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Material for Talk on Judaism and Vegetarianism

by Richard H. Schwartz

Shalom everyone,

You can help move our imperiled planet to a more sustainable path! The material below should be helpful in giving you valuable background material.

The world is threatened as perhaps never before today, and animal-based diets are a major contributor to many environmental threats. Please consider:

    • The world is feeding 50 billion farmed animals in addition to 6.3 billion.
    • Over 70& 0f the grain grown in the US (and over 40% worldwide) is fed to animals destined for slaughter.
    • At a time when it is projected that 50 - 70% of the world's people will be living in regions chronically short of water, the typical American diet uses 4,200 gallons of water daily (mostly for irrigation) while a vegan diet only requires 300 gallons per day.
    • Animal-based agriculture contributes significantly to global climate change, species extinction, destruction of tropical rain forests, and many more environmental threats.
    • Animal-based diets have been linked to increased risks of heart disease, cancer, and many other degenerative diseases.

It is essential that we get this information to the Jewish community (and others). To help you do this, material used in my talk on "Judaism and Vegetarianism" is provided below. Please feel free to adapt it into a talk that you might give at a local synagogue, Jewish school, or other Jewish institution. There is far more than enough material below for a talk, so please choose the material that you feel most worthy of presentation and, of course, please feel free to add material of your own. Also, please consider using the material below as background for a discussion with your local rabbi and/or other Jewish leaders, for letters to editors, and discussions with neighbors and friends.

To help you respond to questions and challenges, please refer to my over 100 articles at jewishVeg.com/schwartz, especial the questions and answers and my article, "Eighteen Reasons Jews Think They Should Not Be Vegetarians (and Why They Are Wrong)."

Since this topic is seldom considered in synagogues, Jewish schools, and other Jewish settings, and since most Jews have only a scant knowledge of many of the issues, you need not be an expert on all aspects in order to give a presentation that can have a very positive effect. Conditions are constantly changing and it is important that we all try to keep learning together.

Additional information may be obtained from some of my over 100 articles at JewishVeg.com/schwartz, from my book "Judaism and Vegetarianism," and from a related tape cassette. I will be happy to send a complimentary copy of the book and the cassette to anyone who contacts me and indicates that he or she will use them to help give talks on Jewish teachings on vegetarianism and related issues. I would also be happy to consult with anyone re how to effectively use the material. Also, you can take a free, self-paced course on "Judaism and Vegetarianism" at JewishVeg.com.

Comments/suggestions welcome. If you have any questions re the material below or approaches to presenting it, please feel free to contact me at rschw12345@aol.com.

I am planning to send you similar material on Judaism and environmental issues soon.



Judaism and Vegetarianism

Alternate possible topics:
Vegetarianism: Forbidden, Optional, or Mandated?

Should Jews Be Vegetarians?
What Diet Does God Prefer For People?
Topic Headings of Talk:

A. Introduction - Inconsistencies Between Animal-based Diets and Jewish Values
B. A Vegetarian View of the Torah
C. The Six Mandates that are Violated by Animal-Based Diets and Agriculture
1. Preserving our Health
2. Treating Animals with Compassion
3. Protecting the Environment
4. Conserving Natural resources
5. Helping the Hungry
6. Seeking and Pursuing Peace
D. Summary and Conclusions

A. Introduction - Inconsistencies Between Animal-based diets and Jewish Values

There is a widely accepted aspect of modern life that contradicts many Jewish teachings and harms people, communities, and the planet -- the mass production and widespread consumption of meat. Meat consumption and the ways in which meat is produced today conflict with Judaism in at least six important areas:

1. While Judaism mandates that people should be very careful about preserving their health and their lives, numerous scientific studies have linked animal-based diets directly to a higher risk of developing heart disease, stroke, many forms of cancer, and other chronic degenerative diseases.

2. While Judaism forbids tsa'ar ba'alei chayim, inflicting unnecessary pain on animals, today 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 (without anesthetics), and denied fresh air, sunlight, exercise, and any enjoyment of life, before they are slaughtered and eaten.

