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Jewish vegetarianism

Jewish vegetarianism is the belief that following a vegetarian diet is implied in the Torah. 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. Jewish vegetarians also cite health and environmental reasons for adopting a vegetarian diet.

QuotesEdit

Alphabetized by author or source
  • The old man … received the Sabbath with sweet song and chanted the hallowing tunefully over raisin wine; while it was still day he hallowed and the sun came to gaze at his glass. … The table was well spread with all manner of fruit, beans, greenstuffs and good pies, plum water tasting like wine, but of flesh and of fish there was never a sign. … in truth it is in no way obligatory to eat flesh and fish … He and she, meaning the old man and the old woman, had never tasted flesh since growing to maturity.
  • There is a strong wave of Jewish vegetarians and there is a pretty large movement, if you’re in a progressive synagogue and an environmental-friendly community, to only serve vegetarian. That’s happening more and more. You know in the Old Testament Adam and Eve are vegetarians, and in Judaism there is a strong indication that we are responsible for each other and for our planet. So some of us also make the choice to be vegan as an environmental statement. … We have a tradition that goes back thousands of years about how to treat animals as best we can. Factory farming didn’t exist thousands of years ago, much less a hundred years ago. So I think it’s very interesting that as archaic as some people think traditional Judaism is, we are still trying to stay current with what is going on.
  • Eating kosher meat is a sort of compromise…. Ideally people should not eat meat, because to obtain it, an animal must be put to death.
    • Samuel H. Dresner, Jewish Dietary Laws (New York: Rabbinical Assembly of America, United Synagogue Commission on Jewish Education, 1982); as quoted in A Plea for the Animals by Matthieu Ricard (Boulder, CO: Shambhala Publications, 2016), p. 22.
  • Vegetarianism: a kashrut for our age.
    • Rabbi Arthur Green, Seek My Face, Speak My Name: A Contemporary Jewish Theology (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1992), p. 87.
  • We Jews in this century have been victims of destruction and mass slaughter on an unprecedented scale. We have seen every norm of humanity violated as we were treated like cattle rather than human beings. Our response to this memory is surely a complex and multitextured one. But as we overcome the understandable first reactions to the events, some of us feel our abhorrence of violence and bloodshed growing so strong that it reaches even beyond the borders of the human and into the animal kingdom. We Jews, who always looked upon killing for sport or pleasure as something alien and repulsive, should now, out of our own experience, be reaching the point where we find even the slaughter of animals for food morally beyond the range of the acceptable. If Jews have to be associated with killing at all in our time, let it be only for the defense of human life. 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. This is not an ascetic choice, we should note, but rather a life-affirming one. A vegetarian Judaism would be more whole in its ability to embrace the presence of God in all of Creation.
    • Rabbi Arthur Green, Seek My Face, Speak My Name: A Contemporary Jewish Theology (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1992), p. 89.
  • Man's carnivorous nature is not taken for granted, or praised in the fundamental teachings of Judaism. The rabbis of the Talmud told that men were vegetarians in earliest times, between Creation and the generation of Noah. In the twelfth century Maimonides, the greatest of all rabbinic scholars, explained that animal sacrifices had been instituted in ancient Judaism as a concession to the prevalent ancient practice of making such offerings to the pagan gods (Moreh Nebuhim 111:32). The implication is clear, that Judaism was engaged in weaning men from such practices. Judaism as a religion offers the option of eating animal flesh, and most Jews do, but in our own country there has been a movement towards vegetarianism among very pious Jews. A whole galaxy of central rabbinic and spiritual teachers including several past and present Chief Rabbis of the Holy Land, have been affirming vegetarianism as the ultimate meaning of Jewish moral teaching. They have been proclaiming the autonomy of all living creatures as the value which our religious tradition must now teach to all of its believers.
  • Jews will move increasingly to vegetarianism out of their own deepening knowledge of what their tradition commands as they understand it in this age.
    • Rabbi Yitzhak Herzog. Quoted in James V. Parker, Animal Minds, Animal Souls, Animal Rights, University Press of America, 2010, p. 98.
  • One should eat meat only if one has a special craving for it, and even then occasionally and sparingly.
  • Central to Jewish mysticism is the role that vegetarianism plays in messianic expectations: here vegetarianism functions in the concept of Jewish mystical time which chronicles human development from the vegetarian state in the Garden of Eden to the Messianic age when it is believed we will be vegetarians again. … in Judaism the laws governing responsibility to animals derive from the animal's place in the divine economy, assured by the covenantal statements, by the Jewish view of creation, and the Jewish view of a just and compassionate Creator. The stress of these laws with respect to the Jew is summed up in the question: How should the righteous (just) Jew behave toward animals, and the answer lies in the concept of the “imitatio Dei.” The just and merciful human behaves toward animals as a just and merciful Creator behaves toward humans.
    • Roberta Kalechofsky, “Hierarchy, Kinship, and Responsibility: The Jewish Relationship to the Animal World,” in A Communion of Subjects: Animals in Religion, Science, and Ethics, edited by Paul Waldau and Kimberly Patton (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 97-98.
