Vegetarianism: Essential for Jewish Renewal?

By Schwartz, Richard H. | Tikkun, March/April 1999 | Go to article overview

Vegetarianism: Essential for Jewish Renewal?

Schwartz, Richard H., Tikkun

Spirituality has led to a growing awareness of the unity of all beings, of our fundamental interconnectedness. For some this reflection has stayed on the level of purely personal enlightenment without much manifestation in behavior, but for others this understanding has led to a greater sense of responsibility, first toward all other human beings, and second toward animals. One form that this awareness takes is a growing move toward vegetarianism.

No surprise, then, that the Jewish renewal consciousness that increasingly manifests in all the various denominations of Judaism has a strong proclivity toward vegetarianism. Let me explain why I believe that Jewish renewal must associate itself with vegetarianism.

Jewish renewal means a return to Jewish traditions in a process Rabbi Arthur Waskow has called "Godwrestling," struggling with the Torah and Jewish traditions to find deeper meanings. Jewish vegetarians in particular are constantly wrestling with a tradition that, on the one hand, has been centered on animal sacrifices and the eating of meat during festivals, but that, on the other hand, contains strong indications that vegetarianism is at the heart of Jewish tradition.

God's first dietary law allowed only vegetarian foods: "And God said: `Behold I have given you every herb yielding seed which is upon the face of the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed-to you it shall be for food."' (Genesis 1:29). Some of the greatest Jewish sages have taught that permission to eat meat was given later only as a grudging concession to people's weakness, and that many prohibitions and restrictions were applied to keep alive a sense of reverence for life.

The great Jewish philosopher Maimonides felt that animal sacrifices were a concession to the practices of a time when the common mode of worship involved sacrifices and that the Israelites were not ready to worship in a way radically different from their neighbors. However, human sacrifices were eliminated, pagan practices were forbidden, and sacrifices were confined to one central location with the hope that the Israelites would be weaned from this practice.

The prophets stressed many times that God preferred mercy and justice over animal sacrifices, and that the sacrifices were in fact an abomination to God if carried out without efforts to combat poverty and oppression.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel and one of the outstanding Jewish philosophers of the twentieth century, believed that the many Jewish dietary restrictions implied a hidden reprimand designed to keep alive the feeling of reverence for life. He taught that people will again be vegetarians in the time of the Messiah, basing this view on Isaiah's prophecy about the harmony and peace that would prevail during the Messianic time: "And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb ... and the lion shall eat straw like the ox" (Isaiah 11:6-9).

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, a highly respected modern Torah commentator, has stated that "the laws of kashrut are designed to teach us compassion and to lead us gently to vegetarianism."

Vegetarianism is not only a messianic goal, however, but one we need to pursue in the here and now. Jewish renewal emphasizes that each of us should attempt tikkun olam, the transformation, healing, and repair of the world. In response, today's Jewish vegetarians are challenging Jews to adopt vegetarianism to protect the environment, help the hungry, take care of our health and lives, and treat animals with respect and compassion.

Judaism teaches that "the earth is the Lord's" (Psalm 24:1). We are to be partners and co-workers with God in preserving the world and seeing that the earth's resources are properly used. However, non-vegetarian diets require the wasteful use of land, water, energy, and other agricultural resources, and contribute substantially to many environmental threats, including air and water pollution, soil erosion and depletion, the destruction of tropical rain forests and other habitats, and global warming. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Vegetarianism: Essential for Jewish Renewal?


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.