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Vegan Outreach Book Review
September 28, 2003

Book Review: Judaism and Vegetarianism
Reviewed by Jeremy Yocum

The cover of this book shows, in six frames, carrots being added to one another to form a Star of David. While attractive, this may leave non-Jews wondering how it's relevant to them. In the preface Schwartz outlines the main arguments of the book, and they are all related to Judaism: Jews should make dietary decisions based on "basic Jewish values," Judaism and vegetarianism are not opposed to one another, and vegetarianism is consistent with the Jewish values of being "concerned about both animals and people." (xvii). I, however, found Judaism and Vegetarianism to be an interesting and informative read, and would recommend it to anyone from strict vegans to those just considering vegetarianism regardless of their faith. It is loaded with well-documented information from reliable sources about the health and ecological benefits of plant-based diets, and has an impressive bibliography. The entire first chapter of the book is devoted to the ethical considerations of diet. While many of Schwartz's sources for ethics are Rabbinical authority, he draws a good deal from the Torah, part of the Christians' Old Testament. His "vegetarian view of the Bible" (1) may be useful for outreach to those of a Judeo Christian background, which covers a large segment of the population.

Many people reject vegetarian and vegan diets based on Biblical passages in which God grants permission to eat meat. Schwartz counters this with the earliest dietary passages that grant permission only to eat plants: Genesis 2:16 and 3:18. He points out that after permission was granted to eat meat, in Genesis 9:3, the recorded life spans are shortened by hundreds of years. He, along with many Rabbinical authorities, interprets the permission to eat meat as a concession by God to the lust of humankind. Referring to Genesis 9:2, he concludes that with this concession the "previous harmony between people and animals" ceased to exist. (4-5).

The second through sixth chapters are split into two sections, one examining an area of Jewish values and one explaining vegetarianism's relevance to those values. This is the main body of the book, and it addresses compassion for animals, health, feeding the hungry, ecology, and peace. While many non-Jewish readers may skip the lengthy discussions of Jewish law and tradition, I found them fascinating glimpses into another culture. Each chapter is also nearly encyclopedic in its description of the modern state of animal agriculture. I considered myself to be a well-read vegan before picking up this book, yet I learned a great deal of important and startling information. I did think that Schwartz drew a little too much information from pro-vegetarian sources, which may damage the credibility of these facts to those who are critical of veganism. While I found that these sources were credible and that their information was in turn gathered from unbiased sources, some readers may not be patient enough to do the homework. To be fair, though, at least half of the sources are non-vegetarian, such as agriculture experts and mathematicians.

The last several chapters consider vegetarian questions related to Judaism, general vegetarian questions, advice on becoming and staying a vegetarian, Jewish vegetarian groups, and biographies of famous vegetarian Jews. The advice chapter even discusses how to handle a marriage where only one spouse is vegetarian, with advice for the meat-eater as well. The appendix includes the au thor‚s story of converting to vegetarianism in 1978, and ideas for vegetarian activism. The extensive bibliography includes Jewish sources, general sources, health and nutrition sources, vegetarian recipe books, and religious or philosophical books all related to vegetarianism. Then follows an exhaustive index which makes this book great for reference.

This book does focus a lot on the cruelty and health problems related to egg and milk consumption, and many vegan cookbooks are included in the bibliography , but I feel like there is a lack of adequate support for anyone who wishes to go completely vegan. I agree with Schwartz's assessment that lacto-ovo vegetarians are "people who have made an important ethical decision, but who have not yet gone as far as possible" (145). However there is only one vegan organization listed in the appendix, the Vegetarians and Vegans Society. Schwartz lists ten websites, explaining that out of "literally hundreds, if not thousands, of valuable sites related to vegetarian groups" he chose only those that he found "especially valuable" (145). Not a single one is specifically vegan. Schwartz is apparently very supportive of veganism, yet the emphasis of this book is mostly vegetarian.

In all, however, Schwartz makes a strong case for anyone, particularly Jews, to consider vegetarianism as a single step toward positively affecting the world in a number of ways. Far from feeling alienated as a non-Jew I found the book to be culturally educational and even learned something about an issue on which I considered myself an expert. From the eye-catching cover to the quite practical bibliography and index I found this an incredibly useful and interesting read that I would recommend to anyone.

Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D. has a website (JewishVeg.com) and can be contacted there.

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