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Judaism, Vegetarianism, and the Environment

Hebrew translation


"The earth is the L-rd's and the fullness thereof." (Psalm 24:10)

The Talmudic sages assert that people's role is to enhance the world as "co-partners of G-d in the work of creation" (Shabbat 7a). They 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" (Kiddushin 66a). Threshing floors had to be placed far enough from a town so that it would not be dirtied by chaff carried by winds. (Mishna Baba Batra 2:8) 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 not be carried by the prevailing winds from the west (Mishna Baba Batra 2:8,9).

"...You [G-d] are the One Who sends forth springs into brooks, that they may run between mountains, to give drink to every beast of the fields; the creatures of the forest quench their thirst. Beside them dwell the fowl of the heavens;... You water the mountains from Your upper chambers;... You cause the grass to spring up for the cattle and herb, for the service of people, to bring forth bread from the earth.... How manifold are Your works, O L-rd! In wisdom You have made them all; the earth is full of Your property...." (Psalm 104)

The preservation of the land of Israel has been a central theme in Judaism. The three festivals (Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot) are agricultural as well as spiritual celebrations. Jews pray for dew and rain in their proper time so that there will be abundant harvests in Israel. Jewish tradition prohibits abuse of natural resources and the environment.

'In the hour when the Holy One, blessed be He created the first human being, 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 it. Think upon this and do not destroy and desolate My World, For if you corrupt it, there is no one to set it right after you."' (Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:28)


Animal agriculture is environmentally devastating:

  • Animals raised for food are responsible for 18% of global warming emissions -- more than transportation.
  • Most of the 78 million acres of razed rainforest worldwide is to be used as grazing land to produce meat for North America. This leads to global warming, desertification, and driving 80% of the earth’s species to extinction. Every hamburger is the equivalent of 55 square feet of razed rainforest.
  • Animal agriculture wastes more water in the U.S. than all other uses put together. Every pound of steak is the equivalent of 2500 gallons of wasted water.
  • Animal agriculture is the number one source of water pollution in the U.S., producing 250,000 pounds of animal waste every second. That's 130 times as much waste from US livestock than from the entire human population of the earth, none of which receives sewage treatment.
  • Animal agriculture causes 85% of the destruction of topsoil in the U.S., more than four billion tons a year.
  • Producing plant foods is 5-50 times more energy efficient than producing animal products! A pound of steak is the equivalent of burning a gallon of gasoline.
  • Most U.S. cropland grows animal feed, for which pesticide use is unregulated. Those chemicals end up polluting the environment.

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