . . To this end, your heartstrings vibrate
sympathetically with any cry of distress sounding anywhere in
Creation, and with any glad sound uttered by a joyful creature.47
As the Lord is our shepherd, we are to be shepherds of voiceless
creatures. As God is kind and compassionate to us, we must be considerate
47 Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, The Nineteen Letters ( Jerusalem/New York: Feldheim,
1969). Letter 4.
Veganism and Animal Rights
of the needs and feelings of animals. In addition, by showing compassion
to animals through a vegan diet, we help fulfill the commandment to
imitate God’s ways.
Animal rights activists may argue, with some justification, that few
religious communities are doing enough to end the many horrible abuses
of animals today, especially in the meat industry. However, it would
be a major mistake for animal activists to dismiss the various religious
communities as unconcerned with the plight of animals. Rather, while
respectfully challenging religious adherents to do more to live up to their
religion’s compassionate teachings about animals and to do more to reduce
animal abuse, we should all seek ways to transcend our philosophical and
theological differences, and seek common ground on which we may stand
together for the benefit of animals and humanity.

1 1 7
The Future for Cultiv ated
Animal Products
Previous chapters of this book have discussed the many negative effects
of animal-based diets and agriculture, especially in exacerbating
the consequences of climate change and other environmental threats.
We have noted the epidemic of life-threatening conditions resulting
from eating meat and other animal products, as well as the widespread
mistreatment of farmed animals.
Many people believe that cultivated animal products can significantly
reduce these problems. This chapter explores efforts to develop these
substances, especially in Israel, and asks what their potential benefits
might be. Are they kosher? Are they vegan? Should vegans support their
development, and will consumers buy them?1
Origins and Prospects
Cultivated meat—also known as “cultured,” “lab-grown,” “cellular,” or
“clean” meat—has been in development for around two decades, and,
according to scientists working on the various components that make
up the production of cultivated meat, is rapidly progressing toward
production for consumers.
The “meat” is developed by taking a sample of muscle from an
animal. Technicians then gather stem cells and, using nutrients and
growth promotors, proliferate the cell to form fibers and muscle tissue.2
1 For an in-depth overview of this industry (as of July 2019), including the ethical,
conceptual, economic, and technical issues that need to be overcome, see Brighter
Green, Beyond the Impossible: The Futures of Plant-based and Cellular Meat and Dairy, https://
2 G. Owen Schaefer, “Lab-Grown Meat,” Scientific American, September 14, 2018.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
Dr. Yaron Bogin, executive director of the non-profit Modern Agriculture
Foundation, which was established in 2014 with the aim of promoting and
supporting research to implement the idea of cultivated meat, describes
the process this way: “What we do, broadly speaking, is that we take
a sample of cells from a cow or a hen, put them into bioreactors, add
nutrients to them, cause the cells to divide and multiply and then we turn
them into muscle cells, harvest them and make meatballs from them.”3
Since 2013,4 dozens of companies worldwide—including several
in Israel—have been founded to create cultivated-meat equivalents of
beef, pork, chicken, foie gras, kangaroo, tuna, and shrimp,5 and they are
attracting considerable financial investment.6 Although cultivated meat
start-ups hope to have marketable products relatively soon, they face
several obstacles before they will be commercially viable.
When tissue engineer Mark Post first introduced a burger made
from lab-grown meat in 2013,7 it cost over $300,000 to produce and
was considered too dry, because only muscle cells were cultivated—
not a combination of muscle cells and fat cells.8 Food experts believe
that cultivated meat’s taste will be improved through careful attention
to texture, partly by adding fat cells to muscle cells, and by judicious
supplementation with flavor enhancers. Much of the original cost was to
source considerable amounts of a serum that was only used in laboratories.
This substance was of an uneven quality and contained proteins from the
fetuses of pregnant cows—which is obviously not vegan.9
Costs of production have decreased substantially since 2013, and
Memphis Meats (another start-up) reported in 2018 that a quarter-pound
3 Ido Efrati, “Israeli Institutions Working to Bring Cultured Meat from Lab to Plate,”
Haaretz, April 30, 2017.
4 See, for example, Matt Simon, “Lab-Grown Meat Is Coming Whether You Like It Or
Not,” Science, February 16, 2016; and Synthego, “The Bench. Lab-Grown Meat Will
Change the Food Industry Forever,” May 15, 2019,
5 Cellbased Tech, “Lab Grown Meat Companies,” n.d.,
6 Sam Danley, “Cell-based Meats Approaching Scalability,” Food Business News, January
27, 2020.
7 Henry Fountain, “A Lab-Grown Burger Gets a Taste Test,” The New York Times, August
5, 2013.
8 Schaefer, “Lab-Grown Meat.”
9 Matt Reynolds, “The Clean Meat Industry Is Racing to Ditch Its Reliance on Foetal
Blood,” Wired (UK), March 20, 2018.
The Future for Cultivated Animal Products
1 1 9
of its lab-produced beef cost about $600 to produce.10 Some industry
leaders project that the cost of production could be only $10 by 2021,11
a time frame that seems optimistic. (Whether one or more animal-free
sera are or will be available by then remains a matter of conjecture.)12
Moreover, moving from a lab to production facilities—such as the
bioreactors in which the cells will be developed—will require the kind of
scaling that has yet to be trialed.13
Other obstacles that will have to be surmounted are ensuring that
the substance is produced hygienically, under appropriate regulatory
structures, and is approved as safe to eat. Currently, in the United States,
the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture
are working together to “address the many important technical and
regulatory considerations that can arise with the development of animal
cell–cultured food products for human consumption.”14 The cultivated
meat industry has welcomed this expedited examination and believes
their processes and products will meet the agencies’ requirements.15
Concerned about what they perceive as impending competition,
some traditional meat producers are arguing that cultivated products are
not really meat and should not be labeled as such.16 This is similar to
10 Schaefer, “Lab-Grown Meat.”
11 Andres Gonzalez and Silke Cantrowitz, “The $280,000 Burger Could Be a More
Palatable $10 in Two Years,” Reuters, July 9, 2019.
12 Patrick Marx, “On Our Way to Animal-Free Cultured Meat,” C2w International,
May 2018,;
and Jonathan Shieber, “Lab-Grown Meat Could Be on Store Shelves by
2022, Thanks to Future Meat Technologies,” Techcrunch, October 10, 2019, https://
13 Tristan Roth, “Scaling up Cultured Meat: The Technical
Challenge,” Medium, May 28, 2019,
t h e – e a – c omp a n y/s c a l i n g – u p – c u l t u r e d -me a t – t h e – t e c h n i c a l –
14 USDA, “USDA and FDA Announce a Formal Agreement to Regulate Cell-
Cultured Food Products from Cell Lines of Livestock and Poultry,” Press release,
March 7, 2019,
15 Matt Ball, “Closer to Your Table—USDA and FDA Reach Cell-Based Meat
Milestone,” Good Food Institute blog, March 8, 2019,
16 Megan Poinski, “Cell-Based Meat Products Are Years Away, So Why Are States
Making So Many Laws about Them?”, February 12, 2020, https://
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
campaigns by the meat and dairy industry to prevent plant-based burgers
and drinks from being labeled meat and milk, respectively.17 Other meat
producers are planning to diversify their range of products by adding
cultivated meat to their offerings.18
In spite of the significant obstacles that remain to be overcome by the
cultivated meat companies, they are nonetheless committed to producing
tasty, affordable products that will shift people’s eating habits to being
more ethical, healthy, humane, and environmentally sustainable. They
are encouraged by surveys showing that two-thirds of the public is willing
to try cultivated meat.19
The Benefits of Cultivated Meat
One of the main benefits of cultivated meat is that it produces an almost
identical substance to that derived from the slaughter of animals, with
a significant reduction of their abusive treatment. The many horrors of
factory farming—including the force-feeding of geese and the branding,
dehorning, and castrating of cattle—would be eliminated, as would the
genetic manipulation of these animals. Indeed, it is assumed that once
the cell is extracted from the animal, these cells could be proliferated
by themselves. Mosa Meat, a pioneering company in cell-based meat,
believes that a single sample from a cow could produce enough muscle
tissue to make 80,000 quarter-pound burgers.20
Another significant benefit from the resulting reduction in billions of
animals raised for slaughter would be potentially dramatic decreases in
many of the problems that have already been enumerated in this book:
climate change, rapid species extinction; soil erosion and depletion;
massive pollution of land, water, and air; destruction of tropical
rainforests, coral reefs, and other valuable habitats; desertification; and
so on. Without the need to feed so many animals, we could let large areas
17 Nathaniel Popper, “You Call That Meat? Not So Fast, Cattle Ranchers Say,” The New
York Times, February 9, 2019.
18 Cargill, “Protein Innovation: Cargill Invests in Cultured Protein,” Press release,
January 24, 2020,
19 Kat Smith, “Almost 70 percent of Americans Want to Eat Clean Meat,” Livekindly, August
16, 2018,
20 Ibid.
The Future for Cultivated Animal Products
of land lie fallow on a rotating basis, and thus restore its fertility, or even
allow it to return to prairie, woodland, and forest, thus enabling carbon
to be sequestered and animals to find natural habitats. With less need
to grow crops for animal feed, fewer pesticides and chemical fertilizers
would be necessary. Even though the lessening of animal agriculture
would not in and of itself reverse climate change, it would be a major step
in reducing its devastating consequences.
With the major shift from growing food for animals, we’d be able
to direct our agricultural resources to feeding our world’s malnourished
and undernourished citizens, potentially saving the lives of many of the
millions of people who die annually of hunger. We would save potable
water, and potentially reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions—
depending on how energy-intensive bioreactors might be, and where
they source that energy. An added bonus would be that, since cultivated
meat would have no added hormones and antibiotics and potentially be
lower in saturated fat, it could have major health benefits. The current
proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria would be lowered, and there
would be much reduced risk of animal-borne illnesses such as mad cow
disease, salmonella, avian flu, swine flu, and coronaviruses. Furthermore,
a world in which the stress on potable water, land, and (potentially) energy
is lowered, and food may be more widely available, is one that will be
more inclined toward peace.
Israel and Cultivated Meat
With at least five companies working on cultivated meat, Israel is a major
player in efforts to produce cultivated meat, consistent with its status as a
“start-up nation.”21 These Israeli start-ups, like many around the world,
are driven by a mission to meet the needs of the world’s ever-growing
population and demand for food.
Food-giant Tyson, the largest meat producer in the United
States and the second largest worldwide, has invested $2.2 million of
21 Recent articles on Israeli efforts to produce cultivated meat include: Eitan Halon,
“Israeli Start-up to Build World’s First Lab-grown Meat Production Facility,” The
Jerusalem Post, October 11, 2019; and Nir Goldstein, “The Race for Non-Meat Protein:
How Israel Can Lead the World in Developing Food for the Future,” The Jerusalem Post,
November 10, 2019.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
seed money in Jerusalem-based Future Meat Technologies.22 Future
Meat Technologies is developing a new generation of manufacturing
technology that enables the cost-efficient production of muscle cells and
fat, the core building blocks of cultivated meat.23 Justin Whitmore, an
executive vice president at Tyson, said: “This is our first investment in
an Israel-based company and we’re excited about this opportunity to
broaden our exposure to innovative, new ways of producing protein. . . .
We continue to invest significantly in our traditional meat business, but
also believe in exploring additional opportunities for growth that give
consumers more choices.”24
On May 7, 2017, the Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology
in Haifa, hosted the first Israeli international conference on the topic
of cultivated meat, cleverly named “Future Meating.”25 Among the
conference’s local sponsors were Soglowek Food Industries and Strauss
Israel, which, along with the Innovation Authority at the Economy
and Industry Ministry, established an incubator for entrepreneurs
about two years ago—the Kitchen FoodTech Hub.26 Yaakov Nahmias,
a bioengineering professor at Hebrew University and founder of
Future Meat Technologies, has said: “Producing meat [by raising and
slaughtering animals] is very inefficient,” adding that “cultured meat by
comparison, consumes a tenth of the water, land, and energy that current
meat production requires.”27
Israeli cultivated meat start-up Aleph Farms is working to go beyond
burgers to produce lab-grown steak.28 Seeking to tap into consumer
concerns about animal welfare, health, and the environment, they hope
to have their product on the market by 2021 at a reasonable price.29
22 JTA, “Tyson Foods to Invest in Israeli Company Developing Lab-Grown Meat,”
Haaretz, May 6, 2018.
23 Ibid.
24 Ibid.
25 Ido Efrati, “Israeli Institutions Working to Bring Cultured Meat from Lab to Plate,”
Haaretz, April 30, 2017.
26 Ibid.
27 MADAN, “Israeli Start-ups Make Lab-grown ‘Clean Meat,’” March 4, 2019, http://
28 Lianne Back and Tova Cohen, “On the Menu Soon: Lab-Grown Steak,” The Jerusalem
Post, July 16, 2019.
29 Ibid.
The Future for Cultivated Animal Products
Nir Goldstein, managing director of the Good Food Institute Israel,
suggests how Israel can lead future lab-grown food development:
So what has to be done so that we will see a successful meat
substitute industry here? Simple. The government has to define
alternative protein technology as a national priority assignment.
Like cyber; like desalination technology. The Israel Innovation
Authority must finance groundbreaking research studies
through start-ups, in academia and in industry. The Agriculture,
Economy, and Environmental Protection ministries must use
the tools at their disposal to direct the Israeli food industry
toward groundbreaking innovation—and the Health Ministry
must quickly formulate a detailed program of activities for the
regulation of cultured meat, so that Israel will also be the first
country in the world in which the Israeli inventions can be
Why Are Some Vegans Against Cultivated Meat?
Vegans and vegan organizations are generally in favor of any possibility
of reducing or preferably ending the horrors of factory farming and the
systemic cruelty toward animals that it involves.31 However, some oppose
the development of cultured meat. They observe that cultivated meat is
not strictly vegan, since animals are used in its production (either as the
subjects of a biopsy from which cells are drawn or in the medium, such as
fetal bovine serum, within which currently cells are grown). They also note
that cultivated meat is still the flesh of an animal. In responding to this,
Paul Shapiro, author of Clean Meat: How Growing Meat without Animals Will
Revolutionize Dinner and the World,32 has said:
30 Goldstein, “The Race for Non-Meat Protein.”
31 Arguments from some leading vegan activists against lab-grown meat can be found
at Clean Meat Hoax, n.d.,
html. A video of a panel discussion featuring four vegans who oppose lab-grown
meat can be found at the United Poultry Concerns: 2019 Conscious Eating Conference,
32 Paul Shapiro, Clean Meat: How Growing Meat without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and
the World (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018).
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
1 2 4
Clean [Cultivated] meat is not an alternative to meat: It is meat.
The cells grow as they would in an animal’s body, which creates
actual meat, not a meat alternative. So, clean meat isn’t really
for vegans. Clean meat will be for people who are more likely
to go to KFC. The goal is to provide a type of meat that meat
eaters can consume while causing much less harm. All that said,
for vegans who are vegan solely to avoid harming animals, clean
meat does seem to alleviate that concern.33
Critics observe that the promotion of cultivated meat obscures the
reality that the simplest and best way to create a healthy, sustainable,
and ethical world food system is through a plant-based diet; that its
promotion helps the meat industry in its wider strategy of preserving
animal agriculture; and reinforces the myth that people need meat
for their health and happiness. One final critique is that with humans
running out of time to save the world, the commercialization of cultivated
meat may not come soon enough because of many technical problems
still to be solved.34 Some have suggested that the supposed health and
environmental benefits of lab-grown meat may be exaggerated, especially
since eating animal flesh, whether from a farmed animal or from a
laboratory, is likely to contain fat and cholesterol. They are concerned at
how much energy may be required to power bioreactors.
Noting the presence of and investment in cultivated meat by
multinational food companies such as Cargill, Perdue, Tyson, and
Smithfield, which profit mightily from the current slaughter of billions of
animals, these critics are skeptical at whether the promise of cultivated
meat ending industrialized animal production will be met. Moreover,
they state, promoting cultivated meat as the “solution” to food-related
problems diverts attention away from the delicious and popular plantbased
food alternatives, and from the massive mistreatment of animals
raised on factory farms and other negatives of animal agriculture.
Furthermore, the emphasis on cultivated meat implies that the vegan
33 Midge Raymond, “Is So-called Clean Meat Vegan? Paul Shapiro Has the Answer,”
VegNews, January 2018,
34 See Sam Bloch, “The Hype and the Hope Surrounding Lab-Grown Meat,” The New
Food Economy, July 23, 2019.
The Future for Cultivated Animal Products
movement has failed and that developing meats of different kinds is the
way of the future.
One final question is worth asking: Is cultivated meat kosher? Yes,
according to Israeli Orthodox Rabbi Yuval Cherlov, a member of the
Tzohar Rabbinical Organization, who ruled that cloned (or cultured)
meat is not subject to the rules that apply to the consumption of regular
meat.35 He added that “cloned meat produced [even] from a pig shall not
be defined as prohibited for consumption—including with milk.”36 As
cultivated meat approaches commercial availability, its kosher status will
be discussed at greater length by rabbinic authorities, but the consensus
so far is that it is kosher.37
In view of the many deleterious and destructive practices and outcomes of
animal agriculture that I’ve enumerated in this book’s previous chapters,
I believe everything possible should be done to reduce the consumption of
meat and other products from animals, given the urgency of rapid changes
needed in order to avert a climate catastrophe and other environmental
threats to humanity. I consider the ideal diet to consist of locally grown
organic fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes; and
because there has already been outstanding progress in producing plantbased
burgers and other animal substitutes that are increasingly receiving
wide acceptance and acclaim (even from meat-loving consumers) because
their taste and texture are virtually indistinguishable from present
commercial meat-based burgers, vegans should prioritize promoting
these plant-based foods even more than cultivated meat. In addition, I
want and would expect cultivated meat to be thoroughly tested before
it becomes commercially available to make sure there are no significant
unanticipated problems or negative side effects.
35 JTA, “Rabbi Says Meat from Genetically Cloned Pig Could be Eaten by Jews, Including
with Milk,” Haaretz, March 25, 2018.
36 Ibid.
37 Gabriella Gershonson, “No Animals Were Harmed in the Production of This Steak,”
The Tablet, June 11, 2019; and Bruce Friedrich, “Why Clean Meat Is Kosher,” Good
Food Institute blog, June 22, 2017,
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
Finally, whether or not a vegan decides to consume cultivated meat,
I think vegans in general should support efforts to produce such products
that are tasty, affordable, and healthy, because they have the potential
to markedly reduce animal suffering, climate change, environmental
degradation, hunger, life-threatening ailments, and other negative effects
of eating conventional meat.
1 2 7
Livi ng as a Vegan and a Jew
In this book I have attempted to present the evidence that the world is in
the throes of a climate catastrophe. Self-reinforcing positive feedback
loops (vicious cycles) are moving the climate system toward irreversible
tipping points. If we fail to act rapidly and decisively, these will bring
massive climate disruptions, with calamitous results for all life on Earth.
Because animal agriculture is a major cause of global warming, a shift
toward veganism is key to the effort to avert this climate catastrophe.
Such a shift is becoming easier than ever, thanks to monumental progress
in simulating popular animal foods with plant-based and animal cell–
based ingredients.
As this book documents, many potentially fatal diseases can be
prevented and in some cases reversed by positive lifestyle changes,
including a vegan diet; in an age of resource scarcity, diets full of animal
products require far more land, energy, water, and other resources per
person than plant-based diets; and although the world already produces
more than enough food to feed every person on the planet, we waste
it through turning so much of it into animal feed. In addition, climate
change will only exacerbate tensions around the planet as desperate
refugees flee droughts, wildfires, storms, floods, and other severe climate
events, making terrorism and war more likely.
These issues animate my life, and they impact what food I place in
my mouth. Although I have been a vegan for many years, I still encounter
the assumption that my diet is a deprivation—an ascetical practice that
runs contrary to a deeper biological or emotional need that I may have
to eat animal products. It is as if vegans are expected at any moment to
throw up their hands and return to eating meat and dairy, relieved of
their burden of conscience.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
No doubt there are some people who may feel deprived, or may
indeed relish the notion that they are practicing some kind of austerity.
As with all regimens, there’s a danger that someone might adopt a
restrictive vegan diet as a cover for orthorexia, particularly as a way of
getting attention or feeling empowered by controlling the body’s urges.1
For me, however, veganism is a life-affirming and life-giving diet
and set of values that is about plenitude and pleasure. It offers a daily
reminder of our responsibilities as stewards of creation and environmental
remediation, and it provides me with a way to protest the sheer insanity
that non-vegan diets represent. It offers a prospect of peace and security
for all.
In fact, veganism couldn’t be further removed from deprivation or
denial. Not only are there an astonishingly wide variety of plant-based
foods, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, pulses, and grains, but cuisines from
all over the world offer thousands of dishes that are either already vegan
or can easily be made so. Indeed, over the last couple of decades vegan
options have moved from health food stores, co-ops, and stores selling
ethnic foods, to supermarkets all over the United States and many other
places around the world. Tofu, tempeh, and seitan—to name some of the
classic formulations of bean curd and wheat gluten, respectively—have
now been supplemented with an ever-expanding range of plant-based
burgers, sausages, crumbles, and slices; an enormous array of cheeses
made of various kinds of nuts, and many varieties of yogurts, milks, and
butters; and a panoply of vegan juices, smoothies, and snacks sit alluringly
on or near the check-out counter.
That said, if you’re persuaded by anything you’ve read in these pages
and want to go vegan, it might be wise to prepare yourself: either by
reducing animal products over time, or by filling your kitchen cabinets
before taking the leap. Many of us, when we began, were concerned
(unreasonably) that we would not be getting enough protein. Don’t worry.
As long as you are eating sufficient calories via a variety of wholesome
plant-based foods, you’ll meet all your protein needs. However, if you
are concerned, then a few good sources of plant-based protein are nuts,
1 For more on orthorexia and veganism, see Plenty Vegan, “You Are Not What
You Eat: Instagram, Veganism & Orthorexia,” n.d.,
Living as a Vegan and a Jew
1 2 9
seeds, lentils, tofu, and tempeh. Many common foods such as whole
grain bread, broccoli, spinach, potatoes, corn, and peas add to protein
The only caution doctors and dietitians have regarding your vegan
diet is to make sure you take a B12 vitamin supplement. B12 (cobalamin) is
an essential mineral found in microbes, which because of the destruction
of the health of our soil and our sanitized food system, are becoming
much less common. Nonetheless, they are necessary. Thankfully, many
vegan foods are fortified with B12. However, always consult your doctor
about any aspects of your diet, and ask to be tested for your B12 levels.2 You
do not have to be an expert on all aspects of nutrition as long as you know
the basics and are willing to learn more.
In every instance, be sure to eat a wide variety of foods, preferably in
season, rather than depend on a limited selection of foods with which you
were previously familiar. Experiment with new foods; dare to improvise!
Invite people over to share your food; approach each meal positively and
with joy.
If you fancy yourself a chef, hundreds of cookbooks are in print
catering to all kinds of tastes and culinary interests, and there are
innumerable videos online showing you how to make any dish from
scratch. Several magazines, hundreds of blogs, and monthly food festivals
and annual conferences provide you with many opportunities to learn
more about veganism and encounter the diversity of lifestyles, attitudes,
and interests shared by vegans.
