GUEST POST: 18 Myths About Judaism And Vegetarianism

[As always, a Guest Post is a guest post . I do not necessarily agree with all – or anything, for that matter – a Guest Post’s author writes. This case is no exception to that rule.]


H. Schwartz, Ph.D., President of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America.

1) The Torah teaches
that humans are granted dominion over animals (Genesis 1:26), giving us a warrant
to treat animals in any way we wish.
Response: Jewish tradition interprets
"dominion" as guardianship, or stewardship: we are called upon to be
co-workers with God in improving the world. Dominion does not mean that people
have the right to wantonly exploit animals, and it certainly does not permit us
to breed animals and treat them as machines designed solely to meet human needs.
In "A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace," Rav Kook states: "There
can be no doubt in the mind of any intelligent person that [the Divine empowerment
of humanity to derive benefit from nature] does not mean the domination of a harsh
ruler, who afflicts his people and servants merely to satisfy his whim and desire,
according to the crookedness of his heart. It is unthinkable that the Divine Law
would impose such a decree of servitude, sealed for all eternity, upon the world
of God, Who is ‘good to all, and His mercy is upon all His works’ (Psalms 145:9)."
This view is reinforced by the fact that immediately after God gave humankind
dominion over animals (Genesis 1:26), He prescribed vegetarian foods as the diet
for humans (Genesis 1:29).

2) The Torah teaches that only people
are created in the Divine Image, meaning that God places far less value on animals.

Response: While the Torah states that only human beings are created "in
the Divine Image" (Genesis 5:1), animals are also God’s creatures, possessing
sensitivity and the capacity for feeling pain. God is concerned that they are
protected and treated with compassion and justice. In fact, the Jewish sages state
that to be "created in the Divine Image," means that people have the
capacity to emulate the Divine compassion for all creatures. "As God is compassionate,"
they teach, "so you should be compassionate."

3) Inconsistent
with Judaism, vegetarians elevate animals to a level equal to or greater than
that of people.
Response: Vegetarians’ concern for animals and their refusal
to treat animals cruelly does not mean that vegetarians regard animals as being
equal to people. There are many reasons for being vegetarian other than consideration
for animals, including concerns about human health, ecological threats, and the
plight of hungry people. Because humans are capable of imagination, rationality,
empathy, compassion, and moral choice, we should strive to end the unbelievably
cruel conditions under which farm animals are currently raised. This is an issue
of sensitivity, not an assertion of equality with the animal kingdom.

Vegetarianism places greater priority on animal rights than on the many problems
related to human welfare.
Response: Vegetarian diets are not beneficial
only to animals. They improve human health, help conserve food and other resources,
and put less strain on endangered ecosystems. In view of the many threats related
to today’s livestock agriculture (such as deforestation and global climate change),
working to promote vegetarianism may be the most important action that one can
take for global sustainability.

5) By putting vegetarian values ahead
of Jewish teachings, vegetarians are, in effect, creating a new religion with
values contrary to Jewish teachings.
Response: Jewish vegetarians are
not placing so-called "vegetarian values" above Torah principles but
are challenging the Jewish community to apply Judaism’s splendid teachings at
every level of our daily lives. Vegetarians argue that Jewish teachings that we
must treat animals with compassion, guard our health, share with hungry people,
protect the environment, conserve resources, and seek peace, are all best applied
through vegetarian diets.

6) Jews must eat meat on Shabbat and Yom Tov
(Jewish holidays).
Response: According to the Talmud (T. B. Pesachim 109a),
since the destruction of the Temple, Jews are not required to eat meat in order
to rejoice on sacred occasions. This view is reinforced in the works Reshit Chochmah
and Kerem Shlomo and Rabbi Chizkiah Medini’s Sdei Chemed, which cites many classical
sources on the subject. Several Israeli chief rabbis, including Shlomo Goren,
late Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel, and Shear Yashuv Cohen, Ashkenazic Chief
Rabbi of Haifa, have been or are strict vegetarians.

