Category Archives: Torah/Bible and Veganism
The Beet-Eating Heeb was asked recently if there is a Jewish blessing for kale.
Yes, there is, and it’s the same blessing we recite for all vegetables:
That translates as:
Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the ground.
You might be wondering, then, what is the Jewish blessing for meat?
Here it is:
It bears repeating. Here’s the blessing for meat again:
There is no mistake here. There is no specific blessing for meat in the Jewish religion.
There is a blessing for bread and grains. For wine. For fruit. For vegetables. But not specifically for meat.
What does that tell you?
If a Jew wishes to recite a blessing before consuming the flesh or secretions of an animal, he or she is to recite a catch-all blessing that doesn’t refer to food or sustenance at all. And that generic blessing is only to be recited after one has recited the blessings for plant-based foods.
Why is this the case?
Because the Torah literally describes meat-eating as an act of human lust, not as something that God wants us to do. In fact, the Torah tell us that God on multiple occasions sought to create a vegetarian, or vegan, world, only to be frustrated by the depravity of humans.
The rabbis of yore who developed our system of blessings understood that it would be inappropriate, if not an outright apostasy, to bless an activity that explicitly contradicts a Torah ideal.
If meat-eating reflected God’s will, you can bet your tuchus that there would be a specific blessing for it.
You might assume that The Beet-Eating Heeb dreads Passover.
After all, the very name of the holiday relates to the smearing of lamb’s blood on the doorposts of the Hebrews.
It would be one thing if the lambs had willingly donated a pint or two at the local blood bank. We all know that’s not how it happened.
Furthermore, the Ashkenazic prohibition on eating legumes (which is pointless) really limits The Beet-Eating Heeb’s diet. This means eating even more beets than usual. Not such a bad thing, but he really misses lentils.
Believe it or not, though, BEH looks forward to Pesach every year as a holiday whose main spiritual themes intersect with veganism.
You might find that to be quite a stretch, especially if your mother is making her brisket for the Seder again this year.
But hear BEH out.
Without further fanfare, or actually any fanfare, The Beet-Eating Heeb presents:
The Top 3 Reasons Passover is a Vegan Holiday
At Passover, we celebrate our freedom, our deliverance from slavery.
It seems like a good time to abstain from meat, dairy and eggs, since the animals from which those products are derived are treated like slaves, or worse.
Actually, anthropologically speaking, the very motif of slavery comes from animal agriculture. (This may be the most intellectual sentence BEH has ever written.)
Buying and selling living beings, binding them with chains, and branding them with hot irons are all actions that we associate with slavery. And these are all actions that originated in animal agriculture.
In modern factory farming, what animals experience is even worse than slavery. BEH will spare you the details this time around. But suffice it to say, during Passover, it would be a little hypocritical to celebrate our freedom while participating in the confinement, mutilation and killing of other sentient, soulful beings.
At Passover, we seek to free ourselves from our own personal mitzrayim, our bad habits.
And meat-eating is a very bad habit. Bad for your health. Bad for the planet. And very bad for the animal involved.
Pesach provides the perfect opportunity to make changes in our lives. Reducing or eliminating animal products from your diet is one of the best changes you can make.
Why do we eat matzah, the bread of affliction?
It’s not because we enjoy the feeling of constipation. (A feeling vegans rarely get, by the way.)
We rid our homes of chametz and we eat matzah to remind ourselves to remain humble.
The whole concept of killing animals for food is based on the misguided notion that we are far superior to our furry and feathered friends.
The rabbis of the Talmud realized that humans would have a tendency to be anthropocentric. (BEH is on a roll.) Yes, anthropocentric. Look it up, if you have to.
Those rabbis found many ways to make the point that if human beings are superior by animals, it’s not by much. Take, for instance, the mitzvah of feeding your animals before you feed yourself. That’s humility, baby.
So, you see, The Beet-Eating Heeb has good reason to engage in vegan advocacy, right there at his Seder table.
If we take the spiritual significance of Passover seriously, then we must consider going veg.
From their perch in America, many Diaspora Jews look at the Orthodox Rabbinate in Israel as a bunch of Neanderthals who use clubs to beat back any modern innovation or progressive idea.
No offense to any Neanderthals.
But The Beet-Eating Heeb, for one, might have to revise his assessment of Israel’s Rabbinical leadership.
On one issue that is near and dear to BEH’s heart, and probably to yours as well, the newly elected Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel recently made a very enlightened statement. And BEH is all for giving credit where credit is due.
Chief Rabbi Lau, after viewing televised footage of horrific abuses of animals at (yet another) kosher slaughterhouse, issued an unusually strong statement of condemnation.
His statement came in response to seeing chickens packed in filthy cages without food or water, writhing turkeys tossed into metal boxes with their throats cut, and several other forms of cruelty at a Soglowek slaughterhouse in Northern Israel.
“As a human being and as a Jew, I was shocked by the footage, by the brutal behavior of those employees toward helpless animals,” said Lau, according to Israel’s Ynet website. “Such things shouldn’t happen. The Torah forbids us to act in this way and obliges us to be extra vigilant with regard to animal welfare. We cannot remain silent in the face of such things. We will act firmly and sternly against this factory.”
The slaughterhouse, after a brief closure, has reopened. It remains to be seen whether Soglowek will improve its practices.
Nonetheless, Lau’s tough talk heartened The Beet-Eating Heeb for two reasons.
The rabbi specifically invoked “tzar baalei chaim,” the Jewish prohibition on inflicting unnecessary suffering on animals. He acknowledged the reality that the laws of kosher slaughter only apply to the last seconds of an animal’s life. What happens in the modern factory farm and during transport to the slaughterhouse typically involves multiple forms of cruelty, but is not governed by kashrut.
Second, Lau’s response to the Soglowek scandal stands out in vivid contrast to how America’s kashrut establishment has reacted to similar situations in U.S. slaughterhouses.
The most obvious example is the infamous Agriprocessors case, in which undercover investigators from 2004-2008 documented shocking cruelty at what was then the world’s largest glatt-kosher slaughterhouse. In response, the Orthodox Union, the country’s largest kosher-certification agency, repeatedly denied that anything was amiss.
Indeed, the Orthodox Union engaged in a public-relations campaign on behalf of Agriprocessors, essentially telling kosher consumers, and veterinary experts, not to believe what they were seeing with their own eyes.
Don’t take The Beet-Eating Heeb’s word for it, although you certainly can. Documentary evidence of the OU’s shenanigans can be found in the archives of the OU’s own Website.
Why would Orthodox rabbis bend over backwards to defend the perpetrators of cruelty?
BEH can answer in one word: Money.
The OU is the United States’ largest certifier of kosher products. It’s a very big business. The amount of money that the OU collects from kosher certification is not available on Guidestar, but suffice it to say, the total amount has quite a few zeros.
Agriprocessors was the sordid intersection of the country’s largest slaughterhouse and largest kosher certifier. Compassion, ethics, and concern for animals didn’t stand much of a chance. Neither did Judaism or Jewish values, for that matter.
Mark BEH’s words. There will be another Agriprocessors. There will be another videotaped, well-documented case of heart-wrenching, stomach-turning cruelty at a large American kosher slaughterhouse.
After all, kosher slaughter in the modern, factory-farming era resembles an assembly line. Make that a disassembly line. The point is, the sheer volume of animals, and the rapid line speed of the slaughter, all but ensures that cruelty will occur.
We can only hope that next time, America’s Orthodox rabbinate will not sacrifice compassion on the altar of economic expediency.