When Rabbis Attack!

One sure sign that the veg movement is a growing force among Jews is the backlash we’re seeing from certain highly placed but sadly misguided rabbis.

This backlash can be traced at least as far back as 2002, when Aish.com, one of the most popular Jewish Websites, posted an essay that attempted to defend meat-eating from a Jewish perspective.

Then as recently as two weeks ago, none other than the Vice President of Communications for the Orthodox Union launched a direct yet feeble attack against Jewish vegetarianism.  The Orthodox Union (OU) is the world’s largest kosher certification agency, so the fact that it posted an essay condemning vegetarianism on its home page is interesting, although not altogether shocking.

BEH views these anti-vegetarian screeds as a positive development. The only reason these rabbis are writing articles in defense of killing animals is because an increasing number of Jews are waking up to the horrors of factory farming.

Moreover, what these articles show, by the very weakness of their arguments, is that Jews are standing on very solid ground, theologically speaking, when we advocate for plant-based diets.

OU articleTo illustrate just how weak their arguments are, let’s take a closer look at the Orthodox Union post, written by Rabbi Eliyahu Safran, their VP of Communications.

Rabbi Safran starts out with a doozy of a logical fallacy. His anecdote about an elegant-looking woman fussing over her small dog is, first of all, totally irrelevant to the issue at hand. There is no evidence that the woman is a vegetarian. In fact, odds are she is a meat-eater, like Rabbi Safran.

Moreover, the story is a perfect example of what’s known in logic as a straw-man argument.

With the anecdote, the rabbi is clumsily implying that vegetarians and vegans care more about animals than they do about people. The only problem with that implication is, it’s simply untrue. Or, as British Friends of BEH might say, “What rubbish!”

Generally speaking, veg*ns who abstain from meat for ethical reasons also care deeply about their fellow human beings.

It’s not like God gave us a limited, finite capacity for compassion. It’s not a zero-sum game. Caring about animals does not preclude caring about people.

In fact, both God and our Sages recognized that someone who is compassionate toward animals is more likely to be compassionate toward people, not less.

The two greatest leaders in Jewish history – Moses and King David – were selected for leadership at least partly on the basis of the compassion they demonstrated as shepherds.

Like those two shepherds, veg*ns have expanded their personal circles of compassion to encompass animals as well as people, exactly as the Torah commands us to do. The merciful treatment of animals is a major point of emphasis in the Torah. Or has Rabbi Safran forgotten this?

Actually, it’s not the vegans and vegetarians that the rabbi should be concerned about. He should worry about himself and his fellow meat-eaters.

Perhaps it was Rabbi Joseph Albo, the great 15th Century philosopher and Torah scholar, who put it best when he wrote:  “In the killing of animals there is cruelty, rage, and the accustoming of oneself to the bad habit of shedding innocent blood.”

Well said, even if it’s obvious.

Let’s face reality. Eating meat in our modern era entails either hardening your heart to the suffering of animals or blinding your eyes to it.

Rabbi Safran devotes about a third of his essay to a description of the ancient Egyptians’ attitudes toward animals, which is about as irrelevant as the woman-and-dog story.safran

Yet in his entire essay, he doesn’t devote so much as a syllable to the pervasive abuse and heinous mistreatment of animals in factory farming. As a leader of the OU, he is surely aware that kosher slaughterhouses get the vast majority of their animals from factory farms.

The Beet-Eating Heeb refuses to either harden his heart or blind his eyes to this reality, to this cruelty. Yet Rabbi Safran, on behalf of the OU, sees fit to attack vegetarianism. That’s chutzpah, folks. Or something worse.

And here’s the kicker.

Rabbi Safran, out of either surprising ignorance or sheer audacity, tries to justify meat-eating as an “exercise of dominion” over animals.

Surely he must know that the granting of “dominion” in Genesis 1:28 is followed immediately by the injunction to eat plants and only plants in Genesis 1:29. The Torah could not be clearer. “Dominion” explicitly excludes the right to kill animals for food.

This piece by Rabbi Safran is typical of the anti-vegetarian genre. Time and again, when rabbis seek to defend their consumption of meat, they take Torah quotations out of context, deviate from the principles of logic, and ignore the realities of modern farming.

Ah, but there is no point in getting upset at Rabbi Safran or the OU.

Rather, we owe them a debt of gratitude for showing the world, if only unintentionally, that vegetarians and vegans embody the highest ideals of the Torah.

Now can’t we all just enjoy some seitan brisket?

About The Beet-Eating Heeb

I'm a meat-abstaining Jew who believes our religion commands us to treat our bodies with care, to treat animals with compassion, and to treat our planet like it's the only one we've got.

