Being a chocolate chip vegan I have found myself almost leper even in liberal LA. I found this Jewish view on be a vegetarian and another article about how it feels to not eat meat in a carnivore's world.
Jewish Vegetarianism -- Theological Perspectives on Judaism and Vegetarianism
The Jewish Vegetarian Ideal
Jewish vegetarianism is a philosophy and lifestyle, based upon Jewish teachings and mandates, that prescribes a diet centered on grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds and that proscribes the consumption of all animal flesh, including that of fish and fowl. Many well known Jews have followed a Jewish vegetarian lifestyle. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, the first chief rabbi of modern Israel, considered vegetarianism to be the ideal, the ultimate peace between mankind and the rest of the animal kingdom. He felt that in the Messianic Age, as prophesied by Isaiah (XI:7), we would all be vegetarian again and the only sacrifices offered would be the mincha sacrifice, which was of vegetable origin. Although there is some debate regarding Rav Kook's consistency in following a vegetarian diet, Rabbi She'ar Yashuv Cohen, the current Chief Rabbi of Haifa, has written, "I myself, am a vegetarian, following in the footsteps of my late father, the saintly Nazir of Jerusalem [Rabbi David Cohen], and his teacher, the saintly first Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Avraham Isaac Hacohen Kook." Other well known Jewish vegetarians include Rabbi David Rosen, former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, the late Rabbi Shlomo Goren z"l, Chief Rabbi of Israel, and Avraham Burg (vegan - strict vegetarian), the youngest and only religious person ever to be elected Knesset Speaker, whose diet reflects his respect for the sanctity of all life. Thus, Jewish vegetarianism has had many prominent adherents.
In the ideal state of Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden), mankind is described as being vegetarian, and this state persisted until after the Flood in the time of Noach. In Bereishit, perek aleph, pasuk kaf"tet (Genesis I:29), God told Adam and Chava (Eve) that He had given them all of the seed-bearing plants and fruits as food. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 59b) declares, "Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav, 'Adam was not allowed to eat meat,'" citing the above pasuk (verse) from Bereishit. Almost all of the subsequent commentators agree with this assessment.
Vegetarianism can be considered the ideal from several perspectives. We will consider each of these in turn.
Health and Prevention
A plant-based diet is the ideal, as confirmed by medical scientists in recent years. A commentator has suggested that the prescription of a vegetarian diet in Gan Eden could not have been for health reasons because there are many poisonous plants that would be harmful if consumed. This objection does not make much sense, however. If a doctor tells a patient to eat more fruits and vegetables, he is giving a general recommendation for health reasons. Although there are some poisonous berries and plants, he assumes that the patient has the common sense to stay away from them. Similarly, the prescription of this type of diet by God can be considered a general recommendation for the healthiest type of diet.
Judaism stresses the importance of maintaining health and not harming oneself. We are commanded in Devarim, perek daled, pasuk tet"vav (Deuteronomy IV:15) "venishmartem me'od lenafshoteichem" --"you shall guard yourselves most diligently." This means that we must do everything possible to guard our health and not take unnecessary risks. We are also to "choose life above all" (Deuteronomy XXX:19). The well known talmudic principle "chamira sakkanta me'issura" (Chulin 10a) indicates that a danger to health takes precedence over ritual obligations, including Shabbat observance. The Torah also declares that prevention is the highest form of healing: "If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in His eyes, and keep all of His commandments, I will put none of the diseases upon you that I have put upon the Egyptians, for I am the Lord your physician." God is saying here that He is preventing disease. Since, in preventing disease, we are emulating God, prevention is the highest form of healing. With regard to vegetarianism, Rashi's midrashic explanation of this verse is very interesting: he states that God in this context is like a physician who says to a patient, "Do not eat this food or it will make you sick." Modern research has shown that there is indeed a great sakkana (danger) to health from consuming meat, and this by itself provides sufficient reason to require a vegetarian diet from a halachic (Jewish legal) perspective.
