Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D.

There is one issue that affects every Jew several times a day and has major religious, spiritual, social and economic implications, but is generally being ignored by the Jewish community. That issue is the Jewish diet and, in particular, the question of should Jews be vegetarians.

Jewish Vegetarians of North America has long argued that Jews should (not must, but should) be vegetarians, and preferably vegans, because the production and consumption of meat and other animal products violate basic Jewish mandates to preserve human health, treat animals compassionately, protect the environment, conserve natural resources, help hungry people and pursue peace. JVNA has repeatedly challenged the Jewish community to respectful dialogues/debates on “Should Jews Be Vegetarians,” arguing that such events would be a kiddush Hashem (a sanctification of God’s name), in relating Torah values to issues related to food choices. However, so far there has been no willingness by Jewish leaders to engage us in such discussions.

As Mark Twain quipped. “Denial is not just a river in Egypt.” In spite of the importance and relevance of the issues, most Jewish leaders, the media and the general public seem to be ignoring important realities related to the production and consumption of meat and other animal products, that are doing immense harm to society and our planet. These include:

* While the world is increasingly threatened by global warming, animal-based agriculture emits more greenhouse gases (in CO2 equivalents) than all the cars and other means of transportation worldwide combined (18 percent vs. 13.5 percent). An article by two environmentalists in the November/December issue of World Watch magazine argues that ‘livestock’ agriculture is responsible for at least 51 percent of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.

* Animal-centered diets are contributing to an epidemic of heart disease, several types of cancer and other diseases in the Jewish and other communities;

* At a time when food prices are skyrocketing, food riots are occurring in many areas and an estimated 20 million people are dying annually worldwide from hunger and its effects, over 70 percent of the grain produced in the United States and over 40 percent produced worldwide are fed to farmed animals.

* In an increasingly thirsty and energy-dependent world, animal-based diets require up to 14 times as much water and 10 times as much energy as vegan (all plants) diets.

* Even if animals are slaughtered strictly according to Jewish law, with  minimum pain, billions of animals still suffer greatly from cruel treatment on factory farms.

Making all of the above points more alarming, the consumption of animal products is projected to double in 50 years. If this happens, it will make it very difficult, if not impossible, to reduce greenhouse emissions enough to avoid an unprecedented climate-catastrophe

It is essential that our rabbis and other Jewish leaders recognize that a major shift toward plant-based diets is essential to avoid the unprecedented catastrophe that the world is rapidly approaching and to move our precious, but imperiled, planet to a sustainable path.

When we read daily reports of the effects of global climate change, such as record heat waves, severe storms, widespread droughts, and the melting of glaciers and polar icecaps; when some climate scientists are warning that global climate change may spin out of control with disastrous consequences unless major changes are soon made; when a recent report indicated that our oceans may be virtually free of fish by 2050; when species of plants and animals are disappearing at the fastest rate in history; when it is projected that half of the world’s people will live in areas chronically short of water by 2050; it is essential that the Jewish community fulfill our mandate to be a “light unto the nations” and lead efforts to address these critical issues.

It is urgent that tikkun olam—the healing and repair of the world -- be a central issue in synagogues, Jewish schools and other Jewish institutions. Judaism has splendid teachings on environmental conservation and sustainability, and it is essential that they be applied to respond to the many current environmental threats. An essential part of that response is a major shift towards plant-based diets.

JVNA urges rabbis and other Jewish leaders to make Jews aware of how animal-based diets and agriculture violate basic Jewish mandates to preserve human health, treat animals compassionately, protect the environment, conserve natural resources and  help hungry people.

Further information about these issues can be found at the JVNA web site JewishVeg.com. JVNA will provide complimentary copies of its new documentary “ A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World.” to rabbis and other Jewish leaders who will contact us (president@JewishVeg.com)  and indicate how they might use them to involve their congregations on the issues. The entire movie can be seen and further information about it can be found at ASacredDuty.com. i also have over 140 articles and 25 podcasts of my talks and interviews at JewishVeg.com/Schwartz. My entire book “Judaism and Vegetarianism” can also be accessed at that web site.


Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, College of Staten Island
Author of "Judaism and Vegetarianism," "Judaism and Global Survival," and "Mathematics and Global Survival," and over 130 articles at www.JewishVeg.com/schwartz
President of Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) www.JewishVeg.com
and Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians (SERV) www.serv-online.org/
Associate Producer of A SACRED DUTY (asacredduty.com)

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