7) The Torah mandated
that Jews eat korban Pesach and other korbanot (sacrifices).
The great Jewish philosopher Maimonides believed that God permitted sacrifices
as a concession to the common mode of worship in Biblical times. It was felt that
had Moses not instituted the sacrifices, his mission would have failed and Judaism
might have disappeared. The Jewish philosopher Abarbanel reinforced Maimonides’
position by citing a midrash (Rabbinic teaching) that indicates God tolerated
the sacrifices because the Israelites had become accustomed to sacrifices in Egypt,
but that He commanded they be offered only in one central sanctuary in order to
wean the Jews from idolatrous practices.

8) Jews historically have had
many problems with some animal rights groups, which have often opposed shechita
(ritual slaughter) and advocated its abolishment.
Response: Jews should
consider switching to vegetarianism not because of the views of animal rights
groups, whether they are hostile to Judaism or not, but because it is the diet
most consistent with Jewish teachings. It is the Torah, not animal rights groups,
which is the basis for observing how far current animal treatment has strayed
from fundamental Jewish values. As Samson Raphael Hirsch stated: "Here you
are faced with God’s teaching, which obliges you not only to refrain from inflicting
unnecessary pain on any animal, but to help and, when you can, to lessen the pain
whenever you see an animal suffering, even through no fault of yours."

The restrictions of shechita minimize the pain to animals in the slaughtering
process, and thus fulfill Jewish laws on proper treatment of animals.
This ignores the cruel treatment of animals on "factory farms" in the
many months prior to slaughter. Can we ignore the force-feeding of huge amounts
of grain to ducks and geese to produce foie gras, the removal of calves from their
mothers shortly after birth to raise them for veal, the killing of over 250 million
male chicks immediately after birth at egg-laying hatcheries in the U.S. annually,
the placing of hens in cages so small that they can’t raise even one wing, and
the many other horrors of modern factory farming?

10) If Jews do not
eat meat, they will be deprived of the opportunity to fulfill many mitzvot (commandments).

Response: By not eating meat, Jews are actually fulfilling many mitzvot:
showing compassion to animals, preserving health, conserving resources, helping
to feed the hungry, and preserving the earth. And by abstaining from meat, Jews
reduce the chance of accidentally violating several prohibitions of the Torah,
such as mixing meat and milk, eating non-kosher animals, and eating forbidden
fats or blood. There are other cases where Torah laws regulate things that God
would prefer people not do at all. For example, God wishes people to live in peace,
but he provides commandments relating to war, knowing that human beings will quarrel
and seek victories over others. Similarly, the Torah laws that restrict taking
female captives in wartime are a concession to human weakness. Indeed, the sages
go to great lengths to deter people from taking advantage of such dispensations.

Judaism teaches that it is wrong not to take advantage of the pleasurable things
that God has put on the earth. Since He put animals on the earth, and it is pleasurable
to eat them, is it not wrong to refrain from eating meat?
Response: Can
eating meat be pleasurable to a sensitive person when he or she knows that, as
a result, their health is endangered, grain is wasted, the environment is damaged,
and animals are being cruelly treated? One can indulge in pleasure without doing
harm to living creatures. There are many other cases in Judaism where actions
that people may consider pleasurable are forbidden or discouraged – such as the
use of tobacco, drinking liquor to excess, having sexual relations out of wedlock,
and hunting.

12) A movement by Jews toward vegetarianism would lead to
less emphasis on kashrut (dietary laws) and eventually a disregard of these laws.

Response: Quite the contrary. In many ways, becoming a vegetarian makes
it easier and less expensive to observe the laws of kashrut. This might attract
many new adherents to keeping kosher, and eventually to other important Jewish
practices. As a vegetarian, one need not be concerned with mixing milchigs (dairy
products) with fleichigs (meat products), waiting three or six hours after eating
meat before being allowed to eat dairy products, storing four complete sets of
dishes (two for regular use and two for Passover use), extra silverware, pots,
pans, etc., and many other considerations incumbent upon the non-vegetarian who
wishes to observe kashrut.