3. While Judaism teaches that "the earth is the Lord's" (Psalm 24:1) and that we are to be God's partners and co-workers in preserving the world, modern intensive livestock agriculture is a major contributor (or the major contributor) to soil erosion and depletion, air and water pollution, overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the destruction of tropical rain forests and other habitats, global warming, and other environmental damage.

4. While Judaism mandates bal tashchit, that we are not to waste or unnecessarily destroy anything of value, and that we are not to use more than is needed to accomplish a purpose, modern intensive animal agriculture typically requires far more land, water, energy and other resources than an equivalent amount of wholesome and more
healthful plant products.

5. While Judaism stresses that we are to assist the poor and share our bread with hungry people, over 70% of the grain grown in the United States is fed to animals destined for slaughter (it takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of edible beef), while an estimated 20 million people worldwide die because of hunger and its effects each year and almost a billion people are chronically undernourished.

6. While Judaism stresses that we must seek and pursue peace and that violence results from unjust conditions, animal-centered diets, by diverting more and more of the earth's limited natural resources from poor people to wealthy people help to perpetuate the widespread hunger, poverty , and rage that eventually lead to instability, violent conflict, and war.

In view of these important Jewish mandates to preserve human health, attend to the welfare of animals, protect the environment, conserve resources, help feed hungry people, and pursue peace, contrasted with the harm that animal-centered diets do in each of these areas, committed Jews (and others) should sharply reduce or eliminate their consumption of animal products.

One could say "dayenu" (it would be enough) after any of the arguments above, because each one constitutes by itself a serious conflict between Jewish values and current practice that should impel Jews to seriously consider a plant-based diet. Combined, they make a compelling case for the Jewish community to respond to these issues.

B. A Vegetarian View of the Torah

Next, we shall consider a vegetarian view of the Torah:

In the very first chapter of the Torah, in Genesis Chapter 1, verse 29, God indicates His intention that people should be vegetarians.

And God said: "Behold, I have given you every herb
yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth,
and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree
yielding seed--to you it shall be for food."

When the world was created, God saw everything that he had made and "behold, it was very good" Everything in the universe was as God wanted it, with nothing superfluous and nothing lacking, a complete harmony. The vegetarian diet was consistent with God's initial plan.

The great Jewish Torah commentators, including Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Maimonides, and Nachmanides all agree that God's first dietary law was strictly vegetarian.

Chapter 5 of Genesis tells of the long lives of people in the generations of the vegetarian period from Adam to Noah, up to Methuselah, who lived 969 years, the longest time of life recorded in the Torah. After the flood, people lived for much shorter periods; the patriarch Abraham, for example, lived only 175 years.

Of course, a shift to sensible vegetarian diets will not increase life spans to anywhere near those of early people, but recent medical evidence indicates that it would lead to an increase in the average span and quality of life.

People are not always ready to live up to God's ideals. By the time of Noah, humanity had degenerated greatly. Genesis 6:12 states: "And God saw the earth, and behold it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth". People had sunk so low that they would eat a limb torn from a living animal. As a concession to people's weakness, permission to eat meat was then given in Genesis 9:3. However, the permission given to Noah to eat meat was not unconditional. There was an immediate prohibition against eating blood. This was the first of many dietary restrictions, the laws of kashrut, or the kosher laws.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel and a highly respected and beloved Jewish spiritual leader in the early 20th century, believed that the permission to eat meat was only a temporary concession. While not a complete vegetarian (possibly because he lived before the advent of most aspects of modern intensive factory farming), Rav Kook wrote very positively about vegetarianism, primarily in A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace .

According to Rabbi Kook, because people had sunk to an extremely low level of spirituality, it was necessary that they be given an elevated image of themselves as compared to animals, and that they concentrate their efforts into first improving relationships between people. He felt that were people denied the right to eat meat, they might eat the flesh of human beings due to their inability to control their lust for flesh. He regards the permission to slaughter animals for food as a "transitional tax" or temporary dispensation until a "brighter era" is reached when people would return to vegetarian diets.

