For the first time since 1888, and then not again for about 78,000 years (!), Hanukka and American Thanksgiving coincide this year on Thursday, November 28. Some are calling it Thanksgivukka. Some are calling it another miracle! It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Thanksgiving was established as a national holiday by president Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago, although various days of thanksgiving were celebrated since the early 1600s in America. Hanukka has been celebrated for 2,178 years. The two holidays are united in our gratitude for light, liberty and the pursuit of latkes.
Jewish survival is a miracle of hope. Increasing light at the darkest time of the year to celebrate Hanukka and Jewish survival is also a miracle. Each year, we should be grateful for our miracles, and we should work and hope for further miracles. We sincerely hope that Jews will enhance their celebrations of this spiritually meaningful holiday of Thanksgivukka by making it a time to strive even harder to live up to Judaism’s and America’s highest moral values and teachings.
For most of us, we certainly don’t need more “things” in our homes or more food in our bellies. Instead, we need more meaning, purpose, gratitude and spirit in our lives. There are a variety of ways to accomplish this. One significant way we can do this, on a daily basis, is by moving towards vegetarianism. Hanukka commemorates the single small container of pure olive oil – expected to be enough for only one day – which, according to the Talmud (Shabbat 21b), miraculously lasted for eight days in the rededicated Temple on the 25th of Kislev, 165 BCE.
A switch to vegetarianism would be using our wisdom and compassion to help inspire another great miracle: the end of the tragedy of world hunger, thus ensuring the survival of tens of millions of people annually. Currently, one-third to one half of the world’s grain and about three-quarters of major food crops in the US (e.g., corn, wheat, soybeans, oats, alfalfa) is fed to animals destined for slaughter, while about one billion poor people chronically suffer from malnutrition and its debilitating effects, tens of thousands of them consequently dying each day, one every few seconds.
Hundreds of millions of turkeys are bred in unnatural and brutal conditions, leading to injuries and ill health, first for them and eventually for their consumers.
In the joyous process of celebrating our holidays, other beings shouldn’t have to be enslaved, tortured and killed by our tyranny over them. No one should ever have to die on our account.
Hanukka represents the victory of the idealistic and courageous few over the seemingly invincible power and dominant values of the surrounding society. We learn through our religious studies and history that might does not make right, even if it sometimes rules the moment. Therefore, quality is more important than quantity; spirituality is more vital than materialism, though each is necessary.
“Not by might and not by power, but by spirit,” says Zechariah 4:6, part of the prophetic reading for Shabbat Hanukka. Today, vegetarians are relatively few in number, though growing, and billions of captive factory farm animals are powerless to defend themselves; but the highest ideals and spirit of Judaism and America are on their side.
According to the Book of Maccabees, some Maccabees lived on plant foods – to “avoid being polluted” – when they hid in caves and in the mountains to escape capture. Further, the major foods associated with Hanukka such as latkes and doughnuts are vegetarian foods (as is chocolate Hanukka gelt!), and the vegetable oils that are used in their preparation are a reminder of the pure vegetable oil (olive) used in the lighting of the Temple’s menora.
The miracle of the oil brings the use of fuel and other resources into focus. One day’s oil was able to last for eight days in the Temple, a miracle of resource conservation.
Conservation and energy efficiency are sacred acts, and vegetarianism allows resources to go much further. For example, it can require up to 78 calories of non-renewable fossil fuel for each calorie of protein obtained from factory- farmed beef, whether kosher or otherwise, but only two calories of fossil fuel are required to produce a calorie of protein from soybeans. We increasingly need to incorporate this ecological ethic into the fabric of America, Israel and everywhere else.
In addition to resource conservation and economic efficiency, a switch toward vegetarianism would greatly benefit the health of individuals, the condition of our environment and would sharply reduce the suffering and death of billions of animals and millions of people. Further, the social, psychological and spiritual benefits should not be underestimated. Many people who switch to a veg diet report feeling physically, emotionally and spiritually better. And more and more Jews and others are doing just that! Hanukka also represents the triumph of idealistic non-conformity. Like the Hebrew prophets, the Maccabees fought for their inner beliefs rather than conforming to external pressure. They were willing to proudly exclaim, “This we believe, this we stand for, this we are willing to struggle for.” Like the great prophets and the celebrated Maccabees, and like our revolutionary leaders and abolitionists, vegetarians represent this type of progressive non-conformity by an inspired minority. At a time when most people, especially in wealthier countries, think of animal products as the main part of their meals, vegetarians and vegans are resisting and insisting that there is a better, healthier, more compassionate, more environmentally sustainable and ethical choice, one that better fits with our religious values and philosophical beliefs.
Hanukka commemorates the deliverance of the Jews from the Syrian-Greeks.
In our time, vegetarianism can be a step toward deliverance of society from various modern plagues and tragedies, such as global warming, world hunger, deforestation, air and water pollution, species extinction, resource depletion, heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, obesity, rising health care costs and lost productivity. That’s a lot to be thankful for. The letters on a Diaspora dreidel, those we use in America, are an acronym for ness gadol haya sham – a great miracle happened there. May the celebration of this joyous holiday inspire another miracle and deepened gratitude within each of us. May we all have a happy, healthy, thankful and miraculous Thanksgivukka! Dan Brook, Ph.D., teaches sociology and political science. He is the author of An Alef- Bet Kabalah and maintains The Vegetarian Mitzvah at www.brook.com/jveg, Eco-Eating at www.brook.com/veg. Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D., is the author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, he is president emeritus of Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) (www.JewishVeg.com). He can be contacted via President@JewishVeg.com. Visit Farm Sanctuary at www.farmsanctuary.org/learn/factory-farming/turkeys-used-for-meat.