[The opinions expressed in these essays do not necessarily reflect the position of ARAUNY.]
Rabbi Gellman’s syndicated column appears in the Saturday edition of the Buffalo News. In the March 20th column a question was posed:
I think it’s time to encourage Christians and Jews to be vegetarians. The Fifth Commandment says, “Thou shalt not kill.” If God meant only people, He would have said so. What part of “Not Kill” don’t people understand? – C. Cyberspace (Buffalo News)
Rabbi Gellman answers that the Bible was written in Hebrew, not English. The Hebrew word used in the Commandment is ratzach, which means to “murder,” not haraq, the word for killing. Murder refers to human beings only, not animals. Professor Richard Schwartz, President Emeritus of Jewish Vegetarians of North America has written that even though the Commandment means “Thou shalt not murder,” it can still be used as an argument for vegetarianism because it may be considered to mean “thou shalt not kill unnecessarily.” He writes that many nutritional studies have shown that a person does not need to eat animal products in order to be adequately nourished and people are generally healthier eating a plant-based diet with vitamin supplementation to ensure adequate Vitamin B-12.
Rabbi Gellman then presents a number of compelling arguments in favor of vegetarianism: The “strongest argument…is the clear fact that animals feel pain and it’s wrong to cause needless pain to an innocent sentient being.” He also cites the pain and suffering of “meat animals” long before they’re slaughtered, ecological devastation due to grazing animals, immense waste produced, and grain fed to animals that could be used to feed hungry humans, and the saturated fat so harmful to human health. That would have been a great column!
However, his case against vegetarianism is curious. “We’re clearly carnivorous animals evolved to eat meat,” and claims that “our canine teeth are different than the crushing molars of grazing animals…we don’t have two stomachs evolved to eat grasses…sugar and corn syrup cause us far more health concerns than eating animal protein.”
In fact, our teeth, facial configuration and our method of mastication are consistent with those of herbivorous mammals, not carnivores. Dr. Milton Mills, graduate of Stanford University College of Medicine and Washington, D.C. internist, has authored an extensive article, The Comparative Anatomy of Eating that explores this subject in detail. Humans have no need for multiple-chambered stomachs when their diet consists of soft vegetation. We possess small stomachs with long, small intestines in order to ensure proper digestion. Dr. Richard Leakey, the renowned anthropologist and conservationist has stated, “you can’t tear flesh by hand, you can’t tear hide by hand. Our anterior teeth are not suited for tearing flesh or hide. We don’t have large canine teeth, and we wouldn’t have been able to deal with food sources that require those large canines.”
As for sugar and corn syrup causing more health problems than animal protein—we don’t dispute the dangers of high fructose corn syrup which is found in soda pop and many processed foods and has been indicated as a contributing factor in obesity and diabetes. Is it more harmful than animal protein? Studies have shown time and time again that it’s animal protein and fat as the cause of our increasing incidences of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and many other health-related problems. A new study published March 4, 2015 by Valter Longo, Professor of Biogerontology and Director of the USC Longevity Institute declares: “A Diet of Animal Protein Could be as Harmful as Smoking.”
“If we decide that animals are full and complete bearers of moral rights, then we have no right to domesticate them and use them for hard work, put them in zoos, or hold them prisoners as pets.” Totally agree, Rabbi Gellman!
“Animals are important creations of God, but they are not ensouled beings made in the image of God. Animals are not on our level of moral rights.” This is the kind of thinking from our religious leaders that allows people to justify using animals for our own use, for eating animal flesh and for viewing animals as inferior beings. The argument whether animals have souls could be debated ad nauseum; but the fact remains—animals raised for food suffer. They suffer every day of their lives. Even though Rabbi Gellman concludes his article, “God sets before us many levels of moral virtue and we can choose the higher path even if we’re not commanded to do so,” leaving the decision to eat meat up to the reader, we believe he missed an opportunity to inform them that yes, follow a vegetarian diet for your health, for the planet, and for the animals. As Will Tuttle so beautifully wrote in his landmark The World Peace Diet,
As guardians and vehicles of our spiritual impulses and teachings, our religious institutions have a profound obligation to speak on behalf of all beings who are voiceless and vulnerable, and to the degree they fail in this obligation, they betray their mission and become enablers of terror and oppression. Willfully neglecting to defend innocent lives from cruelty is immoral action, and by its failures religion has forfeited its mandate and dissipated its credibility as an authentic moral or spiritual authority.
To Rabbi Gellman—the Bible says “God exists not only in man but in everything that lives.”