Animal People Book Review
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
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)
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
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 upor rather reawakeningto
the concept of compassion for all beings that Hyland,
Kowalski, and Schwartz argue was within the Judeo/Christian
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.