February 12, 2005

2/12/05 Special JVNA Newsletter

Shalom everyone,

This special update/Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) Online Newsletter responds to an article by Dennis Prager, a long-time foe of efforts to promote vegetarianism and animal rights in the Jewish community and other communities. I think that it is essential that we challenge the hypocrisy and, in some cases, mean spiritedness of people like Prager who use Jewish values to promote the continuation of conditions that are so contrary to Jewish values.

Please use the material below and your own ideas to respond to WorldNetDaily (letters@worldnetdaily.com) and to Dennis Prager (tpp@dennisprager.com).

The newsletter has the following items:

1. Dennis Prager’s Article

2. Dennis Prager’s Article, With My Comments Interspersed

3. My Letter to the Editor

4. Article by Me and Rabbi Dovid Sears, “Religion: Friend or Foe of Animal Activism”

Opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the JVNA, unless otherwise indicated, but may be presented to increase awareness and/or to encourage respectful dialogue.

As always, your comments and suggestions are very welcome.


1. Dennis Prager’s Article

The case for Judeo-Christian values, part 4
By Dennis Prager
Posted: February 8, 2005
© 2005 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

Since Prager’s article is below, with my comments interspersed, and since you can read the complete article using the URL above, I have decided, based on a suggestion, to not include the article here.

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2. Dennis Prager’s Article, With My Comments Interspersed

[My interspersed comments are preceded and followed by ***.]

The case for Judeo-Christian values, part 4
By Dennis Prager
Posted: February 8, 2005
© 2005 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

Would you first save the dog you love or a stranger if both were drowning? The answer depends on your value system.

*** Prager ignores the real moral issues related to the mistreatment of animals, our diets, and threats to our imperiled planet by shifting attention to a situation that, fortunately, few of us will face. The reality is that our mistreatment of animals is generally harmful to human beings, as well as animals. ***

One of the most obvious and significant differences between secular and Judeo-Christian values concerns human worth. One of the great ironies of secular humanism is that it devalues the worth of human beings.

*** I believe in Jewish values and I believe that the problems the world faces today is that so many societal practices are so contrary to Jewish values. But, I do not believe that a blanket statement can be made that secular humanism devalues the worth of human beings. ***

As ironic as it may sound, the God-based Judeo-Christian value system renders man infinitely more valuable and significant than any humanistic value system.

*** This may be true in theory, but not necessarily in practice. Please consider the support of many religious people for President Bush, who is giving major tax breaks to the wealthy, while cutting programs that help veterans, students, the environment, and poor and middle class people. “Judeo-Christian” values point to humans as partners with God in preserving the environment; yet, Bush, who openly professes how much religion means to him, gets an F on the environment from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), the first time the group has given that grade to a president or presidential candidate. Bush also is ignoring global warming, although most climate scientists and politicians like Tony Blair are urging immediate steps to reduce global warming. ***

The reason is simple: Only if there is a God who created man is man worth anything beyond the chemicals of which he is composed.

*** This is arguable. Certainly, Judaism and other religions stress the infinite value of human beings, but many who do not profess religious belief have been strong supporters of human rights. ***

Judeo-Christian religions hold that human beings are created in the image of God.

*** Yes, so shouldn’t we emulate the positive attributes of God, whose “mercies are over all of His creatures”? Please see the article by me and Rabbi Dovid Sears at the end of this newsletter, which argues that the Jewish teaching that people are created in God’s image and other teachings from Genesis can be used as the basis of Jewish involvement to end the mistreatment of animals. ***

If we are not, we are created in the image of carbon dioxide. Which has a higher value is not difficult to determine.

Contemporary secular society has rendered human beings less significant than at any time in Western history.

