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Richard H. Schwartz
Vegan, climate change,and social justice activist

Celebrating Purim as If Global Survival Matters

As I write this in mid-March 2024, the war is raging in Gaza. Hence, our primary focus must be on the devastation of Hamas, bringing all the hostages home safely, and reducing antisemitism. However, we should also address climate threats since they are an existential threat to the  US, Israel, and, indeed, the entire world.

February was declared the hottest February worldwide in recorded history, making it the ninth consecutive month to break a temperature record. The last nine years were the hottest since temperature records were widely recorded. This has resulted in a substantial increase in the frequency and severity of heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods. Climate experts are issuing increasingly dire warnings, indicating that an irreversible tipping point may soon be reached when climate spins out of control, with disastrous consequences.

Israel is especially threatened by climate change because the hotter, drier Middle East projected by climate experts makes instability, terrorism, and war more likely. Also, a rising Mediterranean Sea could inundate the coastal plain that includes much of Israel’s population and infrastructure. Hence, everything possible must be done to avert a global climate catastrophe. 

Magillat Esther, read twice on Purim, tells how the Jews of ancient Persia were threatened with extinction and miraculously saved. Today, climate change threatens the entire world, and we must find a way to avert an unprecedented catastrophe.

Because they recognized the great threats to their future, the Jews of ancient Persia took major steps to save themselves. They fasted for three days, seeking God’s help, and Queen Esther risked her life by appearing before King Ahasuerus without being called by the king, something that could be punished by death at the king’s discretion.

Like the Jews of ancient Persia, the world’s people today must act to avert calamity. Every aspect of life should be considered in terms of reducing “carbon footprints.” Most importantly, we can shift toward vegan diets to emulate Mordechai’s nonconformity and Esther’s not eating meat, so that she could remain kosher while not revealing that she was Jewish. 

Such a shift has two major benefits for reducing climate threats. It would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions because there would be far fewer cows and other farmed animals emitting methane, a very potent greenhouse gas with about 80 times the ability to heat the planet as CO2 per unit weight during the 10 – 15 years it is in the atmosphere. More importantly, such shifts have the potential to dramatically reduce CO2 presently in the atmosphere by permitting reforesting of over 40 percent of the world’s ice-free land that is currently being used for grazing and raising feed crops for animals. This could reduce the current very dangerous level of CO2 in the atmosphere to a much safer one. Unfortunately, the opposite is happening, with forests continuing to be destroyed to meet the needs of animal-based agriculture. The world is committing slow suicide, eating our way to extinction.

Rabbis should eliminate and speak out against animal-based diets on Purim and throughout the year because such diets violate basic Jewish teachings on protecting our health, treating animals with compassion, protecting the environment,  conserving natural resources, reducing hunger, and pursuing peace.

Fortunately, it is much easier to shift to plant-based diets today because, in addition to the wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds available, there are many plant-based substitutes with appearances, textures, and tastes very similar to those for meat and other animal products.

Such shifts must soon occur because our well-being and survival depend on them. Applying Judaism’s teachings to our diets will demonstrate the relevance of Judaism’s eternal teachings to current problems and help shift our precious but imperiled planet onto a sustainable path.

There is no Planet B or effective Plan B.

About the Author
Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D., is the author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal our Imperiled Planet, and Mathematics and Global Survival, and over 200 articles and 25 podcasts at JewishVeg.com/schwartz. He is President Emeritus of Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) and President of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians (SERV). He is associate producer of the 2007 documentary “A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World.” He is also a Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the College of Staten Island, which is part of the City University of New York.
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