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Judaism and Eating Meat: Letter to a Vegan Animal Rights Activist

high priest

Dear J:

Let me first say that I really do not care what you choose to eat. Therefore, I find it insulting and irritating that you should take it upon yourself to tell me what I should eat. You are not my doctor and in fact have no training in medicine.

Moreover, I find it infuriating that you presume to pronounce upon my own morality based on what I choose to eat while bragging about your own high ethical standards, all because you do not eat meat or animal products.

Perhaps the most obnoxious part of your posturing is your pretense that somehow Judaism itself endorses your extremist vegan choice of diet while it condemns my meat-eating one as ethically inferior.

Let us back up a bit. There is nothing in Judaism that condemns the eating of meat. Indeed, not only is vegetarianism not endorsed in classical rabbinic sources as some kind of morally superior life style, it is actually prohibited in halacha, at least with regard to the Passover sacrifice.

When the Temple was in existence, Jews were religiously obligated to eat roasted meat at least once a year on the evening of Passover. They could not abstain from doing so on grounds of hypertension or cholesterol dangers, nor could they substitute tofu for the grilled meat.

The eating of meat is to be found in virtually all Jewish texts. Abraham did not welcome the passing strangers into his tent with a hospitality dinner composed of lettuce and turnip daiquiris. The children of Israel ate quail while wondering through the Sinai wilderness. Donations and obligatory payments to the Temple were routinely made in the form of animals to be eaten.

While the Torah goes to lengths in several places to list animals whose consumption is prohibited, this is clearly done for the purpose of identifying animals whose meat can be consumed. Festivals in particular involved the eating of meat, and there are rabbinic opinions holding that a holiday meal without meat is not a true feast (even on Shavuos).

Indeed, the only case that comes to mind of vegetarianism in the Bible is in the Book of Daniel, and there it is clear that the practice was embraced reluctantly because no properly prepared kosher meat was available.

While you go through all sorts of contortions to invent a case for Judaism prohibiting the eating of meat, a far more persuasive case may be made for Judaism prohibiting strict vegetarianism altogether, particularly vegan diets.

I know you like to toss out the usual claims from the animal rights lobby about how all animal products are terribly harmful to your health. We will come back to those claims in a moment. But suppose – just suppose – the medical profession reached complete consensus that eating animal products was good for your health, not harmful to it. Would you then agree that Judaism unambiguously prohibits vegetarianism on the grounds of the need to preserve one’s health?

I already know what your answer is. You would still oppose all eating of meat and animal protein. Which, of course, proves my point. You are not opposed to eating meat because it is unhealthy for humans to do so. You are opposed to the eating of meat because you have embraced a pagan quasi-worship of animals and their “rights” – where the “interests” of animals trump the interests of humans.

That is why you also oppose medical experiments involving animals. You would rather that millions of humans die of cancer than subject lab hamsters and monkeys to experimentation for the advance of science.

The consensus among doctors that eating animal products is not, in and of itself, hazardous to one’s health is about as close to unanimous as is possible regarding any medical question.

You try to downplay this by citing evidence that obesity and high cholesterol are serious health hazards. This has become the modus operandi of the animal rights lobby. You make your case by describing extreme situations and then extrapolate from those to advance your agenda against all consumption of animal products.

Yes, obesity and high cholesterol are serious health problems. But any food – salt, sugar, pepper, even water – consumed in extreme quantities can be a health hazard. The fact that extreme consumption of meat is unhealthy does not mean that all consumption of meat is unhealthy. Not only is moderate consumption healthy, it is difficult for most people to obtain sufficient protein without consuming animal products.

Since you raise Judaism as a false flag of endorsement for your vegan agenda, let us note that the authentic Jewish approach toward such things is moderation –distancing oneself from extremes. Do not consume huge amounts of sugar and salt but do not forgo them altogether (the body, after all, needs sugar and salt). Do not forgo wine and alcohol but do not become an alcoholic. Do not forgo meat but do not “pig out” on extravagant servings.

Even with all the modern concerns about the dangers of overeating and obesity, there is still an unambiguous positive correlation between life expectancy and consumption of meat in the world today, especially when making international comparisons. Countries where people live longer are countries where more meat protein is eaten.

