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The Ark Book Review
(Journal of the Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare
No 189, Winter 2001

Judaism and Vegetarianism by Richard H Schwartz, New Revised Edition, Lantern Books, $18.

I WAS INTRODUCED to Jewish vegetarianism in the early 1980s through Rose Friedman's Jewish Vegetarian Cooking (Thorsons Publishers Ltd) which I've used ever since. The mixture of East European Ashkenazi dishes with those of the Middle Eastern Sephardim tradition is a fascinating one and, in the concluding words of the Foreword, the table of those consuming them 'will not be marred by violence, but adorned with the peaceful and goodly products of the land, thus hastening the days when "they shall no longer hurt nor destroy".'

This connection between vegetarianism and the deepest aspirations of religion is given thorough coverage in this new edition of Professor Schwartz's Judaism and Vegetarianism. It challenges all those for whom Abraham is their 'father in faith' (see Eucharistic Prayer I) to consider seriously converting to a vegetarian diet. As one of the statements supporting the thesis expresses:

'(Schwartz) shows us that to be a mensch today, to be a whole and healthy and fully human being, you have to bring your food choices into alignment with your ethics, and that means, for anyone who aspires towards peace and compassion, eating a plant-based diet.'

Bristling with rabbinic endorsements and positive reviews, this book should adorn the shelves of anyone serious about religion and compassionate living. Such compassion does not exclude the right treatment of human beings - and it would be inconsistent with authentic animal welfarism for it to do so. There are chapters linking Judaism and vegetarianism with health, feeding the hungry, ecology, and peace. All are scholarly yet completely readable, with stories, facts and fresh insights and nothing trite or hackneyed. Schwartz makes much use of chapter subdivisions and lists which give the text an immediacy and memorable quality.

Chapters also cover the biblical background and interpretation, and the scriptural mandate tsa 'ar ba'alei chayim, not to cause pain to any living creature, which 'is part of the Jewish vision of what it means to be a tzaddik (righteous individual) and to imitate God's ways'.

But, you may be saying, how can all this square with the Jewish sacrifice of animals in the Temple in biblical times, and with the shechitah laws governing the slaughter of animals? How can the Passover be celebrated without the eating of lamb and has Judaism been morally wrong in not advocating vegetarianism before now? These, and other Jewish-oriented questions, are all posed and given candid, honest answers. They are cleverly followed by 'Questions for Vegetarians to Ask' to enable veggies to take the offensive for once in conversations with meat-eaters. Then there is a section on 'Questions & Answers: General Issues' which apply to anyone considering taking up the vegetarian way of life, dealing with such things as nutrition and predation. There is a slight American bias in some of the material, but it is not too intrusive:

Question 27, for example, asks 'Doesn't humane legislation ensure the welfare of farm animals?' and is answered by 'On both state and federal levels, the raising of animals for food is specifically exempted from anti-cruelty laws and humane legislation. Strong opposition from the powerful farm lobby has defeated legislative efforts to even study the treatment of farm animals.' (Hence the importance of the following book* to be reviewed on this page.) The book concludes with a useful index, after giving lists of Jewish Vegetarian Groups and Activities, and short Biographies of Famous Jewish Vegetarians (most I suspect are not too famous for non-Jews, except for Franz Kafka and Isaac Beshevis Singer). If you have trouble ordering the book, this is its ISBN number: 1-930051-24-7.

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