Jews have been wrestling with how to eat meat in an ethical and holy way since the beginning of our history. From our shepherding forefathers to animal sacrifice in the Holy Temples, to the dominance of “glatt kosher,” to worker abuse at Agriprocessors, the issues abound.
For an introduction to the issue, watch Simon Feil’s recent ELItalk on animal welfare and kashrut, and read this resource from Hazon and the Humane Society of the US, a Quick Guide to Industrial Farming.
Jewish texts universally argue that how humans treat animals is an important religious and ethical issue. Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra (1089-1164) even includes animals in the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) (Elijah Judah Schochet, Animal Life in Jewish Tradition). Though diverse Jewish perspectives agree that animals matter, there is a huge diversity of views about just how much they matter and the reasons why we should care about animals. Obviously this is a deep and complex topic, and we are just looking at the very tip of the iceberg. This is but the briefest of introductions and in no way is comprehensive and we are aware of that.
According to Jewish law, when an animal must be killed for food, it must be done in such a way that the pain to the animal is as little as possible; killing an animal for sport or fun is prohibited entirely.
Jewish Schools of Thought on Meat
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935), the first Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel argued that meat is an ethical problem both because it ends an animal’s life, and God “did not create His creatures to die” (Midrash Aggadah to Genesis 1:29), and because killing poses a threat to human moral development. Rabbi Kook argued that since we will eat meat and since, perhaps, we need to eat meat, we may eat it, but with one restriction – that we have reverence for the life that we take when we eat it (Jewish Sources for Animal Ethics).
Maimonides, a doctor and philosopher, criticized both excessive meat-eating and strict meat-less eating, preferring a moderate diet. He advocated for eating meat on a rare and regular schedule–that is, eating it only on joyous occasions such as Shabbat, but indeed eating it each week. (Min Ha’Aretz Preview)
The contemporary group Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) advocates for a completely vegetarian/vegan diet. Similar to Rabbi Kook, JVNA advocates vegetarianism as a way to express the Jewish values of compassion for animals, concern for health, and care for the environment. JVNA has among the most comprehensive listings of resources on Judaism, animal welfare and meat eating and we refer you to their list, courtesy of Richard Schwartz, Ph.D..
Meat Only On Shabbat, Happy Occasions and Yom Tov (MOOSHY)
Some Jews eat meat only on Jewish holidays and other special occasions. This way, they can reduce their meat consumption but not eliminate it from their diets. Here’s a link to an interview with the founder of MOOSHY, Aaron Potek.
Recently, a few schools have stopped serving meat at lunch and switched to plant-based meals, while others have adopted ‘Meatless Mondays’. Similar to MOOSHY, Meatless Monday participants pledge to reduce meat consumption but in this case by forgoing meat-eating one day a week.
To some Jews, the current modes of food animal production violate the ethical practices legislated by the rabbis of the Talmud. These Jews cite concerns with violations of tza’ar ba’alei chayim (cruelty to animals) on factory farms and the heavy demand that meat places on the environment to argue for new ways of eating according to our values. Contemporary rabbis Arthur Green and Katy Allen argue that eating a plant-based diet is a way to uncover inner strength and holiness, and live out kashrut in today’s world.
Israel & Veganism
According to the Times of Israel, four percent of Israelis are vegan, which makes Israel the “most vegan country in the world”. Below are some articles about why Israelis in particular are opting to follow vegan diets.
Activities & Programs
This lesson plan is an excerpt from Min Ha’Aretz, a forthcoming Hebrew school curriculum from Behrman House, 2016.
These two activities are courtesy of Teva, which works to fundamentally transform Jewish education through experiential learning that fosters Jewish, ecological, and food sustainability.
These posters are from the 2015 Hazon and HSUS pilot program for camps. For further information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bodies That Guard Our Secrets – New York Times
Cutting Down on the Meat, but Not the Taste – New York Times
We’re Eating Less Meat. Why? – New York Times
Jewish Animal Ethics– The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Ethics and Morality
The Carbon Footprint of 5 Diets Compared – Shrink That Footprint
Halve Meat Consumption, Scientists Urge Rich World – The Guardian
5 Easy Ways to Cut Down on Your Meat Consumption – One Green Planet
Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler – New York Times
Ask the Rabbi: Does Jewish law promote vegetarianism? – The Jerusalem Post
Meat Atlas – FOER
U.S. Research Lab Lets Livestock Suffer in Quest for Profit – New York Times
To Kill a Chicken – New York Times
For more suggestions, check out Shamayim V’Aretz Institute’s extensive list.