According to Isaac Arama, author of Akedat Yitzchak, and others, after the Israelites left Egypt, God tried to establish another non-meat diet, manna. Manna is described in the Torah as a vegetarian food, "like coriander seed".

The people were not satisfied, however, with the simple diet of manna, which sustained them in the desert. The Children of Israel complained, "Would that we were given flesh to eat." God was very angry and Moses was displeased. Finally, God provided meat in the form of quail, which were brought by a wind from the sea. While the flesh was in their mouths, before it was chewed, the anger of God was kindled against the people; He struck them with a great plague.

The place where this incident occurred was named "The Graves of Lust," to indicate that the lust for flesh led to the many deaths . While the manna, their staple food in the desert, kept them in good health for forty years, many deaths occurred when they deviated from this simple diet.

When the Israelites were in the wilderness, animals could only be slaughtered and eaten as part of the sacrificial service in the sanctuary. Maimonides stated that the sacrifices were a concession to the primitive practices of the nations at that time.

Finally God permitted people to eat meat even if it wasn't part of a sacrificial offering. Deuteronomy 12:20 states:

When the Lord your God shall enlarge your border as He
promised you, and you shall say: "I will eat
flesh," because your soul desires to eat flesh; you
may eat flesh, after all the desire of your soul.

This permitted meat was called b'sar ta'avah, "meat of lust," so named because meat is not considered a necessity for life. The above verse does not command that people eat meat. Rabbinic tradition perceives it to indicate that it is people's desire to eat flesh and not God's edict that people do so. Even while arguing against vegetarianism as a moral cause, Rabbi Elijah Judah Schochet, author of Animal Life in Jewish Tradition, concedes that "Scripture does not command the Israelite to eat meat, but rather permits this diet as a concession to lust." Similarly, another critic of vegetarian activism, Rabbi J. David Bleich, a noted modern Torah scholar and professor at Yeshiva University, concedes, "the implication is that meat may be consumed when there is desire and appetite for it as food, but may be avoided when there is not desire and, especially, when it is found to be repugnant." In short, again according to Rabbi Bleich, "Jewish tradition does not command carnivorous behavior..."

The Torah looks favorably on vegetarian foods. Flesh foods are often mentioned with distaste and are associated with lust (lack of control over one's appetite for meat). There is no special b'racha (blessing) recited before eating meat or fish, as there is for other foods such as bread, cake, wine, fruits, and vegetables; the blessing for meat is a general one, the same as that over water or any other undifferentiated food.

Along with permission to eat meat, many laws and restrictions (the laws of kashrut) were given. Rabbi Kook believed that the reprimand implied by these regulations is an elaborate apparatus designed to keep alive a sense of reverence for life, with the aim of eventually leading people back to vegetarian diets.

Rav Kook and Joseph Albo believe that in the days of the Messiah people will again be vegetarians. They base this on the prophecy of Isaiah (11:6-9):

And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, …
And the lion shall eat straw like the ox, ...
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain.

Today most Jews eat meat, but the high ideal of God, the initial vegetarian dietary law, still stands supreme in the Bible for Jews and the whole world to see, an ultimate goal toward which all people should strive.

C. The Six Mandates that are Violated by Animal-Based Diets and Agriculture

The above material points to much support in the Torah for vegetarianism. However, since the Torah indicates that God did give permission to eat meat and there is much re kosher animals, sacrifices, and related issues in the Torah, our main case is based on the fact that there are six basic Jewish mandates that are seriously violated by animal-based diets and agriculture. The six mandates are:

1. To be very diligent in protecting our health;
2. To treat animals with compassion;
3. To preserve the environment;
4. To conserve natural resources;
5. To help hungry people; and
6. To seek and pursue peace.

Next, we will consider each mandate in terms of Jewish teachings and also in terms of how these teachings are severely violated by the production and consumption of meat and other animal products. [Of course, you may change the order in which you discuss the mandates.]

