Rabbi Sacks Inspires Me to Create a Kinder World

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As we approach the second yahrzeit of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on Cheshvan 20, I’m as inspired as ever by one of his core messages. 

It might sound ridiculous to envision a global Jewish community that fully embraces veganism as a religious imperative for our troubled times. 

But I seriously doubt that Rabbi Sacks, a long-time vegetarian, would sneer at my vision. Rather, it is Sacks himself who emboldened me to devote my life to making this dream a reality. 

In an essay published on the My Jewish Learning site, he wrote:

“To be a Jew is to be an agent of hope in a world serially threatened by despair. Every ritual, every mitzvah, every syllable of the Jewish story, every element of Jewish law, is a protest against escapism, resignation or the blind acceptance of fate. 

“Judaism is a sustained struggle, the greatest ever known, against the world that is, in the name of the world that could be, should be, but is not yet.”

Inspired by Sacks, that’s what I’m engaged in: A sustained struggle against the animal-killing world that is, in the name of a vegan world that could be, should be, but is not yet. 

I’ll be the first to admit that some hopes will probably never be more than hopes. For instance, I don’t foresee the Detroit Lions ever winning a Super Bowl, no matter how hard they try. 

But my hopes are anchored in reality. Are you serious, you say? Yes, I am, and I’ll give you two reasons why: 

  1. My dream is deeply rooted in the Torah and Jewish canon, which firmly establishes veganism as a Jewish ideal, prohibits us from causing animals to suffer unnecessarily, and portrays meat-eating as a reluctantly granted concession
  2. My vision is coming into reality in the form of a tremendous variety of vegan products in supermarkets and vegan options in restaurants, not to mention the wide availability of vegan shoes, socks, belts, jackets, and purses.

Just to be clear, I envision a global Jewish community that lives up to its highest values and embraces veganism, followed in short order by other religions and secular society. A domino effect, if you will. Or a snowball rolling downhill. After all, we’re commanded by our Torah to be a “light onto the nations.”

These dominoes will be falling toward the world that should be. Yes, should be. 

I say this because, as you read this, literally millions of farmed animals are suffering intensely and heading toward a violent death. 

This column isn’t the place to go into detail about the cruelty of contemporary animal agriculture, both inside and outside the kosher industry. Suffice it to say it’s an enormous stain on our society and an egregious desecration of both our Jewish and your personal values. 

I’m devoting my life to the cause of vegan advocacy because the cries and shrieks of the animals do not reach our ears. The animals rely on caring people to give voice to their plight.

I believe we can agree – the horrific treatment of farmed animals should not be happening. This is why I intentionally state that a vegan world is the world that should be. 

As I work to create this world – a world of kindness and non-violence – I turn to Rabbi Sacks for inspiration, over and over again. 

In that same essay, he wrote:

“Society is what we choose to make it. The future is open. There is nothing inevitable in the affairs of humankind.

“ … (T)he future is open, dependent on us. We can know the beginning of our story but not the end. That is why, as God is about to take the Israelites from slavery to freedom, God tells Moses that the Divine name is ‘I will be what I will be.’ Judaism, the religion of freedom, is faith in the future tense.”

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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