Tisha B’Av and Vegetarianism

July 22, 2015

By Richard H. Schwartz

There are many connections between vegetarianism and the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av:

1. Tisha B’Av (the 9th day of the month of Av) commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem. Today the entire world is threatened by climate change, and modern intensive livestock agriculture is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

2. In Megilat Eichah (Lamentations), which is read on Tisha B’Av, the prophet Jeremiah warned the Jewish people of the need to change their unjust ways in order to avoid the destruction of Jerusalem. Today, climate scientists are warning that the world may be very close to a climate tipping point when climate change will spin out of control, with disastrous consequences, unless major changes are soon made. Vegetarians join in this warning, and add that a switch toward vegetarianism is an essential part of the major changes that are required.

3. On Tisha B’Av, Jews fast to express their sadness over the destruction of the two Temples. Fasting also awakens us to how hungry people feel. So severe are the effects of starvation that the Book of Lamentations (4:10) states that “More fortunate were the victims of the sword than the victims of famine, for they pine away stricken, lacking the fruits of the field.” Yet, today over 70% of the grain grown in the United States is fed to animals destined for slaughter, as an estimated 20 million people worldwide die annually because of hunger and its effects and almost a billion of the world’s people are chronically malnourished..

4. During the period from Rosh Chodesh Av to Tisha B’Av known as the “nine days”, Jews do not eat meat or fowl, except on the Sabbath day. After the destruction of the second Temple, some sages argued that Jews should no longer eat meat, as a sign of sorrow. However, it was felt that the Jewish people would not be able to obey such a decree. It was then also believed then that meat was necessary for proper nutrition. Hence, a compromise was reached in terms of Jews not eating meat in the period immediately before Tisha B’Av.

5. Jewish sages connected the word eichah (alas! what has befallen us?) that begins Lamentations and a word that has the same root ayekah (“Where art thou?”), the question addressed to Adam and Eve after they had eaten the forbidden fruit. Vegetarians are also respectfully asking, “Where art thou?” What are we doing re widespread world hunger, the destruction of the environment, the cruel treatment of farm animals, etc.? Perhaps failure to properly hear and respond to ayekah in terms of stating “Hineni” – here I am, ready to carry out God’s commandments so that the world will be better – causes us to eventually have to say and hear eichah.

6. The book of Lamentations was meant to wake up the Jewish people to the need to return to God’s ways. Since vegetarianism is God’s initial diet (Genesis 1:29), vegetarians are also hoping to respectfully alert Jews to the need to return to that diet.

7. Tisha B’Av is not only a day commemorating negative events. It is also the day when, according to Jewish tradition, the Messiah will be born, and the days of mourning will be turned into joyous festivals. According to Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, the Messianic period will be vegetarian. He based this view on the prophecy of Isaiah, “The wolf will dwell with the lamb . . .the lion will eat straw like the ox . . . and no one shall hurt nor destroy in all of God’s holy mountain” (Isaiah 11: 6-9). There is a Jewish teaching that starting to act in ways that will be practiced during the messianic period is a way to hasten its coming.

8. After the destruction of the second Temple, the Talmudic sages indicated that Jews need not eat meat in order to rejoice during festivals. (Pesachim 109a) They stated that the drinking of wine would suffice,

9. The Book of Lamentations ends with Chadesh yameinu k’kedem – make new our days as of old. We can help this personal renewal occur by returning to the original human diet, the vegan diet of Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden), a diet that can help us feel renewed because of the many health benefits of plant-based diets.

10. The Book of Lamentations has many very graphic descriptions of hunger. One is: “The tongue of the suckling child cleaves to its palate for thirst. Young children beg for bread, but no one extends it to them.” Today, the Worldwatch Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and others are predicting major shortages of food in the near future, and one major reason is that so much of the world’s grain is being fed to animals to fatten them up before they are slaughtered..

In view of these and other connections, I hope that Jews will enhance their commemoration of the solemn but spiritually meaningful holiday of Tisha B’Av by making it a time to begin striving even harder to live up to Judaism’s highest moral values and teachings. One important way to do this is by moving toward a vegetarian, and preferably a vegan, diet.

Richard H. Schwartz is the author of the upcoming book Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal Our Imperiled Planet (Urim Publications, 2016)

This blog originally appeared on The Times of Israel.


The Life Story of Benjamin Fain

July 20, 2015

Here is a video about Professor Benjamin Fain, author of The Poverty of Secularism and Law and Providence.

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Review of Things Overheard in the Synagogue

July 16, 2015

By Rabbi Ari Enkin

I’ve never read poetry in my life before, and frankly, I have no interest in it. But I grabbed the opportunity to examine “religious poetry.” I know of no other work of Torah poetry in the orthodox world.

Ira Bedzow’s new book “Things Overheard in the Synagogue” is a beautiful and quaint collection of over seventy pieces of poetry reflecting his thoughts and emotions and many different issues in the Jewish world in general, and the synagogue world in particular. It’s a work where the author “gets things off his chest.” There are also a number of pieces where the author uses poetry as a springboard for Talmudic and Midrashic commentary. There are also about twenty short essays in the section “Remarks and Reflections.” Read the rest of this entry »


Review of The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values

July 14, 2015

By Rabbi Ari EnkinEncyclopediaofJewishValues9789655241631

Nachum Amsel has done it again. The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values presents over forty exciting and pressing issues of the day where clarity from a Jewish perspective is so urgently needed and sought. Some of the topics include: Alternative Medicine, Birthdays, Capital Punishment, Competition, Gun Control, Homosexuality, Music, the Land of Israel, Ransoming Hostages, Leaders who Sin, and much, much more.