*** There is certainly much to criticize re contemporary secular society, and people who take religious values seriously should be among the strongest critics. Yet, all too often, religion does not play its prophetic role of challenging conditions inconsistent with religious values. Unfortunately, sometimes it is materialistic values, rather than religious values, that are most important, even for religiously observant people. Unfortunately also, religion is defined too narrowly today, and one can be considered religious even if he or she ignores how society is devastating the environment, mistreating animals, and taking actions that are increasing the gaps between the wealthy and the poor.***

First, the secular denial that human beings are created in God's image has led to humans increasingly being equated with animals. That is why over the course of 30 years of asking high-school seniors if they would first try to save their dog or a stranger, two-thirds have voted against the person. They either don't know what they would do or actually vote for their dog. Many adults now vote similarly.

*** Once again, a false choice is being proposed. The real choice is generally between actions that are very harmful to both people and animals and actions that are beneficial to both. Prager is ignoring Judaism’s many powerful teachings on compassion to animals.***

Why? There are two reasons. One is that with the denial of the authority of higher values such as biblical teachings, people increasingly make moral decisions on the basis of how they feel.

*** Why does Prager and so many others who profess religious values ignore the many ways that animal-based diets and modern intensive animal agriculture violate basic Jewish teachings? For a discussion of Jewish teachings on the proper treatment of animals and the necessity of preserving our health, please see my articles in the animals section and the health section at JewishVeg.com/schwartz. ***

And since probably all people feel more for their dog than they do for a stranger, many people without a moral instruction manual simply choose to do what they feel.

*** What is the moral instruction manual that enables Prager to ignore how the mistreatment of animals generally violates the Jewish mandate to avoid causing any unnecessary harm to animals? ***

The other reason is that secular values provide no basis for elevating human worth over that of an animal. Judeo-Christian values posit that human beings, not animals, are created in God's image and, therefore, human life is infinitely more sacred than animal life.

*** Then why does Prager ignore the epidemic of diet-related disease that is afflicting so many people, and the fact that an estimated 20 million people die annually of hunger and its effects, while 70% of the grain produced in the US is used to fatten animals for slaughter? Also, once again Prager ignores Judaism’s strong teachings re compassion to animals.***

That is why people estranged from Judeo-Christian values (including some Christians) support programs such as "Holocaust on Your Plate," the PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) campaign that teaches that there is no difference between the slaughtering of chickens and the slaughtering of the Jews in the Holocaust. A human and a chicken are of equal worth.

*** I and the JVNA have been critical of PETA’s “Holocaust on Your Plate” campaign and other actions of animal rights groups (Please see my article “Towards a Winning Animal Rights Strategy,” at JewishVeg.com/schwartz.) Jews should be actively involved in striving to end the present vast mistreatment of animals, not because of the arguments of animal rights groups, but because Judaism mandates such involvement, something that Prager and many others completely ignore. Animals should not have to suffer & be denied protection because of the excesses of groups like PETA. Also, one of the lessons of the Holocaust should be that “never again” should we acquiesce in the mentality and actions behind the Holocaust that are currently having very negative effects on both people and animals. ***

That is why a Tucson, Ariz., woman last year screamed to firefighters that her "babies" were in her burning house. Thinking that the woman's children were trapped inside, the firemen risked their lives to save the woman's three cats.

Those inclined to dismiss these examples as either theoretical (the dog-stranger question) or extreme (the Tucson mother of cats) need to confront the very real question of animal experimentation to save human lives. More and more people believe as PETA does that even if we could find a cure for cancer or AIDS, it would be wrong to experiment on animals.

*** The realities are that a shift in diets and other positive lifestyle changes would save many lives today and that animal experimentation is poor science that has produced many misleading results because of species differences and because artificially inducing disease in animals does not always properly model human disease. If a drug is beneficial for a cat, dies that mean that it will be beneficial for a dog? It is time that Prager and others recognize that we could have a far more effective health care system and save many lives and reduce the number of people suffering from disease by shifting away from a system based on attempting to cure people with drugs produced from faulty science, a system that is contributing to record budget deficits, to a system that takes dietary changes and other methods of preventing diseases far more seriously. ***

(The defense that research with computers can teach all that experiments on animals teach is a lie.)

