by: Katie Cantrell on March 3rd, 2015 | 1 Comment »
On March 4, there will be much drinking, dancing, and revelry to commemorate Queen Esther’s heroic action that saved the Jews of Ancient Persia from extermination at the hands of the villainous Haman. Esther is celebrated primarily for her bravery, while another intriguing trait is often overlooked: her veganism.
According to legend, Esther maintained a vegan diet, while living in the palace of the King of Persia, to avoid violating the laws of Kashrut without revealing her Jewish identity. She dined primarily on a diet of seeds, nuts, and legumes and abstained from all animal products. Thus Esther could be regarded as the first Jewish vegan.
While she may have been the first, Esther was certainly not the last. The community of Jewish vegetarians and vegans is growing, both in the United States and around the world. Much like Esther, many Jews are choosing to subsist on a plant-based diet in order to observe their moral principles.
The history of Judaism and moral vegetarianism is a long one; in the 1400s, philosopher Rabbi Yosef Albo began a debate about whether G-d’s instructions to Adam implied that vegetarianism is a moral ideal:
Behold, I have given you every seed-bearing herb which is upon the surface of the entire earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; it will be yours for food (Genesis 1:29).
The debate continues to this day, but increasingly Jews around the world are making dietary choices based more on modern reality than on biblical philosophy. The reality in the United States is that 99 percent of all animal products come from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), often referred to as factory farms.