Before the First World War, the Kamenitzer Maggid came to London. Saintly
man though he was, he was soon hounded out of town. Why? Because he was a
vegetarian. If he had succeeded in spreading his views, then all the
rabbis, butchers, caterers and purveyors of officially sanctioned meats
would have been seriously out of pocket, or even out of work.
To this day, kosher meat remains- the main source of income for Orthodox
ecclesiastical bodies. Vegetarianism is bad news for the rabbis.
But the weight of Orthodox opinion is that vegetarianism is not consonant
with halachah. After all, God commanded us to sacrifice animals, and on
festivals one should eat "meat and fish and all delights." (My
father-in-law insists that for festive occasions smoked salmon is not a
So I guess the late, great, saintly Rav Kook, first Chief Rabbi of
Palestine, was somehow deficient in his Judaism, because of his
vegetarianism, and so, too, his later successor, Rabbi Shlomo Goren.
With Judaism and Vegetarianism (Lantern Books, $18), Richard H.
has produced the Jewish vegetarian's bible. It offers rationale, halachic
sources and a blistering critique on the cruelty we inflict on animals to
gratify our bellies. I should confess to an interest, because my brother
David, a strict moral vegetarian, who won't wear leather at all - I don't
grasp his justification for putting on tefillin - is heavily quoted.
I cannot claim to be a strict vegetarian. But when I had to learn the laws
of shechitah, I found the experience so horrifying that I could not eat
meat for years afterwards. What upset me was not the shechitah, but the
processes of so-called humane killing, where electric stunners often did
not stun, bolts regularly failed to work
and terrified animals were cruelly prodded, dragged or forced towards the
sounds and smells of death that lay ahead of them.
BSE should have pushed more of us to vegetarianism, but why won't most of
the Torah world adopt it? Partly because any idea perceived as coming from
non-Jews, secularists or loony lefties is rejected as being extraneous to
But avoiding cruelty to animals is part of the Noachide code and of
mainstream halachah. Is this another case, as with smoking, of halachah's
not wanting to take an innovative stand? Is it, as with business ethics, a
case of knowing what Jewish law says, but turning a blind eye.
Either way, this book challenges us to ask these questions. I suspect it
preach to the converted, but it is a pretty impressive sermon