I urge the strongest, most widespread effort that can possibly be made to get climate threats and the need for shifts toward veganism onto the Jewish agenda. Why? Please consider the following facts (they are backed up by supporting material at the end of this article).
- There is a very strong scientific consensus, based on overwhelming evidence, that the world is rapidly heading toward an irreversible climate tipping point when climate change will spin out of control, with catastrophic results.
- Several scientific studies have shown that animal-based agriculture is a major contributor to climate change, largely due to methane, a very potent greenhouse gas, emitted from cattle and other farmed animals.
- The production and consumption of meat and other animal products seriously violate basic Jewish teachings on preserving human health, treating animals with compassion, protecting the environment, conserving natural resources, and helping hungry people.
- There have been several recent scandals in the kosher certification field, and reports about how animals are treated have make kosher eating problematic today.
- While rabbis are very dedicated people, doing all they can to meaningfully involve other Jews in Jewish life, most are generally completely ignoring the above facts or acting apathetically toward these critical issues.
While I have been thinking about and promoting this idea for some time, reading the cover story, ‘Thou shalt not be indifferent,’ in the November 1 Jerusalem Post magazine inspired me to write this statement and to dedicate myself to making this a critically important and urgent cause now. The article very skilfully and comprehensively describes how horribly farmed animals are treated, completely contrary to basic Jewish teachings, and gives examples of why the kashrut of meat and other animal products is highly questionable today. The article can be read at https://www.jpost.com/HEALTH-SCIENCE/Thou-shalt-not-remain-indifferent-606443?fbclid=IwAR3eshebCNOU-u4vG0oO2iaHThUKPvcVLqAaHzDUcRd1CG-TjBg73kOu02g.
My eagerness to promote this initiative was reinforced by an email message to me about the article by noted Israeli Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo, dean of the Jerusalem-based David Cardozo Academy and author of several Judaica books, including: Jewish Law as Rebellion: A Plea for Religious Authenticity and Halachic Courage:
This is a most important article. In fact totally shocking and the situation is much worse than I imagined. I thought that the chickens were at least a little better off.
But that is clearly not true. It seems that any meat eating person seems to run the risk to eat trefa [non-kosher] and helps an industry which is violating the most basic Jewish religious values, and the rabbinate does not say a word.
How can we stop this tragedy?
What am I suggesting? Below are a few ideas. I am sure others can add additional ones and reinforce mine.
- There are a good number of rabbis who are vegetarians or vegans and/or are concerned about health, animal rights, climate change, environmental sustainability, and other veg-related issues. We should contact them and urge them to speak out on the issues. Some already are, but perhaps they might eleven more.
- The members of Jewish Veg, Shamayim v’Aretz, the UK-baed Jewish Vegetarian Society, the Jerusalem-based Jewish Vegetarian Society (Ginger), Concern for Helping Animals in Israel, and other Jewish veg and animal rights groups should be encouraged to contact their local rabbis, Jewish educators, JCC directors, and other influential Jews and urge them to put veganism and climate change and related issues on their agendas. A model for such discussions with rabbis is in my article, ‘A Dialogue Between a Jewish Vegetarian Activist and a Rabbi.’ It can be read at https://www.jewishveg.org/schwartz/dialogue.html.
- We should start an immediate letter writing campaign. We should form a a group of people who would be willing to send letters out to publications from time to time Daily newspapers and other publications often have articles on health, animals, ecology, nutrition, and other veg-related topics that could be responded to. I could provide many sample letters that could be built on. Since moving to Israel a little over 3 years ago, I have had 40 – 50 letters published in the Jerusalem Post.
- We should try, through our supporting rabbis, to get resolutions on climate change, veganism, and related issues considered at rabbinic, congregational, and other Jewish-related conferences.
- We should increase our use of social media to spread our messages as widely as possible Two examples are to raise questions to online ‘Ask the Rabbi’ websites and to get our messages to blogs that discuss veg-treated issues.
- We should try to get our key veg and animal rights activists interviewed on radio and TV programs. There are many such programs in the US, Israel, and throughout the world, and they are looking for people willing to address current controversial issues.
- We should try to get vegetarian/vegan articles linked to many websites with connections to Judaism, health, animals, climate change, the environment, and other veg-related topics. Perhaps activists could build on my over 250 articles at JewishVeg.org/schwartz.
- We should establish connections with other organizations concerned with vegetarianism, veganism, and related issues.
I recognize that this is very ambitious and some of these things are already being done to some extent. But the threats are so great and the time to respond before it is too late is increasingly short, so applying at least some of my suggestions is essential as soon as possible.
