Thursday, March 31, 2016

Vegan Diet in Judaism

Nadene Goldfoot                                                              
Gaon of Vilna evidently was a vegan in his late years.
In   thinking about Adam and Eve, I also  thought about Neanderthals and even gorillas.    "While some zoo specimens are known to eat meatwild gorillas eat only plants and fruit, along with the odd insect—as far as scientists know (see video of wild gorillas feasting on figs).Mar 7, 2010"  ""Although [70 percent] of the human genome is indeed closer to chimpanzees, on average, a sizable minority of 15 percent is in fact closer to gorillas, and another 15 percent is where chimpanzees and gorillas are closest," said geneticist Aylwyn Scally, a study co-author also at the Wellcome Trust."  Even gorillas have been known to eat meat in captivity.  Somehow, gorillas remain very strong while on a plant only diet.  

My children have been aware of vegan dieting ever since they were in college in the 70's.  Steve has been a vegan on and off for many years.  Now, Michael Greger, MD, has written a book, HOW NOT TO DIE, advocating a vegan diet and tells why meats and dairy products harm the body more than they help it, and why vegan dieting is so good for us.  This certainly upsets the traditional Jewish dieting which uses meats and of course separates dairy products from meat in cooking and serving.

 However, we did have an advocate of such a diet with the famous rabbi, The Great Gaon of Vilna, Lithuania, Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon (Elijah Ben Solomon Zalman (1720-1797).  I found a recipe under Polish cooking in the book THE JOYS OF JEWISH COOKING by Stephen and Ethel Longstreet, the following soup:

One of the Gaon's  favorite dishes in his old age was called the Zayde (grandfather) Vegetable Broth.

3 carrots, chopped               1 T salt
3 onions, chopped                1 bay leaf
3 cups chopped celery          3 quarts water
3 leeks, cut up

In a soup kettle combine carrots, onions, celery, leeks, salt, bay leaf and water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 3 hours.  Strain the broth.  (I think I would leave the veggies in the soup and eat it.)

He was a student and lecturer of the Talmud. He had to have commented on both the Babylonian and the Palestinian Talmuds, for we have these two.    They are a collection of the records of academic discussion and of judicial administration of Jewish Law by generations of scholars and jurists in many academies and in more than one country during several centuries after the year 200 CE.  This is about when they were finished.

 Elijah was born in Lithuania and was famous for his scholarship.  From 1740 to 1745 he traveled among the Jewish communities of Poland and Germany, settling in Vilna where he taught and later founded his own academy.  He refused rabbinic office and instead lived in seclusion, gaining a reputation as a saint and scholar.  He then led the opposition to the Hasidim in Lithuania, and ordered their excommunication and the destruction of their literature.  His attitude towards them checked the spread of Hasidism in Lithuania.

When he was about 60 years old, he set out alone for Palestine, but returned before reaching his destination.  He must have met up with people who were anti-Semitic, discouraging him from arriving alive there.

His reputation is in the field of halakhah (the legal part of talmudic and later Jewish literature, in contrast to Haggadah or Aggadah, the non-legal elements.  His goal was to establish critical texts of the authoritative rabbinic writings,  He based his views and rulings on the plain meaning of the text.  He thought very highly of the early kabbalistic works and was very critical of philosophy.

Elijah read secular works insofar as they threw light on the Torah, but he opposed the Haskalah (a movement called "enlightenment" that was spreading modern European culture among Jews).  He wrote commentaries on the Bible, annotations on the Talmud, Midrash and Zohar, works on mathematics, geography of Palestine, Hebrew grammar, etc.  His comments influenced not only his own generation but that of succeeding generatons.  He was a member of the opposition of the Hassidic movement, which was  the Mitnaggedim.  They regarded him as their spiritual leader.
Baal Shem Tov of Poland, possible shochet

A story relating to vegetarians and the Baal Shem Tov is that   "In a small European village, a shochet (ritual slaughterer) fetched some water to apply to his blade in the preparation process. At a distance, he observed a very old man, watching him and shaking his head from side to side disapprovingly. Finally, the young shochet asked the old man for an explanation.

