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September 26, 2016 / 23 Elul, 5776
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Judaism and Eating Meat: Letter to a Vegan Animal Rights Activist

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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.

Steven Plaut

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


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