Become familiar with vegan restaurants in your area, and if you have
questions related to kosher vegan dining, then consult a trusted rabbinical
authority. Associate with other vegans and vegetarians and become friendly
with health-minded people for mutual support and reinforcement. A sense
of community is important, even if socialization is mostly by telephone or
on social media. This is especially the case for children: they should know
that there are others with diets similar to theirs.
2 See Michael Greger, MD, “Vitamin B12. Nutrition Facts,” n.d., https://nutritionfacts.
org/topics/vitamin-b12/; and Virginia Messina, “The Vegan RD,” n.d., https://www.
primer/. B12 deficiency affects not only vegans. See Rise of the Vegan, “B12:
Why It’s Not Just a Vegan Issue,” February 19, 2017,
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
Community is also valuable because you will find that, although
the larger society in which you move is much more accommodating to
your diet than it used to be, misconceptions and hurdles exist. This is
particularly true of social occasions. If you are invited to a wedding,
bar/bat mitzvah, or dinner at a home, respectfully let your hosts know
beforehand that you are a vegan. Generally, they will comply cordially
and they may enjoy preparing a special meal for you and other guests. If
they ask “why?” use this as an opportunity to respectfully educate them,
using the information in this book and books in the bibliography.
If you feel it would be an imposition for your host to prepare something
special for you, offer to bring a vegan dish. This will not only relieve the
pressure on the host, but will also provide the opportunity to introduce
the host and other guests, whose knowledge of and experience with vegan
food may be limited, to something really wonderful! Situations such as
these can often lead to stimulating discussions on why one chose to be
My advice is to not become overly obsessed with label-reading or
purity tests. Our aim as conscious eaters should be to consume food that
is as health-giving as possible; to source that food locally and seasonally;
to pay attention to the rights of workers who picked or prepared that
food; and to try to live as lightly on the land as possible. These are high
barriers to leap, and it may be difficult because of our life circumstances
to surmount them all at once. So, if you accidentally eat something that
contains an animal product; or if you find it hard to reduce your intake
of junk food or high-fat oils or artificial sweeteners in your diet; or if
you tend to enjoy food out of a can more than you do freshly grown—
then don’t take yourself to task too much. Animal products are in many
everyday items; it is impossible to be perfect.
The Active Vegan
“How can you tell if someone is vegan?” runs a set-up to a joke that’s
familiar to vegans. “Don’t worry,” comes the answer. “They’ll tell you.”3
3 Korinne Bricker, “How Can You Tell If Someone Is Vegan? Don’t Worry, They’ll
Tell You,” Medium, March 14, 2017,
Living as a Vegan and a Jew
As you can probably tell from reading this book, I am passionately
committed to veganism, and I am not alone. We can see how much is
wrong with our current treatment of animals, and how consequential
that maltreatment is for the environment, human health, and the future
of the planet, so that it is hard not to want to tell everyone we meet about
the problem and the remedy, as we see them. Many of us see it as a moral
imperative to change people’s minds as well as their practices, before it
is too late.
It’s likely that once you adopt a vegan lifestyle you will become an
activist; or, you will be seen by others as an activist, simply by the choices
you make at the dinner table. That’s why it is valuable to be well informed
and knowledgeable—and also, as it turns out, why it’s important to
remember that you likely were once not a vegan. Openness, attentiveness,
and modesty are virtues. In the heat of new awareness it can be hard
to remember how you might have reacted to someone if they’d berated
you for eating animals; your ideas will be more welcome and probably
better received if you treat people’s questions with respect and respond
in the appropriate tone. That applies with family members, friends,
colleagues at work, local or national officials, businesses, and associations
you approach. It even applies with your doctor. Because medical school
has traditionally not incentivized the role of diet in general health, your
doctor may know less than you do about your diet. Respectfully, help
deepen their knowledge of the many health benefits of a vegetarian or
vegan diet.
You can also present your veganism to the world less vocally: on
bumper stickers or with buttons; donating books on veganism for your
local library; writing to the editors of newspapers, penning op-eds,
starting your own blog, or using a social media site. You can offer cooking
demonstrations; join a group providing vegan food for the homeless or
the elderly; or set up your own co-op, restaurant, or food cart.
In all such matters, it’s important to not let the perfect become the
enemy of the good. If your correspondents or interlocutors are not willing
to become vegans, encourage them to at least make a start by giving
up red meat and/or having one or two meatless meals a week (perhaps
Mondays and Thursdays, which were traditional Jewish fast days).
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
Furthermore, remember that veganism is only part of our struggle for a
more just, peaceful, compassionate, environmentally sustainable world.
All of us should try to affect public policy with regard to vegan-related
issues, including preserving health, showing compassion to animals,
conserving natural resources, helping hungry people, and seeking and
pursuing peace.
If you are Jewish, you can ask your rabbi to raise issues around
veganism and the treatment of animals in your synagogue, or ask
whether you can do this yourself. You can request that meat and other
animal products not be served at synagogue and Jewish organizational
functions and celebrations—or at least that healthy vegan options be
provided. Groups such as the International Jewish Vegetarian Society
and Jewish Veg (formerly Jewish Vegetarians of North America) provide
many resources to help you with your facts and arguments.
Ask Jewish school principals and camp directors to provide students
with nutritious vegan options, and even see whether trips can be arranged
to visit a slaughterhouse or factory farm (if that is possible in your area).
You can veganize your festivals. (See Appendix C.)
If you ever feel frustrated or overwhelmed by the many crises facing
the world today and the difficulties in trying to help shift people toward
vegan diets, please consider the following. Jewish tradition teaches, “You
are not obligated to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist
from it” (Pirkei Avot 2:21). We must make a start and do whatever we can
to improve the world. Judaism teaches that a person is obligated to protest
when there is evil and to proceed from protest to action. Judaism also
teaches that the world is evenly balanced between good and evil and that
each person’s actions can determine the destiny of the entire world.
Even if little is accomplished, trying to make improvements will
prevent the hardening of your heart and will affirm that you accept moral
responsibility. The very act of consciousness raising is meaningful because
it may lead to future changes. Also, as you plant seeds of information, you
never know what positive things might eventually result.
Veganism is my practice and my journey. In this book, I’ve tried
to show that veganism is the diet and lifestyle most consistent with
fundamental Jewish teachings, which oblige us to preserve our health,
Living as a Vegan and a Jew
treat animals with kindness, protect and preserve the environment, feed
the hungry, and pursue peace. I hope I have demonstrated, using the
wisdom of the sages and the scriptures, that the exploitation of animals
is an egregious violation of the Jewish obligation to be kind to animals.
I have suggested that Jews, including those who observe kashrut, have
freedom of dietary choice, and that choice should not be based solely on
habit, convenience, or tradition. Instead, it should be animated by an
ethical consideration of the impact the food we eat has upon our fellow
human beings, the animals with whom we share this planet, and the
planet itself.
Furthermore, Jewish traditions call upon us to be active agents in
the fight to avert catastrophic climate change, while promoting peace,
justice, and compassion for all. We must strive for tikkun olam, to repair a
broken world. And we can do it in the way that fits our interests, skills,
and personality: from “being the change” we wish to see in the world, to
engaging in respectful one-on-one conversations, to writing, tweeting,
leafleting, voting, and demonstrating.
I believe the principles I’ve articulated are not only my vision of
Judaism, but are fundamental truths of the faith. Judaism teaches us
that God’s compassion is over all His works (Psalms 145:9), that the
righteous individual considers the well-being of animals (Proverbs
12:10), and that Jews must refrain from tza’ar ba’alei chayim, the needless
infliction of pain on animals. Judaism calls upon us to engage boldly
and unshirkingly in the struggle against injustice, oppression, and
idolatry, and to proclaim that God is the Creator of all life, and that
His holy attributes of kindness, compassion, and just benevolence are to
be emulated by us, His children.
Judaism asserts that every person is created in God’s image (Genesis
1:26, 5:1) and is precious and invaluable, and directs us to work with
God to preserve and perfect the world as stewards of Earth’s resources to
ensure that God’s bounties are used for the benefit of all (see Genesis 2:15).
Judaism cautions us that nothing useful should be selfishly or frivolously
wasted or destroyed (bal tashchit, based on Deuteronomy 20:19, 20), and
bids us to love other people as ourselves and to be kind to strangers.
For, note the scriptures, “we were strangers in the land of Egypt,” and
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
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we should be compassionate toward others who are poor, homeless,
orphaned, widowed, or simply members of other species.
It is a Judaic priority to relieve hunger. One who feeds a hungry
person is considered, in effect, to have fed God Himself. Judaism
mandates that we must seek and pursue peace. Great is peace, for it is
one of God’s names, all of God’s blessings are contained in it, and it will
be the Messiah’s first blessing. Judaism likewise exhorts us to pursue
justice, to work toward a social order in which every person is able to
obtain through meaningful and dignified work a secure and fulfilling
life. And that, finally, the Jewish people are mandated to be a “light unto
the nations,” compassionate followers of a compassionate God, setting a
positive example for others to follow.
For these reasons, and much more, I am proud to be a Jew. I am
proud of our wonderful and universal teachings. Applying them to the
world today is vital if we are to steer our endangered civilization onto
a sustainable path. I hope that if you are Jewish, and even if you are
of another faith, or no faith at all, you will join in the mission to apply
these values to the challenges of today. I hope my efforts will help to
revitalize Judaism and return disaffected Jews to its embrace. It is also my
hope that this book will provoke respectful discussions within the Jewish
community, and beyond. Such discussions can lead us to a vegan world
in which “they shall neither harm nor destroy on all My holy mount”
(Isaiah 11:9).
The futures of Judaism and our imperiled planet depend on it. There
is no Planet B!
First, I wish to express my thanks to God by reciting the traditional
Jewish blessing (Shehechiyanu) pronounced when a person reaches a
milestone in life: “Blessed are You, our God, King of the universe, Who
has kept us alive and sustained us, and brought us to this season.”
In writing this book, I was very fortunate to have received input from
a wide variety of dedicated and extremely knowledgeable individuals
about the important issues considered.
I want to express much appreciation to Jonathan Wolf for his many
years of providing valuable suggestions for my Judaica books. I want to
abundantly thank Rabbi Yonassan Gershom, a long-time vegetarian
activist and author of several books, including Kapporos Then and Now:
Toward a More Compassionate Tradition, for his very valuable suggestions
over many years, many of which are also reflected in my previous book,
Who Stole My Religion: Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help
Heal Our Impaired Planet.
Rabbi Dovid Sears, a Breslov chasid and author of several Judaica
books, provided many valuable suggestions on possible cooperation
between activists for better conditions for animals and religious Jews.
The following. listed alphabetically, reviewed many chapters of the
book and provided significant input: Sud Baumel, long-time editor of the
Aquarian magazine; Steve Kaufman, chair of the Christian Vegetarian
Association; Lewis Regenstein, long-time vegan activist and author;
Jayn Meinhardt and David Sickles, long-time vegan activists, and Rabbi
Barry Singer.
Paul Shapiro, author of Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals
Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World, and Matt Ball, senior media relations
specialist for the Good Food Institute (GFI), provided very significant
suggestions for the chapter on cultivated (lab-grown) meat.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
People who reviewed one or more chapters of the manuscript and
made helpful suggestions include Professor Daniel Brook, PhD; author
Judy Carman; Jonathan Danilowitz; Professor David Faiman, PhD; Bruce
Friedrich, founder and director of the Good Food Institute; Batzion Shlomi;
and Yossi Wolfson, coordinator of the Israeli Jewish Vegetarian Society.
The following people made important suggestions that helped me
select the title for this book: Lisa Apfelberg, Rabbi Susan Conforti, Lionel
Friedberg, Jayn Meinhardt, Tom Meinhardt, Rabbi David Rosen, Rabbi
Barry Silver, Steve Schuster, and Batzion Shlomi.
I want to thank Rabbi David Rosen for his wonderful foreword and
the valuable advice he provided for many aspects of this book.
I appreciate Igor Fersthtenfeld for his valuable computer help.
I can’t begin to find the words to thank Martin Rowe, president
of Lantern Publishing & Media, for his very thorough editing, which
enlivens and strengthens much of this book, and for everything else he
did to get this book published as efficiently as possible.
The contributors named above do not necessarily agree with
everything in this book, nor did I always use their suggestions. Although
everyone mentioned was very helpful in the writing process, I take full
responsibility for the final selection of material and interpretations, as
well as any errors. I apologize in advance to any contributors whom I
might have inadvertently omitted.
I wish to express deep appreciation to my dear wife, Loretta; our
children, Susan (and David) Kleid, David, and Devorah (and Ariel)
Gluch; and my grandchildren: Shalom Eliahu, Ayelet Breindel, Avital
P’nina, and Michal Na’ama Kleid; and Eliyahu, Ilan Avraham, Yosef,
Yael Shachar, Talya Nitzan, and Ayala Neta Gluch, and my first and only
great-grandson, Netta Nissenboim, for their patience, understanding,
and encouragement, as I took time away from family responsibilities to
gather and write this material.
Finally, I wish to thank in advance everyone who will read this book
and send me ideas and suggestions for improvements, so that I can more
effectively help work to revitalize Judaism and increase awareness of how
the application of Judaism’s eternal values can help shift our imperiled
planet onto a sustainable path.
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Appendix A
Voic es of Vegnism Reinforcing the message of a vegan revolution in Israel and worldwide, with momentum toward veganism accelerating, I present statements from Jewish vegan and vegetarian activists, in alphabetical order. Jeffrey Spitz Cohan is executive director of Jewish Veg, formerly Jewish Vegetarians of North America. He speaks frequently on Jewish vegetarianism and veganism and related topics throughout the United States and Canada. In September 2017, seventy-five rabbis signed a statement circulated by Jewish Veg, urging their fellow Jews to transition to plant-based diets. For many of the rabbis, a main motivation to sign stemmed from one simple reason: The Torah mandate of tza’ar ba’alei chayim is being grotesquely violated in modern animal agriculture, making the method of slaughter a moot point. Tza’ar ba’alei chayim is the Torah mandate to prevent and alleviate animal suffering. Sadly, a kosher hechsher on a package of meat does not mean the animal was treated humanely. The issue here is not whether shechita, kosher slaughter, is better or worse than any other type of slaughter. The issue is that the kosher meat companies do not raise their own animals. They buy their animals from the same cruel industry that supplies Oscar Meyer and Tyson—in other words, the secular meat industry. Rather than go into graphic detail, suffice it to say that the standard practices on factory farms, animal-auction houses, animal-transport Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n 138 vehicles, and feedlots are unspeakably cruel, a desecration of God’s name, and a clear-cut violation of tza’ar ba’alei chayim. In Judaism, a mitzvah cannot be enabled by an aveirah, a sin. So, no matter how careful a shochet is, it just doesn’t matter. A grievous sin, actually many sins, were committed to get the animal to that point. Meat nowadays cannot be considered truly kosher. It’s really that simple. Rabbi Gabriel Cousens is a U.S.-based vegan holistic physician, homeopath, psychiatrist, family therapist, ayurvedic practitioner, and Chinese herbalist. In addition, he’s a leading diabetes researcher, ecological leader, spiritual master, and founder and director of the Tree of Life Foundation and Tree of Life Center U.S. He is the bestselling author of There Is a Cure for Diabetes, Conscious Eating, Spiritual Nutrition: Six Foundations for Spiritual Life, Creating Peace by Being Peace, Torah as a Guide to Enlightenment, and Depression Free for Life. He is considered one of the leading live-food vegan medical doctors and holistic physicians, and a world expert on spiritual nutrition. Current meat-consumption practices contradict Torah values and therefore diminish kedusha (holiness) in at least seven areas—health; cruelty to animals; respect for God’s creation; avoiding wastefulness; feeding the hungry; pursuing peace; and following the Ten Speakings, commonly known as the Ten Commandments. In my work as an actual genetic Levite and thriving frum ( Jewishly observant) Jewish vegan (since 1973), and as an author of thirteen books on spirituality and vegan nutrition, including Torah as a Guide to Enlightenment, I have added the following reasons for considering Jewish veganism to be the new kashrut because of its powerful effect in uplifting Am Yisrael and the whole world. In the larger context, veganism as the new kashrut is not a new idea and goes back to Gan Eden. “And HaShem Elohim [God] commanded the man, saying: ‘Of every tree of the garden, you may freely eat . . . ’” (Genesis 2:16), “ . . . and you shall eat the herbs of the field” (Genesis 3:18). Voices of Vegnism
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“God did not permit Adam and his wife to kill a creature and to eat its
flesh. Only every green herb shall they all eat together.”1 “Adam was not
permitted meat for purposes of eating.”2
Holistic Torah vegetarianism is the consciousness of sanctifying
ourselves and creating holiness for ourselves in the act of eating. It
involves experiencing and choosing to invoke the holiness both in the
raising of the food as well as in the eating of the food. What and how
we eat is both the cause and effect of our consciousness. In essence,
Holistic Torah vegetarianism turns the continuum of eating into an
act of sanctification and holiness, which in turn helps us maintain our
holiness in the act of eating. Vegan as the New Kosher is best suited for
the protection of the germ cell and the continuation of the generations
to be. The teaching “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28) is followed
by the vegan directive in Genesis 1:29, as the dietary approach to be
fruitful and multiply. Immediately after God gave humankind dominion
over animals (Genesis 1:26), He prescribed vegan foods as the diet for
humans (Genesis 1:29).
A vegan diet in Judaism contains a moral symmetry that is concerned
for human health, for animal life, for nature. It holds the deepest level of
moral, ethical, and Torah insight that what is good for human health and
spirit is also good for the health of the planet and all life on it. Beyond
all question, our future and the survival of this planet depend upon
the consciousness of holistic Torah veganism. Holistic Torah veganism
supports the strengthening of spiritual sovereignty and expansion of
consciousness. The spiritual evolution that emerges from that is the
irresistible force pushing us to a thousand years of peace.
Lionel Friedberg is a documentary film producer, director,
cinematographer, and writer who has written and produced films for
Animal Planet, CBS, PBS, the History Channel, the Discovery Channel,
and the National Geographic Channel. He produced and directed, along
1 Rashi’s commentary on Genesis 1:29. Quoted in Barbara Allen, Animals in Religion:
Devotion, Symbol and Reality (London: Reaktion Books, 2016), 168.
2 Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 59b.
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with his wife, Diana (a professional film editor), the Jewish Vegetarians
of North America–sponsored movie A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish
Values to Help Heal the World as a labor of love and dedication, thus
enabling the video to be produced and widely distributed.
Old habits are hard to break. But when it comes to survival—for ourselves,
for our children, for our fellow beings, for our society, for our planet—there
are some things that need critical reassessing and adjusting. What we put
on our plates and in our mouths, and how we live our lives, affects every
single one of us. When I realized this some forty years ago as a filmmaker
trying to make sense of our world and its ever-growing sets of challenges, I
recognized that those morsels of dead flesh, those eggs and bodily fluids of
non-human beings, that I was swallowing at every mealtime were having a
profound effect on the environment, on the creatures from which we were
obtaining them, and on my own personal health. The moral, physical,
and health costs of maintaining an unsustainable Western diet derived
from animal foods were becoming too great. I had to do something about
it. Fortunately, there were those who showed me the way, and I have never
looked back since becoming a vegan.
It is not only about ethics, moral conviction, and religious teachings.
Modern science is as clear as a bell on the terrifying cost of clinging
to a non-vegan diet. Whole tracts of virginal land, from the Amazon
rainforest to the verdant plains of the Americas, are being plowed over
to grow genetically modified soybeans to feed cattle who are injected
with poisonous chemicals to cause excessive and rapid growth, merely
to provide us with a cheap hamburger. The world’s oceans are rapidly
becoming devoid of life as overfishing trawls and sucks the last remaining
organisms from the depths. . . .
It is up to every single one of us to help make a difference and right
these awful wrongs. And it begins at a very simple place . . . on the
dinner plate. That is not difficult to accomplish. And that is why I am a
Voices of Vegnism 1 4 1 Alex Hershaft, PhD, is a Holocaust survivor and an animal rights pioneer, as well as co-founder and president of the Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM). Formed in 1976, FARM is the oldest organization promoting the idea that animals should not be raised for food. Working with Jewish Veg, he has frequently talked about how his experience as a Holocaust survivor inspired him to speak out for defenseless animals. I chose the vegan lifestyle in 1981, and regret only not having done it much earlier. I did it for health—mine and my family’s, the animals, and our endangered planet. Consumption of animal meat and dairy products has been linked conclusively with elevated risks of stroke, heart disease, cancer, and other chronic killer diseases. Today, at age 85, I still work out every day and dance on weekends, and my mind is still active. A number of undercover investigations in the past decades have provided ample evidence that animal agriculture inflicts mind-boggling abuses on the animals it raises for food. Animal agriculture is responsible for more emissions of human-induced greenhouse gases than any other industrial sector, including transportation. It dumps more pollutants into our water supplies than all other human activities combined. It is chiefly responsible for the destruction of forests and other wildlife habitats. All forms of oppression, including the Holocaust, must have social sanction in order to succeed. Given social sanction, some of the nicest and most enlightened people in the world, including our best friends, will engage in and/or subsidize atrocities and murder of sentient beings. That social sanction is first manifested to a four-year-old, when we tell him or her that society has decreed that Rex on the sofa is to be fed, watered, walked, and cherished, but Babe on his plate, equivalent in nearly every respect, is to be abused, killed, cut into small pieces, and shoved into his face. Discrimination and oppression will never end until each of us assumes personal responsibility for our actions, to minimize any harm we may be causing, however unintentionally. This to me is what veganism is all about. Jews, who have been associated with some of history’s most egregious oppression, should be particularly sensitive to this issue and go vegan. Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n 1 4 2 Rabbi Asa Keisar is an Israeli religious scholar who writes and speaks widely, arguing that veganism is a Torah imperative and the ideal diet for humanity. In 2015, he wrote the book Velifnei Iver, “Before the Blind,” because of his belief that those who promote meat and other animal products are violating the Torah commandment: “Do not put a stumbling block before the blind” (Leviticus 19:4). Keisar argues in his book that Jews are not permitted to eat meat, dairy products, or eggs, because the modern industrial production of these foods violates Jewish teachings on compassion to animals. Keisar has given away copies of his book to thousands of Israeli yeshiva students and has lectured at yeshivas, universities, and high schools throughout Israel. A video of his lecture on YouTube has been viewed over two million times. Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s president, who is a vegetarian, wrote a letter to Keisar on November 13, 2017, praising his work promoting veganism as a Jewish and moral imperative. Rivlin wrote: “You are doing groundbreaking work, nothing less than a true revolution.” Today we are witnessing a phenomenon that is growing daily— the moral cry of people from all over the world in the face of the cruel abuse currently occurring in the animal food industry. With nearly 15 percent of the Israeli population choosing a plant-based diet, Israel may be on track to becoming the first vegan country in the world. Such an achievement would be a global Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s name) that would cause the image of the State of Israel to skyrocket. We would become a role model for other nations in our values of morality, justice, and peace. Justice and peace begin with how we treat those who are below us, i.e., under our sovereignty—animals and plants—as the prophet Hosea says regarding the end of days: “I will make a covenant for them with the animals of the field and the birds of heaven and the creeping creatures of earth” (Hosea 2:18). This means there will first be peace between people and animals, and only then “I will abolish bow and arrow from the earth and all will dwell safely.” I will conclude with a quote from Reuven Rivlin, the vegetarian president of Israel, in a letter to me: “Returning to the caring sensitive Jewish heart and imparting the knowledge that veganism is not only a moral imperative but also a Jewish one, is no doubt an important step toward the desired change. It is my hope that in the coming years more Voices of Vegnism
1 4 3
and more people will join your just journey so that the Jewish people and
the State of Israel will soon become a ‘light unto the nations’ (Isaiah 49:6)
and pride itself, among other things, in having a moral and conscientious
policy toward animals.”
