"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)


Alicia Silverstone Connects Her Judaism and Veganism

I've noted on multiple occasions that Alicia Silverstone is one of the world's most famous Jewish vegans. Until I read an article in the Jewish Journal earlier this month, though, I'd never seen her make any explicit connection between her faith and her diet. (Click here to read my October review of her new book, The Kind Diet.)

The entire article is worth reading, but here are some relevant highlights:

“I’m not the person who ever stopped loving the taste of meat,” she added as she tucked into her salad. “I’m a foodie. But I knew I had to give meat up to be able to look at myself in the mirror, to know that I’m a good person and a good Jew. How could I continue seeing myself as a person who cares about the world and yet be responsible for suffering?”

Silverstone is one of the best-known among a growing circle of outspoken Hollywood vegetarians; Israeli-born actress Natalie Portman declared recently that after reading “Eating Animals” (Little, Brown), the latest book by the Jewish wunderkind Jonathan Safran Foer (“Everything Is Illuminated”), she may no longer keep silent when dinner hosts present her with a meat meal. She virtually equated eating meat to rape, prompting some scathing stories about her remarks on the Web.

Silverstone is aware of the effect of such rhetoric and so treads lightly when asked, in the course of discussing her Judaism, about Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer’s statement that factory animals live in “an eternal Treblinka.”

“I’m always hesitant to go there, because I don’t want to alienate people,” she said. “We all know that the Holocaust was devastating; one of my oldest, closest family friends was a survivor. But for me, it’s the truth. The production of animals is the greatest holocaust that is happening now, because it’s allowed.

“When I drive by a car on the road that has animals in it, it literally makes me crazy,” she continued. “I feel like I want to yell at the driver, flip him off — which, of course, would be ridiculous, and I just have a moment of absolute sadness. So then I just remember that I’m doing everything I can to change things, and the book is part of that.”

“The Kind Diet” points out that in the Bible, God gives humans dominion over the animals, which, the book suggests, means “stewardship,” not slaughter. “Spiritual people don’t want to cause suffering to any creature, which is why a lot of synagogues are going vegetarian, and there is a huge vegetarian movement in the Jewish community,” Silverstone said. She cites Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR, who is vegetarian and encourages the lifestyle for others.

“If you believe you are just one small part of a big picture, and that something greater than you created the world, you’re not going to want to stomp on it,” Silverstone said.

Her father, Monty, is an English-born Jew whose forbears came from Eastern Europe; her mother, Didi, a former Pan Am flight attendant, is from Scotland and converted to Judaism before Alicia was born. Temple Beth Jacob in Redwood City was like a second home to her as a child: “I loved it; it was a very special place for me,” she said. She attended Hebrew school three times a week; became bat mitzvah and enjoyed the congregation’s monthly Shabbat dinners. This was the pre-vegan Silverstone. “I freakin’ loved gefilte fish,” she said. “And charoset and matzah ball soup.”

Religious school was another matter. “I wasn’t very good at Hebrew; I never learned to speak it,” she said. “Maybe I was too artistic to be doing so much school. What I loved was the singing, the cantor with his guitar, and the debates and discussions. Even as a young girl I was always asking questions like, ‘If this is going on right now, what are we doing about it?’ And I wanted to know why we were talking about how bad it was for the Jews, and not looking at how bad it was for the rest of the world.”. . .

And while Silverstone continues to identify as a cultural Jew, she said she currently finds spirituality outside the synagogue. “I have found my peace in living in the world as kindly as I can,” she said. “Going to yoga and meditation, and eating well — that’s how I feel my connection to God.


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