1. Tisha B'Av (the 9th day of the month of Av) commemorates
the destruction of the first and second Temples in
Jerusalem. Today the entire world is threatened by
destruction by a variety of environmental threats,
and modern intensive livestock agriculture is a major
factor behind most of these environmental threats.
2. In Megilat Eichah (lamentations), which is read
on Tisha B'Av, the prophet Jeremiah warned the Jewish
people of the need to change their unjust ways in
order to avoid the destruction of Jerusalem. In 1992,
over 1,700 of the world's most outstanding scientists
signed a "World Scientists Warning to Humanity", stating
that 'human beings and the natural world are on a
collision course", and that "a great change in our
stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required,
if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global
home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated."
Vegetarians join in this warning, and add that a switch
toward vegetarianism is an essential part of the "great
change" that is required.
3. On Tisha B'Av, Jews fast to express their sadness
over the destruction of the two Temples and to awaken
us to how hungry people feel. So severe are the effects
of starvation that the Book of Lamentations (4:10)
states that "More fortunate were the victims of the
sword than the victims of famine, for they pine away
stricken, lacking the fruits of the field.". Yet,
today over 70% of the grain grown in the United States
is fed to animals destined for slaughter, as 15 to
20 million people worldwide die annually because of
hunger and its effects.
4. During the period from Rosh Chodesh Av to Tisha
B'Av known as the "nine days", Jews do not eat meat
or fowl, except on the Sabbath day. After the destruction
of the second Temple, some sages argued that Jews
should no longer eat meat, as a sign of sorrow. However,
it was felt that the Jewish people would not be able
to obey such a decree. It was also believed then that
meat was necessary for proper nutrition. Hence, a
compromise was reached in terms of Jews not eating
meat in the period immediately before Tisha B'Av.
5. The word "eichah" (alas! what has befallen us?)
that begins Lamentations comes from the same root
as the word "ayekah" ("Where art thou"), the question
addressed to Adam and Eve after they had eaten the
forbidden fruit. Vegetarians are also asking "where
art thou". What are we doing re widespread world hunger,
the destruction of the environment, the brutal treatment
of farm animals, etc.? Perhaps failure to properly
hear and respond to "ayekah" in terms of stating "hineni"
- here I am, ready to carry out God's commandments
so that the world will be better - causes us to eventually
have to say and hear "eichah".
6. The book of Lamentations was meant to wake up
the Jewish people to the need to return to God's ways.
Since vegetarianism is God's initial diet (Genesis
1:2(), vegetarians are also hoping to respectfully
alert Jews to the need to return to God's preferences
with regard to diet.
7. Rabbi Yochanan stated "Jerusalem was destroyed
because the residents limited their decisions to the
letter of the law of the Torah, and did not perform
actions that would have gone beyond the letter of
the law" ('lifnim meshurat hadin') (Baba Metzia 30b).
In the same way, perhaps, many people state that they
eat meat because Jewish law does not forbid it. Vegetarians
believe that in this time of factory farming, environmental
threats, widespread hunger, and epidemics of chronic
degenerative diseases, Jews should go beyond the strict
letter of the law and move toward vegetarianism.
8. Tisha B'Av has been a time of tears and tragedy
throughout Jewish history. Animal-based diets are
also related to much sorrow today due to its links
to hunger and environmental destruction.
9. Tisha B'Av is not only a day commemorating destruction.
It is also the day when, according to Jewish tradition,
the Messiah will be born, and the days of mourning
will be turned into joyous festivals. According to
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, the Messianic period
will be vegetarian. He based this view on the prophecy
of Isaiah, "The wolf will dwell with the lamb . .
.the lion will eat straw like the ox . . . and no
one shall hurt nor destroy in all of God's holy mountain"
(Isaiah 11: 6-9).
10. The readings on Tisha B'Av help to sensitize
us so that we will hear the cries of lament and change
our ways. Vegetarians are also urging people to change
their diets, to reduce the cries of lament of hungry
people and animals.
11. The first Temple was destroyed because the people
committed three cardinal sins: idolatry, immorality,
and bloodshed (Yoma 9b). Animal-based diets today
have links to these sins; (1) we have made our stomachs
an idol and will do almost anything to appease it;
(2) a diet that wastes so much grain and other agricultural
resources while millions of people lack adequate food
can be considered immoral; (3) there is much bloodshed
from the 9 billion farm animals that are slaughtered
annually in the United States alone to satisfy people's
appetites for meat.
12. After the destruction of the second Temple,
the Talmudic sages indicated that Jews need not eat
meat in order to rejoice during festivals. They stated
that the drinking of wine would suffice, (Pesachim
13. More than a day of lamentation, Tisha B'Av is
also a day of learning - learning essential lessons
about our terrible past errors so that they will not
be repeated. Vegetarians believe that if people learned
the incredible realities related to the production
and consumption of meat, many would change their diets
so as to avoid continuing current errors.
14. After the destruction of Jerusalem, while sighing
and searching frantically for food, the people proclaimed,
"Look God and behold what happened to me because I
used to be gluttonous!" (Lamentations 1:11). Today
too, gluttony (excessive consumption of animal and
other products) is leading to widespread hunger and
15. The Book of Lamentations ends with "Chadesh
yamenu k'kedem - make new our days as of old." We
can help this personal renewal occur by returning
to the original human diet, the vegetarian diet of
Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden), a diet that can help
us feel renewed because of the many health benefits
of plant-based diets.
16. On Tisha B'Av, Jews do not wear leather shoes;
one reason is that while commemorating events that
involved so much death, we do not want to wear something
manufactured from animal skin, a product derived from
the deaths of another.
17. The Book of Lamentations has many very graphic
descriptions of hunger. One is: "The tongue of the
suckling child cleaves to its palate for thirst. Young
children beg for bread, but no one extends it to them."
Today, major shortages of food in the near future
are being predicted by the Worldwatch Institute, a
Washington DC think tank, and others, and one major
reason is that people in China, Japan, India, and
other countries where affluence has been increasing
are moving to animal-centered diets that require vast
amounts of grain.
In view of these and other connections, I hope that
Jews will enhance their commemoration of the solemn
but spiritually meaningful holiday of Tisha B'Av by
making it a time to begin striving even harder to live
up to Judaism's highest moral values and teachings,
and one important way to do this is by moving toward
a vegetarian diet.