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

Purim and Veganism

The joyous festival of Purim shares many connections with veganism.

According to the Talmud (Megilla 13a), Queen Esther, the heroine of the Purim story, refrained from eating meat while she lived in the palace of King Achashveriosh. She was thus able to avoid violating the kosher dietary laws while keeping her Jewish identity secret.

During Purim it is a mitzvah to give mat’not evyonim (charity to poor people). In contrast to these acts of sharing and compassion, animal-based diets involve the feeding of about 70 percent of the grain in the United States and over a third of the grain grown worldwide to farmed animals, while an estimated nine million people die of hunger and its effects annually and over ten percent of the world’s people are chronically hungry.

During the afternoon of Purim, Jews have a seudah (special festive meal), at which family and friends gather to rejoice in the Purim spirit. Serving only vegan food at these occasions would enable all who partake to be consistent with Jewish mandates to preserve our health, protect the environment, share with hungry people, conserve resources, and treat animals with compassion.

On Purim, Jews emphasize unity and friendship by sending gifts of food (shalach manot) to friends. Vegans act in the spirit of unity and concern for humanity by having a diet that best shares Earth’s abundant resources.

Because of the deliverance of the Jewish people that it commemorates, Purim is the most joyous Jewish holiday. By contrast, animals on factory farms never have a pleasant day, and millions of people throughout the world are too involved in worrying about their next meal to be able to experience many joyous moments.

Mordechai, one of the heroes of the Purim story, was a nonconformist. The Book of Esther affirms: “And all of the king’s servants . . . bowed down and prostrated themselves before Haman. . . But Mordechai would not bow down nor prostrate himself before him” (Esther 3:2). Today, vegans represent nonconformity. At a time when most people in the wealthier countries think of animal products as the main part of their meals, when McDonald’s and similar fast-food establishments are expanding, vegans are resisting and insisting that there is a better, healthier, more humane diet.

Purim commemorates the deliverance of the Jews from the wicked Haman. Today, veganism can be a step toward deliverance for the world from modern problems such as climate change, hunger, pollution, and resource scarcities.

Purim commemorates the time when conditions for the Jews changed from sorrow to gladness and from mourning to celebrating. Today, a switch to veganism could result in positive changes for many people, since plant-based diets would reduce health problems, environmental threats, and hunger.

Jews hear the reading of the Megillah twice during Purim, in order to reeducate themselves about the terrible threats that faced the Jewish people and their deliverance. Jewish vegans believe that if Jews were educated about the horrible realities of factory farming and the powerful Jewish mandates about taking care of our health, showing compassion for animals, protecting the environment, conserving natural resources, and helping hungry people, they would seriously consider switching to vegan diets.

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 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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