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Vegetarianism
Vegetarianism
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10 reasons why Jews should not be vegetarians -- and why they're all wrong

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By Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D./Jewsweek.com
Jewsweek.com | Recently there has been increasing interest in vegetarianism,
especially due to the widespread media coverage of foot and mouth disease and
mad cow disease. What are Jewish teachings related to vegetarianism? Below
are ten reasons why Jews might resist becoming vegetarians, followed by brief
counter-arguments.

1. Jews must eat meat on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

Response: According to the Talmud (Tractate Pesachim 109a), since the
destruction of the Temple, Jews are not required to eat meat in order to
rejoice on sacred occasions. Scholarly articles by non-vegetarian rabbis
Alfred Cohen and J. David Bleich in prominent Orthodox Jewish publications
discuss various halachic opinions, and conclude that Jews do not have to eat
meat in order to celebrate the Sabbath and Jewish festivals. Several chief
rabbis, including Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the late Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of
Israel, and Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen, Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Haifa, have
been or are strict vegetarians.

2. Inconsistent with Judaism, vegetarianism elevates animals to a level equal
to or greater than that of people.

Response: Showing compassion for animals and choosing not to slaughter them
for food does not mean that vegetarians regard animals as being equal to
people. Moreover, there are many reasons for being vegetarian other than
animal rights. Vegetarian diets 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 therefore reduce the
potential for war and violence. In view of the many global threats related to
today's animal-based agriculture, working to promote vegetarianism may be the
most important action that one can take for global survival.
Because humans are capable of imagination, rationality, empathy, compassion,
and moral choice, we should strive to end the often-cruel conditions under
which farm animals are currently raised. This is an issue of basic moral
sensitivity, not an assertion of egalitarianism with the animal kingdom.

3. By putting vegetarian values ahead of Jewish teachings, vegetarians are,
in effect, creating a new religion, with values contrary to Jewish teachings.

Response: Jewish vegetarians do not place so-called vegetarian values above
Torah principles. Rather, they are saying that Jewish values mandate that we
treat animals with compassion, guard our health, share with hungry people,
protect the environment, conserve resources, and seek peace. Hence,
vegetarianism as the ideal diet for Jews today, especially in view of the
many problems related to modern methods of raising animals on "factory
farms." Jewish vegetarians are challenging our community to apply Torah
values to our diets in a meaningful way. They are respectfully challenging
their fellow Jews to live up to Judaism's splendid teachings.

4. The Torah mandates that we eat the Paschal lamb and other sacrificial
offerings.

Response: 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. Don Isaac Abarbanel,
a 15th century Jewish philosopher, reinforced Maimonides' position, citing a
midrash indicating that the Israelites had become accustomed to sacrifices in
Egypt; thus, God tolerated the sacrifices, but commanded that they be offered
only in one central sanctuary in order to wean the Jews from idolatrous
practices. The Radak, a 13th century Biblical commentator, also subscribed to
this view.
Without the Temple, sacrifices are not required today. Rabbi Abraham Yitzchak
Kook felt that, based on the prophecy of Isaiah, there will be only
sacrifices involving vegetarian foods during the Messianic Period. Even if
sacrifices will be restored at that time, as many other sages believed, this
should not prevent people today from adopting a diet that has so many
personal and societal benefits.

5. People were given dominion over animals. God put them here for our use.

Response: Dominion does not mean that we have the right to conquer and
needlessly exploit animals. God gave humankind dominion over animals (Genesis
1:26). However, dominion is generally interpreted as guardianship or
stewardship -- being co-workers with God in taking care of and improving the
world.
“… Jews should consider switching to vegetarianism not because of the views
of animal rights groups, whether they are hostile to Judaism or not. They
should do so because this is the diet most consistent with Jewish values ...”


The Talmud interprets "dominion" as the privilege of using animals for labor.
(Tractate Sanhedrin 59b). It is highly doubtful that this concept permits
breeding animals and treating them as machines designed solely to meet our
needs.
Rav Kook stated that dominion does not imply the rule of a haughty despot who
tyrannically governs for his own selfish ends and with a stubborn heart. He
rejected the idea that "such a morally repulsive form of servitude could be
forever sealed in the world of God, whose 'tender mercies are over all His
work' (Psalms 145:9)."

