Jewish vegetarianism

Activists of 'Behemla' - an organization devoted to increasing awareness of animal cruelty among ultra-orthodox Jews - World Farm Animals Day 2013

Jewish vegetarianism is the belief that following a vegetarian diet is implied in the Torah.[1] While it is neither required nor prohibited for Jews to eat meat, a number of medieval scholars of Judaism, such as Joseph Albo and Isaac Arama, regard vegetarianism as a moral ideal, not just out of a concern for animal welfare but also the slaughterer.[2] Jewish vegetarians also cite health and environmental reasons for adopting a vegetarian diet.


The Torah gives precise details on how animals are to be sacrificed and slaughtered (shechita). According to Rabbis Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz and Abraham Isaac Kook the complexity of these laws were intended to discourage the consumption of meat.[3] Kashrut may also be designed to remind Jews of the magnitude of the task undertaken in killing a living being.[4]

Genesis 1:29 states "And God said: Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree that has seed-yielding fruit—to you it shall be for food." Rabbi Kook speaks of vegetarianism as an ideal, and points to the fact that Adam and Eve did not partake of the flesh of animals as all humans and animals were originally commanded by God to only eat plants.[5] According to Richard H. Schwartz, president emeritus of Jewish Vegetarians of North America and author of the book Judaism and Vegetarianism, God's original plan was for mankind to be vegetarian, and that God only later gave permission for man to eat meat in a covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:1–17) as a temporary concession because of Man's weak nature.[6] This concessionary view of meat-consumption is based on the scriptural analysis of several Rishonim.

Some writers assert that the Jewish prophet Isaiah was a vegetarian, on the basis of passages in the Book of Isaiah that extol nonviolence and reverence for life, such as Isaiah 1:11, 11:6-9, 65:25, and 66:3. Some of these writers refer to "the vegetarian Isaiah",[7] "the notorious vegetarian Isaiah",[8] and "Isaiah, the vegetarian prophet".[9]

The pious Jewish youths Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego became vegan according to the Bible story found in Daniel 1:8-16. At Daniel's request, the four boys were subjected to a test; they were fed vegetables and water for ten days. At the end of the ten days, the four boys were in better condition than the other boys who ate a non-vegan diet. Consequently, they remained on the vegan diet after the test concluded.[10]

According to Clement of Alexandria, Matthew the Apostle was a vegetarian. Clement wrote: "Matthew partook of seeds, and nuts, and vegetables, without flesh."[11] Matthew was a Jew, and was also a Christian for some years.

James the brother of Jesus of Nazareth was said to have been vegetarian. As Eusebius puts it quoting Hegesippus: "[James] drank no wine or other intoxicating liquor, nor did he eat flesh."[12] Hegesippus also stated that James did not wear wool, but only linen.

Ethics of eating meat

There are several religious and philosophical arguments used by Jewish vegetarians regarding the ethics of eating meat.[13] One mitzvah cited by vegetarians is tza'ar ba'alei hayyim; the injunction not to cause "pain to living creatures."[4] The laws of shechita are meant to prevent the suffering of animals. However, factory farming and high-speed mechanized kosher slaughterhouses have been criticized for failing to meet the essence of shechita. Jonathan Safran Foer narrated the short documentary film If This Is Kosher..., which records what he considers abuses within the kosher meat industry.[14]

Another mitzvah often cited by Jewish vegetarians is bal tashchit; the law which prohibits waste.[4] They suggest that an omnivorous diet is wasteful, since it uses 5 times more grain, 10 times more water, 15 times more land and 20 times more energy when compared to a vegan diet.[15]

Judaism stresses the importance of maintaining health and not harming oneself (venishmartem me'od lenafshoteichem). Joel Fuhrman and other doctors, such as John A. McDougall, Neal D. Barnard and Dean Ornish, claim a diet high in animal products is detrimental to health and suggest following a plant-based diet (see health arguments).[16] Global warming, hunger and the depletion of natural resources may also be lessened by a global shift towards a vegan diet (see environmental vegetarianism). A 2010 report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) declared: "A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products."[17]

According to some, vegetarianism is consistent with the sacred teachings and highest ideals of Judaism, including compassion, health, life, conservation of resources, tzedakah, kashrut, peace, and justice. In contrast, the mass production and consumption of meat and other animal products contradicts many Jewish values and teachings, gravely harming people, animals, communities, and the environment.[18] Others point out the obligation during the Temple period for Jews to eat the Paschal Offering. In addition the Talmud states that a holiday meal should consist of meat and wine (although today, when there are no sacrificial offerings, there is no obligation to consume meat). Nevertheless, it is a long-standing custom to serve meat on both the Sabbath and festivals. In addition the popular Sabbath songs Mah yedidut and Yom shabbat qodesh hu refer to eating meat and fish.

