BOOKS: Rabbis and Vegetarianism

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1996:

Rabbis and Vegetarianism: an evolving tra –
dition, by Roberta Kalechovsky. Micah
Publications (255 Humphrey St., Marblehead, MA
10945), 104 pages, $10.00.

As founder and director of Jews for Animal Rights,
and as director of Micah Publications, Inc., Roberta
Kalechofsky has made major contributions to the animal
rights/vegetarian causes, especially with regard to connections
to Jews and Judaism.

Her most recent publication, Rabbis and
Vegetarianism: An Evolving Tradition, effectively continues
a series of titles which relate Judaism to such issues as health
and nutrition, animal issues, animal experimentation, and
Jewish holidays. Essays by and about 17 rabbis show inconsistencies
between basic Jewish teachings and the realities of
modern meat production and consumption. The rabbis are of
otherwise widely diverse perspective: Orthodox,
Conservative, Reform, and Reconstruction-ist, male and
female, modern and from previous generations, recent converts
to vegetarianism as well as longtime proponents. They
also use a variety of arguments, all based on Jewish values:
preserving health, showing compassion toward animals, protecting
the environment, and sharing with hungry people.
Rabbi Everett Gendler adds an additional cogent argument:
humans are to exult in creation and to join a chorus of all living
creatures in singing God’s praises, but instead, people,
deviating from this mission, have treated fellow choir members
horribly, killing them and eating their corpses.
There is much of value in this book for all Jews, as
well as non-Jews who are concerned about applications of
Biblical values to modern life. The power of the book is indicated
by a sampling of the rabbinic statements in it:
“We must clearly advocate dietary practices that are
truly in consonance with the sublimest values of the Torah,
and today more than ever before these are overwhelmingly
incompatible with carnivorous indulgence.”
––Rabbi David Rosen, former Chief Rabbi of Ireland
“The time has come for committed Jews to consider
that both the moral thrust of kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) and
its health significance point to a vegetarian diet, a culinary
choice that responds both to the ideal and the real of Torah in
our lives.” ––Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis
“Life has become too precious in this era for us to
be involved in the shedding of blood, even that of animals,
when we can survive without it…A vegetarian Judaism would
be more whole in its ability to embrace the presence of God in
all of Creation.” ––Rabbi Arthur Green,
former President of the Reconstructionist College
This book deserves a wide readership. Its cogent
arguments should help start a long overdue dialog on the
moral issues related to typical western diets. In this way it
can help lead to that time when, in the words of the motto of
the International Jewish Vegetarian Society, “No one shall
hurt nor destroy in all of God’s holy mountain.”
––Isaiah 11:9
––Richard Schwartz
[Schwartz is a professor of mathematics at the
College of Staten Island, and author of Judaism and
V e g e t a r i a n i s m, Judaism and Global Survival, and
Mathematics and Global Survival.]

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