13) If everyone became vegetarian, butchers,
shochtim (slaughterers), and others dependent for a living on the consumption
of meat would lack work.
Response: There could be a shift from the production
of animal products to that of nutritious vegetarian dishes. In England during
World War II, when there was a shortage of meat, butchers relied mainly on the
sale of fruits and vegetables. Today, new businesses could sell tofu, miso, felafel,
soy burgers, and vegetarian cholent (Sabbath hot dish). Besides, the shift toward
vegetarianism will be gradual, providing time for a transition to other jobs.
The same kind of question can be asked about other moral issues. What would happen
to arms merchants if we had universal peace? What would happen to some doctors
and nurses if people took better care of themselves, stopped smoking, improved
their diets, and so on? Immoral or inefficient practices should not be supported
because some people earn a living in the process.

14) If everyone became
vegetarian, animals would overrun the earth.
Response: This concern is
based on an insufficient understanding of animal behavior. For example, there
are millions of turkeys around at Thanksgiving not because they want to help celebrate
the holiday, but because farmers breed them for the dinner table. Dairy cows are
artificially inseminated annually so that they will constantly produce milk. Before
the establishment of modern intensive livestock agriculture, food supply and demand
kept animal populations relatively steady. An end to the manipulation of animals??reproductive
tendencies to suit our needs would lead to a decrease, rather than an increase,
in the number of animals. We are not overrun by animals that we do not eat, such
as lions, elephants, and crocodiles.

15) Instead of advocating vegetarianism,
we should alleviate the evils of factory farming so that animals are treated better,
less grain is wasted, and less health-harming chemicals are used.
The breeding of animals is "big business". Animals are raised the way
they are today because it is very profitable. Improving conditions, as suggested
by this assertion, would certainly be a step in the right direction, but it has
been strongly resisted by the meat industry since it would greatly increase already
high prices.Why not abstain from eating meat as a protest against present policies
while trying to improve them? Even under the best of conditions, why take the
life of a creature of God, "whose tender mercies are over all His creatures"
(Psalms 145:9), when it is not necessary for proper nutrition?

16) One
can work to improve conditions for animals without being a vegetarian.
Certainly, animal abuse is a widespread problem and there are many ways to improve
conditions for animals. However, one should keep in mind that factory farming
is the primary source of animal abuse in this country. According to FARM (Farm
Animal Reform Movement), "The number of warm-blooded animals brutalized and
slaughtered each year is approximately 70 times the number of animals killed in
laboratories, 30 times the number killed by hunters and trappers, and 500 times
the number killed in pounds." They also reported that almost ten billion
farm animals are killed annually to produce food. A typical meat-eating animal
welfare advocate is personally responsible for the slaughter of twenty-two warm-blooded
animals per year, 1,500 in an average lifetime.

17) If vegetarian diets
were best for health, doctors would recommend them.
Response: Unfortunately,
while doctors are devoted to the well-being of their patients, many lack information
about the basic relationship between food and health, because nutrition is not
sufficiently taught at most medical schools. Also, many patients are resistant
to making dietary changes. The accepted approach today seems to be to prescribe
medications first and, perhaps, recommend a diet change as an afterthought. However,
there now seems to be increasing awareness on the part of doctors about the importance
of proper nutrition, but the financial power of the beef and dairy lobbies and
other groups who gain from the status quo prevents rapid changes.

I enjoy eating meat. Why should I give it up?
Response: If one is solely
motivated by what will bring pleasure, perhaps no answer to this question would
be acceptable. But Judaism wishes us to be motivated by far more: doing mitzvot,
performing good deeds and acts of charity, sanctifying ourselves in the realm
of the permissible, helping to feed the hungry, pursuing justice and peace, etc.
Even if one is primarily motivated by considerations of pleasure and convenience,
the negative health effects of animal-centered diets should be taken into account.
One cannot enjoy life when one is not in good health.



Filed under Kosher Meat Scandal

20 responses to “GUEST POST: 18 Myths About Judaism And Vegetarianism

  1. jl

    Rabbi Goren was certainly not a vegetarian. I know someone who served him a number of dishes which he ate at an Moetzes Dinner in America.

  2. Esnaged

    This suggestion that sacrifices were “tolerated” does not sit well with the fact that we are commanded to eat korban pesach, and that anyone who has the opportunity but fails to do so is chayev misah.

    This is hardly evidence of “toleration” of korbonos.

  3. Esnaged –

    I agree.

    JI –

    Rabbi Goren was a noted vegetarian in the Rav Kook vein. He may have eaten fish, and probably would have eaten around the meat or fowl on his plate.