6. If Jews do not eat meat, they will be deprived of the opportunity to do
many commandments.

Response: There are other cases where Torah laws regulate things that God
would prefer that people not do at all. For example, God wishes people to
live at peace, but he provides commandments related to war, knowing that
human beings quarrel and seek victories over others. Similarly, the Torah
laws that restrict taking beautiful female captives in wartime are a
concession to human weakness. Indeed, the Sages go to great lengths to deter
people from taking advantage of such dispensations.
As indicated before, by not eating meat, Jews are acting consistently with
many commandments, such as showing compassion to animals, preserving health,
not wasting, feeding the hungry, and preserving the earth. In addition, by
abstaining from meat, a Jew reduces the chance of accidentally violating
several prohibitions of the Torah, such as mixing meat and milk, eating
non-kosher animals, and eating forbidden fats or blood.

7. Isn't it a sin not to take advantage of the pleasurable things that God
has put on the earth? Since He put animals on the earth, and it is
pleasurable to eat them, is it not a sin to refrain from eating meat?

Response: How can eating meat be pleasurable to a religious person when he or
she knows that as a result health is endangered, grain is wasted, and animals
are being cruelly treated? There are many other ways to gain pleasure without
doing harm to living creatures. Vegetarians abstain from eating meat because
it is injurious to health, because their soul rebels against eating a living
creature, and/or because they wish to have a diet that minimizes threats to
the environment, and that best shares resources with hungry people.
There are many other cases in Judaism where actions that people may consider
pleasurable are forbidden or discouraged, such as the use of tobacco,
drinking liquor to excess, sexual relations out of wedlock, and hunting.
Also, many Jewish spiritual giants such as Rabbi Yosef Karo, author of the
Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), limited their consumption of meat for
ascetic reasons.

8. A movement by Jews toward vegetarianism would lead to less emphasis on
kashruth (dietary laws) and eventually a disregard of these laws.
Response: Quite the contrary. In many ways, becoming a vegetarian makes it
easier and less expensive to observe the laws of kashruth. This might attract
many new adherents to keeping kosher, and eventually to other important
Jewish values. As a vegetarian, one need not be concerned with mixing dairy
products with (meat products), waiting 3 or 6 hours after eating meat before
being allowed to eat dairy products, storing four complete sets of dishes
(two for regular use and two for Passover use), extra silverware, pots, and
pans, etc., and many other considerations incumbent upon the non-vegetarian
who wishes to observe kashruth strictly. While it is easier for Jewish
vegetarians to obey kashruth laws, they must still check vegetables for bugs
and carefully check for hashgachot (rabbinic endorsements) on products they
use.

9. I enjoy eating meat. Why should I give it up?

Response: If one is solely motivated by what will bring pleasure, perhaps no
answer to this question would be acceptable. But Judaism wishes us to be
motivated by far more: doing commanments, performing good deeds and acts of
charity, sanctifying ourselves in the realm of the permissible, helping to
feed the hungry, pursuing justice and peace, and so on. Anyone who takes such
Jewish values seriously should consider vegetarianism.
Even if one is primarily motivated by considerations of pleasure and
convenience, the negative health effects of animal-centered diets should be
taken into account. One cannot enjoy life when one is not in good health.

10. Jews have historically had many problems with some animal rights groups
that have opposed kosher slaughtering and advocated its abolishment.

Response: Jews should consider switching to vegetarianism not because of the
views of animal rights groups, whether they are hostile to Judaism or not.
They should do so because this is the diet most consistent with Jewish
values. It is the Torah, not animal rights ideology, which indicates how far
the widespread mistreatment of animals is from fundamental Jewish values. The
powerful Jewish teachings on proper treatment of animals was eloquently
summarized by Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch: "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."
It is essential that our community address the many moral issues related to
our diet. Vegetarianism is an issue of importance for Torah and for the
future of our endangered planet.
*** ***
{ Richard H. Schwartz is Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the College of
Staten Island. He is the author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and
Global Survival, and Mathematics and Global Survival. For more information,
visit, http://www.jewishveg.com/schwartz. }

Prof. Richard Schwartz comments on Parasha Re'Eh

"When you are in the land and your boundaries are broadened, you may eat meat
to your heart’s desire. You may all eat meat, but not the blood, for blood is
the life and you shall not eat the life with the meat." (Deuteronomy 12:20)
=========================

     The material below is from my book, "Judaism and Vegetarianism."

