Inconsistencies Between Jewish Values and Jewish Diets
There are significant inconsistencies between basic Jewish values and the diets of the vast majority of Jews. Please consider:
1. While Judaism mandates that people should be very careful about preserving our health and our lives, numerous medical studies in respected peer-reviewed journals have linked animal-based diets directly to heart disease, stroke, many forms of cancer, and other life-threatening diseases. Animal-based diets also make future pandemics, with their many negative health effects, far more likely.
2. While Judaism forbids tsa’ar ba’alei chayim, inflicting unnecessary pain on animals, most farm animals — including those raised for kosher consumers — are raised 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 consumed.Keep WatchingWNBA player visits Sheba Medical Center00:00/01:05
3. While Judaism teaches that “the earth is the Lord’s” (Psalm 24:1) and that we are to be God’s partners and co-workers in preserving the world, modern intensive livestock agriculture contributes far more than does plant-based agriculture to climate change, soil erosion and depletion, air and water pollution, overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, destruction of tropical rainforests and other habitats, and other forms of environmental destruction.
4. While Judaism mandates bal tashchit, that we are not to waste or unnecessarily destroy anything of value, nor use more than is needed to accomplish a purpose, the production of meat and other animal products is built on an extremely wasteful pyramid of resources (compared to plant protein production): overuse and waste of grain, land, fresh water, energy (most of it “dirty”), and other resources.
5. While Judaism stresses that we are to provide for the poor and share our bread with the hungry, about 70% of the grain grown in the United States is very inefficiently funneled through animals in order to produce meat, milk, and eggs while an estimated nine million people worldwide die each year from hunger and its effects and almost ten percent of the world’s people are chronically malnourished.. If we produced fewer animals, we could share so much more food’ with the world’s hungry people.
6. While Judaism teaches that we must seek and pursue peace, and that violence can result from unjust conditions, diets high in animal protein monopolize resources, creating a shortage of affordable land, food, water, and energy for the poor, especially in the underdeveloped world. This exacerbates the tension between haves and have-nots and may fuel social unrest, violence, and war.
One could say “dayenu” (it would be enough) after any one of these arguments. Each one by itself constitutes a serious conflict between Jewish values and current practice that should encourage every conscientious Jew to seriously consider adopting a vegan diet. Combined, the six arguments make a very compelling ethical case.
So, since animal-centered diets violate and contradict each of these important Jewish mandates: to preserve human health, to attend to the welfare of animals, to protect the environment, to conserve natural resources, to help feed the hungry, and to pursue peace, it is an important mitzvah for committed Jews (and others) to replace as much of the animal food in their diets, as they can. We can do this with nutritionally superior plant alternatives: tofu, stir fried vegetables, and veggie burgers, baked beans, and chickpea curries, as well as lush salads and a variety of fruit, nuts, and seeds.
These arguments and other Torah teachings related to veganism and related issues are presented in more detail in my books Judaism and Vegetarianism and Vegan Revolution: Saving Our World, Revitalizing Judaism, and in my over 250 articles and 25 podcasts of my talks and interviews, which can be found online at www.JewishVeg.org/Schwartz.
Shifts toward vegan diets are especially important today as the world rapidly approaches a climate catastrophe, for two important reasons. First, it would result in far less emissions from cows and other ruminants of methane, a greenhouse gas over 80 times as potent as CO2 per unit weight in heating the atmosphere during its 10 – 15 years in the atmosphere. Even more importantly, it would enable the reforestation of much of the vast areas currently used for the grazing of animals and growing feed crops for them. That would result in the sequestering of much atmospheric CO2, reducing it from its current very dangerous level to a much safer level.
It is urgent that rabbis and other Jewish leaders increase awareness of the above factors, helping to shift our imperiled planet onto a sustainable path and leaving a habitable, healthy world for future generations. There is no Planet B.