In each issue Vegetarians in
Paradise presents the 24 Carrot Award to an
outstanding person or organization that endeavors
to practice or promote education, natural
health, wholesome nutrition, and ecology techniques
for the mutual benefit of humans, animals,
and the earth.
Vegetarians in Paradise proudly
presents its 24 Carrot Award to Professor
Richard Schwartz for his tireless efforts
to promote vegetarianism through his writing,
speaking, and organizational work.
Dr. Schwartz is a Professor
Emeritus of Mathematics at the College of
Staten Island. He is the author of three books:
Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism
and Global Survival, and Mathematics
and Global Survival.
He frequently contributes articles
and speaks to groups on issues related to
vegetarianism, nutrition, health, ecology,
and the treatment of animals. His writings
on Judaism and vegetarianism can be found
What follows are the questions
asked by Vegetarians in Paradise (VIP) and
the answers by Richard Schwartz (RS).
VIP: What influenced you to
become a vegetarian?
RS: Until about 1977, I was
a "meat and potatoes" person. My
mother was sure to prepare my favorite dish,
pot roast, whenever I came to visit with my
wife and children. It was a family tradition
that I would be served a turkey drumstick
every Thanksgiving. Yet, I have not only become
a vegetarian and a near-vegan, but I now devote
a major part of my time to writing, speaking,
and teaching about the benefits of veganism.
VIP: What caused this drastic
RS: While reviewing material
related to world hunger for my course, "Mathematics
and Global Survival," at the College
of Staten Island, I became aware of the tremendous
waste of grain associated with the production
of beef. It takes as much as sixteen pounds
of grain to produce one pound of edible beef
in a feedlot. In spite of my own eating habits,
I often led class discussions on the possibility
of reducing meat consumption as a way of helping
hungry people. After several semesters of
this, I took my own advice and gave up eating
red meat, while continuing to eat chicken
VIP: What encouraged you to
take the final step toward vegetarianism?
RS: I began to read about the
many health benefits of vegetarianism and
about the horrible conditions for animals
raised on factory farms. I was increasingly
attracted to vegetarianism, and on January
1, 1978, I decided to join the International
Jewish Vegetarian Society. I had two choices
for membership: (1) practicing vegetarian,
one who refrains from eating any flesh; (2)
non-vegetarian, one who is in sympathy with
the movement, while not yet a vegetarian.
I decided to become a full practicing vegetarian,
and since then have avoided eating any meat,
fowl, or fish. Since that decision, I have
learned much about vegetarianism's connections
to health, nutrition, ecology, resource usage,
hunger, and the treatment of animals.
VIP: What was the catalyst that
led to the writing of your book Judaism and
RS: After becoming a vegetarian,
I started investigating connections between
vegetarianism and Judaism. I learned that
the first Biblical dietary law, Genesis 1:29,
was strictly vegetarian, and my research convinced
me that important Jewish mandates to preserve
our health, be kind to animals, protect the
environment, conserve resources, share with
hungry people, and seek and pursue peace all
pointed to vegetarianism as the best diet
for Jews and everyone else today. To get this
message to a wider audience, I wrote Judaism
and Vegetarianism published in1982. A second
expanded edition was published in 1988, and
a third thoroughly revised and expanded edition
came out in 2001.
VIP: How did you make the connection
between vegetarianism and Judaism?
RS: All the reasons for being
a vegetarian can be based on very important
Jewish values. These include taking care of
our health, showing compassion for animals,
working as coworkers with God in protecting
the earth, conserving resources, sharing with
hungry people, and even seeking and pursuing
VIP: You mention compassion
for animals. How does Judaism deal with this
RS: Judaism has very powerful
teachings about compassion for animals. The
greatest Jewish teacher, Moses, was selected
for leadership according to the Jewish tradition
because as a shepherd he showed great compassion
for his animals. The same thing is true of
King David. And Rebecca was deemed suitable
to be a wife for Isaac, the son of the first
Jew, Abraham, because she rushed to provide
water to ten thirsty camels. There are many
laws in the Torah that command proper treatment
of animals, and this is so important that
it is part of the Ten Commandments that state
that animals as well as people are to rest
on the Sabbath day. And, of course, these
powerful teachings are a far cry from the
realities of modern factory farming.
