Book review: A feast in Jewish food ethics

Practical ideas that can produce a healthier, more compassionate, just, peaceful and environmentally sustainable world.

By RICHARD H. SCHWARTZ
July 17, 2019 18:23
3 minute read.
Book review: A feast in Jewish food ethics

Killing of animals.. (photo credit: WIKIMEDIA)

Having written about food-related issues for many years, I was intrigued by the title Kashrut and Jewish Food Ethics. My interest was heightened at seeing in the book’s table of contents the names of the 23 distinguished authors, all members of the newly-formed, forward-looking rabbinic organization Torat Chaim (Torah of Life), including Rabbis Dr. Irving (Yitz) Greenberg, Daniel Sperber, Nathan Lopes Cardozo, Dov Linzer, and Dr. David Rosen.

Therefore, I started reading the book with great anticipation. I was not at all disappointed. The book is a feast of valuable insights, a very useful guide on how to make our diets more consistent with kashrut and Jewish values: holier, healthier, more compassionate, more environmentally sustainable, less wasteful of land, energy, water and other resources – and more just, by avoiding foods that involve the mistreatment of workers on farms and in slaughterhouses.

The book does not aim to make Jews vegetarians or vegans. For example, an article by Rabbi Aaron Potek is titled, “The Case for Limiting Meat Consumption to Shabbat, Holidays and Celebrations.” However, his article and many others indicate major problems in the production and consumption of meat and other animal products that could convince readers to eliminate or sharply reduce their consumption of such foods.

 In his article, “On the Ethics and Politics of Kosher Food Supervision,” Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz discusses the complexities of kosher food supervision that can lead to serious violations of kashrut. He points out, “A recent report by the [Israeli] state comptroller found the Rabbanut guilty of false reporting, cronyism, weak standards and other questionable practices.”
That analysis is reinforced by “Are You Really Eating Kosher? On Camouflage, Hypocrisy and Hiding behind the Kashrut Laws,” by Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo, who considers the “serious violations” of tza’ar ba’alei hayim, the Torah’s prohibition of inflicting unnecessary pain on animals. He asks, “How many of our ‘glatt kosher’ kitchens, including my own, are still truthfully kosher?”

In “The Moral Underpinnings of Kashrut,” the book’s editor Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz wonders why, when kashrut is meant to be “a vehicle toward attaining higher holiness... we find corruption among kashrut agencies and kosher companies, we find neglect for animals suffering in kosher slaughterhouses, we find the abuse of workers in kosher establishments.”

Consistent with the book’s overall theme, Rabbi Dr. Irving (Yitz) Greenberg argues persuasively in “Increasing Holiness in Life: Toward an Expanded Kashrut” that kashrut should be expanded to consider Jewish teachings on health, compassion, the environment and other issues. He concludes: “Prohibiting meat eating and ending the endless slaughter of countless animals could be a major contributor to rebalancing the Earth toward life.”

In another cogent and powerful article, “The Commandments Were Only Given for the Purpose of Refining People,” Rabbi David Rosen argues eloquently that this refinement is not happening under current intensive “factory farming” conditions, with their very negative effects on human health, the environment and animals. He states, “It is our sacred duty to refrain from being a party to a barbaric industry... a plant-based diet should be upheld as the greatest guarantee that we are not party to the desecration of the Divine Name.”

The wide scope of this very valuable, potentially world-changing book, can be seen in the following additional chapter titles and authors: “Eating Our Way from Holiness to Justice,” by Rabbi Dr. David Kasher; “Holy Eating in Jewish Thought and Practice,” by Rabbi Hyim Shafner; “Toward a Jewish Nutrition Ethic: The Theology, Law and Ethics of Healthy Eating,” by Rabbi Daniel R. Goodman; “Animal Suffering and the Rhetoric of Values and Halachah [Jewish Law],” by Rabbi Dov Linzer; and “Ethical Eating and the Impact on Our Environment,” by Rabbi Dr. Mel Gottlieb.

At a time when typical Jewish diets, and those of most people, contribute substantially to an epidemic of life-threatening diseases in the Jewish and other communities, to climate change and other environmental threats to humanity, and to the widespread horrific treatment of farmed animals, this book provides much “food for thought” and practical ideas that can help produce a healthier, more compassionate, just, peaceful and environmentally sustainable world. The future of our imperiled planet may depend on whether or not its suggestions are implemented.

The author has written three editions of Judaism and Vegetarianism and over 250 related articles. He is currently working on a manuscript tentatively titled, Should Vegan be the New Kosher? The Vegan Revolution in Israel and Beyond.


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