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

Strategy to get veganism and environmental sustainability onto the Jewish and society’s agenda

Victor Hugo famously said, “Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come.” Well, there is increasing evidence that the time has come to get veganism onto the Jewish agenda and, indeed, onto society’s agenda, in order to avert a climate catastrophe and help shift our imperiled planet onto a sustainable path. Here are some reasons why this is so:

1. Our arguments are irrefutable. The most recent evidence of this is that my article, Why Jews Should Be Vegans,” was the cover story in the August 9 issue of the Jerusalem Report. It can be read at https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=10226011542743924&set=pcb.10226011547944054 .

 On the cover, under, “Should Jews Be Vegans?” it said, “Richard H. Schwartz argues that eating animal products violates Jewish teachings.” Despite this and the strong case I made in the article that animal-based diets seriously violate basic Jewish teachings on preserving human health, treating animals with compassion, protecting the environment, conserving natural resources, helping hungry people, and pursuing peace, no rabbi or any other Jew responded negatively with a letter to the editor, disputing my views.

      The issue did include an article by Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld, “Judaism is not a vegetarian religion,” Since he could not respond to my arguments, he resorts to: “If one decides to become a vegetarian, bravo! But please do not preach to the rest of us that we must do the same.” His response was strongly criticized in an article in the same issue by Yael Shemesh, Professor of Bible at Bar Ilan University.

     The next issue of the Jerusalem report included a letter critical of Rabbi Schonfeld’s position and my letter, which included the following sentences, “Since I am a ba’al teshuvah [a returnee to Jewish practice in my 20s],  and there are many rabbis who know far more about Judaism than I do, I wonder if any would agree to engage in a respectful public dialogue via email or Zoom on “Should Jews be vegans?” It would be a Kiddush Hashem (a sanctification of God’s Name), by showing the relevance of eternal issues to current societal issues and by helping to produce a healthier, more compassionate and more environmentally sustainable world.

      While that issue came out over a week ago, I have received no acceptance of my offer. Conclusion: while there are many rabbis and other Jewish scholars who know far more than I do about Judaism, none are evidently able to refute our case that veganism is the diet and lifestyle most consistent with Jewish values and, hence, Jews should be vegans, 

2. There has been an explosion of delicious plant-based substitutes for meat and other animal products, some with the appearance, texture, and taste so close to those of the animal products that even long-time meat eaters can’t tell the difference. And, there will soon be even more choices in terms of cultured meats from the cells of live animals. Hence, the arguments of convenience and taste for eating meat and other animal products are no longer valid, and there is really no reason for people to continue eating meat and other animal products.

3. It is increasingly apparent that the world is heading toward a climate catastrophe. Within a very short period there were many heatwaves, some involving record temperatures, severe floods in Western Europe, China, India, Bangladesh, and parts of the US, severe wildfires in much of the Western US, Greece, and even Siberia.  A report by the highly respected UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), written by 234 climate experts from 60 countries indicated that increasingly severe future weather is very likely.

      Two factors that are extremely worrisome are (1) while all the recent severe climate vents have occurred at a time when the global temperature has risen about 1.1 degrees Celsius (about two degrees Fahrenheit) since the start of the industrial revolution, climate experts project that this increase will be at least three degrees Celsius by the end of this century, triggering far worse climate events, and (2) climate experts fear that self-reinforcing positive feedback loops (viscius cycles) could result in an irreversible tipping point when climate spins out of control, with catastrophic results.

     The issue is especially urgent for Israel,  as the hotter and drier Middle East that climate experts are predicting makes terrorism and wear more likely, according to military experts, and a rising Mediterranean Sea could inundate the coastal plane which contains most of Israel’s population and infrastructure. A recent report indicates that the Middle East is becoming literally uninhabitable. https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/08/24/the-middle-east-is-becoming-literally-uninhabitable/?utm_source=PostUp&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=35812&utm_term=Editors%20Picks%20OC&tpcc=35812 .

4. A major shift toward vegan diets is essential to efforts to avert a climate catastrophe. We now have a very valuable tool to help this shift to occur in Glen Merzer’s latest book, “Food Is Climate.” He argues cogently that the best and really only way to avert a climate catastrophe is through a societal shift to vegan diets. Not only would this reduce the emissions from cows and other farmed animals of  huge amounts of methane, which is up to 120 times as potent as CO2 in causing climate change, but it would free up the 34% of the world’s ice-free land, an area greater than the areas of China, the US, Australia, and the European Union combined,  that is currently being used to graze and grow feed crops for animals, to be used for planting trees, which would absorb from 51% to 87% of the atmospheric CO2. 

     My co-authored (with Prof. Dan Brook) cover story in the Jerusalem Report, “Climate Change: An Existential Threat to Humanity and How We Can Survive,” can be read at https://www.jpost.com/jerusalem-report/climate-change-an-existential-threat-to-humanity-and-how-we-can-survive-643267

5. With the daily news about the very harmful effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, we could stress that many previous pandemics, including SARS, MERS, Ebola, swine flu, and bird flu, and possibly the current pandemic were caused by the widespread mistreatment and consumption of animals.

6. We could also stress that shifts to vegan diets would also sharply reduce incidents of heart disease, cancer, and other life-threatening diseases and make future pandemics far less likely.

6. A very strong statement supporting veganism composed by Jewish Veg has been signed already by 150 rabbis. It will soon be released along with information about a major improvement in the organization’s website.

     It is essential that we take advantage of the opportunities the above points and others give us to very actively promote veganism.

      Some things that we can do are:

  1. Take advantage of the fact that our case for veganism based on basic Jewish values is unassailable. Urge veg rabbis to actively promote veganism and other rabbis to address the issues. Forward my cover story, “Why Jews Should Be Vegans?”(mentioned above) to rabbis and other Jews.

2. Help get complimentary copies of my latest book, “Vegan Revolution: Saving Our World, Revitalizing Judaism,” to as many people as possible, and urge recipients to also share it very widely.. PDFs of the complete text  and the cover picture are attached. Please share them widely.I hope the widespread circulation of my book will spur many respectful dialogues that will further veganism, animal rights, environmental sustainability, and related issues

3. Contact your local rabbis and ask them to join the 150 rabbis who have already signed the vegan statement composed by Jewish Veg.

4. Write letters to editors that promote veganism. There are news items every day about climate change, diseases, treatment of animals, hunger, and other issues that can be the basis of letters about veganism.

5. Help promote Glen Merzer’s book, “Food is Climate,” mentioned above, because it provides the most effective way to reduce climate change.

6 Take advantage of opportunities to get the benefits of veganism into your conversations in a very respectful way.

7. Download the United in Heart app from Apple App Store and join to implement a public awareness and constructive action campaign to solve climate change through coordinated action on food, trees and communication.

Suggestions very welcome. Bottom line: we must take unprecedented positive actions very soon in efforts to leave a decent, habitable world for future generations!!

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 JewishVeg.com/schwartz. 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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