During these Days of Awe, one change is especially important.

Deadly strains of influenza are spreading and mutating in chicken farms. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images.)

During these Yamim Noraim, these Days of Awe, we Jews are called upon to scrutinize our behavior, to become our best selves and to align with Judaism’s highest values.

There is no end to the positive changes we can make: We can resolve to treat people better, to exercise more, to tidy up our homes, and on and on.

But for this New Year, which begins Friday night, one change stands out as an absolute imperative, not as just another nice idea.

This year, it is vitally important that we transition to vegan lifestyles.

Eating more plants and fewer animal products has always been a positive change — better for the animals, for the environment, and for our own health.

But this year, we are facing a pandemic that started at a meat market. And Covid-19 is only the latest in a long string of epidemics and pandemics that began when someone, somewhere killed an animal for food. HIV, Ebola, mad cow disease, avian flu, measles, and smallpox also began with the confinement, slaughter, and/or consumption of animals.

The frightening reality is that we could face another pandemic before the current one has even ended, if people keep eating meat. As you read this, deadly strains of influenza are mutating among chickens and pigs in factory farms in the United States and elsewhere. One such strain – the H5N1 bird flu – has killed more than 50 percent of the people who have become infected. If it mutates into a form that is more transmissible, as the novel coronavirus did, the resulting pandemic would make our current one look like a picnic.

If we want to move toward a pandemic-free world, we all must do our part and adopt plant-based diets.

The great news is, transitioning to a vegan lifestyle will not only help prevent another pandemic, it will align you with Judaism’s highest values.

Three important pillars of the Torah point strongly toward veganism.

1. Plant-based diets was established as God’s intention for humankind, right in the first chapter of Genesis (Genesis 1:29).

2. Meat-eating was permitted but only as a reluctantly given concession to humans when they were at their lowest spiritual point (Genesis 9).

3. Treating animals with compassion is regarded as a Torah mandate, a requirement known in Hebrew as Tza’ar Baalei Chayim.

Any one of these three pillars, standing alone, should be enough to inspire any Jew to stop consuming animals. But when taken together as a whole, amid a pandemic that originated at a meat market, it becomes imperative that Jews move toward veganism.

Whether it’s a case of denial or just innocent ignorance, most people are not connecting the dots between pandemics and the consumption of animal products. That’s why we encourage everyone reading this article to share the Toward a Pandemic-Free World website with your friends, relatives and co-workers.

As we engage in introspection during the holiest days of the Jewish calendar, we can all resolve to improve ourselves, to show compassion for animals, to show concern for the environment, and to show others that we can, collectively, help prevent another pandemic.

May we all be inscribed in the Sefer HaChayim for a year of health and happiness.

About the Author
Jeffrey Spitz Cohan is the executive director of Jewish Veg, an international nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire and assist our fellow Jews to transition to plant-based diets.
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