Caryn: Hi, I’m Caryn Hartglass. This is It’s All About Food. We were at The 2nd Annual Veggie Pride Parade this past weekend and it was a really great event. Lots of people turned out. There were exhibitors with all kinds of wonderful information. I had an opportunity to interview Marianne Thieme of the Netherlands Party for the Animals. The first party for the animals. She was there for the premiere of the documentary Meat The Truth. That’s meat, M-E-A-T, Meat The Truth. I got an opportunity to watch it and it was a really, really exciting day. We’ll put some footage up on Earth Save TV very soon. I have a guest with me today. It’s Dr. Richard Schwartz who’s the professor emeritus of The College of Staten Island. He is the author of several books, Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, and Mathematics and Global Survival. He’s also the President of Jewish Vegetarians of North America, the website is jewishveg.com. And he’s the Associate Producer of a wonderful documentary, we’ll talk a little bit more about it today- A Sacred Duty, the website is asacredduty.com. I’d like to welcome Richard Schwartz.
Richard: Thank a lot Caryn, great to be with you.
Caryn: Great, thank you for being with me today.
Richard: My pleasure.
Caryn: So, let’s get right to it. How did you make the connection between Judaism and vegetarianism?
Richard: Now to connect Judaism and vegetarianism, well basically a few connections. First, our first dietary regiment according to the Bible is right in the first chapter, chapter 1 verse 29 in Genesis. A strictly vegetarian, actually vegan diet and all the great commentators agreed this was God’s intention. We don’t used this as proof but in chapter 5 in the Bible that’s when people lived longer lives. That changed after the flood when permission reluctantly was given to eat meat. Also the other idea of time, besides the Garden of Eden the Messianic period that Jews yearned for also pictures vegetarians based on the prophecy of Isaiah that indicates among other things, that the wolf will dwell with the lamb, the lion will lie down with the ox, no one should hurt of destroy in all of God’s holy mountain. But the main case is in 6 very, very important mandates in Judaism and actually all the religions, they all have similar teachings. These 6 mandates are: to treat animals with compassion, to take a very good care of our health, be co-workers with God in protecting the environment, conserve natural resources and helping hungry people, and seeking and consuming peace. All of these are very sharply violated by animal based diets and agriculture.
Caryn: How did you personally make the connection? Were you brought up vegetarian?
Richard: No, no far from it. I was a big, big meat eater. My mother would always make me pot roast when I came over. I always got the “drum stick” at Thanksgiving. I’ve been teaching mathematics at The College of Staten Island. When you teach liberal arts and science students it’s a bit of a problem to motivated and fully prepared, but they have to take one course. I got this idea of relating math and environmental issues. I really pioneered and did a course called Math in the Environment and now it’s become much more popular. In that course, the idea was to make basic math- probability, statistics, calculations, graphs- to many of the issues, Lucian and energy and all that. One year we were discussing world hunger. At first I thought well unfortunately there’s too many people in the world, we can’t feed them all. Then I read this book by Frances Moore Lappé, Diet for a Small Planet. Where she points out how wasteful animal based diets are. For example, we’re feeding 70% of the grain in the US to animals destined to slaughter. Some say as much as 40% of the grain worldwide for farmed animals. While 20 million people are dying of hunger every year. Close to a billion are not properly nourished. So, I’d have discussion with the students. We could cut world hunger if we changed our diet. After a couple years of that, I took my own advice and gave up red meat and the more I found out I kept moving in the vegetarian and pretty much vegan today.
Caryn: Were you well versed in Judaism at that time?
Richard: To a certain extent. I’ve pointed out many times. There’s people that know more about Judaism than I do. There’s people that know more about the environmental issues. Through that course, Math and the Environment, I found out a lot about the environmental connections. I’ve often felt that the most important thing in religion is can we use it’s messages to respond to the crisis of the day? I had enough of both to made a bridge and my philosophy is always get things down, get them to a lot of people, get all kinds of criticism and all and put it all together. Thank God the case is so strong and I was able to “stand on the shoulder of giants” and use quotations. If I came from out of the blue and said, you know I think we should be vegetarian, is one thing. But when you’re quoting the scriptures and previous Jewish teachers because I don’t think anybody can deny that every religion stresses compassion and stresses sharing and justice and taking care of our health, being stewards of the environment. The case was very powerful and I just really felt very strongly and took advantage of others.
Caryn: You really bring up some very good points and so religion is supposed to be related to compassion.