    I used to spend many Shabbosim with people who were strict vegetarians and were considered very religious people. I found nothing wrong with this and enjoyed the food very much. Many friends of mine are frum vegans and enjoy their vegetarian Shabbos meals very much.

  5. Dovid

    Why would G-d “tolerate” something rooted in idolatrous practices?!

    Noach brought karbanot after the Mabul, all of the Avot brought Karbanot. If G-d only “tolerated” animal sacarifices, why are we required to bring a korban tamid twice a day? (In fact, the daily prayers were institutes because we are not able to bring the karban tamid!)

    While I agree that the factory-like processing of animals is cruel, we don’t need to go off the deep end!

    In general, for further reading on Jewish vegetarianism see “The path to Eden” by David Sears.

  6. I can’t agree more. How does making overreaching statements like those about karbanot help promote animal welfare and humane farming in the Jewish community? Obviously, they do not.

  7. Selecting two rabbinic opinions out of literally hundreds is wrong. Noting them as a minority view or as an alternative view is correct.

    Richard errs by making the minority the majority.

  8. “Even under the best of conditions, why take the life of a creature of God, “whose tender mercies are over all His creatures” (Psalms 145:9), when it is not necessary for proper nutrition?”

    Which, of course, is why strict vegans and vegetarians are low in Vitamin B-12, and need to take supplements to rectify this.

    What Richard means to say is that science, through many avenues including animal experimentation, can now provide us with certain nutrients needed for our health – nutrients previously available only through eating meat.

  9. “However, there now seems to be increasing awareness on the part of doctors about the importance of proper nutrition, but the financial power of the beef and dairy lobbies and other groups who gain from the status quo prevents rapid changes.”

    Humm. Let’s see. The medical and scientific establishment was strongly against the Atkins Diet – until new studies proved it not only safe, but beneficial. It’s not the dairy and meat lobbies that prevent rapid change here. It is FACTS.

    For a vegetarian diet to be truly healthy, it has to be followed in the extreme (like Dean Ornish) and it must be supplemented with B-12 and other nutrients. The minute you start ingesting large amounts of carbohydrate, especially grain-based carbs, your risk for diabetes, heart disease, etc., rises. Metabolic Syndrome X is largely linked to high carb consumption.

    One can be a vegetarian and be healthy – but it takes work.

  10. Here is a good explanation of the differences of opinion of this issue between the Rambam and the Ramban:

  11. Shalom everyone,

    I will try to respectfully address some of the points made above.

    1. I met Rabbi Goren (A”H) in his home in Tel Aviv over 10 years ago, along with my wife and another person. He told me that when he visited the slaughterhouses in Canada shortly before the “Six day War” in 1967, in his capacity as Chief rabbi of the IDF, and he heard the bellowing of the cattle and saw their fright, he vowed never to eat meat again. It was incredible to me that, when I said that if his life depended on it, he would then eat meat, he responded that even in that case he would not eat meat.

    2. Re the sacrifices, I merely indicated the Rambam’s view that it was a concession to the times, when the only mode of worship was through sacrifices. According to Rav Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, first Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel, there will be no animal sacrifices in the Messianic period. The important point is that today with no Temple, there are no animal sacrifices, so we can eagerly await a Messiah and let us know what will be during that time. But, today we can make decisions based on the realities of modern intensive livestock agriculture and how they impinge on basic Jewish teachings.

    3. Re the health issue, there are many scientific studies linking animal-based diets to heart disease, cancer, and many other degenerative diseases.

    4. The need for vitamin B12 is only micrograms a day, which can easily be obtained from enriched cereals, soy milks, etc. The reason for the need for supplements is that the huge amounts of pesticides used today destroys bacteria in the soil that produce vitamin B12.

    5. Bottom line: the Jewish community can generally ignore the massive mistreatment of animals on factory farms, the epidemic of diseases strongly linked to the consumption of animal products, and the many environmental threats that animal-based diets contribute substantially to, or we can apply Jewish values, be “rachmanin b’nei rachmanim” and a ‘light unto the nations” by returning to Hashem’s original dietary regimen (Genesis 1:29), and helping create a more healthy, humane, compassionate, peaceful, just, and environmentally sustainable world.

