14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Compassion and responsibility
, July 17, 2001
This review is from: Judaism and Vegetarianism (Paperback)
I have read this book thoroughly, and I think it is the most informative, most complete and most readable book about vegetarianism I have ever read. The book is very well structured, the information given is presented clearly and is up to date. Since I am a vegan, I have paid extra attention to what is being said about veganism, and I found the author is objective, accurate and gives sound advice. The B12 issue is dealt with in a responsible manner and I think it is very wise to present the transition to vegetarianism and from there to veganism as a process of growth, where every step counts. The author gives many practical suggestions on how to make changes in your lifestyle without losing touch with family or friends and manages to be firm and friendly at the same time. These things alone make the book a purchase well worth the investment. For me, however, the particular merit of the book lies in the spiritual values that have inspired it. Reading the book from a non-Jewish perspective, what struck me most was that the author has chosen focal points which are relevant to people from all kinds of different backgrounds, Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and people who are not religious in the 'traditional' sense. In short, all those who are concerned about the way we relate to our environment from a spiritual point of view. The first focal point is that ethical considerations are more important than habit, convenience, or tradition, and the second is that there will be a price to pay if we chose to ignore the ethical imperative to change our ways. There are many books explaining why it is better for your body to become a vegetarian; there are not many books explaining why it is better for your soul. Richard Schwartz makes the reader see how the themes of inclusion and compassion towards animals are woven all through the Torah. Having read theology at a fairly orthodox Christian college, I have often heard the argument that `since Man was created in the image of God, he was given dominion over all creation' as an excuse for the maltreatment of animals and their reduction to `meat-producing units'. Guided by Richard Schwartz, we are shown that according to the Torah both man and beast are creatures of God, and that our being created in the image of God is not a given, but rather a potential; something to be brought into manifestation by following the pattern God has laid out for us, and that one of the qualities we must manifest is compassion. Instead of feeling very proud of ourselves and thinking that we are like God already, we should realise that we are asked to imitate God in love and concern for all living beings. Instead of 'dominion' we should read 'compassionate stewardship', and that is something else entirely. From the idea of our potential for goodness and compassion, the theme of responsibility is developed. The author shows us how we are responsible, in the sense of being accountable for the wrongs we do not try to stop. By means of the voice of Amos and other prophets he poignantly asks how we can be content and comfortable while others are in great distress, humans or non-humans. I feel that now Europe has recently been plagued by BSE and foot-and-mouth disease, and we have watched the horrors of what is happening every night on television, this question is more pressing than ever. How are we to answer for these things? That is one side of responsibility. The other side is that human beings are called to do justice, to liberate the oppressed, to care for every living being and that it is the way we act in this world, the choices we make and the goals we chose, which form our answer, our response, to God. For me, our human capacity to answer to this call is the basis of faith in a better future for all beings and Richard Schwartz's book has given me every reason not to give up believing. Human beings have the potential to be compassionate and just, and they can learn how to express these qualities. And they will learn more willingly if they are given the facts about oppression and hunger and are shown ways how to change. This is exactly what Richard Schwartz has done. Like the good teacher he is, he shows people what their calling is, where they go wrong, and what they can do to change for the better. This calling is not just for Jews; many people feel that they have a responsibility for the planet and for all that lives there; they just don't know what exactly is going wrong and how to make it better. By enumerating the facts, by showing the consequences of present practices, and by showing the way out, Richard Schwartz makes a very strong case for the vegetarian imperative, no matter what the reader's religion is. I sincerely recommend the book.
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