Friday, March 19, 2010

Jews Should Be Vegetarians

That’s a ballsy statement to make—Jews should be vegetarians. Usually, when people hear something like that, one automatically thinks of the stereotypical “holier-than-thou” vegetarian who tries to force their vegetarianism on everybody else because he thinks that vegetarianism truly is dietary superiority. That is not the purpose of this blog entry. I am fully aware that G-d gave man permissibility to eat meat in Genesis 9:3. If I tried to argue that meat consumption was forbidden, I would lose that argument in a New York minute. I am not making an imperative argument here, but merely a highly suggestive one.

One of the primary arguments that traditional Jews make against vegetarianism is that it is anathema to Jewish concepts. Not only will I outline how it is not an anti-Jewish practice, but how it actually enhances one’s Jewishness and is consistent with Jewish values.

כשרות קל.  Vegetarianism makes for better Jewish observance. Some people have a hard time believing this one, but think about it. What do a vast majority of Jewish dietary laws entail? Limiting the consumption of meat. First of all, you have to wait six hours to eat dairy after you eat meat. Wouldn’t it be better to eat whenever you want rather than wait? Second, you have to own four pairs of dishes. Wouldn’t it be better to have just two—one set for Pesach and the other for the rest of the year? Third, kosher meat is downright expensive, particularly in light of the Agriprocessers scandal. If you’re looking to save a few bucks, don’t eat meat. This is viable to do in America, especially since more and more food in the supermarkets has a hechsher on it.

This reason is one of my personal favorites—if you don’t eat meat, there is no way that you can transgress twenty mitzvot. For Orthodox Jews, this should be reason enough, especially when Orthodoxy has unprecedentedly taken the approach of “stringency for stringency’s sake,” or what they would prefer to call חומרה. If Orthodox Jews want to build a fence around dietary laws to absolutely make sure that they don’t want to violate any of the laws of kashrut d’oraita, as well as most of the laws d’rabanam, don’t eat meat…it’s that simple! Even if you’re not Orthodox, but you’re looking to get in touch with your Jewishness, vegetarianism is so much easier than all the convoluted laws involving meat. Vegetarianism, in fact, could actually draw people closer to their Judaism rather than deter them.

פיקוח נפש‎. Vegetarianism is a healthier practice than consuming meat since, on average, it increases longevity up to a decade. The Torah mandates us to preserve our health, which is implied from His word: "Take heed to thyself and take care of your lives (Deut. 4:9),” and again six verses later: "Be extremely protective of your lives (ibid 4:15).” Judaism teaches that our bodies are the vessels for our souls (Ta'anit 11a-b). If you are in poor health, it becomes all the more difficult to perform a mitzvah. As Maimonides states: "Since maintaining a healthy and sound body is among the ways of G-d - for one cannot understand or have knowledge of the Creator if one is ill—therefore one must avoid that which harms the body and accustom oneself to that which is helpful and helps the body become stronger (MT, Hilchot Deot 4:1).” If you shorten your time span on Earth, you deprive yourself of doing more mitzvahs. As R. Samson Hirsch points out in Horeb (Ch. 62, ivcxxviii) “You may not rob yourself of your life nor cause your body the slightest injury... Only if the body is healthy is it an efficient instrument for the spirit's activity... Therefore you should avoid everything which might possibly impair your health."  In short, our physical health becomes our spiritual health.

It's not that that I have more to say on the topic.  It's just that there's enough to say that I need to divide this into two posts.  Part Two is coming soon.....


  1. At what age do you think Jews should start being Vegetarians?

  2. I'd say that as soon as somebody realizes the implications of what they eat and how it can enhance their Judaism, they should just begin eating vegetarian.