Prof. Dan Brook is the co-author of this article.
This year, the first day of Chanukah coincides with the end of Thanksgiving weekend on Sunday, When it coincides with Thanksgiving, some call that “Thanksgivukah.”
Thanksgiving was established as a national holiday by President Lincoln over 150 years ago, although various days of thanksgiving were celebrated since the early 1600s in America. Chanukah has been celebrated for over 2,000 years. The two holidays are united in our gratitude for Light, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Latkes
Jewish survival is a miracle of hope. Increasing light at the darkest time of the year to celebrate Chanukah and Jewish survival is also a miracle. Each year, we should be grateful for our miracles and we should work and hope for further miracles.
We sincerely hope that Jews will enhance their celebrations of this spiritually meaningful holiday of Thanksgivukah by making it a time to strive even harder to live up to Judaism’s and America’s highest moral values and teachings. For most of us, we certainly don’t need more “things” in our homes or more food in our bellies; instead, we need more meaning, purpose, gratitude, and spirit in our lives. There are a variety of ways to accomplish this. One significant way we can do this, on a daily basis, is by moving towards vegetarianism, and preferably veganism (henceforth veg*anism).
Chanukah commemorates the single small container of pure olive oil — expected to be enough for only one day — which, according to the Talmud (Shabbat 21b), miraculously lasted for eight days in the rededicated Temple on the 25th of Kislev 165 BCE.
A switch to veg*anism would be using our wisdom and compassion to help inspire another great miracle: the end of the tragedy of world hunger, therefore ensuring the survival of tens of millions of people annually. Currently, from one-third to one-half of the world’s grain, and about three-quarters of major food crops in the U.S. (e.g., corn, wheat, soybeans, oats, alfalfa), is fed to animals destined for slaughter, while almost one billion poor people chronically suffer from malnutrition and its debilitating effects, tens of thousands of them consequently dying each day, one every few seconds.
Hundreds of millions of turkeys are bred in unnatural and brutal conditions, leading to injuries and ill health first for them and eventually for their consumers. In the joyous process of celebrating our holidays, other beings shouldn’t have to be enslaved, tortured, and killed by our tyranny over them. No one should ever have to suffer or die on our account.
Chanukah represents the victory of the idealistic and courageous few, over the seemingly invincible power and dominant values of the surrounding society. We learn through both our religious studies and history that might does not make right, even if it sometimes rules the moment. Therefore, quality is more important than quantity; spirituality is more vital than materialism, though each is necessary. “Not by might and not by power, but by spirit”, says Zechariah (4:6), part of the prophetic reading for Shabbat Chanukah. Today, vegetarians are relatively few in number, though growing, and billions of captive factory farm animals are powerless to defend themselves, but the highest ideals and spirit of Judaism and America are on their side.
According to the Book of Macabees, some Macabees lived on plant foods when they hid in caves and in the mountains to escape capture. Further, the major foods associated with Chanukah, latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly donuts), are vegetarian foods — as is chocolate gelt! — and the vegetable oils that are used in their preparation are a reminder of the pure vegetable oil (olive) used in the lighting of the Temple’s Menorah.
The miracle of the oil brings the use of fuel and other resources into focus. One day’s oil was able to last for eight days in the Temple, a miracle of resource conservation. Conservation and energy-efficiency are sacred acts and veg*anism allows resources to go much further, since far less oil, water, land, topsoil, chemicals, labor, and other agricultural resources are required for plant-based diets than for animal-based diets, while far less waste, pollution, and greenhouse gases are produced. For example, it can require up to 78 calories of non-renewable fossil fuel for each calorie of protein obtained from factory-farmed beef, whether kosher or otherwise, but only 2 calories of fossil fuel to produce a calorie of protein from soybeans. We increasingly need to incorporate this ecological ethic into the fabric of America, Israel, and everywhere else.
In addition to resource conservation and economic efficiency, a switch toward veg*anism would greatly benefit the health of individuals, the condition of our environment, and would sharply reduce the suffering and death of billions of animals and millions of people. Further, the social, psychological, and spiritual benefits should not be underestimated. Many people who switch to a veg*an diet report feeling physically, emotionally, and spiritually better. And more and more Jews and others are doing just that!
Chanukah also represents the triumph of idealistic non-conformity. Like the Hebrew prophets, the Macabees fought for their inner beliefs, rather than conforming to external pressure. They were willing to proudly exclaim: this we believe, this we stand for, this we are willing to struggle for. Like the great Prophets and the celebrated Macabees, and like our revolutionary leaders and abolitionists, veg*ans represent this type of progressive non-conformity by an inspired minority.
At a time when most people, especially in wealthier countries, think of animal products as the main part of their meals, veg*ans are resisting this misguided concept and and insisting that there is a better, healthier, more compassionate, more environmentally sustainable, and ethical choice, one that better fits with our religious values and philosophical beliefs.
Chanukah commemorates the deliverance of the Jews from the Syrian-Greeks. In our time, veg*anism can be a step toward deliverance of society from various modern plagues and tragedies, including global warming, world hunger, deforestation, air and water pollution, species extinction, resource depletion, heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, obesity, rising health care costs, and lost productivity, among others. That’s a lot to be thankful for.
The letters on a diaspora dreidel, those we use in America, are an acronym for nes gadol hayah sham, a great miracle happened there. May the celebration of this joyous holiday inspire other miracles and deepened gratitude within each of us.
May we all have happy, healthy, thankful, and miraculous celebrations of both Chanukah AND Thanksgiving!
For more information, please visit the Jewish Vegetarians of North America web site at www.JewishVeg.com, The Vegetarian Mitzvah site at www.brook.com/jveg, and Farm Sanctuary at www.farmsanctuary.org/learn/factory-farming/turkeys-used-for-meat.
Dan Brook, Ph.D. teaches sociology at San Jose State University, where is the Faculty Advisor for the Spartan Veg Club. He is the author of Eating the Earth (in various languages) at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1037436, An Alef-Bet Kabalah at www.smashwords.com/books/view/1653, editor of the non-profit Justice in the Kitchen at http://justicecookbook.wordpress.com, maintains The Vegetarian Mitzvah at www.brook.com/jveg, is a member of the Board of San Francisco Veg Society and the Advisory Board of Jewish Veg, and can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org. More info at about.me/danbrook.
Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D. is the author of Vegan Revolution: Saving Our World, Revitalizing Judaism, Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, Who Stole My Religion? and over 250 articles and interviews at www.JewishVeg.com/schwartz. He is President Emeritus of Jewish Veg, formerly Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) (www.JewishVeg.com), Coordinator of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians (SERV) (www.serv-online.org), and can be contacted via VeggieRich@gmail.com .