Medical Evidence Supporting a Vegetarian Diet
We have learned that nutrition is the primary determinant of health. Virtually all of our chronic diseases are linked to diet (references available on request).
Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States. Risk factors include elevated blood cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, hypercoagulability of the blood, and presence of diabetes -- all of which can be prevented or alleviated by a high fiber, low fat vegetarian diet. The Lifestyle Heart Trial showed that adoption of a low fat vegetarian diet along with exercise and stress reduction can actually reverse the hardening of the arteries that leads to heart attacks. The implication is that 95% of all heart attacks are preventable. They are not something to be expected as a consequence of aging but rather are the result of an aberrant lifestyle.
All of the major causes of death due to cancer have been linked to diet. The risk of lung cancer, number one in both men and women because of the smoking epidemic, may be increased by animal fat consumption and is reduced by vegetable consumption. Meat consumption is a major risk factor for prostate cancer, number two in men, and fats increase its aggressiveness. Breast cancer, a hormonally dependent cancer, may be linked with higher estrogen levels in women and may reflect childhood dietary practices and even the diet of one's mother prenatally. Cancer of the colon and rectum, number three in both men and women, is strongly linked to both red and white meat consumption. Meat consumption is a risk factor for pancreatic cancer (number four in both men and women), whereas legumes and dried fruits appear to be protective. Ovarian cancer, number five in women, has been linked with dairy (including skim milk), egg, and meat consumption. Lymphoma, number five in men and six in women, has been linked with both beef and dairy consumption in various studies. And the risk of bladder cancer in non-vegetarians is twice that of vegetarians. The message is clear: we would prevent well over half of all deaths due to cancer if people increased their fruit and vegetable consumption and discarded the animal products.
The adult form of diabetes, common among overweight adults, can be prevented by a high fiber vegetarian diet. Seventh Day Adventists, about half of whom are vegetarian, have only half the death rate from diabetes as the rest of us. Vegetarian diets have also been found to lower blood pressure. Kidney stones occur in one out of every eight adults in the U.S., and meat consumption has been identified as a major risk factor. Gallstones are also much less prevalent in vegetarians. High intakes of animal protein increase the risk of osteoporosis. And obesity, which is an obvious sign of an inappropriate diet, speaks for itself.
Modern science has indeed confirmed the Torah's wisdom with regard to the ideal diet.
Ethics and Respect for Life
Judaism forbids the infliction of unnecessary pain and suffering, called tsa'ar ba'alei chayim, on nonhuman animals. This injunction is d'oreita, derived directly from the Torah. So strongly did Chazal (our Sages) feel about this matter that they included "eiver min hachai," the prohibition against removing the limb from a living animal (or more broadly, anything that causes unnecessary suffering to animals) among the seven Noachide commandments. These were the laws that they felt should be applicable to all of mankind and not just to Jews. Many of our commandments relate to the way animals should be treated.
Many traditional Jewish sources refer to nonhuman animals as creatures devoid of reasoning ability, imagination, and morality. Modern science has shown otherwise, and just as we disregard the medical remedies described by the Talmud, we should also discard these characterizations of animals because of their scientific invalidity. Anyone who has had companion animals is aware of their diverse personalities, their thinking abilities, and their capacity for unconditional love, a very positive trait. An article in the International Edition of the Jerusalem Post on August 10, 1996 described an amazing event. A British tourist was swimming in the Red Sea when he was attacked by sharks. He screamed and the water around him became stained with his own blood. As a crew in a boat sped to save him, they saw that he was being circled by three dolphins who had created a barrier between the sharks and him and had thereby saved his life. Similar incidents involving other animals have been recorded as well. Of course, even if animals were not capable of reasoning there would be no justification for exploiting them and causing them pain. Interestingly, in discussing the prohibition against killing an animal and its offspring on the same day, the Rambam (Maimonides) states in Moreh Nevuchim (Guide for the Perplexed) that "there is no difference in this situation between the pain of humans and the pain of other living creatures," and he points out that imagination exists not only in humans but also in most other animals. Judaism does not equate humans with nonhuman animals, but we must accept the scientific evidence that they are similar in many important ways. And even though they are dissimilar to humans in many ways, that does not give us the right to exploit them merely to satisfy our ta'avah (lust).
