Review of Who Stole My Religion 

November 2, 2016

by Yossi Wolfson

Watching the enthusiastic response to Donald Trump’s talk at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference this past March, one might not believe that Judaism is a radical religion. After all, this was a man who had previously insulted Mexicans, Muslims, women, media members, and even Jews.  But Judaism has a long tradition of protesting against greed, injustice, and the misuse of power. From the prophets of Jerusalem in the First Temple era to East End sweatshop strikers, Jews have stood up for social justice.

In his updated, revised, and expanded second edition of Who Stole My Religion? Richard H. Schwartz reminds us of these values–so inherent to Jewish writings and history, and so absent from large parts of American and Israeli Jewish politics today. This absence is especially marked in Orthodox communities in which Schwartz, as an orthodox Jew, focuses. [Full disclosure: I have worked with Schwartz on vegetarian, animal rights, and related issues. He often speaks at the Jerusalem-based Israeli Jewish Vegetarian Society center, where I am a coordinator.]

Schwartz reminds us of the Torah laws that limit accumulation of wealth and redistribute it equitably. These include the ban on taking interest on loans, the cancellation of financial debts on the Sabbatical year, and the Jubilee law. Land was originally divided among the people of Israel based on the size of the tribe. To avoid distortion of this just allocation, a complete redistribution of land was to be done every 50 years, when all land would be returned to its original holders. Impractical as these laws may be today, the principles underlying them can still guide us. We are all acquainted with the statistics according to which the top 1% possesses more wealth than the poorest 90%. This, Schwartz reminds us, is not just outrageous; it is in contradiction with core Jewish values.

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Review of Who Stole My Religion?

October 31, 2016

WhoStoleMyReligion9789655242348by Barbara Gardner

Although this book has been written to ‘revitalize Judaism and apply Jewish values to help heal our imperiled planet,” the references used from the Old Testament, apply as much to Christians as they do to Jews. Therefore, I felt it useful to review this book for The Ark.

Schwartz takes a good look at the world today including it politics, economic systems and foreign policies, as well as the environment and our treatment of animals. Actually, only two out of sixteen chapters deal with animal rights, but Schwartz demonstrates that this is part of a larger, interconnected problem which has to be examined as a whole. He says that the book is meant to be a wakeup call as the world is heading towards a ‘perfect storm’ that includes climate change, environmental degradation, world hunger, water shortages, climate wars, Islamic terrorism and other threats. He argues that the only solution is to apply real Jewish values to deal with the problem. Unfortunately, according to Schwartz, most Jews just aren’t doing enough and are failing to see the dangers ahead.

Schwartz identifies a shifting to the political right amongst orthodox Jews, particularly in America, which he demonstrates is inconsistent with the teachings of the Torah and other Jewish texts. This is why he feels that his religion, Judaism, has been stolen. The book seeks to identify who has stolen Judaism and how, and aims to bring us back to the true, original religion which is one based on love and compassion, not rules and rituals, particularly ones which have been misinterpreted.

Simply focusing on the animal rights issues, Schwartz’s arguments for the compassionate treatment of animals, supported by many references from the Torah, leaves one wondering how any Jew (and indeed any Christian) can claim to be genuine to their faith and not be vegan, let alone support any other form of animal cruelty. In particular, he highlights the Torah’s mandate not to cause pain to living creatures – tsa’ar ba’alei chayim and demonstrates how so many Jews are breaking this mandate in the modern world.

Schwartz’s main criticism of such people is their apathy, their failure to challenge current practices, and their preference for ritual over meaning. It is hard to see that this book could be anything less than a wakeup call and, as such, I strongly recommend it.

THis review originall appeared in The Ark.


Interview with Richard Schwartz, author of Who Stole My Religion?

October 10, 2016

WhoStoleMyReligion9789655242348Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D., is the author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal our Imperiled Planet, and Mathematics and Global Survival, and over 200 articles and 25 podcasts at JewishVeg.com/schwartz. He is President Emeritus of Jewish Veg, formerly Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA), and President of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians (SERV). He is associate producer of the 2007 documentary “A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World.”