    6. The Book referred to above is “the Vision of Eden: Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and mysticism.” I strongly recommend it. It was written by a Torah scholar, a Breslov Chassid.

    7. For more information, please see my over 100 articles and other items at

    8. It would be a kiddush Hashem if someone would organize a respectful public debate on “Should Jews be Vegetarians?” I would be happy to participate.

    Kol tuv,

    Richard (Schwartz)
    President, Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA)

  12. Remalyahu

    “As God is compassionate,” they teach, “so you should be compassionate.”
    That’s right , we even say 3 times a day in ashrei : verachamav al kol maasav . that includes Tsomeach (plants) and chay (animal).
    Rambam also called those who take all literally, kessilim . (idiots?).
    so , it is written vesamahta behagecha .
    In mishnaic times there was no simcha without meat and wine . Today some will not feel simcha without tiramissu and could get sick eating meat. I have read in some place “bassar behema gassa dayka” is required on yomtov – a chicken or a sheep will not do.
    But one is not obligated to eat meet on the sabbath.
    Then they tell you that a ger who will seek to convert on condition of being allowed to be vegetarian will not be accepted .

  13. According to responsa of Rabbi Moshe Halevi Steinberg, being a vegetarian is not an impediment to conversion, since a Jew need not eat meat today.This is in his “Collection of Responsa,” responsa No. 1 and 2.

  14. Dovid

    Why then is the only way to become pure from T’mai Mais is through the Parah Adumah? As well as the two birds in the purifying of a metzorah… Just wondering…

    While Rav Kook definitly had the right to his opinion, how does he deal with what it says in the Hagadah (refering to the Messianic era) “V’ne’echal sham min ha’zvachim u’min ha’psachim?

    Judaisim has no qualms with vegetarianisim, that is for certain, but why try to downplay the significance of the karbanot?

  15. John K. Diamond


    I write this assuming that you are Rabbi David Sears, author of “The Vision of Eden.”

    When I first started my email correspondence with Dr. Richard Schwartz over 6 years ago, he mentioned this book that he was helping you with which eventually became “The Vision of Eden.” At one point, he even asked for my advice for a suitable title. Although you present a far more balanced view of vegetarianism than Richard holds, did not disuade him from helping you with the book or extensively promoting it. I have bought several copies myself and have given them out for others to read.

    I don’t feel that Richard is downplaying the significance of the karbonot.

    His comment (“The important point is that today with no Temple, there are no animal sacrifices, so we can eagerly await a Messiah and let us know what will be during that time.”) shows that he is open minded re what will be in the Messianic Era.

    My personal opinion is that we will need the Parah Adumah, The Two Birds, the Yom Kippur Goats for the Azazel Ceremony and the Pascal Lamb.

    But it is the Messiah who will set down the final determination.

    John K. Diamond
    Member, JVNA Advisory Committee

  16. harbona

    but why try to downplay the significance of the karbanot?
    good question r’ dovid
    maybe we should not dowplay the importance.
    cruelty to animals today however, is probably an impediment to geulah.
    when the real mashiach will come, and the temple rebuilt, the subject should be revisited .
    by the way, according to chabad, in messianic days, all chags will be eliminated, except purim , where we can be happy with a can of sardines ?!
    that solves the qorgan pessach problem. no ?

  17. Dovid (also known as Dovid Lerner)

    I AM NOT DAVID SEARS! I read the book on the recommendation of a vegetarian chavrusa I have!

  18. Dovid Lerner

    It is not Chabad tradition that all festivals will be eliminated, it is (I think, I have to look this up) a midrash Kol Ha’moados Asidin Li’batel. In fact, according to Chabad teachings, all festivals actually will in the Messianic era, but that the spirituality and joy of the era will “outshine” the festivals, except for Purim, the happiest day for the Jewish people.

  19. Neo-Conservaguy

    “My personal opinion is that we will need the Parah Adumah…”

    …and the Sadducees will laugh at us, as predicted in the Talmud. Shall we say that we (again) found a long lost/hidden supply of the ashes?

  20. Dovid Lerner

    Maybe we will find a kosher red heifer! As I recall there was a big hoo-hah several years ago that they had found one, but it turned out to be not kosher.

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