Modern-day proponents

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

While most modern-day Jews are not vegetarian, several prominent rabbis, such as Abraham Isaac Kook, have advocated a vegetarian lifestyle.[5] Kook personally refrained from eating meat except on the Sabbath and Festivals, and one of his leading disciples Rabbi David Cohen, known as the "Nazirite" of Jerusalem, was a devout vegetarian. His famous essay A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace (first published in installments in 1903–04, and reissued 60 years later) summarizes Kook's ideas about the "coming of the new society" in which humankind becomes vegan.[19][20] Vegetarian Rabbis include She'ar Yashuv Cohen, David Rosen and Shlomo Goren in Israel; David Wolpe, Yonassan Gershom and Everett Gendler in the U.S.; and Jonathan Sacks in the U.K.[21] Other notable Jewish vegetarians include Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Roberta Kalechofsky.[22]

In Israel there is one vegetarian moshav (village), called Amirim. The Shamayim V'Aretz Institute led by Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz promotes a vegan diet in the Jewish community through animal welfare activism, kosher veganism, and Jewish spirituality.[23] The "Concern for Helping Animals in Israel (CHAI)" animal welfare organization promotes Jewish vegetarianism;[24] CHAI's building project is named the Isaac Bashevis Singer Humane Education Center.[25]

The Jewish Vegetarian Society (JVS) was co-founded (briefly as the Jewish Vegetarian and Natural Health Society, before the name was abbreviated) by Vivien and Philip Pick in the 1960s with the aim of promoting a kinder society without killing animals for food.[26] Philip Pick was the first chairman of the organisation, with Maurice Norman Lester the first vice chairman and his wife Carole Lester its first secretary. The Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) was founded by Jonathan Wolf in 1975 to promote vegetarianism within the Judaic tradition.[27] JVNA produced the 2007 film A Sacred Duty under leadership of Professor Emeritus Richard H. Schwartz, then president of JVNA. In October 2015, JVNA changed its name to Jewish Veg.

See also


  1. "A Case for Jewish Vegetarianism" (PDF). PETA.
  2. Bleich, J. David (1989). Contemporary Halakhic Problems. 3. KTAV Publishing House. Archived from the original on 2012-05-18. A number of medieval scholars regard vegetarianism as a moral ideal, not because of a concern for the welfare of animals, but because of the fact that the slaughter of animals might cause the individual who performs such acts to develop negative character traits, viz., meanness and cruelty
  3. "The Vision of Eden: Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism" in "Jewish Law and Mysticism", Orot 2003
  4. 1 2 3 Kalechofsky, Roberta. Rabbis and Vegetarianism: An Evolving Tradition. Micah Publications. Massachusetts, 1995. pp. 16, 54, 55, 65, 66, 68, 70, 71. ISBN 0-916288-42-0.
  5. 1 2 Kook, Avraham Yitzhak (1961). Cohen, David, ed. "A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace" (PDF).
  6. Schwartz, Richard H. Judaism and Vegetarianism. Lantern Books. New York, 2001. pp. 1, 12, 16, 19, 188. ISBN 1-930051-24-7.
  7. "Religious Quotes". Animal Liberation Front. Archived from the original on 2015-09-22. Retrieved 2016-04-01. Isaiah is ... the prophet with the most references to nonviolence and universal respect for life. ... Jesus refers to the vegetarian Isaiah more than to any other.
  8. "The Biblical Basis of Veganism". Cincinnati, Ohio: The Nazarenes of Mount Carmel. Archived from the original on 2016-04-08. Retrieved 2016-04-01. the notorious vegetarian Isaiah
  9. Braunstein, Mark Mathew (September 1980). "Vegetarianism in Art". Vegetarian Times (#40): p. 24. Isaiah, the vegetarian prophet, meant also that humans must sit with the lamb, the kid, the ox -- because humans must make peace with the animals before they can make peace with other humans.
  10. Sardi, Bill. "Vegetarian Diet". Bible for Health. Archived from the original on 2016-04-08. Retrieved 2016-04-01. And so the boys continued to eat vegetables, and exhibited unusual intelligence and the king favored them in his service.
  11. Clement of Alexandria (1994) [c. 198]. The Instructor. Book II, Chapter I -- On Eating. London: Aeterna Press. Matthew partook of seeds, and nuts, and vegetables, without flesh.
  12. "Hegesippus (Roberts-Donaldson translation)". Early Christian Writings. Peter Kirby. James, the Lord's brother, ... drank no wine or other intoxicating liquor, nor did he eat flesh
  13. "Judaism and Vegetarianism - A Vegetarian View of the Torah". Retrieved 2016-01-07.
  14. Foer, Jonathan Safran. "If This Is Kosher…". YouTube.
  15. "Bal tashchit ('do not destroy')". 2016-02-24. Retrieved 2016-08-19. ... an omnivorous diet (one that includes meat) is wasteful and should be prohibited, since an omnivorous diet uses five times as much grain, over ten times as much water, over 15 times as much land and over 20 times as much energy as compared with a vegan diet.
  16. "Vegucated". 2011. Retrieved 2016-01-07.
  17. Felicity Carus (2 June 2010). "UN urges global move to meat and dairy-free diet". The Guardian.
  18. Dan Brook, Ph.D. "The Vegetarian Mitzvah".
  19. "Full text of "A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace"". 1985-04-20. Retrieved 2016-01-07.
  20. "A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace". Jewish Vegetarians of North America.
  21. Sacks, Jonathan (2001-06-06). "Faith Lectures: The Messianic Idea Today". Retrieved 2016-08-19. But I can't say very much about chickens because I'm a vegetarian and I stay milchik all the time.
  22. Lisa Kemmerer (2012). Animals and World Religions: Rightful Relations. p. 186.
  23. "The Shamayim V'Aretz Institute | מכון שמים וארץ - Home". Retrieved 2016-01-07.
  24. Schwartz, Richard. "excerpt from the article "Judaism and Vegetarianism"". Retrieved April 15, 2013.
  25. "I.B. Singer Humane Education Center". CHAI. Archived from the original on 2014-07-14. ... construction on the Isaac Bashevis Singer Humane Education Center, on the grounds of the SPCA in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, is at last set to begin.
  26. Richard H. Schwartz (2001). Judaism and Vegetarianism. pp. 159–161.
  27. Richard H. Schwartz (2001). Judaism and Vegetarianism. pp. 167–170.

Further reading

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