According to the great twentieth century Jewishphilosopher Martin Buber, all real living with others relates toinvolvement with people in what he calls an "I - thou" dialogue,where meaningful communication takes place. This requires that bothparticipants listen carefully and respond. Herein lies an importantlesson for Jewish vegetarians.
We have an important message for the Jewish community andthe general community. We believe that vegetarianism is the dietmost consistent with Jewish values and teachings. We recognize thatlivestock agriculture and flesh-centered diets violate basic Jewishmandates to show compassion to animals, guard our health, share withhungry people, preserve the environment, conserve resources andpursue peace. We understand that the current approach to raisinganimals is arguably the greatest threat to humanity today, since itis a major contributor to air and water pollution, depletion anderosion of soil, the destruction of tropical rain forests, globalwarming and other ecological threats.
Hence, it is essential that we bring our message to theJewish community and beyond. But we do not seem to be having muchsuccess so far. Why is this? Perhaps we have to work on both sidesof the "I -thou" dialogue. With regard to the "I" part, we have to bemore creative and aggressive (while always being courteous,respectful, and patient) in getting our message across.
We have to use the media better (letters to the editor,calls to radio talk shows, use of email and the internet, etc.) Wehave to reach out to community leaders such as rabbis, schoolprincipals, other educators, etc. When we are hesitant to speak out,we should recall that (1) truth, morality, and basic Jewish valuesare on our side, (2) a shift toward vegetarian is essential forglobal survival, and (3) Judaism stresses that we be involved incommunity affairs and that we protest against injustice and violence.
We should also consider that we are a "thou" to theperson to whom we are talking. We should listen carefully to his orher arguments and respond appropriately. We should be familiar withthe reasons people give for not becoming vegetarians and be readywith cogent responses. (My book, Judaism and Vegetarianism, hasanswers to some of the most common questions addressed to Jewishvegetarians. Please send me further questions that you would likeaddressed when the book is revised and updated.)
Since the position of flesh-eaters is extremely weak,they'll often revert to rationalizations or side-issues. We shouldtry not to be distracted. Does it really matter whether Hitler was avegetarian or not, for example? Since we have free willand the ability to choose, the essential question that each personmust face is: Will our meals be consistent with Jewish values andthereby do a minimum of harm to God's defenseless creatures and theearth's ecosystems and resources, or the opposite?
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