Caryn: We read that in all the religions and yet, religion seems to be one of the major causes of war. I don’t see where that’s related to compassion. But, you know when you bring up these different specific parts in the text, in the Bible, how is it that those that are religious and study this information in great detail, how is it they miss that? How is it they’re in denial about that?
Richard: Well, unfortunately it’s always been a battle between the pathetic and the priestly and often the priestly seem to win out. The prophets were the greatest critics of society, the greatest champions of social justice and they would criticize everybody from the Kings and leaders and everything. But, many people have a ritual and stress that and if you forget about the social justice aspect of things, this is why I would never complete it, but if I write a third book, if I have the two Judaic books you mentioned, Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, the third book would be titled, They Stole My Religion. Because the failure of religion to respond to what I’m saying is I’m not saying start a new religion, change religion, whatever. I’m saying lets put in to practice these teachings that mention compassion and in a song it says that God’s compassion is over all of His creatures. Book of Proverbs indicates that the righteous individual can choose the lives of his or her animals. There’s many, many teachings of that type and a person is supposed to make sure the animal’s needs are met. That the animal is fed before sitting down to his or her own meal. There’s a lot of these teachings. So that’s what we’re trying to get out. I’m trying to get a respectful dialogue/debate on the questions should Jews be vegetarians? Should people in general? Should everybody be vegetarian? Of course certainly should especially today when the world is threatened like never before any kind of unprecedented catastrophe from global warming and other environmental threats. I’m using the phrase more and more it’s really madness and sheer insanity. We’re heading towards disaster and yet we’re trying to feed not only the present 6.8 billion people in the world today, but at least 60 billion farmed animals are raised for slaughter every year and according to UN FAO report, the number of farmed animals projected if the current rate continues, current trend continue to double in 50 years.
Caryn: There’s no room on the planet for all of those beings, for that number.
Richard: Absolutely. Even today seems like almost every other day we see about the wild fires in California and there’s droughts in California and Australia is now in it’s worst drought in it’s history. The flooding and storms and we know the polar ice caps are melting, the glaciers are melting. The polar bears and many other species are in danger. So they say it’s madness and sheer insanity that we’re continuing this especially when you say the religious teachings are there to put into practice.
Caryn: Maybe you can explain something to me. I was raised in a Jewish family and I’ve chosen to take a more Agnostic approach, I don’t follow any traditions at this point in my life. When it comes to following the Kosher laws, this was something I was always a little bit confused about. Is it true that in order for meat to be Kosher, all the blood has to be removed from it?
Richard: That is the ideal, is that all the blood has to be moved because Jewish tradition says the blood is the life and we’re not supposed to eat the blood and that’s why there’s an attempt at that. All the blood is drained and they use salt to try to get out additional blood. Some have pointed out that’s impossible/
Caryn: That’s my point, and that’s why I always thought that was one of those little riddles that was included that you could have meat if you could remove all of the blood. But you can’t remove all of the blood and so the message is we shouldn’t be eating meat.
Richard: Absolutely. What I’m doing though, working within the Jewish tradition, our case is super, super strong. It’s like if you’re playing baseball you have to use ground rules. The interpretations and Rabbi’s have determined that if 90-99% of blood is removed, that is sufficient. I agree that it can’t be removed but we have these other powerful arguments because Judaism does by the way put animals, not at the same level as humans because it does say in the first chapter of Genesis, only human beings are created in God’s image. But this certainly does not give us a license, even the idea of dominion that’s also in that first chapter is interpreted as the Sadist’s as responsible stewardship.
Caryn: Absolutely. It doesn’t mean that we can confine them in healthy, horrible conditions. It doesn’t mean that they can’t have their own life and raise their own family and it doesn’t mean any of that. Yet, what happens with raising of Kosher meat? I’ve heard some really horrible stories. That’s where the animal is supposed to be raised compassionately and slaughtered compassionately.
Richard: Actually, unfortunately almost all of the animals and you know are raised on factory farms under horrible, horrible conditions. The male chicks at the egg laying hatcheries as you know are just, have no use, they can’t lay eggs, they haven’t been genetically programmed to have much flesh, so they are killed very cruelly right away. The egg laying hens are in such close, confined spaces they can’t even raise a wing. Instead of saying we better solve the problem, terrible terrible thing debeaking. It’s just animals in general. That’s why when people say well, we have Shekita, Jewish ritual laws of slaughter, which were designed to minimize pain, they say even assuming that what about the months and months of very cruel treatment on the factory farm. This is definitely in violation of what in Hebrew is call tsa’ar ba’alei chayim, it’s a mandate not to cause any unnecessary injury to any animals so that God forbid somebody was standing on an island, starving to death, Judaism would say then under that very, very, very unusual condition a person could kill an animal. Of course 99.99999% of the time it’s not only unnecessary, but it’s harmful to our health, certainly raising animals terrible, terrible for the environment. 60 billion animals raised every year. All the grain that’s fed to them. Of course you need far, far more water. 14 times more water per person on a typical American animal based diet than for a vegan, no animal products at all. This is in the age of century of drought as some people have called it. Once again it’s madness and sheer insanity. We’ve got to get this message out because the survival of the planet depends on it.
