Monday, March 5, 2012

Can You Be an Orthodox Jew Who Happens to Be Vegetarian or Vegan?

YES! But depends on who you ask.

There is a halachic basis for the rabbis who declare you must eat meat on Shabbat. (Though even they will admit there was a great rabbi-whose name I forget-who was vegetarian every day but Shabbat.) I find most of these rabbis tend to be far to the "right" in the orthodox community.

My understanding is that the source for this is that the Talmud says one is required to be happy on Shabbat by eating meat and drinking wine. On the other hand, other rabbis conclude that the list was given to be merely an example of the things that could make you happy. And that if eating meat would make you unhappy, it would actually be a mitzvah for you to avoid eating it on Shabbat.

All that said, I know of at least one beit din that requires vegetarian converts to vow they will eat meat on Shabbat and will accept no other interpretation. So if you're a vegetarian or vegan, I suggest throwing it out there to your rabbis as early as possible to see how they react. There is definitely a machloket, and if you need to change to another beit din, so be it. Otherwise, be prepared to accept their ruling (and maybe later figure out how you can choose to follow a new ruling).

And now for your enjoyment, one of the best "stuff people say" videos I've seen.

Disclaimer: While I am not a vegetarian or vegan, I was a vegetarian for a relatively short time in the past. (And I'm primarily a vegetarian because I'm lazy.) The comments in this video are not limited to Jews. I can personally attest to the French people's similar confusion and stubborn insistence that chicken isn't really meat. (Most Americans are too politically correct and have been exposed to a great deal more vegetarianism than most of the world!)


  1. People will not like hosting you at meals, FWIW.

    1. Unless you don't make a big deal of it. I have vegetarian friends and friends with other diet needs, and they just eat what they can at meals. Beyond the "cholent, schnitzel, deli roll, potato kugel" type meals, I feel like most people make all side dishes pareve, so a vegetarian can load up on side dishes(and make sure they get plenty of protein in other meals during the day). When people expect their meal to be catered to their needs, that's what hosts don't like.

    2. I don't think that's true. Most people serve a meat dish or two and lots of salads and other side dishes. I know that's what we do.

  2. There is no genuine mizva to eat meat today. the only binding universal meat eating mizva is Korban Pesah, which was once a year and binding on those in proximity to Jerusalem.
    And dont forget Rav Kook's Vegetarian Vision. In the Idealistic Utopian Future, whereby Humans return to Adenistic state of Pre Sin (Adam's fall) , we will once again eat only the Fruits of the Garden and animals will be safe from human consumption.
    This vision perhaps is inconsistent with the renewal of 3rd temple sacrifices however this is definitely a Jewish Vegetarian message.
    Hard to understand why a vegetarian convert would not be welcomed.

  3. But what does Sheldon say about kashrut?? (sorry, couldn't resist! I watch waaaay too much Big Bang Theory!) I never realized that actress was Jewish. Cool.

  4. If I were to answer your title question literally the answer would be no. You can't 'happen to be a vegetarian or vegan.' If after careful study and rabbinic consultation you decide to be vegetarian or vegan you may well find rabbis and communities who permit it.

    I know one vegetarian convert who at her beit din was asked if they would eat meat if they were religiously obligated to do so. They said that they would happily eat the korban pesach when the time came, but did not intend to eat meat otherwise. That beit din found this acceptable.

    I know another convert who was obligated by their beit din to have meat on Yom Tov, but not every Shabbat. Several years post conversion they had a nullification of vows performed and no longer eat meat on Yom Tov.

  5. I was a vegan when I began studying for conversion. While I found that the literal answer was "Yes, you can be a vegan/vegetarian and convert," there were enough practical reasons to start eating meat that I did begin to eat it.

    For one, it's a whole lot easier to learn the ins and outs of handling meat and dairy in the same kitchen...when you have both in your kitchen. Otherwise, you simply have to remember what you have read when it comes time for kashrus questions or to help out in someone else's kitchen. For another, as others have mentioned, almost anyone you would eat by for Shabbos or Yom Tovim, will be eating meat. Culturally, there are also many Jews who believe that it is a requirement to eat meat on Shabbos and holidays.

    Overall, though, I found it as just yet another thing that set me apart from the people I was trying to become one with. In the end, I chose to eat meat on Shabbos and Yom Tovim and pretty much keep my eating habits the same the rest of the week...and that's worked out really well. Now I have a good balance of being able to eat the way I feel best most of the time and still being able to join my community for meals and celebrate with friends and family. I also find that I do enjoy the meat on Shabbos and special occasions and that it does help set them apart a little bit from my "beany" everyday meals.

  6. There is also a lot of information on Jews and vegetarianism and veganism that indicate biblical support for such ethical and spiritual eating habits, tho you may be in the minority ( and ( Additionally, there is a growing movement of Jewish veg_ism in promotion of our traditional ecological focus for tikkun olam ( This is true for the modern Orthodox community (, tho it still is difficult to follow this spiritual path in more traditional communities.

  7. The most famous orthodox vegetarian is Richard H Schwartz. Here is a link to his info, he's also written extensively on the subject of being Jewish and vegetarian at the same time.

  8. Can't see your video, because I'm at work - so disregard if this is the video you've posted . . . .

    Have you seen Mayim Bialik's video on stuff people say to kosher vegans?

    I'm not Jewish nor vegan - but found it hilarious just based on my knowledge from friends who are! Plus I <3 Mayim (and Amy Farrah Fowler and Blossom)

  9. I went through this when I became a baal teshuva. Finally, I asked a rav (hareidi i might add) and the answer was: halachically you only have to eat the meat of korban pesach, when Moshiach comes. Other than that you're scot free.

    Regarding being a guest, most of the time it's not really a problem. Most people like to know ahead of time. If they make something special great, if not I just make do, and in any case I always have room for desert which is my oneg shabbat. And if I'm a house guest, I take some snacks to nibble on in my room, just in case.

  10. Psssh. My entire family is lacto ovo vegetarian and kosher. It isn't a big deal at all. And @ Bethany, I really pity your diet. If you can't make food that is awesome and doesn't happen to be made of meat, learn to cook girl!
    My mom hosts the best shabbat dinners---gingered green beans, spiced basmati and red lentils with cinnamon stuffed in roasted yellow peppers with tahini and yogurt, big colorful salads, curry roasted sweet potatoes, etc. Healthy, colorful, and very Jewish feeling. I really recommend you check out Jayne Cohen's Holiday cookbooks from your library!!

    Also, at Pesach we used a roasted but charred beet in place of a shankbone. Burnt to represent offerings at the temple, but the beet also "bleeds." Our rabbi is a vegetarian, and apparently uses the same thing.


  11. dairy house hold is amazing! dairy seder are the best. Ice cream for dessert on yuntif. I call that a festive meal!