Rabbis and Vegetarianism: An Evolving Tradition

edited by Roberta Kalechofsky

Micah Publications, Inc., Marblehead, Mass., 1995, 96 pages, $10.

reviewed by Richard H. Schwartz


As founder and director of Jews for Animal Rights and as director of Micah Publications, Inc., Roberta Kalechofsky has made major contributions to the animal rights/vegetarian cause, especially with regard to connections to Jews and Judaism. Among her important publications are Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Animal Rights: Classical and Contemporary Responses, Haggadah for the Vegetarian Family, and Journey of the Liberated Lamb, as well as a series of "Green Mitzvah Booklets" which relate Judaism to such issues as health and nutrition, animal issues, animal experimentation, and Jewish holidays.

Her most recent publication, Rabbis and Vegetarianism: An Evolving Tradition, effectively continues her efforts, as she has diligently gathered a variety of rabbinic opinions. Essays by and about 17 rabbis show inconsistencies between basic Jewish teachings and the realities of modern meat production and consumption. The rabbis in the anthology are a varied group: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist; male and female; modern and from previous generations; recent converts to vegetarianism as well as long-time proponents. They also use a variety of arguments, all based on Jewish values: preserving health; showing compassion to animals; protecting the environment; and sharing with hungry people. Rabbi Everett Gendler adds an additional cogent argument: Humans are to exult in creation and to join a chorus of all living creatures in singing God's praises; but instead, people, sharply deviating from this mission, have treated their fellow choir members horribly and have killed them and eaten their corpses.

There is much of value in this book for Jews as well as non-Jews who are concerned about applications of biblical values to modern life. The power of this book is indicated by a sampling of the rabbinic statements in it:

We must clearly advocate dietary practices that are truly in consonance with the sublimest values of the Torah, and today more than ever before these are overwhelmingly incompatible with carnivorous indulgence.
Rabbi David Rosen, former Chief Rabbi of Ireland

The time has come for committed Jews to consider that both the moral thrust of kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) and its health significance point to a vegetarian diet, a culinary choice that responds both to the ideal and the real of Torah in our lives.
Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis

Life has become too precious in this era for us to be involved in the shedding of blood, even that of animals when we can survive without it. . . . A vegetarian Judaism would be more whole in its ability to embrace the presence of God in all of Creation.
Rabbi Arthur Green, former President of the Reconstructionist College

This book deserves a wide readership. Its cogent arguments should help start a long-overdue dialogue on the moral issues related to typical western diets. In this way it can help lead to that time when, in the words of the motto of the International Jewish Vegetarian Society, "No one shall hurt nor destroy in all of God's holy mountain." (Isaiah 11:9)


Micah Publications, Inc. can be contacted at 255 Humphrey Street, Marblehead, MA 10945,
or via Email: micah@micahbooks.com

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