Caryn: I agree with you, it is pretty insane and it gets crazier and crazier. So, when I talk to people and I mention this verse in the Bible 129 in Genesis, the immediate response is well God commanded men to eat meat after the flood.
Richard: He gave permission, which is a big, big, big difference. I always say unfortunately I can’t say well, here it is, right? Here in Deuteronomy or in Exodus, whatever, here’s a verse that says thou shall not eat meat, although I just came out with an article with that title just to stir things up. Maybe in today’s age maybe God would have said that, because, I say the priest of humanity.
Caryn: I’m not going to play God here, but what was God’s intention when he said, when he gave permission to eat meat?
Richard: The way I see it, is that God didn’t create us an angels and he’s given us a certain amount of free choice. Somebody has a book called God in Search of Man. He’s saying if God’s searching for the righteous individual you say well we’re all angels and then there would be no choice and everybody would move on. But here we have, we’re striving to get back in effect, symbolically to the Garden of Eden. Trying for a better world. There’s a lot of negatives in all the warfare with the slavery throughout history and the genocide.
Caryn: That’s right, the used the Bible to condone slavery in this country, right?
Richard: At a point, at least they said if a person had a Hebrew slave it was like having a mastiff because just like an animal, you had to provide for the slave before yourself and make sure the slave was fed and all that. Some of these things were part of the times, you know? That moving forward instead of saying well here it is, people are not always ready to make leaps and all so we hope that people evolve and certainly moving to vegetarianism today would be a step forward. God did not make us as angels, he’s given us a choice. He’s given us the potential, the wisdom to know and yet I quote Al Gore, sometimes he quipped. Denial is not just a river in Egypt.
Caryn: I love that phrase!
Richard: Denial is consistent. He mentioned our movie, Sacred Duty and it’s very powerful. Given it to a lot of friends, some relatives. People just don’t want to see it, they just don’t want to know.
Caryn: So how did you get started with this movie A Sacred Duty.
Richard: What happened is I was at a conference, a summer fest in North American Vegetarian Society and there they were showing this very nice movie that the Christian Vegetarian Association put together. A nice half hour movie with nice quotes and all. They were asking for comments. I really commend it and said I wish the Jewish Vegetarians of North America could do something like it. Now I’m President of Jewish Vegetarians of North America and editor of their newsletter and I’m constantly sending out ideas, why don’t we try this, why don’t we try that? Unfortunately people are busy and often things just fall and are forgotten. But I put in this idea, I said hey I saw this movie by the Christian Vegetarian Association put together, maybe we can do something like it? Very, very thankfully, somebody who I didn’t even know was on the list, wonderful person Lionel Friedberg out in Woodland Hills near Los Angeles, California responded. He is a multi-award winning producer, writer, director, cinematographer. He said, yup we have to do this and I’m going to help and everything. He did a wonderful job it was a labor of love and dedication. Not one penny of professional fee otherwise we just couldn’t afford it.
Caryn: I want to talk a lot more about this film, but I want to say first a few things. One is I saw it and it was excellent. We can’t have enough of these type of works, we need to flood the world, the market with DVD’s and tapes and programs about this because it’s so important. What I want to say is there are a number of works out there that aren’t very good and the quality isn’t very good and I don’t know anybody that would want to watch them. This is not one of them. It’s really very professional, it showed. It was an excellent, excellent piece.
Richard: Well as they say thank God we had this Lionel Friedberg he put in so much time on it. The issues are so important that we’re getting these away usually we give away over 20,000. We have on YouTube. If people go to, it’s a simple thing, the title of the movie, asacredduty.com they can see the whole movie and there’s also versions there with subtitles and like a dozen languages including Hebrew, German, Spanish, Arabic, etc. So they can see the entire movie. They can also request a complementary copy because we want this to be seen as widely as possible. You mentioned the Veggie Pride Parade, I gave out hundreds there. Trying to get it to people, hopefully they’ll see it, they’ll arrange a showing, they’ll give it to other people. We try to get it to grandpa’s and all. By the way, the subtitle is applying Jewish values to help heal the world so it’s from a Jewish perspective but it has a universal message. Thank God we’ve gotten great responses from Christian and other religious communities. People can also see blurbs and reviews at asacredduty.com as well as questions and answers related to the movie and where we made it.