The first mandate is the mandate to preserve human health

Judaism regards the preservation of physical well-being as a religious commandment of extreme importance. Jews are to take care of their health and do nothing that might unnecessarily endanger themselves. Life is regarded as the highest good, and we are obligated to protect it.

An important Jewish principle is pikuach nefesh, the duty to preserve human life. The Talmudic sages applied the teaching in Leviticus 18:5, "You shall therefore keep my statutes and ordinances, which if a person do he shall live by them" to all the laws of the Torah. Hence Jews are to be more particular about matters concerning danger to health and life than about ritual matters. If it could help save a life, one must (not may) violate the Sabbath, eat forbidden foods, and even eat on Yom Kippur. The only laws that cannot be violated to preserve a life are those prohibiting murder, idolatry, and sexual immorality. Life is considered so sacred in Judaism that the tradition asserts that "if a person saves one life, it is as if he or she saved an entire world".

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a major 19th century Orthodox rabbi, wrote passionately of the mandate to preserve health and life, as follows:

Limiting our presumption against our own body, God's
word calls to us: "Do not commit suicide!" "Do not
injure yourself!" "Do not ruin yourself!" "Do not
weaken yourself!" "Preserve yourself!"

He also stated:

You may not in any way weaken your health or shorten
your life. Only if the body is healthy is it an
efficient instrument for the spirit's
activity....Therefore you should avoid everything which
might possibly injure your health....

These teachings indicate that if it can be clearly and convincingly shown that the consumption of meat is dangerous to people's health, it should be prohibited by Jewish law.

In contrast to these very strong Jewish teachings about the importance of preserving health, animal-centered diets have been strongly linked to the leading causes of death in the United States - heart attacks, strokes, and various types of cancer - and other diseases. The U. S. Surgeon General has stated that 68% of diseases in the US are diet related.

Here are just a few examples of the many negative health effects
associated with animal-based diets:

Most cancers are found in countries, such as the United States, Israel, Great Britain, Australia, Argentina, and Canada where people eat large amounts of animal products. An American woman who eats meat daily instead of less than once a week, increases her risk of breast cancer by a factor of 3.8. In countries where little animal fat, especially beef, is consumed, breast cancer rates are significantly lower. For example, in Japan, where fat consumption is far lower than it is in the United States, their breast cancer rate is only one-fourth that of ours. Genetics don't seem to be the reason; when Japanese women move to the United States and adapt typical American diets, their breast cancer rates rise sharply and approach that of American women.

The Surgeon Generals' Report on Nutrition and Health (1988)
noted, "Indeed, a comparison of populations indicates that death
rates for cancers of the breast, colon, and prostate are directly
proportional to animal fat intakes. A huge study of the eating habits of 6,500 Chinese that New York Time nutrition editor Jane Brody, called the "Grand Prix of epidemiology" found a strong correlation between the consumption of animal protein and several degenerative diseases.

Controlled studies by Dean Ornish, M. D. showed that
even severe heart problems could be reversed without surgery or
drugs, using a very low-fat diet, exercise, and various stress reduction techniques. What was also very significant about Dr. Ornish's study was that people in the control group, following the dietary suggestions of the medical establishment, did not improve, and in most cases became worse.

If we want to reverse the epidemic of cancer, heart disease,
stroke, and other degenerative diseases, that have been afflicting
the Jewish community and other communities, it is essential that we recognize the connections between animal-centered diets and disease, and act accordingly. Rabbi David Rosen stated:

As it is halachically prohibited to harm oneself and as healthy, nutritious vegetarian alternatives are easily available, meat consumption has become halachically unjustifiable.

[For much additional information on this mandate and the ones that follow, please see my articles at JewishVeg.com/schwartz.]

The second Jewish mandate involves treating animals with compassion.

Animals are part of God's creation and people have special
responsibilities to them. The Jewish tradition clearly indicates that we are forbidden to be cruel to animals and that we are to treat them with compassion. These concepts are summarized in the Hebrew phrase tsa'ar ba'alei chayim, the Biblical mandate not to cause "pain to any living creature."

