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Animal People Book Review
December 2001

Judaism and Vegetarianism
Reviewed by Eileen Weintraub

Adopting vegetarianism is imperative, and Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D., shows the way in his latest of several updated and reviseds edition of his 1982 classic Judaism and Vegetarianism. Schwartz covers all of the basics: a vegetarian view of the Bible; how Jewish vegetarians can benefit animals, their own well-being, the struggle against hunger, the environment, and the cause of peace; the history of Jewish vegetarianism, including the stories of many well-respected rabbis, as well as biographies of other well-known and often much-loved Jewish vegetarians; and the details of how to be an observant Jewish vegetarian, along with current information about vegetarianism and health.

I wish that every rabbi and synagogue could be presented with this valuable book. It can inspire and guide Jewish people in taking the next obvious step, for those who are not already vegetarian, toward the way of peace that Judaism teaches, and in the direction that the laws of kashrut (kosher) lead.

Schwartz explores some intriguing ideas from various rabbis as to how human meat-eating began, and came to be condoned by the Bible. The Torah prescribed how animals should be killed and meat should be prepared, since humans were determined to eat meat, but many passages indicate that vegetarianism has always been more holy choice, and that once the Messiah arrives, the whole world will be vegetarian.

In view of the ecological devastation wrought by current livestock agriculture, the notorious health problems meat eating brings, and the pain inflicted upon animals by modern agribusiness, which makes authentic kashrut impossible, Schwartz asks the obvious question: Why not become vegetarian now?

Schwartz even covers one little known Jewish esoteric reason for eating meat, which may be summarized as the notion that a holy person could, by consuming flesh, elevate the "sparks" of the being who is consumed toward higher consciousness. This is part of tikkun, or healing-of-the-world, and explains the phrase, "Only one who understands the Torah can eat meat." This belief somewhat parallels the Tibetan Buddhist rationale for eating meat. Yet in both cases these esoteric teachings are often misunderstood by those who cite them, and have absolutely nothing to do with present-day meat consumption.
Here one can argue how much more of a mitzvot (blessing) it is to save an animal's life, rather than try to help the spirit of the animal after it is dead.

Schwartz also reviews Jewish and non-Jewish views of the link between heavy meat eating and violence among people, and how vegetarians can fit into and influence both the Jewish and non-Jewish world.

In addition, Schwartz includes information about Jewish vegetarian organizations and Israeli animal rescue groups.

Jim Mason, co-author with Peter Singer of the 1980 classic Animal Factories (revised 1990), opines in the November/December 2001 edition of Veg News that it is not too far fetched to imagine that the congregations of churches, mosques and synagogues will pray for animal liberation in the near future because there are signs that these religions are waking up—or rather reawakening—to the concept of compassion for all beings that Hyland, Kowalski, and Schwartz argue was within the Judeo/Christian teachings from
the beginning, albeit corrupted by centuries of redaction by meat-eaters trying to rationalize their behavior.

This and other recent Lantern Books titles explain from a variety of theological perspectives what we did to exile ourselves from the Garden of Eden, and what we must do to get back there.

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