Caryn: So what is the response been from the traditional Jewish community? Have many of them had an opportunity to see it? Have you been there when some of them have viewed it?
Richard: There’s 3 groups in a way, if you break it down. First, I appreciate your kind words and thank God. That’s been a response from many, many in the vegetarian animal rights community and they see it as a valuable tool. It’s really very positive. It does by the way first half is mainly about environmental threats and the second half is where we bring out the vegetarian message and especially toward the end how terribly, terribly animals are treated. We had a lot more on that but we thought maybe it was too much but it certainly makes the point. We try to get people hooked on it before bringing out the vegetarian message which is in the second half. That segment loves it. Unfortunately as I said before about denial, it’s hard to break through but there have been, I wouldn’t say many, but a number of said yeah I saw it and now I’m vegetarian. Also we have made a breakthrough. You know when you’ve been able to say, well it’s terrible I disagree and here’s my reasons and any authenticity of any kind, but so it’s hard we’re trying to get it of course to others, many people as possible. People don’t want to know and that’s unfortunate because it’s just not a matter of well I’ve been saying recently, vegetarianism is a very important individual choice, but it’s now become a societal imperative, global imperative. As you know, the world cannot much longer sustain the tremendous wastefulness and inefficiencies and negative environmental effects, etc. of animal-based diets and agriculture.
Caryn: When my sister and I were growing up we used to joke and say that religion was all about food. And this show is actually called It’s All About Food because all the holidays are centered around bringing the family together and having some wonderful traditional food and it’s lovely. But, some of those foods, brisket, gefilte fish, chicken soup with matzo balls, how can people live without those things?
Richard Schwartz: The diet famous nutritionist Nathan Pritikin said something like, “if the enemies of the Jewish people designed a diet, they couldn’t have done a much better job than what the Jews have done themselves.” When you mention food, there’s a joke Jews say, at the holidays. What’s involved? They tried to kill us; we thwarted their efforts. That’s the thing on that. So, yeah, the foods are important, but it is incredible, because to take care of our health is arguably the most important mitzvah or commandment in Judaism. I say that because number one: if they’re not healthy, they can’t serve God in the way that Judaism would like them to, but also, it overrides other important commandments; for example, Shabbat, or the Sabbath day is very, very important, of course, in Judaism and is meant to get away and be able to meditate, and therefore, not use a computer, a phone, a car, and all that. The whole world probably needs a sabbatical as we keep trying to work. Anyway, if God forbid a person, who is very ill on Saturday, on the Sabbath, a person can’t say, “Well, I’m a religious Jew; I’m not allowed to use a car etc. In only three or four hours, the Sabbath will be over, and then I suppose I can take you to the hospital,” whatever. As Judaism says, “the laws are to live by , and not God forbid to die by, so that everything possible has to be done even if it violates the Sabbath, even if it means eating on Yom Kippur when Jews are supposed to fast. It overrides just about…
Caryn Hartglass: It’s just comforting to know that there’s some sensibility in the commandments. So, there’s one commandment, “thou shalt not kill,” and I’ve frequently thought about what the meaning of that is. Does it mean thou shalt not kill Jewish people? Does that mean thou shalt not kill men, but it’s okay to kill women? Thou shalt not kill the people you like, but not the people you don’t like? Or does it mean thou shalt not kill, and that means all life on Earth?