*** This is certainly debatable, and most medical schools have ended their use of animals for medical training. ***

In fact, many animal-rights advocates oppose killing a pig to obtain a heart valve to save a human life.

*** Perhaps, but they favor something far more effective: dietary changes that would sharply reduce the need for drastic medical procedures, such as using heart valves from pigs. ***

Belief in human-animal equivalence inevitably follows the death of Judeo-Christian values, and it serves not so much to elevate animal worth as to reduce human worth. Those who oppose vivisection and believe it is immoral to kill animals for any reason, including eating, should reflect on this: While there are strong links between cruelty to animals and cruelty to humans, there are no links between kindness to animals and kindness to humans.

*** Yet, some of the greatest humanitarians, such as Ghandi, Tolstoy, George Bernard Shaw, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, have been strong animal rights advocates. Also, since Prager admits that there are strong links between cruelty to animals and cruelty to humans, shouldn’t we try to reduce the cruelty to animals? ***

Kindness to animals has no effect on a person's treatment of people. The Nazis, the cruelest group in modern history, were also the most pro-animal-rights group prior to the contemporary period. They outlawed experimentation on animals and made legal experimentation on human beings.

*** As Rynn Berry documents in his recent book, “Hitler: Neither Vegetarian Nor Animal Lover,” there are many misconceptions re the Nazis and their views on animals. Vegetarian organizations were outlawed by the Nazis, and there was widespread killing of livestock by the Germans in retaliation for resistance activities in the East, for example. ***

The second reason that the breakdown of Judeo-Christian values leads to a diminution of human worth is that if man was not created by God, the human being is mere stellar dust – and will come to be regarded as such. Moreover, people are merely the products of random chance, no more designed than a sand grain formed by water erosion. That is what the creationism-evolution battle is ultimately about – human worth.

*** Once again, helping animals generally also helps people, and if Prager is so concerned about human worth, why doesn’t he support a diet that would reduce human disease, environmental devastation that very negatively affects humans, and hunger? ***

One does not have to agree with creationists or deny all evolutionary evidence to understand that the way evolution is taught, man is rendered a pointless product of random forces – unworthy of being saved before one's hamster.

*** This seems like a vast exaggeration, and certainly most people who believe in evolution, which can be taught consistent with Jewish teachings, do not have such a low regard for people.
In summary, Prager tries to change the subject because he cannot address the real moral issues related to our mistreatment of animals. He (and others) deserve to be challenged, because in many ways the fate of humanity and our precious planet is at stake. But, he most likely will not take up our challenge. He prefers to set up “straw men” and then knock them down, rather than really addressing the moral issues. ***

Dennis Prager, one of America's most respected and popular nationally syndicated radio talk-show hosts, is the author of several books and a frequent guest on TV shows such as "Larry King Live," "The O'Reilly Factor" and "Hannity & Colmes."

*** I have challenged Prager to a discussion/debate. Please contact him and urge him to engage in a public debate with us. Many thanks. ***

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3. My Letter to the Editor

Editor, WorldNetDaily

Dear editor,

Dennis Prager asserts correctly that Judaism teaches that only humans are created in God’s image (“The case for Judeo-Christian values, part 4”), but he ignores Judaism’s strong teachings on compassion to animals, and that our being created in God’s image should lead us to imitate the positive attributes of God, “whose mercies are over all of his creatures” (Psalms 145:9). He ignores the Jewish teaching that the righteous person considers the lives of his or her animals (Proverbs 12:10).

Prager properly argues that we should live according to “higher values such as biblical teachings,” but he does not consider the major inconsistencies between basic religious values and the realities of modern livestock agriculture and the consumption of animal products:

1) While Judaism mandates that people be very careful about preserving their health and their lives, animal-centered diets have been linked to heart disease, several forms of cancer, stroke, and other degenerative diseases.

