Eat Your Vegetables!
The first things to meet the eye were pale blue linen tablecloths, with blue linen napkins to match and a fancy plate at each place setting. A clear, round glass vase was at the center of each carefully set, round table. All sorts of foods were there, from egg salad and rye bread to various platters of quiches.
This seudah, or festive or holiday meal, was just like any other — except that it was vegetarian.
As a devout vegetarian, just the idea of seeing other people eating animals can upset me. I feel animals do not deserve an untimely death. And besides, in terms of nutrition, anyone can survive without eating them.
Years ago, I became a vegetarian because ever since I could think on my own I have been against the eating of meat. It did not change my lifestyle much at all. I have friends who still forget that I’m vegetarian, but it was the best decision I ever made.
A vegetarian meal can, by all means, be considered a seudah. According to Rabbi Jeremy Lebowitz, dean of students at Moshe Aaron Yeshiva High School of South River, N.J., “A seudah is constituted by a kztayit of lechem,” [minimal amount of bread] or an equivalent filling amount of mezonot [pastry or snack], where the kohen, “eats the mezonot, as one would eat bread.”
Rabbi Dovid Wadler, Moshe Aaron’s principal, agrees that a vegetarian meal can be considered a seudah, because all that makes a meal a seudah is if it’s special and if it pleases the person eating it.
Rabbi Avraham Krawiec, who teaches Gemara at Moshe Aaron, states that a Shabbat seudah is just kiddish wine, a h’motzi, and food that makes you full. If one does not like meat, then they should not eat it, he says, because if you’re not enjoying your food, then you’re not fulfilling a mitzvah of Shabbat.
In the book “Shabbat Zemer,” CHECK a festive meal including meat is mentioned, but the meat part does not have to apply these days. Then, it was more of a rarity. Now, it’s just something that you don’t eat all that often, or on a regular basis that should be put into that category.
Says Rabbi Krawiec: “Part of Shabbat is owning it, being festive, enjoying the meal, and if you’re not enjoying, you’re not fulfilling.” He says you honor the Shabbat by eating a meal.
Rabbi Lebowitz says that the reference in “Shabbat Zemer” is to “enjoying luxuries of which meat is a part. It has no true bearing on seudah.” Rabbi Wadler agrees that it simply had to do with rarities of that day; he says that a seudah is just “washing and eating foods that were prepared especially for” that time. In “Shabbat Zemer,” he says that the basar v’dagim (meat and fish) represented the special foods of that time.
Whenever attending a seudah containing meat, I would go around trying to find something that had not yet been contaminated by its neighboring foods. I would scrutinize every so-called vegetarian platter to find a serving fork from the fish in it or see if a careless child had accidentally spewed meat into it.
When it came time for speaking to the caterer for my bat mitzvah, I straight out said to my mother, long before we crossed the caterer’s threshold, “no meat.” She said that was fine, he could do dairy and pareve, on one condition: My mother wanted to serve fish. I feel that eating fish is just as wrong as consuming any animal. To me, anything that once had a face shouldn’t be eaten. Although the only thing I eat with eyes are potatoes, I humored my mother and comprised. I let her order fish, along with strictly vegetarian items, such as falafel.
Being a vegetarian is very rewarding. It gives you a guilt-free and pure life. Health benefits also include lower cholesterol, in my case, and it has been proven, according to Vegetarian Times that most vegetarians are somewhere around 14 pounds lighter than their average peers.
If you want to make a seudah enjoyable for all of your guests, and have them walk out smiling, my advice is to make it as vegetarian friendly as possible. There are endless possibilities for both a vegetarian and vegan (dairy free) meal. You will feel better after and a lot less weighed down. Also, by not buying the slaughtered animal, and buying the luscious eggplant parmesan to serve instead, you will make a huge difference and an impact on other people’s lives. Your vegetarian guests will thank you, whether directly or indirectly, and more positive feelings will flow towards you.
Vegetarianism is not only a practice, but a way of life, and a good vegetarian meal will leave you feeling satisfied and healthier.
Here’s my theory: If we were all vegetarians, and valued life, we would be a sharing society and the world would be a better place. Maybe there would even be less crime in a society where people showed a love for all forms of life.
Don’t think it’s impossible to create a vegetarian seudah. Let your guests see that meat isn’t necessary for the human body. There are better and healthier protein sources like nuts, legumes, and eggs and cheese, if you’re not a vegan.
For those interested in a light meal, breads, cheeses and salads can be put out, along with a falafel bar. Those in the mood for a heavier meal can help themselves to baked ziti and forms of vegetable lasagna, quiche, eggplant parmesan and vegetarian sloppy Joes.
According to each rabbi I contacted, there is no conflict between Judaism and vegetarianism whatsoever, besides for korbonot (ancient Temple sacrifices). So vegetarianism is permissible, and I highly recommend it in your next seudah.