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An Open Letter To Rabbis

Shalom dear Rabbis,

     Because of your collective wisdom, dedication to Jewish values, and valuable contacts, you are in a position to help shift our imperiled planet onto a sustainable path. This would help leave a decent, habitable, environmentally sustainable world for future generations. To paraphrase Mordechai’s plea to Queen Esther when the Jews of Shushan were in danger of annihilation, perhaps you were put into your present position for just such a purpose.

       As you well know, Judaism stresses pikuach nefesh, the principle that everything possible must be done to save a life, even if Jewish law has to be violated to do so. To avoid pikuach nefesh on a massive scale involving all of humanity today, two important realities must be recognized and acted on. These are the very strong scientific consensus that the world is rapidly approaching a climate catastrophe and everything possible must be done to avert it, and the only possible way to avert this catastrophe is, along with other positive changes, a society-wide shift towards plant-based diets.

    Your help in getting these messages out and encouraging people to act on them can determine whether or not future generations will have a decent, habitable, environmentally sustainable world.

     Please let me explain, first about the seriousness of climate threats and then about the essential component of the solution. 

     Science academies worldwide, 97% of climate scientists, and virtually all peer-reviewed papers on the issue in respected peer-reviewed scientific journals agree that climate change is largely caused by human activity and poses a great threat to humanity.

     An October 2018 report by the respected Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an organization composed of leading climate experts from many countries, warned that the world may have only until 2030 to make “unprecedented changes” in order to avert far more severe climate events. A 2022 report by the IPCC had such a dire warning that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres claimed that it is a “Code Red for Humanity” and “delay is death.” He added: “The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable that the world is heading rapidly toward a climate catastrophe.”

     The world is already seeing many indications of climate change. The world’s average temperature has significantly increased in recent years. Every decade since the 1970s has been hotter than the previous decade, and each of the 22 years in this century are among the 23 hottest years since temperature records worldwide started being kept in 1880. 2020 tied 2016 as the hottest year on record. The seven hottest years all occurred in the past seven years.

     Just as a person with a high fever suffers from many of its effects, there have been many negative effects of increased global temperature. Polar icecaps, glaciers worldwide, and permafrost have been melting rapidly, even faster than many past alarming scientific projections. Unprecedented rainfall in parts of Greenland has caused extremely rapid melting. This has caused an increase in ocean levels worldwide with the potential for major flooding. Already there have been “sunny day” flooding due to high tides in Miami, Florida and other coastal cities. Glaciers are “reservoirs in the sky,” providing important water for irrigating crops every spring, so their retreat will be a major threat to future food supplies for an increasing world population.

     There has also been an increase in the number and severity of droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods. In just a few weeks in the summer of 2021, there were major, sometimes unprecedented, wildfires in many places, including California, Greece, and even Siberia, and there were deadly floods in western Europe, India, and China.

      California has been subjected to so many severe climate events recently that its former governor, Jerry Brown, stated, “Humanity is on a collision course with nature.”

     Unfortunately, prospects for the future are truly terrifying. 

     The severe climate events mentioned above occurred due to a temperature increase of about 1.1 degrees Celsius (about two degrees Fahrenheit) since the start of the industrial revolution, but climate experts are predicting a possible tripling of that temperature increase by the end of the century, which would greatly increase the destructiveness of climate events.

     Also, climate experts believe that self-reinforcing positive feedback loops (vicious cycles) might soon result in an irreversible tipping point wherein climate change will spin out of control, with disastrous consequences, unless major positive changes soon occur. For example, when there are major wildfires, trees, which absorb and store CO2, are destroyed, releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. Further, additional energy will be required to replace destroyed cars, homes, and other structures           

     Another example of a vicious cycle occurs when ice, a very good reflector of the sun’s rays, melts. The darker soil or water underneath absorbs much more of the sun’s energy, causing more ice to melt.

     Climate scientists maintain that 350 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric CO2 is a threshold value for climate stability, However, the world has now reached 420 ppm, the highest value in human history, and the CO2 level continues to increase by over two ppm per year. 

     Another major concern is that millions of desperate people displaced by climate change will increase political instability, terrorism and war. Already there have been civil wars in the Sudan and Syria after farms failed due to extensive droughts.

      Reducing climate change is especially important for Israel, as a rising Mediterranean Sea could inundate the coastal plain where much of Israel’s population and infrastructure are located, and the hotter and drier Middle East that climate experts are projecting makes terrorism and war in the region more likely.   