Psalms 104 and 148 show God's close identification with the beasts of the field, creatures of the sea, and birds of the air. Sea animals and birds received the same blessing as people: "Be fruitful and multiply" . Animals were initially given a vegetarian diet, similar to that of people . The important Hebrew term nefesh chaya (a "living soul") was applied in Genesis 1:21 and 1:24 to animals as well as to people. Although the Torah clearly indicates that people are to have "dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth" , there was to be a basic relatedness, and the rights and privileges of animals were not to be neglected nor overlooked. Animals are also God's creatures, possessing sensitivity and the capacity for feeling pain; hence they must be protected and treated with compassion.

The Psalms indicate God's concern for animals, for, as Psalms 145:9 indicates, "His tender mercies are over all His creatures". They pictured God as "satisfying the desire of every living creature" , "providing food for the beasts and birds" , and, in general, "preserving both man and beast" ).

Moses and King David were chosen for leadership, and Rebecca was deemed suitable to be a wife for Isaac, because they were kind to animals. Concern for animals is even expressed in the Ten Commandments, in a verse that is read as part of kiddush every Sabbath morning that indicates that animals, as well as people, are to be permitted to rest on the Sabbath day . Many Biblical laws command proper treatment of animals. For example, one can't yoke a strong and a weak animal together, nor muzzle an ox while he is threshing grain.

Perhaps the Jewish attitude toward animals is best summarized by the statement in Proverbs 12:10, "The righteous person regards the life of his or her animal." This is the human counterpoint of (Psalm 145:9) "The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His creatures". In Judaism, one who is cruel to animals cannot be regarded as a righteous individual.

In contrast to these powerful Jewish teachings, animals are raised to produce food today under extremely cruel conditions . Instead of animals being free to graze on the Sabbath day to enjoy the beauties of creation, they are confined for all of their lives in dark, crowded spaces, without air, natural light, or the fulfillment of their instinctual needs. While the Torah mandates that animals should be able to eat the products of the harvest as they work in the fields, today animals are given chemical fatteners an, based on computer programs. While Judaism indicates consideration for animals by mandating that a strong and weak animal not be yoked together, veal calves spend their entire lives standing on slats, their necks chained to the sides, and fed a diet devoid of iron.

Jews who continue to eat meat raised under such conditions would seem to be helping to support a system which is contrary to basic Jewish principles and obligations. To quote Rabbi David Rosen again:

The current treatment of animals in the livestock trade definitely renders the consumption of meat as halachically unacceptable . . . (that is unacceptable based on Jewish law)

The third important Jewish mandate involves preserving the environment.

The most fundamental Jewish teaching related to the environment is, as Psalm 24:1 indicates:

The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof.

People are to be co-workers with God in helping to preserve and improve the world.

The Talmudic sages assert that people's role is to enhance the world as "co-partners of God in the work of creation." There is a Midrash (a story that teaches a Torah lesson based on biblical events and values) that beautifully expresses the idea that God needs people to help tend the world. It states:

In the hour when the Holy one, blessed be He,
created the first person,
He took him and let him pass before all the trees of
the Garden of Eden and said to him:
"See my works, how fine and excellent they are!
Now all that I have created, for you have I created.
Think upon this and do not corrupt and destroy My World,
For if you destroy it, there is no one to set it
right after you."

The talmudic sages indicate great concern about preserving the environment and preventing pollution. They state: "It is forbidden to live in a town which has no garden or greenery." Threshing floors had to be placed far enough from a town so that it would not be dirtied by chaff carried by winds. Tanneries had to be kept at least 50 cubits from a town and could be placed only on the east side of a town, so that odors would be carried away by the prevailing winds from the west.

Everything belongs to God. We are to be stewards of the earth, to see that its produce is available for all God's children.

