Is a Vegetarian Diet Kosher?

November 3rd, 2016 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 15 comments

Question:

Are vegetarian/vegan diets considered kosher? Do many Jews follow vegetarian diets? Thanks in advance!

Brian

Answer: 

Dear Brian,

There is both a practical and philosophical answer to your question. Many of the laws of keeping kosher relate to the source of the food as well as the separation between meat and milk products. All fruits and vegetables are kosher, while beef, fish and poultry have many limitations. Dairy products, too, are not universally kosher.

Technically, that makes a vegan diet kosher by default and certainly makes it easier for a vegetarian diet to be kosher as well. Having said that, Jews who are very careful about keeping kosher will not eat in a vegan or vegetarian home or restaurant without more information. It is a complex area.

Then there is the philosophical side of the matter. In general, Judaism encourages meeting life’s challenges head on. Among those challenges is behaving in ways that clearly differentiate us from animals. That is what gives us the right to eat animal products. There are certainly notable and respected Jews who are vegetarians. For some it is a health decision and for some it is a deeply thought out decision. However, we would say that they are a minority among those Jews who do their best to follow the Torah.

Good eating,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

 

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15 comments

Barbara says:

Gross. Meeting challenges head on means eating animals? Really?
Plenty of animals eat other animals. That is not differentiating yourself.
While many people still crave and need to eat flesh, more and more people are freeing themselves from it.

Joan says:

There are plenty of examples in the Old Testament where meat was eaten and with God’s blessing…..there is nothing gross about it! There’s been studies done that indicate meat eaters live longer than vegetarians……meat a great source of protein and B vitamins!

Elayne says:

Barbara you statement implies two significant issues. First you have either rejected God’s roll for us as stewards and lowered people to no more than a rung on the food chain and for that you miss the vital roll of the omnivore and top level animals. To learn more research the importance of the reintroduction of the wolf in western US states. Secondly you have elevated animals beyond their position as equal or better than people, In so doing creating idols or gods of goats and cows. I believe you to be a spiritual person or you would not be getting these emails so I suggest you set aside the next week and focus time with God in prayer and Bible asking God for clarity on humans role and how God created the world and how the world really works. I believe confusion in other areas will be clarified as you take this issue to God seeking His truth about His creation. God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow and the Bible is to be taken as a whole not piecemeal. May God bless you.

Dale Trembley says:

@Barbara:

I think what you intended was to ask a further explaination of how the conclusion was drawn given these sentences: “In general, Judaism encourages meeting life’s challenges head on. Among those challenges is behaving in ways that clearly differentiate us from animals. That is what gives us the right to eat animal products. ”

I would be interested if that were expanded upon myself as I don’t see the connection being made either.

Best!

Susan Lapin says:

Thanks for letting us know that this wasn’t clear, Dale. In a very short answer, Noah and his descendants were given permission (encouragement) to eat meat after the Flood. Having saved the animals’ lives by making moral choices in an immoral world, they now could benefit from the animal world as long as they continued the purely human choice of acting not by instinct, but by deliberate choice – choices made in congruence with God’s directives.

Zojan says:

This is the first thing I have read by Rabbi Lapin that I didn’t feel comfortable with because the answer was not straight forward enough to my liking (too complicated and “loaded” with “exceptions.” I would have also liked to know the differences between halal and kosher. That being said, I do believe God gave us dominion over all things (also freewill). Peace.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thanks everyone! I see that we weren’t as clear on this very complex and extremely emotional topic as we should have been.
There are 4 levels of planetary existence. Mineral, vegetable, animal, human. Each should feed on the one below in order to raise potential. In other words, tomatoes exist by eating downwards, by consuming minerals like phosphates and nitrates in the ground. Cows consume greenery. But animals that eat horizontally, like wolves for instance,are never kosher in the Torah. This is partly why we have such revulsion for cannibalism. What’s so bad about eating dead people, especially if you weren’t even the one to do away with them? No, the natural Divine order of existence is eating downwards and thus elevating lower levels of existence to a higher potential. The only way, though that I am permitted to eat animals is if I AM NOT ONE MYSELF! If I am, then eating animals is eating horizontally–terrible. What is a human animal? Someone who runs his or her life on instinct and base desire. I do whatever I feel like doing. Pure animal. In certain ways, and meaning no disrespect to those who only eat vegetation, vegetarianism as an attempt at a moral statement is a sort of a cop-out. There are two ways to avoid eating horizontally. Making myself worthy of eating animals, or alternatively saying, “OK, I will simply avoid animal food thus removing from me the obligation to make of myself more than merely another biological entity–an animal. For this reason, ancient Jewish wisdom says that if you don’t particularly care for meat, fine, don’t eat it but once a week, every shabbat, go ahead and eat meat…Not a lot of it, but just enough to remember the obligation upon us to make the animals sacrifice meaningful. (This is also partly why we Jews are not allowed to hunt for sport. I hope this clarifies it a bit. Blessings