Posted on December 29, 2012, in Factory Farming / Animal Cruelty, Torah/Bible and Veganism and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. If it says in Psalms that G-d attends to the cries of the baby ravens, why would anyone think that the cries of the animals in the slaughter houses are blocked out! Anyone with an iota of sensitivity and compassion can not condone or participate in this inhumanity towards G-d’s creatures.

  2. Hmmm. I wonder if Rabbi Safran has considered that (1) eating less meat allows more humans to eat, since each pound of meat is “manufactured” through metabolism of several times the amount of grain and leaves (the multiplier depends on the specific meat) or if (2) he has considered that higher meat content in our diets contributes more to climate change, and unstable climate is rapidly depriving many who live on the edge of survival of safe homes, fresh water, and the ability to subsistence farm. These seem to me to be strong reasons to eat lower on the food chain. Though I agree with the BEH’s well-placed compassion-is-not-a-limited-resource argument, these others seem even more obvious. Eating less (or no) meat benefits humans, animals, and the rest of Creation. Why would we strive to do otherwise?

    • Great points, Cricket. Evidently, Rabbi Safran also has not considered that the production and consumption of animal products violate basic Jewish mandates to protect human health, treat animals with compassion, protect the environment, conserve natural resources, help hungry people, and pursue peace.

  3. Kudos to the Beet Eating Heeb for excellent commentary on Rabbi Safran’s pathetic attempt to criticize the compassionate, healthy, environmentally responsible plant-based diet. Clearly, the rabbi does not understand what he has read in the Torah.

    Rina Deych, RN
    Vegan Nurse

  4. There are a lot of Jews and a lot of money in the meat ( and fur ) business . Not to mention all those useless Rabbis that are given employment blessing slabs of rotting corpses and cans of corned beef hash . I think much of it comes down to not alienating their monied supporters . Just like anything else , it’s likely mostly about money & power .

  5. just saw “A peacable kingdom” and this is so powerful and never seen before images and text as every child would like 2 c, and the grown ups might take longer time, but alas, we wait 4 them, maybe next year they change (less than 4 hours here, and in some parts of the world they already have it…. oh la lal

  6. I stopped eating meat too, after Rubashikin’s and other cases, i don’t really believe in kashrut supervision anymore. In theory – it’s good, especially from mystical point, where the animals’ soul presumably elevates, but in reality… no way.

    • Congratulations! I love the Francione (spelling?) quote. I’ve been a vegetarian since eanteemlry school, but I haven’t gone completely vegan. Articles like this make me reevaluate my impact on the world, particularly on my beloved animals!

  7. I’ve just read most of a book published in 2012 called L’Chaim: 18 Chapters to Live By. The author is Shmuel Shields, Ph.D. It’s a book by a nutritionist that “…tells you how..to Look and Feel Great, Reduce Stress, Boost Your Immunity, Lose Weight–and more–based on Torah Wisdom and the latest research.” For me it was an eye opener. It sure does carefully expose the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) The author himself went through phases of raw foodism, veganism, vegetarianism and eventually settled on eating meat just on Shabbat.It seems many folks need to have a ‘healing crisis’ or spiritual crisis of some sort before even beginning to consider vegetarianism or veganism. Go Beet Eating Heeb! :)

  8. Perhaps this Rabbi should get to know the work of Dr. Richard Schwartz and read “Judaism and Vegetarianism.” Thank you for the interesting article.

  9. Thank you for that. As usual, well thought out and wonderfully put. I am also thankful for the specific passages in the bible referenced. I personally am quite tired of meat eaters attempting to twist the very words in the bible to meet (meat?) their excuses for lack of compassion and for the justification for continuation of same. Thank you for this as always.

  10. Beautifully put as always. Logical and sensibility combined with compassion. You can’t go wrong here. Wonderful as well to see the words from the actual biblical sections included as I (personally speaking) am tired of meat eaters using the dominion over animals nonsense.Thank you again, and I know the animals thank you.

  11. Very interesting. Thank you.

  12. In the battle between defense of the status quo and pursuit of a higher moral and spiritual vision, we seem to be doing much better in the first category. Maybe this is due to what some call the “black armband” mentality — that we tend to feel perpetually embattled and on the defensive. But ultimately this is neither a path of inspiration or even survival.

  13. Kol hakavod BEH for this superb analysis.

    I hope it will be widely read and will make a positive difference.

    Unfortunately, many rabbis are in denial about the many Jewish teachings that are violated by animal-based diets. Time we respectfully challenged them to put vegetarianism onto the Jewish agenda.

  14. Very nice posting! Thank you!!

  15. Ah, the BEH is once again most appreciated for his critique, calmness, compassion, and probably other c words that I cannot think of at the moment.

    Please visit the following for more info on Jewish vegetarianism:

    Jewish Vegetarians of North America at http://www.JewishVeg.com

    The Vegetarian Mitzvah at http://www.brook.com/jveg

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