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Judaism, Health, and Vegetarianism

"Be extremely protective of your lives." (Deuteronomy 4:15)

Judaism requires of us that we mind our health. In Deuteronomy, we are told "Be extremely protective of your lives."[1]  Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explained, "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.... And the law asks you to be even more circumspect in avoiding danger to life and limb than in the avoidance of other transgressions."[2]  G-d repeatedly exhorts us to take care of ourselves: "Do not commit suicide!" "Do not injure yourself!" "Do not ruin yourself!" "Do not endanger yourself!" "Do not weaken yourself!" "Preserve yourself!"[3]  According to Maimonides, "Since maintaining a healthy and sound body is among the ways of G-d - for one cannot understand or have knowledge of the Creator if one is ill - therefore one must avoid that which harms the body and accustom oneself to that which is helpful and helps the body become stronger."[4]  Jews are thus required to keep themselves healthy. 

Rabbi Alfred Cohen has said, "Following the many precedents prescribed in the Code of Jewish Law, we would have little difficulty in arriving at the conclusion that, if indeed eating meat is injurious one's health, it is not only permissible, but possibly even mandatory that we reduce our ingestion of an unhealthful product to the minimal level."[5]  Historically, the rabbis believed that eating meat was necessary for our health, and thus accepted its consumption.  Today, however, the scientific evidence has shown that animal products are harmful to us.  Today, eating animal products is a violation of our obligation as Jews to care for our health. 

The consumption of animals products has been linked to higher rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, hypertension, stroke, impotence, and other diseases. Vegetarians have just 40% the cancer rate of meat-eaters. On average, vegetarians outlive meat-eaters by six years.[6]

Heart disease in particular kills 50% of Americans-- more than all other diseases put together-- yet only 4% of strict vegetarians suffer from it.[7]  In fact, the average vegan cholesterol level is 123, and no one with a cholesterol level below 150 has ever been documented as having died from a heart attack.[8]  The only two studies ever to successfully reverse heart disease have included vegetarian diets.[9]

The American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada has clearly stated the nutritional science: "It is [our] position that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases... Vegetarians have been reported to have lower body mass indices than nonvegetarians, as well as lower rates of death from ischemic heart disease; vegetarians also show lower blood cholesterol levels; lower blood pressure; and lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and prostate and colon cancer." [10]

Rabbi David Rosen has said, "As it is halachically prohibited to harm oneself and as healthy, nutritious vegetarian alternatives are easily available, meat consumption has become halachically unjustifiable."[11]  If we value our life, if we care about our health, we as Jews should become vegetarians.  


(1) Deuteronomy 4:15 
(2) Rabbi Samsom Raphael Hirsch, Horeb, Chapter 62, Section 428 
(3) Ibid., Section 427 
(4) Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Deot 4:1 
(5) Rabbi Alfred Cohen, "Vegetarianism From a Jewish Perspective", Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, Fall, 1981, p. 61. 
(6) William Castelli, M.D., Director of the Framingham Heart Study. 
(7) John Robbins, Diet For A New America
(8) Dean Ornish, Eat More, Weigh Less
(9) Ornish and Esselstyn. 
(10) "Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Vegetarian Diets," Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2003, 103:748-765. Quoting further: "Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence. . . A vegetarian, including vegan, diet can meet current recommendations for all of these nutrients. . . Vegetarian diets offer a number of nutritional benefits, including lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein as well as higher levels of carbohydrates, fiber, magnesium, potassium, folate, and antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and phytochemicals."
(11) Rabbis and Vegetarianism, Micah, 1995, p.54. 

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