David Krantz is a co-founder, president, and chairperson of Aytzim
(Hebrew for “trees”), parent organization of the Green Zionist Alliance,
Jewcology, EcoJews, Jews of the Earth, and Shomrei Breishit: Rabbis and
Cantors for the Earth. He is editor of the Jewish Energy Guide. He
has spoken about Israeli, Jewish, and interfaith environmentalism on four
Rav Kook posits at the time of the Torah we were not ready for the
ideal—but that eating meat, with the limitations of kashrut, was only a
step toward meat abstinence. After all, we cannot overcome the paradox
of meat consumption. All animals are God’s creation, and God has given
them life the same as us, a life that flows in the blood of their veins. So
the Torah prohibits the consumption of blood. But try as we might, we
cannot eliminate the blood of flesh. We salt, we dry, we cook; the blood
may become less viscous, it may escape the eye, but it remains nonetheless,
a reminder that our bloodlust—if even simply a desire to taste flesh—has
brought the life of one of God’s creations to an end. Do we refuse to
move beyond the bloodlust of our ancestors? Or do we choose to live the
biblical ideal?
Today, we face the threat of another flood, as the higher temperatures
from climate change—driven significantly by greenhouse gases released
through the raising of over 60 billion animals annually for slaughter and
consumption—melt the ice caps and raise sea levels, slowly inundating
coastal communities. After the biblical flood God promised not to destroy
the Earth again (Genesis 8:21)—however, this time we are doing it
ourselves. Adherence to the biblical ideal of consuming plants instead of
animals would have helped mitigate this climate crisis; meat abstinence
is part of the solution. We also have an ethical obligation to do so (For the
Perplexed of the Generation 10:6). And if that is found insufficient motivation,
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1 4 4
from an environmental perspective, widespread meat abstention—and its
corresponding decline in carbon emissions, water and energy consumption,
and land use—is necessary for our own survival. As we face a planetary
emergency, it is past time for us to choose the biblical ideal, and to choose
to refrain from eating our fellow animals. (Copyright © David Krantz)
Nina Natelson is founder and director of Concern for Helping Animals in
Israel (CHAI) and its Israeli sister group Hakol CHAI.
The new kashrut and the vegan revolution are born of our longing for a
deeper spiritual existence, a closer connection to the Divine in all that
lives, and an acceptance of our power and responsibility to act as stewards
of Creation. As we become conscious of the impact of our daily choices on
our fellow humans, animals, and the entire planet, we can learn which
cause the least harm and the most good. Aligning our choices with our
beliefs and words builds integrity and transforms our lives into a visible
expression of our beliefs. Our ability to inspire and lead others grows, and
we become a force for good in the world, drawing us closer to God and
speeding a return to Eden.
All religions are based on the Golden Rule, which conforms to the
universal law of cause and effect—the energy we send out rebounds with
equal or greater force, or, simply put, what goes around comes around.
Asked to state their deepest desire, attendees of our education conferences
unanimously respond “to live in a kinder world.” By becoming vegan, we
take a giant leap toward making that hoped-for vision a reality.
Rabbi Yonatan Neril is founder and executive director of the Interfaith
Center for Sustainable Development and of Jewish Eco Seminars, which
reveal the connection between religion and ecology and mobilize people
to act. He developed faith-based vegan infographics and recorded videos
of leading rabbis speaking on Jewish veganism. Neril became vegan after
viewing the overcrowded and filthy conditions of chicken sheds in Israel.
Seeing that made him recognize that eating eggs contributes to the
Voices of Vegnism 1 4 5 suffering of chickens. He completed a B.A. and an M.A. from Stanford University, focusing on global environmental issues, and received rabbinical ordination in Israel. There are close to four chickens for every person on the planet. Chickens are the most populous animal or bird on planet Earth, and the vast majority of the world’s 24 billion chickens live in industrial sheds in order to produce eggs or be slaughtered for meat. Global egg production has doubled in just the past twenty-five years. So my heart goes out to the tens of billions of chickens in the world living in sheds. Most chickens produced in factories will never touch the ground or see the light of day. The incredible, edible egg is bound up in so much suffering for the chicken that produces it. They are produced in a factory similar to how we produce iPhones and refrigerators. But these are living beings. They are more than egg-laying machines. How we treat the mother chicken is part and parcel of how we’re treating mother Earth. The Jewish mystical tradition teaches that humans exile the feminine presence of God from Earth when humanity does not act righteously. Eggs are sold in boxes with pictures of free chickens, but that’s not the case for the vast majority of egg-producing chickens. Companies that sell eggs effectively lie to consumers by misleading them to believe that the chickens that produced the eggs were free and in nature. Consuming mainstream eggs means keeping chickens in industrial sheds. We try to be ethically, morally, and spiritually aware. There are few foods bound up in suffering as much as eggs. There is a major gap between what is happening to tens of billions of chickens, and the practice of morality in modern life. The time has come to make a change. We can start by reducing or eliminating our personal consumption of eggs. Lewis Regenstein is president of the Interfaith Council for the Protection of Animals and Nature, and the author of the essay “Commandments of Compassion: Jewish Teachings on Protecting the Planet and Its Creatures,” Replenish the Earth, and other writings on Jewish teachings about Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n 1 4 6 animals. He also writes a column for the Jewish Georgian newspaper, sometimes discussing vegetarianism, veganism, and animal rights. The massive, ongoing, and increasing devastation of the natural environment has become a critical and imminent threat to our survival. The ecological systems on which the lives of humans and, indeed, all of God’s Creation, depend, are endangered. Nothing short of a revolution in our way of thinking and acting is now required. A major part of that revolutionary change is to put into practice our responsibility to treat animals compassionately that is mandated and stressed throughout the Bible and Jewish laws and literature. It is not hard to believe that a merciful God would want His laws to be interpreted in a way that would minimize or eliminate the suffering of animals. The sixteenth-century Code of Jewish Law (Schulchan Aruch) announces: “It is forbidden, according to the law of the Torah, to inflict pain upon any living creature. On the contrary, it is our duty to relieve the pain of any creature, even if it is ownerless or belongs to a non-Jew.” The Talmud even ordains that a person must provide for his animals before eating anything, and declares that one should not have an animal unless one can properly feed and care for it (Yerushalmi Keturot 4:8, 29a; Yevanot 15). Another Hebrew teaching is that “a Jew should not sell his animal to a cruel person” (Sefer Hassidim 13c, #142, 64). The biblical prohibition against working animals on the Sabbath (Exodus 20) is a very important concept in Judaism, appearing in the holiest of the laws, the Ten Commandments. Psalm 36 proclaims: “Man and beast you save, O Lord. How precious is thy steadfast love.” And Proverbs 12:10 suggests there are two types of people: “A righteous person has regard for the life of his animal, but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.” Indeed, the Jews invented the concept of kindness to animals some four thousand years ago. There is an entire code of laws (tza’ar ba’alei chayim, the requirement “to prevent the suffering of living creatures”) mandating that animals be treated with compassion. Jews are not allowed to “pass by” an animal in distress or animals being mistreated, even on the Sabbath. Voices of Vegnism
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Given these and many other clear laws and teachings forbidding
causing unnecessary suffering of animals, the Jewish People, commanded
to be “a light unto the nations,” should do all we can to eliminate such
suffering by abandoning an unhealthy animal-centered diet that requires
the massive and unavoidably cruel raising and slaughter of intelligent
Yael Shemesh is a professor in the Bible Department at Bar-Ilan University
and chair of the Fanya Gottesfeld Heller Center for the Study of Women
in Judaism. She believes veganism will soon spread widely because social
media and other technology are enabling people to become more aware
of it and, quoting Victor Hugo, “Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose
time has come.”
Judaism means taking personal responsibility alongside the aspiration to
improve the world. So does veganism.
Genesis 1:29–30 shows that the diet instituted by God at the dawn
of Creation was purely plant-based, for humans as well as for animals.
Following the flood, when Noah and his family left the ark, God permitted
them to eat meat, but it was clearly not God’s initial intent; it was done
with obvious discomfort, just as was God’s permission for a Jew to marry
an eshet yefat to’ar—a non-Jewish woman captured in war. Now, do we
have to sanctify this reluctantly given compromise and cling to it, or
should we try to transcend it and return to the original Divine intention?
There are two main factors leading to the conclusion that it is
proper to aspire for veganism to receive the status of the ideal kashrut
in our generation, and to act in order to realize this ideal. The first is
the inconceivable cruelty practiced toward animals in the modern food
industries, which of course did not exist in biblical times, nor in those of
the sages and in fact ever, until the Industrial Revolution. Today animals
in this industry are treated as though they were a product to which almost
anything can be done for profit. This stands in complete contradiction to
the prohibition against hurting animals, and the halakhic demand to take
into account both their physical and mental needs.
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The second reason that I want to see veganism as kashrut for our
generation is the abundance in which we live today, which eliminates the
need to consume products whose production involves such excruciating
cruelty to animals. For us to avoid consumption of animal products is a
relatively small concession, while such continued consumption is fatal—
as it means the continuation of lives of indescribable suffering from birth
to death.
Charles Stahler is co-director (with his wife, Debra Wasserman) of the
Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG), an organization that works with
businesses, schools, and consumers to provide information about and
advocate for vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. The organization is highly
respected for providing clear, objective, accurate information through its
magazine, Vegetarian Journal. Before being involved with VRG, Charles
was a leader in the early days of Jewish Vegetarians of North America.
Having grown up keeping kosher, when I became vegetarian fortyfour
years ago, and then vegan forty-two years ago, it was easy not to
eat animal products. It didn’t matter that there weren’t all the exciting
vegan foods and restaurants that are available today. Experience in being
kosher in a non-kosher world made it simple. Judaism has trained us as a
people to think and study, and to do what we believe is right, no matter
the actions of people around us and without judging others.
While exhibiting at a health fair, a health educator mentioned to
me that she had an Orthodox client who was addicted to cigarettes
and couldn’t give up the habit, but on Shabbat, totally abstained from
smoking. Being Jewish allows us to make decisions, have beliefs, and take
actions beyond what’s in front of us. While we are not monks and are here
to experience what we have been given, we appreciate and see life through
a lens larger than ourselves. Though for our health, the environment, and
following Torah, we don’t have to be totally vegan, committing to being
vegan is something we can do and makes sense because of the teachings
and practices of our Judaism.
Voices of Vegnism 1 4 9 Yossi Wolfson is an attorney who’s been involved with the animal rights movement in Israel since the 1980s. After serving as the spokesperson for the Israeli Society for the Abolition of Vivisection, he cofounded Anonymous for Animal Rights, now renamed Animals Now, the prominent and proactive Israeli animal rights group. He served as coordinator for Animals in Agriculture and was a member of the legal department at Let the Animals Live. Currently, Yossi is coordinator and on the board of the Jewish Vegetarian Society in Jerusalem. Among the campaigns that he has worked on are the successful efforts to ban animal circuses, animal dissections in schools, force-feeding of geese and ducks, and veal crates. His current activism includes important work such as leafleting, lecturing, legal action, and lobbying.3 The ethos of Judaism that I was raised on was the pursuit of justice, suspicion toward power, and intolerance toward oppression. Abraham, Jeremiah, Rosa Luxemburg—the shadows of such Jewish heroes could be seen through the lenses of this version of Judaism, marching behind Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in March 1965. A chicken in the meat industry is deprived of all the bliss this world can provide. Her animality taken away, she becomes the raw material for an industrial complex she will never understand. This is tyranny, injustice, and torture. Veganism is the simple action one cannot avoid in the face of this. Another prime aspect of Judaism, for me, is that it is down-toearth. It is not primarily about philosophy, spirituality, and dogmas, but about the way one behaves. Correct view, intention, and speech may be important—but correct action is what one is ultimately judged for. In the face of current realities, veganism is correct action. Blindly applying the institutional system of Halacha can reach absurdity. Greens, high in pesticides (to avoid insects), and a tortured chicken: Is this a kosher meal? While there is a halachic case for veganism, for me the case is in the words of Isaiah: “Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: 3 Much of this information is taken from an interview on the podcast “Our Hen House,” Episode 193: Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n 150 to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6). Change “fasting” to “feasting” and you will have veganism as the new kashrut. Rabbi David Wolpe is a leading U.S. conservative rabbi, named the Most Influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek in 2012. He has authored eight books and is the spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. He writes a weekly column in the New York–based Jewish Week, which sometimes discusses vegetarianism and animal rights. “It is impossible to imagine the Master of all things, Who has mercy on all creation, making it impossible for the human race to survive except by shedding blood, even the blood of animals.” So wrote Rav Kook, the great scholar and mystic. He had famous precursors, including Abravanel, who wrote (on Exodus 16:4): “Eating meat is not essential to one’s nutrition. Rather it is a matter of gluttony . . . and gives rise to a cruel and evil temperament.” There are good reasons—health, environmental impact and sustainability, and the sheer cruelty of factory farming—that make vegetarianism desirable. After all, by the industry’s own claims, in the United States, about 3 million pounds of antibiotics are given yearly to humans and 17.8 million pounds to livestock, who frequently live in appalling conditions. The same people for whom eating a dog or cat is unthinkable eat animals as alive and aware. And sadly, no—kashrut does not ensure kindness. Ultimately, it resolves to questions of conscience and appetite. We eat 150 times as many chickens as less than a century ago, and 50 billion birds suffer and are slaughtered each year to slake our appetites. Even so-called free range chickens can be debeaked, drugged, force-molted, and cruelly slaughtered. This is the moral question. What’s your moral answer? Voices of Vegnism
Shmuly Yanklowitz is founder and director of Shamayim v’Aretz, a vegan
organization. He is an “Open Orthodox” rabbi who is the author or editor
of sixteen books, including Jewish Veganism, Jewish Veganism and
Vegetarianism, and Kashrut and Jewish Food Ethics. Newsweek
and the Daily Beast named him as one of the most influential rabbis
in America, and The Forward called him one of the most influential
Jews of 2016. In addition, he founded or co-founded Uri L’Tzedek, an
Orthodox social justice organization; YATOM, the Jewish Foster and
Adoption Network; and Torat Chayim, a “progressive minded” Orthodox
rabbinic association.
Throughout history, Jews have tried to understand the logic behind
commandments, of which the kashrut laws are among the most debated.
In addition to the technical laws of kashrut, there is the prohibition of
causing pain to animals, the mandate to pursue the holy path, and the
warning against becoming a scoundrel within the boundaries of the
technical laws.
A large portion of the Jewish community today does not ask ethical
questions with regard to kashrut. Their primary concerns when it comes
to food purchases relate to health and finances. A growing number of
Jews are gaining inspiration from the notion that kashrut helps create
communities committed to justice. Veganism leads the way in this regard.
I personally believe that Jewish tradition demands more from us.
And without following these precepts, I fear that the essence of kashrut will
wither away. Maimonides argued: “Animals feel very great pain, there
being no difference regarding this pain between man and other animals.”
Why should we be unconcerned about this pain if our tradition is
so adamant about these values? We must not acquiesce to the power of
broader consumer trends. Our moral tradition and billions of sentient
creatures depend on it.

Appendix B
Dialogue Between a Jewish
Vegan Activi st and a Rabbi
It is vital to conduct respectful dialogues within the Jewish community
on whether Jews should be vegetarians, or even vegans. In the spirit
of this debate, I have imagined a dialogue as a means of encouraging
readers to conduct such debates with local rabbis, educators, and other
Jewish leaders. These are, of course, my own thoughts, and you are free
to adapt your own.
Scene: A Jewish vegan activist meets his or her rabbi in the latter’s office.
Jewish Vegan Activist (JVA): 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 this issue is very important.
Rabbi: Well, that sounds interesting. I am never too busy to consider
important issues. What do you have in mind?
JVA: I have been reading a lot recently about the impacts of animalbased
diets on our health and the environment and about Jewish
teachings related to our diets. I wonder if I can discuss the issues
with you, and perhaps it can be put on the synagogue’s agenda
for further consideration.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
1 5 4
Rabbi: I would be happy to discuss this with you. But I hope that you
are aware that Judaism does permit the eating of meat. Some
scholars feel that it is obligatory to eat meat on Shabbat and
JVA: Yes, I recognize that Judaism permits people to eat meat. Jewish
vegetarians and vegans understand that people have a dietary
choice, but we feel that this choice should consider basic Jewish
teachings and how animal-based diets and modern intensive
livestock agriculture impinge on these teachings. For example,
we should recognize the tension between the permission to
consume animals and the extremely cruel treatment they now
receive on factory farms. With regard to eating meat on Shabbat
and holidays, according to the Talmud (Pesachim 109a), since the
destruction of the Temple, Jews are not required to eat meat in
order to rejoice on sacred occasions. This view is reinforced in
the works Reshit Chochmah and Kerem Shlomo and Rabbi Chizkiah
Medini’s Sdei Chemed, which cites many classical sources on the
subject. Several Israeli chief rabbis, including Shlomo Goren,
late Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel, and Shear Yashuv Cohen,
late Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Haifa, were vegetarians or
vegans. Also, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of
the United Kingdom, is a vegetarian, and Rabbi David Rosen,
former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, is a vegan.
Rabbi: We also should recognize that there is much in the Torah and the
Talmud about which animals are kosher and about the proper
way to slaughter animals. So eating meat is certainly not foreign
to Judaism.
JVA: Yes, but there is also much in the Torah and our other sacred
writings that point to veganism as the ideal Jewish diet. For
example, God’s initial intention was that people be vegans: “And
God said: ‘Behold, I have given you every seed bearing herb,
which is upon the surface of the entire earth, and every tree
that has seed bearing fruit; it will be yours for food’” (Genesis
Dialogue Between a Jewish Vegan Activist and a Rabbi
The foremost Jewish Torah commentator, Rashi, says
the following about God’s first dietary plan: “God did not
permit Adam and his wife to kill a creature to eat its flesh.
Only every green herb were they to all eat together.” Most
Torah commentators, including Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra,
Maimonides, Nachmanides, and Rabbi Joseph Albo, agree that
human beings were initially vegans.
In addition, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, first
chief rabbi of pre-state Israel and a major Jewish twentiethcentury
writer and philosopher, believed that the Messianic
period would also be vegan. He based this on Isaiah’s powerful
prophecy that “a wolf shall live with a lamb, . . . and a lion, like
cattle, shall eat straw. . . . They shall neither harm nor destroy
on all My holy mount” (Isaiah 11:6–9). Hence the two ideal
times in Jewish thought—the Garden of Eden and the Messianic
period—are vegan.
Rabbi: I have to tell you one thing that concerns me. Jews historically
have had many problems with some animal rights groups, which
have often opposed shechita (ritual slaughter) and advocated its
abolishment. Some have even made outrageous comparisons
between the Holocaust and the slaughter of animals for food.
JVA: Jews should consider switching to veganism not because of
the views of animal rights groups, whether they are hostile to
Judaism or not, but because it is the diet most consistent with
Jewish teachings. It is the Torah, not animal rights groups, that is
the basis for observing how far current animal treatment is from
fundamental Jewish values. As Samson Raphael Hirsch put it:
“Here you are faced with God’s teaching, which obliges you not
only to refrain from inflicting unnecessary pain on any animal,
but to help and, when you can, to lessen the pain whenever you
see an animal suffering, even through no fault of yours.”1
Rabbi: Another concern is with two teachings in Genesis: The Torah
teaches that humans are granted dominion over animals
1 See Samson Raphael Hirsch, “Do Not Destroy!” in Judaism and Human Rights, Milton R.
Konvitz, ed. (New York: Routledge, 2017), 259–64.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
(Genesis 1:26) and that only people are created in the Divine
Image (Genesis 1:27, 5:1). I fear that vegetarians are promoting
a philosophy inconsistent with these Torah teachings, hence
potentially reducing the sacredness of human life and the dignity
of human beings.
JVA: I think that if we consider how Judaism interprets these important
verses, we can go a long way to reduce this potential problem. As
you know, Jewish tradition interprets “dominion” as responsible
guardianship or stewardship: we are called upon to be co-workers
with God in improving the world. Dominion does not mean that
people have the right to wantonly exploit animals, and it certainly
does not permit us to breed animals and treat them as machines
designed solely to meet human needs.
This view is reinforced by the fact that immediately after God
gave humankind dominion over animals, God prescribed vegan
foods as the diet for humans (Genesis 1:29). Although the Torah
proclaims that only human beings are created “in the Divine
Image,” animals are also God’s creatures, possessing sensitivity
and the capacity for feeling pain. God is concerned that they are
protected and treated with compassion and justice. In fact, the
Jewish sages state that to be “created in the Divine Image” means
that people have the capacity to emulate the Divine compassion
for all creatures. “As God is compassionate,” they teach, “so you
should be compassionate.”
Rabbi: Yes, these are good points, but some vegans elevate animals to
a level equal to or greater than that of people. This is certainly
inconsistent with Judaism.
JVA: Vegans’ concern for animals and their refusal to treat them
cruelly does not mean that vegans regard animals as being equal
to people. There are many reasons for being vegan other than
consideration for animals, including concerns about human
health, environmental threats, and the plight of hungry people.
Because humans are capable of imagination, rationality,
empathy, compassion, and moral choice, we should strive to end
the unbelievably cruel conditions under which farm animals are
Dialogue Between a Jewish Vegan Activist and a Rabbi
1 5 7
currently raised. This is an issue of sensitivity, not an assertion of
equality with the animal kingdom.
Rabbi: Another issue to be considered is that, with all the problems
facing humanity today, can we devote much time to consider
animals and which diets we should have?
JVA: Vegan diets are not beneficial only to animals. They improve
human health, help conserve food and other resources, and put
less strain on endangered ecosystems. In view of the many threats
caused or worsened by today’s intensive livestock agriculture (such
as climate change, deforestation, and rapid species extinction),
working to promote veganism may be the most important action
that one can take for environmental sustainability. In addition,
a switch toward veganism would reduce the epidemic of heart
disease, various types of cancer, and other chronic degenerative
diseases that have been strongly linked to the consumption of
animal products.
Rabbi: Perhaps I am playing the devil’s advocate here, but by putting
vegan values ahead of Jewish teachings, aren’t vegans, in effect,
creating a new religion with values contrary to Jewish teachings?
JVA: Jewish vegans are not placing so-called vegan values above
Torah principles, but are respectfully challenging the Jewish
community to apply Judaism’s splendid teachings in all aspects
of our daily lives. Jewish teachings about treating animals with
compassion, guarding our health, sharing with hungry people,
protecting the environment, conserving natural resources, and
seeking peace are all best applied through vegan diets.
