The Torah gives precise details on how animals are to be sacrificed and slaughtered (shechita). According to Rabbis Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz and Abraham Isaac Kook the complexity of these laws were intended to discourage the consumption of meat. Kashrut may also be designed to remind Jews of the magnitude of the task undertaken in killing a living being.
Genesis 1:29 states “And God said: Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree that has seed-yielding fruit—to you it shall be for food.” Rabbi Kook speaks of vegetarianism as an ideal, and points to the fact that Adam and Eve did not partake of the flesh of animals. According to Richard H. Schwartz, president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America and author of the book Judaism and Vegetarianism, God’s original plan was for mankind to be vegetarian, and that God only later gave permission for man to eat meat in a covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:1–17) as a temporary concession because of Man’s weak nature. This concessionary view of meat-consumption is based on the scriptural analysis of several Rishonim.
Ethics of eating meat
There are several religious and philosophical arguments used by Jewish vegetarians regarding the ethics of eating meat. One mitzvah cited by vegetarians is tza’ar ba’alei hayyim; the injunction not to cause “pain to living creatures.” The laws of shechita are meant to prevent the suffering of animals. However, factory farming and high-speed mechanized kosher slaughterhouses have been criticized for failing to meet the essence of shechita. Jonathan Safran Foer narrated the short documentary film If This Is Kosher…, which records what he considers abuses within the kosher meat industry.
Another mitzvah often cited by Jewish vegetarians is bal tashchit; the law which prohibits waste.They suggest that an omnivorous diet is wasteful, since it uses 5 times more grain, 10 times more water, 15 times more land and 20 times more energy when compared to a vegan diet.
Judaism stresses the importance of maintaining health and not harming oneself (venishmartem me’od lenafshoteichem). Joel Fuhrman and other doctors, such as John A. McDougall, Neal D. Barnard and Dean Ornish, claim a diet high in animal products is detrimental to health and suggest following a plant-based diet (see health arguments).Global warming, hunger and the depletion of natural resources may also be lessened by a global shift towards a vegan diet (see environmental vegetarianism). A 2010 report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) declared: “A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”
According to some, vegetarianism is consistent with the sacred teachings and highest ideals of Judaism, including compassion, health, life, conservation of resources, tzedakah,kashrut, peace, and justice. In contrast, the mass production and consumption of meat and other animal products contradicts many Jewish values and teachings, gravely harming people, animals, communities, and the environment. Others point out the obligation during the Temple period for Jews to eat the Paschal Offering. In addition the Talmud states that a holiday or Sabbath meal is supposed to consist of meat and wine (although fish is acceptable). In addition the popular Sabbath songs Mah yedidut and Yom shabbat qodesh hu refer to eating meat and fish.
While most modern-day Jews have not promoted vegetarianism, many prominent rabbis, such as Abraham Isaac Kook, have advocated a vegetarian lifestyle. Kook personally refrained from eating meat except on the Sabbath and Festivals, and one of his leading disciples Rabbi David Cohen, known as the “Nazirite” of Jerusalem, was a devout vegetarian. His famous essay A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace summarizes Kook ideas about the “coming of the new society” in which Mankind becomes vegan. Notable Jewish vegetarians include Rabbis She’ar Yashuv Cohen, David Rosen and Shlomo Goren in Israel; Rabbis David Wolpe, Yonassan Gershom and Everett Gendler in the U.S.; and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in the U.K. Other notable Jewish vegetarians include Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Roberta Kalechofsky.
In Israel there is one vegetarian moshav (village), called Amirim. The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute led by Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz promotes a vegan diet in the Jewish community through animal welfare activism, kosher veganism, and Jewish spirituality. The “Concern for Helping Animals in Israel (CHAI)” animal welfare organization promotes Jewish vegetarianism; CHAI’s building project is named the Isaac Bashevis Singer Humane Education Center.