The old man replied that as he watched him prepare his blade, it brought back memories from many years earlier when, as a young man, he had observed the saintly Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (founder of the chassidic movement) doing the same thing. But the difference, he explained, was that Rabbi Israel did not need to fetch water in order to sharpen the blade—rather the tears that streamed from his eyes were adequate."  
Hasidism was a Jewish religious and social movement founded by Rabbi Israel BAAL Shem Tov that came before the Mitnaggedim (1699-1761) in Volhynia and Podolia, Poland.  It was the outgrowth of the depressed state of Eastern European Jewry in the 18th century that followed the horrid Chmielnicki massacres and Christian persecutions.  Internal Jewish life was also in a catastrophic condition because of the oligarchic rule of the community and the disillusionment that happened from the Sabbetaian fiasco where they realized many had been following a false prophet.  Shabbetai Tzevi died in 1676 and his followers thought he was the Messiah.  This belief was revived and his followers believed he would reappear as the savior of Israel.  These adherents split into various sects.  Tzevi was succeeded  by Jacob Querido, who adopted Islam along with his son, Berechiah while retaining Sabbetaianism.  By doing this he created the Donmeh sect.  Many of these semi-followers joined up with Judah Hasid who organized a mass pilgrimage to Palestine.  1,500 followers set out but most died along the route and many others became converted to either Christianity or Islam.  The most extreme was the Frankists.  Eventually, Hasidism diverted popular attention from Sabbetaianism.

Much of Jewish people were unlearned due to restrictions against the Jews of education and so they were attracted to the Baal Shem Tov's preaching and doctrines.  He taught that all were equal before the Almighty and this meant that the ignorant were no less honored than the learned.  He said that purity of heart was superior to study, and that devotion to prayer and the commandments was to be encouraged by not ascetic practices.  This new movement had spread rapidly through Eastern Europe.

When the Baal Shem Tov died, he was succeeded by Dov Bewr of Mezhirich who died in 1773 who systematized Hasidic teaching, bringing it into line with the doctrine of Isaac Luria of Safed, and was responsible for the wave of followers-even those of learned and influential classes in Lithuania.

To the Gaon of Vilna, this teaching was heretical and sounded too much like Shabbetai Tzevi who justified his apostasy with such remarks.
Shneour Zalman of Lyady-Founder of Chabad
b: September 4, 1745 Liozna, Belarus-d: December 15, 1812 Kursk Oblast, Russia
Chabad's Rabbi Menahem Mendel Schneerson
b: April 18, 1902 Mykoleaiv, Ukraine-d: June 12, 1994 Manhattan, New York
Opposition was intensified against Hasidim after Shneour Zalman of Lyady (died in 1812) became the leader of Hasidim.  He has been the outstanding Rabbi of the  Chabad movement, which includes a philosophical and rationalizing aspect within Hasidim.  Scholars of White Russia and Lithuania followed him.
The argument went as far as the Mitnaggedim issuing in 1784, a manifesto against the Hasidim which prohibited ritual slaughter to be performed by a Hasid and refused to allow any member of the sect to hold public office.  The bans were reissued frequently and great bitterness was engendered throughout Lithuania.  Less opposition was found elsewhere and Hasidism branched into 3 division; the popular Ukrainian branch, the Chabad branch and the Polish-Galician branch.

Chabad is now all over the world.  It's teachings have become widely known in the occidental world, mainly through the worksd of Martin Buber, both by his retelling of Hasidic antedotes and through his philosophy which has been termed "neo-Hasidic."

Now the Gaon of Vilna has come into his own with a cookbook of vegetarianism.  It was originally published in Yiddish in pre–World War II Vilna and miraculously rediscovered more than half a century later. " Its 400 recipes ranged from traditional Jewish dishes (kugel, blintzes, fruit compote, borscht) to vegetarian versions of Jewish holiday staples (tsholent, kishke, schnitzel) to appetizers, soups, main courses, and desserts that introduced vegetables and fruits that had not traditionally been part of the repertoire of the Jewish homemaker (Chickpea Cutlets, Jerusalem Artichoke Soup; Leek Frittata; Apple Charlotte with Whole Wheat Breadcrumbs). "  The Gaon may have been way ahead of his time in regards to healthy eating.  