2) While Judaism stresses that people are to share their bread with hungry people, 70% of the grain grown in the United States is fed to animals destined for slaughter, as an estimated 20 million people die annually because of hunger and its effects.

3) While Judaism teaches that "the earth is the Lord’s" and that people are to be partners with God in preserving the world and seeing that the earth’s resources are properly used, animal-based diets require the wasteful use of food, land, water, energy, and other resources, and contribute substantially to soil erosion and depletion, air and water pollution, the destruction of tropical rain forests and other habitats, and global warming, and many additional environmental threats.

4) While Judaism emphasizes compassion for animals, animals are generally raised for food today under cruel conditions, in crowded cells, where they are denied fresh air, exercise, and any emotional stimulation.

5) While Judaism stresses that people must seek and pursue peace and that violence results from unjust conditions, animal-centered diets, by wasting valuable resources, help to perpetuate the widespread hunger and poverty that often lead to instability and war.

I would welcome a response from Dennis Prager to the following question: In view of strong Jewish mandates to preserve health, help feed the hungry, protect the environment, conserve resources, be compassionate to animals, and seek and pursue peace, and the very negative effects animal-centered diets have in each of these areas, shouldn’t Jews and others who take religious values seriously consider switching toward vegetarian diets?

While Prager makes many misleading statements, I will discuss only one. When Prager advocates the use of animal experimentation to save human lives, he doesn’t consider that that far more lives can be saved by dietary changes and other positive lifestyle changes and that experiments on animals sometimes produce misleading results because of species differences and the fact that the artificial inducement of diseases in animals does not always properly model human diseases.

Very truly yours,
Richard H. Schwartz

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4. Article by Me and Rabbi Dovid Sears, “Religion: Friend or Foe of Animal Activism”

Religion: Friend or Foe of Animal Activism
by Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D. and Rabbi Dovid Sears

Many animal activists regard organized religion as an ideological opponent. Concerning Judaism, this negative presumption is largely due to the misunderstanding of two important biblical verses that, when properly conceived, actually endorse the struggle to improve conditions for animals.

The first misunderstanding is that the biblical teaching that humans are granted dominion over animals gives us a warrant to treat them in whatever way we may wish. Jewish tradition interprets "dominion" as guardianship, or stewardship, not domination: we are called upon to be co-workers with God in improving the world. This biblical mandate does not mean that people have the right to wantonly exploit animals, and it certainly does not permit us to breed animals and then treat them as machines designed solely to meet human needs.

In "A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace," Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel and a leading 20th century Jewish thinker, states: "There can be no doubt in the mind of any intelligent person that [the Divine empowerment of humanity to derive benefit from nature] does not mean the domination of a harsh ruler, who afflicts his people and servants merely to satisfy his whim and desire, according to the crookedness of his heart. It is unthinkable that the Divine Law would impose such a decree of servitude, sealed for all eternity, upon the world of God, Who is 'good to all, and His mercy is upon all his works' (Psalms 145:9), and Who declared, 'The world shall be built with kindness' (Psalms 89:33)."

This view is reinforced by the fact that immediately after God gave humankind dominion over animals (Genesis 1:26), He prescribed vegetarian foods as the diet best suited to humans (Genesis 1:29). This mandate is almost immediately followed by God's declaration that all of Creation was "very good" (Genesis 1:31). Perhaps this indicates that Adam and Eve's original vegetarian diet was consistent with the stewardship that God entrusted to them and to all humankind.

The second error of some animal activists is the presumption that the biblical teaching that only people are created in the Divine Image means that God places little or no value on animals. While the Torah states that only human beings are created "in the Divine Image" (Genesis 1:27, 5:1), animals are also God's creatures, possessing sensitivity and the capacity for feeling pain. God is concerned that they are protected and treated with compassion and justice. In fact, the Jewish sages state that to be "created in the Divine Image," means that people have the capacity to emulate the Divine compassion for all creatures. "As God is compassionate," they teach, "so you should be compassionate."

