Interview with Jewish Animal Welfare Expert Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz

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Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Founder & CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute, President & Dean of Valley Beit Midrash, and Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek.

Rabbi Yanklowitz’s writings have appeared in outlets as diverse as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic and the Huffington Post, among many other secular and religious publications. Rabbi Yanklowitz is a sought-after educator, social justice activist, and motivational speaker as well as the author of ten books on Jewish spirituality, social justice and ethics.

He has twice been named one of America’s Top Rabbis by Newsweek. In 2016, The Forward named Rabbi Shmuly one of “The Most Inspiring Rabbis” in America and, also in 2016, the Forward named him one of “The Most Influential Jews” in America.

Why do food choices matter?

Food choices matter because they are the most consistent, ethical decision we make throughout our day; every day, we eat multiple times and what we choose to consume affects us. The other reason that our food choices matter is that it affects human health; this affects our well-being, our families. It affects workers, it affects animals, and, ultimately, it affects the environment.

You and your wife became vegan on your wedding day; what was important about taking this step as a couple?

Interview with Jewish Animal Welfare Expert Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz

We felt that our personal commitments were only sustainable if it was done in partnership. We wanted to build a home together that represented our values.

What are some highlights from Jewish thought about eating?

The main aspect of Jewish thought in the realm is that we are required by the tradition to make a bracha, a blessing, before every act of food consumption. That blessing is a moment of pause to connect spiritually, feel gratitude, and ensure that we’re eating and living by our values.

What are some highlights from Jewish law and Jewish ethics about health?

Interview with Jewish Animal Welfare Expert Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz

The Torah commands that we guard our health. The first commandment in the Torah is not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The failure of Adam and Eve to obey this simple command in their consumption led to human mortality. The birth of moral consciousness occurred at the first act of food consumption in human history. It could be said that ethics and eating are more interconnected than any other act.

What are some highlights from Jewish law and Jewish ethics about animals?

In Jewish law, there is a prohibition called Tza’ar ba’alei chayim, that we should not be cruel to animals. Dozens of times throughout the Torah, animal welfare concerns emerge. Indeed, we pray to God to act mercifully towards human beings and we are to emulate that merciful Being by acting mercifully towards creatures ourselves.

How does Jewish law or Jewish Ethics influence your decision not to eat animal products (meat and dairy)?

I would say that there is a general Torah mandate to reduce suffering in the world. While Jewish law certainly permits the consumption of animal products, within kosher guidelines, it’s not clear that permission would apply to the horrific conditions of factory farming today. And it’s also not clear that it would apply under any conditions when we have alternative food sources as we do today.

What are the health benefits (physical/emotional/mental) you notice from abstaining from eating animal products?

I don’t experience any short-term physical benefits when I eat vegan junk-food, but when I eat a healthy plant-based diet (which excludes sugar and oil) then I notice a major impact. I have lost weight. I feel more emotionally balanced and happier and I am more spiritually rooted and aligned with my deepest values as a vegan.

What spiritual benefits do you enjoy from being vegan?

I feel most spiritually fulfilled when I feel that I’m taking strides in living according to my highest values. I feel closer to G-d when I emulate G-d’s compassionate ways.

Why did you start an institute to educate others about veganism instead of settling for just changing your own lifestyle?

We [The founders of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute and I] realized that countless Jews shared the values of compassion and animal welfare but didn’t have consistent support or inspiration. We also realized that many had not been educated at all as to the Jewish positions on such matters. A movement that could really create change was needed.

What kind of resources does your institute offer for men and women who want to be vegan?

The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute offers many resources for those who want to deepen their commitment to animal welfare. We offer a campus fellowship for college students, host an annual spirituality retreat for people of all ages, host a variety of downloadable source sheets on our website which people can access for free, and we have a listserv for Jewish vegetarians and vegans to help them build community.

How can Jews who don’t want to be fully vegan help reduce animal suffering and improve their nutritional health?

Our primary education work is not about persuading people to follow a vegan lifestyle as much as it is baby steps towards meat reductionism. We are pro-vegan but understand and appreciate there are often many steps to be taken to get there.

What do you say to people who insist that Jewish people are religiously obligated to eat meat for Shabbat dinner, or during any other occasion?

It is clear from the halakhic (Jewish legal) sources that one who doesn’t get enjoyment from meat consumption is not obligated to consume it.

What are some ideas about food that are no longer serving us?

One idea is that authentic Jewish foods are the ones that our grandparents served us as kids. So, an authentic Jewish meal must include brisket, gefilte fish, and chicken soup for example. But the horrors behind their production—including factories that supply kosher meat all over the world — have been well-established at this point and aren’t serving ethically-minded Jews, and people generally, as they should be.

What is it that keeps you motivated and excited to do this work?

I dream of a day when the Jewish community is on the forefront of creating global change on this issue. That keeps me motivated in this work and informs my attitude towards continuing to educate and advocate on this critical issue.

For men and women who want more resources on this topic, what books would you recommend?

There a few books I would point people to. The first is Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran-Foer, an examination of how people are to reconcile with the phenomenon of eating animal flesh for sustenance. I’d also point to the work of Dr. Richard H. Schwartz, a leading thinker in the field of Jewish vegetarianism who wrote some of the definitive academic books on the subject, including Judaism and Vegetarianism among others.
I’d like to add some books that I’ve I have worked on in this subject. Last year, I edited a volume of general thought titled The Jewish Vegan which includes many different perspectives of what it means to follow an intertwining path of Judaism and veganism. The book includes articles from thinkers and activists like Princeton Professor Peter Singer, actress Dr. Mayim Bialik, and HSUS VP Paul Shapiro. Also, coming soon in the next year will be an academic work that I’m co-editing which collects essays from leading academics and further explores the intellectual realms of Jewish thought and vegan living.

