Shabbat Parashat Tazria Metzora | 5769
Ask the Rabbi: Promoting vegetarianism and veganism
Question: The attached literature explains why we feel Jewish leaders, including rabbis, should take a leading role in promoting vegetarianism and veganism (not using animal products, including milk and eggs). We await your comments and feedback, as the rabbinic community is relatively silent on the matter.
[We very briefly summarize the issues the question included. Readers are invited to learn more at www.JewishVeg.com (a site that was referenced) and react.] The billions of farmed animals produce more greenhouse gases than human transportation, contributing to the looming world ecological disaster, including flooding, heat waves, and droughts in places such as
Answer: The scientific consensus seems to agree with your basic premises. However, we lack the expertise to confirm or reject the definitive picture you paint of the danger’s extent and the most effective ways to act. For this reason, many rabbis are uncomfortable speaking out. Because we agree that waiting until all the facts are crystal clear may doom us, we are responding to you in an abridged and theoretical manner to do our part to advance dialogue within the Jewish community.
Few, if any, of us can make a significant impact on world ecology. Thus, when each of us decides about diet, the matter can be equated to the following situation. A person has a serious medical condition. He can decrease the chances of tragedy by a tiny amount if he undergoes a difficult treatment. While it might be wise for him to take the steps, he is not halachically required to do so. Otherwise, anyone with a serious illness would have to spend all of his money to hire the biggest (most expensive) expert in the field to heal him (as our mentor, Rav Z.N. Goldberg, has argued is not so). On the Jewish, national level, if the world would follow our lead, we might have a national obligation to make a significant difference, but we do not think that this is presently the case. However, we still feel it is noble to try to advance ecological concerns along the lines of the Rabbis’ words, “It is not for you to finish the job, but neither are you free to be idle from it.”
There are various steps we can take to improve the situation, of which vegetarianism/ veganism is but one. These include: supporting (when it does not conflict with bigger concerns) “green-minded” candidates for office; spending money on fuel efficiency (efficient cars, home insulation, etc.); investing in companies that research and develop environmentally friendly technology; reducing consumption of animal products and fuels (adjust thermostat, walk and take public transportation more); speak to friends and/or write about such steps.
We reject the claim that raising livestock is bal tachshit. Bal tachshit refers to acts that are directly destructive, such as ripping and chopping down without positive gain (see Rambam, Melachim 6:10). Allocating resources for a desired result in a less than ideal manner or where there are side effects does not violate the prohibition.
Regarding cruelty to animals, although it is unclear what the exact parameters of proper conditions are, it is clear that there are many instances of abuse. We encourage efforts to “clean up the industry.” While veganism is a noble means to limit abuses, by causing there to be fewer animals born to suffer, it does not eradicate the problem and is not required. We support boycotting companies who are known to cause definite tza’ar ba’alei chayim.
In summary, we encourage people to take steps to reduce dependence on animal farming and improving world ecology. However, this does not mean one needs to be a vegan or a vegetarian.
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of
R ' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld
Hemdat Yamim is
Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l.