As an additional way to get the issues on the Jewish agenda and possibly later other agendas, I am currently completing a manuscript tentatively titled, “How Veganism Can Help Heal the World and Revitalize Judaism.” I hope to send it to a publisher that is interested in a few weeks. If you would like to review a chapter or two and possibly make suggestions, please let me know. I would then send you a Table of Contents, so you could decide what you would be interested in reviewing.
It is hoped that the material below will be helpful in spreading our messages. Also, the complete text of the third edition of my book, Judaism and Vegetarianism, and over 250 related articles can be read at JewishVeg.org/schwartz.
1. There is a very strong scientific consensus, based on overwhelming evidence, that the world is rapidly heading toward an irreversible climate tipping point when climate change will spin out of control, with catastrophic results. The highly respected Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), composed of leading climate experts from many countries, warned in October 2018 that the world may have only have until 2030 to make ‘unprecedented changes’ in order to have a chance to avert a climate catastrophe.
The conclusion that climate change is a major threat to the world is shared by 97% of climate scientists worldwide, all the major science academies worldwide that have taken a position, and by virtually all the peer-reviewed articles on the subject in respected scientific Journals. All the 195 countries at the 2015 Paris climate conference agreed that climate change is a major threat to humanity and that immediate steps must be taken to address it.
Their views are reinforced by facts on the ground – the recent increase in the number and severity of heat waves, droughts, wildfires, storms, floods, and other climate events. All of the 18 years in this century are among the 19 warmest years since 1880 when worldwide temperature records were first kept. Glaciers worldwide and polar icecaps are rapidly melting, seas are rising, deserts are expanding, and coral reefs are bleaching, as temperatures continue to rise.
My July 3, 2019 Jerusalem Post article, ‘An existential threat to Israel is largely being ignored can be read at https://www.jpost.com/Opinion/An-existential-threat-to-Israel-is-being-largely-ignored-594552/
2. Several scientific studies have shown that animal-based agriculture is a major contributor to climate change, largely due to methane, a very potent greenhouse gas, emitted from cattle and other farmed animals. For example, the 2006 UN Food and Agriculture report “Livestock’s Long Shadow,’ indicated that animal-based agriculture emits more greenhouse gases, in CO2 equivalents than all the cars, ships, planes, and all other means of transport worldwide combined.
A 2009 cover story in the World Watch magazine, ‘Livestock and Climate Change,’ by two environmentalists associated with the World bank argued that the livestock sector is responsible for at least 52% of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. While other studies found lower percents, it is very unlikely that a climate catastrophe can be averted without a major societal shift toward plant-based diets
3. The production and consumption of meat and other animal products seriously violate basic Jewish teachings on preserving human health, treating animals with compassion, protecting the environment, conserving natural resources, and helping hungry people.
Preserving human health is arguably the most important mitzvah and the obligation to save human life (pikuach nefesh) overrides all other mitzvot, except the prohibitions against murder, idol worship, and sexual immorality. Jews are to be rachmanim b’nei rachmanim, compassionate children of compassionate ancestors, imitating God, Whose compassion is over all His works (Psalms 145:9). Based on Genesis 2:15, Jews are to be shomrei ha’adamah, guardians of the earth, as co-workers with God. Based on Deuteronomy 20: 19, 20, Jews are not to waste or unnecessarily destroy anything of value.
4. While rabbis are very dedicated people, doing all they can to meaningfully involve other Jews in Jewish life, most are generally completely ignoring the above facts or acting apathetically toward these critical issues. Relatively few have publicly spoken out on the issues.
5. There have been several recent scandals in the kosher certification field, and reports about how animals are treated that make kosher eating problematic today. Rabbi David Stav, chairman of Tzohar, an Israeli organization of many Israeli Orthodox rabbis working to bridge the gaps between Israel’s religious and secular populations, said, “The kashrut system in this country is in a downward spiral,” and “that the [kashrut inspection] system is broken everybody knows. That it is corrupt everyone knows.”
In a recent online interview ,renowned Israeli Orthodox Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo asserts:
I have doubts about the kashrut of kosher slaughtering of animals in
America and here in Israel. . . I don’t believe that any piece of meat today is Kasher l’mehadrin (perfectly kosher). We should start educating people to no longer eat meat.
Sabi Amar, quit his job as shochet (slaughterer) after seeing utter disregard of religious requirements is Jewish slaughterhouses. He says that, although there is awareness by kashrut supervisors, no one is willing to take responsibility. He claims that, ‘there is no kosher meat in this industry.’