This permitted meat was called basar ta'avah, "meat of lust," so named
because rabbinic teachings indicate that meat is not considered a necessity
for life.
     The above verse (Deuteronomy 12:20) does not command people to eat meat.
Rabbinic tradition perceives it to indicate people's desire to eat flesh, not
God's edict that people do so. Even while arguing against vegetarianism as a
moral cause, Rabbi Elijah Judah Schochet, author of Animal Life in Jewish
Tradition, (1984), concedes that "Scripture does not command the Israelite to
eat meat, but rather permits this diet as a concession to lust." Similarly,
another critic of vegetarian activism, Rabbi J. David Bleich, a noted
contemporary Torah scholar and professor at Yeshiva University, states, "The
implication is that meat may be consumed when there is desire and appetite
for it as food, but it may be eschewed when there is not desire and, a
fortiori, when it is found to be repugnant." According to Rabbi Bleich,
"Jewish tradition does not command carnivorous behavior...."

      Commenting on the above Torah verse, the respected Torah scholar and
teacher Nehama Leibowitz (1905 - 1997) pointed out how odd the dispensation
is and how grudgingly the permission to eat meat is granted. She concluded
that people have not been granted dominion over animals to do with them as
they desire, but that we have been given a "barely tolerated dispensation" to
slaughter animals for our consumption, if we cannot resist temptation and
must eat meat. Rav Kook also regarded the same Torah verse as clearly
indicating that the Torah did not regard the slaughter of animals for human
consumption as an ideal state of affairs.

     Rabbi I. Hebenstreit (in his book Kivrot Ta’avah (Graves of
Lust))pointed out that God did not want to give the Israelites who had left
Egypt permission to return to a meat diet because it involved cruelty to
animals. However, the "mixed multitude" (other slaves who left Egypt with the
Jews) lusted for meat and inculcated this desire among the Jewish people.
Hence, God reluctantly gave permission once again for the consumption of
meat, but with many restrictions.
     Rav Kook perceived that the permission to eat meat "after all the desire
of your soul" was a concealed reproach and an implied reprimand. He stated
that a day will come when people will detest the eating of the flesh of
animals because of a moral loathing, and then people will not eat meat
because their soul will not have the urge to eat it.
     In contrast to the lust associated with flesh foods, the Torah looks
favorably on vegetarian foods. In the Song of Songs, the divine bounty is
mentioned in terms of fruits, vegetables, vines, and nuts. There is no
special bracha (blessing) recited before eating meat or fish, as there is for
other foods such as bread, cake, wine, fruits, and vegetables. The blessing
for meat is a general one, the same as that over water or any other
undifferentiated food.

     Typical of the Torah's positive depiction of non-flesh foods is the
following:

For the Lord your God brings you into a good land, a land of brooks of water,
of fountains and depths, springing forth in valleys and hills; a land of
wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates; a land of olive
trees and honey; a land wherein you shall eat bread without scarceness, you
shall not lack anything in it... And you shall eat and be satisfied, and
bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you.  
(Deuteronomy 8: 7-10)



I propose over the next few weeks to present various articles written by
Richard H. Schwartz
(Professor Emeritus, Mathematics, College of Staten Island) Your comments are welcome and if you so wish I will pass them over to Prof.Schwartz.
JEWISH Teachings on Animals
God's tender mercies are over all His creatures. (Psalms 145:9).
The righteous person regards the life of his/her animal. (Proverbs 12:10)
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 creatures. (Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, 3:48)
Here you are faced with G-d'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. (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb, Chapter 60, Section 416)
The Hebrew term nefesh chaya ("living soul") was applied in Genesis (1:21, 1:24) to animals as well as people. Moses and King David were deemed suitable for leadership because of their compassionate treatment of sheep in their care. Rebecca was judged suitable as Isaac's wife because of her kindness in watering the ten camels of Eliezer, Abraham's servant Rabbi Judah, the Prince, redactor of the Mishna was stricken with pain by the hand of Heaven for many years for his callous treatment of a calf on the way to slaughter.
According to the Ten Commandments, animals as well as people are to rest on the Sabbath day (Exodus 20:8-10, Deuteronomy 5:12-14). According to Rashi, this means that animals should be free to roam on the Sabbath day and to graze freely.
The daily morning services contains the following statement: "Blessed is the One (God) Who has compassion on all creatures". There are many other statements in the Jewish tradition about God's compassion and concern for all of His creatures. And Judaism teaches that people are to emulate this divine compassion.
REALITIES OF MODERN ANIMAL AGRICULTURE
While the Jewish tradition stresses compassion for animals and commands that we strive to avoid causing them pain (tsa'ar ba'alei chayim), the conditions under which animals are raised for food today are quite different from any the Torah would endorse.
1. Chickens are raised for slaughter in long, windowless, crowded sheds, where they never see sunlight, breathe fresh air, or get any exercise.
2. To produce pate de fois gras, ducks and geese are force-fed six to seven pounds of grain three times a day with an air-driven feeder tube. The bird suffers unimaginable pain. Finally, after 25 days of such agony, when the bird is completely stupefied with pain and unable to move, it is killed and the gigantic liver, considered a delicacy, is removed. Unfortunately, Israel is the world's leading exporter of pate de Fois gras. Every year, about 400,000 geese are slaughtered in Israel to make this "delicacy".
3. Veal producers remove the calf from his mother after one day, with no consideration of his need for motherly nourishment, affection, and physical contact. The calf is then locked in a small, dark, slotted stall without space to turn around, stretch, or even lie down. To obtain the pale, tender flesh desired by consumers, veal producers purposely keep the calf anemic by giving him a special high-calorie, iron-free diet. They tie the head of the calf to the stall to prevent him from licking the iron fittings on the stall and his own urine to try to satisfy his intense craving for iron.
4. Chickens are extremely crowded in today's modern hen house, with 4 or 5 hens generally squeezed into a 18-inch by 20-inch cage. Poultry producers generally de-beak chickens with hot-knife machines, a very painful and often debilitating procedure. This is industry's answer to the fact that birds are often driven to crazed pecking, which harms and sometimes kills their cell mates, reducing the producers'profits.
5. Since they have no value to the egg industry, male chicks are weeded out and disposed of by "chick-pullers." Daily, over a half million chicks are stuffed into plastic bags, where they are crushed and suffocated to death.
Rabbi Aryeh Carmell, a modern Torah scholar and teacher 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". (Masterplan: Its Programs, Meanings, Goals; Feldheim, 1991, p. 69).
Rabbi David Rosen, a modern Israeli Orthodox rabbi and former Chief Rabbi of Ireland states even more strongly: ". . . the current treatment of animals in the livestock trade definitely renders the consumption of meat as halachically unacceptable as the product of illegitimate means". (Rabbis and Vegetarianism, Micah Pub., 1995, p.53.)