Tell me in your comments, what is the most important idea you learned from reading this interview?

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What Is In Your Pantry, Jessica Grosman?

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What’s in Your Pantry? is a recurring feature where I ask women to tell us more about their food and eating habits by opening up their kitchen pantries to us. This week I’m featuring Jessica Grosman.

Jessica Grosman is a Registered Dietitian, culinary nutrition educator and recipe developer.

How do you typically feel, emotionally, when you open your kitchen pantry?

Opening my pantry can be overwhelming; there are so many different options “screaming” to me on each shelf!  I try to remain focused, but often I get distracted and start looking at different products that I’ve bought or brought back from vacations.

What’s your process for organizing your food pantry?

Each shelf in my pantry has a theme. For example, I have a shelf that has all tomato products and pastas, one has all of my teas, and another has many different kinds of canned and dried beans. When I’m in the mood to cook without a recipe, I open my pantry and look at each shelf, to determine which items will taste good together.

What’s inside your pantry right now?

Jessica Grosman what's in your pantry?

My pantry always has lots of non-perishable ingredients, so I can make a nourishing meal at any time.

Right now, I have:

What’s the healthiest item that you keep in stock?

Coconut Oil. And tahini, lots of tahini!

What about your guilty pleasure that you always have on hand?

What's In Your Pantry, Jessica Grosman?

Dark Chocolate. I love deep flavorful dark chocolate and collect bars when I travel from all over the world. I enjoy a bite or two every day. My favorite chocolate bars in the US right now are from Antidote and Theo.

Some of my most favorite bars are from London. I have a chocolate pen pal who lives in London. We “met” in the summer of 2015 when we both commented on the same post on Instagram. We started following each other and eventually began corresponding by email. We decided that it would be fun to send each other a package of our favorite chocolate bars and became chocolate pen pals!

Compared to your mother, how is your pantry the same or different from what you grew up with?

My pantry is very different from the one that I grew up with. I was raised in the 80s-90s in the Midwest and although my mom always cooked dinner for our family, she stocked her pantry with prepared foods and convenience foods.

My pantry is stocked with ingredients I use daily for cooking meals. I also keep an herb and spice collection in my pantry. When I travel I always buy herbs and spices for my collection.  Except for crackers, pretzels, and a few cans of soup, there are no convenience foods found in my pantry.

If you could change anything about how your pantry is now, what would it be?
I really like my pantry. I’m lucky to have a large kitchen with a variety of storage areas.

In your comments, share with us your guilty pantry pleasure!

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Dear Jewish Food Hero: I am worried that my son is getting fat.

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I am worried my son is gaining weight

Dear Jewish Food Hero:

My son is 13 years old and his body is changing.  I worry that he is getting fat. I know better than to fat shame him. I remind myself that he is 13 and his hormones are changing and he is eating an American teen diet.

I grapple with the battle between my middle school-self and my adult nutrition knowing self. Sometimes, it feels difficult to know which part of me is taking the wheel?

I want to trust he’ll grow out of it soon. I want not to care whether he’ll be attractive, but I do.

I’d like to trust his body and him. The challenge is to not get on myself for not cooking/offering him only “good” food.

Do you think this worry is a Jewish Mother thing?

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What’s In Your Pantry, Danya Shults?

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What's in your pantry Danya Shults

What’s in Your Pantry? is a recurring feature where I ask women to tell us more about their food and eating habits by opening up their kitchen pantries to us. This week I’m featuring Danya Shults.

Danya is the founder of Arq, a lifestyle brand and platform inspired by Jewish culture and open to all

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My Favorite Touristy Thing To Do In Haifa

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my-favorite-touristy-thing-to-do-in-haifa-jewish-food-hero-600x900

When I travel, I try to explore and enjoy the local vegan food. I always want to feel that my travels support the local food culture and that I am spending my money in a way that helps the local community.  When I was younger, I would DIY it – using Happy Cow to find vegan options and mostly just wander around hoping to find the best street foods, restaurants, grocery stores and local markets.

Lately when I travel, I join organized food tours and it is so much better; I learn more about the local food environment, eat healthy and delicious vegan food and enjoy the experience with my husband and young daughter.

Here’s the Haifa Street Food Tour that is on my travel dream list (along with visiting the Bahá’í Gardens again).

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From The Jewish Food Hero Kitchen: Sweet and Savory Mini Latkes

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Jewish Food Hero Kitchen: Sweet and Savory Mini Latkes

These sweet and savory latkes are mini-sized and baked, making them cute and crispy.  They are oil-free so they are healthier for our bodies.  Serve with proposed applesauce for a sweet latke and/or with the sour “cream” for a savory latke.  (Both recipes are included on the download here.)

Make 2 batches of this recipe so you do not run out or latkes (G-d forbid!).  Extras can be re-heated or eaten cold the next day.

These latkes are:

Light

Crunchy

Not heavy

Not greasy

A delicious and healthier plant-based version of a traditional Jewish recipe

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Interfaith Chanukah and Christmas Gift Tags (Printable)

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Interfaith gift tags

The calendar dates for Chanukah and Christmas overlap some years.

Some interfaith families celebrate both of the holidays on the same day at home or with extended family or friends. Even those who aren’t celebrating Christmas may be distributing gifts to friends and co-workers who are celebrating.

Here are printable interfaith Chanukah and Christmas gift tags to adorn your gifts.

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