Should Jews Be Eating Meat Today? A Book Review
Israeli Rabbi Asa Keisar is on a mission. He wants to increase awareness of Jewish teachings about compassion for animals and how far the realities for animals on modern, intensive factory farms are from these teachings. To accomplish this, he has given away about 35,000 complimentary copies of the Hebrew version of his book, Before the Blind, mostly to students at yeshivas and other schools throughout Israel. Now the book has been published in English and Rabbi Keisar is continuing his efforts to get his book to as many people as possible. He is considered by many as the national voice for veganism in Israel and his many passionate talks about the issues have over two million views online.
Rabbi Keisar’s book provides a very wide collection of sources from the Tanach (Hebrew Bible), the Talmud, and recent rabbinic writings to present a very powerful case that Jews should not be eating meat and other animal products because of the horrible ways that farmed animals are treated today.
The book’s title is based on the Torah prohibition against putting a stumbling block in front of the blind (Leviticus 19:14). I initially was puzzled about this title for a book on Jewish teachings on compassion for animals. But Rabbi Keisar explains that, in addition to actual blindness, the prohibition includes “intellectual blindness,” which involves the prohibitions against giving another person wrong advice or misleading information or failing to give appropriate good advice or relevant information, as well as he prohibition against causing or assisting others to commit a transgression.
In this sense I believe the prohibition is being violated by farmers who raise animals for slaughter; doctors who fail to explain the many health benefits of plant-based diets to their patients; rabbis who fail to address the many ways animal-based diets are inconsistent with basic Jewish teachings; environmentalists who fail to increase awareness that animal-based agriculture is the main cause of climate change and many other environmental threats; and many others.
Among the Jewish teachings on compassion for animals that Rabbi Keisar discusses are:
- You may not muzzle an ox while it threshes in the field. (Deuteronomy 25:4)
- You may not plow with an ox and a donkey together. (Deuteronomy 22:10)
- Animals, as well as people, are to be allowed to rest on the Sabbath day. (Exodus 23:12)
- If you see the donkey of your enemy lying under its burden, you must help him reload. (Exodus 23:5)
- A Jew should not sit down to a meal before seeing that his or her animal has been fed. (Based on Deuteronomy 11:15)
Among the common and accepted practices in the animal food industry that violate Jewish teachings on compassion to animals that Rabbi Keisar discusses are:
- Cutting off the beaks of chickens with no anesthesia to prevent them from harming other chicks when they peck at them in their frustration at all of their natural instincts being thwarted.
- Killing male chicks immediately after birth in steel grinders or. plastic bags, since they can’t lay eggs and have not been genetically programmed to produce much flesh.
- Separating calves from their mothers shortly after birth, so that the mother’s milk that was meant for them can instead be sold for profit.
- Caging calves in narrow stalls to minimize motion so they will gain weight faster and have more tender flesh.
- Injecting hormones into animals so that they will grow at a rapid rate.
Because of these and other very grave Torah transgressions, Rabbi Keisar asks: ” How can a food product be kosher if it is obtained by transgressing the commandment not to cause pain and anguish to an animal?”
The book includes very positive endorsements from Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin, former president of Israel and from Israeli Rabbis David Rosen, former Chief Rabbi of Ireland; Nathan Lopes Cardozo, Dean of the David Cardozo Academy; Daniel Sperber, Professor of Talmud and President of the Institute of Advanced Torah Studies; Moshe Zuriel, author of over 50 Judaica books; and Benayahu Brunner, President of the Tzfat Hesder Yeshiva. Among the statements these distinguished Jews make are:
Reuven Rivlin: “Veganism is not only a moral imperative, but also a Jewish imperative.”
Rabbi David Rosen: “The grave transgressions in the current animal food industry . . . involve brutality on a scale never known before.”
Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo: “Violating [Jewish teachings on compassion to animals] puts all of Judaism in a bad light, undermining its great teachings and losing its very mission.”
Rabbi Moshe Zuriel: “Rabbi Asa Keisar’s book represents an important awakening call.”
Reinforcing Rabbi Keisar’s strong case are his discussions of the facts that God’s first dietary regimen (Genesis 1:29) was strictly vegan and, according to Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, first Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel and other Jewish scholars, the Messianic Period that Jews yearn for will also be vegan, based 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.”
Making the book even more valuable is its inclusion of a question and answer section and a 15-page index.
While Rabbi Keisar’s focus is on the mistreatment of animals, animal-based diets and agriculture also violate basic Jewish teachings on preserving our health, protecting the environment, conserving natural resources, and helping hungry people, reinforcing his case that Jews should eliminate meat and other animal products from their diets.
It is essential that this happen so that we have a chance of averting a climate catastrophe. There used to be six trillion trees in the world but this has been reduced to three trillion, mainly because vast previously-forested lands have been converted into land for grazing and growing feed crops for animals. It is essential that much of these areas be reforested so that much atmospheric CO2 can be sequestered by the added trees. This would reduce the current very dangerous level of atmospheric CO2 to a much safer level, significantly reducing climate threats.
The world really has a choice between a mainly vegan future and a devastated one. It is essential that Rabbi Keisar’s splendid, pioneering book be widely read and heeded, leading to many people giving up or sharply reducing their meat consumption, helping to create a habitable, healthy, compassionate, sustainable world for future generations.
There is no planet B nor effective Plan B.
Before the Blind
Rabbi Asa Kesar
Book distributed freely by the authorto as many people as he can
To get a free PDF of the book, please visit https://asakeisar.com/en/get-free-book/
To hear a comprehensive, inspirational talk by Rabbi Keisar, please visit https://asakeisar.com/en/ .