Hebrew word of the week: Vegetarians / TsimHonim

Fast-growing trends in America and Europe, such as becoming tsimHonim “vegetarians” or Tiv’ıonim “vegans” (“naturalists”), are adopted very quickly in Israel, and some seem to have a basis in Judaism.* Many Israelis (about 10 percent of  Jews and 17 percent of Arab-Israelis, with more women than men)** are vegetarians, vegans or veggans — vegans who eat eggs (called bets’onim םינועציב in Hebrew); or “flexitarians” (eat meat occasionally), or pescatarians (fish but not meat), the latter called by some HatsimHonim (םינוחמיצח) “halvegetarians.”

The orthodox, or purist vegans (tahranim), avoid eating even honey and often eggs, unless they’ve been laid by “free, happy” hens. A common poster in Israel: basar zeh retsaH “(eating) meat is murder.”

*In Genesis 1:29; 2:16 (Adam and Eve seem to be vegetarians); laws of kashrut limit the consumption of meat; the rabbinic concept of tsa’ar ba’ale Hayyim “awareness of the suffering of animals”; wild animals will become peaceful (stop eating meat) in the future (Isaiah 11:6-8; Leviticus 26:6).

**The number is far less in other countries, except India, where 29 percent of the population is vegetarian.

Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.

French school identifies non-pork, non-meat eaters with yellow tags

A French municipality launched a probe into an elementary school’s use of red and yellow tags to identify pupils who do not eat pork and meat, respectively.

The city of Auxerre, located 105 miles southeast of Paris, opened the investigation on Friday after parents complained to local media about the school’s initiative, in which neck strings bearing red and yellow plastic discs were placed on pupils ahead of lunchtime at the school cafeteria.

The pupils wore the tags for one day before the faculty was instructed to stop using them.

The debate on the availability in public schools of pork-free dishes is a divisive issue in France, where rightist parties and other politicians advocating strict separation between religion and state see it as proof of a creeping influence on the public sphere, mostly by Muslims immigrants.

Malika Ounes, a conservative member of the Auxerre city council, told the news website Creusot-Infos.com: “It’s revolting. It brings back memories of dark times,” in reference to the requirement in Nazi-occupied France that Jews wear yellow stars on their clothes.

Among the pupils instructed to wear the tags were Muslims and vegetarians. Reports in French media did not mention any Jewish pupils.

Some parents also complained about the tags, whose use Mayor Guy Perez of the Socialist Party termed “unfortunate.”

But other parents said they were the result of good intentions.

One Muslim mother of two boys attending the school, identified by the RTL broadcaster only as Sonia, said: “The yellow tag doesn’t even correspond with the yellow star. I don’t think there’s a scandal here, just an error that doesn’t require all this rebuke.”

CRIF, the umbrella group representing French Jewish communities, has remained neutral in the debate about pork in cafeterias, largely because observant Jews refrain from eating anything that doesn’t comply to kashrut standards, whether it contains pork or not.

But French Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia in March weighed in on the debate, labeling the removal of pork-free dishes “heresy that contradicts the separation of religion and state.”

Comparing animal rights and the Holocaust

On Oct. 2, Alex Hershaft, a Holocaust survivor and founder of the nonprofit Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM), sat on the ground with some 100 other protesters in front of the Farmer John pig slaughterhouse in Vernon, Calif., blocking the entrance from two bi-level trucks carrying 200 pigs that had arrived to be slaughtered that day. In the next 24 hours, the pigs would be among 6,000 animals that would be stunned by electrical shock, hoisted up by their hind legs and their necks slit in the plant, which is the largest pig slaughterhouse on the West Coast. 

The demonstration was just one of more than 100 such protests held across the United States and in other countries commemorating FARM’s annual World Farm Animals Day.

“You could hear the pigs on the trucks crying,” Hershaft, 78, said quietly in a phone interview from his Bethesda, Md., home several days later. “Despite my advanced age, I made the trip to Vernon and risked arrest, because, as a Holocaust survivor, I am honor-bound to call public attention to this ongoing tragedy.”