Rabbi: What about the Torah teachings about animal sacrifices and that
Jews had to eat korban Pesach (the Passover sacrifice) and parts of
other animal sacrifices?
JVA: The great Jewish philosopher Maimonides believed that God
permitted sacrifices as a concession to the common mode of
worship in biblical times. It was felt that had Moses not instituted
the sacrifices, his mission would have failed and Judaism might
have disappeared. The Jewish philosopher Abarbanel reinforced
Maimonides’ position by citing a midrash that indicates that
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
God tolerated the sacrifices because the Israelites had become
accustomed to sacrifices in Egypt, but that He commanded they
be offered only in one central sanctuary in order to wean the
Jews from idolatrous practices. Rav Kook and others believed
that in the Messianic period, human conduct will have improved
to such a degree that animal sacrifices will not be necessary to
atone for sins. There will be only non-animal sacrifices to express
thanks to God.
Rabbi: You have correctly pointed out that Jews must treat animals
with compassion. However, the restrictions of shechita minimize
the pain to animals in the slaughtering process, and thus fulfill
Jewish laws on proper treatment of animals.
JVA: Yes, but can we ignore the cruel treatment of animals on
factory farms in the many months, and sometimes years, prior
to slaughter? Can we ignore the removal of calves from their
mothers shortly after birth, often to raise them for veal; the killing
of over 250 million male chicks annually immediately after birth
at egg-laying hatcheries in the United States; the placing of hens
in cages so small that they can’t raise even one wing; and the
many other horrors of modern factory farming?
Rabbi: As a rabbi, I feel that I must point out that if Jews do not eat
meat, they will be deprived of the opportunity to fulfill many
JVA: By not eating meat, Jews are actually fulfilling many mitzvot:
showing compassion to animals, preserving health, protecting
the environment, conserving natural resources, and helping to
feed the hungry. And by abstaining from meat, Jews reduce the
chance of accidentally violating several prohibitions of the Torah,
such as mixing meat and milk, eating non-kosher animals, and
eating forbidden fats or blood. There are other cases where
Torah laws regulate things that God would prefer people not do.
For example, God wishes people to live in peace, but he provides
commandments relating to war, knowing that human beings
will quarrel and seek victories over others. Similarly, the Torah’s
permission to take a female captive in wartime is a concession to
Dialogue Between a Jewish Vegan Activist and a Rabbi
1 5 9
human weakness. Indeed, the sages go to great lengths to deter
people from taking advantage of such dispensations.
Rabbi: Judaism teaches that it is wrong not to take advantage of the
pleasurable things that God has provided. Since people find it
pleasurable to eat meat, is it not wrong to refrain from eating
JVA: Can eating meat be pleasurable to a sensitive person when he
or she knows that, as a result, their health is endangered, grain
is wasted, the environment is damaged, and animals are being
cruelly treated? One can indulge in pleasure without doing harm
to living creatures. There are several other cases in Judaism
where actions that people may consider pleasurable are forbidden
or discouraged—such as the use of tobacco, drinking liquor to
excess, having sexual relations out of wedlock, and hunting.
Rabbi: As you know, the laws of kashrut are very important in Judaism.
But a movement by Jews toward veganism would lead to less
emphasis on kashrut, and eventually possibly a disregard of these
JVA: I believe that there would be just the opposite effect. In many
ways, becoming a vegan makes it easier and less expensive
to observe the laws of kashrut. This might attract many new
adherents to keeping kosher, and eventually to other important
Jewish practices. As a vegan, one need not be concerned with
mixing milchigs [dairy products] with fleishigs [meat products];
waiting three or six hours after eating meat before being allowed
to eat dairy products; storing four complete sets of dishes, extra
silverware, pots, pans, etc.; and many other considerations
incumbent upon the non-vegan who wishes to observe kashrut.
Rabbi: I must express a concern for the livelihoods of some of my
congregants and other Jews. If everyone became vegans, butchers,
shochtim [slaughterers], and others dependent for a living on the
consumption of meat would lack work.
JVA: There could be a shift from the production of animal products
to that of nutritious vegan dishes. In England during World War
II, when there was a shortage of meat, butchers relied mainly
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
on the sale of other foods. Today, businesses that previously sold
meat and other animal products could sell tofu, miso, falafel,
soy burgers, and vegan cholent [Sabbath hot dish]. Besides, the
shift toward veganism would be gradual, providing time for a
transition to other jobs.
The same kind of question can be asked about other moral
issues. What would happen to arms merchants if we had universal
peace? What would happen to some 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 because some people earn a living in the process.
Rabbi: If veganism solves some problems, doesn’t it create others? For
example, if everyone became vegan, wouldn’t animals overrun
JVA: Respectfully, this concern is based on an insufficient understanding
of animal behavior. For example, there are millions of turkeys
around at Thanksgiving not because they want to help celebrate
the holiday, but because farmers breed them for dinner tables.
Dairy cows are artificially inseminated annually so that they will
constantly produce milk. Before the establishment of modern
intensive livestock agriculture, food supply and demand kept
animal populations relatively steady. An end to the manipulation
of animals’ reproductive lives to suit our needs would lead to a
decrease, rather than an increase, in the number of animals. We
are not overrun by animals that we do not eat, such as lions,
elephants, and crocodiles.
Rabbi: Instead of advocating veganism, shouldn’t we alleviate the evils
of factory farming so that animals are treated better, less grain is
wasted, and fewer health-harming chemicals are used?
JVA: The breeding of animals is big business. Animals are raised
the way they are today because it is very profitable. Improving
conditions for animals would certainly be a positive step, but it
has been strongly resisted by the meat industry since it would
push up already high prices. Why not abstain from eating meat
Dialogue Between a Jewish Vegan Activist and a Rabbi
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 mercies are upon all His works” (Psalm 145:9),
when it is not necessary for proper nutrition?
Rabbi: If vegan diets were best for human health, wouldn’t doctors
recommend them?
JVA: Although still relatively a small number, more and more doctors
do recommend vegan, or at least vegetarian, diets. Unfortunately,
although doctors are devoted to the well-being of their patients,
many lack information about the basic relationship between food
and health, because nutrition is not sufficiently taught at most
medical schools. Also, many patients are resistant to making
dietary changes. The accepted approach today seems to be to
prescribe medications first and perhaps recommend a diet change
as an afterthought. However, there now seems to be burgeoning
awareness on the part of doctors about the importance of proper
nutrition; but the financial power of the beef, dairy, and egg
lobbies and other groups that gain from the status quo prevents
rapid changes. Experts on nutrition, including the American and
Canadian dietetic associations, stress the many health benefits of
plant-centered diets.
Rabbi: Some of my congregants would respond: I enjoy eating meat. Why
should I give it up?
JVA: If one is solely motivated by what will bring pleasure, perhaps
no answer to this question would be acceptable. But as you well
know, Judaism wishes us to be motivated by far more: doing
mitzvot, performing good deeds and acts of charity, sanctifying
ourselves in the realm of the permissible, helping to feed the
hungry, pursuing justice and peace, etc. Even if one is primarily
motivated by considerations of pleasure and convenience, the
negative health effects of animal-centered diets should be
considered. One cannot enjoy life when one is not in good
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
Rabbi: Well, I am sure there are other questions that should be addressed.
But I think you have made a very strong case for having a broad
discussion of the Jewish and universal issues related to our
diets. Please help form a committee with members of different
viewpoints and set up a forum at which all of the issues related to
our diets can be discussed.
Appendix C
The Jewish Vegan Year
Meat-eating is valorized in our cultures because it is often associated
with festivity, rituals, heritage, family, and tradition. Furthermore,
to be able to eat meat is considered in many cultures to be a signifier
of wealth, status, and even masculinity; to offer meat to your guests is
likewise a facet of hospitality and largesse.
It’s my conclusion that although putting meat on our dinner tables for
family gatherings or to welcome visitors may once have been a significant
symbol of our willingness to sacrifice something of value on behalf of
others (an animal that we owned, for example), this is neither necessary
nor true for the majority of the world’s population. Unfortunately,
eating meat for many is a thoughtless, insignificant act: fast food and
a throwaway culture have made it a disposable item. The time is ripe,
therefore, to reinvest the meaning of our rituals and festivals by removing
the animal entirely from the plate and honoring the deeper impulses that
lead us to commemorate our rituals with food that is plant-based.
Judaism is rich with holidays, and Jewish teachings are reflected in
them. As Rabbi Irving Greenberg has written: “The Holy Days are the
unbroken master code of Judaism. Decipher them and you will discover
the inner sanctum of your religion. Grasp them and you hold the heart of
the faith in your hand.”1 In this appendix I reconsider each of the Jewish
holidays and the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat) from a vegan perspective.
In order to make each section complete in itself—so that readers can
1 Rabbi Irving Greenberg, The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays (New York: Summit Books,
1988), 17.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
1 6 4
build talks, articles, discussions, and programs around Jewish teachings
about veganism and related issues on any Jewish holiday—there is some
repetition of facts, quotations, and ideas.
Rosh Hashanah
Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, when Jews take stock of our
lives and consider new beginnings. Perhaps the most significant and
meaningful change that we can make during this major Jewish holiday
is a shift away from diets that have devastating effects on our health
and that of our imperiled planet. Although many Jews seem to feel that
the celebration of Rosh Hashanah requires the consumption of chopped
liver, gefilte fish, chicken soup, and roast chicken, there are many
inconsistencies between the values of this holiday and the realities of
animal-centered diets.
For instance, although Jews ask God for a healthy year, many Jews
and others consume foods that have been linked to heart disease, strokes,
several forms of cancer, and other life-threatening ailments. We implore
“our Father, our King” on Rosh Hashanah to “keep the plague from
your people”; however, high-fat, animal-based diets are causing a plague
of degenerative diseases that have resulted in soaring medical bills,
threatening health care systems.
Jews pray on the Jewish New Year that God “remove pestilence,
sword, and famine,” yet many Jews and others have diets that contribute
to these conditions, because of grain that could feed people being fed to
animals destined for slaughter, as millions of people die annually because
of hunger and its effects; and the waste of valuable resources, which
helps to perpetuate the widespread hunger and poverty that often lead to
instability and war.
Jews commemorate the creation of the world on Rosh Hashanah,
yet livestock agriculture is a major contributor to many global threats,
including climate change, soil erosion and depletion, air and water
pollution related to the production and use of pesticides and chemical
fertilizer, and the destruction of tropical rainforests and other habitats
that are essential to wildlife and ultimately ourselves.
The Jewish Vegan Year
Whereas Jews pray on Rosh Hashanah for God’s compassion during
the coming year, many Jews, as well as most other people, partake in diets
that involve animals being raised for food under very cruel conditions: in
crowded, confined cells, where they are denied fresh air, exercise, and
any emotional stimulation, prior to being slaughtered.
Judaism teaches that our fate for the new year is written on Rosh
Hashanah and sealed on Yom Kippur, but that repentance, prayer, and
charity can cancel or reduce a negative Divine decree. However, the fate
of farmed animals is determined before they are born, and there is no
way they can change it.
Although the Torah and Prophetic readings on Rosh Hashanah
describe the great joy of both Sarah and Hannah when they were blessed
with sons after it seemed that both were destined to be childless, meatand-
dairy-centered diets require the taking of animal babies from their
mothers shortly after their birth.
Rosh Hashanah is a time when we are to “awake from our slumber”
and mend our ways. Nonetheless, the consumption of meat on Rosh
Hashanah means that we continue the habits and actions that are so
detrimental to our health, to animals, to hungry people, and to ecosystems.
Although we symbolically cast away our sins at tashlich during Rosh
Hashanah, the eating of meat means a continuation of the “sins” associated
with our diets, with regard to the treatment of animals, protecting our
health, polluting the environment, and wasting food and other resources.
Rosh Hashanah is meant to be a time of deep contemplation when we
carefully examine our deeds, yet most meat eaters ignore the many moral
problems related to their diets.
We speak of God’s “delighting in life” on Rosh Hashanah. Even
so, the standard American diet annually involves the brutal treatment
and deaths of billions of animals, as well as many human deaths due to
insufficient food in poor countries and too much health-damaging food
in the wealthy countries.
Rosh Hashanah has a universal message and involves the prayer that
“[a]ll the world’s people shall come to serve [God].” In spite of this, many
of the world’s people suffer from chronic hunger, which denies them the
necessary strength and will for devotion, while meat and fish from the
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
choicest land and most bountiful waters of their countries are exported to
meet gustatory demands in the United States and other developed countries.
Rosh Hashanah is a time of joy (along with sincere meditation).
However, animals on factory farms never have a pleasant day, and
millions of people throughout the world are too involved in worrying
about their next meal to be able to experience many joyous moments.
In view of these and other contradictions, I hope that Jews will
enhance their celebrations of the beautiful and spiritually meaningful
holiday of Rosh Hashanah 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.
Yom Kippur
There are many connections that can be made between the solemn
Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and veganism.
On Yom Kippur, Jews pray to the “Living God,” the “King Who
delights in life,” that they should be remembered for life and be inscribed
in the “Book of Life” for the new year. Yet, typical meat-intensive diets
have been linked to heart disease, stroke, several types of cancer, and other
chronic degenerative diseases that annually shorten the lives of millions
of people. In this holiday, Jews pray to a “compassionate God,” Who
remembers His creatures for life. Yet, there is little compassion involved
in modern intensive livestock agriculture (a.k.a. factory farming), which
involves the cruel treatment and slaughter of over nine billion farmed
animals annually just in the United States.
On Yom Kippur, Jews pray to God, “Who makes peace,” to be
inscribed into the “Book of Life, Blessing, and Peace.” Yet, animalcentered
diets, by requiring vast amounts of land, water, energy, and
other resources, help to perpetuate the widespread hunger and poverty
that often lead to instability, violence, and war.
Jews are told through the words of Isaiah in the morning prophetic
reading that the true purpose of fasting is to sensitize us to the needs of
the hungry and the oppressed, so that we will work to end oppression and
“share your bread with the hungry” (Isaiah 58:6,7). Yet, 70 percent of the
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grain produced in the United States is used to fatten up farmed animals,
while millions of the world’s people die annually from lack of adequate food.
One of the most important messages of Yom Kippur and the
preceding days is the importance of teshuvah, of turning away from sinful
ways, from apathy, and from a lack of compassion and sensitivity, and
returning to Jewish values, ideals, and mitzvot. Veganism is also a way of
making a significant turn away from a diet that has many harmful effects
to one that is consistent with basic Jewish teachings.
The Yom Kippur liturgy includes a prayer with this statement: “We
are God’s flock, and God is our shepherd.” Since Judaism teaches that
people are to imitate God in His acts of compassion and caring, shouldn’t
we be treating God’s defenseless creatures compassionately, in the ways
that we want God to treat us?
On Yom Kippur, Jews ask for forgiveness for the sin of “casting off
responsibility.” Veganism is a way to assume responsibility for our health,
for animals, for the environment, and for the world’s hungry people.
This period is a time for reflection and soul searching, a time to consider
changes in one’s way of life and make decisions for improvement. Hence,
it is an excellent time to switch to a diet that has so many personal and
societal benefits.
According to the Jewish tradition, our fate is sealed on Yom Kippur
for the coming year. But repentance, charity, and prayer can avert a
negative decree. However, people have determined the fate of animals
before they are born, and there is virtually no possibility of a change in
the cruel treatment and early slaughter that awaits them.
Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, a day of being, in effect, at
one with God. One way to be more at one with God is by adopting a
plant-based diet, and thereby not harming animals, since “God’s mercies
are upon all His works” (Psalm 145:9). Yom Kippur also teaches that,
although it is often difficult, old habits can be broken. Thus, the days
surrounding Yom Kippur provide a good period to break habits related
to our consumption of animal products.
The afternoon service for Yom Kippur includes the reading from
the Book of Jonah, which relates how he was sent to warn the people
of Nineveh that they must do teshuvah, change their sinful ways, in
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order to avoid destruction. Today, the whole world is like Nineveh, in
need of redemption, and in danger as never before from a variety of
environmental threats. Today, in a sense, vegans are playing the role of
Jonah, pointing out that a shift from intensive animal agriculture with
significant negative effects on the environment, and a shift to vegan diets,
have become global imperatives, necessary to move us from our current
perilous path. The Book of Jonah also shows God’s concern for animals.
It ends with God’s statement: “Should I not then spare the great city of
Nineveh with more than 120,000 human beings . . . and much cattle?”
On Yom Kippur, one of the many sins we ask forgiveness for is
“the sin we committed before You in eating and drinking.” This can be
interpreted in terms of the harm that animal-based diets do with regard
to human health, animals, the environment, and hungry people. We’re
also forbidden to wear leather shoes for this holiday. One reason is that it
is not considered proper to plead for compassion when one has not shown
compassion to God’s creatures.
Rabbi Israel Salanter, one of the most distinguished Orthodox rabbis
of the nineteenth century, failed to appear one Yom Kippur eve in time
for the sacred Kol Nidre prayer. His congregation became concerned, for
it was inconceivable their saintly rabbi would be absent or late on this
very holy day. The congregants sent out a search party. After much time,
their rabbi was found in a Christian neighbor’s barn. On his way to the
synagogue, Rabbi Salanter had come upon one of the neighbor’s calves,
lost and tangled in the brush. Seeing the animal in distress, he freed him
and led him home. His act of compassion represented the rabbi’s prayers
on that Yom Kippur evening.
In summary, a shift to veganism is an important way to do teshuvah,
to turn away from a diet that is harmful in many ways to one that is in
accord with the many compassionate and wise teachings and values that
Yom Kippur represents.
Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah
The Sukkot holiday, including Shemini Atzeret (the Eighth Day of Solemn
Assembly) and Simchat Torah, is known as the “Season of Rejoicing,”
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since people’s worries about the success of the harvest are over. There is
much vegan flavor associated with these festivals. Since one must be in
good health in order to fully rejoice, the many health benefits of a vegan
diet and the knowledge that such diets are not harmful to hungry people
or animals are factors that can enhance rejoicing.
Sukkot commemorates the forty 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
other tomes, the manna was God’s attempt to reestablish a vegan diet
for the Israelites. Sukkot is the Jewish harvest festival, called the “Feast
of Ingathering.” Hence, it can remind us that many more people can be
sustained on vegan diets than on animal-centered diets that presently
require almost 70 percent of the grain produced in the United States
being fed to animals raised for slaughter, while millions of people die
annually due to malnutrition and its effects.
Sukkahs, the temporary structures that Jews dwell in during Sukkot,
are decorated with pictures and replicas of apples, oranges, bananas,
peppers, carrots, and other fruits and vegetables, never with meats or
other animal products. Besides the sukkah, the main ritual symbols for
Sukkot are related to the plant kingdom. The Torah states: “And you
shall take for yourselves on the first day, the fruit of the hadar tree [an
etrog or citron], date palm fronds, a branch of a braided tree, and willows
of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for a seven
day period” (Leviticus 23:40). These four species represent the beauty
and bounty of Israel’s harvest.
On Simchat Torah, Jews complete the annual cycle of Torah readings
and begin again, starting with the first chapter of Genesis, which contains
God’s first dietary law: “And God said: ‘Behold, I have given you every
seed bearing herb, which is upon the surface of the entire earth, and
every tree that has seed bearing fruit; it will be yours for food’” (Genesis
1:29). The Torah, along with prophetic and talmudical interpretations, is
the source of the fundamental Jewish mandates that point to veganism
as the ideal diet today: to take care of our health, treat animals with
compassion, protect the environment, conserve natural resources, help
hungry people, and seek and pursue peace.
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On Shemini Atzeret, Jews pray for rain and plead to God that it
should be for a blessing, not a curse. This is a reminder of the preciousness
of rainwater to nourish the crops so that there will be a successful harvest.
Also, according to the Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 1.2), the world is judged on
Sukkot with regard to how much rainfall it will receive.
In the days when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, there was a joyous
“water drawing ceremony” (Simchat Bet Shueva), designed to remind God
to pour forth water when it was needed. Modern intensive livestock
agriculture requires huge amounts of water, much of it to irrigate feed
crops for animals. An animal-centric diet requires many times as much
water as a strict vegan diet.
Sukkot is a universal festival, with at least three indications that Jews
consider not only their own welfare, but also the fate of all of the world’s
people. First, in Temple days, there were seventy sacrifices for the thenknown
seventy nations of the world; second, the lulav (the palm frond)
is waved in all directions, to indicate God’s rule over and concern for
the entire world; third, the roof of the sukkah is made only of natural
materials such as wood and bamboo, and must be open sufficiently so
that people inside can see the stars, to remind them that their concerns
should extend beyond their immediate needs and should encompass the
world. In a similar way, veganism not only considers a person’s health, but
also encompasses broader concerns, including the global environment,
the world’s hungry people, and the efficient use of the world’s resources.
Moving out of comfortable homes to dwell in relatively frail sukkahs
symbolizes the concept that it is not our power and wealth that we should
rely on; rather, our fate is in God’s hands. And it is God who originally
provided vegan diets for people, and created us with hands, teeth, and
digestive systems most conducive to eating plant foods.
Dwelling in sukkahs also teaches us that no matter how magnificent
our homes, no matter how extensive our wealth and material possessions,
we should be humble and not be overly concerned about our status.
Veganism is also an attempt to diminish the importance of status symbols,
often represented by expensive meat dishes, such as steak.
Finally, Sukkot’s prophetic readings point to the universal Messianic
transformation of the world. According to Rav Kook, first chief rabbi of
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pre-state Israel, based on the prophecy of Isaiah (“a wolf shall live with
a lamb, . . . and a lion, like cattle, shall eat straw. . . . They shall neither
harm nor destroy on all My holy mount” [Isaiah 11:6–9]), the Messianic
period will be vegan.
In summary, a shift to veganism is a way to be consistent with the
many values and teachings related to the joyous festivals of Sukkot,
Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah.
The festival of Chanukah celebrates the rededication of the Temple
during the Maccabean Revolt. According to the Book of Maccabees, the
Maccabees lived on plant foods to “avoid being polluted like the rest,”
since kosher meat could not be obtained when they hid in the mountains
to avoid capture and to engage in guerrilla war against the Syrian Greeks.
The foods associated with Chanukah, latkes (potato pancakes) and
sufganiyot (fried donuts), are vegetarian and potentially vegan; the oils
used in their preparation are reminders of the oil employed to light the
menorah in the rededication of the Temple.
Chanukah represents the triumph of non-conformity. The Maccabees
fought for 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, 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, and when McDonald’s and similar fast-food
establishments are expanding, vegans are resisting and insisting that
there is a better, healthier, more humane way to eat.
Chanukah represents the victory of the few, who practiced God’s
teachings rather than the values of the surrounding society, over the
many. Today, vegans are a small minority in most countries, but they
believe that—consistent with God’s original prescribed diet (Genesis
1:29) and religious mandates to preserve our health, treat animals with
compassion, protect the environment, preserve natural resources, share
with hungry people, and pursue peace—veganism is the diet most
consistent with Jewish values.
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Chanukah commemorates the miracle of the oil that was enough to
light the menorah for only one day, but miraculously lasted for eight days.
A switch to veganism on the part of the world’s people could result in
an even greater miracle: the end of the scandal of world hunger, which
results in the death of about nine million people annually, while over a
third of the world’s grain is fed to animals destined for slaughter.