Strict vegetarians have a considerable health challenge in terms of obtaining sufficient protein. In fact, I suspect that a serious investigation of vegan diets would prove that, just like “organic foods,” they are downright unhealthy.

About the Author: Steven Plaut is a professor at the University of Haifa. He can be contacted at steveneplaut@yahoo.com.


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34 Responses to “Judaism and Eating Meat: Letter to a Vegan Animal Rights Activist”

  1. amen v amen, destroy all vegetarianism destroy all literature about

  2. Jim Corcoran says:

    The average person walking the street actually knows more about nutrition than MDs do!

    I've been vegan for 25 years and consider it one of the best decisions of my life (my doctor agrees). Here's a video to help everyone understand why so many people are making this life affirming choice and why the number of vegans has doubled in the US in less than 3 years.: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKr4HZ7ukSE

    Also, here's a link for everyone who wants to join the revolution: 21-Day Vegan Kickstart http://www.pcrm.org/health/diets/kickstart/kickstart-programs

  3. Caryn Lipson says:

    Thank you for writing this. It really needed to be said. Vitamin B12 and other deficiencies are also a problem for vegans.

  4. Those meats that we are allowed are the same that were allowed as sacrifices in the Temple. The people were allowed to eat the meats that resulted from various Temple sacrifices. It was not man's inalienable right to eat other animals. We have taken this "inch" and made it into an industry that has no regard for animals except as pets and to feed our seemingly insatiable appetites.

  5. Animals do no have "rights," Men (and Women) do, however, have responsibilities as the Torah teaches. Steven Plaut,however,simplifies a bit to much. Individual health as well as preferences can be valid for a meat free diet as long as the are not used as an ideological *hammer* against Torah values.

  6. Noam Mohr says:

    How can you selectively leave out Genesis, where the world is created vegetarian? Adam all the way to Noah were all vegetarian. G-d's intention was for a vegetarian world.

    You have your health facts wrong too. Studies consistently show that vegetarians live longer and healthier than meat-eaters (http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324423904578523190441042514). That's across the board, not just due to extreme examples of obesity like you mention. The American Dietetic Association endorses veg diets as perfectly healthy in every way (including protein) — and more healthy than meat diets with regards to a host of diseases (http://www.eatright.org/About/Content.aspx?id=8357).

    Moreover, Judaism strongly opposes animal cruelty. The fact is that animal products today come from factory farms where animals suffer lifelong abuse on an unimaginable scale. There is no way to justify that.

    Plus, studies show vegetarians are happier (http://www.nutritionj.com/content/9/1/26). So going veg, everyone wins!

  7. Philip Kutner says:

    Lighten up. We can disagree without being disagreeable. I love my meat, but there are certain facts we should consider.

    Plant foods are eaten without needing to be fed to animals.

    Conversion of plant feed into meat requires from 4-10 pounds. Poultry are twice as efficient in converting grain as cattle. With the increasing world population and the amount of hunger, it would be wise to tout a greater reliance on foods of plant origin.

  8. Professor Plaut, as president emeritus of Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA), I can tell you that we are not telling you what to eat. We recognize that Jews have dietary choices, but we believe that these choices should be made after considering the inconsistencies between animal-based diets and agriculture and basic Jewish teachings. We believe that Jews should (should not must) be vegetarians (and preferably vegans) to be most consistent with Jewish teachings on preserving human health, treating animals with compassion, protecting the environment, conserving natural resources, and helping hungry people.

    Please note that the two ideal times in the Jewish tradition are vegan periods. These are the periods after the world was created, starting in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1:29), and the Messianic period that Jews yearn for, according to Rav Kook, Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel, based on Isaiah 11:6-9, that “The wolf will dwell with the lamb, … the lion shall eat straw like the ox, … and no one shall hate nor destroy in all of God’s holy mountain.”

