Richard Schwartz,Who Stole My Religion?



Richard Schwartz, Ph.D.
Who Stole My Religion?

Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D, is Professor Emeritus, Mathematics, College of Staten Island; President of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA); and co-founder and coordinator of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians (SERV). He is best known as a vegetarian activist and advocate for animal rights in the United States and Israel. His writings inspired the 2007 documentary film, A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Heal the World, directed by Lionel Friedberg. His latest book, Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal Our Imperiled Planet, can be read in the eBook form FREELY at

LISTEN to the May 5, 2009 Interview


Caryn Hartglass:   Ok…we’re back and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Next part, are you ready?  I am going to bring on my guest,  Dr. Richard Schwartz who is Professor Emeritus, Mathematics College of Staten Island, President of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) and co-founder and coordinator of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians.  He is best known as a vegetarian activist and advocate for animal rights in the United States and Israel.  His writings inspired the 2007 documentary film, A Sacred Duty:  Applying Jewish Values to Heal the World, directed by Lionel Friedberg.   His latest book, Who Stole My ReligionRevitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal Our Imperiled Planet can be read in the eBook form, freely, at . Welcome Dr. Schwartz to It’s All About Food.

Dr. Schwartz:  Oh, thank you very much for that very kind introduction.  Great to be with you.

Caryn Hartglass:  I am so in awe of all the work that you have done to this point and I look forward to everything you are going to do in the future.

Dr. Schwartz:  Thank you, thank you very much.  You’re very kind.

Caryn Hartglass:  Yes, well, we’re both a bunch of kind people I think!  {laughing}

Dr. Schwartz:  Well, we try…

Caryn Hartglass:  We do!   Anyway, so you have this great new book out and I just wanted to say, this show is called It’s All About Food, and we have talked, before, on this show—you and I—about vegetarianism and how important it is for our health and for the environment, and how you, personally, apply the Jewish philosophy to the importance of being vegetarian.  And, one of the things that I find, most people—I’m not going to say all—but most who move to eating plant foods, when they discover that they don’t need to kill animals to eat and to thrive and to live, it opens a whole new perspective about life and our planet and we start to realize more and more all of the exploitation that’s going on.  All of the suffering, all the pain and it’s connected, I believe, to all kinds of issues on the planet, the environment, politics…everything that’s going on in the world.

Dr. Schwartz:  That’s right…

Caryn Hartglass:  And, you really hit on it in your book, Who Stole My Religion.

Dr. Schwartz:  Well, thank you very much.  You know we try…Of course, as you say, the switch to vegetarianism is so important—that’s more important than ever, today, as the world, is very unfortunately, rapidly approaching climate catastrophe, major scarcities of water, energy and food and it’s essential that religious groups get involved and it’s essential that everything possible by everybody be used to avoid these catastrophes.  And…it’s also essential that there be a major switch to a vegetarian diet in order to have even a chance to reach a sustainable path.

Caryn Hartglass:  Now, what I like about your message is, certainly, you are applying Jewish philosophies to the points you want to make, but these points apply to all of us.  I’m not a religious person.  I was raised Jewish and I like to celebrate the holidays for the songs and for the food and for the gathering of the families, but I don’t follow the religious protocol.  And, there are many other religions on the planet, but these points you bring up are basic, moral, essential points, that really should be the foundation of all of our lives.

Dr. Schwartz:  Well, absolutely.  What I try to do, for example, in Judaism and Vegetarianism, is point out that there are six fundamental mandates that point to vegetarianism as the ideal diet for Jews and for everybody, because all religions are based upon compassion, sharing and justice.  Anyway, I wanted to just, briefly, indicate that these six mandates are, and not, necessarily, in any special order, but to take care of our health, to  treat animals with compassion, to be co-workers with God in protecting the environment, to conserve natural resources, to help hungry people, and to seek and pursue peace.  And, there’s just one other point related to that.  The two ideal times in the Jewish tradition are both pictured as being vegetarian periods, those are the Garden of Eden beginning in…

Caryn Hartglass:  Hmmm.

