These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Experiencing the Intellectual Community of Jerusalem: Judaism and Vegetarianism

Posted on September 28, 2010 by Barer

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After some reflection during my month here in Jerusalem so far, I have come to the preliminary conclusion that one of the primary benefits that I derive from living here, as opposed to at home in Vancouver, British Columbia (that’s in Canada), is the extremely rich and diverse Jewish intellectual community.

That was highlighted for me during Chol Hamoed this week when I went to hear Dr. Richard Schwartz speak about why Israel, and really the entire world, needed to take stock of some of our (humanity’s) most basic assumptions about the food we eat. As someone who recently decided, after a few years of knowing that it was the right thing to do, but not having the conviction to go through with it, that being vegetarian is the only morally acceptable way to live one’s life, I found it encouraging, though also rather scary, to consider the reasons given by Dr. Schwartz for being vegetarian. They could be roughly divided into two groups: purely pragmatic reasons that hinge on the ability for us as humans to continue living on this planet beyond the next fifty or one-hundred years; and reasons that stemmed purely from principles in Judaism that are commonly held to be fundamental and are followed in many of their other applications in our lives.

The pragmatic reasons, while definitely an important part of the issue – and it is always important to keep up to date on a subject that is so influenced by the progress scientific experts are able to make, which changes constantly – are ones that I had for the most part heard before. On the other hand, I had never read or heard anyone speak of the issue from a purely Jewish perspective before, and this was enlightening. Especially because, having spent some time with Orthodox friends since becoming a vegetarian, I have found it hard to explain how these two values in my life can coexist. My friends, while understanding, do not see anything within Judaism that would compel one to become a vegetarian, and therefore they conclude, rightly at the time, that I chose to become a vegetarian for reasons that had to do with my education in philosophy, and not Judaism. Dr. Schwartz’s lecture, therefore, in which he outlined six precepts of Judaism that were violated by eating meat and other (non-human) animal products, provided me with the perfect sources (see and with which to respond to my friends and any other Jews who have never considered Judaism to be a proponent of vegetarianism.

Given my experience of Pardes so far as being an institution that is extremely attuned to the various dietary needs of their students, not least with providing a vegetarian option as often as possible, I think that it would be a natural ally in the cause which Dr. Schwartz is trying to propagate in the Jewish world. I could even envision a future class at Pardes that focused on Judaism and dietary needs/restrictions, and while Dr. Schwartz resides in the States, I am sure that there are other suitable people who would be happy and willing to take up the post of teacher – due in large part to the diverse intellectuals that Jerusalem attracts.