It all started with a chicken who appeared to be dancing. I was at my friend Noor’s home, and unbeknownst to me, his elderly father (a ritual slaughterer of halal meat) was in the backyard attending to business. On this morning his business required a knife and a chicken. Would that I had known what was going on, I would have fled screaming from the home. But alas I did not. As I exited the house, I greeted his father with a smile and then noted something odd. In his hand, he held a bloody knife. A strange confusion overtook me.
Then I noticed a strange hopping creature. “Chicken-like” was what came to mind with a flash, and with an absurd thought, I observed that it seemed to be dancing. It was a surreal moment where I pondered how something without a head could hop about and dance. It was a headless chicken.
But such things should not be. Only in horror films can the dead walk about when such critical structural integrity has been compromised. I screamed, vomited, and swooned. I can only remember the first two. Noor confirmed that I also fainted. When I came to, I was in the living room resting on a comfortable couch. Noor leaned over and smiled with a cup of soothing date tea in his hand. “I am a very wise person”, he teased. “I can tell that you never saw a chicken being butchered”, he said in his perfect but slightly accented English.
Dramatics aside, I had heard of the phenomenon but never seen anything like it. The legend of the headless chicken was true. I saw it with my own eyes. And prior to swooning, I recall glancing at the floor at the sad dead pathetic chicken-head lying about on the ground as the flies feasted on their meal. A small chicken head detached from the body. As I crumbled to the ground, it occurred to me that the chicken’s body still hopped about. As if to torture me with the horrible display of death defied by a body that would not stop dancing.
All is well now. I saw the aftermath of a chicken being butchered and it changed me indefinitely. No more meat. There was a lesson learned in one moment. And just like that, I have taken the leap. I can no longer abide by the guilt and the shame. The hypocrisy of advocating for peace and love and pacifism, all while eating pargiyot. No more. I cannot be complicit in the sin of eating meat and exploiting our animal friends. I beg mechila (forgiveness) to all the creatures I’ve eaten over the years.
As of today, I am a peace-warrior for veganism, which truth be told is the underlying proper ethics of Judaism if one understands the true issues of animal consumption. My life partner Shira has been vegan for many years. She has been pushing me to make the commitment for ages. Well, that day is here, and I am on team vegan. And I shall never look back.
Yet questions abound. How does the liberal but halachic Jew struggle with the Torah’s permissibility to eat meat, or the theoretical resumption of animal sacrifice when the Mashiach comes? Ours is not to question they say. Yet I reject such fundamentalist thinking vociferously. I have always questioned. Perhaps Mashiach will be vegan and he will enlighten us on a truth we were missing. Deep inside I believe this to be the case. Perhaps the answer is simpler. As some Rabbinic minds have opined, we might even offer plant sacrifices. Yet to me it is clear that if the lion is destined to lie with the lamb, shall we eat lamb?
For me, a greater issue is how to retain my moral high-ground and the new commitment to advocating for veganism, when dealing with cultures who might be offended when I preach MY morality to them. When dealing with Jews in the name of Judaism, I believe I have the right and obligation to defend Judaism’s highest ideals. Yet I cannot say the same for Islam or other faith systems. For who am I to lecture another person about their religion? Long ago I decided not to judge the Aztec or Maori through the prism of my 21st-century thinking. Shall I condemn those of my own generation who consume goats?
Am I a hypocrite? Afraid of aggressive responses from a community that might be less tolerant of my arrogant TRUTH? Or is this the true struggle of Judaism? Perhaps I should I take a less confrontational approach and address the theoretical in a non-confrontational manner. My moral self is struggling. Do I: respect the beliefs of others, including my beloved Mohammedan brothers, or advocate across culture and religion for what I see as truth. The non-judgmental me is still trying to work this out, but I must respect the other and so I will probably continue to respect his beliefs. Even as it pains me to see Hashem’s creatures tortured and slaughtered for our pleasure. Truth be told, I already walk this path, even though the hijab, female subjugation, and the existence of genital mutilation in several Arab cultures cause me great discomfort.
For moral strength, I am re-reading some of my favorite works from such Jewish geniuses as HaGaon Nathan Lopes Cardozo and the young prophet-peace warrior, Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, shlita. I require strength, guidance, and the wisdom to deal with life’s most difficult subjects. And let us be honest. My latest dilemma is nothing compared with some of our most challenging tests today, as we shape to mold halachic truth by exposing the original pristine Torah morality.
Veganism is a simpler battle than trying to convince orthodox Jewry that queer advocacy and fighting to remove the patriarchal mechitza preventing rabbinic ordination on women, is essentially the most halachic thing to do in our age. We are wrestling the angels of cruelty both big and small to release the noblest of Torah ethics. And if we are to find our most merciful selves, ought we not refrain from munching on Hashem’s creatures?
On a far more general level, Rabbi Cardozo and Rav Shmuly are two brave men challenging Heaven with radical innovations. They are shaking the foundations of the Holy of Holies to ensure that the structure is safe and sound. I believe that the Tosaphists would be shepping nachas! I can already read the comments on extremist Jewish Facebook forums such as Neo-Conservatism/Open “Orthodoxy” Explained and on like-minded blogs. Heresy!!!
Heresy, my detractors (those who correctly accept that I am a real personage!) claim! “Yes”, I proudly respond, “I am indeed a heretic!” Heresy is a holy endeavor, which fueled the well-intended Korach. If only Korach had tempered his message a trifle and joined hands with Moses, we might have restored the garden of Eden on earth. And my love of heresy has strong halachic backing. To quote Rav Cardozo:
“I love heresy because it forces us to rethink our religious beliefs. We owe nearly all of our knowledge not to those who have agreed but to those who have differed.”
These words sear my soul with holy fire. Every progressive Jew loves heresy because the heresy of healing and harmonizing is a sacred and sometimes frightening duty. As our Chasidic masters taught us, it is not an easy task to free the sparks of “kedusha” from the husks of darkness. I echo the sentiments of the great Halachic/Philosophical master. I truly love heresy precisely because I love and revere halacha, and refuse to allow it to wither away or grow stale with outdated mores.
I will miss eating pargiyout, and the non-vegan dishes of my Bedouin friend’s wife. He will surely tease me to no end when he hears of my recent decision. Needle me with such oft-mentioned chauvinistic remarks about “veganism being for men who are not real men”. But he will still love me as I will love him. Ours is a winding road, but the journey is rewarding. And brothers will always tease one another.
But I am done with pargoyot and the consumption of other flesh treats. You really can learn the essence of the Torah on one foot. In this case, it all boiled down to an odd encounter with a peculiar headless creature doing a macabre dance. In one moment in time, I regained my moral compass when forced to witness the aftermath of a slaughter. An unfortunate execution of an even more unfortunate creature whose life was taken for the sake of human appetites.
We needn’t eat our fellow creatures to feel satisfied and satiated. Plants are crunchy and delicious and they are cruelty-free. I hope to share some wonderful vegan dishes with my readers as I plow forward on my vegan voyage.