Dr. Schwartz:  …Genesis 129, God’s first dietary regime, it was strictly vegetarian.  And…the ideal time that Jews yearn for, the Messianic Period, also considered to be vegetarian by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, and others based on the powerful prophesy by Isaiah that, among other things, the wolf will dwell with the lamb, the lion will eat straw with the ox and no one shall hurt nor destroy in all of God’s holy mountain.  So this is a challenge.  I would love to get into a respectful debate on should Jews be vegetarians, should people in general, be vegetarians, but there’s a lot of denial out there, a lot of stonewalling and people just want to avoid the issues.

Caryn Hartglass:  Yeah.  Well, we do welcome questions, if anybody has any comments or questions, the number is 1-888-874-4888.  There’s so much going on, especially, with the Internet today—lots of information.  Some of it’s great, some of it not so great.  And the thing that frustrates me the most, is so many people gravitate towards information that gets them all red in the face and all fired up and it’s very misconstrued and it brings out a lot of anger.  It doesn’t promote any good, really, and it just separates the sides and it keeps us all full of anger and it’s not solving any problems.  And you explain a lot of that, especially, in the beginning of the book when you’re talking about Jewish people in the United States and their voting tendencies, now, with the Democrat and Republican parties.

Dr. Schwartz:  Right.  Absolutely.  First of all, I make a very strong case that Judaism is a radical religion, but very positive, honorable religion with powerful teachings on peace and justice, etc.  I’m part of an Orthodox community and there, too, the people are kind and involved in charitable work—many positive things—but, unfortunately, I’m finding is among the Orthodox Jews, many have turned to the right.  Many are, unfortunately, in denial about climate change in spite of the, almost, everyday evidence of floods and storms.  The polar ice caps are melting, the glaciers are melting, etc…

Caryn Hartglass:  Mmmm…Hmmm.

Dr. Schwartz: …and they’re supporting a party that is more and more for the wealthy, for corporations rather than for the middle class.  We’ve seen many, many examples of that in Congress, and  the deadlock, where… the Republican party, for example…in 2010, all the Senators signed a statement that they would not let any further legislation go forward unless they were guaranteed that the wealthiest 1 or 2 % would not be taxed any further.

Caryn Hartglass:  Yeah.  It’s kind of crazy.  We’ve certainly see…ugh…our government has been very frustrating in the last few years. We’re not getting anything done because nobody wants to compromise and everybody wants their own way and we’re seeing over and over again that, that small 1% seems to win out all the time.

Dr. Schwartz.  Yeah.  Absolutely.  But, I think the Democrats have been willing to compromise in many cases, but many of the Republicans have signed statements that no matter what, they’re not going to vote for a tax increase and the taxes for the wealthy are far lower than they’ve  been under previous administrations even when they were Republican.  So much has to be done, so much is needed in order to create jobs.   Our infrastructure is crumbling, a lot has to be done on that, and that would create more jobs, bring in more tax revenue, reduce the unemployment benefits and, hopefully, bring the economy back.   So that…I agree with you when I mentioned in the book… that a lot of people see things in terms of black and white, good and evil…

Caryn Hartglass:  Mmm…Hmm.

Dr. Schwartz: …us vs. them, but I think it’s important to try to find common ground and solutions.

Caryn Hartglass:  There are a lot of emails that go around and they highlight certain things, very often, many of the points are out of context…

Dr. Schwartz:  Right.

Caryn Hartglass… so, people can make a point that’s not really valid…

Dr. Schwartz:  Right.

Caryn Hartglass:  …and people pass these things around, they go viral and everybody gets angry.  {laughs}

Dr. Schwartz:  {laughs}

Caryn Hartglass:  What I would like to see is in the early part of your book where you list lots of different things that have happened in government.  Lots of votes that went one way or another…

Dr. Schwartz: Right.