        Given the threats to human life and given Jews being tasked to be “a light unto the nations,” we should be leading efforts to avert a climate catastrophe. We need to take a multi-pronged approach, including a shift to renewable forms of energy, improved transportation systems, and more efficient cars and appliances. 

     Importantly, the approach that has the greatest potential to help avert a climate catastrophe  is a societal shift toward vegan diets. Such a shift has two major advantages that the approaches mentioned above do not have. 

1. It would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, because it is far more efficient to feed plants to people than to feed them to animals who would later be consumed by people. Also, there would be far fewer cows and other farmed animals emitting methane. This is especially significant because (a) methane is about 80 times as potent per unit weight in heating up the atmosphere as CO2 and (b) unlike CO2, which remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, most methane dissipates in 10 years and almost all is gone in 20 years. It would further reduce greenhouse emissions from nitrogen (which is almost 300 times as potent as carbon dioxide per unit weight in heating the atmosphere) because there would be far less need for chemical fertilizer to help produce feed crops.

2. It could dramatically reduce the CO2 presently in the atmosphere by permitting reforestation of over a third of the world’s ice-free land which is currently being used for grazing and raising feed crops for animals. This could  reduce the current 420 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere to a safe level below 350 ppm, sharply reducing climate threats. For a detailed analysis, see “Animal Agriculture Is the Leading Cause of Climate Change” by Sailish Rao in the Journal of Ecological Society.       

     Fortunately, it is much easier to be a vegan today because of the abundance of plant-based substitutes for meat and other animal products in supermarkets and other food venues, some with the appearance, texture, and taste so similar to that of the animal products that even long time meat-eaters can’t tell the difference. 

      There are at least three additional reasons why shifts to vegan diets involve pikuach nefesh, because of the many lives that would be saved as a result:

1. Animal-based diets contribute significantly to heart disease, several forms of cancer, and other life-threatening diseases. Many peer-reviewed studies in respected medical journals have shown that a vegan diet\ can not only reduce risks for such diseases, but in some cases it can reverse them.

2. The widespread mistreatment of farmed animals and sometime wild animals for human consumption makes future pandemics, with their life-threatening consequences, more likely. Many previous pandemics, including MERS, SARS, Ebola, swine flu, and bird flu, and the current Coronavirus pandemic, were connected to animal abuses. 

3. While an estimated nine million people die from hunger and its effects worldwide annually and over ten percent of the world’s people are chronically malnourished, about 70 percent of the grain produced in the US and over a third produced worldwide are used to raise farmed animals. Making the situation even more shameful, healthy foods, like corn, oats, and soy, high in fiber and complex carbohydrates and devoid of cholesterol and saturated fat, are fed to animals, resulting in unhealthy foods, with the opposite characteristics.

    In summary, to best fulfill the Jewish important principle of pikuach nefesh, Jews should be leaders in efforts to avert a climate catastrophe and, to further that aim and for the other reasons mentioned above, they should adopt vegan diets or at least sharply cut their consumption of meat and other animal products. By changing their diets and increasing awareness of the importance of others also doing so, Jews will help shift our imperiled planet onto a sustainable path. They would also be acting consistently with basic Jewish teachings on preserving our health, treating animals with compassion, protecting the environment, conserving natural resources, helping hungry people, and pursuing peace, thereby helping to revitalize Judaism.

    So, dear rabbis, please help get these messages out, because they are needed to help shift our imperiled planet onto a sustainable path and to help leave a decent, healthy, environmentally sustainable world for future generations. There is no Planet B, nor is there an effective Plan B.

     To help in your efforts, links to much important supportive material are below.

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The complete text of my latest book Vegan Revolution:Saving Our World, Revitalizing  Judaism can be read at https://jewcology.org/2021/03/complete-text-of-my-latest-book-vegan-revolution-saving-our-world-revitalizing-judaism/

A strong vegan statement, including a video that was prepared by Jewish Veg and was signed  by 150 rabbis can be read at https://www.jewishveg.org/rabbinic-statement . Rabbis who would like to add their signatures can do so by visiting .https://forms.gle/VtgVZbPpMdUHJphJA .

Questions and answers about (1) \Judaism and vegetarianism and veganism, (2) Judaism and animals, and (3) animal sacrifices and the messianic period can be read at JewishVeg.org/schwartz .

Much valuable material is at the Jewish Veg website (JewishVeg.org) and at Prof. Dan Brook’s veg website “Eco-Eating” at https://sites.google.com/site/eatingtheearth/

Over 250-related articles by me can be read at JewishVeg.org/schwartz. Among the articles are ones relating Judaism to every Jewish holiday and Shabbat and four articles on restoring and transforming the ancient Jewish New Year for Animals.

