Vision of Eden:
Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish
Law and Mysticism
Sears. Spring Valley, NY: Orot, 2003
Reviewed by Richard
H. Schwartz, Ph.D.
Currently most Jews eat meat and other
animal products and relatively few Jews seem concerned about the cruel mistreatment
of animals on factory farms and in other areas. However, David Sears landmark
book, with its many examples of Jewish teachings about compassion for animals,
has the potential to change all of this.
The Vision of Eden
is a compilation of translations from various sources, ranging from the classic
texts of Judaism to contemporary rulings in Jewish law, much of which has never
before been translated to English. It also includes a number of essays by Sears
that serve as prefaces to the translations and provide general overviews that
discuss and analyze the source material. It is a companion volume to the author's
book, "Compassion for Humanity in the Jewish Tradition: A Source Book,"
which was published by Jason Aronson, Inc., in 1998.
book has great potential to start a respectful dialogue on vegetarianism, the
proper treatment of animals, and related issues in the Jewish community. Here
are some reasons:
1. Rabbi Sears has the background, wisdom,
sensitivity, compassion, and commitment to effectively to effectively raise the
consciousness of the Jewish community concerning Jewish teachings on animals.
As a Breslav Chassid, his commitment to Jewish law and tradition cannot be challenged.
No one can claim that he is just one more animal welfare advocate who doesn't
care about Judaism and is not concerned about human problems.
The author's knowledge of Hebrew and Kabbalistic, Chassidic, and other Jewish
sources has enabled him to find teachings that are not commonly known. His book
will enable religious communities to discover the rich treasures of material about
compassion to animals that will challenge them to live up to the highest ideals
3. His book goes beyond those of other Jewish
scholars who have written about Jewish teachings on animals because he combines
his extensive knowledge of Judaism with an awareness of how far realities related
to how society treats animals differ from the demands of Jewish teachings, and
he is committed to making others aware of the need to end these discrepancies.
4. Because of its scholarly merits and firm grounding in Torah
and rabbinic tradition, The Vision of Eden will be a respectful but powerful message
to the Jewish community that it will not be able to easily ignore. Because of
the authenticity and authority of his sources, no intellectually honest person
who reads his book would be able to say, "Animals, animals -- why don't you
worry about people first?" While not a polemic (in working for completeness
and objectivity, Sears discusses some passages that favor meat-eating), his book
shows that the vast majority of Jews, including those who take Jewish law se riously,
are negligent with regard to important Torah teachings related to animals. Many
in the Jewish community will be interested in the book because of the uniqueness
of a Chassid writing about Jewish teachings on animal welfare. Hence, it has the
potential to raise the consciousness of the Jewish community with regard to animal-based
diets, wearing fur coats, animal experimentation and other animal-related issues,
and to get these issues onto the agenda of the Jewish community.
David Sears' book also has great potential to eventually influence other religious
communities and the general public.
As Rabbi Shear-Yashuv
Cohen, Chief Rabbi of Haifa, stated in an approbation in the book, "Every
reader of this unique and holy book will benefit extensively from it. Indeed,
this book, The Vision of Eden, makes one feel that he has been handed a key to
open the closed gates of the Garden of Eden that were shut to us ever since Adam
It is essential that rabbis, Jewish teachers,
and other influential members of the Jewish community and other communities become
aware of the teachings in Sears' book and put them into practice. The revitalization
of Judaism and the sustainability of our imperiled planet depend on it.
to The Schwartz Collection on Judaism,
Vegetarianism, and Animal Rights -