Chanukah also commemorates the rededication of the Temple in
Jerusalem after it was defiled by the Syrian Greeks. The Hebrew root
of the word Chanukah means “dedication.” Today, a shift to veganism
could be a major factor in the rededication and renewal of Judaism,
because it would show that eternal Jewish values are relevant to everyday
Jewish life and to addressing current critical problems, such as climate
change, hunger, pollution, resource scarcity, and soaring health-care
The Hebrew root of the word Chanukah also means “education,”
and Jewish vegans believe that many Jews would switch toward vegan
diets if they were educated about the horrible realities of factory farming
and the powerful Jewish mandates about taking care of our health,
showing compassion to animals, protecting the environment, conserving
resources, and helping hungry people.
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 49:6).
Veganism can be a way of adding light to the darkness of a world filled
with slaughterhouses, factory farms, and vivisection laboratories, as well
as other examples of oppression.
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 “mercies
are upon all His works” (Psalm 145:9).
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
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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 rejoice and join
in the praise of God when annually in the United States alone over nine
billion animals are killed for their flesh after suffering from very cruel
treatment on factory farms.
Tu Bishvat
Tu Bishvat is the most vegan of Jewish holidays because of its many
connections to vegan themes and concepts. During the Tu Bishvat Seder,
fruits and nuts are eaten; songs are sung and biblical verses recited related
to trees and fruits. It’s the only sacred meal where only vegan foods are
eaten, consistent with the diet in the Garden of Eden, as indicated by
God’s first, completely vegan, dietary law: “And God said: ‘Behold, I
have given you every seed bearing herb, which is upon the surface of the
entire earth, and every tree that has seed bearing fruit; it will be yours for
food’” (Genesis 1:29).
The Talmud refers to Tu Bishvat as the New Year for Trees. It is
considered to be the date on which the fate of trees is decided for the
coming year. In recent years, one of the prime ways of celebrating Tu
Bishvat, especially in Israel, is through tree-planting. Veganism also
reflects a concern for trees. One of the prime reasons for the destruction
of tropical rainforests today is to create pasture land and areas to grow
feed crops for cattle. To save an estimated five cents on each imported
fast-food hamburger patty, we are destroying forested areas in Central
and South America, where at least half of the world’s species of plants
and animals live, and threatening the stability of the world’s climate. It
has been estimated that every vegan, by not eating meat, saves an acre of
forest per year.
Both Tu Bishvat and veganism are connected to today’s environmental
concerns. Many contemporary Jews look on Tu Bishvat as a Jewish Earth
Day, and use Tu Bishvat seders as a chance to discuss how Jewish values
can be applied to reduce many of today’s environmental threats. When
God created the world, God was able to say, “It is very good” (Genesis
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1:31). Everything was in harmony as God had planned—the waters were
clean, the air was pure.
But what must God think about the world today? What must God
think when the rain He sends to nourish our crops is often acidic due
to the many chemicals poured into the air by our industries? When the
abundant species of plants and animals that God created are becoming
extinct in tropical rainforests and other threatened habitats, before we are
even able to discover, study, and catalog them? When the fertile soil that
God provided is rapidly being depleted and eroded? When the conditions
that God designed to meet our needs are threatened by climate change?
An ancient midrash has become all too relevant today:
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)
Both Tu Bishvat and veganism embody the important teaching that
“The land and the fullness thereof are the Lord’s” (Psalm 24:1) and that
people are to be its stewards, to see that its produce is available for all
God’s children. Property is a sacred trust given by God; it must be used
to fulfill God’s purposes. No person has absolute or exclusive control over
his or her possessions. With their concern about the preservation and
expansion of forests and their focus on plant-based foods, both Tu Bishvat
and veganism reflect this important Jewish teaching.
Tu Bishvat and veganism both reflect the Torah mandate that we are
not to waste or destroy unnecessarily anything of value. It is interesting
that this prohibition, bal tashchit (“you shall not destroy”), is based on
concern for fruit-bearing trees, as indicated in the following remarkable
Torah prohibition:
When you besiege a city for many days to wage war against it
to capture it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax
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against them, for you may eat from them, but you shall not cut
them down. Is the tree of the field a man, to go into the siege
before you? However, a tree you know is not a food tree, you may
destroy and cut down, and you shall build bulwarks against the
city that makes war with you, until its submission. (Deuteronomy
This Torah mandate of bal tashchit is consistent with veganism, since,
compared to plant-based diets, animal-centered diets require the use
and depletion of far more land, water, energy, and other agricultural
Tu Bishvat reflects a concern about future generations. In ancient
times it was customary to plant a cedar sapling on the birth of a boy
and a cypress sapling on the birth of a girl. The cedar symbolized the
strength and stature of a man, whereas the cypress signified the fragrance
and gentleness of a woman. When the children were old enough, it was
their task to care for the trees that were planted in their honor. It was
hoped that branches from both types of trees would form part of the
chupah (bridal canopy) when the children married. Another example of
the Jewish concern for the future expressed through tree-planting is in
the following story: Choni (the rainmaker) was walking along a road
when he saw an old man planting a carob tree. Choni asked him: “How
many years will it take for this tree to yield fruit?” The man answered
that it would take seventy years. Choni then asked: “Are you so healthy a
man that you expect to live that length of time and eat of its fruit?” The
man answered: “I found a fruitful world because my ancestors planned
for me. So I will do the same for my children.”
Veganism also reflects concern about the future since this diet puts
a minimal strain on Earth and its ecosystems and, as indicated above,
requires far less water, land, energy, and other scarce agricultural
resources than animal-centered diets.
On Tu Bishvat, it is customary to recite Psalm 104, as well as other
psalms. Psalm 104 indicates how God’s concern and care extends to all
creatures, and illustrates that God created the entire Earth as a balanced,
unified organism:
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He [God] sends the springs into the streams; they go between the
They water every beast of the field; the wild donkeys quench
their thirst.
Beside them the fowl of the heavens dwell; from between the
branches they let out their voices.
He waters the mountains from His upper chambers; from the
fruit of Your works the earth is sated.
He causes grass to sprout for the animals and vegetation for the
work of man, to bring forth bread from the earth. . . .
How great are Your works, O Lord! You have made them all
with wisdom; the earth is full of Your possessions!
Veganism also reflects concern for animals and all of God’s creation,
since for many people it is a refusal to take part in a system that involves
the cruel treatment and annual slaughter of nine billion farmed animals
in the United States alone, and, as indicated above, puts so much stress
on Earth and its resources.
Both Tu Bishvat and veganism are becoming popular today: Tu
Bishvat because of building interest in and concern about nature and
environmental issues; and veganism because of growing concern about
health, the treatment of animals, the environment, and the proper use of
natural resources.
The joyous festival of Purim shares many connections with veganism.
According to the Talmud, Queen Esther, the heroine of the Purim story,
was a vegetarian while she lived in the palace of King Achashverosh. She
was thus able to avoid violating the kosher dietary laws while keeping her
Jewish identity secret.
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 almost 70 percent
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of the grain in the United States to animals, while an estimated nine
million people die of hunger and its effects annually.
During the afternoon of Purim, Jews have a seudah (special festive
meal), at which family and friends gather to rejoice in the Purim spirit.
Serving only vegan food at this occasion would enable all who partake
to be consistent with Jewish mandates to preserve health, protect the
environment, share with hungry people, conserve resources, and treat
animals with compassion.
On Purim, Jews emphasize unity and friendship by sending gifts of
food (shalach manot) to friends. Vegans act in the spirit of unity and concern
for humanity by having a diet that best shares Earth’s abundant resources.
Because of the deliverance of the Jewish people that it commemorates,
Purim is the most joyous Jewish holiday. By contrast, animals on factory
farms never have a pleasant day, and millions of people throughout the
world are too involved in worrying about their next meal to be able to
experience many joyous moments.
Mordechai, one of the heroes of the Purim story, was a nonconformist.
The Book of Esther affirms: “And all of the king’s servants . . . bowed down
and prostrated themselves before Haman. . . . But Mordechai would not
bow down nor prostrate himself before him” (Esther 3:2). Today, 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 McDonald’s and similar fast-food establishments are expanding,
vegans are resisting and insisting that there is a better, healthier, more
humane diet. Purim commemorates the deliverance of the Jews from
the wicked Haman. Today, veganism can be a step toward deliverance
from modern problems such as climate change, hunger, pollution, and
resource scarcities.
Purim commemorates the time when conditions for the Jews changed
from sorrow to gladness and from mourning to celebrating. Today, a
switch to veganism could result in positive changes for many people, since
plant-based diets would reduce health problems and hunger.
Jews hear the reading of the Megillah twice during Purim, in order
to reeducate themselves about the terrible threats that faced the Jewish
people and their deliverance.
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Jewish vegans believe that if Jews were educated about the horrible
realities of factory farming and the powerful Jewish mandates about
taking care of our health, showing compassion to animals, protecting the
environment, conserving natural resources, and helping hungry people,
they would seriously consider switching to vegan diets.
Passover and veganism? Can the two be related? After all, what is a
Passover Seder without gefilte fish, chicken soup, chopped liver, chicken,
and other meats? And what about the shank bone to commemorate the
paschal sacrifice? And doesn’t Jewish law mandate that Jews eat meat to
rejoice on Passover and other Jewish festivals?
More Jews are becoming vegans while being consistent with the spirit
and substance of Jewish teachings. Contrary to a common perception,
Jews are not required to eat meat at the Passover Seder or any other
time. According to the Talmud (Pesachim 109a), since the destruction of
the Temple in Jerusalem, Jews need not eat meat to celebrate Jewish
festivals. This concept is reinforced by scholarly articles by Rabbi Alfred
Cohen in the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and Rabbi J.
David Bleich in Tradition magazine. Also, Israeli chief rabbis—including
Rabbi Shlomo Goren, late Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel, and Rabbi
Sha’ar Yashuv Cohen, late Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Haifa—were strict
The use of the shank bone originated in the time of the Talmud as a
means of commemorating the paschal lamb. However, since the talmudic
scholar Rabbi Huna argues that a beet can be used for this purpose,
many Jewish vegetarians and vegans substitute a beet for the bone. The
important point is that the shank bone is a post-biblical symbol and no
meat need be eaten at the seder.
Jewish vegans see their values reinforced by several Passover themes.
For instance, at the seder, Jews say, “Let all who are hungry come and
eat.” As on other occasions, at the conclusion of the meal, bircat hamazon
(blessings of thanks for the food) is recited to thank God for providing
food for the world’s people. These practices seem inconsistent with
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animal-centered diets, which involve the feeding of 70 percent of the
grain grown in the United States to animals destined for slaughter, while
an estimated nine million of the world’s people die of hunger and its
effects annually.
Although he is not a vegetarian, Rabbi Jay Marcus, former Spiritual
Leader of the Young Israel of Staten Island, saw a connection between
simpler diets and helping hungry people. He commented on the fact that
karpas (eating of greens) comes immediately before yahatz (the breaking
of the middle matzah) for later use as the afikomen (dessert) in the seder
service. He concluded that those who live on simpler foods (greens, for
example) will more readily divide their possessions and share with others.
Many Jewish vegans see comparisons between the oppression that
their ancestors suffered and the current plight of the billions of people
who presently lack sufficient food and other essential resources. Vegan
diets require far less land, water, energy, pesticides, fertilizer, and other
resources, and thus enable the better sharing of God’s abundant resources,
which can help reduce global hunger and poverty.
Moreover, the main Passover theme is freedom. As we relate the
story of our ancestors’ slavery in Egypt and their redemption through
God’s power and beneficence, many Jewish vegetarians also consider
the “slavery” of animals on modern factory farms. Contrary to Jewish
teachings of tza’ar ba’alei chayim (the Torah mandate not to cause
unnecessary sorrow to a living creature), animals are raised for food
today under cruel conditions in crowded confined spaces, where they are
denied fresh air, sunlight, a chance to exercise, and the fulfillment of their
natural instincts.
In this connection, it is significant to consider that according to the
Jewish tradition, Moses, Judaism’s greatest leader, teacher, and prophet,
was chosen to lead the Israelites out of Egypt because as a shepherd he
showed great compassion to a lamb (Exodus Rabbah 2:2). Likewise, many
Jewish vegans advocate that we commemorate the redemption of our
ancestors from slavery by ending our current enslavement to harmful
eating habits through the adoption of vegan diets.
Finally, Passover is the holiday of springtime, a time of nature’s
renewal. It also commemorates God’s wise stewardship over the forces of
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nature. In contrast, modern intensive livestock agriculture and animalcentered
diets have many negative effects on the natural environment,
including climate change, air and water pollution, soil erosion, and the
destruction of tropical rainforests and other habitats.
The festival of Shavuot and veganism share several themes. First,
Shavuot is described as z’man matan Torateinu (the season of the giving of
our law, the Torah). It is this Torah that has in its very first chapter God’s
original, strictly vegan, dietary regimen: “And God said: ‘Behold, I have
given you every seed bearing herb, which is upon the surface of the entire
earth, and every tree that has seed bearing fruit; it will be yours for food’”
(Genesis 1:29). To honor the Torah, many Jews stay up the entire first
night of Shavuot to study Torah teachings. It is some of these teachings—
to guard our health and our lives, treat animals with compassion, share
with hungry people, protect the environment, and conserve natural
resources—that are the basis for Jewish veganism.
Shavuot is also known as Chag Hakatzir (the Harvest Festival), since
it climaxes the year’s first harvest. Hence, it can remind us that many
more people can be sustained on vegan diets than on animal-centered
diets. Although the Torah stresses that each farmer is to leave a corner
of their field and the gleanings of their harvest for the hungry, almost 70
percent of the grain grown in the United States is fed to animals destined
for slaughter, as an estimated nine million people worldwide die annually
because of hunger and its effects.
The talmudic sages also referred to Shavuot as Atzeret (the closing
festival of Passover). This name not only implies that Shavuot completes
the harvest begun at Passover, but also suggests that the giving of the
Torah at Mount Sinai completes the physical liberation celebrated during
Passover. Yet, whereas the Torah has many teachings on compassion to
animals and indicates, as part of the Ten Commandments, that animals
are also to be allowed to rest on the Sabbath day, most farmed animals
are kept in cramped, confined spaces where they are denied exercise,
fresh air, sunlight, and the fulfillment of their instinctual needs.
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There are several other Torah teachings that are seriously violated
by animal-based diets. For instance, the Torah mandates that people
should be very careful about preserving their health and their lives
(Deuteronomy 4:9, 15). However, animal-centered diets have been linked
to heart disease, stroke, several forms of cancer, and other life-threatening
diseases. Likewise, many Torah teachings are concerned with protecting
the environment, but modern intensive animal agriculture contributes
to climate change, soil erosion and depletion, extensive air and water
pollution related to chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and the destruction
of tropical rainforests and other habitats.
Also, the Torah mandates bal tashchit (Deuteronomy 20:19, 20), that we
are not to waste or unnecessarily destroy anything of value. Yet, livestock
agriculture requires the wasteful use of food, land, water, energy, and
other resources.
Shavuot is a festival of thanksgiving to the Creator for His kindness.
The full Hallel, psalms of praise and thanksgiving from Psalms 113 to 118,
are chanted during morning synagogue services. Since one must be in
good health and have a clear conscience in order to fully rejoice and be
thankful, the many health benefits of vegan diets and the knowledge that
such diets are not harmful to hungry people or animals are factors that
can enhance thankfulness.
On Shavuot, Jews read the Book of Ruth in synagogues. One
reason is that its barley-harvest setting echoes the harvest just ending
as Shavuot arrives. One of Ruth’s outstanding attributes was her acts of
kindness. Veganism is a way of showing kindness because it helps share
food with hungry people and doesn’t involve the mistreatment and death
of animals.
The Book of Ruth begins with Naomi, Ruth’s future mother-in-law,
and her family leaving Israel because of a severe famine. Today, major
shortages of food in the near future are being predicted, and one major
reason is that people in China, Japan, India, and other countries where
affluence is on the rise are shifting to animal-centered diets that require
vast amounts of grain to be fed to animals.
The Book of Ruth indicates that Naomi suffered the death of her
husband and her two sons because the family fled in the time of famine
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
rather than using their leadership to help others in need. In contrast to
this selfish act, veganism not only considers personal well-being, but
also encompasses broader concerns, including the global environment,
climate change, the world’s hungry people, animals, and the efficient use
of the world’s resources.
According to the Talmud, Shavuot is the day of judgment for fruit
trees, and there is an obligation to pray for them. Yet, to create pasture
land for cattle and to grow feed crops for farmed animals, tropical
forests are being rapidly destroyed. The production of just one quarterpound
fast-food hamburger patty can require the destruction of almost
fifty-five square feet of tropical rainforest, along with much animal and
plant life.
Shavuot involves the highest spiritual teachings (the revelation of the
Torah on Mount Sinai) and down-to-earth considerations—the wheat
harvest and the offering of the first fruits in the Temple. This reminds us
that ideally we should relate Heaven to Earth and translate the Divine
laws to our daily lives. Veganism is an attempt to do this because it applies
Torah teaching to our everyday life.
In view of these and other traditions and connections, I hope that
Jews will enhance their celebrations of the beautiful and spiritually
meaningful holiday of Shavuot 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.
Tisha B’Av
Tisha B’Av (the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av) commemorates the
destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem. Today the entire
world is threatened by destruction by a variety of environmental threats,
and modern intensive livestock agriculture is a major factor behind most
of these environmental threats.
In Megilat Eichah (Lamentations), which is read on Tisha B’Av, the
prophet Jeremiah tells of the horrows of the destruction of Jerusalem due
to the failure of the Jewish people to change their unjust ways. In 1992,
over 1,700 of the world’s most outstanding scientists signed a “World
The Jewish Vegan Year
Scientists Warning to Humanity,” stating that “human beings and the
natural world are on a collision course” and that “a great change in
our stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required, if vast human
misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be
irretrievably mutilated.” Vegans join in this warning, and stress that a
switch toward veganism is an essential part of the “great change” that is
On Tisha B’Av, Jews fast to express their sadness over the temples’
destruction. So severe were the effects of starvation then that the Book
of Lamentations (4:10) asserts: “More fortunate were the victims of the
sword than the victims of famine, for they pine away stricken, lacking the
fruits of the field.” Yet, today almost 70 percent of the grain grown in the
United States is fed to animals destined for slaughter, while an estimated
nine million people worldwide die annually because of hunger and its
During the period from Rosh Chodesh Av to Tisha B’Av known as
the “nine days,” Jews do not eat meat or fowl, except on the Sabbath
day. After the destruction of the second Temple, some sages argued that
Jews should no longer eat meat, as a sign of sorrow. However, it was felt
that the Jewish people would not be willing to obey such a decree. It was
also believed then that meat was necessary for proper nutrition. Hence,
a compromise was reached in terms of Jews not eating meat only in the
nine-day period immediately before Tisha B’Av.
The Hebrew word eichah (“alas! How has this befallen us?”) that
begins Lamentations comes from the same root as the Hebrew word
ayekah (“Where are you?”). This is the question addressed to Adam and
Eve after they had eaten the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.
Vegans are also asking, in effect, “Where are you?” The question asks
us to account for what we are doing in response to widespread world
hunger, the destruction of the environment, the brutal treatment of
farmed animals, and so on. Perhaps our failure to properly hear and
respond to ayekah, by stating hineni (“Here I am”), ready to carry out God’s
commandments so that the world will be better, causes us to eventually
have to say and hear eichah, because of the terrible consequences of not
getting involved.
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The Book of Lamentations was meant to awaken the Jewish people
to the need to return to God’s ways. Since veganism is God’s initial diet
(Genesis 1:29), vegans are also hoping to respectfully alert Jews to the
need to return to God’s preferences with regard to our diet. As Rabbi
Yochanan stated: “Jerusalem was destroyed because the residents limited
their decisions to the letter of the law of the Torah, and did not perform
actions that would have gone beyond the letter of the law [lifnim meshurat
hadin] (Baba Metzia 30b).
In the same way, perhaps, many people state that they eat meat
because Jewish law encourages or at least does not forbid it. Vegans believe
that in this time of factory farming, environmental threats, widespread
hunger, and epidemics of chronic degenerative diseases, Jews should go
beyond the strict letter of the law and move toward veganism.
Tisha B’Av has been a time of tears and tragedy throughout Jewish
history. Animal-based diets are also related to much sorrow today due
to their links to hunger, diseases, cruelty to animals, and environmental
destruction. However, Tisha B’Av does not only commemorate negative
events. It is also the day when, according to Jewish tradition, the Messiah
will be born and the days of mourning will be turned into joyous festivals.
According to Rabbi Kook, the Messianic period will be vegan. He based
this view on the prophecy of Isaiah: “A wolf shall live with a lamb, . . . and
a lion, like cattle, shall eat straw. . . . They shall neither harm nor destroy
on all My holy mount” (Isaiah 11:6–9).
The readings on Tisha B’Av help to sensitize us so that we will hear the
cries of lament and change our ways. Vegans are urging people to change
their diets, to reduce the cries of lament of hungry people and suffering
animals. After the destruction of the second Temple, the talmudic sages
indicated that Jews need not eat meat in order to rejoice during festivals.
They deemed that the drinking of wine would suffice (Pesachim 109a).
More than a day of lamentation, Tisha B’Av is also a day of learning
essential lessons about our terrible past errors so they will not be repeated.
Vegans believe that if people learned the realities about the production
and consumption of meat, many would change their diets so as to avoid
continuing to be involved in such horrors.
The Jewish Vegan Year
After the destruction of Jerusalem, while sighing and searching
frantically for food, the people regretted how they’d given away their
treasures because of gluttony (Lamentations 1:11). Today, too, gluttony
(excessive consumption of animal and other products) is leading to
widespread hunger and destruction. Indeed, the Book of Lamentations
has many very graphic descriptions of hunger. One is: “The tongue of the
suckling child cleaves to his palate through thirst; the young children beg
[for] bread, [but] no one breaks it for them.” Today, major shortages of
food in the near future are being predicted, and one major reason is that
people in China, Japan, India, and other countries are growing richer
and are shifting to animal-centered diets that require vast amounts of
grain and soy.
The Book of Lamentations ends with chadesh yamenu k’kedem (“renew
our days as of old”). We can help this personal renewal occur by returning
to the original human diet, the vegan diet of the Garden of Eden, a diet
that can help us feel renewed because of the many health benefits of
plant-based diets.
In summary, Jews can and should enhance their commemoration of
this solemn but spiritually meaningful holiday by making it a time to strive
even harder to live up to Judaism’s highest moral values and teachings.
One important way to do this is by moving toward a vegan diet.
