In a truly menschy move, more than 70 rabbis from around the world and from across the spectrum of denominations have signed a declaration urging Jews to switch to a vegan diet. The new statement comes at a great time; Jewish people are observing the High Holy Days right now and are getting ready to fast on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, this Saturday. They will break their fast with a huge meal on Saturday night—and there is no better way to ring in a new, more ethical year than with a feast that excludes all animal suffering.
Issued by the Jewish Vegetarian Society in Britain and the American group Jewish Veg, the declaration states:
We, the undersigned rabbis, encourage our fellow Jews to transition toward animal-free, plant-based diets. This approach to sustenance is an expression of our shared Jewish values of compassion for animals, protection of the environment, and concern for our physical and spiritual well-being.
A vegan diet is almost by default a kosher (kashrut) diet, so there is no need for separate milk and meat plates when you go veg! Rabbi David Rosen, the former chief rabbi of Ireland, asserts that veganism is “the new kashrut, kashrut for the 21st century.” He says, “Any other form of kashrut is problematic, highly problematic, so if you really want to be true to both the letter of the law and the spirit of law of what kashrut is all about, you should eat a plant-based diet.”
Rabbi David Wolpe, a Conservative rabbi in America, added his name to the list. According to him, “Tza'ar ba'alei chayim, not causing pain to another living creature, is a central principle of the Jewish tradition and we violate it every time we eat something that we know was factory farmed, was debeaked, declawed, was treated cruelly.”
As a proud Jewish vegan myself, I couldn’t be happier that more rabbis are taking a stand on this important issue, one that is particularly appropriate for Jews to tackle. Who better to recognize that the systematic persecution of one group—simply because they are deemed “different” or “inferior”—is wrong?
It is precisely because of our history of oppression that I believe Jews have a special moral obligation to consider the suffering of animals.
Perhaps you or your family argues that eating animals is tradition, the way things have always been. As Jewish Nobel Prize winner Issac Bashevis Singer writes: “People often say that humans have always eaten animals, as if this is a justification for continuing the practice. According to this logic, we should not try to prevent people from murdering other people, since this has also been done since the earliest of times.”
We as Jews should take a stand and say that the exploitation of all beings ends with us. Throughout history, we have never been afraid of speaking up and doing what’s right, even when it is unpopular. It makes me proud to know that Tel Aviv is now a leading vegan city, with the highest per capita number of vegans of any country. It is that kind of progressiveness that makes me proud to be Jewish—not traditions or beliefs rooted in discrimination and holding onto the way “things have always been.”
As Singer puts it: “To be a vegetarian is to disagree—to disagree with the course of things today. ... starvation, cruelty—we must make a statement against these things. Vegetarianism is my statement. And I think it's a strong one.”
So if you’re observing Yom Kippur this year, consider breaking your fast with a vegan feast, one that truly makes a statement that you will try to inscribe yourself in the Book of Life by choosing a diet based in life rather than death.
And whether you are celebrating the High Holy Days or not, I’d urge you to check out Jewish Veg to learn more about why veganism and Judaism are truly a perfect match. For more information on transitioning to a vegan diet, including free recipes and meal plans, visit ChooseVeg.com.