VIP: How does preservation of
our own personal health relate to Judaism?
RS: Taking care of one's health
and protecting one's life are very important
Jewish mandates. To save a human life is so
important that it takes precedence over many
other commandments, including those to observe
the Sabbath, eat Kosher foods, and even to
fast on our most sacred day, Yom Kippur. So,
if it's a question of possibly saving a human
life, then one must -- not may, MUST -- violate
laws of the Sabbath, for instance, using a
telephone or driving to a hospital.
VIP: What does Judaism teach
about environment, conservation, and world
RS: There are very strong Jewish
teachings about the preservation of the environment,
and conserving resources. We are forbidden
to waste or unnecessarily destroy anything
of value. And the realities of modern livestock
agriculture are completely contrary to these
basic Jewish values.
Just one more example: the Torah
teaches that we must share with hungry people.
But, to raise cattle today as much as 70%
of the grain produced in the U.S. is fed to
animals destined for slaughter, as an estimated
20 million people die from hunger and its
effects every year.
So, a shift to a nutritious
plant-based diet would be far more consistent
with basic Jewish values.
VIP: What conflicts exist between
vegetarianism and Judaism?
RS: There are some common arguments
that are supposed to show a conflict between
Judaism and vegetarianism. I would like to
respond to those arguments.
Argument #1. Jews must eat meat
on Shabbos (Sabbath) and Yom Tov (holidays).
According to the Talmud, since
the destruction of the Temple, Jews are not
required to eat meat in order to rejoice in
sacred occasions. Recent scholarly articles
by Rabbi Alfred Cohen and Rabbi J. David Bleich,
both non-vegetarians, conclude that Jews do
not have to eat meat in order to celebrate
the Sabbath and Jewish festivals. The fact
that several chief rabbis, including Shlomo
Goren, late Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel,
and Sha'ar-Yashuv Cohen, Ashkenazic Chief
Rabbi of Haifa, have been or are strict vegetarians
reinforces this argument.
Argument #2. The Torah mandates
that we eat korban Pesach (sacrifice on Passover)
and other korbanos (sacrifices).
The great Jewish philosopher
Maimonides believed that God permitted sacrifices
as a concession to the common mode of worship
in Biblical times. It was felt that had Moses
not instituted the sacrifices, his mission
would have failed and perhaps Judaism would
have disappeared. The Jewish philosopher Abarbanel
reinforced Maimonides' position by citing
a midrash (rabbinical commentaries on the
Scriptures) that indicated that the Israelites
had become accustomed to sacrifices in Egypt.
G-d tolerated the sacrifices but commanded
that they be offered only in one central sanctuary
in order to wean the Jews from idolatrous
Without the Temple, sacrifices
are not required today. And, Rav Kook felt,
based on the prophecy of Isaiah, that there
will only be sacrifices involving vegetarian
foods during the Messianic Period. There is
a midrash that states: "In the Messianic
era, all sacrifices will cease, except thanksgiving
offerings which could be non-animal, which
will continue forever."
Argument #3: Inconsistent with
Judaism, vegetarianism elevates animals to
a level equal to or greater than that of people.
Concern for animals and the
refusal to treat them cruelly and slaughter
them for food that is not necessary for proper
nutrition and, indeed, is harmful to human
health, does not mean that vegetarians regard
animals as being equal to people. There are
many reasons for being vegetarian other than
animal rights, including concern for human
health, ecological threats, and the plight
of hungry people.
Because humans are capable of
imagination, rationality, empathy, compassion,
and moral choice, we should strive to end
the unbelievably cruel conditions under which
farm animals are currently raised. This is
an issue of sensitivity, not an assertion
of egalitarianism with the animal kingdom.
Argument #4. Vegetarianism places
greater priority on animal rights than on
the many problems related to human welfare.