  • The free movement of the moral impulse to establish justice for animals generally and the claim of their rights from mankind are hidden in a natural psychic sensibility in the deeper layers of the Torah. In the ancient value system of humanity … the moral sense had risen to a point of demanding justice for animals. … Just as the democratic aspiration will reach outward through the general intellectual and moral perfection … so will the hidden yearning to act justly towards animals emerge at the proper time. What prepares the ground for this state is the commandments, those intended specifically for this area of concern. There is indeed a hidden reprimand between the lines of the Torah in the sanction to eat meat.
    • Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, "Fragments of Light: A View as to the Reasons for the Commandments," in The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems, trans. Ben Zion Bokser (New York: Paulist Press, 1978), pp. 317-318.
  • The mixing of meat and milk is a grave offense, an act that is pervaded altogether with the oppression of life, an oppression of a living being—and of property. Milk, which serves so naturally to feed the tender child, that he might enjoy the mother's breast, was not created so as to stuff with it the stomach, when you are so hard and cruel as to eat meat. The tender child has a prior and more natural right than you.
    • Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, "Fragments of Light: A View as to the Reasons for the Commandments," in The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems, trans. Ben Zion Bokser (New York: Paulist Press, 1978), pp. 320-321.
  • With the possible exception of sex, there is no more basic human activity than eating, rendering it an appropriate candidate for Jewish rituals designed to maintain our focus on Godliness. The table is seen as an altar, and the concern with Kashrut extends to removing knives, instruments of war, from the table during the Birkat HaMazon (blessing after the meal). Tsaar baalei khayim, the concern for the pain of all living things and the reverence for life, is another essential aspect of kashrut. Vegetarianism is clearly the Torah's ideal; the Garden of Eden is a vegetarian society.
    • Rabbi Bonnie Koppell, "Vegetarianism," in Rabbis and Vegetarianism: An Evolving Tradition, edited by Roberta Kalechofsky (Marblehead, MA: Micah Publications, 1995), p. 37.
  • Vegetarianism is an ideal way to actualize the Torah's vision of a world in which the divine spark in all creation is respected and revered.
    • Rabbi Bonnie Koppell, "Vegetarianism," in Rabbis and Vegetarianism: An Evolving Tradition, edited by Roberta Kalechofsky (Marblehead, MA: Micah Publications, 1995), p. 39.
  • What was the necessity for the entire procedure of ritual slaughter? For the sake of self discipline. It is far more appropriate for man not to eat meat; only if he has a strong desire for meat does the Torah permit it, and even this only after the trouble and inconvenience necessary to satisfy his desire. Perhaps because of the bother and annoyance of the whole procedure, he will be restrained from such a strong and uncontrollable desire for meat.
  • Indeed, Judaism as a way of life, seeks to inculcate in us a consciousness of the Divine Presence in the World and respect for life accordingly. The more we care for life, the closer we are in fact to God. Accordingly, an ethical vegetarian way of life expresses the most noble and sublime values and aspirations of Judaism itself, bringing us closer to its vision for society as a whole.
    • Rabbi David Rosen, "Vegetarianism: An Orthodox Jewish Perspective," in Rabbis and Vegetarianism: An Evolving Tradition, edited by Roberta Kalechofsky (Marblehead, MA: Micah Publications, 1995), p. 55.
  • 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, "Vegetarianism: An Orthodox Jewish Perspective," in Rabbis and Vegetarianism: An Evolving Tradition, edited by Roberta Kalechofsky (Marblehead, MA: Micah Publications, 1995), p. 59.
  • The first man had not been allowed to eat meat.
    • Sanhedrin 59b. Quoted in Abraham Isaac Kook, "Fragments of Light: A View as to the Reasons for the Commandments," in The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems, trans. Ben Zion Bokser (New York: Paulist Press, 1978), p. 317.
  • One respectful question will be addressed to Jews who plan to continue to eat meat: In view of strong Jewish mandates to be compassionate to animals, preserve our health, help feed the hungry, preserve and protect the environment, conserve resources, and seek and pursue peace, and the very negative effects animal-centered diets have in each of these areas, will you now become a vegetarian, or at least sharply reduce your consumption of animal products?
  • My own view is that a vegetarian diet may in fact hasten the coming of Moshiach (the Messiah). The more we live as if this were the messianic age the closer we are to it.
  • When a human kills an animal for food, he is neglecting his own hunger for justice. Man prays for mercy, but is unwilling to extend it to others. Why should man then expect mercy from God? It's unfair to expect something that you are not willing to give.
  • There is a distinct reluctance, almost an unwillingness, on the part of Torah to grant man the privilege to consume meat. Man as an animal-eater is looked at askance by the Torah. There are definitive vegetarian tendencies in the Bible.
    • Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, The Emergence of Ethical Man, edited by Michael S. Berger (Jersey City: KTAV for The Toras HoRav Foundation, 2005), p. 31.
  • Animal hunters and flesh-eaters are people that lust. Of course it is legalized, approved. Yet it is classified [Num. 11:34] as ta'avah, lust, repulsive and brutish.
    • Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, The Emergence of Ethical Man, edited by Michael S. Berger (Jersey City: KTAV for The Toras HoRav Foundation, 2005), p. 36.

See alsoEdit

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