TEACHINGS ON VEGETARIANISM
Edited by Richard H. Schwartz
Introduction: Many Jews think that vegetarianism and
animal rights issues are not part of basic Judaism.
To counter this belief the following quotations of important
rabbis are presented.
Hirsch, Rabbi Samson Raphael
While not a vegetarian, Rabbi Hirsch, one of the most
important Orthodox rabbis of the 19th century, expressed
very eloquently and powerfully ideas based on Torah
values that are consistent with vegetarianism and seem
to be inconsistent with realities of modern intensive
livestock agriculture and the consumption of animal
products. One can only wonder what Rabbi Hirsch's attitude
toward vegetarianism would be today, based on his strong
views and modern realities related to the production
and consumption of animals.
On the Need to Show Compassion
Compassion is the feeling of sympathy which the
pain of one being awakens in another; and the higher
and more human the beings are, the more keenly attuned
they are to reecho the note of suffering, which,
like a voice from heaven, penetrates the heart,
bringing all creatures a proof of their kinship
in the universal God. And as for man, whose function
it is to show respect and love for God's universe
and all its creatures, his heart has been created
so tender that it feels with the whole organic world
. . .mourning even for fading flowers; so that,
if nothing else, the very nature of his heart must
teach him that he is required above everything to
feel himself the brother of all beings, and to recognize
the claim of all beings to his love and his beneficence.
(Horeb, Chapter 17, Verse 125)
There are probably no creatures that require more
the protective Divine word against the presumption
of man than the animals, which like man have sensations
and instincts, but whose body and powers are nevertheless
subservient to man. In relation to them man so easily
forgets that injured animal muscle twitches just
like human muscle, that the maltreated nerves of
an animal sicken like human nerves, that the animal
being is just as sensitive to cuts, blows, and beatings
as man. Thus man becomes the torturer of the animal
soul, which has been subjected to him only for the
fulfillment of humane and wise purposes . . . (Horeb,
Chapter 60, Verse 415)
Here you are faced with God's teaching, which obliges
you not only to refrain from inflicting unnecessary
pain on any animal, but to help and, when you can,
to lessen the pain whenever you see an animal suffering,
even through no fault of yours. (Horeb, Chapter
60, Verse 416)
On the Importance of Taking Care
of our Health:
You may not in any way weaken your health or shorten
your life. Onlyif the body is healthy is it an efficient
instrument for the spirit'sactivity....Therefore
you should avoid everything which might possiblyinjure
your health.... And the law asks you to be even
morecircumspect in avoiding danger to life and limb
than in the avoidanceof other transgressions. (Horeb,
Chapter 62, Verse 428)
Limiting our presumption against our own body,
God's word calls to us: "Do not commit suicide!"
"Do not injure yourself!" "Do notruin
yourself!" "Do not weaken yourself!"
"Preserve yourself!"(Horeb, Chapter 62,
On compassion to Other Human Beings (relevant because
an estimated 20 million people die annually due to hunger
and its effects as 70% of the grain produced in the
United States is fed to animals destined for slaughter):
Do not suppress this compassion, this sympathy,
especially with the sufferings of your fellow man.
It is the warning voice of duty, which points out
to you your brother in every sufferer, and your
own sufferings in his, and awakens the love which
tells you that you belong to him and his sufferings
with all the powers that you have. Do not suppress
it!... See in it the admonition of God that you
are to have no joy so long as a brother suffers
by your side. (Horeb, Chapter 17, Verse 126)
On not Wasting or Destroying (relevant because
modern intensive livestock agriculture is so wasteful
of water, energy, and other natural resources):
This then is the first law (Deuteronomy 20:19,
20) which forbids the destruction of fruit bearing
trees, even in wartime)which is opposed to your
presumption against things: Regard things as God's
property and use them with a sense of responsibility
for wise human purposes/ Destroy nothing! waste
nothing! Do not be avaricious! Be wisely economical
with all the means that God grants you, and transform
them into as large a sum of fulfillments of duty
as possible. (Horeb, Chapter 56,Verse 401)
Kook (sometimes spelled Kuk), Rabbi Abraham Isaac
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935)was the first Ashkenazi
Chief Rabbi of Pre-state Israel, after the British mandate.
