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Diet for the New Age to Come Book Review
July 2003

Book Review of Richard Schwartz's
Judaism and Vegetarianism

by Christopher J. Patton, MA, MBA

Important Reading for Both Jew and Gentile

One of the central problems of our Judeo-Christian culture is the substantial barrier of ignorance between Jews and Christians. As a result, our modern society has become substantially less Jewish or Christian. In fact, some of the saddest chapters of violence and hate in the history of western civilization are due to this ignorance. Great hope for the prophetic future of peace and prosperity will be generated by gently bridging the prejudicial pride practiced by people from both traditions.

Dr. Richard H. Schwartz's book, Judaism and Vegetarianism, begins to fill in these gaps of understanding for both Jew and Gentile. Not only does he provide clear scriptural commentary, but he also introduces the reader to the methodology of Jewish thought as it has been practiced over the ages. Here we discover the exercise of a wisdom that discerns the ethical and moral priorities of right and wrong from among the plethora of emotions and jumbled facts that accompany culturally complex issues like a vegetarian or vegan diet and the treatment of animals.

His pages luxuriate in learning and respectful moral challenge, whether they are read a few at a time or in one sitting. This fact alone makes his book a must purchase for anyone interested in understanding or working in the moral issues of human poverty, environmental stewardship, "animal rights," food-borne diseases, or the general improvement and maintenance of human health.

Biblical Documentation and Exposition

Since the Christian New Testament was written as a commentary continuation of the Hebrew scripture, Christians make a big mistake if they try to understand vegetarianism without a thorough grounding in their Hebrew scriptural roots.

Dr. Schwartz lucidly presents the Old Testaments references with simple explanation together with a variety of traditionally Jewish perspectives. He introduces the reader to great scholars and their opinions of the scriptural context and meaning for us today. Perhaps the most important principle reinforced in this approach is the transcendent nature of biblical teaching, the abiding morality of justice, mercy, and goodness.

In today's increasing materialistic culture of feel-good moral relativism, an d "don't confuse me with the facts" thinking, this book comes as an invigorating reminder that what is right is right. The consequences of sin, of violating these eternal principles of divine providence, cannot be avoided. Trying to imagine them away by the diligent application of intentional ignorance will never work.

On a theological note, many conservative Christians share an expectation of a coming Messiah and millennial rule that will bring peace first to Judah and Jerusalem, and then to all peoples. In fact, Christians who do not believe in a future Messianic Millennial renaissance of Israel have inspired most of the atrocities done to the Jewish people in the name of Jesus. As Dr. Schwartz points out, vegans and vegetarians enjoy a foretaste of that time of peace with every bite they take. Many famous rabbis became vegetarians for this reason, and today a growing number of Christians are, too. Now then, if the Messiah would just come and settle a little identity issue, we would even have doctrinal harmony between these two related faiths!

A Genuinely Jewish Perspective

At this point, I do need to emphasize that this book is written to Jews from a Jewish perspective, answering social and cultural questions that only Jews are likely to ask.

Non-Jews can skim or skip some of this material as their interest may lead them. However, for those possessing a little familiarity with Jewish traditions, or who want to learn about those traditions, this book is an inviting introduction. Dr. Schwartz's writing is easy to follow, and, due to the nature of the questions, you may find yourself knowing some of the answers by the time to get to the end of the book.

Some of the issues covered from this decidedly Jewish point of view include: the ethical treatment of animals, feeding the poor, environmental stewardship, environmental plagues and diseases, simple living principles, and many aspects of Jewish Kosher or dietary laws.

The book also contains many useful references to help the reader to learn more or to become actively involved with Jewish groups aligned with many of the perspectives covered. Dr. Schwartz provides some common sense guidance on good health principles as well as on the practical aspects of vegetarian living. Also included in the book are brief biographies of famous Jewish vegetarians.

Encouragement to Change Our Behavior Today in Anticipation of a Better Tomorrow

In short, Judaism and Vegetarianism is a book that will help the reader towards a morally responsible and healthy lifestyle with biblical understanding. For Jewish readers, it will help them to adapt their lifestyle changes to the various traditions of orthodoxy.

There is no question in my mind that education is an extremely important aspect of making the decision to "go veg" and grow that way. Dr. Schwartz's book richly contributes to this educational necessity.

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