Richard Schwartz: Actually, in addition to the books I just mentioned, I now have by now about 140 articles at a website, which is Jewishveg.org. If you stop there, at the Jewish Pages of North America website, and you have Jewishveg.org/schwartz. There are about 140 articles, 20 podcasts, and I have other interviews of mine and talks I’ve given and things like that. One of the articles is entitled “Is it ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ or ‘Thou Shalt Not Murder’?” Actually, the Jewish view is that it’s ‘Thou Shalt Not Murder’ or you could say ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill Unnecessarily’ because if it’s a matter of self defense, for example, or a capital punishment. Judaism puts very stringent conditions instead of a Sanhedrin. If one person was put to death In many many years- I forget the exact details- it would be like a hanging jury. So, anyway it does not forbid Capital punishment and as I said if God forbid, a person was starving and there was no alternative…The thing is if you say thou shalt not kill unnecessarily, well murder, then still Judaism teaches only harm an animal or kill an animal if it is an essential human need that cannot be met In any other way. Like I said, if it’s not a matter of eating or starving, you’re going to eat the animal. That’s like the one in a billion a trillion whatever, so it certainly is not necessary to eat meat. We know now that not only can we be sustained and have good nutrition on plant-based diets, but we know how very harmful animal-based diets are. So, we can’t just say “thou shalt not kill” and that includes animals, but we can say “thou shalt not kill animals unnecessarily,” and that’s almost in every case because it’s restoring human health, and the US now has tremendous problems with debts and deficits and a major part of that is the soaring health expenditures which has gone up from 5% and now it’s like 17% of the total of all the expenditures rising. That’s what most of the concern is now. How do we pay for it? What kind of insurance, single payer, seems great to me, but there’s very little talk about preventing the diseases in the first place.
Caryn Hartglass: Let’s talk about this further. I just want to say I’m speaking with Richard Schwartz and talking about Judaism and vegetarianism. I’m Caryn Hartglass and this is All About Food. We were talking about…
Richard Schwartz: Health aspects and others…
Caryn Hartglass: Right. You know what I wanted to bring up? I wanted to talk a little bit about the force-feeding for foie gras and the animal Pates for ducks and geese. I remember a few years back that Israel had passed some legislation that in a certain- what is it by 2012 something they would stop the manufacture of this. Can you talk a little about… are you familiar with that?
Richard Schwartz: Yeah, actually Israel has some strong laws about the protection of animals and all. Unfortunately, in some perspectives it took the secular Supreme Court. I’ve been talking about the oldest religious teachings and all, but unfortunately, that didn’t seem to help. The court said, this is a violation of the animal welfare laws in Israel, so they did outlaw it and I forget the years it was supposed to start and all. Hopefully, they’ll be enforcing that. In other areas, I think California also has banned it, maybe starting in 2012 something like that. So, that’s one example, and of course we do show that In the movie The Sacred Duty, that man is in sheer insanity. What were doing to these animals, these creatures of God and to create a quote-unquote delicacy that is so unhealthy, super fatty and all that.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s crazy, and it’s especially crazy because you can have a vegetarian chopped liver or vegetarian foie gras. My mother makes a great recipe with string beans walnuts and onions, and it is phenomenal. So, there’s really no reason you can have your chopped liver and eat it too.
Richard Schwartz: And of course, what you’re saying is true about many many vegetarian or vegan products that maybe years and years ago it was a big sacrifice, but now some of the dishes, if you didn’t tell a person, they’d think they were eating the actual meat products.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right.
Richard Schwartz: There’s so much more in the health food stores and supermarkets. So, a person can be very well nourished on it and without the negatives of the saturated fat and cholesterol and lack of fiber and all. There’s another example of madness and shear insanity we send 70% of the grain in the US to animals destined for slaughter. So, we’re taking the very nutritious corn and soy and oats and other grains that are rich in fiber and complex carbohydrates and converting them into a product where were losing even most of the protein and we’re losing almost 100% of the fiber and almost 100% of the complex carbohydrates and we’re adding all the cholesterol and saturated fat and that’s why in addition to everything else we’re starting to argue that medical practice today can be considered malpractice unless they let people know about how a good well-balanced vegan diet can reduce the risk of disease and ease the disease once a person has it. There are many cases that reverse it as Dr. Dean Ornish showed with heart disease…
Caryn Hartglass: …and diabetes. You can reverse adult onset diabetes.
Richard Schwartz: … type 2 diabetes, right.
Caryn Hartglass: So, you were mentioning all the grains that were going to feed animals and how inefficient it is. In addition, another reason not to do that is we could use a lot less farmland to grow plants to feed people. We could feed more people, and we still have additional land left over that we could use for lots of different things. We could do more organic farming and rotate the fields, nourish the soil, and take care of this soil instead of depleting it and making a dead soil that soon won’t grow anything. We could have more wooded lands, forests, and animal sanctuaries.