Unfortunately, animals today have become straw men for those who feel the need to justify their own actions. The concept of using the Torah to justify one's own gratification at the expense of others is not rooted in Judaism. According to the Torah, God placed man in the Garden of Eden l'ovda uleshomra, to work it and to serve it. In other words, we were placed here not for our own gratification but to serve God. Rather than using the Torah to justify what we do, we should be using it to ask how we can serve God better, by raising ourselves to higher moral and spiritual levels by emulating His mercy and compassion.
We've fallen a long way from the likes of Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, who stated, "There are probably no creatures that require more the protective divine word against the presumption of people than the animals which, like human beings, have sensations and instincts, but whose body and powers are nevertheless subservient to people. In relation to them, human beings easily forget that injured animal muscle twitches just like human muscle, that the maltreated nerves of an animal sicken like human nerves, that the animal being is just as sensitive to cuts, blows, and beating as people" (Horeb, Soncino Press, New York, 1962).
Animals raised today under the factory farming system suffer greatly. Their lives epitomize tsa'ar ba'alei chayim. This was recognized by Reb Moshe Feinstein in the case of crate-raised veal calves, whose meat is usually treifah (nonkosher) anyway because of the sicknesses they suffer. Those who saw the movie "Shoah" will recall that the methods the Nazis used for herding Jews toward the gas chambers (a progressively narrowing corridor with the barbed wire covered with greenery) were based upon methods used on cattle. And as some have pointed out, if it's so terrible to treat people that way, then perhaps we shouldn't be treating nonhuman animals that way either.
Although the laws of shechita were designed to lessen suffering, there is no such thing as humane slaughter. In Moreh Nevuchim, the Rambam felt the need to justify shechita, which he did based upon his mistaken belief that meat was necessary for health. Now that we know that meat consumption is not only unnecessary for nutritional sufficiency but is actually harmful, we have to conclude that it represents tsa'ar ba'alei chayim and that a vegetarian diet should be required on this basis alone.
The statement in the Torah that mankind was placed in Gan Eden to take care of it (Genesis II:15) can be considered the first lesson in environmental responsibility. The concept of bal tashchit (you shall not waste) derived from the Torah serves as a reminder to conserve precious resources. The Talmud also gives us laws related to pollution.
Modern factory farming is creating major environmental problems that could be eliminated by a shift toward vegetarian diets. The raising of farm animals is extremely wasteful of resources, especially water. Pollution from animal waste runoff has created ecological havoc in some areas. Worsening of the greenhouse effect and global warming have also been attributed to livestock agriculture.
Clearly, the way animals are raised in the United States and in other countries is not consistent with the Jewish mandate to take care of the earth.
Meatless Like Me
I may be a vegetarian, but I still love the smell of bacon.By Taylor ClarkPosted Wednesday, May 7, 2008, at 11:51 AM ET
Every vegetarian remembers his first time. Not the unremarkable event of his first meal without meat, mind you. No, I mean the first time he casually lets slip that he's turned herbivore, prompting everyone in earshot to stare at him as if he just revealed plans to sail his carrot-powered plasma yacht to Neptune. For me, this first time came at an Elks scholarship luncheon in rural Oregon when I was 18. All day, I'd succeeded at seeming a promising and responsible young man, until that fateful moment when someone asked why I hadn't taken any meat from the buffet. After I offered my reluctant explanation—and the guy announced it to the entire room—30 people went eerily quiet, undoubtedly expecting me to launch into a speech on the virtues of hemp. In the corner, an elderly, suited man glared at me as he slowly raised a slice of bologna and executed the most menacing bite of cold cut in recorded history. I didn't get the scholarship.
