Home    Jewish Vegetarianism    Online Course    FAQ    Jewish Recipes
What You Can Do    Links    Feedback    Media

International Jerusalem Post Book Review

Vegetarianism - the meat of the argument

April 19, 2001
Reviewer: Gershom Gale from Israel

The health benefits of a vegetarian diet are now well-documented, as are the increased risks of cancer and heart disease that come with eating meat. But these are personal benefits, and personal risks; most people are content to view such a "lifestyle" decision, like the decision to smoke, as a matter of individual choice.

Would it were that easy! Today, with the advent of "factory farming," other considerations must come into play. Mathematician Schwartz, while never resorting to emotional appeal, wants us to realize that modern meat production is a completely automated, entirely impersonal, mechanized industry, with billions of animals spending their entire lives - 24 hours a day, seven days a week - in tiny pens or cages, never seeing the sun, never being allowed the freedom to walk even a few steps. How many of us can remain complacent in the face of such institutionalized cruelty?

Is it enough, he asks, that an animal is killed painlessly, if its whole life is spent under such conditions? Is this what God intended when He gave man "dominion" over the animal kingdom?

No, it is not, answers Schwartz, who cites many biblical and rabbinic sources to prove that the biblical permission to eat meat was only a temporary concession to human weakness; humanity before the Flood was vegetarian, and will be so again in the messianic era.

Indeed, Schwartz argues powerfully that the pursuit of universal peace and justice, and the end of world hunger - all hallmarks of the messianic age - requires Jews in particular, in their role as "a light unto the nations," to be in the vanguard of the vegetarian movement.

Did you know, for example, that 70 percent of the grain grown in the United States is used to feed animals destined for slaughter? Or that 80 percent of the water used in the US goes toward animal agriculture? Or that land growing potatoes, rice, and other vegetables can support 20 times as many people as land producing grain-fed beef? Or that many leading scientists now rank the environmental damage caused by the meat industry as second only to that caused by the use of fossil fuels?

In this fact-filled volume, Schwartz goes to great lengths in proving that vegetarianism in no way conflicts with Orthodox Judaism, and points out that many leading religious Jews both past and present - Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen, Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Haifa among them - have concluded that a plant-based diet is something which all "noble souls" should embrace.

"Judaism and Vegetarianism" devotes entire chapters to answering commonly asked questions, supplies ammunition which vegetarians can use in answering the skeptics, and provides extensive lists of Jewish vegetarian groups and books for further reading. Every argument is supported by facts, and every fact is documented. Schwartz has made a case that is difficult to refute, in a book you will find difficult to ignore.