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Jewish Vegetarians Unite
by Reuven Fenton
The Blueprint
May 2006

These days, advocates of vegetarianism suffer a lot of ridicule. They are typically caricatured as carrot-chewing misfits holding signs that read, "Equal Rights for Animals" or as socialites who are running with a fashionable chicken-friendly trend. Unfortunately, many meat defenders swear by these stereotypes, claiming that the herbivores of today wear their vegetarianism like it’s another red kabbalistic string bracelet. The vegetarian community desperately needs better spokesmen. Enter Dr. Richard Schwartz, a retired mathematician and professor, author of "Judaism and Vegetarianism," and contributor of over 100 articles about the benefits of not eating meat. As a young man, Schwartz had turkey on Thanksgiving like everyone else; then, while preparing to teach a course called, "Mathematics and the Environment" at The College of Staten Island, he began to realize some of the environmental and economic consequences of living an omnivorous lifestyle. After several semesters of teaching the class, Schwartz decided that "I didn’t want to be someone who preaches something he doesn’t practice," he says. And so began his path toward strict vegetarianism, which over time blossomed into his role today as the head of Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA).

Schwartz believes that the necessity for vegetarianism is now stronger than ever. After the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment was released in January 2006, projecting severe threats to humanity in the next 50 years unless major changes occur, Schwartz urged Jewish leaders to "apply Jewish values in leading a movement toward plant-based diets in order to help shift our imperiled planet to a sustainable path," he says. A few of his supporting arguments include: 70% of the grain produced in the U.S. feeds animals destined for slaughter, which causes soil erosion and wastes grain that could otherwise be used for starving people; humans consume 14 times more water on meat-based diets than on plant diets, thereby substantially reducing the earth’s fresh water supply; and many meat products have been conclusively linked to heart disease, several forms of cancer and other chronic degenerative diseases.

As head of the JVNA, Schwartz feels strongly that the production and consumption of animal products violates basic Jewish teachings. In one of his articles, he writes, “While God was able to say, ‘It is very good’ when the world was created, today the world faces many environmental threats. Thus, could God favor meat-centered diets which involve extensive soil depletion and erosion, air and water pollution related to the widespread production and use of pesticides, fertilizer, and other chemicals, and the destruction of tropical rain forests and other habitats?” Therefore, “the Jewish community should fulfill our mandated role to be a ‘light unto the nations’ by leading efforts to make people aware of the importance of responding to environmental threats, by shifting toward plant-centered diets and making other positive lifestyle changes.”

Point well taken, Professor.