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Vegetable Soup for the Jewish Soul

Shira Yehudit Djalilmand

Over the last few decades, there’s been a growing global trend toward vegetarianism. That trend is also influencing frum Jews. But is a vegetarian lifestyle compatible with Torah hashkafah? And how are vegetarians regarded in the frum community? Torah-observant vegetarians share their opinions and experiences.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

soupMany early cultures were vegetarian, living on the plants they gathered. And throughout history, there have always been those who eschewed meat for whatever reason — both Jews and non-Jews. Scientists Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton, authors Leo Tolstoy and Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Greek philosophers Socrates and Plato were all vegetarians.

Vegetarianism really took off in United Statesin 1971, with the publication of the best-selling Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé. This book provided the first sparks, quoting dramatic statistics such as the fact that roughly 16 pounds of grain and soybeans are needed to produce just one pound of beef. Many vegetarians in the '70s believed in promoting world peace and preventing hunger, causes stereotypically associated with hippies, and so vegetarians gained an often negative image of being radical hippies.

When the '90s swept in, it brought a new breed of vegetarians. Medical research showed numerous health benefits to a vegetarian diet, and many new converts to vegetarianism were created. And today, with increasingly widespread concern about the ecological damage human acts are causing to the planet — coupled with evidence that vegetarianism is more environmentally friendly — acceptance of vegetarianism is at an all-time high, especially among the younger generation. According to a recent poll, the number of vegetarian youth in theUSincreased 70 percent in the last few years.

But among Torah-observant Jews — who see chicken soup and cholent as essential parts of their lifestyle — vegetarians are very much a minority. There have been, and still are, some very prominent frum vegetarians. For example, Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohein Kook, the first chief rabbi of Israel, abstained from meat except on Shabbos and Yamim Tovim, while the “Nazirite of Jerusalem” Rav David Cohen was entirely vegetarian, as is his son Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen, chief rabbi of Haifa. Yet they are the exceptions rather than the rule.


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