Caryn Hartglass:  … based on Democratic and Republican parties.   I’d like to see all of that in an email that gets spread around and goes viral.

Dr. Schwartz:  Well… {Laughs}…I would love that more than anything…

Caryn Hartglass:  {laughing}

Dr. Schwartz:  …as you, very kindly, mentioned at the beginning—the threats are so great and the denial is so widespread—that I’m making the entire eBook—385 or so pages—freely available to everybody and all people have to do is go to our Blog, as you pointed out, and a little scrolling down under the picture of the cover, they can, actually, download the eBook and, I hope, do that.  Read at least part of it; pass it on to others because it’s essential that major, major changes soon occur.  People often say, “Well, climate change may be 50 years from now…100 years from now..,”

Caryn Hartglass:  Mmm…Hmm.

Dr. Schwartz: …but we know it’s happening already.  Some islands in the Pacific have been inundated and all that.  As I’ve said, glaciers are melting and that’s going to be a major threat to future irrigation and farming.  And, more and more severe climate events are occurring.  This past March, 15,000 plus temperature records were broken in just one month and it was the warmest March in recorded history.

Caryn Hartglass:  Wow.

Dr. Schwartz:  Yeah.

Caryn Hartglass:  Well, the thing about…the thing I don’t think most people realize, we live in the United States, many of us, in a great deal of abundance.  To the point where many people are obese, they’re eating all the wrong foods…

Dr. Schwartz:  Right.

Caryn Hartglass:  …and they’re getting lots and lots of calories.  But, at the same time, where we have all these great technological innovations…

Dr. Schwartz:  Mmm…Hmm.

Caryn Hartglass:  …to enable us to produce a lot of food, there’s still tremendous amount of poverty and hunger…

Dr. Schwartz:  Right.

Caryn Hartglass:  …and I was really surprised to read that even in Israel, there is a great deal of poverty and hunger.

Dr. Schwartz:  Yeah, unfortunately, there is a lot of poverty and the poverty gap is growing between the wealthy and the poor as it is in the U.S.  And, again, part of it is because of the power of money.  I wish everybody was wealthy.  I don’t begrudge anybody that, but I think the problem is, when the wealthy abuse that wealth in order to cut out regulations, and do things that will increase their wealth at the expense of everybody else, that could be a big, big problem.  That’s why I try to address issues like that in the book, as I point out, Judaism, has these powerful teachings on justice and peace and the important thing is to put them into practice in trying to build a much more just, sane, healthy, environmentally sustainable world.

Caryn Hartglass:  So, let’s just get a little bit away from food for the moment, even though I know it’s all connected, { laughs} there’s this Israeli-Palestinian conflict that’s in the news all the time and things are really getting interesting now with the whole Middle East in kind of a revolution.  Where do you think we should be going?

Dr. Schwartz:  Ok…

Caryn Hartglass:  What’s the Schwartz Solution?

Dr. Schwartz: {laughing} Well, unfortunately, time is not an issue of sides.  It’s not on the Palestinian’s side, it’s not on anybody’s side.  It’s difficult and they’ve been working on this for years, but you know, with two children in Israel, they make a case for Israel, and the many positive things they’ve done.  But, unless, somehow, there is a just, comprehensive, sustainable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, unfortunately, Israel will not be able to revert renewed violence, be able to solve its economic problems, and you mentioned the poverty growing, it’s environmental problems.  And, by the way, they’ve had a 7-year drought, there would’ve been more rain this year, but somebody just told me, today, they’d need 10 more years like that, with extra rain, to get things back to normal.  And, also, Israel would not be allowed to remain both a Democratic state and a Jewish state.  So, I think it’s essential that there be this resolution and, hopefully, it will be tied in with what some are pushing, as a global marshal plan.  You know, we haven’t done a marshal plan…

Caryn Hartglass:  Hmmm.

