in Paradise Book Review
Each issue the VIP birds will endeavor to soar to
the highest literary peak to peck out the most unique,
informative, and accomplished book that contributes
to vegetarian enlightenment. In this issue we review
a landmark book by one of the nation's foremost authorities
on Judaism and vegetarianism.
Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D
Lantern Books, 2001
Reading the appendix of Judaism and Vegetarianism,
one is startled to find Richard Schwartz confessing
that he was once a "meat and potatoes man." Schwartz,
professor emeritus of mathematics at the College of
Staten Island, New York, and now one of the nation's
most prominent Jewish advocates of vegetarianism, became
a vegetarian convert in the 1970's while teaching a
class called "Mathematics and the Environment." While
he and his students analyzed problems like pollution,
hunger, energy, nutrition, and health, he himself became
aware of vast resources needed for beef production,
resources that could be utilized to feed the hungry
in the world. This led him to eliminate beef from his
diet. No more would his favorite pot roast be found
at his table. All the while he was still eating chicken
and fish, until 1978 when he gave up eating all animal
flesh entirely. At that time he began an intensive study
of the vegetarian connection to health, environment,
and animal treatment. He was also determined to learn
the correlation between Judaism and vegetarianism.
By 1982 he had published the first edition of this
book to share his findings with the public. A second
revised and expanded edition appeared in 1988.
The more he investigated, the more convinced he became
that vegetarianism was a solution to many of the world's
environmental and health problems and that the principles
of Judaism and vegetarianism are compatible. Jewish
law requires kindness to animals, protection of the
environment, conservation of resources, pursuit of peace,
and preservation of our health. He recognized all of
these can be achieved by being vegetarian.
Schwartz divides the book into sections dealing with
compassion for animals, health, feeding the hungry,
ecology, and peace. He opens the volume with a "Vegetarian
View of the Bible." He begins by making the statement,
"GOD'S INITIAL INTENTION WAS THAT PEOPLE BE VEGETARIANS."
He cites Genesis 1:29 that says, "Behold, I have given
you every herb-yielding seed which is upon the face
of the earth, every tree that has seed-yielding fruit--to
you it shall be for food." Schwartz presents the views
of a number of Torah commentators and Talmudic scholars
who say that this was an admonition to Adam not to eat
Scholars reading Genesis 9:3 will find what appears
to be a contradiction to the previous statement. "Every
moving thing that lives shall be food for you; as the
green herb have I given you all." This change occurred
at the time of Noah and the great flood. To the scholars
cited by Schwartz, meat eating was God's concession
to human weakness and to show that humans were on a
higher level than animals. Even then there were many
restrictions on meat eating as evidenced in schechitah
(ritual slaughter) and kashrut (dietary laws)
The author notes that before the flood people like
Adam, Seth, and Methuselah lived over 900 years. After
the flood no one seems to live more than Abraham's 175
years. Could this have been the result of a change in
diet? Schwartz cites sixteen laws, some from the Talmud
and some from the Torah, that clearly emphasize compassion
for animals. Included are the following:
- It is forbidden to cause pain to animals.
- A person should not eat first before feeding his
or her animals.
- Animals must be allowed to rest on the Sabbath.
- One must not hunt animals for pleasure.
- If animals are to slaughtered, they must be slaughtered
The author empasizes the teachings of the Talmud that
say the individual bears the responsibility for maintaining
personal health, not the physician. Taking care of one's
health is a mitzvah (good deed). He presents solid information
and definitive studies to show that consuming animal
products is hazardous to health and is frequently responsible
for illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
He feels world hunger would be alleviated by not feeding
grain to massive herds of animals raised for human consumption.
This grain could instead be used to feed starving people.
Some of the land used to grow grain could be employed
to grow crops eaten by people. "With much hunger in
the world, explicit Jewish mandates to feed the hungry,
help the poor, share resources, practice charity, show
compassion, and pursue justice, plus the trials and
tribulations of Jewish history, point to vegetarianism
as the diet most consistent with Jewish teaching related
to helping hungry people," states Schwartz.
The author expresses his grave concern that many ecological
problems are the result of current livestock agriculture
methods. Schwartz enumerates statistics to support his
argument that water pollution, air pollution, soil erosion,
energy waste, water shortages, pesticide use, rainforest
destruction, and global warming all stem from an emphasis
on a meat diet.
Schwartz devotes two chapters of the book to questions
and answers, one on Jewish issues, the other on general
issues. Under Jewish issues he poses questions like,
"If God did not want meat to be eaten, why are there
so many laws concerning the slaughter, preparation,
and consumption of meat?" In the general issues section
he asks questions like, " If vegetarian diets are best
for health, why don't most doctors recommend them?"
In the chapter B'Tay-Avon: HAVE A HEARTY APPETITE!,
he deals with practical ways of making the transition
to a vegetarian diet. He suggests learning about the
many substitutes for animal products, becoming familiar
with the principles of nutrition, coping with invitations
from non-vegetarians, reading labels, and associating
with other vegetarians. The chapter features an exceptional
essay to aid those vegetarians who face a common dilemma,
"Mixed Marriages: When Only One of You Is a Vegetarian."
This essay was printed in an earlier issue of Vegetarians
in Paradise and can be found at www.vegparadise.com/otherbirds22.html.
Not one to overlook valuable resources or to interject
features of Jewish interest, Schwartz includes a chapter
on Jewish vegetarian groups and activities and another
on biographies of famous Jewish vegetarians. The Appendix
features his story of how he turned to vegetarianism,
a discussion of "action-centered ideas" for promoting
vegetarianism, his "Resolution on Judaism and Vegetarianism"
that was passed by a Jewish Vegetarian Conference in
1993, a list of Jewish Vegetarian and Vegetarian-Related
Groups, and Some Significant Websites.
The book is well indexed and contains extensive notes
and an excellent bibliography. You don't have to be
Jewish to appreciate Judaism and Vegetarianism.
Much of the message here is universal: compassion for
animals, improving our health, saving the environment,
and feeding the hungry are goals we can all readily
achieve. A devout, orthodox Jew, Schwartz has devoted
considerable time to the study of the Torah and the
Talmud. This is quite evident when one looks at his
notes. He also has made a considerable effort to read
about vegetarianism and to show how it is linked to
Judaism, also quite apparent in his citations. This
volume is a culmination of over 20 years of speaking
and writing about vegetarianism and has made him one
of foremost experts in this field. If one wants to understand
the vital connection between Judaism and vegetarianism,
one must read Richard Schwartz.
Schwartz has also written Mathematics and Global
Survival and Judaism and
Global Survival. A number of his essays on Judaism
and vegetarianism are posted on the internet at http://schwartz.enviroweb.org.