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Readers Guide to Judaism
Treatment of Animals

by Richard H. Schwartz

Berman, Louis. Vegetarianism and the Jewish Tradition. New York: Ktav, 1982

Bleich, Rabbi J. David, "Vegetarianism and Judaism," Tradition, Vol. 23, No. 1 (Summer, 1987).

Cohen, Rabbi Alfred, "Vegetarianism From a Jewish Perspective," Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, Vol. I, No. II (Fall, 1981).

Kalechofsky, Roberta (ed.), Judaism and Animals Rights - Classical and Contemporary Responses, Marblehead, Massachusetts: Micah Publications, 1992.

Kalechofsky, Roberta (ed.), Rabbis and Vegetarianism: An Evolving Tradition. Marblehead, Massachusetts: Micah publications, 1995.

Kalechofsky, Roberta, and Rosa Rasiel, The Jewish Vegetarian Year Cookbook, Marblehead, Massachusetts: Micah publications, 1997.

Kalechofsky, Roberta, Vegetarian Judaism - A Guide for Everyone, Marblehead, Massachusetts: Micah Publications, 1998.

Schwartz, Richard H. Judaism and Vegetarianism, New York: Lantern Books, 2001. (2nd Edition: Marblehead, Massachusetts: Micah Publications,1988.) (1st edition: Smithtown, NY: Exposition Press, 1982.)


Judaism and vegetarianism? Can the two be related? After all, what is a simcha (Jewish celebration) or holiday dinner without gefilte fish, chopped liver, cholent, roast beef, chicken, and chicken soup? And what about passages in the Torah referring to Temple sacrifices of animals and the consumption of meat? In spite of these considerations, there has been much Jewish vegetarian activity recently in the United States, Israel, England, and other countries, and there is a broad and increasing literature showing connections between Judaism and vegetarianism.

SCHWARTZ has written a comprehensive analysis of all aspects of Jewish vegetarianism. The first chapter presents a "vegetarian view of the bible" that discusses God's first, strictly vegetarian, dietary law (Genesis 1:29); God's second vegetarian attempt in terms of the manna; and the view of some Jewish scholars that people will again be vegetarians in the time of the Messiah. The next five chapters consider Jewish teachings on (1) compassion for animals, (2) preserving health, (3) protecting the environment and conserving natural resources, (4) helping hungry people, and (5) pursuing peace, and then discuss how animal-based diets and agriculture serious violate these teachings. The book addresses 37 questions that are often asked of vegetarians who take the Jewish tradition seriously. These include: Don't we have to eat meat on the Sabbath and Jewish festivals? Weren't we given dominion over animals? What about sacrificial Temple services? Jewish vegetarian groups and activities in the United States, Britain (where the Jewish Vegetarian Society has its international headquarters), and Israel are discussed. Also provided are biographies of famous Jewish vegetarians, an annotated bibliography, recipes and food-related suggestions, and action ideas for those who might want to promote vegetarianism.

KALECHOFSKY (1998) builds on and extends Schwartz's work. She uses similar arguments in terms of contradictions between Judaism and realities of animal agriculture and diets to assert that vegetarianism is the ideal diet for Jews today, and adds an additional one, "klal Yisrael", her view that all of klal Yisrael, the Jewish people, could once again share meals in each others' homes and at each others' celebrations if all Jews were vegetarians. The chapter on health has extensive discussions of recent problems related to meat, including "mad cow disease", genetic engineering, and recalls of meat due to outbreaks of E.coli and salmonella poisoning.. An insightful historical and sociological context is provided in the chapters, "Kashrut and Modernity," and "From Living Soul to Animal Machine".

BERMAN provides a less polemical, but more psychological, analysis than Schwartz and Kalechofsky. The book is relatively short (the main text is only 72 pages) but there are valuable chapters on "Slaughter as a Mode of Worship" and "The Dietary Laws as Atonements for Flesh Eating.", which speculate that the sacrifices provided a cover for meat eating in a religion that has such strong teachings on compassion for animals, and that the dietary laws provided a replacement for the sacrifices of animals. While vegetarianism is viewed favorably, the author states that if he is invited to a dinner and meat is served, he would play the "visiting anthropologist" and eat what is served, so as not to embarrass the hostess and other guests.

KALECHOFSKY (1995) provides thought provoking essays on Jewish connections to vegetarianism by and about 17 rabbis. 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 for vegetarianism, all based on Jewish values: preserving health; showing compassion to animals; protecting the environment; and sharing with hungry people. Rabbi Everett Gendler's essay 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. Particularly powerful is the essay by Rabbi David Rosen, former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, in which he indicates that eating meat is not acceptable today according to halacha (Jewish law) because of its negative health effects and the cruelty to animals on factory farms.

KALECHOFSKY (1992) provides a wide variety of insightful essays on Jewish teachings related to animal rights and vegetarianism, including two chapters each from the books by Schwartz and Berman. It also includes the essay by COHEN, a modern, Orthodox scholar, that provides a comprehensive overview of the topic. Since he is not a vegetarian, many of his statements that favor vegetarianism are very important, including the following: "If a person is more comfortable not eating meat, there would be no obligation for him to do so on the Sabbath" and... "we may clearly infer that, eating meat, even on a Festival is not mandated by the halacha (Jewish law)'. He also concedes that ,". . . if indeed eating meat is injurious to one's health, it is not only permissible but perhaps even mandatory that we reduce our ingestion of an unhealthy product to the minimum level".

BLEICH, another non-vegetarian Orthodox rabbi, a noted modern Torah scholar and professor at Yeshiva University, in his scholarly overview of vegetarianism, also concedes that Jews need not be vegetarians: "The implication is that meat may be consumed when there is desire and appetite for it as food, but may be eschewed when there is not desire and, a fortiori, when it is found to be repugnant", and Jewish tradition does not command carnivorous behavior..."

KALECHOFSKY and RASIEL provide a thoughtful analysis of the connections between vegetarianism and Jewish holidays, along with 170 recipes and many food-related ideas to add to the joy of the festivals.

Back to the Schwartz Collection on Judaism, Vegetarianism, and Animal Rights