Rabbi Sperber on the Jewish Case for Vegetarianism
Rabbi Sperber focused on how meat consumption in the Jewish tradition is often portrayed as a concession that strays from the vegetarian ideal. He discussed the vegetarian diet in the Garden of Eden, the "lustful" context of meat cravings, and the vision of vegetarianism after the Messiah comes. He also mentioned Maimonides' view that the pain and anguish of animals are the same as the pain and anguish of humans. Rabbi Sperber said that people who know about animals' horrors in industrialized agriculture should be vegetarian, and those who don't should find out.
During both his talk and the Q&A, Rabbi Sperber brought up some other issues related to ethical eating. He described eating as a sacrament and suggested that the food we eat and all aspects of its production should adhere to our highest ethical standards. He briefly touched on the health and environmental benefits of vegetarianism, and he alluded to Uri L'Tzedek's new Tav HaYosher program and Magen Tzedek (formerly known as Hekhsher Tzedek) to say that we should also consider the treatment of workers as part of a comprehensive ethical food framework.
I asked Rabbi Sperber what steps people could take to learn more and transition toward an ethical diet. He suggested reading Rav Kook's A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace and (if my memory serves me correctly) Richard H. Schwartz's Judaism and Vegetarianism. Ultimately, though, he said that people need to take it upon themselves to consider the Jewish case for vegetarianism and embrace ethical eating habits.