JEWISH TEACHINGS ON HEALTH

v'nishmartem meod l'nafshotechem ("Be extremely protective of your lives.") (Deuteronomy 4:15).
You may not in any way weaken your health or shorten your life. Only if the body is healthy is it an efficient instrument for the spirit's activity....Therefore you should avoid everything which might possibly injure your health.... And the law asks you to be even more circumspect in avoiding danger to life and limb than in the avoidance of other transgressions. (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb, Chapter 62, Section 428)
Limiting our presumption against our own body, God's word calls to us: "Do not commit suicide!" "Do not injure yourself!" "Do not ruin yourself!" "Do not endanger yourself!" "Do not weaken yourself!" "Preserve yourself!" (Ibid, Section 427)
Since maintaining a healthy and sound body is among the ways of God - for one cannot understand or have any knowledge of the Creator if one is ill - therefore one must avoid that which harms the body and accustom oneself to that which is helpful and helps the body become stronger. (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah,Hilchot Deot 4:1)
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. (Rabbi Alfred Cohen, "Vegetarianism From a Jewish Perspective", Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, Fall, 1981, p. 61)
As it is halachically prohibited to harm oneself and as healthy, nutritious vegetarian alternatives are easily available, meat consumption has become halachically unjustifiable. Rabbi David Rosen (Rabbis and Vegetarianism, Micah, 1995, p.54)
HEALTH REALITIES AND ANIMAL-BASED DIETS
1. Epidemiological studies indicate that populations of countries where meat consumption is high (such as the United States, Canada, Israel, and Australia) have much higher mortality rates from heart disease, several types of cancer, and strokes, compared to countries where meat consumption is low.
2. In its 1997 position paper on vegetarianism, the American Dietetic Association stated: "Scientific data suggest positive relationships between a vegetarian diet and reduced risk for several chronic degenerative diseases and conditions, including obesity, coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and several types of cancer."
3. In several recent scientific studies published in the most prestigious medical journals (including the Journal of the American Medical Association), Dean Ornish, M. D. showed that severe heart problems normally treated by drugs and surgery can be reversed through a very low-fat vegetarian diet, exercise, and stress reduction. Some experts believe that up to 95% of heart attacks could be prevented by such lifestyle changes.
4. European Jewish women living in Israel are three times more likely to get breast cancer than Sephardic Jews, apparently due to dietary practices. Japanese-America women who consume typical American animal- based diets are four times more likely to develop breast cancer than their counterparts in Japan.
5. An article in the peer-reviewed journal "Preventive Medicine" (24, 646-655 (1995)) revealed that annual medical costs in the U. S. associated with diseases resulting from animal-centered diets are comparable to those associated with cigarette smoking.
6. Cornell University Professor Dr. T. Colin Campbell, whose study of eating habits of 6,500 people in various areas in China that was described by Jane Brody, New York Times` nutrition editor, as the "grand prix of epidemiology," stated that even "small intakes of animal products are associated with significant increases in chronic degenerative diseases."
7. Recent research has linked osteoporosis to high animal-protein diets. It has been found that high levels of animal protein in the diet cause large amounts of calcium to be removed from bones and excreted.
8. A variety of health problems, including colon cancer, adult-onset diabetes, hemorrhoids, constipation and diverticulosis, have been linked to diets low in fiber. Only plant foods contain fiber; there is no fiber in any animal product.
9. According to a U. S. Surgeon General's Report, 68% of all diseases in the United States are diet-related.
10. Extensive use of antibiotics in animal feed (more that half of all antibiotics produced in the U. S.) is fueling the development of antibiotic-resistant germs that have the potential to devastate human health.