Richard Schwartz: Of course, we’re destroying the tropical rainforest at a very rapid rate. These are the lungs of the world; that’s where at least half of the species of plants and animals reside. There might be in some of these plants that we haven’t catalogued yet and not even be aware that they’re there; there could be cures for cancer, AIDS, and other Dreadful diseases. So, that’s another example of madness and sheer insanity. We burn these tropical forests, which they often do. It adds carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and we’re destroying trees that are a sink, that can absorb carbon dioxide. So, this is when I emphasize and why, as I said before, heading towards this unprecedented catastrophe because carbon dioxide levels are going up and all the things we mentioned before about the drought, the floods, the melting of the polar ice caps and the glaciers. All of this is due to the fact that there’s been an increase of less than one and a half degrees Fahrenheit in the past 100 years or so and the projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is really the new in group with the world’s most prestigious climate scientists moral of the world and a conservative group, but they have to come up with a consensus. Every 5 to 6 years they come up with the report with more and more certainty that it’s happening and it’s going to have more and more serious consequences. They have been projecting an increase anywhere between 3 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit in the next century. And if that happens…
Caryn Hartglass: If we make it.
Richard Schwartz: Yeah, well, if that happens it’s hard to see with all that’s happening now because the polar ice caps and glaciers are melting. They’ve been melting a lot faster than any of the projections.
Caryn Hartglass: The projections are interesting; they are frightening, but they always talk about what’s going to happen in the next 50 to 100 years, and I don’t think we have that kind of time. I think we really need to be working today, next year, and the next 10 years. If we don’t start turning around what we’re doing; we’re not going to see the next century.
Richard Schwartz: It was Jane Hansen, one of the outstanding climate scientists, is from NASA and others and of course Al Gore has have said that we could reach a tipping point where things can spiral out of control within just a few years unless changes are made. So, I agree with you. A lot of people say well maybe for my grandchildren it will be a problem not right now, but it’s happening now. Islands have already been intubated, and the Gullah Island was over flooded and people had to leave for another Island, which is also on track for being flooded soon. The government of California has said that the drought there is so severe the wildfire season that used to be a few months long is now the entire year, and we’ve seen pictures on TV recently. Of course, Australia had these tremendous wildfires. So, we’ve got to start right away, and I’m hoping everybody listening to this program will really get involved and write letters. Get to the politicians and speak to Religious leaders and saying this is part of our religion if it’s not to save God’s precious Earth that he’s given us then what’s it all about? And… to really make it a Central focus of everything we do today because, as you say, we may not be around that much longer. At least in a way, we have things today, and if we don’t solve this problem, everything else becomes secondary.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. So, are there rabbis that support vegetarianism?
Richard Schwartz: Yeah, unfortunately they’re all too few. There’s two in particular in the movie… Rabbi David Rosen, former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, outstanding spokesperson. Unfortunately, he is super busy. I’ve often said if we can find a way of getting him the money to take 1-year leave of absence or something that could really make a difference. Then, also in the movie there’s Rabbi Cyan Shot that Shalom Cohen, the chief rabbi of Haifa City in Israel. There’s a number of others, and we try to get them to speak out more, but everybody is busy and stuff like that. We definitely have this strong, strong case, and I’m ready. Although, I’m what they call a Baal Teshuva, a returnee to Judaism in terms of not being religious when I was young and shortly after getting married and reading about it, finding that Judaism does have these powerful teachings, unfortunately not always put into practice, and that’s why I wrote that other book Judaism and Global Survival about Showing that these teachings can be applied to energy, evolution, and hunger.
Caryn Hartglass: So, what I think you’re saying is you’re trying to work within the structure, within the tradition and say it’s already there because I’m all about change and changing with the times. There’s a lot of information that’s really not applicable anymore because it was written so long ago, but there’s still some that are very adamant about sticking with their tradition, tradition, tradition. So, when you bring up something that’s different, they say that changing is not acceptable.
Richard Schwartz: Well, we’ve got to change with the times. When the Torah was written, they didn’t have TV or computers or cars and stuff. So, there is a way of adapting and Judaism a practical religion and tries to adapt to these things. The thing is, as I mentioned before, thankfully there’s many, many good videos out there. So, rather than just trying to have one more of that type, I decided let me try to do it from a religious perspective and at least work within the Jewish community. Although, as they said, other religions have similar teachings because a person, in general, a particular person could say, “I enjoy meat and that’s all.” Whereas, theoretically, at least, somebody who takes Judaism seriously and tries to live up to the mitzvah, or commandments, should take our challenge seriously because we’re saying that there are six important mandates, and these are fundamental. It’s not like, gee I found a thirteenth century rabbi who made one statement. As I said, taking care of our health is arguably one of the most important commandments and certainly compassion for animals because, as I indicated God has compassion for all of his creatures, and there’s many laws on that. The great Jewish heroes like Moses and King David were chosen because they showed compassion to animals in their youth. And the environment, this is God’s earth and all. It says the Earth of the Lord, but we have to be coworkers when going and protecting the environment. The fourth one is conserving natural resources. There’s a very powerful teaching in Deuteronomy that says even in warfare, you’re not allowed to destroy fruit bearing trees to build a battering ram to destroy an enemy fortification. Of course, in Judaism it’s the bible and also the commentaries because often the bible doesn’t go into any detail, so this is to me one of the greatest things they did. Because the sages took that prohibition that said you can’t use an axe and destroy fruit trees in times of war, and they generalized that and said, “Well, if it’s true in wartime, then it should be true at all times…”
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right.