I tell this story not to win your pity but to illustrate a point: I've been vegetarian for a decade, and when it comes up, I still get a look of confused horror that says, "But you seemed so … normal." The U.S. boasts more than 10 million herbivores today, yet most Americans assume that every last one is a loopy, self-satisfied health fanatic, hellbent on draining all the joy out of life. Those of us who want to avoid the social nightmare have to hide our vegetarianism like an Oxycontin addiction, because admit it, omnivores: You know nothing about us. Do we eat fish? Will we panic if confronted with a hamburger? Are we dying of malnutrition? You have no clue. So read on, my flesh-eating friends—I believe it's high time we cleared a few things up.
To demonstrate what a vegetarian really is, let's begin with a simple thought experiment. Imagine a completely normal person with completely normal food cravings, someone who has a broad range of friends, enjoys a good time, is carbon-based, and so on. Now remove from this person's diet anything that once had eyes, and, wham!, you have yourself a vegetarian. Normal person, no previously ocular food, end of story. Some people call themselves vegetarians and still eat chicken or fish, but unless we're talking about the kind of salmon that comes freshly plucked from the vine, this makes you an omnivore. A select few herbivores go one step further and avoid all animal products—milk, eggs, honey, leather—and they call themselves vegan, which rhymes with "tree men." These people are intense.
Vegetarians give up meat for a variety of ethical, environmental, and health reasons that are secondary to this essay's goal of increasing brotherly understanding, so I'll mostly set them aside. Suffice it to say that one day, I suddenly realized that I could never look a cow in the eyes, press a knocking gun to her temple, and pull the trigger without feeling I'd done something cruel and unnecessary. (Sure, if it's kill the cow or starve, then say your prayers, my bovine friend—but for now, it's not quite a mortal struggle to subsist on the other five food groups.) I am well-aware that even telling you this makes me seem like the kind of person who wants to break into your house and liberate your pet hamster—that is, like a PETA activist. Most vegetarians, though, would tell you that they appreciate the intentions of groups like PETA but not the obnoxious tactics. It's like this: We're all rooting for the same team, but they're the ones in face paint, bellowing obscenities at the umpire and flipping over every car with a Yankees bumper sticker. I have no designs on your Camry or your hamster.
Now, when I say that vegetarians are normal people with normal food cravings, many omnivores will hoist a lamb shank in triumph and point out that you can hardly call yourself normal if the aroma of, say, sizzling bacon doesn't fill you with deepest yearning. To which I reply: We're not insane. We know meat tastes good; it's why there's a freezer case at your supermarket full of woefully inadequate meat substitutes. Believe me, if obtaining bacon didn't require slaughtering a pig, I'd have a BLT in each hand right now with a bacon layer cake waiting in the fridge for dessert. But, that said, I can also tell you that with some time away from the butcher's section, many meat products start to seem gross. Ground beef in particular now strikes me as absolutely revolting; I have a vague memory that hamburgers taste good, but the idea of taking a cow's leg, mulching it into a fatty pulp, and forming it into a pancake makes me gag. And hot dogs … I mean, hot dogs? You do know what that is, right?
As a consolation prize we get tofu, a treasure most omnivores are more than happy to do without. Well, this may stun you, but I'm not any more excited about a steaming heap of unseasoned tofu blobs than you are. Tofu is like fugu blowfish sushi : Prepared correctly, it's delicious; prepared incorrectly, it's lethal. Very early in my vegetarian career, I found myself famished and stuck in a mall, so I wandered over to the food court's Asian counter. When I asked the teenage chief culinary artisan what was in the tofu stir-fry, he snorted and replied, "Shit." Desperation made me order it anyway, and I can tell you that promises have rarely been more loyally kept than this guy's pledge that the tofu would taste like shit. So here's a tip: Unless you know you're in expert hands (Thai restaurants are a good bet), don't even try tofu. Otherwise, it's your funeral.