JEWISH TEACHINGS ON HEALTH
v'nishmartem meod l'nafshotechem ("Be extremely protective of your lives.") (Deuteronomy 4:15).
You may not in any way weaken your health or shorten your life. Only if the body is healthy is it an efficient instrument for the spirit's activity....Therefore you should avoid everything which might possibly injure your health.... And the law asks you to be even more circumspect in avoiding danger to life and limb than in the avoidance of other transgressions. (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb, Chapter 62, Section 428)
Limiting our presumption against our own body, God's word calls to us: "Do not commit suicide!" "Do not injure yourself!" "Do not ruin yourself!" "Do not endanger yourself!" "Do not weaken yourself!" "Preserve yourself!" (Ibid, Section 427)
Since maintaining a healthy and sound body is among the ways of God - for one cannot understand or have any knowledge of the Creator if one is ill - therefore one must avoid that which harms the body and accustom oneself to that which is helpful and helps the body become stronger. (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah,Hilchot Deot 4:1)
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. (Rabbi Alfred Cohen, "Vegetarianism From a Jewish Perspective", Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, Fall, 1981, p. 61)
As it is halachically prohibited to harm oneself and as healthy, nutritious vegetarian alternatives are easily available, meat consumption has become halachically unjustifiable. Rabbi David Rosen (Rabbis and Vegetarianism, Micah, 1995, p.54)
HEALTH REALITIES AND ANIMAL-BASED DIETS
1. Epidemiological studies indicate that populations of countries where meat consumption is high (such as the United States, Canada, Israel, and Australia) have much higher mortality rates from heart disease, several types of cancer, and strokes, compared to countries where meat consumption is low.
2. In its 1997 position paper on vegetarianism, the American Dietetic Association stated: "Scientific data suggest positive relationships between a vegetarian diet and reduced risk for several chronic degenerative diseases and conditions, including obesity, coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and several types of cancer."
3. In several recent scientific studies published in the most prestigious medical journals (including the Journal of the American Medical Association), Dean Ornish, M. D. showed that severe heart problems normally treated by drugs and surgery can be reversed through a very low-fat vegetarian diet, exercise, and stress reduction. Some experts believe that up to 95% of heart attacks could be prevented by such lifestyle changes.
4. European Jewish women living in Israel are three times more likely to get breast cancer than Sephardic Jews, apparently due to dietary practices. Japanese-America women who consume typical American animal- based diets are four times more likely to develop breast cancer than their counterparts in Japan.
5. An article in the peer-reviewed journal "Preventive Medicine" (24, 646-655 (1995)) revealed that annual medical costs in the U. S. associated with diseases resulting from animal-centered diets are comparable to those associated with cigarette smoking.
6. Cornell University Professor Dr. T. Colin Campbell, whose study of eating habits of 6,500 people in various areas in China that was described by Jane Brody, New York Times` nutrition editor, as the "grand prix of epidemiology," stated that even "small intakes of animal products are associated with significant increases in chronic degenerative diseases."
7. Recent research has linked osteoporosis to high animal-protein diets. It has been found that high levels of animal protein in the diet cause large amounts of calcium to be removed from bones and excreted.
8. A variety of health problems, including colon cancer, adult-onset diabetes, hemorrhoids, constipation and diverticulosis, have been linked to diets low in fiber. Only plant foods contain fiber; there is no fiber in any animal product.
9. According to a U. S. Surgeon General's Report, 68% of all diseases in the United States are diet-related.
10. Extensive use of antibiotics in animal feed (more that half of all antibiotics produced in the U. S.) is fueling the development of antibiotic-resistant germs that have the potential to devastate human health.