The chapter on “Sports” was exceptionally interesting, and frankly, fun to read. There are many halachic issues relevant to sports, such as a variety of Shabbat related laws, and responsibility for damage and injury incurred in the course of sports. Readers will learn about sports in Judaism throughout the ages, right from the Biblical (with examples in Job, Zacharia, and Lamentations, no less!) and the Talmudic (Kohanic altar races, among other creative games and sports). The chapter also includes a brief review of famous Jewish baseball players in Unites States history.

Some of our greatest sages encourages sports and exercise and even engaged in it themselves. For example, The Chafetz Chaim advises walking and swimming, as does Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzkly, a swimmer himself. Rav Avraham Kook writes that a healthy body is as important as a healthy spirit. Rabbi Shlomo Goren did fifty push-ups daily. As you can see, there is much Jewish value to be found in sports (not to be confused with sitting in front of a television set with beer and pretzels and watching a football game). Here are some excerpts from that chapter: Read the rest of this entry »


Dallas Rabbi in Kosher Movies

July 12, 2015

By Harriet G.kosher movies web2

Join me in welcoming back an old friend! Rabbi Herbert J. Cohen, Ph.D., hasn’t come here in person, but his newest book is an appropriate and worthy stand-in.

Kosher Movies has recently been published by Urim in English, and is already available here in the United States through Amazon and other booksellers.

You might remember Rabbi Herb as an educator in Dallas, working with the Community Kollel and teaching at Yavneh Academy. He arrived here in 2006, then left in 2010 when he and wife Meryl made aliyah. Now he teaches English language and literature at two schools in Beit Shemesh, Israel.

The book’s subtitle explains much: A Film Critic Discovers Life Lessons at the Cinema.

In addition to his prime vocation, Rabbi Herb’s been a regular movie reviewer for a Canadian newspaper and a contributor to the religion section of the Huffington Post.

The big question now is, What makes a movie kosher? The author answers, “To me, a ‘kosher movie’ is a film that has something meaningful to say about life.” He’s found such meanings in some 120 movies reviewed in his new book. Read the rest of this entry »


Judging Book Covers

July 9, 2015

By Shlomo Greenwald

I’ll admit it. I sometimes choose to read a book based on its cover. I know. I know. I’m breaking a cardinal rule of…well…of life, of one that we’ve all been taught, at least as a metaphor, since pre-school.

Whether the rest of us admit it or not, covers draw our attentions and create the initial impressions we have with books. Which is why I’ve long bemoaned the state of book covers in the Orthodox publishing world. There had always been exceptions, but in general the covers were boring and cookie-cutter.

In the last five to 10 years, though, Jewish book covers have gained some vitality and personality. On this page are a few of the new titles whose covers have won
my attention and praise.The Jewish Dog9780983868538

The Jewish Dog by Asher Kravtiz

Designer Shanie Cooper says:

The Jewish Dog is a translation of a novel published in Israel in 2007 to great success. I like the basic design of the original cover and wanted to retain its flavor (a cartoon image of a dog on a solid blue background), but I made several significant changes. I chose a different image for the dog, Caleb, that more closely matched how I imagined him – intelligent and gazing up as if trying to communicate with the reader.

“This was important because this powerful book is uniquely narrated by the dog himself as he lives through the years before, during, and after the Holocaust. I chose a grungy font and added texture to both the font and the blue background to make the cover feel more complex and layered, like the ideas grappled with in the book.

“A further issue affecting this book cover was how to best translate the Hebrew title, Hakelev Hayehudi. The publisher and distributor debated whether a strict translation, although potentially provocative, would be best, or whether to avoid possible controversy by selecting a less derogatory sounding title – for example, The Hebrew Hound, The Yiddish Hound. Also discussed was whether to add a subtitle to the book for clarification, i.e. “A Novel.” In the end, the publisher chose the most accurate translation of the title, simply, The Jewish Dog.”

This originally appeared in The Jewish Press


Judging Book Covers

July 8, 2015

By Shlomo Greenwald

I’ll admit it. I sometimes choose to read a book based on its cover. I know. I know. I’m breaking a cardinal rule of…well…of life, of one that we’ve all been taught, at least as a metaphor, since pre-school.

Whether the rest of us admit it or not, covers draw our attentions and create the intial impressions we have with books. Which is why I’ve long bemoaned the state of book covers in the Orthodox publishing world. There had always been exceptions, but in general the covers were boring and cookie-cutter.

In the last five to 10 years, though, Jewish book covers have gained some vitality and personality. On this page are a few of the new titles whose covers have won AftertheHolocustWeb1my attention and praise.

After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring by Rabbi Joseph Polak

Designer Shanie Cooper says:

“The cover of After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring is comprised of three separate elements: the train tracks and the typewriter-style font, which together evoke the Holocaust experience, and a post-war image of the author as a child with his mother. I gave the mother-son photo visual prominence by superimposing it over the train tracks that fade into the background. This served to illustrate the idea that no matter where the Author went or what he did after he was liberated at age 3 from Bergen-Belsen, the Holocaust was a constant shadow throughout the life of one of the youngest Survivors.”

This originally appeared in The Jewish Press


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