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. Continue reading “Tisha B’Av and Vegetarianism”