"I've noticed that quite a lot of people who are prominent in the animal liberation movement are Jews. Maybe we are simply not prepared to see the powerful hurting the weak." --Peter Singer (Author, Animal Liberation)


Rabbi Sperber on the Jewish Case for Vegetarianism

This afternoon, I saw Rabbi Daniel Sperber, a Bar Ilan University professor and the rabbi of Congregation Menachem Zion in the Old City of Jerusalem, speak in Manhattan. He focused primarily on why Jewish teachings point toward vegetarianism, saying he would've needed a whole course to give a full overview of the scheduled topic, "Kosher & Food Ethics: Exploring vegetarianism, meat production, fair labor and other food related ethical issues."

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.


  • At 5/17/2009 8:57 PM, Anonymous Richard Schwartz said…

    Many thanks for this report.

    If only there were many more rabbis like Rabbi Sperber.

    It is time that the Jewish community seriously consider how animal-based diets and agriculture violate basic Jewish mandates to guard our health and lives, treat animals with compassion, preserve the environment, conserve natural resources , help hungry people and seek and pursue peace.

    For more information, please see my over 130 articles and 20 podcasts at JewishVeg.com/schwartz and see our documentary "A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World" at ASacredDuty.com. Thanks.

  • At 8/10/2009 5:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Rabbi Sperber is simply the most impressive person i have met in years. Saw him as a father at JOFA and as a speaker.


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