"The Torah gives precise details on how animals are to be sacrificed and slaughtered (shechita). According to Rabbis Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz and Abraham Isaac Kook the complexity of these laws were intended to discourage the consumption of meat.  Kashrut may also be designed to remind Jews of the magnitude of the task undertaken in killing a living being.  Eating meat continued to be a must with our desire and need to eat, and so Jews were stuck with following these complex laws.  
My Challah (Friday night especially homemade bread for the occasion) is made with one egg-
a no no on a vegan diet but okay for some vegetarians.)  "
Whether or not you can eat eggs depends largely on the type of vegetarian diet that you follow. Semi-vegetarian and pescetarian diets allow for the consumption of eggs, as well as some animal or fish meats. Among pure vegetarians, lacto-ovo vegetarians eat eggs and dairy products, but no meat, poultry or fish.My one and only favorite recipe is from 
the kitchen of a Frankfurt, Germany Jewish carpenter, generations old made in one bowl.p 146-147 in THE JOYS OF JEWISH COOKING. (see below).  We're about to cut into it with a special knife used for only this purpose.  That's why its cover is now off-so we can view it.  (Desert Rose China).

"Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935) was the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Pre-state Israel, after the British mandate.   Rav Kook was a highly respected and beloved Jewish spiritual leader in the early 20th century. He was a mystical thinker, a forceful writer, and a great Torah scholar. He was a very prolific writer who helped inspire many people to move toward spiritual paths. He urged religious people to become involved in social questions and efforts to improve the world. The strongest support for vegetarianism as a positive ideal anywhere in Torah literature is in the writing of Rav Kook. Among his many significant writings is "A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace," in which he gave his philosophy of vegetarianism. He believed strongly that God wants people to be vegetarian and that meat was permitted as a concession to people's weakness. He thought that the many prohibitions related to the slaughtering and eating of meat were meant as a scolding and reminder that people should have reverence for life; this would eventually bring people back to vegetarianism in the days of the Messiah".  Many people of all faiths believe that we are in that age today.  

For all my ancestors from Lithuania who cooked so deliciously with chicken shmaltz (chicken fat) I find that Jewish vegetarianism is the belief that following a vegetarian diet is implied in the Torah.   While it is neither required nor prohibited for Jews to eat meat, a number of medieval scholars of Judaism, such as Joseph Albo and Isaac Arama, regarded  vegetarianism as a moral ideal, not just out of a concern for animal welfare but also the slaughterer.  Jewish vegetarians also cite health and environmental reasons for adopting a plant-based diet.  An exclusive plant based diet does not include any meat, fish, or dairy products or even eggs.  Those who follow this are called Vegans.  This is what Dr.  Greger advocates.  

I suppose that in the Cain and Abel story, where Abel was a hunter and Cain wasn't, this was showing the differences in diet as well. Scholars also see this conflict as the struggle between the nomadic shepherd and the settled agriculturalist. "Cain brought a sacrifice of grain, while his brother Abel offered animals. Rabbi Albo explains that Cain regarded humans and animals as equals and, accordingly, felt he had no right to kill them.

Cain then extended this misguided logic: If people and animals are inherently equal, then just as one could permit taking the life of an animal, so too could one permit taking the life of his fellow man. Thus Cain was able to justify the murder of his brother.

Also, it comes up with the brothers Ishmael and Isaac.  Ishmael was the hunter and Isaac, father of Judaism, wasn't.  

As for those of us still eating meat, kosher meat suits a purpose of not bringing pain to the animal. "There are several religious and philosophical arguments used by Jewish vegetarians regarding the ethics of eating meat.  One mitzvah cited by vegetarians is tza'ar ba'alei hayyim; the injunction not to cause "pain to living creatures."  The laws of shechita are meant to prevent the suffering of animals.  Evidently, in some slaughter houses, they have tried to go modern.  "However, factory farming and high-speed mechanized kosher slaughterhouses have been criticized for failing to meet the essence of shechita.   Jonathan Safran Foer narrated the short documentary film If This Is Kosher..., which records what he considers abuses within the kosher meat industry.  