Rav Kook was a highly respected and beloved Jewish spiritual
leader in the early 20th century. He was a mystical
thinker, a forceful writer, and a great Torah scholar
.He was a very prolific writer who helped inspire many
people to move toward spiritual paths. He urged religious
people to become involved in social questions and efforts
to improve the world. The strongest support for vegetarianism
as a positive ideal anywhere in Torah literature is
in the writing of Rav Kook. Among his many significant
writings is "A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace,"
in which he gave his philosophy of vegetarianism. He
believed strongly that God wants people to be vegetarian
and that meat was permitted as a concession to people's
weakness. He thought that the many prohibitions related
to the slaughtering and eating of meat were meant as
a scolding and reminder that people should have reverence
for life; this would eventually bring people back to
vegetarianism in the days of the Messiah.
Indeed a hidden rebuke is to be found within the folds
of Scripture regarding the eating of meat. For only
after "thou shalt say, I will eat meat, because
my soul longest to eat meat", only then, "thou
mayest eat meat". Behold you can only inhibit your
appetite for meat by an act of moral self control, and
the time for the exercise of this power of self-control
has not yet arrived. It is still required for those
nearer to you. Rav Kook believed that the permission
to eat meat was only a temporary concession; he feels
that a God who is merciful to his creatures would not
institute an everlasting law permitting the killing
of animals for food.
In this lies the virtue of a morality anchored to its
Divine source, in that it knows the correct timing for
every design. Sometimes it withholds its impetus in
order to husband its strength for a alter period. But
the impatience of a morality divorced from its source
According to Rav Kook, because people had sunk to an
extremely low level of spirituality, it was necessary
that they be given an elevated image of themselves as
compared to animals, and that they concentrate their
efforts into first improving relationships between people.
He felt that were people denied the right to eat meat,
they might eat the flesh of human beings due to their
inability to control their lust for flesh. He regards
the permission to slaughter animals for food as a "transitional
tax" or temporary dispensation until a "brighter
era" is reached when people would return to vegetarian
Once man's appetite for meat has been aroused, than
had flesh of all living creatures been prohibited, the
force of moral disintegration which is waiting for an
opportune moment would make no distinction between man
and beast, fowl or reptile, . . . All violations would
be committed, at one fell swoop, in order to surfeit
the gluttony of "civilized" humanity.
Rabbi Kook believed that the high moral level involved
in the vegetarianism of the generations before Noah,
is a virtue of such great value that it cannot be lost
forever. In the future ideal state, just as at the initial
period, people and animals will not eat flesh. No one
shall hurt nor destroy another living creature. People's
lives will not be supported at the expense of the lives
The progress of dynamic ideals will not be eternally
blocked. Through general, moral and intellectual advancement,
"when they shall teach no more every man his neighbor,
and every man his brother saying, Know the Lord; for
they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto
the greatest of them" (Jeremiah 32:34) shall the
latent aspiration of justice come out into the open,
when the time is ripe.
There is a dispute as to whether Rav Kook was a consistent
vegetarian, but there is no doubt that he was a leading
advocate for vegetarianism.
Rosen, Rabbi David
Rabbi David Rosen was the Chief Rabbi of Ireland from 1979 to 1985. He completed his advanced rabbinic studies in Israel where he received his rabbinic ordination. In addition to military service in the armed corps of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), he served as Chaplain in the Western Sinai. Rabbi Rosen is an Honorary President of the International Jewish Vegetarian Society in for Israel. He, his wife, and three daughters are ethical vegetarians, which they find completely compatible with Orthodox Judaism. Rabbi Rosen and his family have lived in Israel for the last twenty five years, from where he oversees AJC's international interreligious relations . He is the past chairman of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC) – the roof body representing world Jewry to other world faiths; and was formerly Director of the Israel office of the Anti-Defamation League (and the ADL's co-liaison to the Vatican); Professor of Jewish Studies at the Jerusalem Center for Near East Studies, Mount. Scopus, Jerusalem ; and Dean of the Sapir Center for Jewish Heritage and Culture.
Rabbi Rosen was a member of Israel's delegation on the bilateral commission with the Holy See which negotiated the establishment of full relations between Israel and the Vatican; he is an International President of the World Conference on Religion and Peace, the all-encompassing world inter- faith body; honorary president of the International Council of Christians and Jews; and a founder of Rabbis for Human Rights In 2005 the Pope made him a Papal Knight Commander and this year (2010) Queen Elizabeth II made him a CBE (Commander of the British Empire).