A Vegan Passover – New York Times
A Vegan Cholent for Next Shabbat – Forward
Vegan Recipes for Every Meal, Every Occasion – Jewish Vegetarians of North America
Articles on Kosher Meat
The Future of Kosher Meat in 24 Courses – Alix Wall
Horse Scandal is Boon for Kosher Meat Industry – Anne Cohen
“Meat-Anot L’Evyonim”- How Meat Makes a Mitzvah – Garth Silverstein
What Does Angus Johnson Know about Kosher Farming – Hadas Margulies
Making Kosher Food More Sustainable – Matthai Kuruvila
Kosher Meets Hipster – Anna Goren
Are GMO’s Kosher? – Sara Trappler Spielman
I Grew Up on a Factory Farm – Yadidya Greenberg
Grow & Behold Kosher Pastured Meats brings you OU Glatt Kosher meats raised on small family farms. Founded in Brooklyn in 2010 by Naftali and Anna Hanau, they adhere to the strictest standards of kashrut, animal welfare, worker treatment, and sustainable agriculture.
- Hechsher: OU (glatt kosher)
- Products: Beef, Lamb, Rose Veal, Chicken, Turkey, Duck, Imported Italian Kosher Cheese, Wild Alaskan Salmon, No-Nitrate Sausages, Beef Bacon, Broths.
- Distribution: Next-day Nation-wide Shipping, Home Delivery in the NY/NJ Area and Philadelphia-area pick-up, plus Buying Clubs in cities nation-wide
- Contact: info@
KOL Foods is committed to health, transparency, animal welfare, sustainability, and offering the most delicious meat on the planet. Their animals roam free for their entire lives and are never confined in feedlots or given hormones or antibiotics. They are the only kosher member of the American Grassfed Association.
- Hechsher: All meat and poultry products are certified glatt kosher by the Star-K. Almost all chicken products are also certified by the CHK. Many turkey products are also certified by the CRC. All KOL Foods products except lamb and salmon are chassidishe shechita.
- Products: 100% grass-fed domestic beef and lamb; organic, pastured chicken, turkey and duck; and wild Alaskan sockeye salmon.
- Distribution: Nation-wide
- Contact: email@example.com or 888-366-3565
Robariah Farms is a small-scale poultry farm specializing in local, pasture-raised, kosher chicken and turkey. Located in Western Massachusetts, they use sustainable, rotational grazing practices to provide poultry with the highest nutritional benefits of fresh daily pasture. They use only non-GMO grain and never administer antibiotics or hormones. Their kosher practices ensure that chickens are processed, cleaned, inspected, and prepared in a framework of high ethical principles and practices. Robariah Farms is run by two Adamah alumni who are proud to provide you with New England-raised, New England-shechted, pasture-raised, and certified-kosher chicken and turkey.
- Hechsher: New England Kosher: Rabbi Mayer Abrarmowitz (shochet) and Rabbi Yosef Gottlieb (mashgiach)
Chicken, Turkey, Duck.
- Distribution: Year-round pick-up and buying clubs in New England.
RobariahFarms.com or Info@Robariah.com
Wise Organic Pastures believes that animals should be treated with dignity and allowed to roam free. Meat is no place for antibiotics or hormones or pesticides. Families, not big business, make the best farmers and the quality and purity of the foods we eat is not negotiable.
- Hechsher: Crown Heights Kosher and OU.
- Products: Chicken, Turkey, and Beef.
- Distribution: Online shipping is available.
- Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or 718-596-0400
Interested in trying some meat alternatives? Here is some kosher inspiration to get you started:
- The Ultimate Guide to Vegan Meats and Meat Substitutes – One Green Planet
- 15 Essential Ingredients for Vegetarian & Vegan Pantries – The Kitchn
- Adopting a Plant Based Diet – Shamayim V’Aretz Institute
For some more veggie inspiration, here are The Forward’s recipes and articles on vegetarianism.