As a 5-year-old in the Warsaw Ghetto, Hershaft witnessed brutal beatings and shootings and saw Jews dying of typhus in the streets. After being smuggled out of the ghetto by a family maid, he survived the war by passing as an Aryan. Upon liberation, he learned that his father had died following internment in a German slave labor camp, and that most of his other relatives had also perished.

Eventually, Hershaft earned a doctorate in chemistry at Iowa State University and, while teaching at the Technion in Haifa in the early 1960s, he witnessed a Druze family celebrating the birth of a baby by ritually sacrificing a baby goat. “I saw the irony of killing one child to celebrate the birth of another,” said Hershaft, who in 1961 decided to become vegetarian. “I just couldn’t bear the thought of taking a beautiful, living, breathing being and hitting him over the head, cutting his body into pieces and then shoving them in my face.”

He began to see parallels between the Nazi Holocaust and animal slaughter, including “the crowding, cattle cars, brutality and the routine and efficiency of mass extermination,” he said. “I am not equating the Holocaust with the millions of animals slaughtered every week for U.S. dinner tables, for we differ in many ways,” he added. “Yet, we all share a love of life and our ability to experience many emotions, including affection, joy, sadness and fear.”

Hershaft, who is now vegan, became an animal-rights activist after attending the World Vegetarian Congress in 1975, and in 1981 he founded FARM, which along with groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has became a force in the struggle for improved treatment of farm animals and vegan advocacy. 

Today, Hershaft said, FARM has an annual budget of $250,000, as well as 85,000 subscribers to its newsletters. Hershaft said tens of thousands of volunteers participate in FARM’s grassroots activities, including The Great American Meatout, Gentle Thanksgiving and a new 10 Billion Lives project, which encourages veganism. 

On the phone, Hershaft recalled how Farmer John’s bucolic mural of pigs cavorting in a meadow reminded him of the deceptive sign, “Work Makes You Free,” above the gates of Auschwitz. “I echo the wisdom of famed Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer: ‘For the animals, life is an eternal Treblinka,’ ” he said.

For more information about FARM, visit farmusa.org.


Not Our Movie

Contrary to Rob Eshman’s analysis, protests against “Paradise Now” did not increase the film’s potential audience (“Not Our Movie,” March 10). It already commanded attention because of its Golden Globe Award and Oscar nomination and because it was made by a Palestinian (actually an Israeli Arab who lives in Europe) and had a riveting subject: Palestinian suicide bombers.

But Eshman should not be excusing — let alone praising — the film. The film is intentionally dishonest. It whitewashes suicide terrorism, portraying it as a normal response to frustration, political conflict or even, as filmmaker Abu Assad told a University of Judaism audience, to delays at a checkpoint. That’s not normal. It’s pathological.

Furthermore, the film ignores the cultural sickness that creates suicide bombers: the Palestinian Authority’s relentless indoctrination and incitement to hate and violence, the jihadist clerics promoting genocide, the glorification of shaheeds in schools and the media.

In addition, it is absurd to claim, as Eshman did, that the film did not show Israeli victims only because it was made from a Palestinian perspective.

The suicide missions are not about despondent young men driven to suicide, although this is exactly what Assad wants audiences to think. They are about committing mass murder.

Dead and dismembered Jews, including children, are the suicide bombers’ prize trophies, the reason they are adulated. The more Jews maimed, the better.

Finally, the film relentlessly and falsely blamed Israel for the Palestinians’ self-destructive choices. Just as Leni Riefenstahl made an effective film about Nazism, so Abu Assad has made one about Palestinian terrorism. Both are rank propaganda and hide monstrous facts.

Protests of “Paradise Now” were not just in order: It would have been the height of irresponsibility not to raise a cry of outrage.

Roz Rothstein
National Director,
Roberta P Seid

While I always appreciate the clarity, independence and appropriateness of your editorials, I have to say that the [“Not Our Movie”] editorial was really special. It reminded me — particularly in these times when the pursuit of truth seems so undervalued — of what is best about being Jewish.