Shabb at
Shabbat (the Sabbath day of rest) is very important in Judaism. The writer
Ahad Ha’am held that “[m]ore than the Jews kept Shabbat, Shabbat
kept the Jews.” Yet, if deemed necessary to help save a life, one must (not
may) violate the Sabbath (Pesachim 25a). One must not say: “Although
this person is very sick and their life is threatened, I can’t drive them to
the hospital or call for emergency help until Shabbat is over.” Better to
violate the commandments on one Shabbat so that a person can live and
fulfill many more commandments. The mitzvot were given to live by, not
to die by unnecessarily. This is consistent with veganism, which has many
health benefits.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
The Torah mandates that animals, as well as people, must be able to
rest on the Sabbath day. The kiddush (sanctification over wine or grape
juice) recited on Sabbath mornings includes the following verse from the
Ten Commandments:
Six days you may do your work, but on the seventh day you shall
rest, in order that your ox and your donkey shall rest, and your
maidservant’s son and the stranger shall be refreshed. (Exodus
A similar statement is in Deuteronomy 5:12–14. Based on these Torah
statements, the great Torah commentator Rashi declares that animals
must be free to roam on the Sabbath day and graze freely and enjoy
the beauties of nature, none of which animals can do on today’s factory
Jewish law does not require Jews to eat meat or fish on Shabbat. In
a scholarly article in The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society (Fall
1981), Rabbi Alfred Cohen, the then editor, concludes: “If a person is
more comfortable not eating meat, there would be no obligation for him
to do so on the Sabbath.” In a responsum, an answer to a question based
on Jewish law, Rabbi Moshe Halevi Steinberg of Kiryat Yam, Israel,
One whose soul rebels against eating living things can without
any doubt fulfill the commandment of enhancing the Sabbath
and rejoicing on festivals by eating vegetarian foods. . . . Each
person should delight in the Sabbath according to his own
sensibility, enjoyment, and outlook.
All of the above is reinforced by the fact that there are chief rabbis—
including Sha’ar Yashuv Cohen (late Chief Rabbi of Haifa)—who were
vegetarians. Rabbi David Rosen, former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, is a
vegan, including on Shabbat and Yom Tov.
Shabbat is a reminder of the Creation, as it is written: “And God
completed on the seventh day His work that He did, and He abstained
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on the seventh day from all His work that He did” (Genesis 2:2). When
God created the world, “God saw all that He had made, and behold
it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Everything was in harmony as God
had planned: the waters were clean, the air was pure, the animals were
thriving. However, modern intensive livestock agriculture is a major
factor behind many environmental threats, so it is very unlikely that God
would say today that conditions in the world are “very good.”
Psalm 96, which is recited at the Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat
(welcoming Shabbat) service, begins with the words: “Sing to the Lord
a new song, sing to the Lord, all the earth.” According to Rabbi Everett
Gendler, our purpose is to join with all sentient creatures in singing
praises to the Creator for all the wonders of Creation. He has stated:
“To respect the life of our fellow choir members by not killing them and
eating their corpses would seem an obviously desirable condition for
choral collegiality.”2 Shabbat is a day of thankfulness for our blessings.
On Friday night, it is traditional for fathers to bless their children. So too,
veganism can be a blessing for the world because of its health, ecological,
and other benefits.
The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) states: “It is forbidden
to catch any living thing on the Sabbath, even a flea, but if an insect stings
a person, it may be removed and thrown off, but one is not allowed to kill
it, because it is forbidden to kill on the Sabbath, anything that possesses
life.”3 This mitzvah seems most consistent with veganism, which also
does not involve the killing of any creature.
On Shabbat, we thank God for His mercies during the previous
week. This is also most consistent with a diet that does not require the
cruel treatment of animals. Furthermore, on every Shabbat (and festival)
morning, Jews chant Nishmat kol chai t’varech et shim’chah (“the soul of all
living creatures shall bless your name”). This would seem to be most
consistent with enjoying Shabbat with a rich vegan meal that doesn’t
involve the cruel treatment of animals.
2 In Rabbis and Vegetarianism: An Evolving Tradition, Roberta Kalechofsky, ed. (Marblehead,
MA: Micah Publications, 1995), 21.
3 A Compilation of Jewish Laws and Customs by Rabbi Solomon Ganzfried (Hyman E.
Goldin, LL.B. trans.) revised edition (New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1961),
Chapter 80, No. 52.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
One of the highlights of the Shabbat morning service is the reading
of the Torah. It is the Torah that contains God’s original vegan regimen:
“And God said: ‘Behold, I have given you every seed bearing herb, which
is upon the surface of the entire earth, and every tree that has seed
bearing fruit; it will be yours for food’” (Genesis 1:29). The Torah also
has much about all the reasons for veganism: taking care of our health,
compassion for animals, protecting the environment, helping hungry
people, and conserving natural resources.
Jews have sumptuous, joyous meals on Shabbat, and sing z’mirot (songs
of praise of God and the holiness and beauty of the day). At the end of the
meals, bircat hamazon (blessings in appreciation of God’s compassionately
providing enough food for everyone) is recited. Yet, today almost 70
percent of the grain grown in the United States is fed to animals destined
for slaughter, as millions of people worldwide die annually because of
hunger and its effects.
Shabbat is viewed in the Jewish tradition as a foretaste of the
Messianic period—a time of peace, justice, and harmony. According to
Rabbi Kook, chief rabbi of pre-state Israel, the Messianic period will be
vegan. He based this view on the prophecy of Isaiah, “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” (Isaiah 11:6–9).
Shabbat is a time of renewal. We can help personal renewal occur
by returning to the original human diet, the vegan diet of Gan Eden (the
Garden of Eden), a diet that can help us feel renewed because of the many
health benefits of plant-based diets. Also, Shabbat is a time of joyful rest.
A person can be truly joyful when healthy, and this is best accomplished
through a vegan diet.
The manna—vegan food (“like coriander seed”) provided to the
Israelites in the desert after their exodus from Egypt—taught the
Children of Israel several lessons, one of which is that they should refrain
from labor on Shabbat. Although only enough manna was provided on
other days to meet that day’s needs for nourishment, a double portion
was provided on Friday morning so there was no need to gather manna
on the Sabbath, when none was provided. It was the vegan manna that
kept the Israelites in good health for forty years in the desert. According
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to Yitzchak Arama, the manna was a second attempt by God to establish
a vegan diet.
In view of these and other connections, I hope that Jews will enhance
their celebration of the spiritually meaningful Shabbat by making it a
time to begin striving even harder to live up to Judaism’s highest moral
values and teachings, and one important way to do this is by adopting a
vegan diet.
Rosh Hashana L’ma’aser Beheimot
Because of the wide disparities between Judaism’s powerful teachings on
compassion to animals and the horrible ways that animals are mistreated
on factory farms and other settings, I have been working with vegan and
animal rights activists to restore the ancient and largely forgotten Jewish
holiday of Rosh Hashana L’ma’aser Beheimot.
Rosh Hashana L’ma’aser Beheimot was the New Year’s Day for Tithing
Animals for sacrifices, which was in effect when the first and second
Jerusalem Temples stood. Our aim is to transform it into a day devoted
to increase awareness of Judaism’s beautiful teachings on compassion
to animals and how far current realities for animals diverge from these
Many religious Jews are properly diligent in “building fences” around
some mitzvot. For example, there is great care on the part of religious Jews
to fulfill the laws related to removing chametz (leaven) from their homes,
offices, and cars before Passover. But other mitzvot, including tza’ar ba’alei
chayim, are often downplayed or ignored. Perhaps this is not surprising
when one considers that with regard to animals the primary focus of
Jewish religious services, Torah readings, and education is on the biblical
sacrifices, animals that are kosher for eating, and laws about animal
slaughter, with relatively little attention devoted to Judaism’s teachings on
compassion to animals. It is essential that this emphasis on the slaughter
and sacrifice of animals be balanced with a greater consideration of
Judaism’s many compassionate teachings about animals. Restoring and
transforming the ancient, long-forgotten holiday can help accomplish this
important goal.
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There is a precedent for the restoration and transformation of a
holiday in Jewish history. Rosh Hashanah La’ilanot, the Jewish New Year for
Trees (a day initially intended for tithing fruit trees for Temple offerings
and donations for the poor), was reclaimed in the sixteenth century by
Kabbalist mystics in Sefat, Israel, as a day for celebrating nature’s bounty
and healing the natural world. Many Jews now regard this increasingly
popular holiday, Tu Bishvat, as an unofficial “Jewish Earth Day.” It is
hoped that the transformed New Year for Animals will also serve as
a tikkun (healing or repair) for the current widespread mistreatment of
Awareness about Jewish teachings regarding compassion to animals
is especially important today because, as discussed in the main text of
this book, animal-based diets and agriculture significantly violate at
least six basic Jewish teachings and are major contributors to many lifethreatening
sicknesses that afflict Jewish and other communities and to
climate change and other environmental threats to all life on the planet.
Rosh Hashanah LaBeheimot (a modern name in Hebrew for the
transformed holiday, the New Year for Animals) occurs on Rosh Chodesh
Elul, the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul, one Hebrew month before
Rosh Hashanah. Since Rosh Chodesh Elul ushers in a monthlong period of
introspection, during which Jews are to examine our deeds and consider
how to improve their words and actions before the important holidays
of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, this is an ideal time for Jews to
consider how to apply Judaism’s splendid teachings on compassion to
animals, in order to reduce the current massive mistreatment of animals
on factory farms and in other settings.
Restoring and properly transforming the New Year for Animals
would have many additional benefits, including showing the relevance
of Judaism’s eternal teachings to today’s critical issues; improving the
image of Judaism for many people by showing its major compassionate
side; and attracting disaffected Jews through reestablishing a holiday that
they would find relevant and meaningful. Further information about this
initiative to renew and transform this ancient holiday can be found in my
four articles in a special section at
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Jewish Dietary Laws
Finally, in this appendix on the vegan Jewish year, we come to the
daily practice of kashrut. Since Judaism is a religion that speaks to all
aspects of life, it has much to say about one of life’s most commonplace
activities—eating. The Jewish dietary laws, also known as the laws
of kashrut or kosher laws, are extremely important in Judaism. They
regulate virtually every aspect of eating for members of the Jewish
community (the only dietary law given to non-Jews is to not eat a limb
from a living animal).4
Kashrut includes which foods may be eaten. (Although God’s initial
intention was that people should be vegans [Genesis 1:29], permission
was later given for people to eat meat as a concession to human weakness
[Genesis 9:2–5]). It defines those animals that may be eaten as those that
part the hoof and are cloven-footed and chew the cud, such as cattle,
sheep, and goats. Animals that do not meet both criteria, such as the
pig, are forbidden. Sea creatures that have fins and scales are acceptable;
most non-predatory fowl, such as chickens, most species of duck and
geese, turkey, and pigeon, are permitted. Only eggs from kosher fowl
may be eaten. It should be noted that all species of fruits and vegetables
are kosher.
Kashrut, as we saw in the first chapter, also describes the method of
slaughter (the laws of shechitah) by a trained religious person, known as a
shochet. These laws do not apply to fishes or invertebrates. It determines
the method of preparing meat and poultry (known as kashering), which
primarily involves removing as much of the blood as possible, since directly
after giving people permission to eat meat (Genesis 9:3), God pronounced:
“Flesh with its soul, its blood, you shall not eat” (Genesis 9:4).
Kashrut establishes a prohibition against cooking or eating dairy
products along with meat (fish is excluded from this prohibition), based
on the biblical law prohibiting boiling a kid in the milk of its mother
(repeated three times, in Exodus 23:19, 34:26; and Deuteronomy 14:21).
This prohibition was extended by the rabbis so that religious Jews have
4 This appendix provides just a brief summary. Much more information can be found
through an Internet search. Questions on kashrut should be addressed to an Orthodox
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separate sets of dishes, pots, and utensils for meat and dairy dishes. They
also must wait a number of hours (generally three or six, depending on
the tradition of the individual) after eating meat (again fish is excluded)
before consuming any dairy product. Finally, certain foods are prohibited
during the festival of Pesach (Passover).
Although not strictly part of the kosher laws, there are other laws and
traditions associated with eating, including the ritual washing of hands
before eating a meal that includes bread, with an associated blessing,
blessings over various foods, and bircat hamazon (blessings of gratitude and
praise recited after the meal).
Throughout history, many Jews have been dedicated to the strictest
adherence to the dietary laws. Some, including a number of Marranos
( Jews who had to keep their identity secret in order to avoid the Inquisition
during the Middle Ages) have given their lives for it. An episode involving
Syrian Greeks trying to get Jews to eat the flesh of pigs led to a revolt by the
Maccabees; the Jewish holiday of Chanukah celebrates the Maccabean
victory and the rededication of the Temple.
In view of the importance of the dietary laws to Judaism, some might
wonder if there is a danger of Jews making a religion of veganism—
becoming, in effect, more vegan than Jewish. Fortunately, we don’t
have an either/or situation here. Jewish vegetarians and vegans are not
placing so-called vegetarian/vegan values over Torah principles. To the
contrary, they are arguing that basic Jewish values and teachings (to
guard our health, act with compassion to animals, share with hungry
people, protect the environment, conserve natural resources, and seek
and pursue peace) point strongly to veganism as the ideal Jewish diet,
especially in view of the many negative effects of animal-centered diets
and agriculture. Far from rejecting Judaism, they are challenging Jews to
live up to Judaism’s highest teachings and values.
As was suggested earlier in the book, in many ways veganism makes
it easier and cheaper to observe the laws of kashrut, and this might attract
new adherents to keeping kosher and eventually to other Jewish practices.
A vegan need not be concerned with using separate dishes and other
utensils for meat and dairy foods, waiting after eating meat before eating
dairy products, storing sets of dishes, pots, and silverware, and many
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issues that the non-vegan who wishes to observe kashrut strictly must
consider. In addition, a vegan is in no danger of eating blood, which is
prohibited, or the flesh of a non-kosher animal.
Rav Kook believed that the many laws associated with the preparation
and consumption of meat were an elaborate apparatus designed to keep
alive a sense of reverence for life, with the aim of eventually leading
people away from their meat-eating habit.5 This belief echoes the view
of Torah commentator Solomon Efraim Lunchitz, author of K’lee Yakar:
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
Pinchas Peli, a twentieth-century Orthodox rabbi, makes a similar point:
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
thing 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.7
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Chief Rabbi of Efrat in Israel, adds: “The
dietary laws are intended to teach us compassion and lead us gently to
5 Rabbi Abraham Kook, “Fragments of Light,” in Abraham Isaac Kook, Ben Zion Bokser,
ed. and trans. (New York: Paulist Press, 1978), 316–21.
6 Quoted in Abraham Chill, The Mitzvot: The Commandments and Their Rationale (New York:
Urim Publications, 2000), 400.
7 Rabbi Pinchas Peli, Torah Today (Washington, DC: B’nai B’rith Books, 1987), 118.
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vegetarianism.”8 The three statements mentioned above might refer to
veganism, rather than vegetarianism, if given today.
Some Jews reject kashrut because of the higher costs involved for kosher
foods. They can obtain proper (generally superior) nutrition at far lower
costs with a balanced, kosher vegan diet. In a letter to me, Rabbi Robert
Gordis, late professor of the Bible at the Jewish Theological Seminary
and former editor of Judaism magazine, indicated that vegetarianism, a
logical consequence of Jewish teaching, would be a way of maintaining
the kosher laws.
There are several examples in Jewish history when vegetarianism
or veganism enabled Jews to maintain the dietary laws. Daniel and his
companions avoided non-kosher food while they were held captive in the
court of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, through a vegan diet (Daniel
1:8–16). The historian Josephus related how some Jewish priests on trial in
Rome ate only figs and nuts in order to avoid eating non-kosher meat. As
indicated above, some Maccabees, during the struggle against the Syrian
Greeks, escaped to the mountains, where they lived on plant foods, since
no kosher meat was available.
The Torah looks favorably on vegan foods. Flesh foods are often
mentioned with distaste and are associated with lust (lack of control
over one’s appetite) for meat. In the Song of Songs, the divine bounty is
mentioned in terms of fruits, vegetables, grapes, and nuts. There is no
special b’racha (blessing) recited before eating meat or fish, as there is for
other foods such as bread, cake, wine, fruits, and vegetables; the blessing
for meat, milk, and eggs is a general one, the same as that over water or
such foods as juice or soup. Also, a person being a vegan or vegetarian
would not eliminate “food-oriented” mitzvot (commandments) from their
lives, such as kiddush (the sanctification of Shabbat and Festivals, through
the recitation of a blessing over wine or grape juice), bircat hamazon
(blessings after meals), and Passover Seder observances.
We have already discussed that some Jews feel obligated to eat meat
in order to celebrate Jewish festivals and Shabbat, and we’ve seen how
many sources have argued that since the destruction of the Temple, Jews
8 Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, “A Sabbath Week—Shabbat Ekev,” The Jewish Week, August 14,
1987, 21.
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need not eat meat on holidays; rejoicing with wine is sufficient. Indeed,
a number of modern rabbis—including Alfred Cohen, spiritual leader of
the Young Israel of Canarsie and former editor of The Journal of Halacha
[ Jewish Law] and Contemporary Society; J. David Bleich, a highly respected
Torah scholar and professor at Yeshiva University; and Rabbi Emanuel
J. Schochet, author of Animal Life in Jewish Tradition (1984)—give many
sources that indicate that Jews are not required to eat meat today, even
on festivals and Sabbaths. In summary, there is no contradiction between
Judaism (and its dietary laws) and veganism. In fact, veganism appears to
be the diet most consistent with the highest Jewish values.9
9 If kashrut issues arise that Jews are uncertain about, a trusted rabbinic authority should
be consulted.

1 9 7
Appendix D
A Vegan View of the Bib lic al
Animal Sacrific es
Given the emphasis I have placed on God’s wish for His original
humans to eat vegan diets, and the many mandates not to harm
animals, a reasonable question may be asked: Why were the biblical
animal sacrificial services established?
During the time of Moses, it was the general practice among
all nations to worship by means of animal sacrifices.1 There were
many associated idolatrous practices. The great Jewish philosopher
Maimonides concluded 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 accustomed.”2 For this reason,
God allowed Jews to make sacrifices, but, “He transferred to His service
that which had previously served as a worship of created beings and of
things imaginary and unreal.”3 All elements of idolatry were removed.
Instead, limitations were placed on sacrifices. They were confined to one
central location (instead of each family having a home altar), and the
human sacrifices and other idolatrous practices of the neighboring pagan
peoples were forbidden. Maimonides concluded:
1 Reverend A. Cohen, The Teaching of Maimonides (New York: Bloch Publishing Co. 1927),
2 Ibid. Based on Maimonides’ Guide to the Perplexed 3:32. Maimonides did believe that the
Temple sacrifices would be reestablished during the Messianic period.
3 Ibid., 178–79.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
1 9 8
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 firmly established; this result
was thus obtained without deterring or confusing the minds of
the people by the abolition of the service to which they were
accustomed and which alone was familiar to them.4
The Jewish philosopher Abarbanel reinforced Maimonides’ argument.
He cited a midrash (rabbinic teaching) that indicated that the Jews had
become accustomed to animal sacrifices in Egypt. God tolerated the
sacrifices but commanded that they be offered in one central sanctuary:5
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.”6
Rabbi J. H. Hertz, the late 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.7 After the destruction of the
Temple, the rabbis decided that prayer and good deeds took the place of
The great sage Rashi indicated that God did not want the Israelites
to bring sacrifices; it was their choice.8 He based his belief on the haphtorah
(portion from the Prophets) read on the Shabbat when the book of
Leviticus, which discusses sacrifices, is read: “Neither did I overwork you
with meal-offerings nor did I weary you with frankincense” (Isaiah 43:23).
Biblical commentator David Kimhi (1160–1235) also argued that
the sacrifices were voluntary. He ascertained this from the words of
Jeremiah (7:22–23):
4 Ibid., 179.
5 Rabbi J. H. Hertz, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs (London: Soncino Press, 1958), 562.
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid., 559.
8 Rashi’s commentary on Isaiah 43:23.
A Vegan View of the Biblical Animal Sacrifices
1 9 9
For neither did I speak with your forefathers nor did I command
them on the day I brought them out of the land of Egypt,
concerning a burnt offering or a sacrifice. But this thing did I
command them, saying: Obey Me so that I am your God and
you are My people, and you walk in all the ways that I command
you, so that it may be well with you.
Kimhi noted that nowhere in the Ten Commandments is there any
reference to sacrifice, and even when sacrifices are first mentioned
(Leviticus 1:2), the expression used is “when any man of you brings an
offering,” the first Hebrew word ki being literally “if,” implying that it
was a voluntary act.9
Many Jewish scholars, such as Rav Kook, think that animal sacrifices
will not be reinstated in Messianic times, even with the reestablishment
of the Temple.10 They believe that at that time human conduct will
have advanced to such high standards there will no longer be a need for
animal sacrifices to atone for sins. Only non-animal sacrifices (grains, for
example) to express gratitude to God would remain.
There is a midrash that states: “In the Messianic era, all offerings will
cease except the thanksgiving offering, which will continue forever.”11
This seems consistent with the belief of Rav Kook and others, based on the
prophecy of Isaiah (11:6–9), that people and animals will be vegan in that
time, when “‘they shall neither harm nor destroy on all My holy mount.’”
Sacrifices, especially animal sacrifices, are not the primary concern
of God. As a matter of fact, they could be an abomination to Him if not
carried out together with deeds of loving kindness and justice. Consider
the following words of the prophets, the spokesmen of God:
For I desire loving-kindness, and not sacrifices. (Hosea 6:6)
9 Commentary of David Kimhi on Jeremiah 7:22–23. See Abraham Joshua Heschel,
Heavenly Torah: As Refracted through the Generations, Gordon Tucker, ed. and trans. (New
York/London: Continuum, 2006), 92.
10 Olat Rayah, 2:292. Rav Kook said: “In the future, the spirit of enlightenment will spread
and reach even the animals. Gift offerings of vegetation will be brought to the Holy
Temple, and they will be acceptable as were the animal sacrifices of old”; also see Hertz,
Pentateuch and Haftorahs, 562.
11 Midrash Vayikra Rabbah 9:7; also see Hertz, Pentateuch and Haftorahs, 562.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
“Of what use are your many sacrifices to Me?” says the Lord. “I
am sated with the burnt-offerings of rams and the fat of fattened
cattle; and the blood of bulls and sheep and hegoats I do not
want. . . . You shall no longer bring vain meal-offerings. . . . Your
New Moons and your appointed seasons My soul hates; . . . and
when you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you,
even when you pray at length, I do not hear; your hands are full
of blood.” (Isaiah 1:11–16)
I hate, I reject your festivals, and I will take not smell [the sacrifices
of ] your assemblies. For if you offer up to Me burnt-offerings
and your meal-offerings, I will not accept [them], and the peace
offerings of your fattened cattle I will not regard. Take away from
Me the din of your songs, and the music of your lutes I will not
hear. And justice shall be revealed like water, and righteousness
like a mighty stream. (Amos 5:21–24)
Deeds of compassion and kindness toward all creation are of greater
significance to God than sacrifices: “Performing charity and justice is
preferred by God to a sacrifice” (Proverbs 21:3).
Perhaps a different type of sacrifice is required of us today. When
Rabbi Shesheth kept a fast for Yom Kippur, he used to conclude with
these words:12
Sovereign of the Universe, You know full well that in the time of
the Temple when a man sinned he used to bring a sacrifice, and
though all that was offered of it was fat and blood, atonement was
made for him. Now I have kept a fast and my fat and blood have
diminished. May it be Your will to account my fat and blood
which have been diminished as if I have offered them before You
on the altar, and favor me. (Berachot 17a)
12 Quoted in Moshe Halbertal, On Sacrifice (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015),
A Vegan View of the Biblical Animal Sacrifices
Reinforcing the above material are the words of Jerusalem-based
Orthodox rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo:
Does Judaism really need animal sacrifices? Would it not be
better off without them? After all, the sacrificial cult compromises
Judaism. What does a highly ethical religion have to do with the
collection of blood in vessels and the burning of animal limbs on
an altar?