Dr. Schwartz:  …after World War II where much of Europe was restored by U.S. providing aid, etc.  So, I see the importance of a global marshal plan that would use a small percent of the gross national product of developed countries and maybe a lot of that from the military, because there’s so much spending on the military nowadays with the U.S. spending almost as much as all the other combined on the military.  But, anyway, using a small percent of that to try to sharply reduce poverty and hunger and illiteracy and disease, pollution, climate change, etc.  It’s almost like a dream, but…

Caryn Hartglass:  {laughs}

Dr. Schwartz: …it’s very important, because, hopefully that combined with an Israeli-Palestinian peace would bring much greater prosperity to that area and to the whole world because now there’s so much violence and conflict and, as you say, we have great new technology, great new  possibilities.  So, hopefully, we’ll get some good leaders that will point these things out and lead us to much greater cooperation rather than always conflict.

Caryn Hartglass:  There’s a part in your book where you talk the Muslim community center, what some people term, the “Mosque” that was being built near Ground Zero.  Can you just talk about that and give me your perspective on what’s good and not so good about it?  Because there, certainly, was a lot of energy and anger about that…and we’re not hearing much about it anymore.

Dr. Schwartz:  No, well, that’s faded a little bit, but it wasn’t just that Mosque, but there were other Mosques that were under attack in other parts of the country.   And, you mentioned before, about all the misleading information and, you said, sometimes out of context and sometimes completely false, that is being passed around anti-Muslim material.  Now, I’m completely against terrorism, no matter who is doing it, etc., but thank God, Muslims in the U.S. have been very helpful in many areas, making great contributions.  Somehow, as I say, we have to find common ground.  As far as the Mosque, certainly the feelings of the victims of 911 have to be taken into account.  Some of those were Muslim some of the Muslims were first responders.  So…and that was a fair distance away—in a major city like New York—from the World Trade Center you know, from Ground Zero.  So, I think that could have been a way of bringing people together.  That Mosque was supposed to be modeled on the 92nd Street Y or the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan as a place where not only Muslims would be using it, but all kinds of people.   It wasn’t going to be just a Mosque, but a real center and it could have been bringing people together.  As a matter of fact, one of the advisors is a Rabbi who is the Director of the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan.  So, unfortunately, sometimes for political reasons people are stirring up all kinds of negatives.  Of course, we have to be watchful, in general, about terrorism, but, once again, I mention that global marshal plan where we work together to end some of the poverty and hunger, disease, Illiteracy, etc.  And, unfortunately, you can never completely eliminate evil and terrorism, but I think that can go a long way toward reducing it.

Caryn Hartglass:  I, absolutely, believe that if we focused our time, energy, finances and resources on providing food for people and education, all the problems would go away.  Everyone wants the same thing…

Dr. Schwartz:  Mmm…Hmm.  Absolutely.

Caryn Hartglass:  …everyone wants to not be hungry, to be fed…

Dr. Schwartz:  Mmm…Hmm.

Caryn Hartglass:   …to be with their families, to pursue their interests—the basics—the real basics, and…

Dr. Schwartz:  You’re right.

Caryn Hartglass:  …if everyone around the world had them…

Dr. Schwartz:  Mmm…Hmm.

Caryn Hartglass:  …Ah…it would just be an amazing place.

Dr. Schwartz:   {laughs} Of course, I agree 100 percent.  That’s why it’s really something like cruel, animal based diets, now,  sometimes madness and sheer insanity.  When you realize that an estimated 20 million people are dying from hunger and its effects every single year and almost a billion people are chronically hungry according to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization.   And, yet, in the U.S. as I said—madness and sheer insanity—we’re feeding 70 percent or more of grains to animals destined for slaughter.  And, what makes it even more madness and sheer insanity, is that we are taking very healthy products like soy and oats and corn and other grains which are high in complex carbohydrates and fiber and we’re feeding them to animals and we get meat products that have no fiber, no complex carbohydrates and are very high in unhealthy saturated fat, cholesterol and animal protein.  So, that’s why, I say, that a major switch to vegetarianism is not only a very important individual choice for people, but really, it’s a societal imperative.    And, when you realize the contribution to climate change and the greater threat to humanity, that adds to it.