Contrary to these powerful Jewish teachings related to environmental protection, modern agricultural methods related to meat production are a prime cause of the environmental crises facing the United States and much of the world today. Here are some examples:

* In addition to the 6.3 billion people in the world today, there are 50 billion farmed animals (mostly chickens) that are slaughtered annually, and raising and feeding these animals causes much pollution and consumes many valuable resources.

* The tremendous quantity of grains grown to feed animals requires extensive use of chemical fertilizer and pesticides. Much air and water pollution is caused by the production and use of these products. Various constituents of fertilizer, particularly nitrogen, are washed into surface waters. High levels of nitrates in drinking water have caused illnesses for people as well as animals.

* Mountains of manure produced by cattle raised in feedlots wash into and pollute streams, rivers, and underground water sources. American livestock produce about 2 billion tons of waste annually--more than ten times that produced by the US population, and equivalent to the waste of nearly half the world's human population.

* The production of feed-crops for animals is "mining" our soil. Each year over 5 billion tons of topsoil are eroded in the U.S., almost all due to livestock agriculture.

* Large areas of land throughout the world have been destroyed by grazing animals. Overgrazing has been a prime cause of erosion in various parts of the world throughout history. Over 60 percent of all U.S. range lands are overgrazed, with billions of tons of soil lost every year.

* Demand for meat in wealthy countries also leads to environmental damage in poor countries. To save 5 cents on fast-food hamburgers exported to the U.S., the earth's tropical rain forests are being bulldozed at a rate of 100 acres per minute, a rate which would destroy an area the size of Pennsylvania every year. Each quarter-pound fast-food hamburger patty requires the destruction of 55 square feet of tropical forest for grazing. Half are already gone forever, and at current rates of destruction, the rest will be gone by the middle of the next century. What makes this especially serious is that half of the world's species of plants and animals reside in tropical rain forests, and some might hold secrets for cures of some of today's deadly diseases. Also, destruction of rain forests alters climate and reduces rainfall with potentially devastating effects on the world's agriculture.

* While recent increased concern about global warming is very welcome, the many connections between typical American (and other Western) diets and global warming have generally been overlooked. Current modern intensive livestock agriculture and the consumption of meat contribute greatly to the four major gases associated with the greenhouse effect: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxides, and chlorofluorocarbons.
The burning of tropical forests releases tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and eliminates the ability of these trees to absorb carbon dioxide. Also, the highly mechanized agricultural sector uses an enormous amount of fossil fuel to produce pesticides, chemical fertilizer, and other agricultural resources, and this also contributes to carbon dioxide emissions. Cattle emit methane as part of their digestive process, as do termites who feast on the charred remains of trees that were burned to create grazing land and land to grow feed crops for farmed animals. The large amounts of petrochemical fertilizers used to produce feed crops create significant quantities of nitrous oxides. Likewise, the increased refrigeration necessary to prevent animal products from spoiling adds chlorofluorocarbons to the atmosphere.

When we consider all of these negative environmental factors, and then add the very harmful effects related to human health and global hunger, we can safely assert that animal-centered diets and the livestock agriculture needed to sustain it are arguably the greatest threats to global survival today, and they are certainly inconsistent with Jewish teachings on environmental stewardship.

The fourth Torah mandate involves conserving resources

Judaism asserts that we are not to waste or destroy unnecessarily anything of value. This prohibition, called bal tashchit ("thou shalt not destroy") is based on Deuteronomy, Chapter 20, verses 19 and 20, which states that fruit bearing trees should not be destroyed to build battering rams to knock down enemy fortifications in wartime.

This prohibition against destroying fruit-bearing trees in time of warfare was extended into a general prohibition for all times and places by the Jewish sages. They forbid cutting down even a barren tree or to waste anything if no useful purpose is accomplished. The rabbis of the Talmud made a general prohibition against waste: They stated: "Whoever breaks vessels or tears garments, or destroys a building, or clogs up a fountain, or destroys food violates the prohibition of bal tashchit." In summary, bal tashchit prohibits the destruction, complete or incomplete, direct or indirect, of all objects of potential benefit to people.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch asserted that bal tashchit is the first and most general call of God: He stated that we are to "regard things as God's property and use them with a sense of responsibility for wise human purposes. Destroy nothing! Waste nothing!" He stated that destruction includes using more things (or things of greater value) than is necessary to obtain one's aim.

