Dear Rabbi – How YOU Can Help Save the World
Shalom dear rabbi,
I have been fortunate to be involved with many rabbis in my 89 years, and I have always found you all to be the most dedicated people, committed to getting as many Jews as possible to live committed Jewishlives, filled with mitzvot and tikkun olam.
Because of this I very respectfully address this message to you. Your response could have an enormous and. Powerful effect on the future of Judaism and on our imperiled planet.
Recognizing and acting in response to the following three realities is the key to shifting our world onto a sustainable path:
1. Earth is rapidly approaching a climate catastrophe.
2. Although it is very seldom discussed in mainstream media, the primary cause of increasing climate threats is animal-based diets and agriculture..
3. Animal-based diets and agriculture seriously violate at least six basic Jewish mitzvot.
There is a very strong consensus, composed of 97% of climate experts, all the major science academies that have taken a position on the issue, and most importantly, over a thousand peer-reviewed articles in respected scientific journals, that climate change is largely caused by human activities and is a major threat t/o humanity.
Every decade since the 1970s has been hotter than the previous decade and the past eight years have been the hottest since at least 1880, when temperature records were first recorded worldwide. Glaciers, ice caps, and permafrost are rapidly melting, seas are consistently rising, and lakes and rivers are drying up in many regions. There has been a very significant increase in the frequency and severity of heat waves, droughts, wildfires, storms, floods, and other climate events, as is clearly shown by current headlines everywhere. June 2023 was the hottest June in recorded history and July is shaping up to be even hotter, with temperature records broken almost daily. For. Example, Phoenix Arizona had temperatures over 110 degrees F (43 degrees C) on 20 consecutive days and that was expected to continue for many more days.
Israel is especially threatened by climate change because the Mediterranean area is warming up much faster than the world average, the hotter and drier Middle East that climate experts are projecting makes instability, terrorism, conflict, and war more likely, and a rising Mediterranean Sea could inundate the coastal plain that contains much of Israel’s population and infrastructure.
While it is generally overlooked even by most climate experts, the main cause of climate change is animal-based agriculture, for two important reasons. First, cows and other ruminants emit methane, a greenhouse gas over 80 times as potent per unit weight as CO2 during the 10 – 15 years it is in the atmosphere. More importantly, over 40% of the world’s ice-free land is now used for grazing and growing feed crops for animals. This has resulted in the destruction of about half of the world’s estimated six trillion trees that existed millennia ago. Largely because there are so fewer carbon-sequestering trees, atmospheric CO2, which was 285 parts per million (ppm) at the start of the industrial revolution, has now reached 420 ppm, far above the 350 ppm climate experts consider a threshold value for climate stability.
This is why, dear rabbi, your role is so very important in helping educate our communities regarding the need to sharply reduce meat consumption, in addition to other lifestyle changes that reduce energy use, if the world is to have a chance to avert a climate catastrophe. This should be an important focus for you in any case because animal-based diets and agriculture seriously violate at least six fundamental Jewish teachings. Please consider:
1. While Judaism mandates that we should be very careful about preserving our health and our lives, numerous medical studies in respected peer-reviewed journals have linked animal-based diets to heart disease, stroke, many forms of cancer, and other life-threatening diseases. The widespread production and consumption of meat and other animal products also make future pandemics, with their many negative health effects, much 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 transported, slaughtered, andconsumed.
For example, contrary to several Torah teachings, dairy cows are artificially impregnated annually on what the industry calls “rape racks’ and their calves are taken away immediatelyafter birth, causing severe trauma to both, so that the milk that was meant for the calves can be sold commercially. At egg-laying hatcheries, male chicks are killed shortly after birth because they can’t lay eggs and have not been genetically programmed to have much flesh, The hens are kept in cages so small that they can’t raise a wing and all their natural instincts are completely thwarted. This causes the hens to peck at each other in frustration, causing great harm to other hens. Instead of improving conditions for the hens, the industry cruelty cuts off their beaks, a very panful procedure, and it does so without any painkillers.
3. While Judaism teaches that “the earth is the Lord’s” (Psalms 24:1) and that we are to be God’s partners and co-workers in preserving the world, modern intensive animal-based agriculture contributes far more than plant-based agriculture does 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. As indicated above a shiftto plant-based diets is essential to efforts to avert aclimate catastrophe.
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 (Rav Zutra relates this concept to fuel, another major environmental concern, for example in Shabbat 67b), the production of meat and other animal products is built on an extremely wasteful and profit-driven pyramid of resources (compared to plant protein production): overuse and waste of grain, land, fresh water, energy, 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 millions ofpeople worldwide die each year from hunger. Making this even more shameful, healthy foods like corn, soy, and oats, high in fiber and complex carbohydrates and devoid of cholesterol and saturated fat, are fed to animals, resulting in animal foods with the opposite characteristics, contributing greatly to the current epidemic of life-threatening diseases.
6. While Judaism teaches that we must seek peace and pursue. It, 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 the haves and the have-nots and has been found historically to 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 an absolutely compelling case.
A shift to a plant-based diet is cheaper ad easier for consumers now that there is an abundance of plant-based substitutes with the appearance, texture, and taste so close to meat and other animal products that even longtime meat eaters cannot tell the difference.
Considering all of the above points, is there any halachically viable way today for Jews continue eating meat and other animal products?
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 which can be found online at www.JewishVeg.org/Schwartz. I would be happy to email complimentary copies of such material to everyone who emails me at VeggieRich@gmail.com and requests them.
Given all of the above, you can do a great mitzvah, possibly the greatest kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s Name) ever by personally shifting to an animal-free diet and urging other Jews to do so as well. Such shifts would be consistent with our mandates to be a “light unto the nations,” a holy people, God’s witnesses, eternal protestants, and partners with God in working for tikkun olam, healing and improving the world.
To paraphrase Mordechai’s appeal to Queen Esther when the Jews of Persia were in great danger, perhaps you were put in your present position for just such a reason.
Many thanks for your consideration.