Richard Schwartz: “…not just trees, anything of value, not just an axe. Anyway, there’s a general prohibition called bal tashchit, which means thou shalt not waste unnecessarily or destroy anything of value. One of the rabbis indicated that this also means far more resources than is necessary. That’s where I argue that animal-based agriculture violates that because far, far more water, far, far more energy, more land, wastefulness of grain. So, there it is. All these commandments being violated. You go down the line and a fifth of these mandates are to help hungry people, and once again, it says in the prayers that Jews recite after eating a meal God in his compassion is enough for all. Yet, why is there so much starvation? Part of the reason is that in the US 70% of the grains are fed to animals destined for slaughter. The bible says we should leave the corners of the field, the wings of the harvest. There isn’t much concern about helping the hungry and seeking and pursuing peace because the rabbis saw that the Hebrew word for bread, which is lechem, לחם, and war, milchamah מִלחָמָה they come from the same root. From that they deduced when there was a shortage of grain or other resources, people are more likely to go to war. This is why I argue because animal-based diets are so wasteful, and when there’s not enough, not enough water in biblical days and now not enough oil, people are more likely to go to war. So, the slogan of the peace movement and the slogan of the vegetarian movement should be one in the same. All we’re saying is “give peas a chance”. So, we’re trying to get that message out, and you can extend the pun if you take some peas and turn it around your head a few times, then what will you have? World peas.
Caryn Hartglass: World peas, there we go.
Richard Schwartz: And we thought the world’s problems were difficult to solve. Well, there it is. Right there.
Caryn Hartglass: Do you get a better response from the reform Jews? There are the three groups- Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. They tend to be a little bit more forward-thinking, allowing more women to be rabbis and cantors. There are more gay communities allowed there in that group. I imagine they’d be more responsive to vegetarianism.
Richard Schwartz: Even more, the reform group, that’s relatively small group, somehow a lot of their rabbis are vegetarians. It is true before I’ve mentioned are orthodox, Rabbi Rosen, former Chief Rabbi of Ireland and Cohen, but I wish more rabbis would be involved and speak out. I think probably reform, conservative are more open, but when I wrote my book and when we made the move we tried to make it so nobody could say it’s good for reform, but it’s not good for orthodox. It is, as I say, that they quote-unquote stole my religion because those who are most steeped in things, those who are most knowledgeable about Jewish teachings, you would think would be the biggest challengers to the status quo and the typical diets because they are so contrary to Jewish values, but unfortunately, often the ritual is stressed. If somebody said, we built fences around many ritual commandments. It’s important to keep them, so find a way. With that teaching we’re ignoring others like the bal tashchit that I just mentioned.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, it’s beautiful. I love that idea of not cutting down fruit trees, extending that to everything that’s valuable.
Richard Schwartz: Can you imagine if the world took that seriously?
Caryn Hartglass: Well, people don’t. If you calculated the value of a tree, the real value, what it does in terms of cleansing the air and giving us oxygen, it’s priceless. People doing return investments on clearing an area, if they included the real value, we wouldn’t be cutting any trees-bottom line.
Richard Schwartz: Not only that, but can you imagine if people had to pay the real cost of their steaks and chicken dinners and everything. The pollution effects, the global warming effects, and what it’s psychologically doing to them. Plus all the slaughtering and killing that’s going on.
Caryn Hartglass: So, Israel is referred to as the land of milk and honey, is it not?
Richard Schwartz: Yep.
Caryn Hartglass: What does that mean? To me it’s like animal bodily fluids and bee barf. Why does that have so much of an appeal? Do you know where that originated?
