by Dan Arbel
Rabbi David Rosen, former chief rabbi of Ireland, in a lecture at the Jewish Vegetarian
Society in 1992 explained that the idea of compassion toward animals is deeply rooted
in the Torah and need not benefit just the animals. Of the two mitzvoth (good deeds)
which prolong life, one is based on ecological sensitivity: the command not to remove
eggs from the mother bird's nest. Rabbi Rosen suggests that prolonging life is
discussed in terms of the well being of society as a whole. In his view, being sensitive to
animal life leads to sensitivity to our own society.
Is Meat Eating the Jewish Way?
The biggest challenge Jewish Vegetarians have to contend with is the fact that meat
eating is mentioned in the bible and rules are established as to exactly what can and
what cannot be eaten. However, the original food for man is written in Genesis (1:29):
"Behold I give you every herb bearing seed and the fruit of every seed bearing tree, for
you, it shall be for food."
Permission to kill and eat animals was only granted as a result of man's later evil
(Genesis 9:5) and then "lusting for meat" was accompanied by a curse. Jewish
vegetarians, then, see their diet as an ideal that can be re-attained. Jewish vegetarians
argue that eating factory-farmed meat contravenes the precepts of the Torah twice.
Once by harming the animals and once by not taking care of one's own health. Mass
farming methods rely on injecting the animals with antibiotics, hormones and other
agents, not only causing suffering to the animals but potentially causing health
problems among flesh consumers. (Problems of cholesterol, heart disease and
Cruelty To Animals
Biblical sources not only forbid cruelty, but demand compassion and mercy towards the
animals. The welfare of animals has been a Jewish concern since biblical times, and it
can be a source of pride to Jews that the issue of prevention of cruelty to animals has
been addressed, discussed and ruled on by rabbis for many centuries. Public
campaigns to defend animals often lead to improvement, but the real changes occur
when the government and the courts mobilize in their defense.
The courts in Israel have recently made several decisions. From 1 April 2006 it will be
forbidden to force-feed newborn geese with high caloric food by inserting a tube into the
esophagus, resulting in the swelling of the liver. The process lasts about 3 months, after
which the geese, who have a life expectancy of about 60 years in their natural habitat,
are slaughtered. Force-feeding causes great pain to the animal and it is cruel and
inhumane. This artificially enlarges the goose's liver, all for the purpose of supplying the
delicacy known as "foie gras", since force-feeding geese violates the law, which
prohibits torture, cruelty or abuse to animals.
Humans have grown accustomed to
viewing animals as food products and have forgotten that they, too, are entitled to
Animal owners are required to rest their animals, as they themselves rest, on Shabbat
(exodus 20:10). Acts usually forbidden on Shabbat were permitted to avoid animals'
pain, because of the precedence of biblical injunctions. Modern halakhic technological
solutions have been developed to allow milking cows on Shabbat, avoiding the cow's
discomfort, while not contravening the prohibition of work.
The Halakha mandates that
the owner of an animal feed those animals which are dependent on him for their food
before eating himself. This law applies not only to farm animals, but also to pets, birds
and fish. It applies to all mealtimes, whether the owner is away or at home, on Shabbat
or weekdays. If his mealtime coincides with the animals feeding time, then the animal
must be fed first.
Increased Vegetarian Awareness
Supermarket executives in Israel say that an increasing number of kosher consumers
are asking for vegetarian replacement kosher foods, ranging from hotdogs to patties,
foods that are marked as "Parve", containing no animal ingredients, including milk and
eggs. Vegetarians in general say that they have an easier time keeping a kosher diet
than conventional kosher adherents, largely because they eat many ingredients and
products that do not need kosher certification in the first place.
In Israel we have a complete vegetarian village called Amirim, and it is Israel's (and
possible the worlds) only completely vegetarian village. Many residents make there
living by renting out guest rooms and serving completely vegetarian and vegan meals.
Amirim is in the Galilee, not far south of Sefad.
There are many vegetarian restaurants
all over Israel and a lot of vegetarian possibilities in all the supermarket chains.
Soglowek and Tivol are two large soy producers (meat like products made of Soya)
exporting to the entire world.
Famous rabbis, Rabbi Goren, Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen, Rabbi Rosen were or are all
vegetarians. Rabbi Rosen has made strong statements about eating meat being
halachically questionable for reasons of both health and mistreatment of animals.
Nowhere in the Bible is the promise of meat made as a reward for keeping the
commandments. Only the promise of fruits of the vine, garden and fields is mentioned.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin stated that the kosher laws are designed to teach us compassion
and to lead us gently to vegetarianism. Rabbi Ovadia Josef is a strong advocate of
animal rights and he has favored banning the production of foie gras in Israel.
Moshe Feinstein forbade the method of removing calves from their mothers at birth and
raising them in miserable conditions, in tiny darkened boxes, where they cannot move,
just to produce a very light colored, tender meat. All of this shows how sensitive Judaism is to living beings, and presents us with a challenge to
translate that sensitivity into real behavior.