Vegetarian diets are not beneficial
only to animals. They also improve human health,
help hungry people through better sharing
of food and other resources, put less stress
on endangered ecosystems, conserve valuable
resources, and reduce the potential for war
and violence. In view of the many global threats
related to today's livestock agriculture,
working to promote vegetarianism may be the
most important action that one can take for
Argument #5. By putting vegetarian
values ahead of Jewish teachings, vegetarians
are, in effect, creating a new religion, with
values contrary to Jewish teachings.
Jewish vegetarians are not placing
so-called vegetarian values above Torah principles.
They are saying that basic Jewish teachings
that mandate that we treat animals with compassion,
guard our health, share with hungry people,
protect the environment, conserve resources,
and seek peace, point to vegetarianism as
the ideal G-d directed diet for Jews today.
Rather than rejecting Torah values, Jewish
vegetarians are challenging the Jewish community
to apply Judaism's glorious teachings.
Argument #6. Jews have historically
had many problems with some animal rights
groups which have often opposed kosher shechita
(slaughter) and advocated its abolition.
Jews should consider switching
to vegetarianism not because of the views
of animal rights groups, whether they are
hostile to Judaism or not, but because it
is the diet most consistent with Jewish values.
It is the Torah, not animal rights groups,
that indicate how far the treatment of animals
is from fundamental Jewish values.
VIP: Your book Judaism and Vegetarianism
is now in its third edition? How has the book
changed over the years?
RS: The most recent edition
has many new developments related to health
and to ecological threats linked to animal-centered
diets and major changes in the Jewish vegetarian
world. The bibliography has been updated,
expanded, and reorganized by subjects, and
the Question and Answer section has been expanded.
In many cases, updated sources and more scholarly
sources have been cited.
VIP: How much of your time is
devoted to writing and speaking about vegetarianism?
RS: I have recently been spending
more and more time trying to make others aware
of the importance of switching toward vegetarian
diets. It is really the main focus of my non-family-related
life today. Among my activities to promote
vegetarianism are writing letters and articles,
giving talks and classes, sending out updates
to hundreds of vegetarian activists via e-mail
as part of the newsletter of the Jewish Vegetarians
of North America, and interacting and sharing
information daily with other vegetarians.
VIP: You also are quite active
on the internet.
RS: I currently have over 100
articles and book reviews related to vegetarianism
at http://www.jewishveg.com/schwartz. Among
these are articles connecting vegetarianism
to all the Jewish holidays that I send to
rabbis and the Jewish media prior to each
holiday. The web site also includes the complete
course on "Judaism and Vegetarianism"
that I taught to about 700 people several
years ago. Recently, I have been active in
helping organize a new group, tentatively
called Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians
VIP: Could you tell us about
your education and teaching career?
RS: I have a Masters and Ph.D.
in Civil Engineering, but most of my recent
teaching has been in mathematics. In 1975,
I created and began teaching a course, "Mathematics
and the Environment" at the College of
VIP: We understand that in one
class you were able to tie mathematics to
vegetarianism. Could you explain how you accomplished
RS: The course uses basic mathematical
concepts and problems to explore current critical
issues, such as pollution, resource scarcities,
hunger, energy, population growth and, increasingly
nutrition and health. I use a wide variety
of graphs to show how many degenerative diseases
are linked to animal-based diets.
VIP: Has your influence resulted
in any of your students becoming vegetarian?
RS: Some, but far too few. It
has been said that it is harder to change
a person's diet than to change his or her
religion. But, many seeds have been planted,
and one never knows what the end result may
be in each case.
VIP: How has your decision to
become vegetarian affected your family?
RS: While my family was initially
skeptical about my change of diet, they have
become increasingly understanding and supportive.
In 1993, my younger daughter was married in
Jerusalem at a completely vegetarian wedding.
My wife and my younger daughter are vegetarians
and my other two children are "partial"
VIP: What personal benefits
have you derived from vegetarianism?