No doubt Judaism should be sacrifice-free. Yet it is not. . . .
How much more beautiful the Torah would be without sacrifices.
If Judaism had the chance, it would have dropped the entire
institution of sacrifices in a second. Better yet, it would have had
no part in it to begin with. How much more beautiful the Torah
would be without sacrifices! How wonderful it would be if a good
part of Sefer Vayikra [the portion of the Torah that refers initially
to sacrifices] were removed from the biblical text, or had never
been there in the first place.13
Echoing the words of Maimonides above, Rabbi Cardozo explains that
the sacrifices are a concession to human weakness.
13 Nathan Lopes Cardozo, Jewish Law as Rebellion: A Plea for Religious Authenticity and Halachic
Courage ( Jerusalem: Urim Publications, 2018), 219.

Appendix E
Tefillin and Other Animal-
Based Ritual Items
An issue for Jewish religious vegans is that tefillin (the little boxes
containing Torah verses that observant Jews wear during weekly
morning prayers, except on Shabbat and certain festivals) as well as
several other ritual items require the use of leather or other animal parts.
I have included some thoughts on this issue that hopefully will lead to
respectful dialogues and positive results for vegans, consistent with Jewish
laws and traditions.1
Judaism considers it a hiddur mitzvah (an enhancement of a mitzvah) if
the animal from which the leather came led a cruelty-free life and then
died a natural death, rather than through slaughter, even ritual slaughter
(shechitah). Unfortunately, it is not profitable for the animal industry to raise
an animal just to meet these humane standards, so Jewish religious vegans
so far have not been able to obtain animal-derived ritual objects that meet
their ethical ideals. However, it is possible that animal sanctuaries might
be willing to donate or sell at a reasonable price animals of kosher species
after their natural deaths. Although they might initially be resistant, they
might be convinced that use of such animals would reduce the profits of
the “livestock” industry and thus be a positive step for animals. There may
also be other sources of animals of kosher species that died a natural death.
Religious Jewish vegans could look into the possibility of using tefillin
passed down in their family, received in their childhood, or obtained
from a secondhand source, so that no new tefillin would need to be
1 I am grateful to Breslov chasid Rabbi David Sears for his contributions to this appendix.
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
2 0 4
purchased and therefore no additional harm to animals would occur. I
am told that even today, the boxes (battim) of tefillin may be obtained from
stillborn calves, as may the parchments on which the scriptural passages
are written. However, the straps (retzu’ot) are not available except from
slaughtered animals. Hence, some Jewish vegans have resorted to buying
used straps and fastening them to new boxes made from stillborn calves.
(Mezuzot are also commonly written on parchments from stillborn calves,
due to the advantage of their thinness.)
Modern Orthodox rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, founder of Shamayim
v’Aretz, writes the following about his use of tefillin:
When I put on Tefillin each morning, what I’m doing is reminding
myself of our life commitment to be merciful towards all, from
beasts of burden and amphibians to reptiles and insects. As
with all moral commitments, ritual contributes to the mindset
that allows us to recharge our commitments on a regular basis.
Perhaps we are binding ourselves with parts of an animal to
fully commit to Godly service and to live a life with the utmost
moral certitude. One of the great ethical imperatives we have is
to reduce suffering for all sentient beings. Thus, paradoxically,
Tefillin can be an animal welfare mitzvah at its core.
As I mentioned in chapter twelve, it is currently impossible to lead a life
completely free of using animal products, as they pervade many aspects
of life today. There are animal derivatives, and/or products that are the
results of animal tests, involved in everything, from our wallboard, paints,
and car tires, to the asphalt we drive on. Although billions of animals are
slaughtered annually for food, no animals are slaughtered solely to make
ritual objects. The fact that currently there are some animal parts used 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 animalcentered
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. And, as noted above, hopefully a time
will soon come when the leather for tefillin and other ritual objects will
Tefillin and Other Animal-Based Ritual Items
come from animals who led cruelty-free lives and died natural deaths, or
perhaps even from leather that has been developed from an animal cell.
Our emphasis should be on doing a minimum amount of harm to other
people, the environment, and animals.
I hope the above discussion leads to respectful dialogues that produce
positive results so that Jewish religious vegans can be comfortable with
both their Jewish and their vegan practices.

2 0 7
Vegan, Vegetarian, and
Animal Rights–Related
There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of valuable websites
about vegan, vegetarian, and animal rights organizations and
publications. Some are listed below. Most have links to additional
important sources.
Jewish Vegan, Vegetarian, and Animal Rights Websites
• Alliance to End Chickens as Kapporos:
• Animals Now, formerly Anonymous for Animal Rights: https://
• Concern for Helping Animals in Israel (CHAI):
• Eco-Eating:
• Food for Thought—and Action!:
• The International Jewish Vegetarian Society:
• Israeli Jewish Vegetarian Society (Ginger):
• Jewish Veg, formerly known as Jewish Vegetarians of North America
( JVNA):
• Let the Animals Live:
• Richard Schwartz’s collection of articles:
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
• Shamayim V’Aretz, Jewish Animal Advocacy:
• The Vegetarian Mitzvah:
• Vegan Friendly:
• Vegan Nation:
Jewish Environmental and Hunger Websites
• Aytzim: Ecological Judaism:
• Canfei Nesharim (Wings of Eagles):
• The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL):
• Hazon:
• Mazon:
• The Shalom Center:
• Teva Learning Center:
Non-Jewish Relevant Websites
• Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM):
• International Vegetarian Union:
• Mercy For Animals:
• National Library of Medicine (NLM):
• Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM):
• Vegetarian Resource Group:
• VegSource:
Environmental Organizations in Israel
Most Israeli websites have both a Hebrew and an English version. If a listed website
first appears on your screen in Hebrew, find and click on the English icon or link for
the translation.
• Arava Institute for Environmental Studies:
• EcoPeace Middle East, formerly Friends of the Earth Middle East
• Green Course (Megamah Yeruka)
2 0 9
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Aaron (biblical figure), xxiii
Abarbanel, Isaac, 87–88, 150, 157–58, 198
Abraham (biblical figure), 33, 44, 149
Abravanel. See Abarbanel
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (American Dietetic Association), 23, 161
Achashverosh (biblical figure), 176
activism, xxii–xxxiii, 130–34, 153–62
. See Also vegan movement
Adam (biblical figure), 59, 114, 139, 155, 183
afikomen (dessert), 179
Africa, 50
air pollution, 55, 70, 72–73
Akedat Yitzchak (Arama), 169
Albo, Joseph, 87–88, 155
Aleph Farms, 122
alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), 94
Amar, Shlomo, 108
Amazon rainforest, 54
American Heart Association, 95
American Jewish Committee, 81
American Journal of Cardiology, 30
Amidah, 86
Amsel, Nachum, 101
Am Yisrael, 138
“Analysis of Circular Plates on Elastic Foundations under Radially Symmetrical Loadings” (Schwartz), xxviii
animal agriculture, 61–66
climate change, affect on, 61–62, 141
crops, impact on, 77–79, 84
energy use, 64–66
erosion, affect on, 62
hunger, link to, 75–81, 89
rainforest destruction, affect on, 63–64
water use and pollution, 62–63, 65–66, 170
Animal Life in Jewish Tradition (Schochet), 195
Animal Machines (Harrison), 41–42
animal rights, 99–117, 155
entertainment, animals as, 105–9
experimentation on animals, 109–12
Judaism and, 112–15
skins, use of animal, 99–105, 168, 203–5
. See Also animal welfare; factory farming; tza’ar ba’alei chayim; vegan movement
animal sacrifice, 89, 157–58, 163, 197–201
animal slaughter, 5–8, 43, 64, 88, 154–55
shechita (ritual slaughter), 3, 6–7, 137–38, 155, 158, 191, 193, 203
shochtim (ritual slaughterers), 7, 138, 159–60, 191
animal welfare, 33–44, 87–88
Animal Welfare Fund, 13
antibiotics, non-therapeutic, 27, 30, 43, 140, 150
cattle, 37–38, 39, 63, 140, 168
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
chickens, 27–28, 39–41, 44, 64,
145, 149–50, 158, 191
dairy cows, 38–39, 104, 160, 204
fish, 92–93, 140, 191, 192, 194
hypocrisy of meat-eating, 41–44
Jewish teachings on, 33–37, 142,
146–48, 151
link to treatment of people, 87–89
sheep, 103
veal, 38, 39, 158
. See also animal rights; factory
farming; tza’ar ba’alei
Arama, Isaac (Yitzchak), 169, 189
Arctic sea, 50, 54
Ashkenazi Jews, 29, 101, 154, 178
Ashrei prayer, 34
Atlantic meridional overturning
circulation, 54
Atzeret (closing festival of
Passover), 180–82
Australia, 103
Australian National University, 53–54
aveirah (a sin), 138
Av harachamim (Father of
compassion), 33
ayekah (“Where are you?”), 183
ba’al t’shuvah, xxii
Balaam, 37
Balsam, Lara, 18
bal tashchit (you shall not
destroy), 1, 69–70, 107, 108,
133, 174–75, 181
. See Also wastefulness
Bar-Ilan University, 6–7
bar mitzvah, xxii
Baruch Sheh’amar prayer, 34
battim (tefillin boxes), 204
“Before the Blind” (Keisar), 142
Belgium, 16
Benjamin, Or, 11–12
“Best Speech You Will Ever
Hear” (Yourofsky), 13
Beyond Meat, 14–15
biodiversity, loss of, 63–64
BioScience (journal), 46–47
bircat hamazon (blessing after
meals), 80, 178–79, 188,
192, 194
Birthright trips to Israel, 15
Bleich, J. David, 178, 195
blood, prohibitions against
consuming, 143, 191
Bloomingdale’s, 102
Bogin, Yaron, 118
boreal forests, 54
b’racha (blessing), 66–67, 194
Braithwaite, Victoria, 92
Brown, Jerry, 53
Buber, Martin, xxvi–xxvii
Burger King, 14–15
butchers, 159–60
bycatch, 93
calcium, 26
California, 51, 53
Campbell-Lendrum, Diarmid, 55
cardinal sins, 19
Cardozo, Nathan Lopes, 3, 6, 7, 201
CARE (conservation and
renewable energy), 72
Carmell, Aryeh, 43
Carson, Rachel, 41
Catholic leaders, xxvi
cats, 110
cattle, 37–38, 39, 63, 140, 168, 204
. See also dairy; veal
Central America, 78
chadesh yamenu k’kedem (“renew
our days as of old”), 185
Chag Hakatzir (Harvest Festival),
chametz (leaven), 189
Chanukah, 171–73, 192
Cherlov, Yuval, 125
chickens, 27–28, 39–41, 44, 64, 145,
149–50, 158, 191
2 1 7
chickpea-based foods, 11–12, 13
Chief Rabbinate, 5, 7, 8
children, 76, 165, 175, 181–82
chillul Hashem (a desecration of
God’s name), 73
China, 24, 56, 98, 101
China-Cornell-Oxford study, 24
the Chofetz Chaim, 34, 114
cholent (Sabbath hot dish), 160
cholesterol, 28, 29–30, 94
Choni (the rainmaker), 175
chupah (bridal canopy), 175
circuses, 105–6
City College of New York, xxiii,
xxiv–xxv, xxvii
clean meat. See cultivated animal
Clean Meat: How Growing Meat without
Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner
and the World (Shapiro), 123–24
climate change, xix, xxi, xxxiii, 16,
30, 45–58, 127
Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade
to Deny Global Warming
(Hoggan), 56
crops, impact on, 76–77
denial, power of, 55–57
feedback loops, 53
greenhouse gas emissions, 47,
53–55, 57, 61–62, 78–79,
103, 121, 141, 143
“Hot and Dry: Climate Report
Spells Disaster” (Zonshine), 52
impact of animal-based diets on,
61–64, 70, 71, 143–44
in Israel, 51–52
Paris conference, 46, 47
Rabbinic Letter on the Climate
Crisis, 57
threat level of, 45–47, 182–83
tipping points, 52–55
Veg Climate Alliance, xxi
violence, terrorism, and war,
increase risk of, 48–51
“World Scientists’ Warning of
a Climate Emergency”
(Ripple), 60–61, 182–83
. See Also United Nations (UN)
Coats, C. David, 42–43
Code of Jewish Law (Schulchan Aruch),
Cohan, Jeffrey Spitz, 15, 137–38
Cohen, Alfred, 178, 186, 195
Cohen, Sha’ar Yashuv (Shear
Yashuv), 154, 178, 186
College of Staten Island, xix–xx,
community, xxvi–xxvii, xxxi–xxxiii,
compassion, xxvi, 4, 33–35, 66, 88,
91, 101–2, 114–15, 133–35
Concern for Helping Animals in
Israel (CHAI), 107
coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic,
xxxiv, 14, 30–31, 112
correct action, 149
cosmetics testing, 111–12
Cousens, Gabriel, 138–39
cousin’s club, xxv
criticism of Jewish communities,
xxvi–xxvii, xxxi–xxxiii
animal agriculture, impact of,
77–79, 120–21
climate change, impact of, 76–77
cultivated animal products, 117–26, 205
benefits of, 120–21
critiques of, 123–25
in Israel, 121–23
origins and prospects, 117–20
dairy, 108
cows, 38–39, 104, 160, 204
milk substitutes, 29, 119–20
products, 28–29, 124, 159,
. See also cattle; veal
Daniel (biblical figure), 194
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
Darfur, 48
davening (praying), xxxi
David (biblical figure), 35
dayenu (it would be enough), 2
debeaking, 40
denial, power of, 55–57
Denmark, 23
deprivation, 127–28
Divine Image, 114, 133, 156
drought, 50, 70, 76
Earth Day, xxx
. See Also Tu Bishvat
Earth Summit, 59–60
East Antarctica, 54
E. coli, 27, 63
The Economist (magazine), 14
Eden, Garden of, 45, 59, 114, 144, 183
vegan diet in, 35, 138–39, 155,
173–74, 185, 188
eggs, 29–31, 39–40, 145, 158, 191
Egypt, 70–71, 158, 179, 188–89, 198,
Sultan of, 21
eichah (“alas! How has this
befallen us?”), 183
elephants, 106
Eliezer (Abraham’s servant), 35
Elul, 190
energy use, 64, 96, 124, 127
entertainment, animals as, 105–9
environmental damage, 1, 30–31,
59–73, 140, 173, 179–80
animal agriculture, water, and
energy, 64–66
call to action, 72–73
climate change, impact of, 48–51
fish, 95–97
impact of animal-based diets on
climate change, 61–64
Jewish teachings on, 66–70
plagues, modern, 70–72
. See Also climate change; pollution
“Environmental Issues on Staten
Island” course, xxx
EPA (eicosopentaenoic acid), 94
Esau, 107
eshet yefat to’ar (non-Jewish woman
captured in war), 147, 158–59
Esther (biblical figure), 176
Eve (biblical figure), 114, 183
experimentation, on animals, 109–12
extinction, of animal species, 70
factory farming, xx, 2–3, 27, 37–44,
120, 137–38, 150, 154
cattle and veal, 37–38, 158
chickens, 39–41, 44, 158
dairy cows, 38–39, 160–61
fisheries, 92–93, 95–96
fur farming, 102
as slavery, 179
. See Also animal rights; animal
welfare; tza’ar ba’alei chayim
Fagelman, Natan, 7–8
Farm Animal Rights Movement
(FARM), 141
fat, saturated, 29
faux fur, 101
Feeding America, 78
Finchley Road, UK, 18
Finland, 24
fish, xx, 91–98, 140, 191, 192, 194
environmental impacts, 95–97
health, 93–95
non-target animals, 93
peace, pursuit of, 97–98
sentience of, 92–93
fleishigs (meat products), 159
flooding, 50–51, 143
food waste, 78–79
Forbes (magazine), 14
fossil fuels, 64
Framingham, Massachusetts, 94
Fresh Kills Landfill, xxx
Friedberg, Lionel, 139–40
2 1 9
frum (Jewishly observant), 138
fur, 99–102
Fur for Animals, 100
future, concern for the, 174–75
“Future Meating” conference, 122
Future Meat Technologies, 122
gambling, 108
Gan Eden. See Eden
Gellatley, Juliet, 17
men, 66, 70, 175
women, 28, 35, 76, 147, 158–59,
165, 175–76, 181–82
Gendler, Everett, 187
Georgia Institute of Technology, 13
glacial melt, 50, 54, 70
glatt (strictly kosher), 3
Glaucon, 84–85
global warming. See climate change
gluttony, sin of, 185
God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of
Judaism (Heschel), xxvi
Golden Rule, 144
Goldstein, Nir, 123
Good Food Institute Israel, 123
Gordis, Robert, 194
Goren, Shlomo, 154, 178
Goshen, 71
The Grapes of Wrath (Steinbeck), xxiii
Green, Joseph, 4
Greenberg, Irving, 163
greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, 47,
53–55, 57, 61–62, 78–79, 103,
121, 141, 143
. See also climate change
Greenland, 50, 54
guinea pigs, 110
Ha’am, Ahad, 185
Haggadah, 80
halacha (Jewish law), 2–3, 6, 25, 31,
43–44, 147, 149–50
Halevy, Chaim David, 101
Hallel (psalms of praise), 172–73, 181
Haman (biblical figure), 177
Hanina, 69
Hannah (biblical figure), 165
haphtorah (portion from the
Prophets), 198
Ha-rachaman (the compassionate
One), 33
Harley, Gil, 12
Harris, John, 42
Harrison, Ruth, 41, 43–44
Hasidim, 101
“Has the Religious Minority Taken
over Israel?” (Keats-Jaskoll), 6
Hatfield, Mark, 84
health, 1, 19–31, 127, 141, 160
benefits of vegan diet, 23–25,
157, 169
chicken, 27–28
dairy products, 28–29
eggs, 29–31
experimentation, on animals,
fish, 93–95
herbivorousness, 5, 25– 26
hygiene, 22–23
illnesses, 5, 23–29, 42, 55, 71,
94, 104, 110
Jewish teachings on, 20–23, 181
public health, 22–23, 30–31
heat waves, 70
Hebrew University, 122
hechsher, 137
herbivorousness, 5, 25– 26
Hershaft, Alex, 141
Hertz, J. H., 198
Heschel, Abraham Joshua, xxv–xxvi,
hiddur mitzvah (enhancement of a
mitzvah), 203
Hillel, 15, 86
hineni (“Here I am”), 183
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
Hirsch, Samson Raphael, 21–22, 33,
59, 69–70, 88–89, 114, 155
Hoggan, James, 56
holidays, vegan approach to, 163–96
Chanukah, 171–73, 192
Passover, 80, 178–80, 192, 194
Purim, 176–78
Rosh Hashanah, 164–66
Rosh Hashana L’ma’aser
Beheimot, 189–90
Shabbat, 185–89, 195, 198
Shavuot, 180–82
Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and
Simchat Torah, 168–71
Tisha B’Av, 182–85
Tu Bishvat, 173–76, 190
Yom Kippur, 80, 166–68, 200
. See Also kashrut
Holocaust, 141, 155
Honduras, 78
Hopkins, Tom, 92
horse racing, 107–8
Hosea (biblical figure), 142
Hostos Community College, xxix
“Hot and Dry: Climate Report Spells
Disaster” (Zonshine), 52
Hugo, Victor, 147
Huna, 178
hunger, xx, 1, 71, 84, 134, 165–66
animal agriculture, link to,
75–81, 89, 121, 178–79
Jewish teachings on, 79–81, 180,
veganism as solution to, 77–79,
hunting, recreational, 106–7
hygiene, 22–23
hypocrisy, of meat-eating, 41–44
Ibn Ezra, Abraham, 155
idolatry, 19, 86, 133, 197–98
“The Impact of Science on Human
Values and Problems” course,
The Importance of Living (Lin Yutang), xxix
Impossible Foods, 14–15
India, 104
Indonesia, 98
Industrial Revolution, 47, 52, 54, 147
Inhofe, James, 56–57
InnovoPro, 12, 13
the Inquisition, 192
Instagram, 16
insurance companies, 24, 51, 107
Intergovernmental Science Policy
Platform on Biology and
Ecosystem Services (IPBES), 63
Ipsos MORI, 56
Iraq, 48–49
Isaac (biblical figure), 35
Isaiah (biblical figure), 80, 89, 149–50,
155, 166–67, 171–72, 184, 188
ISIS, 48
Israel, xxiv–xxv, xxxiv, 145
ancient Israelites, 169, 179,
188–89, 197–98
ban on horse racing, 108
circus ban in, 106
climate change in, 51–52
cultivated animal products in,
Economy and Industry Ministry,
fur ban in, 101
hunger in, 75
Innovation Authority, 122, 123
Israel Defense Forces (IDF), 12–13
keeping kosher in, 5–9, 43–44
Ministry of Environmental
Protection, 51–52
Supreme Court, 13
tree-planting in, 173
2017 annual State Comptroller
Report, 5–6
vegan movement in, 11–13,
“It’s the Cholesterol, Stupid!”
