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by: Rabbi Dan S. Wiko PhD
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On Tuesday, January 15, 2008 I was asked the following question:

Shalom Rabbi Dan,

Since the production and consumption of meat and other animal products violate Jewish mandates to preserve our health, treat animals with compassion, protect the environment, conserve natural resources (bal tashchit), help hungry people and seek and pursue peace, shouldn't Jews be vegetarians?


This was my response:

Dear Richard,

I will attempt to address your questions as directly as I can.

You pose questions for which you, already, have your own answer. Clearly, given your predilection of favoring a vegetarian diet, you should refrain from eating meat or meat products. However, I believe that your correlations, at least, in part, do not hold theological water.

Clearly, Jewish Law mandates that we make a serious attempt to maintain our health and we do that by abstaining from those foods and/or substances which would impair our living by that mandate. However, meat, per se, does not lead to poor health, when eaten in moderation, unless, of course, one's body cannot tolerate meat. The average person's body has the capacity to properly utilize the beneficial aspects of being carnivorous. Therefore, within limitation, meat can be quite a health preserver.

Treating animals and, for that matter, human beings, with compassion is, of course, the most important aspect of living a Torah life. The Laws of Kashrut were imposed on us, precisely, to insure the slaughtering of animals in a compassionate fashion. I am certain that you, based on your professional expertise and authorship of works on this subject, are quite well versed in these Laws.

Your reference to protecting the environment and conserving natural resources is well taken. However, animals, as are all of Hashem's creations, are destined to live on this world for only so long. Life here is temporal and as one animal leaves this olum another is born to replace it.

Animals are no more or less a natural resource on this planet than we are as humans. For that matter, there is not one "natural resource" that does not come into being only to end its stay here at some point in time. Theoretically, you could make the same argument for cutting down trees to make kindling wood or for changing farmland into housing developments...each process and every aspect of each process is the Will of Hakodosh Barachu. Yes, the tree offers scenic beauty that has value on both a spiritual and an aesthetic level and, after it is cut down, serves to warm and indirectly feed humanity.

Lastly, you speak of helping the hungry and pursuing peace. Should I infer that there is a direct correlation between hunger and war or non-peace? I don't. It isn't the hungry who perpetrate wars. Rather, it is those with wealth who deny their citizens even a small morsel merely to maintain their control over them and, all too often, send them off to war to kill or die for their leaders' nefarious plans. Of course, peace should be pursued. However, even more important is the pursuit of justice.

Torah is perfect...clearly, it allows for eating meat. And, equally as clear are its prohibitions against the eating of various meats and sea food. Torah tells us, exactly, what is and what isn't acceptable in our diet.

Prior to our receiving Torah on Har Sinai, your wish for a vegetarian diet was the mandate-of-the-day. However, Shavuoth, the day on which we received Hashem's Word, ended that mandate and meat and fish, within certain prescribed limitations became permissible as nourishment.

As an aside. Even eating vegetables requires the "killing" or destruction of something that grows from and on this planet. Humanity can not survive without food and all food comes from something that, previously, had a "life of its own".

In conclusion, everything has its place in Hashem's Master Plan. Even our "conversation" has a higher purpose than either of us is aware of.

May Hashem's Will prevail and may we all prevail to abide by it and, thereby, live in peace.

Rabbi Dan

If you have questions about a personal matter, or jewish practices and customs, you can submit them to me by e-mail. I answer all queries directly, or through this column, when the question is informative to our community.

Thank you for your kind attention and this opportunity to share with you,
Rabbi Dan S. Wiko
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