RS: Generally my health has
been good and I have lost weight and kept
it off since becoming a vegetarian, especially
after giving up dairy products and eggs in
I have always felt good about
my decision to become a vegetarian. Putting
principles and values into practice is far
more valuable and rewarding than hours of
preaching. When people ask me why I gave up
meat, I welcome the opportunity to explain
the many benefits of vegetarianism.
VIP: We understand that you
have presented resolutions on vegetarianism
to groups of rabbis. What are the highlights
of these resolutions, and how have they been
RS: The Resolution on Judaism
and Vegetarianism was unanimously passed at
a Jewish vegetarian conference in July, 1993.
Based on this resolution, the Central Conference
of American Rabbis brought up a modified version
that they are in the process of considering
for possible adoption. The complete text of
the resolution is available at http://schwartz.enviroweb.org/resolution_diet.html.
VIP: What individuals have had
the most influence on you?
RS: Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
has greatly influenced my thinking about applying
Jewish values to today's critical issues.
He was a great philosopher and brilliant writer,
and he also was an early worker for Soviet
Jewry, a strong opponent of the Vietnam War,
and a marcher with Martin Luther King for
Reverend King and Gandhi influenced
my thinking about non-violence and protests.
Ralph Nader influenced my thinking
about corporations, consumerism, and environmentalism.
The writings of John Steinbeck,
especially The Grapes of Wrath, and the movie
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington influenced my
thinking about injustice and corruption and
the importance of protesting.
VIP: What activities do you
enjoy in your leisure time?
RS: I enjoy reading, staying
up with current events, walking, playing racquet
ball, and visiting my children and grandchildren
in Israel. I wish I had more time for these
VIP: What vegetarian organizations
do you actively support?
RS: The Jewish Vegetarians of
North America, the International Jewish Vegetarian
Society, and the Society of Ethical and Religious
Vegetarians. I am a Coordinator of this new
group that I helped found and organize. Also
EarthSave, and the Vegetarian Resource Group.
VIP: What personal accomplishments
give you the most pride and joy?
1. The publication of my books,
especially Judaism and Vegetarianism.
2. Helping promote vegetarianism through talks,
classes, articles, letters to editors, and
3. Learning that people have become vegetarians
or vegans because of my writings, classes,
VIP: What do you predict for
the future of Judaism and vegetarianism?
RS: Well, it has been said that
nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time
has come. And I believe that the time has
come for the idea that vegetarianism is essential
for people, for animals, for the environment,
for our natural resources. We have to help
make people aware that a shift to plant-based
diets is one of the most important things,
if not the most important thing, that we can
do for people, for animals, and for our imperiled
planet. Vegetarianism is not only a personal
choice, but also a societal imperative, an
essential component in the solution of many
national and global problems.
Recently, I have noted some
signs of increased interest in vegetarianism,
and many people are concerned about dietary
connections to health, nutrition, animal rights,
and ecology. Yet, McDonald's is rapidly expanding
in many countries, including Israel, China,
and Russia. So there is much that still needs
to be done. My hope is to be able to keep
learning, writing, and speaking about vegetarianism,
to help bring closer that day when, in the
words of the motto of the international Jewish
Vegetarian Society, " . . . no one shall
hurt nor destroy in all of God's holy mountain."
That's from Isaiah 11: 9.
Those who gain from the status
quo unfortunately have the power of money,
publicity, and the establishment on their
side, but we have truth, justice, morality,
compassion, and, I hope, fervor and dedication
on our side. And the case for vegetarianism
based on Jewish values is so strong that it
must eventually prevail. We shall overcome!
VIP: What essential messages
do you wish to convey:
RS: My essential message is
that the world is threatened today as perhaps
never before, that too few people recognize
the threats, that a prime reason for current
problems is that the values and actions of
the world are contrary to basic Jewish values.
Therefore, Jews must be actively involved
in fulfilling our historic roles: to be a
light unto the nations, to be God's witnesses,
and to be co-workers with God in applying
Jewish values in working for tikkun olam,
the repair and healing of the world. A shift
toward vegetarian diets is an essential part
of our response.