A rabbinic teaching that we should imitate God is Hama bar Hanina's interpretation of the verse, "After the Lord your God you shall walk" (Deuteronomy 13: 5): "How can man walk after God?" the ancient sage queries. "Is He not called a 'consuming fire'? Rather, what is meant is that man ought to emulate the attributes of God. Just as God clothes the naked, so you shall clothe the naked. Just as God visits the sick, so you shall visit the sick. Just as God comforts the bereaved, so you shall comfort the bereaved. Just as He buries the dead, so you shall bury the dead."

In his classic work Ahavat Chesed ("The Love of Kindness"), the revered Chafetz Chayim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan of Radin) discusses this teaching at length. He writes that whoever emulates the Divine love and compassion to all creatures "will bear the stamp of God on his person." Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a leading 19th century Jewish thinker, also discusses this concept: "You can know God only through His acts of love and justice; and, in turn, you too are called upon to act with love and justice." Concerning the biblical concept that human beings were created to "serve and safeguard the earth" (Genesis 2:15), Rabbi Hirsch states that this actually limits our rights over other living things. He writes: "The earth was not created as a gift to you. You have been given to the earth, to treat it with respectful consideration, as God's earth, and everything on it as God's creation, as your fellow creatures - to be respected, loved, and helped to attain their purpose according to God's will... To this end, your heartstrings vibrate sympathetically with any cry of distress sounding anywhere in Creation, and with any glad sound uttered by a joyful creature."

In summation, as the Lord is our shepherd, we are to be shepherds of voiceless creatures. As God is kind and compassionate to us, we must be considerate of the needs and feelings of animals. To this we may add that by showing compassion to animals through a vegetarian diet, we help fulfill the commandment to imitate God's ways.

Critics of religion may be correct in asserting that the various religious communities are not doing enough to end the many horrible abuses of animals today. However, the correct response to this failure is not to scorn and repudiate religion altogether, but as much as possible to enlist the religious world in the common cause of eliminating the cruel misuses of animals.

Jewish tradition clearly forbids any display of cruelty toward animals. In Hebrew, this is called tza'ar ba'alei chayim, the biblical mandate not to cause "pain to any living creature." In contrast to this, Psalms 104 and 148 bespeak the worthiness of the animals of the field, creatures of the sea, and birds of the air before their Creator. Psalm 104 depicts God as "giving drink to every beast of the field," and "causing grass to spring up for the cattle." Perhaps the Jewish attitude toward animals is best summarized by Proverbs 12:10: "The righteous person regards the life of his or her animal." In his explanation of this verse, the Malbim, a 19th century biblical commentator, explained that the righteous person understands the nature of the animal, and hence provides food at the proper time, and according to the amount needed. He is also careful not to overwork the animal. According to the Malbim, the tzaddik (righteous person) acts according to the laws of justice. Not only does he act according to these laws with human beings, but also with animals.

In conclusion, it would be a tragic mistake for animal activists to dismiss the various religious communities as unconcerned with the plight of animals. Rather, we all should seek ways to transcend our philosophical differences, and find a common ground on which we may stand together for the benefit of animals and humankind.

Rabbi Dovid Sears is the director of the New York-based Breslov Center for Spirituality and Inner Growth. His comprehensive anthology of original translations and essays entitled “The Vision of Eden: Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and Mysticism,” was published by OROT in 2003. His previous books include “Compassion for Humanity in the Jewish Tradition,” “The Path of the Baal Shem Tov: Early Chasidic Teachings and Customs,” and “The Flame of the Heart: Prayers of a Chasidic Mystic.”

Richard H. Schwartz is Professor Emeritus, Mathematics, College of Staten Island , and the author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, and Mathematics and Global Survival. He has over 100 articles on the Internet at
jewishveg.com/schwartz. His e-mail address is rschw12345@aol.com.

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