Is a Vegetarian Diet Kosher?

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

 

27 thoughts on “Is a Vegetarian Diet Kosher?”

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

    1. Raquel Fehlberg

      Disagreed. All we need we can find in plants. God only allowed eat meet because there was no green ( plant) available to eat back there.
      If you choose to eat meet, do it, but don’t try to excuse yourself.

      1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

        Dear Raquel–
        Thanks for writing but we disagree with you. No excuse is needed for eating meat, from a perspective of Biblical morality. Actually it is part of distinguishing ourselves from the animal world which is an essential element in human elevation.
        Cordially
        RDL

        1. How many meat eaters would be willing to watch the animals they plan on eating get slaughtered? If one cannot bring one’s self to watch, perhaps they should not eat it, If there is nothing wrong or gross about eating animal flesh, perhaps your children should also watch the death of one they intend to ingest. For something that is not wrong nor gross it sure is hidden. Why? Why don’t meat eaters visit slaughter houses just to see what their money pays for? How many meat eaters even know where a slaughter house is?

          1. Why do people get so upset and judgmental about what other people choose to do? If you decide not to eat meat that’s your choice it doesn’t have to be anyone else’s. That is a controlling person which is a horrible characteristic. People have the right to choose to eat whatever it is that they choose to eat. Giving an opinion is one thing but actually telling someone what they should or should not do is just controlling. As a registered nurse I have learned that on a strict vegetarian or vegan diet you will not get all the essential proteins/amino acids that cells need. Supplements are necessary. If that’s what a person want that’s their choice. I personally listen to my body and I know what my body needs. I may not eat meat everyday but I do include it in my diet. When I exclude it I become anemic, vitamin D and B12 deficient and supplements don’t work well for me. Even with nuts daily and beans my iron and red blood cells diminish. I personally get my labs checked yearly and I don’t play with my health. Also, I had an uncle that was a strict vegetarian, very healthy lean and in shape. His BMI contained the minimal fat percentage. He jogged almost everyday. He dropped dead one day on one of his daily jogs at age 50. For the longest the doctor could not determine what the problem was. It was later
            determined to be a deficiency in his lab work. Although he appeared to be healthy he was not. The same happened to his wife about 15 years earlier. Her vitamin levels ran low for a while specifically D and B12 and she developed breast cancer. Vitamin D plays an important role in cell development as many vitamins do. God created animals for a reason. They help sustain human life. Long ago this was how people survived during winter by using the fur and skin from animals. Today you have all these people against using animals as a resource and using vegan leather and Sherpa. In my opinion it’s stupid. You will freeze to death if ever stranded in a blizzard with that crap. It’s cheap man made materials. Nothing can ever be better than what God created. This is what is natural. Nothing will keep you warm like what God created for you to be kept warm in. I do believe that if your going to use an animal for consumption or for clothing the animal should be slaughtered properly. This is the way God intended like it or not. Even the plants that vegans and vegetarians eat are grown using some sort of animal source because dirt is nothing other than dead decayed creatures that have passed through time. This is why bones are found in soil. This is all the circle of life. There is no true vegetarian or vegan. If it makes a person feel better that they didn’t take part in eating an animal that was slaughtered great but why get angry about those that eat animals? Be happy with your choice. Animals eat each other, all life ends at some point should we just bury the animal and not use the resources? There’s nothing like a warm leather coat on a cold day but everyone has cars now so they talk about what makes absolutely no sense.

  3. 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.

  4. @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!

    1. 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.

  5. 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.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      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

      1. Animals that eat horizontally are never kosher in the Torah? By that logic, fish shouldn’t be kosher. Fish eat other fish. Salmon, tuna, etc…

        1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

          Hello Amy-
          Fish are in a separate category since as Susan alluded to above, Noah did nothing to save fish or any sea creatures from the flood.
          Cordially
          RDL

    2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      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

  6. 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 . . .

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      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

  7. 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.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      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

  8. 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.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      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

  9. Maria Kosatschkow

    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.

  10. Oy vey… some people do not like to consume flesh, get over it! There is nothing about it that is us trying to be more moral than G-d. I keep pescatarian because mammal flesh grosses me out and it makes my stomach happier than it was previously. I simply want to keep kosher & my budget won’t allow for meat anyway!

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      That instruction Kristie,
      Was explicitly to Adam and Eve. Later Noah and his children were permitted meat after the flood.
      Cordially
      RDL

  11. Darryl ALEXANDER Flood

    Is it unusual to abstain from meat and fish during certain times of the year? I have spent the last few High Holy Days vegetarian (and alcohol-free) to prepare for the Fast. I want to know if I am a freak for doing all of this, because I want those Days to be appreciably different than any other time of the year

    1. Darryl, however you choose to eat, we hope that the use of the word freak has a gentler implication than it does in our vocabulary. It’s never o.k. in our book to call anyone, even oneself, a freak. In a traditional Jewish view wine is sanctified as a part of a holiday celebration (though grape juice can be used) and meat and fish are encouraged on those days while it’s perfectly fine to abstain from them on non-Sabbath and holiday days. So, just about the opposite of what you are choosing to do. However, there is nothing written in stone and the main idea is that festive meals should be nicer than and a step above non-festive meals.

  12. Hello, how about Daniel and when he abstained from meat? How does this fit into the obligation to eat meat? I always learned that we are allowed to eat meat if certain rules are followed but not obligated to eat meat.

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