(Roberts), 30
Jeremiah (biblical figure), 149, 182,
Jerusalem Post (newspaper), 6–7, 8, 11,
12, 52
Jerusalem Rabbinate, 8
Jewish Eco Seminars, 144
The Jewish Encyclopedia of Moral and
Ethical Issues (Amsel), 101
Jewish Law as Rebellion: A Plea for
Religious Authenticity and Halachic
Courage (Cardozo), 3
Jewish News (newspaper), 7–8
Jewish teachings, 132–34
on animal welfare, 33–37, 142,
146–48, 151
on environmental damage,
on health, 20–23, 181
on hunger, 79–81, 180, 184
on peace, 85–89, 142–43
veganism, consistency with, 1–5,
139, 143, 147–48, 154–62,
192, 195
. See Also midrash; Talmud;
Jewish Theological Seminary, 194
Jewish Veg (Jewish Vegetarians of
North America, JVNA), xx, 15,
102, 132, 137, 141, 190
Jewish Vegetarian Society (JVS), xx,
18, 132
Jonah (biblical figure), 36, 167–68
Joseph (biblical figure), xxix
Josephus (Jewish historian), 194
The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary
Society, 178, 186, 195
Judaism (magazine), 194
Judaism and Global Survival (Schwartz),
xxi, xxxi
Judaism and Vegetarianism (Schwartz),
“Judaism and Vegetarianism” course,
Kabbalat Shabbat (welcoming
Shabbat), 187
Kabbalist mystics, 190
kaddish, 86
Kagan, Yisrael Meir. See the Chofetz
karpas (eating of greens), 179
kashering (preparing kosher meat), 191
kasher l’mehadrin (perfectly kosher), 6
kashrut (kosher laws), 3, 107, 108,
133, 159, 191–95, 203
animal slaughter scandals, 5–8,
43, 137–38
cost and ease of, 8–9, 192–93
cultivated animal products, 125
veganism as the new kashrut,
138–39, 144, 147–48, 150,
Keats-Jaskoll, Shoshanna, 6
kedusha (holiness), 138–39
Keisar, Asa, 142–43
Kerem Shlomo (Jewish text), 154
ki (“if ”), 199
kibbutz, xxiv
kiddush (sanctification ceremony
using wine or grape juice), 35,
186, 194
Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of
God’s name), 142
Kimhi, David, 198–99
King, Martin Luther, Jr., xxvi, 149
Kitchen FoodTech Hub, 122
Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish
Law), 187
Klaper, Michael, 39
Klare, Michael T., 83–84
K’lee Yakar (Lunchitz), 193
Knesset (Parliament), 13, 101
Kohavi, Aviv, 13
Kol Nidre prayer, 168
Kook, Abraham Isaac Hakohen, 113,
143, 150, 193
on vegan Messianic Period, 4–5, 155,
158, 170–71, 184, 188, 199
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
korban Pesach (Passover sacrifice),
Kradjian, Robert M., 25
Krantz, David, 143–44
Kroger, 14–15
lab-grown meat. See cultivated animal
lactose intolerance, 29
. See also dairy
ownership of, 66–67
use of, 77–78
Landau, Yechezkel, 107
latkes (potato pancakes), 171
leather, 103–4, 168, 203–5
lechem (bread), 87, 97
Le Hardy, Charlotte, 17
lepers, 22
Levites, 138
Liebowitz, Aaron, 6
lifnim meshurat hadin (letter of the
law), 184
The Limits to Growth (Meadows), xxxi
Lincoln Square Synagogue, xx
Lin Yutang, xxix
Liverpool Kashrut Commission, 7–8
Livestock’s Long Shadow (UN FAO), 61
living as a vegan and Jew, 127–34
activism, 130–34
locham (to feed and to wage war), 87
lulav (palm frond), 170
Lunchitz, Solomon Efraim, 193
lust, sin of, 194
Luxemburg, Rosa, 149
Maccabean Revolt, 171, 192, 194
Macy’s, 102
Maimonides, 19, 20–21, 88, 151,
155, 157–58, 197–98, 201
mangrove forests, 97
manna, 169, 188–89
ma’ot chittim (charity for Passover
goods), 80
Marcus, Jay, 179
Marranos, 192
Marshalia Hebrew High School, xxv
mashgichim (supervisers), 7
Mathematics and Global Survival
(Schwartz), xxxi
“Mathematics and the Environment”
course, xix–xx, xxx
mat’not evyonim (added charity to
poor and hungry people), 176–77
Mauna Loa Observatory, 54–55
Mauritania, 98
McDonald’s, 17, 171, 177
hypocrisy of, 41–44
as status symbol, 102, 163, 170
Meatless Monday, 11–12, 13
meat substitutes, 11–12, 14–15, 16,
119–20, 124–25
. See Also cultivated animal products
“Media Release: Nature’s Dangerous
Decline ‘Unprecedented’;
Species Extinction Rates
‘Accelerating’“ (IPBES), 63
Medini, Chizkiah, 154
Megilat Eichah (Lamentations),
Megillah (Book of Esther), 177
Memphis Meats, 118–19
men, 66, 70, 175
meod (very), 19
Mercy For Animals, 40
Messianic Period, 134
as vegan, 4–5, 155, 158, 170–71,
184, 188, 199
Metzger, Yona, 101
mezuzot, 204
Middle Ages, 192
midrash (rabbinic teaching), 45, 70,
157–58, 198, 199
Avot de Rabbi Nathan 23, 80
Ecclesiastes Rabbah 1:18, 70
Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:28, 45, 174
Midrash Tannaim, 79
migration, 83–84
milchama (war), 87, 97
milchigs (dairy products), 159
. See Also dairy
military, 22
climate change implications for,
obligations to, xxvii–xxviii
milk. See dairy
mitzvot (good deeds,
commandments), xxvi, 19, 138,
161–62, 167, 185, 187, 189
food-related, 158–59, 194
Mixoy, 12
Modern Agriculture Foundation, 118
A Modern Treasury of Jewish Thought
(Greenberg), xxv–xxvi
Mordechai, 177
Mosa Meat, 120
Moses (biblical figure), xxvii, 35, 157,
179, 197, 198
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (film), xxiii
mulesing, 103
Munich Re, 51
Nachmanides, 87, 155
Nahmias, Yaakov, 122
Naomi (biblical figure), 181–82
Natelson, Nina, 107, 144
The Nation (magazine), 83–84
Nature (journal), 53–54
Nebuchadnezzar (biblical figure), 194
Nechushtan, Taly, 12
nefesh chaya (“living soul”), 35
Neira, Maria, 55
Neril, Yonatan, 144–45
Netanyahu, Benjamin, 13
the Netherlands, 16
Newsweek (magazine), 65
New York City Council, 102
The New Yorker (magazine), 40–41
New York Stock Exchange, 14
New York Times (newspaper), 24
Nimrod, 107
the nine days, 183
“1992 World Scientists’ Warning
to Humanity” (Union of
Concerned Scientists), 59–60
Nineveh, 167–68
Nishmat kol chai t’varech et shim’chah
(“the soul of all living creatures
shall bless your name”), 99, 187
Noah (biblical figure), 4, 147
non-conformity, 171, 177
Norway, 23
oil and coal industries, 56–57
omega-3 fatty acids, 94
oppression, xxv, 71, 133, 141, 144,
149–50, 166–67, 172, 179
Ornish, Dean, 24, 95
orthorexia, 128
Oscar Meyer, 137
parchment, 204
Paris Climate Change conference,
46, 47
Passover, 80, 178–80, 192, 194
pate de foie gras, 13
peace, pursuit of, 2, 83–89, 121, 142,
fish, 97–98
Jewish teachings on, 85–89,
“A Vision of Vegetarianism and
Peace” (Kook), 113
. See also violence
Peli, Pinchas, 193
perfectionism, 130, 131
permafrost, 54, 70
personal responsibility, 147, 167
Pesach. See Passover
Pharaoh, xxvii, 71
pigs, 64, 124, 191, 192
pikuach nefesh (duty to preserve a
human life), 22
Pirkei Avot (“Ethics of the Fathers”
Jewish text), xix, xxii–xxiii, xxv
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
2 2 4
Pizza Hut, 17
plagues, modern, 70–72
Plato, 84–85
pleasure, 159, 161–62
pleather, 104
pledge campaigns, 15, 17
pollution, 104
air, 55, 70, 72–73
water, 62–63, 65–66, 70, 72,
population growth, xxxi, 71
Population Reference Bureau, xxx
Portman, Natalie, 16
Post, Mark, 118
Pratt Institute, xxviii, xxix
predator–prey situations, 96
Pregnancy, Children, and the Vegan
(Klaper), 39
preventive medicine, 20–21, 25
Private Supervision, 6
protein, 26, 28, 94, 128–29
p’sak halachah (rabbinic ruling), 101,
ptyalin, 25
Purim, 176–78
Quakers, 41
Queens College, xxiii–xxiv
rabbis, 15, 21–23, 31, 44, 153–62
Rabbinic Letter on the Climate
Crisis, 57
. See Also individual names
rachmanim b’nei rachmanim
(compassionate children of
compassionate ancestors), 33
racing industry, 107–8
rainforest destruction, 63–64, 70, 73,
140, 173, 182
Rashi, 20, 155, 186, 198
rats and mice, 110
Rebecca (biblical figure), 35
rededication, 171–72
Regenstein, Lewis, 145–47
religious behaviorism, xxvi
renewal, 188
Republic (Plato), 84–85
Reshit Chochmah (de Vidas), 154
responsa (legal rulings by Jewish
scholars), 107, 186
restaurants, 6, 13, 129, 131
meat substitutes in, 14– 15, 17
retzu’ot (tefillin straps), 204
Reuters, 14
Rifkin, Jeremy, 84
Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey’s
circus, 106
Ripple, William J., 60–61, 182–83
Riskin, Shlomo, 66, 194
Rivlin, Reuven, 13, 142–43
Roberts, William Clifford, 30
rofeh (healer), 20
Roseman’s Delicatessen, 7–8
Rosen, David, 2–3, 25, 43, 154, 186
Rosh Chodesh Av, 183
Rosh Chodesh Elul, 190
Rosh Hashanah, 164–66
Rosh Hashanah La’ilanot (Jewish
New Year for Trees), 190
Rosh Hashana L’ma’aser Beheimot
(New Year’s Day for Tithing
Animals for sacrifices), 189–90
Rutgers University, xxviii
Ruth (biblical figure), 181–82
Sabbath, 19, 35, 146, 160, 172–73, 183
. See Also Shabbat
Sabbatical Year, 67
Sacks, Jonathan, 154
Salanter, Israel, 168
Sarah (biblical figure), 165
Schochet, Emanuel J., 195
Sdei Chemed (Medini), 154
sea level rise, 49–50, 51, 54, 70, 76, 143
sea lions, 96
sea otters, 96
Sears, David, 34
Sefat, Israel, 190
Sefer Hachinuch (Book of Education), 88
Sefer Vayikra (portion of the Torah that
refers initially to sacrifices), 201
Senegal, 98
sensitivity, lack of, 42–43
Sephardic Jews, 101, 108
seudah (special festive meal), 177
Shabbat, xxv, 4, 44, 148, 154
vegan approach to, 185–89, 195,
. See Also Sabbath
Shacharit (morning) services, 34
shalach manot (gifts of food), 177
Shamayim v’Aretz, 15, 204
shank bone, 178
Shapiro, Paul, 123–24
Shavit, Ori, 15
Shavuot, 180–82
shechita (ritual slaughter), 3, 6–7,
137–38, 155, 158, 191, 193, 203
. See Also animal slaughter;
sheep, 103
Shemesh, Yael, 147–48
Shemini Atzeret, 168–71
Shesheth, 200
Sh’moneh Esrei, 86
shochtim (ritual slaughterers), 7, 138,
159–60, 191
. See Also animal slaughter;
shtreimlach, 101
Silent Spring (Carson), 41
silk, 105
Simchat Bet Shueva, 170
Simchat Torah, 168–71
Sinai, Mount, 180, 182
skins, use of animal, 99–105, 168,
social media, xxxii, 15, 17
social sanction, 141
Society of Ethical and Religious
Vegetarians (SERV), xxi
Socrates, 84–85
Soglowek Food Industries, 122
soil erosion, 59, 62, 70, 72, 91
Song of Songs, 194
Soviet Union, xxvi, xxvii
Specter, Michael, 40–41
Sperber, Daniel, 6–7
Sputnik I, xxvii
Stahler, Charles, 148
Staten Island Advance (newspaper), xxx
Staten Island Community College
(SICC), xxviii–xxxi
The Place, xxix–xxx
status symbols, animal products as,
102, 163, 170
Stav, David, 6
Steffen, Will, 53–54
Steinberg, Moshe Halevi, 186
stewardship, of the Earth, 60, 128,
133, 183
of animals, 35, 113–15, 155–56
of land, 66–67, 72, 174
Strauss Israel, 122
sufganiyot (fried donuts), 171
sukkahs (temporary structures), 169, 170
Sukkot, 168–71
Susskind, Loretta, xxv
Sweden, 28
Synagogue Vegan Challenge, 15
Syria, 48–49
Syrian Greeks, 171, 172, 192, 194
Talmud, 34, 37, 173, 176, 182
Avodah Zarah 18b, 106
Baba Batra 2:8, 9, 68
Baba Batra 2:9, 22, 68, 104
Baba Batra 9a, 79
Baba Batra 158b, 68
Baba Kamma 91b, 69
Baba Metzia 30b, 184
Beitzah 32b, 33
Berachot 17a, 200
Berachot 30:5, 67
Berachot 40a, 22
Berachot 52b, 69
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
Bezah 32b, 33
Chulin 84a, 22
Exodus Rabbah 2:2, 35, 179
Genesis Rabbah 38:6, 86
Gitin 59b, 86
Kiddushin 4:12; 66d, 68
Kiddushin 32a, 69
Leviticus Rabbah 9:9, 86
Mishnah, xxii–xxiii
For the Perplexed of the Generation
10:6, 143–44
Pesachim 25a, 185
Pesachim 109a, 154, 178, 184
Pirkei Avot 1:12, 86
Pirkei Avot 2:21, 132
Pirkei Avot 5:11, 87
Rosh Hashanah 1.2, 170
Sanhedrin 17b, 22
Sefer Ha-Chinuch 530, 69
Sefer Hassidim 13c, 142, 64, 146
Shabbat 50b, 22–23
Shabbat 67b, 69
Shabbat 118b, 4
Shabbat 140b, 22
Shabbat 151b, 33
Sotah 14a, 20
Ta’anit 11a, b, 22
Yalkut Shimoni, 22, 86
Yerushalmi Keturot 4:8, 29a, 146
Yevanot 15, 146
Talmud Torah school, xxii, xxv
Tanenbaum, Marc H., 81
tanning, of animal hides, 104
tashlich, 165
Technion (Israel Institute of
Technology), 122
tefillin, 203–5
Temple in Jerusalem, 182
destruction of, 178, 182–85, 195, 198
rededication of, 171–72, 192
reestablishment of, 199
Ten Commandments (Ten
Speakings), 35, 138, 146, 151,
180, 186, 199
Tesco, 16
teshuvah (turning from sinful ways),
Thanksgiving, 160
30 Day Vegan (app), 16–17
tikkun (healing or repair), 190
tikkun olam (to repair a broken
world), 133
Tisha B’Av, 182–85
Torah, xxvii, 43–44, 137–38, 143,
148, 180–82
Amos 5:21–24, 200
Daniel 1:8–16, 194
Deuteronomy 4:9, 21, 181
Deuteronomy 4:15, 19, 21, 181
Deuteronomy 5:12–14, 35, 186
Deuteronomy 11:15, 37
Deuteronomy 11:22, 20
Deuteronomy 14:21, 191
Deuteronomy 19–20, 69, 133,
174–75, 181
Deuteronomy 22:6, 88
Deuteronomy 22:10, 35
Deuteronomy 23:13–15, 22
Deuteronomy 25:4, 35
Deuteronomy 30:19, 73
Ecclesiastes 3:19–21, 36
Esther 3:2, 177
Exodus, 70
Exodus 15:26, 20
Exodus 16:4, 150
Exodus 20, 146
Exodus 20:10, 35
Exodus 23:10–11, 67
Exodus 23:12, 186
Exodus 23:19, 34:26, 191
Exodus 34:26, 191
Genesis 1:21, 35
Genesis.1:22, 35
Genesis 1:24, 35
Genesis 1:26, 35, 113, 133, 139,
Genesis 1:27, 33, 114, 156
Genesis 1:28, 113, 139
2 2 7
Genesis 1:29, 3–4, 113, 139, 154, 156, 169, 171, 173, 180, 184, 188, 191
Genesis 1:29–30, 35, 147
Genesis 1:31, 113, 173–74, 187
Genesis 2:2, 186–87
Genesis 2:15, 59, 114, 133
Genesis 2:16, 139
Genesis 3:18, 139
Genesis 5:1, 33, 114, 133
Genesis 8:21, 143
Genesis 9:2–5, 191
Genesis 9:9–10, 36
Genesis 24:20, 35
Hosea 2:18, 142
Hosea 2:20, 36
Hosea 6:6, 199
Isaiah 1:11–16, 200
Isaiah 2:4, 87
Isaiah 11:6–9, 4, 155, 171, 184, 188, 199
Isaiah 11:9, 134
Isaiah 32:17, 89
Isaiah 43:23, 198
Isaiah 49:6, 72, 143, 147, 172
Isaiah 58:6, 149–50
Isaiah 58:6–7, 80, 166–67
Isaiah 66:3, 89
Jeremiah 7:22–23, 198
Jonah 4:11, 36
Lamentations 1:11, 185
Lamentations 4:10, 183
Leviticus, 198
Leviticus 1:2, 199
Leviticus 15:1–15, 22
Leviticus 18:5, 22
Leviticus 19:4, 142
Leviticus 19:9–10, 67
Leviticus 23:40, 169
Micah 4:3–4, 87
Numbers 5:1–4, 22
Numbers 22:32, 37
Proverbs 3:17, 86
Proverbs 12:10, 35, 133, 146
Proverbs 21:3, 200
Proverbs 25:21, 80
Psalm 1:1, 106
Psalm 8:4–7, 68–69
Psalm 24:1, 1, 66–67, 174
Psalm 34:15, 86
Psalm 36, 146
Psalm 36:7, 36
Psalm 89:15, 113
Psalm 96, 187
Psalm 104, 35, 67–68, 175–76
Psalms 113–118, 172–73, 181
Psalm 115:16, 66–67
Psalm 145, 34
Psalm 145:9, 36, 113, 133, 161, 167, 172
Psalm 145:16, 36, 80
Psalm 147:9, 36
Psalm 148, 35
Zechariah 4:6, 172
Torah as a Guide to Enlightenment (Cousens), 138
Tradition (magazine), 178
trees, 53, 69, 173, 174–75, 182, 190
treifa (non-kosher), 3, 7
Trump, Donald, 57
Tu Bishvat (Jewish Earth Day), 173–76, 190
turkeys, 160
Tyson, 121–22, 137
tza’ar ba’alei chayim (avoiding unnecessary pain to animals), 1–3, 34–35, 88, 101, 133, 137–38, 146–47, 179, 189
. See Also animal rights; animal welfare; factory farming
Tzohar, 6
Tzohar Rabbinical Organization, 124
Union of Concerned Scientists, 59–60
United Kingdom (UK), 160
animal slaughter scandals in, 7–8, 43
vegan movement in, 16–18
Ve g a n R e vo l u t i o n
United Nations (UN)
Conference on Environment and
Development, 59–60
Food and Agriculture
Organization (FAO), 61–62
Framework Convention on
Climate Change in Madrid,
51–52, 53
Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (the IPCC),
United States (US), 56, 150, 173, 176
Academy of Nutrition and
Dietetics (American Dietetic
Association), 23, 161
American Heart Association, 95
American Jewish Committee, 81
American Journal of Cardiology, 30
Army, xxvii–xxviii
Congress, 108
Department of Agriculture, 119
Food and Drug Administration
(FDA), 119
grain consumption in, 77, 169,
176–77, 179, 180, 183, 188
health costs in, 111
horse racing in, 108
hunger in, 78–79
Japanese migrants, 23
Midwestern farm flooding, 50–51
National Academy of Sciences, 76
National Marine Fisheries
Service, 96
National Science Foundation, xxviii
Senate, 56–57
vegan movement in, 14–15
wastefulness in, 71–72
University of Alabama, 92
University of California, San
Francisco, 24
veal, 38, 39, 158
. See Also cattle; dairy
vegan movement, 87
activism, xxii–xxiii, 130–34,
cultivated animal products,
critiques of, 123–25
growth of, 12–13, 14, 17
Holistic Torah veganism, 139
in Israel, 11–13
Jewish teachings, consistency
with, 1–5, 139, 143, 147–48,
154–62, 192, 195
living as a vegan and Jew, 127–34
Meatless Monday, 11–12, 13
as religion, 157, 192, 194
Synagogue Vegan Challenge, 15
30 Day Vegan (app), 16–17
in UK, 16–18
in US, 14–15
Vegan Fest in Tel Aviv, 13
Vegan Nutrition: Pure and Simple
(Klaper), 39
Veganuary, 16–17
Veg Climate Alliance, xxi
. See also animal rights
vegetarianism, xxix, 2, 23, 87–88,
156, 186, 193–94
Jewish Veg, xx, 15, 102, 132,
137, 141, 190
Jewish Vegetarian Society, xx,
18, 132
Judaism and Vegetarianism
(Schwartz), xxi
“Judaism and Vegetarianism”
course, xx
Society of Ethical and Religious
Vegetarians, xxi
“Vegetarianism: An Orthodox
Jewish Perspective” (Rosen), 2
Vegetarian Resource Group
(VRG), 148
vegetarians, xx–xxi, 12–14, 135,
142–43, 148, 154, 176, 179
The Vision of Eden: Animal Welfare
and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law
and Mysticism (Sears), 34
2 2 9
“A Vision of Vegetarianism and
Peace” (Kook), 113
VegNews (magazine), 15
veg*sm (vegetarian and veganism), xxi
Velifnei Iver (Keisar), 142
Vietnam War, xxvi
violence, terrorism, and war, 48–51,
70, 83–85
animal treatment, link to
treatment of people, 87–89
illegal fishing, 98
. See also peace
The Vision of Eden: Animal Welfare and
Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and
Mysticism (Sears), 34
“A Vision of Vegetarianism and
Peace” (Kook), 113
vitamin B-12, 129
Viva!, 16–17
Vivera, 16
warm-water corals, 54
washing of hands, ritual, 192
wastefulness, 69–70, 71–72 of food,
. See Also bal tashchit
pollution, 62–63, 65–66, 70, 72,
use, 65, 76, 97, 170
West Antarctic Ice Sheet, 54
Whitmore, Justin, 122
Whole Foods, 14–15
Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing
Judaism and Applying Jewish Values
to Help Heal Our Imperiled Planet
(Schwartz), xxxiii
why Jews should be vegans, 1–9
Jewish teachings, consistency
with, 1–5
keeping kosher, 5–9
positive example for others, 72
wildfires, 51, 52, 70
Winch, Simon, 16
wine, 184, 194, 195
Wolf, Jonathan, xx
Wolfson, Yossi, 149–50
Wolpe, David, 150
women, 28, 35, 76, 147, 158–59,
165, 175–76, 181–82
wool, 102–3
World Health Organization (WHO),
World Meteorological Organization,
World Population Data Sheet (Population
Reference Bureau), xxx
“World Scientists’ Warning of a
Climate Emergency” (Ripple),
60–61, 182–83
World War I, 23
World War II, 23, 160
World Wildlife Fund, 93
yahatz (the breaking of the middle
matzah), 179
Yanklowitz, Shmuly, 15, 151, 204
Yeshiva University, 195
Yochanan, 184
Yom Kippur, 80, 166–68, 200
Yom Tov, 186
Young Israel of Canarsie, 195
Young Israel of Staten Island, xxxi,
Yourofsky, Gary, 13
YouTube, 13, 17
z’man matan Torateinu (season of the
giving of our law, the Torah), 180
z’mirot (songs of praise of God and
the holiness and beauty of the
day), 188
Zonshine, Idan, 52
zoonoses, 30–31
Zutra, Mar, 69

out the Author
RICHARD H. SCHWARTZ, PhD is the author of Judaism and Vegetarianism and Judaism and Global Survival among many other books and articles. President Emeritus of Jewish Veg and president of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians, he is professor emeritus at the College of Staten Island, New York. A father, grandfather, and now great-grandfather, he has since 2016 lived with his wife in Israel.
Photo credit: Loretta R. Schwartz
out the Publisher
LANTERN PUBLISHING & MEDIA was founded in 2020 to follow and expand on the legacy of Lantern Books—a publishing company started in 1999 on the principles of living with a greater depth and commitment to the preservation of the natural world. Like its predecessor, Lantern Publishing & Media produces books on animal advocacy, veganism, religion, social justice, and psychology and family therapy. Lantern is dedicated to printing in the United States on recycled paper and saving resources in our day-to-day operations. Our titles are also available as e-books and audiobooks.
To catch up on Lantern’s publishing program, visit us at

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