The following are
among the many powerful statements that Rabbi Rosen
has written about vegetarianism (They can all be found in Rabbis and Vegetarianism, edited by Roberta Kalechofsky
(Marblehead, Massachusetts: Micah Publications, 1995)
Aside from the fact that both the original Garden of
Eden and the Messianic vision of the future reflect
the vegetarian ideal in Judaism, it is of course such
a dietary lifestyle that is most consonant with the
goal and purpose of Torah to maximize our awareness,
appreciation, and sensitivity to the Divine Presence
in the world. It is therefore only natural for us to
affirm as did Rav Kuk (Kook), the first Ashkenazi Chief
Rabbi in Israel, that a redeemed world must perforce
be a vegetarian world.
. . . the current treatment of animals in the livestock
trade definitely renders the consumption of meat as
halachically unacceptable as the product of illegitimate
means. . .
Indeed a central precept regarding the relationship
between humans and animals in Halacha is the prohibition
against causing cruelty to animals - tsa'ar ba'alei
chayim. As mentioned, practices in the livestock trade
today constitute a flagrant violation of this prohibition.
I refer not only to the most obvious and outrageous
of these, such as the production of veal and goose liver,
but also to common practices in the livestock trade,
such as hormonal treatment and massive drug dosing.
As it is halachically prohibited to harm oneself and
as healthy, nutritious vegetarian alternatives are easily
available, meat consumption has become halachically
Today not only are we able to enjoy a healthy balanced
vegetarian diet as perhaps never before; and not only
are there in fact the above mentioned compelling halachic
reasons for not eating meat; but above all, if we strive
for that which Judaism aspires to -namely the ennoblement
of the spirit, then a vegetarian diet becomes a moral
imperative - - the authentic Jewish ethical dietary
way of life for our time and for all times.
. . . evidently the more sensitive and respectful we
are toward's God's Creation, in particular God's creatures,
the more respectful and reverential we actually are
Indeed, Judaism as a way of life, seeks to inculcate
in us a consciousness of the Divine Presence in the
World, and respect for life accordingly. The more we
care for life, the closer we are in fact to God. Accordingly,
an ethical vegetarian way of life expresses the most
sublime and noble values and aspirations of Judaism
itself, bringing us to an ideal vision for society as
a whole. Is it anything less than a "Chillul Hashem"
(desecration of God's Name) to declare veal for example,
which is produced through wanton human cruelty to a
calf to be kosher, simply because at points "Y"
and "Z" the animal was slaughtered and prepared
in accordance with halachic dictates, after the commandments
affecting human responsibility towards animal life have
been desecrated from points "A" to "X".
. . . Today's concept of Kashrut is more permeated with
crass indulgence and economic exploitation than the
ennoblement of the human spirit that our sages declare
to be its purpose. Today as never before, the cruelty
in the livestock trade renders meat eating and true
Kashrut incompatible . . .
. . . at the same time we must clearly advocate dietary
practices that are truly in consonance with the sublimest
values of the Torah, and today more than ever before
these are overwhelmingly incompatible with carnivorous
BIOGRAPHIES OF FAMOUS JEWISH VEGETARIANS
Cohen, Rabbi David (The NAZIR)
Rabbi Cohen made a major contribution to Jewish vegetarianism
by collecting and editing the Jewish vegetarian ideas
of Rabbi Kook. He was known as the "Nazir of Jerusalem"
because he adopted all the obligations of the Nazarite
as described in the Torah; he did not drink wine or
cut his hair for a specific period. He was the father
of the present chief rabbi of Haifa, Rabbi Shear Yashuv
Cohen, and of the wife of the former Ashkenazi chief
rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Shlomo Goren.
Cohen, Rabbi Sha'ar Yashuv
Rabbi Sha'ar Yashuv Cohen has been a vegetarian from
birth and is a patron of the Jewish Vegetarian Society.
He was graduated in 1947 from Rabbi Kook's Universal
Yeshiva in Jerusalem and was ordained a rabbi by the
late Chief Rabbi Herzog. From 1948 to 1953, he was chaplain
in the Israeli Defense Forces and chief chaplain of
the Israeli Air Forces (1952-53). His many positions
include dean of the Harry Fischel Institute for Research
in Jewish Law and Seminary for Rabbis and Rabbinical
Judges; former member of the City Council of Jerusalem,
deputy mayor of Jerusalem (1965-75); and Chief Rabbi
of Haifa (since 1975).
