"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)


Natalie Portman: 'The Center of Judaism for Me Is Not Taking Life'

For the second time in the past year, I tracked down Natalie Portman at a public appearance in New York City and asked her about connections between her Jewish faith and her vegan diet. After the world's most famous Jewish vegan took the topic in a different direction in April, I asked her a much more direct question as part of The New York Times' Arts & Leisure Weekend on Saturday night.

While performing my journalistic duty as a Jewish-vegan blogger, I learned several fascinating things. First, Natalie loves the name "heebnvegan." (I somehow managed to maintain my composure when she said this.) Second, she apparently remembers our initial encounter. Third, she sees her decision not to take animals' lives for food as the core of her Judaism. Finally, she thinks vegetarian food in Israel and California is excellent, but unlike the world's second-most famous Jewish vegan, she finds New York vegetarian food disappointing.

Below is a transcript of our conversation during the Q&A portion of the event.
Hi, Natalie. I run the blog heebnvegan. Do you make a connection between your—
I love that name, man!

Thank you. That means a lot. Thank you. Do you make a connection between your Jewish faith and your vegan diet, and do you prefer—
I think I’ve been asked this question at another Q&A before, but I can answer it again.

And also, do you prefer vegetarian food in Israel or in the U.S.?
Controversial! I’m glad you asked. … What did you ask about Jewish—

Do you make a connection between your Jewish faith and your vegan diet?
Absolutely! … There’s a reason why every major religion has food rules. Because three times a day, you’re forced to think about your morality and your ethics and what you believe in. And … the reason you eat what you do—even not religion, but just culturally, why you eat a cow and not a dog—represents something in who you are and how you think about things. …

I definitely think the center of Judaism for me is not taking life. … The most important rule in Judaism is that you can break any rule in order to save a life. So, if life is the center of everything, then not taking life three times a day and making that decision is very important.

Vegetarian food: Excellent in Israel. Not so good in New York. Excellent in California.
Although Natalie did not discuss animal issues when she was being interviewed by the Times' Patrick Healy, she did pique my interest numerous times. Regarding her relationship with Israel, she said, "There's never a loss of love but always a mutation of stance." When she explained that she was not very socially active while attending high school on Long Island, she said that was probably for the best: "[The] Long Island high school scene is, like, hanging out in a mall parking lot." When she said that she and her father both have tremendous discipline and can go without much sleep, she said, "We'd be very good in the military if we didn't hate war so much."

Photo by Willington Lee, Courtesy of Keith Sherman & Associates

See Also
Alicia Silverstone Connects Her Judaism and Veganism (Dec. 2009)
Natalie Portman Brings Vegetarianism to Top Chef (Oct. 2009)
'Kosher Vegetarian' in Theaters Now! (Oct. 2009)
Sarah Silverman: Heeb and Vegetarian (Oct. 2009)
Up Close and Personal With Natalie Portman (Apr. 2009)
Natalie Portman: Heeb and Vegan (Apr. 2008)


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