    Please note also that the late Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel Shlomo Goren was a strict vegetarian, as are Shear Yashuv Cohen, former chief rabbi of Haifa, Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the UK, and David Rosen, former chief rabbi of Ireland, and many other Orthodox Jews. So, abstaining from eating meat iProfessor Plaut, as president emeritus of Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA), I can tell you that we are not telling you what to eat. We recognize that Jews have dietary choices, but we believe that these choices should be made after considering the inconsistencies between animal-based diets and agriculture and basic Jewish teachings. We believe that Jews should (should not must) be vegetarians (and preferably vegans) to be most consistent with Jewish teachings on preserving human health, treating animals with compassion, protecting the environment, conserving natural resources, and helping hungry people.

    Please note that the two ideal times in the Jewish tradition are vegan periods. These are the periods after the world was created, starting in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1:29), and the Messianic period that Jews yearn for, according to Rav Kook, Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel, based on Isaiah 11:6-9, that “The wolf will dwell with the lamb, … the lion shall eat straw like the ox, … and no one shall hate nor destroy in all of God’s holy mountain.”

    Please note also that the late Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel Shlomo Goren was a strict vegetarian, as are Shear Yashuv Cohen, former chief rabbi of Haifa, Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the UK, and David Rosen, former chief rabbi of Ireland, and many other Orthodox Jews. So, abstaining from eating meat is certainly not contrary to Jewish values.
    s certainly not contrary to Jewish values.

  9. Actually B12 is a problem for omnivores too – It results from the inability to absorb it. It has nothing to do with the availability of it. Perfect example are my omnivore neighbors who eat meat at every meal. Both husband and wife go for "b12" shots every other month. And please quantify with sources your claim that there are "other deficiencies" in a vegan diet. There is not one single illness that is directly caused through a lack of meat consumption – Yet I can name quite a few diseases that are a result of animal eating. Sounds like you've let your opinions get the better of your good judgment.

  10. No matter in whose teachings one chooses to follow – We know in our hearts what the fair and just thing should be done regarding the killing of our fellow creatures. No one will betray their faith if they choose to be kind.

  11. Prof. Platt says: (Quote) There is nothing in Judaism that condemns the eating of meat. Indeed, not only is vegetarianism not endorsed in classical rabbinic sources as some kind of morally superior life style, it is actually prohibited in halacha, at least with regard to the Passover sacrifice. When the Temple was in existence, Jews were religiously obligated to eat roasted meat at least once a year on the evening of Passover. They could not abstain from doing so on grounds of hypertension or cholesterol dangers, nor could they substitute tofu for the grilled meat. (Unquote.)

    Yes, indeed, you are rich, professor. Jews were only OBLIGATED to eat meat ONCE A YEAR. Where else in the Torah are they required to do so? Please. Find the text and tell us where it is.

    And seeing that you so eloquently quote Jewish texts and sources may I ask you to please find me a prayer or a blessing anywhere in Jewish sources for the eating of meat. There are prayers of thanks for wine and the fruits of the vine and the trees and the abundance of the earth, but absolutely NOTHING to thank G-d for meat or any other kind of dead flesh before, during or after a meal. NOTHING.

    And I notice a complete absence of compassion in your piece. It is devoid of any kind of awareness or consideration of the suffering that takes place to provide you with your piece of halachically acceptable kosher chunk of flesh. You dismiss vegetarianism as some kind of weird paganistic practice. Well, I would like to suggest that you take yourself down to your nearest factory farm or slaughterhouse and see what kind of sadistic, horrific, paeanistic practices go on there, day after day after day.

    Want to sleep with a clear conscience, snug in the fact that your actions follow ethical Jewish teachings? Then go and SEE how and where your meat comes from. If you are not in in the slightest way moved or affected by what you see then, fine, simply carry on and believe that you're following the right path.

    But, alas, you have much to learn.

  12. Athonwy Doherty says:

    Bring it on beyotch.

  13. Athonwy Doherty says:

    Noooope. Try again. B12 is a problem for anyone who eats an inadequately diverse diet. The vast majority of people with B12 deficiency are omnivores, according to the W.H.O. A plant-based diet is healthy and sustainable for all phases of life when done correctly.

  14. Chris Poupart says:

    "You are opposed to the eating of meat because you have embraced a pagan quasi-worship of animals and their “rights” – where the “interests” of animals trump the interests of humans."

    This is pretty accurate. Vegans believe that the interest that other animals have to live free from human harm trumps our unnecessary desire to exploit and ultimately kill them.