Reuven Rivlin is the President of Israel and has been a vegetarian since the 60's.  "Reuven "Ruvi" Rivlin (Hebrewרְאוּבֵן "רוּבִי" רִיבְלִין[ʁeʔuˈven ʁivˈlin]Arabic: رؤوفين ريفلين; born 9 September 1939) is an Israeli politician and lawyer who has been President of Israel since 2014. He is a member of the Likud party. Rivlin was Minister of Communications from 2001 to 2003 and subsequently served as Speaker of the Knesset from 2003 to 2006 and again from 2009 to 2013. On 10 June 2014, he was elected as President of Israel..  I'm also finding DNA matches to our family  who may be connected to him as well.  

I know that my father's first job was in a kosher meat market in the late 20's in Portland, Oregon, and they killed cattle  the required way-that of slitting the throat by a professional trained to do it just right with a very sharp knife that brought on instant death and no pain.  As my father went on his own with his own slaughter house, he continued to have kosher kill for a period of time.  Today Portland must get kosher meat from Seattle, a larger city with a larger Jewish population.  

"Judaism stresses the importance of maintaining health and not harming oneself (venishmartem me'od lenafshoteichem). Joel Fuhrman and other doctors, such as John A. McDougallNeal D. Barnard and Dean Ornish, claim a diet high in animal products is detrimental to health and suggest following a plant-based diet.  Michael Greger's book goes a step farther with detailed examples of just what happens to our bodies when we do eat meat, eggs and milk products and studies of people who have been cured of diseases caused by such foods.  

Genetics does play a part in all this.  I'm 81 1/2 years old and have not followed vegetarianism, let alone tried to be a vegan. Now, I've been alarmed.  I read that chicken had all sorts of negative powers over our bodies, and I buy a chicken every week for my Friday night dinner.  I have chicken then, during the week as well. After reading all this, I may not.   What with the Mad Cow Disease coming along in the 90's, I've been leery of beef, my father's staple product in his last meat packing business.  

 Being raised on meat was the joy of having a father in the business.  I remember once having a boyfriend over for dinner.   My mother served us each a steak.  This poor fellow couldn't believe he was given a whole T-bone steak for himself.  According to all these studies, I should have died long ago from the joy of eating meat.  The other grandmother of my only grandson reminded me in our discussion about veganism and this book that her brother lived till 104 and he ate everything he wanted which included meat, milk and eggs.  

Kale is very popular with vegans today. It's one of Dr. Greger's favorite greens.  He advocates one 1 C raw or 1/2 C cooked of 2 servings every day of greens.  Other favorites are Arugula, beet greens, collard greens, mesclun mix-assorted young salad greens, mustard greens, sorrel, spinach, swiss chard and turnip greens.  He says that dark-green, leafy vegetables are the healthiest foods on the planet. p. 311.   I found a recipe in my Jewish cookbook of HERBED KALE! Evidently herbs also have medical qualities.  I guess I never respected mint leaves enough.  According to the late Dr. Atkins, 1 C kale has 6.7 Carbo/gr, 5.0 protein/gr and 0.8 fat/gr.  

4 bunches kale                 Your favorite healthy sweetener
1/2 C boiling water            pinch of pepper
1 onion, chopped             2 T. parve margarine
3/4 t. salt
Wash kale, pinch leaves off stems.  Place leaves in saucepan with boiling water, onion, salt, sugar, pepper.  Cover and cook 20 minutes, until kale is tender.  Drain.  Add margarine if desired.    Mix and serve.  6 servings.  36 calories per cup cooked.  

If we remain as meat eaters, here's something to think about. " When eating is not merely an act of “mindless consumption,” but rather an act with clear intent that the strength and energy one derives from the food will be utilized to benefit the world, then eating has been sublimated to an act of worship."  Meat has given us strength and energy.  With the hard labor we have had to undergo as humans, It's no  wonder we have depended on meat. For Jews, our sources have been listed in the bible under Kashrut law; cattle, sheep, goats, but not such animals as camels or pigs.  
Update: 3/31/16: It seems to me that Hummus and Pita; and Falafels are perfect for a vegan diet.  This is standard fare for Jews and Arabs in Israel.                

Resource: The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia
The Joys of Jewish Cooking by Stephen and Ethel Longstreet
Book: How Not to Die by Michael Greger, MD

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