It seems to be a Jewish trait to put numbers on concepts. For example, there are 613 mitzvot in the Torah according to Jewish sages. It also seems to be a Jewish trait to try to reduce concepts to a reduced number of basics. Hence the prophet Micah stated that what God wants from us are three basic things: "To do justly, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God." I would like to build on these concepts by arguing that the Jewish case for vegetarianism can be built on just one Jewish concept, that we should strive to make our actions a kiddush HaShem, a sanctification of God's name, and avoid causing a "chillul HaShem", a desecration of God's Name. This idea was connected to vegetarianism by Rabbi Dr. David Rosen, former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, and present Honorary President for Israel of the International Jewish Vegetarian Society, who wrote, "Perhaps the most powerful argument in favor of vegetarianism today more than ever before . . . is the prohibition against 'chillul HaShem', the desecration of God's name. surely it is precisely such a desecration when observant Jews eat animals produced under conditions of cruelty that flagrantly violate Jewish teachings and prohibitions . . . " (Rabbis and Vegetarianism: An Evolving Tradition, edited by Roberta Kalechofsky, p. 58). Our purpose in life is to enhance God's Name through mitzvot, that is to perform acts that will result in a "kiddush HaShem", a sanctification of God's name; hence great care should be taken to avoid acts of chillul HaShem. However, in expanding on Rabbi Rosen's insightful comments: * Since Judaism stresses that we should avoid tsa'ar ba'alei chayim, causing any unnecessary pain to an animal, isn't it a chillul HaShem that chickens are raised in confined spaces so small that they can't raise their wings and that they are painfully debeaked to prevent them from pecking each other due to the very unnatural conditions under which they are raised, that male chicks at egg-laying hatcheries are immediately killed because they cannot lay eggs and they have not been bred to provide much meat, that veal calves are taken away from their mothers shortly after birth to be raised in cramped conditions where they are denied exercise and essential nutrients in their diets, that geese are raised for pate de fois gras by having huge amounts of grain forced down their throats, and that other animals suffer from the many horrors of modern intensive animal agriculture? * Since Judaism mandates that people be very careful about preserving their health and their lives, isn't it a chillul HaShem that typical animal-centered diets (according to many scientific studies) are major contributors to heart disease, stroke, several forms of cancer, and other degenerative diseases, as well as the rapid rise of antibiotic-resistant, disease-causing bacteria? * Since Judaism stresses that we are to share our bread with hungry people, isn't it a chillul HaShem that over 70% of the grain grown in the United States is fed to animals destined for slaughter, as an estimated 20 million people worldwide die annually because of hunger and its effects? * Since Judaism teaches that "the earth is the Lord`s" and that we are to be partners with God in preserving the world, isn't it a chillul HaShem that animal-centered diets result in soil erosion and depletion, extensive air and water pollution related to chemical fertilizer and pesticides, the destruction of tropical rain forests and other habitats, and many threats related to global warming. * Since Judaism mandates bal tashchit, that we are not to waste or unnecessarily destroy anything of value, isn't it a chillul HaShem that livestock agriculture requires the wasteful use of food, land, water, energy, and other resources? * Since Judaism stresses that we must seek and pursue peace and that violence results from unjust conditions, isn't it a chillul HaShem that animal-based diets, by wasting valuable resources, help to perpetuate the widespread hunger and poverty that eventually lead to instability and war. The concepts of kiddush HaShem and chillul HaShem are very important in Judaism, and throughout Jewish history there have been examples of pious Jews sacrificing their lives rather than performing acts that would desecrate God's Name. Hence, in view of the strong Jewish mandates to be kind to animals, preserve human health, help feed the hungry, protect the environment, conserve resources, and seek and pursue peace, and the very negative effects animal-centered diets have in each of these areas, I believe that concerned Jews should respectfully ask the Jewish community to consider the many ways that vegetarian diets can avoid a chillul HaShem.
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