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In the Vegetarian & Vegan News...
   Richard H. Schwartz | Passover and vegetarianism? Can the two be related?

Richard H. Schwartz

Passover and vegetarianism? Can the two be related? After
all, what is a seder without gefilte fish, chicken soup, chopped
liver, chicken, and other meats? And what about the shankbone to
commemorate the paschal sacrifice. And doesn't Jewish law mandate
that Jews eat meat to rejoice on Passover and other Jewish festivals?
An increasing number of Jews are turning to vegetarianism and
they are finding ways to celebrate vegetarian Passovers while being
consistent with Jewish teachings. For many years, Jonathan Wolf, a
Jewish vegetarian activist, has had up to 50 people at his Manhattan
apartment for completely vegetarian seders. Each year the number of
vegetarian seders increases.

Contrary to a common perception, Jews are not required to
eat meat at the Passover seder or any other time. According to the
Talmud (Pesachim 109a), since the destruction of the Temple in
Jerusalem, Jews need not eat meat to celebrate Jewish festivals. In
recent scholarly articles by Rabbi Albert Cohen in the Journal of
Halacha and Contemporary Society and Rabbi J. David Bleich in
Tradition magazine, this concept is reinforced. Also, Israeli
chief rabbis, including Rabbi Shlomo Goren, former Ashkenazic Chief
Rabbi of Israel and Rabbi Sha'ar Yashuv Cohen, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi
of Haifa, were or are strict vegetarians.


The use of the shankbone originated in the time of the Talmud as
a means of commemorating the paschal lamb. However, since the
talmudic scholar, Rabbi Huna, states that a beet can be used for this
purpose (Pesachim), many Jewish vegetarians substitute a beet
for the shankbone. The important point is that the shankbone is a
symbol and no meat need be eaten at the seder.

Jewish vegetarians see vegetarian values reinforced by several
Passover themes:

1)    At the seder, Jews say, "Let all who are hungry come and eat". As
on other occasions, at the conclusion of the meal, bircat hamazone is
recited to thank God for providing food for the world's people. This
seems inconsistent with the consumption of animal-centered diets
which involves the feeding of 70% of the grain grown in the United
States and almost 40% of the grain grown worldwide to animals destined
for slaughter while an estimated 20 million of the world's people die
of hunger and its effects annually.

Although he is not a vegetarian, Rabbi Jay Marcus, Spiritual
Leader of the Young Israel of Staten Island, saw a connection between
simpler diets and helping hungry people. He commented on the fact
that "karpas" (eating of greens) comes immediately before "yahatz"
(the breaking of the middle matzah for later use as the "afikomen"
(desert) in the seder service. He concluded that those who live on
simpler foods (greens, for example) will more readily divide their
possesions and share with others.

Many Jewish vegetarians see connections between the oppression
that their ancestors suffered and the current plight of the billions
of people who presently lack sufficient food and other essential
resources. Vegetarian diets require far less land, water, gasoline,
pesticides, fertilizer, and other resources, and thus enable the
better sharing of God's abundant resources, which can help reduce
global hunger and poverty.

2)    The main Passover theme is freedom. While relating the story of
our ancestors' slavery in Egypt and their redemption through God's
power and beneficence, many Jewish vegetarians also consider the
"slavery" of animals on modern "factory farms". Contrary to Jewish
teachings of "tsa'ar ba'alei chayim" (the Torah mandate not to cause
unnecessary "pain to a living creature"), animals are raised for food
today under cruel conditions in crowded confined spaces, where they
are denied fresh air, sunlight, a chance to exercise, and the
fukfillment of their natural instincts. In this connection, it is
significant to consider that according to the Jewish tradition,
Moses, Judaism's greatest leader, teacher, and prophet, was chosen to
lead the Israelites out of Egypt because as a shepherd he showed
great compassion to a lamb (Exodus Rabbah 2:2).

3)     Many Jewish vegetarians advocate that we commemorate the
redemption of our ancestors from slavery by ending the current
slavery to harmful eating habits through the adoption of vegetarian

4)     Passover is the holiday of springtime, a time of nature's renewal.
It also commemmorates God's supremacy over the forces of nature. In
contrast, modern intensive livestock agriculture and animal-centered
diets have many negative effects on the environment, including air
and water pollution, soil erosion and depletion, the destruction of
tropical rain forests and other habitats, and contributions to global

Jewish vegetarians view their diet as a practical way to put
Jewish values into practice. They believe that Jewish mandates to
show compassion to animals, take care of our health, protect the
environment, conserve resources, and share with hungry people, and
the negative effects that animal-centered diets have in each of these
areas, point to vegetarianism as the ideal diet for Jews (and others)
today. this diet is also consistent with God's original dietary law
(Genesis 1:29) and with Rav Kook's view of what the Jewish diet will
be in the Messianic period, based on Isaiah's prophecy that "...the
wolf will eat straw like the ox ... and no one shall hurt nor destroy
on all of God's holy mountain" (Isaiah 11:6-9).

Sources for further information on connections between Judaism and
vegetarianism include:
1. The Jewish Vegetarians of North America; 6938 Reliance Road,
Federalsburg, Maryland 21632; (410) 754-5550.
2. The International Jewish Vegetarian Society; 855 Finchley Road,
London NW 11, England.
3. Micah Publications; the source for books on Judaism and
vegetarianism and related issues; 255 Humphrey Street, Marblehead,
Massachusetts 01945; or ( They have published
vegetarian-friendly haggadahs, "Haggadah for the Liberated Lamb"

and "Haggadah for the Vegetarian Family", both by Roberta
Kalechofsky, founder and director of Jews for Animal
Rights (JAR) and Micah Publications, which contains traditional and
new material for a vegetarian seder, including recipes, songs, notes,
readings, and a bibliography, and "The Jewish Vegetarian Year
Cookbook" by Roberta Kalechofsky and Rosa Rasiel, which
includes many vegan recipes suitable for Passover. They
also have a video casette that describes a vegetarian seder.
Other books that have vegetarian recipes appropriate for
Passover include "No Cholesterol Passover Recipes" by Debra Wasserman
and Charles Stahler (Vegetarian Resource Group, P. O. Box 1463,
Baltimore, MD 21203) and "Jewish Vegetarian Cooking" (the official
cookbook of the International Jewish Vegetarian Society) by Rose
Friedman (Thorsons Publishers).

Richard H. Schwartz
Professor, Mathematics College of Staten Island
2800 Victory Boulevard Staten Island, NY 10314 USA (718) 982-3621
Email address:   Fax: (718) 982-3631

Author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival,
and Mathematics and Global Survival.
Patron of the International Jewish Vegetarian Society.

Professor Schwartz's articles on Judaism and Vegetarianism are on the internet at  (in the "Rebbes" section), and at


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