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Staten Island Advance
May 25, 2001, p. A28

Author sticks with message that eating meat isn't Jewish
by Leslie Palma-Simoncek

While teaching a math class at the College of Staten Island in the 1970s Dr. Richard H. Schwartz decided that becoming a vegetarian was not only the right thing to do, but the Jewish thing to do as well. Since then Dr. Schwartz has been promoting his message in speeches, over the Internet and in his book, "Judaism and Vegetarianism," published in 1982 and revised in 1988. A new revision was published by Lantern Books this year.

"We feel we have a very strong case based on Jewish values," said Dr. Schwartz, now professor emeritus at CSI and a Willowbrook resident. "All fundamental biblical teachings," he said, naming compassion for animals, concern for the environment, an emphasis on personal health and empathy for poor and hungry people, "are violated by eating meat."

The first biblical dietary law outlines a vegetarian diet, Dr. Schwartz said. "And G-d said: Behold, I have given you every herb-yielding seed which is upon the face of the earth, and every tree that has seed-yielding fruit--to you it shall be for food." Genesis 1:29.

When permission is later given at the time of Noah to eat meat, Dr. Schwartz believes, it was only a temporary dispensation. In his book he quotes Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, a chief rabbi of pre-state Israel who extolled the virtues of vegetarianism.

Rav Kook, a mystical thinker, believed that people had sunk to such a low spiritual level by the time of Noah that permission was given to eat meat as a way of teaching them to value human life. The rabbi interpreted this permission as a "transitional tax." When the Israelites were wandering in the desert, they were given permission to eat meat that was part of a sacrificial offering. Later, as written in Deuteronomy, permission was given to eat meat "because your soul desires to eat flesh."

Dr. Schwartz, and the Torah and Talmud scholars he quotes, say the permission does not constitute a commandment to eat meat. He concedes that his assertion is not widely accepted.

"Support is growing," he said, "but it's hard to break through. I said in the preface of the first edition, which is included in the revised edition, that a leap of faith is required."

Dr. Schwartz is a native of Queens who has lived in Willowbrook since 1968. He holds a doctorate from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., and is a member of Young Israel of Staten Island. He and his vegetarian wife are the parents of three. One daughter was married at a vegetarian wedding in Israel. He also is the author of "Mathematics and Global Survival," and "Judaism and Global Survival."

It was in 1973, when CSI was trying to make required math credits more palatable to students, that Dr. Schwartz began teaching "Mathematics and the Environment." The course used mathematical concepts to study issues like pollution, hunger, energy, population growth, nutrition and health. In reviewing statistics for the class, Dr. Schwartz became aware of the massive amounts of grain needed to feed cattle, grain that could have been used to feed hungry people instead.

Beginning his research on vegetarianism -- while retaining his meat and potatoes lifestyle -- Dr. Schwartz had his first glimpse of the conditions under which animals raised for slaughter exist; chickens kept in pens too small for them to raise their wings; veal calves taken from their mothers only days after their birth and locked in cramped stalls; ducks and geese force-fed corn by machine to produce the fattened livers that become the delicacy pate de foie gras. By 1978, he had become a vegetarian and begun investigating the links between Judaism and vegetarianism. He credits a course taught by Jonathan Wolf at Lincoln Square Synagogue in 1979 for prodding him to write his book.

The book includes a wealth of information for starter vegetarians, including resources for planning menus; navigating a "mixed marriage" in which one person is vegetarian and the other is not, and referrals to Jewish vegetarian groups. There's even a chapter on famous Jewish vegetarians, including the writers Franz Kafka and Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Rabbi David Cohen, a kabbalist and renowned philosopher. The latest revision includes new research on the impact of animal-based diets on health; changes in the Jewish vegetarian landscape since 1988, and an expanded question-and-answer session. Dr. Schwartz now would be better described as a vegan, someone who avoids not only meat, fish and poultry but dairy products as well. What's left to eat? "You'd be surprised," he said. "There's such wide variety of foods in the plant kingdom."

Though he concedes that "habits are hard to break," Dr. Schwartz plans to continue spreading his message. Noting the money and muscle behind the beef and dairy lobbies in the United States, he said: "We have truth, morality and justice on our side, just not much money."