Unfortunately, the wisdom of bal tashchit is seldom applied today. Our society is based on waste, on buying, using, and throwing away. Advertisements constantly try to make us feel guilty if we do not have the newest gadgets and the latest styles of clothing. Every national holiday in the United States has become an orgy of consumption.

Our animal-centered diets are extremely wasteful, as the following facts indicate:

* The average person in the United States eats almost five times as much grain (mostly in the form of animal products) as does a person in an undeveloped country.

* It takes up to 16 pounds of grain and soybeans to produce one pound of edible beef in a feedlot in the United States.

* Over 70% of the grain grown in the United States and about two-thirds of the grain exported by the U. S. is fed to animals destined for slaughter.

* Half of U. S. harvested acreage is devoted to feed-crops.

*A non vegetarian diet requires about 3.5 acres/person, whereas a total vegetarian (vegan) diet requires only about a fifth of an acre. Hence, a shift to vegetarian diets would free much valuable land, which could be used to grow nutritious crops for people.

*The standard animal-centered diet of a person in the United States also requires far more water, energy, fertilizer and other resources than a plant-based diet.

As these facts abundantly indicate, a vegetarian diet is far less wasteful than a meat-centered diet and is therefore much more consistent with the Torah principle of bal tashchit.

The fifth Torah mandate involves helping hungry people

Helping the hungry is fundamental in Judaism. The Talmud states, "Providing charity for poor and hungry people weighs as heavily as all the other commandments of the Torah combined."

On Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, while fasting and praying for a good year, Jews are told through the words of the Prophet Isaiah that fasting and prayers are not sufficient; they must work to end oppression and provide food for needy people. He states:

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the
chains of wickedness, to undo the bonds of oppression,
and to let the oppressed go free.... Is it not to share
your bread with the hungry?

On Passover we are reminded not to forget the poor. Besides providing ma'ot chittim (charity for purchasing matzah and other holiday foods) for the needy before Passover, at the seders, we reach out to them, and state:

Let all who are hungry come and eat.
Let all who are in need come and celebrate the Passover.

It is a basic Jewish belief that God provides enough for all. In our daily prayers, it is said, "He opens His hand and provides sustenance to all living things". Jews are obligated to give thanks to God for providing enough food for us and for all of humanity. In the bircat hamazon (grace after meals), we thank God "who feeds the whole world with goodness, grace, loving kindness, and tender mercy."

The blessing is correct. God has provided enough for all. The bounties of nature, if properly distributed and properly consumed, would sustain every person on earth. Millions of people are hungry today and an estimated 20 million of the world's people die of hunger and its effects annually, not because of insufficient agricultural capacity, but because of unjust social systems and wasteful methods of food production, including the feeding of tremendous amounts of grains to animals to fatten them for slaughter.

Not only is much land and many resources used in the United States to raise beef, but the U. S. is also one of the world's largest importers of beef.

Can a shift to vegetarian diets make a difference with regard to world hunger? Consider these statistics:

1. It takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of feedlot beef.

2. Over 70 percent of the grain produced in the United States and over one-third of the world's grain production is fed to animals destined for slaughter.

3. If Americans reduced their beef consumption by 10 percent, it would free up enough grain to feed all of the world's people who annually die of hunger and related diseases.

4. While one hectare (about 2.5 acres) of land growing potatoes can feed 22 people, and one hectare growing rice can feed 19 people, that same area producing beef can feed only one person.

5. Feeding grain to livestock wastes 90% of the protein, almost 100% of the carbohydrates, and 100% of the fiber of the grain. While grains are a rich source of fiber, animal products have no fiber at all.
This evidence indicates that the food being fed to animals in the affluent nations could, if properly distributed, end both hunger and malnutrition throughout the world. A switch from animal-centered diets would free up land and other resources, which could then be used to grow nutritious crops for people. This new approach would also promote policies that would enable people in the underdeveloped countries to use their resources and skills to become food self-reliant.

