JVS member Janine Bronson interviewed Professor Richard Schwartz, President Emeritus of the JVNA (Jewish Vegetarians of North America), keen to find out: How does meat-eating conflict with Jewish tradition?
1. While Judaism mandates that people should be very careful about preserving their health and their lives, numerous scientific studies have linked animal-based diets directly to heart disease, stroke, many forms of cancer, and other chronic degenerative diseases.
2. While Judaism forbids tsa’ar ba’alei chayim, inflicting unnecessary pain on animals, most farm animals — including those raised for kosher consumers — are raised on “factory farms” where they live in cramped, confined spaces and are drugged, mutilated, and denied fresh air, sunlight, and exercise, before they are slaughtered, and eaten.
3. While Judaism teaches that “the earth is the Lord’s” (Psalm 24:1) and that we are to be God’s partners and co-workers in preserving the world, modern intensive livestock agriculture contributes substantially to climate change, soil erosion, air and water pollution, overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the destruction of tropical rain forests and other habitats, and other environmental damage.
4. While Judaism mandates bal tashchit, that we are not to waste or unnecessarily destroy anything of value, and that we are not to use more than is needed to accomplish a purpose, animal agriculture requires the wasteful use of grain, land, water, energy, and other resources.
5. While Judaism stresses that we are to assist the poor and share our bread with hungry people, over 70% of the grain grown in the United States is fed to animals destined for slaughter, while millions of people.
worldwide die because of hunger and its effects annually.
6. While Judaism stresses that we must seek and pursue peace and that violence results from unjust conditions, animal-centered diets, by wasting valuable resources, help to perpetuate the widespread hunger and poverty that eventually lead to instability and war.
In view of the fact that animal-based diets seriously violate these six important Jewish mandates, to preserve human health; attend to the welfare of animals; protect the environment; conserve resources; help feed the hungry; and pursue peace, I believe that Jews should sharply reduce or preferably eliminate the consumption of animal products. One could say dayeinu (it would be enough) after any one of the arguments above, because each one constitutes, by itself, a serious conflict between Jewish values and current practice that should impel Jews to seriously consider a plant-based diet. Combined, they make a compelling case for Jews to become vegetarians and preferably vegans.
Janine also asked Richard: What do you think should be done presently to break through the present denial, misinformation, and resistance towards vegan diets?
We should respectfully ask rabbis, Jewish educators, JCC directors, and other Jewish leaders to put dietary issues onto the agendas of their synagogues, Jewish schools, JCCs, and other venues. I have a simulated dialogue between a Jewish Vegetarian activist and a rabbi that can serve as a model for this initiative as well as over 200 other articles that can help Jewish vegetarian activists promote plant-based diets at www.JewishVeg,com/schwartz.
As indicated previously, we should stress that shifts toward a vegan diet are essential efforts to help avert climate catastrophes. We should expand recent efforts to renew the ancient ‘New Year for Animals’ and transform it into a day devoted to increasing awareness of Judaism’s beautiful teachings about compassion to animals, and how far current treatment of animals on factory farms and other locations is from these teachings. I have four articles related to this on: Jewishveg.com/schwartz. Many positive things are already being done by JVS [jvs.org.uk] and by Jewish Vegetarians of North America [JewishVeg.org] so I urge readers to visit these website and join at least one of these organizations.