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Hi Zojan–
How wonderful to hear that you are not comfortable with this point. If everything we wrote here elicited from you nothing but heartfelt Amens and Hallelujas you’d be utterly wasting your time with us. Our mission is never to massage you with warm butter. We greatly admire individuals who can confront ideas with which they disagree and yet continue to analyze and probe them with an open mind and total intellectual honesty. We are enormously proud of having so many people like this among our readers and viewers http://www.tct.tv/watch-tct/on-demand-ajw
Cordially
RDL

Peter B. says:

Wow! What terrific clarification and explanation by both Rabbi and Susan Lapin. Your followup comments on the discussion surrounding this week’s Ask The Rabbi question both rate a “copy & paste” to my priceless collection of diamonds and pearls in Ancient Hebrew Wisdom. Thank you Rabbi and Susan for caring enough to go “back to the well” as it were, and for all that you do. May God continue to bless you richly.

p.s. – may I suggest that everybody needs a rabbi? OK, I think I may have heard that somewhere . . . maybe . . .

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Hello Peter–
I think I may just pick up on that “Everyone needs a rabbi”.
By the way, you may remember that I used to proclaim “Everyone needs a rabbi regardless of your faith, and those of you with no faith, why you REALLY need a rabbi” but Susan toned me down on that.
Happy Thanksgiving
Cordially
RDL

Dale Trembley says:

Susan and Daniel:

Thank you both for reading the comments and following up with the clarification.

Thanks also for the insight you offer here, in your CDs and in your podcasts.

You regularly astound me with pulling out what seem to only be small points and connecting them to much larger ideas, offering an understanding of scripture that truly is life-changing.

May God continue to bless you both as you bless your readers.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thank you Dale–
we are privileged to have been blessed with wonderful teachers into ancient Jewish wisdom and we merely allow you a glimpse into it just as a window allows me to peer into the palace. But the window itself should be invisible which, if it is clean, it will be. God save you from dirty windows.
RDL

Jed Chandler says:

I don’t understand the sense of obligation to eat animals. Permission, yes, but not obligation. I’m actually not Jewish by faith, but rather Catholic, and visit this site as a scholar of the Hebrew Bible and Jewish teachings. A Catholic and a vegan, and the reason for being a vegan is I don’t want animals sacrificed for me. I don’t want their deaths at my account, their suffering in grim cramped environments, their fear and inevitable pain at the abbatoir. I feel that all four strata you outline consitute a community of creation, and that the human imperative may be interpreted as being wardens of our community, not necessarily predators.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Jed–
thanks so much for visiting our site and for taking the time to write. Given the necessarily brief exchanges in this kind of venue, it might not be ideal for intellectual and spiritual interactions between a Catholic, vegan, scholar of the Bible and a rabbinic carnivore. However, it is just possible that your choice of identification provides a small clue into the issue.
You state your dietary preferences (vegan) immediately adjacent to your deepest spiritual and moral affiliation (Catholic). Eschewing the eating of meat always runs the risk of becoming elevated to a religion in itself. Trying to be more moral than God can often lead to folly.
I know how much I would enjoy a leisurely and deep dive into this topic with you but alas, time doesn’t allow. So meanwhile, thanks again and Bon Apetit!
Cordially
RDL

Maria Kosatschkow says:

Hello to my dear Rabbi Lapin. May I make a suggestion to Jed Chandler ? That he find grass fed, free range animal and animal products and organic produce. His diet is lacking grossly in nutrients we have yet to discover for God’s wisdom is deeper than we can know. I believe this is following Genesis for God does not make mistakes. Many qualified nutritionists, whom are also Doctors, do not recommend a vegan diet. Jed may find out ten years from now a mineral deficiency has caused a disease. God bless you Jed . Thank you , Rabbi Lapin, I pray the world would hear your Ancient Jewish Wisdom.

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