Goren Rabbi Shlomo (1917- 1994)
Rabbi Shlomo Goren was the Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of
Israel from 1972 to 1982. He was formerly the Ashkenazic
Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv-Jaffa and the Chief Rabbi of
the Israeli Defense Forces. In that capacity, he was
the first to conduct a service at the liberated Western
Wall in 1967. Shortly before that he became a strict
vegetarian after visiting a slaughterhouse in Canada
to inspect their kashrut. Rabbi Goren has written many
responsa on issues related to modem technology and conditions
of modem warfare. He had published a collection of essays
on the festivals and holy days. His comprehensive commentary
on the section Berachot of the Jerusalem Talmud won
the Israel Prize in 1961. The Rabbi's wife is a life-long
vegetarian, having been reared in the Orthodox vegetarian
home of her father, the Nazir, in Jerusalem.
Maccoby, Chaim Zundel (The Kamenitzer Maggid)
Rabbi Chaim Zundel Maccoby was born in Kamenitz, Russia.
He settled in London in 1890 and preached Torah and
vegetarianism in the streets of that city. He taught
people to have compassion for all living creatures and
how to remain healthy with little money. He was known
by many as a great and saintly preacher. He was a dedicated
vegetarian who wore cloth shoes all year long to show
his abhorrence of leather.In 1975, a Hall of Education
Library was opened at Bar Ilan University, Ramat Gan,
Israel, dedicated to the memory of the Kamenitzer Maggid.
BY CLASSICAL TORAH COMMENTATORS
The famous Jewish Torah commentator, Rashi (1040-1105),
states the following about God's first dietary law (Genesis
God did not permit Adam and his wife to kill a
creature and to eat it's flesh. Only every green
herb shall they all eat together.
The great 13th century Jewish philosopher Nachmanides
stated that this initial dietary law was because:
Living creatures possess a moving soul and a certain
spiritual superiority which in this respect make
them similar to those who possess intellect (people)
and they have the power of affecting their welfare
and their food and they flee from pain and death.
Maimonides comments on Lev. 22:28 as follows:
It is prohibited to kill an animal with
its young on the same day, in order that people should
be restrained and prevented from killing the two together
in such a manner that the young is slain in the sight
of the mother; for the pain of animals under such
circumstances is very great. There is no difference
in this case between the pain of people and the pain
of other living beings, since the love and the tenderness
of the mother for her young ones is not produced by
reasoning but by feeling, and this faculty exists
not only in people but in most living things.
Maimonides summarized the importance that Judaism places
on the preservation of health:
Since maintaining a healthy and sound body
is among the ways of G-d - for one cannot understand
or have any knowledge of the Creator if he is ill
- therefore he must avoid that which harms the body
and accustom himself to that which is helpful and
helps the body become stronger.
Solomon Efraim Lunchitz, author of K'lee Yakar:
What was the necessity for the entire procedure
of ritual slaughter? For the sake of self-discipline.
It is far more appropriate for man not to eat meat;
only if he has a strong desire for meat does the
Torah permit it, and even this only after the trouble
and inconvenience necessary to satisfy his desire.
Perhaps because of the bother and annoyance of the
whole procedure, he will be restrained from such
a strong and uncontrollable desire for meat.
Joseph Albo indicates that in the era before the flood,
people developed the mistaken belief that the reason
that they were not permitted to eat meat was that human
beings and animals are on the same moral level and therefore
that human beings are no more responsible for their
actions than are animals. Albo believed that such a
view led to moral degeneracy and ultimately the flood.
After the flood, the prohibition against eating meat
was lifted so that human beings would realize that they
were on a higher level than animals, and that they therefore
have a greater degree of responsibility. However, the
laws of kashrut later greatly limited people's right
to eat meat.
Isaak Hebenstreit was a Polish rabbi who wrote Kivrot
Hata'avah (the graves of lust) in 1929. He states that
God never wanted people to eat meat, because of the
cruelty involved; people shouldn't kill any living thing
and fill their stomachs by destroying others. He believed
that God temporarily gave permission to eat meat because
of the conditions after the flood, when all plant life
had been destroyed.