My book Judaism and Vegetarianism can be read at https://www.ginger.org.il/_files/ugd/481d0d_bc767b85cd3a40c8ad73291cc71e7a9d.pdf

My book Judaism and Global Survival can be read at https://www.ginger.org.il/_files/ugd/481d0d_2a425f11215c45799116b3865bd86481.pdf

MANY Jewish quotations about animals and related issues can be read at

https://jewcology.org/2021/07/jewish-quotations-about-animals-and-how-animals-are-treated-today/?These quotations are also in Appendix D of this book.

My cover story in the August 9 Jerusalem Report, “Why Jews should be vegans” can be read at https://jewcology.org/2021/07/my-cover-story-in-the-august-9-2021-jerusalem-post-on-why-jews-should-be-vegans/

My co-authored (with Prof. Dan Brook) cover story in the Jerusalem Report, “Climate change: an existential threat to humanity and how we can survive,” can be read at.https://www.jpost.com/jerusalem-report/climate-change-an-existential-threat-to-humanity-and-how-we-can-survive-643267 .

Sailesh Rao’s  2021 position paper, “Animal Agriculture Is the Leading Cause of Climate Change,” can be read at

My article, “A Dialogue Between a Jewish Vegan and a Rabbi,” can be read at https://jewcology.org/2021/11/a-dialogue-between-a-jewish-vegan-and-a-rabbi/?fbclid=IwAR0aDN5mIBg7ypuQKsUdKA6S6XdZjuP-U476RexIA44keCyMxrddxygcEVU. The article can be used as background for discussion with rabbis and other influential Jews.

My article, “Eighteen Reasons Jews Think They Should Not Be Vegetarians or Vegans (and Why They Are Wrong) can be read at https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/eighteen-reasons-jews-think-they-should-not-be-vegetarians-or-vegans-and-why-they-are-wrong/ .

Lewis Regenstein’s comprehensive article, “Commandments of Compassion: Jewish Teachings on Protecting Animals and Nature can be read at https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/QgrcJHsBvFVzHNSdBlbrtHPWhGqmQCxSQQB?projector=1&messagePartId=0.1

A statement signed by 27 Orthodox rabbis warning of the moral and spiritual dangers of eating meat can be read at https://forward.com/scribe/369525/orthodox-rabbis-warn-of-moral-and-spiritual-dangers-of-eating-meat/

https://jewcology.org/2021/07/jewish-quotations-about-animals-and-how-animals-are-treated-today/?These quotations are also in Appendix D of this book.

My cover story in the August 9 Jerusalem Report, “Why Jews should be vegans” can be read at https://jewcology.org/2021/07/my-cover-story-in-the-august-9-2021-jerusalem-post-on-why-jews-should-be-vegans/

My co-authored (with Prof. Dan Brook) cover story in the Jerusalem Report, “Climate change: an existential threat to humanity and how we can survive,” can be read at.https://www.jpost.com/jerusalem-report/climate-change-an-existential-threat-to-humanity-and-how-we-can-survive-643267 .

Sailesh Rao’s  2021 position paper, “Animal Agriculture Is the Leading Cause of Climate Change,” can be read at

My article, “A Dialogue Between a Jewish Vegan and a Rabbi,” can be read at https://jewcology.org/2021/11/a-dialogue-between-a-jewish-vegan-and-a-rabbi/?fbclid=IwAR0aDN5mIBg7ypuQKsUdKA6S6XdZjuP-U476RexIA44keCyMxrddxygcEVU. The article can be used as background for discussion with rabbis and other influential Jews.

Myarticle, “Eighteen Reasons Jews Think They Should Not Be Vegetarians or Vegans (and Why They Are Wrong) can be read at https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/eighteen-reasons-jews-think-they-should-not-be-vegetarians-or-vegans-and-why-they-are-wrong/ .

Lewis Regenstein’s comprehensive article, “Commandments of Compassion: Jewish Teachings on Protecting Animals and Nature can be read at https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/QgrcJHsBvFVzHNSdBlbrtHPWhGqmQCxSQQB?projector=1&messagePartId=0.1

A statement signed by 27 Orthodox rabbis warning of the moral and spiritual dangers of eating meat can be read at https://forward.com/scribe/369525/orthodox-rabbis-warn-of-moral-and-spiritual-dangers-of-eating-meat/

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