Seven things to know about Judaism and vegetarianism 

 

A vegetarian is someone who does not eat meat. A vegan, on the other hand, is someone who does not eat any food derived from animals. 

And a Jewish vegan or Jewish vegetarian is arguably someone who sees their food practice through a Jewish lens. Did you know there are ties between Judaism and veganism or vegetarianism? Here are seven: 

1. ETHICS: Abby Bar-Lev Wiley, 34, of Bayside, became a vegetarian when she was 17. 

“I decide to become a vegetarian when I was becoming more aware of the world and asking questions about food, sustainability and treatment of workers, she said. There’s so much about the world that we can’t change, so Wiley sought to do tikkun olam in her own small way, she said.  

2. YET MORE ETHICS: Moshe Katz, chair of the board of Milwaukee Jewish Federation, has been a vegan for much of his life. “There’s an ethical side to it,” he said. It helps him have a more positive impact on the environment and it essentially keeps him kosher, he said. 

“It puts me in a space. There are a whole host of things that I’m not participating in,” he said. It means he’s not involved with slaughtering. It frees him from the mistreatment of animals, which can occur even with a kosher butcher, he said. 

Katz added wryly that vegans can say “we eat nothing with a mother or a face.” 

3. TORAH: According to one Chabad article on the matter, which discusses different ways of looking at vegetarianism, God arguably is not in favor of eating meat in the first part of the T

The Torah says, early on in Genesis: “Behold, I have given you every seed-bearing herb which is upon the surface of the entire earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; it will be yours for food.” You’ll note there’s nothing there about meat. The website Jewish Veg thus concludes thataccording to the Torah, God asked human beings to be vegans in his very first conversation with Adam and Eve.” 

Maybe so. Yet the Chabad discussion also argues that later in the Torah, there are passages that seem to allow and even encourage the consumption of meat. 

4. KASHRUT: But wait! Not so fast! Yes, some say the Torah encourages the consumption of meat, but there are others who see the opposite! Some have argued that the reason for kashrut appears to be creating inconvenience for the consumption of meat. That inconvenience implies that it is immoral to kill an animal.

5. LEADING SCHOLARS: Many leading Jewish scholars have been vegetarians or vegans. Rabbi Shlomo Goren was the Ashkenazic chief rabbi of Israel from 1972 to 1982. He became a vegetarian after visiting a slaughterhouse in Canada, according to the Jewish Virtual Library. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, was a vegetarian

6. JEWISH QUESTIONING: Wiley points out that the Jewish tradition is one of asking questions and learning. That helped lead her to vegetarianism, she said. 

7. FAMOUS JEWS: Jonathan Safran Foer, the writer, is a vegetarian, as was Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Pulitzer Prize winning novelist. 

The actress Natalie Portman is a vegan. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals proudly quotes her: “So now lots of people make fun of vegans, right? Lots of people make fun of anybody who cares about anything deeply, right? But I’m here to say, it is always a great thing to care … whether it’s environmental issues, animal rights, women’s rights, equality, never be afraid to show how much you care.”