Rabbi Moses Cassuto
Apparently the Torah was in principle opposed to the
eating of meat. When Noah and his descendants were permitted
to eat meat this was a concession conditional on the
prohibition of the blood. This prohibition implied respect
for the principle of life ("for the blood is the
life") and an allusion to the fact that in reality
all meat should have been prohibited. This partial prohibition
was designed to call to mind the previously total prohibition.
Cassuto, in his commentary From Adam to Noah (p. 58)
You are permitted to use the animals and employ
them for work, have dominion over them in order
to utilize their services for your subsistence,
but must not hold their life cheap nor slaughter
them for food. Your natural diet is vegetarian...
STATEMENTS BY MODERN
RABBIS AND TORAH COMMENTATORS:
Riskin, Rabbi Shlomo
The dietary laws are intended to teach us compassion
and lead us gently to vegetarianism.
Bleich, Rabbi J. David
A critic of vegetarian activism, Rabbi J. David Bleich,
a noted modern Torah scholar and professor at Yeshiva
University, concedes, "the implication is that
meat may be consumed when there is desire and appetite
for it as food, but may be eschewed when there is not
desire and, a fortiori, when it is found to be repugnant."
In short, again according to Rabbi Bleich, "Jewish
tradition does not command carnivorous behavior..."
(These quotations are from "Vegetarianism and Judaism",
Tradition, Vol. 23, No. 1, (Summer, 1987).
Accordingly, the laws of kashrut come to teach us
that a Jew's first preference should be a vegetarian
meal. If however one cannot control a craving for
meat, it should be kosher meat, which would serve
as a reminder that the animal being eaten is a creature
of God, that the death of such a creature cannot be
taken lightly, that hunting for sport is forbidden,
that we cannot treat any living thing callously, and
that we are responsible for what happens to other
beings (human or animal) even if we did not personally
come into contact with them.
Rabbi Aryeh Carmell, a modern Torah scholar living
in Jerusalem, states:
It seems doubtful from all that has been said whether
the Torah would sanction 'factory farming', which treats
animals as machines, with apparent insensitivity to
their natural needs and instincts. This is a matter
for decision by halachic authorities.
Rabbi Alfred Cohen is editor of the Journal of Halacha
and Contemporary Society. While he is not a vegetarian
nor an advocate of vegetarianism, he wrote a very comprehensive
article on the subject - "Vegetarianism From a
Jewish Perspective", Journal of Halacha and Contemporary
Society, Vol. 1, No. II, Fall, 1981. The following selections
are all from that article:
Thus, there seems to be little halachic controversy
concerning vegetarianism and the Sabbath. If a person
is more comfortable not eating meat, there would
be no obligation for him to do so on the Sabbath.
Following the many precedents prescribed in the Code
of Jewish Law, we would have little difficulty in arriving
at the conclusion that, if indeed eating meat is injurious
to one's health, it is not only permissible, but possibly
even mandatory that we reduce our ingestion of an unhealthful
product to the minimal level.
If a person tends toward vegetarianism because he sees
it as a lifestyle consonant with the way that the Al-mighty
really wanted the world to be, there can be no doubt
that he has a valid point of view.
We may therefore conclude that when a vegetarian is
loath to eat meat because he does not want to take an
animal's life merely for his own pleasure, that person
is acting well within the spirit of Jewish belief and
philosophy. He is not denigrating a Torah value, for
the Torah does not establish the eating of meat as a
desirable activity, only as something that is not forbidden
A popular rabbinic preacher of the 18th century, known
as the Maggid of Dubno, once explained this concept
with the help of the following parable:
A wealthy man gave a party at his home, and invited
20 guests to it. The proper number of settings,
all in sterling silver, were set out. Yet, as the
last guest came to the table, there appeared to
be no setting for him. The host was extremely upset.
Rising, he said to the assembled: "I know that
twenty settings were placed on this table to provide
for all the invited guests. If one of you has none,
the only explanation is that someone has taken more
than his share!" And the Maggid of Dubno concluded:
"Our host, the Almighty, has prepared enough
for each one of His guests. If one person is not
able to manage, someone must have taken two shares.
Every human being has been provided for on this
earth. Therefore, 'you should open wide your hand
to him.' Why should you have two portions and he
none?" (Ethics From Sinai, Irving Bunim, Vol.
1, p. 59)
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