    This is how it should be. Our simple /wants/ should not trump the basic right to life of other sentient beings.

    Not sure how that qualifies as "pagan" or "quasi-worship". It is pretty much the basis for which we recognize all other rights as well.

  15. Joel Chesky Salomon says:

    Not so; see Devarim 14:4–6, particularly 14:5 which explicitly lists several kosher animals which may not be brought as sacrifices.

  16. Diane Dion says:

    Bill, yes, you'll need a lot of strenght because there are and will always be billions of animals to rescue as long as we demand to eat them. When we eat and rescue animals, we rescue our victims.

  17. Reb Yid says:

    "Please note also that the late Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel Shlomo Goren was a strict vegetarian, as are Shear Yashuv Cohen, former chief rabbi of Haifa, Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the UK, and David Rosen, former chief rabbi of Ireland, and many other Orthodox Jews. So, abstaining from eating meat is certainly not contrary to Jewish values."

    So 0.00001% of rabbis are vegetarians, and 99.99999% of rabbis eat meat, and that's your proof that eating meat is contrary to Torah values?

  18. Reb Yid says:

    "Adam all the way to Noah were all vegetarian. G-d's intention was for a vegetarian world."

    Then how do you account for the fact that after Noah, God told everyone they could eat meat?

  19. Reb Yid says:

    "The average person walking the street actually knows more about nutrition than MDs do!"

    Wow. The whole world is so dumb for taking medical advice from experts rather than from Jim Corcoran. Thanks for finally getting us to wake up and smell the coffee!

  20. I believe the conventional wisdom that meat, eggs, and cheese are not healthy choices is untrue. What really is unhealthy for about half of all people is sugar in its many forms, and wheat products that promote obesity and diabetes.

    But as the Temple is not standing, there is no obligation to eat meat. Judaism emphasizes following one's moral feeling of right and wrong. For Rav Kook that meant being a vegetarian. No one should be put down for taking into account the suffering of animals.

    We have too many in and out groups already and no Jew should be out for the choice of meat products or no meat products.

  21. Dejan Popov says:

    Jewish Press is becoming an excellent paper! Lets hope that you will produce a snowball effect on other media. You identify important and relevant topics from the anti-Jewish decadent agenda and counter it head-on with strong and solid arguments. Kol hakavod! Just to remind you of the fact that Tzipy Livni recently found it important to inform the public that she has been a vegetarian since the age of 12. It's easy to foresee what can come out of "negotiations" that are conducted by a vegetarian.

  22. Jessica Sandler says:

    Wow, it's amazing to see what passes for "education" from professors these days. Can you say "defensive"? Someone must have touched a nerve somewhere along the way — maybe it was a video of cows having their tracheas pulled out while hanging upside down and struggling or of baby male chicks going down the assembly line to be dumped live into plastic bags to suffocate to death since they aren't "needed" in egg production. Luckily many people are more compassionate than Mr. Plaut and are able to adjust their thinking and actions when faced with the reality of how animals are turned into products.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Language that Jessica understands: MMMOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

  24. Anonymous says:

    Animals do not have rights. Get used to it. Go take the place of an animal in its cage if you so please

  25. Anonymous says:

    It is highly moral to punch Athonwy in the nose!

  26. Anonymous says:

    Noah was more moral the the previous generations, and Abraham was more moral than HIS previous generations and BOTH ATE MEAT! Rising moral standards in the Bible are accompanied by eating MEAT!

  27. Anonymous says:

    Moron! Try actually reading the Torah

  28. Anonymous says:

    Athonwy Doherty – let's have capital punishment for all animals that ignore your sage moral advice and eat other animals. Let us punish them by eating them!
    What about the rights of the streptococci germs?

  29. Anonymous says:

    So Jim, how's night school going? When you expect to get your 6th grade equivalency diploma?

  30. Anonymous says:

    Athonwy Doherty belongs in a cage

  31. Jim Corcoran says:

    hitzhaki What to match your 6th grade maturity?

  32. Lisa Shapiro says:

    so disapppinting. you wrote a great response. wow, not sure how tofurky was able to like you above- some fb glitch.;-)

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