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Judaism, veganism bring peace, control amid chaos

A woman stands in front of a buffet table in Tel Aviv. Photo | Elijah Bryant via Unsplash
A woman stands in front of a buffet table in Tel Aviv. Photo | Elijah Bryant via Unsplash

My therapist—ever the one to tap into her own sechel and dispense life-changing wisdom—reassures me that no matter how dire a situation may be, we can always find something within our control. No matter how small the action, maintaining a sense of control over something—anything—can bring about a profound sense of power and calm amid the chaos.

The constant within my control amid a lifetime of stress has been my eating habits. Though not universal in applicability—this author most certainly understands food insecurity, obstacles to accessing healthy and nutritious foods, and the like—to a large extent, I’ve found throughout my adult life that aligning my meals to my morals has given me peace amid pressure; gratitude when grieving; and a sense of serenity while suffering.

When our very existence as Jews is questioned and threatened by monstrously miseducated people bloviating on social media, when a micromanager seems dead-set on making your daily life miserable, or when family life is unsettled and distressing? One of our most incredible and meaningful traditions is the meal of condolence, and one need not look any further than their nearest deli’s bakery section (or Pinterest board) to note the abundance of Jewish comfort foods.

As a proud vegan and Jewish man, I find myself nodding vigorously with Dr. Richard H. Schwartz’s assessment that Jewish values and vegan principles are harmoniously aligned: “Jewish vegetarians and vegans are not placing so-called vegetarian/vegan values over Torah principles. They are arguing that it is basic Jewish values and teachings (to guard our health, act with compassion to animals, share with hungry people, protect the environment, conserve resources, and seek and pursue peace) that point strongly to veganism.”

Indeed, we are taught that, to the greatest extent possible, we must avoid tza’ar ba’alei chayim—causing unnecessary suffering to animals. There are no shortage of interpretations of Jewish texts that speak to ethical treatment of animals and avoiding animal cruelty and exhibiting compassion

Simply put: a sense of compassion for animal welfare is born deep within us and is strengthened further through religious teachings as we grow. It is no wonder, then, that with the recent proliferation of animal-free food options and awareness of the environmental impacts and immense animal suffering that occurs in the meat industry, Jewish vegan and vegetarian movements have become increasingly prominent.

(I’m happy to know I won’t be the only one seeking vegan catering services at my wedding.)

There is no shortage of news coverage praising Israel as the global center of veganism. Indeed, Israelis are leading the vegan revolution, and the Israel Defense Forces even takes care to provide its soldiers with vegan meals and non-leather boots. 

We likewise have organizations such as Jewish Initiative for Animals for Jews to “bring…values of compassion for animals into practice”, remove “cruel, factory farmed animal products out of Jewish institutions,” and replace them with more ethical, sustainable, often plant-based options. As climate change awareness becomes a more prominent topic across general news websites and animal welfare platforms alike, it is movements like these that contribute to the future safety and wellbeing of the planet. 

All of which is to say that when life stressors lead to a sense of dread and overwhelm, and when nearly everything feels out of control, it is not only the comforting thing to turn to a bowl of vegan mac and cheese; it is not only the compassionate thing to seek out a scoop of dairy-free ice cream; it is the Jewish thing to find comfort in compassionate choices.

About the Author
Jamie Bichelman has experience as an Applied Behavior Analyst with a straight-A graduate education at Harvard's Extension School and currently in New York University's graduate mental health counseling program. Jamie is a proud Jewish man and vegan and has been a lifelong disability rights advocate.
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