The sixth and final Jewish mandate is to seek and pursue peace

The Jewish tradition mandates a special obligation to work for peace. The Bible does not command that people merely love peace or merely seek peace but that they actively pursue peace. The rabbis of the Talmud state that there are many commandments that require a certain time and place for their performance, but with regard to peace, Psalm 34:15 states, "seek peace and pursue it" ; you are to seek it in your own place and pursue it everywhere else. The famous Talmudic sage, Hillel, states that we should "be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace."

The rabbis of the Talmud used lavish words of praise to indicate the significance of peace:

Great is peace, for God's name is peace.... Great is peace, for it encompasses all blessings.... Great is peace, for even in times of war, peace must be sought.... Great is peace seeing that when the Messiah is to come, He will commence with peace, as it is said (in Isaiah
52:7), "How beautiful upon the mountains are the footsteps of the messenger of good tidings, who announces peace"

The important Jewish prayers, such as the Amidah (Sh'moneh Esrei), the kaddish, the priestly blessing, and the grace after meals, all conclude with a prayer for peace.

In spite of Judaism's historical aversion to idolatry, peace is so important that the rabbis taught:

Even if Israel should worship idols, but she be at peace,
God had no power, in effect, over them.

The Jewish tradition does not mandate absolute pacifism, or peace at any price. The Israelites often went forth to battle, and not always in defensive wars. But they always held to the ideal of universal peace and yearned for the day when there would be no more bloodshed or violence.

Judaism teaches that violence and war result directly from injustice. The Talmud states:

The sword comes into the world because of justice
delayed, because of justice perverted, and because of
those who render wrong decisions.

The Hebrew word for war, milchama, is directly derived from the word locham, which means both "to feed" as well as "to wage war." The Hebrew word for bread, lechem, comes from the same root. This led the sages to suggest that lack of bread and the search for sufficient food and other resources tempt people to make war. Hence, feeding the tremendous amounts of grains to animals destined for slaughter, instead of feeding starving people, is a prime cause for war. [I strongly recommend using the following joke: The slogans of the vegetarian movement and the peace movement are the same: "All we are saying is give PEAS a chance.]

Many Jewish sages felt that the biblical laws related to kindness to animals were meant to condition people to be considerate of fellow human beings. Several medieval Jewish philosophers including Rabbi. Isaac Abarbanel and Rabbi Joseph Albo consider vegetarianism to be a moral ideal because it avoids the meanness and cruelty associated with meat consumption and the harsh treatment of animals.

By adopting a diet that shows concern and loving-kindness for the hungry people of the world, by working for righteousness through more equitable sharing of God's abundant harvests, Jews and other people can play a significant role in moving the world toward that day when "nations shall not learn war any more."
The above 6 mandates strongly indicate that vegetarianism is the diet most consistent with Jewish values. Hopefully, the Jewish community and others will start to address the many moral issues related to animal-centered diets and livestock agriculture. The future of Judaism and of our endangered planet are at stake.


When we consider all of these negative environmental and climate-change effects, and then add the harmful effects of animal-based diets on human health and global hunger, it is clear that animal-centered diets and the livestock agriculture needed to sustain them pose tremendous threats to global survival. It is not surprising that the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) ranks the consumption of meat and poultry as the second most harmful consumer activity (surpassed only by the use of cars and light trucks). It is clear that a shift toward vegetarianism is imperative to move our precious but imperiled planet away from its present catastrophic path.

Encourage the audience to help spread the message that the world is in great trouble and that the application of Jewish values to our diets and in other areas can help reduce current threats and can help revitalize Judaism by showing the relevance of Jewish values to current threats. Encourage them to speak to rabbis and other Jewish leaders, wrote letters and articles, and to speak to family members, friends, and neighbors.

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