VegSource Interactive, Inc. | Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D.
- A Jewish Imperative
This brief essay addresses a widely accepted aspect of modern life that contradicts many Jewish teachings and harms people, communities, and the planet -- the mass production and widespread consumption of meat. It discusses how high meat consumption and the ways in which meat is produced today conflict with Judaism in at least six important areas:
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 often drugged, mutilated, and denied fresh air, sunlight, exercise, and any enjoyment of life, before they are slaughtered and eaten.
3. While Judaism teaches that "the earth is the Lords" (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 soil erosion and depletion, air and water pollution, overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the destruction of tropical rain forests and other habitats, global warming, 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 food, 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 (it takes about 9 pounds of grain to produce one pound of edible beef), while an estimated 20 million people worldwide die because of hunger and its effects each year.
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 these important Jewish mandates to preserve human health, attend to the welfare of animals, protect the environment, conserve resources, help feed hungry people, and pursue peace, contrasted with the harm that animal-centered diets do in each of these areas, committed Jews (and others) should sharply reduce or eliminate their consumption of animal products.
One could say "dayenu" (it would be enough) after any 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 an urgently compelling case for the Jewish community to address these issues.
SOURCES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
1. http://www.jewishveg.com (much background material about Judaism and vegetarianism)
2. http://www.jewishveg.com/schwartz (has over 100 articles and book reviews by the author)
3. http://www.micahbooks.com (web site of Micah publications, publisher of many books about judaism and vegetarianism and animal rights).
4. http://www.ivu.org/jvs/ (web site of the International Jewish Vegetarian Society)
5. Richard H. Schwartz, Judaism and Vegetarianism, New York: Lantern Books, 2001.