Richard Schwartz: One group there, that has a lot of books on this and has a place in Israel where they try to reestablish traditions and they have trees from the biblical times. One writer indicated that this represented the wildness of the land of Israel. This is honey from the bees and all. As a matter of fact, when it talks about honey as part of the seven species, they were talking about date honey, and the milk is not from the goats, that’s for the kids. It doesn’t necessarily mean we should take eggs and milk from the animals. This Rabbi Abraham Isaac Cohen Cook known affectionately as Rob Cook, first Chief Rabbi of free state Israel and one of the greatest philosophers of the twenty first century, thought taking milk from the animals was like a form of theft. So, that can be interpreted as when the land was wild in the fact that you had wild goats and bees and all, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we should take milk and honey from the animals.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, it’s just one of those many images people have, picturesque images of wanting to keep things the way they are because they don’t want to see things as they really are. So, one of my favorite holidays is Passover, where we read the story of Moses and the Jewish slaves in Egypt. Moses goes to the Pharaoh to try to get the Jews out of Egypt, and then, we have the ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea and the Jews are liberated from slavery. It’s a great story, and it’s great for children telling the story, and all the foods on the table that are symbolic of different things. It’s fun, but there’s always this component of me that’s missing. It talks about what happened and not forgetting it happened, and it certainly is but I always see the bigger picture. I see all people shouldn’t be enslaved, not just the Jewish people, animals shouldn’t be enslaved. How do we get that message in there? It’s so obvious to me, and yet, after you go through this story you sit down and have a dinner. The dinner has all of these tortured foods.
Richard Schwartz: Well, it doesn’t have to. We can have vegetarian foods because I hear there’s no need to eat meat today. In fact I mentioned the chief Rabbis before, and the former Chief Rabbi of all of Israel, Shlomo Goren, is a strict vegetarian. So, the thing is that Jews and everybody else has a choice. I should argue, shouldn’t that choice be made taking into account the highest of ethical values, the highest of religious values? Shouldn’t we consider our health and how animals are treated, the devastation of the environment, and the wasting of resources, and the violation of the laws of this religion and laws of the other religions I’ve been talking about? You’re right. To me somebody’s called it a tragedy religion that we don’t put into practice. I heard on a tape a rabbi talking about how Judaism has a wonderful teaching about animals, God has mercy for all his creatures, the righteous individual principles of life. There are animals, but then it’s like right next door it’s being violated in effect, out in society in general. That big, big word reality is often overlooked. So, the teachings are there, and I’m trying to get these out, as I say, I have these 140 articles I send out in a newsletter every week. If anybody wants to contact me by the way at email@example.com I’d be happy to put them on a list to get free newsletters. Just get involved in every way. I hope people will go to asacredduty.com and see that movie and request a copy and get it to others, maybe arrange a showing. Just in general talk to your ministers, priests, rabbis, Imans, other religious leaders, write letters. Just this madness and sheer insanity, and somebody said we have to respond with another kind of madness, in fact, the madness of the biblical prophets. A moral kind of madness that says we’re just not going to stand for the status quo the way it is. Religious want to know if we put them in the line of practice, otherwise it’s like a mockery of God’s name and all. God’s will is never to be threatened is never before and how can any religion stand by and let this happen and be unfortunately, often part of the problem instead of the solution in terms of a diet and not doing enough to respond to global warming and other threats.
Caryn Hartglass: I would like to think that religion might be more popular than it is today if actually was true to its teachings because a lot of people turn away from it because it’s meaningless.
Richard Schwartz: Yeah, especially you idealistic people. That’s an argument I try to use all the time. People always depend on outreach, how do we bring people back? Why is it that many of the synagogues, many of the churches are empty on the Sabbath days? That would make it a lot more meaningful and also try to create conditions so that the churches, synagogues, and other religious institutions can have a decent planet to continue their teachings. What’s it all about?
Caryn Hartglass: Well, you’ve done a tremendous amount of work, and you can continue to do a tremendous amount of work. All the articles and books you’ve written-it’s really a wonderful thing, and people just need to look for it because it’s there. All the information is there, and we just need to find more ways to talk about it and get it out there. So, thank you so much for everything you’re doing.
Richard Schwartz: Well, thank you for all the wonderful things you’re doing and that your faith is doing.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, there’s power in numbers. So, thank you so much for talking to me today and for those of you who are listening don’t forget to check those websites JewishVeg.org and asacredduty.com. I’m Caryn Hartglass and thank you Dr. Schwartz. This has been It’s All About Food. I’ll be back next week. Thank you!
Transcribed by Adella Finnan 8/12/2017 and Samantha Webster 1/22/2018