Caryn Hartglass:  We just have a few minutes left.  Can we talk about kosher and raising animals for kosher food?  And, is it any different or is it any more compassionate?  I know that it implies that it’s more compassionate.

Dr. Schwartz:  Ok, well…the so called laws of Sechita, or ritual slaughter were designed to minimize pain.  Other people say we should only use the bolt stunning method, but if you read that book, a wonderful book by Gail Eisnitz, called Slaughterhouse, you’ll see there are many problems in un-kosher slaughterhouses, as well.  And, also, because of today’s modern, mass production, even—ideally—it minimizes pain because things are done so fast, it’s not always carried out properly.  And, also, unfortunately, on the factory farms—whether kosher or not—in general, animals are raised the same way.  So, I always argue, that even if slaughter was ideal, minimized pain, can we forget the months, the many months that the animals are so mistreated on factory farms.   I’m sure, on previous programs, you’ve probably had many discussions of the incredible horrors…

Caryn Hartglass:  Yes.

Dr. Schwartz:  …I know of egg-laying hens that can’t even raise their wings, males are killed right away…

Caryn Hartglass:  Well, I was surprised—I remember awhile back—I forget what website it was, but I was looking up kosher food and there was a picture of a company that sells kosher chickens and, just looking at the pictures they’re showing, you see all these crammed chickens on the floor…

Dr. Schwartz:  Mmm…Hmm.

Caryn Hartglass: …and I’m thinking, “Why are you even showing this?  It looks horrifying to me!” {laughing}

Dr. Schwartz:  Yep, yep, it’s far from the ideal because Judaism does have powerful teachings on compassion for animals.  According to the Psalms, God’s mercies are over all his works, including the animals.  Book of Proverbs, says the righteous individual considers the life of his or her animal.  Many teachings are part of the Ten Commandments, animals as well as, people are supposed to rest on the Sabbath day, but unfortunately, reality is far from the ideal and that’s one reason I use that title, Who Stole My Religion. Every religion has such value if really practiced for the compassion and the teachings about justice and peace and sharing.

Caryn Hartglass:  Yeah…they all…many…I’m not a religious expert… but my understanding of many of them is based on some really basic, simple, good, principles and somehow hypocrisy floats in and power gets involved…

Dr. Schwartz:  Mmm…Hmm.

Caryn Hartglass: …and people get distracted, unfortunately.

Dr. Schwartz:  Yeah, absolutely, and it’s…

Caryn Hartglass:  What’s the response like…you’re in an Orthodox community,,, what’s it like when you share your ideas with your synagogue and your Jewish community?

Dr. Schwartz:  Well, unfortunately, as I think, was it Mark Twain was credited as saying, “Denial is not just a river in Egypt.”

Caryn Hartglass:  Right.  I say that all the time! {laughs}

Dr. Schwarts:  Yeah.  Yeah, and people are unable to respond to my basic points.  As I said, I would love to be in a respectful dialogue/debate on should Jews be vegetarians?  Should they be environmental activists and all.  And that’s why to some extent, I chose that title, Who Stole My Religion to try to really challenge people to a larger extent.  So, I get a lot of kidding in my community about being vegetarian.  I don’t mind it because it shows that they are sensitized to the topic to some extent, but for some of these points, it’s harder to change a person through religion than through diet sometimes.

Caryn Hartglass:  Yep.  Well, we’re at the end of the show.  Thank you so much Dr. Schwartz!  And, I recommend everyone go to , download this free eBook, there’s so much wonderful information in there.  Also, you can go to and I have lots of different holiday recipes that are traditional, and yet, vegan, many of them gluten free.  You can have your cake and eat it, too, and do it compassionately.

Thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food! Have a very delicious week!

Dr. Schwartz:  Thank You.

Caryn Hartglass:  Thank You, Dr. Schwartz.  Be Well!


Transcribed by Gail Schriver 1/28/2013

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