Have you always been a vegan? How was your trajectory regarding this lifestyle?
Until 1978, I was a “meat and potatoes” man. My mother would be sure to prepare my favorite dish, pot roast, whenever I came to visit with my wife and children. It was a family tradition that I would be served a turkey drumstick every Thanksgiving. Yet, I not only became a vegetarian, and later a vegan, but I now devote a major part of my time to writing, speaking, and teaching about the benefits of veganism. What caused this drastic change?

In 1973 I began teaching a course, “Mathematics and the Environment” at the College of Staten Island. The course used basic mathematical concepts and problems to explore critical issues, such as pollution, resource scarcities, hunger, energy, population growth, the arms race, nutrition, and health. While reviewing material related to world hunger, I became aware of the tremendous waste of grain associated with the production of beef at a time when millions of the world’s people were malnourished. In spite of my own eating habits, I often led class discussions on the possibility of reducing meat consumption as a way of helping hungry people. After several semesters of this, I took my own advice and gave up eating red meat, while continuing to eat chicken and fish.

I then began to read about the many health benefits of vegetarianism and about the horrible conditions for animals raised on factory farms. I was increasingly attracted to vegetarianism, and on January 1, 1978, I decided to join the International Jewish Vegetarian Society. I had two choices for membership: (1) practicing vegetarian (one who refrains from eating any flesh); (2) non-vegetarian (one who is in sympathy with the movement, while not yet a vegetarian). I decided to become a full practicing vegetarian, and since then have avoided eating any meat, fowl, or fish. In 2000 I became a vegan.

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Excerpt from Who Stole My Religion: Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal Our Imperiled Planet

July 24, 2016

WhoStoleMyReligion9789655242348Chapter One

Who Stole My Religion?


I am a Jew because the faith of Israel [ Judaism]

demands no abdication of my mind.
I am a Jew because the faith of Israel asks every
possible sacrifice of my soul.
I am a Jew because in all places where there are tears
and suffering the Jew weeps.
I am a Jew because in every age when the cry of
despair is heard the Jew hopes.
I am a Jew because the message of Israel is the most
ancient and the most modern.
I am a Jew because Israel’s promise is a universal
promise.
I am a Jew because for Israel the world is not finished;
men will complete it.
I am a Jew because for Israel man is not yet fully
created; men are creating him.
I am a Jew because Israel places man and his unity
above nations and above Israel itself.
I am a Jew because above man, image of the divine unity,
Israel places the unity that is divine.
— Edmond Fleg, “Why I Am a Jew”

I fervently believe in the above sentiments and many other
positive aspects about Judaism, and I am proud to be a Jew. Judaism
has wonderful, powerful, and universal messages, and applying them
is essential to move our precious, yet increasingly threatened, planet onto
a sustainable path.
I wrote this book to urge Jews to apply basic Jewish teachings at a time
when they are needed more than ever before to the many tumultuous
crises facing humanity and all of God’s creatures. By encouraging Jews
to apply Judaism’s eternal values to current issues, I hope this book will
help revitalize Judaism and will make Judaism more attractive to many
disaffected Jews.

About My Modern Orthodox Synagogue
I have been a member of Young Israel of Staten Island, a modern Orthodox
synagogue, since 1968, and I have served as Vice President for Youth,
Cultural Director, and co-editor of the synagogue’s newsletter. Over
the years I have seen the dedication of members of my congregation to
Judaism and Jewish issues. The amount they donate to charity is truly
outstanding. The acts of kindness and concern for the well-being of fellow
congregants are also remarkable, and there is always great communal
sharing at occasions of joy and sorrow. There are gemachs that provide
free wedding and other gowns, furniture, centerpieces for celebrations,
and clothing for people who need them, and there is a food pantry. There
is a unique group called Nachas (joy) Unlimited that collects money to
help cover medical expenses for ill children.
Especially commendable are the actions of the voluntary group Hatzolah,
whose members will drop whatever they are doing at a moment’s
notice – whether they are at work, taking part in a Passover seder, or just
relaxing with their families or friends – to respond to medical emergencies.
Many synagogue members make weekly visits to patients in hospitals and
nursing homes. Many of the synagogue’s young attendants work with
great compassion and dedication at special summer camps, taking care
of children with cancer and other health problems.

To continue reading this excerpt, click here.

Who Stole My Religion?, written by Richard H. Schwartz and published by Urim Publications in 2016.

This chapter was excerpted with permission by the author.


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. Read the rest of this entry »