Review of Animal Welfare in World Religion
Joyce D’Silva’s book Animal Welfare in World Religion: Teaching and Practice points out an anomaly that is the main reason that the world is rapidly approaching a climate catastrophe and facing other environmental threats. While about 80 percent of the world’s people belong to a religion and these religions have strong teachings about compassion for animals, the vast majority of the people have animal-based diets that involve great cruelty to animals.
Animal-based agriculture is the main cause of climate change for two very important reasons. Cows and other farmed ruminants emit methane, a greenhouse gas over 80 times as potent as CO2 per unit weight in heating the atmosphere during the 10 – 15 years it is in the atmosphere. Even more importantly, over 40 percent of the world’s ice-free land is currently being used for grazing and growing feed crops for animals and this is likely to increase as animal consumption is projected to continue to increase worldwide. Because of the loss of trees and the resultant reduced capacity to sequester CO2 –atmospheric CO2 which was 285 parts per million (ppm) at the beginning of the industrial revolution–now has reached 420 ppm, far above the 350 ppm that climate experts believe is a threshold value for climate sustainability, and it has been increasing by 2 – 3 ppm per year. Unless there is a major shift away from animal-based diets and a significant replanting of trees, it is very unlikely that a climate catastrophe can be prevented.
The important facts and cogent arguments in Animal Welfare and World Religion have the potential to make that change happen
Joyce D’Silva is very well qualified to write this book because of her long time efforts to improve conditions for animals. She is Ambassador Emeritus for Compassion in World farming, the leading charity promoting the welfare of farmed animals worldwide and co-editor of The Meat Crisis: Developing More Sustainable and Ethical Production and Consumption and Farming, Food, and Nature: Respecting Animals, People, and the Environment. Because of her long time activism, she was awarded honorary doctorates by the University of Winchester and the Universal of Keele, UK. In addition, she is a patron of the Animals Interfaith Alliance.
The book has separate chapters on the teachings about animals of five major religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. It also has a chapter with shorter discussions about the teachings about animals of Indigenous people, Jainism, Sikhism, and Rastafarianism.
Since I am president emeritus of Jewish Veg and author of Judaism and Vegetarianism and Vegan Revolution: Saving Our World, Revitalizing Judaism, I will focus in this review on the section about Judaism.
Full disclosure: the author consulted with me about her chapter on Judaism.
The book fully presents Judaism’s many teachings on compassion for animals, including (1) God’s compassion is over all God’s works” (Psalms 145:9), “The righteous person considers the lives of his or her animals” (Proverbs 12:10), and tsa’ar ba’alei chaim, the Torah prohibition against causing any unnecessary harm to animals, based on many Jewish teachings.
Despite these and other Jewish teachings on compassion for animals, the vast majority of Jews (and others) have diets that involve horrendous treatment of farmed animals. For example, most dairy cows are artificially impregnated annually on what the industry itself calls “rape racks.“ The calves are taken away within a day or two so that the mothers’ milk that was meant for them can be sold, causing great anguish to both. At egg-laying hatcheries, the male chicks are killed immediately after birth since they can’t lay eggs and have not been genetically programmed, as “broilers” are, to have much flesh. The hens are generally kept in such small cages that they can not raise a wing and all their natural instincts are thwarted. In their frustration, the hens peck at each other, with often very harmful results. Rather than provide more space and better conditions, the industry’s response is to debeak the hens, without any painkiller, a very cruel and hurtful process.
To reinforce her case, D’Silva includes several quotes from Orthodox Rabbi David Rosen, former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, International President of the World Council on Religion and Peace, and, I believe, the most eloquent spokesperson for Jews to be vegans. They include;
- “I do not see how anyone familiar with Jewish teachings in relation to animals and with the abhorrent treatment involved in animal factory farming can justify the latter. For me it is obvious that Jewish teachings explicitly condemn such practice.”
- “In our world today, it is precisely a plant-based diet that is truly consistent with the most sublime teachings of Judaism and of the highest aspirations of our heritage.”
- “A plant based diet is the Biblical ideal. . . . I believe that truly religious Jews (and indeed all people of moral sensitivity) should avoid animal products as much as possible.”
- “A redeemed world is perforce a vegetarian world.” Since Rabbi Rosen shifted from being a vegetarian to being a vegan, today he would change:”vegetarian world” to “vegan world.”
D’Silva also quotes a statement signed by 74 rabbis: “We, the undersigned rabbis encourage our fellow Jews to transition towards animal-free, plant-based diets. This approach to sustenance is an expression of our shared Jewish values of compassion for animals, protection of the environment, and concern for our physical and spiritual well being.
Shifts to plant-based diets would have other benefits, including improving human health, climate change and other environmental threats to humanity, including the wasteful use of land, energy, and other resources. It would also be far more consistent with religious teachings on preserving our health, treating animals with compassion, protecting the environment, conserving natural resources, and reducing hunger.
Because of the very negative effects of the failure of religions to put their compassionate teachings into practice, D’Silva properly asks: “Is this not a sign of of a fundamental failure of the world’s faiths?” She ends with a challenge: “ . . . animals globally are suffering at our hands. We can act to change this. If you are a faith leader, please talk about this. If you are just an ordinary believer, please ask or challenge your faith elders to investigate the issue and talk about it publicly. If you are an unbeliever, then please question your faith friends or faith leaders locally or nationally and ask them to do something about this…Let’s find creative ways to make the teachings and exemplars known in our communities.”
It is very important that Animal Welfare in World Religion be widely read and its powerful arguments heeded. It has the potential to help shift our imperiled planet onto a sustainable path, leaving a habitable, healthy, environmentally sustainable world for future generations.
Animal Welfare in World Religion: Teaching and Practice
by Joyce D’Silva
ISBN: 978-1-032-27407-2 (hard cover)
ISBN: 978-1-032-27399-0 (paperback)
ISBN: 978-1-003-29255-5 (eBook)