Whether laughing or crying, Jews survive and thrive in democratic societies, not by pandering to their own weaknesses and insecurities, but by a zealous faith in truth. Your lucid explication of the Palestinian movie moved me the way that only the best journalism can.

Michael B. Lehrer
Los Angeles

Thanks Rob Eshman for your perceptive and brave defense of a controversial film that carries the same message as “Munich.” We, as Jews, must try to see our enemies not just as monsters who commit inhuman acts with the intent to destroy us, but as human beings driven by circumstances and infected by unscrupulous religious and political leaders to do their dirty work, often left with conflicting feelings and doubts about the meaning of their own actions.

Since we must share our world with them, we must keep searching for a way to reach them, to communicate with them, or we will never get beyond the horrendous deadlock in which we are stuck. Film is an effective tool to achieve this.

Trudi Alexy

Proposition 227

Jill Stewart (“A Definite Maybe,” March 10) scolds Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for opposing Proposition 227, the initiative that dismantled bilingual education in California. But Villaraigosa was right. Contrary to Stewart’s claim, English-language reading and writing skills have not improved dramatically among Latino children since Proposition 227 passed.

A recent and widely publicized report from the American Institutes for Research and West Ed found that dismantling bilingual education did not result in any improvement in the English language of minority children in California.

Less widely known is the scientific research. Scientific studies consistently show that children in bilingual programs typically score higher on tests of English than do children in all-English immersion programs. In fact, three major reviews coming to this conclusion were published last year in professional, scientific journals.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus

Klinghoffer vs. Berenbaum

David Klinghoffer is not fooling anyone in his response to Michael Berenbaum’s letter (Letters, March 3) requesting he withdraw his op-ed piece defending convicted felon Jack Abramoff. Yes, Klinghoffer’s op-ed piece did include a plea for sympathy for Abramoff, but the real subtext of the article was a not-so-subtle argument that Abramoff’s sins are understandable, explainable and excusable.

Mitch Paradise
Los Angeles

Erin Aubry Kaplan

On Feb. 10, we were proud to be members of Temple Emanuel (“A.M.E., Rhythm and Jews,” Feb. 24). Approximately 700 people filled the congregation with an energy we had not previously experienced at a synagogue service.

This is the beginning of a journey that is generating much enthusiasm in both congregations, a journey toward becoming neighbors in a very divided city. It is unfortunate that the perceived faux pas described by Erin Aubry Kaplan clouded her experience of the evening.

If we are to tell each other our stories through music or words, we will stumble at times. As we get to know each other as individuals instead of congregations, we hope those awkward moments, experienced when we first reach out to each other, will evolve into bonds of friendship as we work to make our city a better place. We are proud to be participants in that journey.

Diane Vanette and Janet Noah
Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills

Get a Life

I read the article, “Get a Life, George,” (March 10) with great interest. However, I was — both as a Jew and “Seinfeld” fan — appalled to find George Costanza being compared to the notorious Jew-haterHaman.

Rabbi Daniel Korobkin writes the following: “This annoyed Haman to no end (I think his last name was Costanza).” Hence, the Costanzas, who are never portrayed as anti-Semitic, are compared to one of the most notorious Jew-haters of that time and in general.

This is especially gruesome, since both Costanza [men] are played by Jewish actors: Jason Alexander (né Greenspan) and Jerry Stiller (Ben Stiller’s father). Should they be hung like Haman? Should their names be cursed with a chorus of groggers, clanging pots, cap guns and sirens like Haman’s name every time it is mentioned? I hope not.

Furthermore, the Costanzas, who never hurt anyone physically, Jewish or not, are compared with a historical figure who planned a pogrom that would have all Jews of Persia murdered. A family that couldn’t harm a fly, not to speak of humans, is compared to a descendent and heir of Amalek, about whom the Torah says the following: “Remember what Amalek did to you as you were leaving Egypt. He happened upon you, and struck the weakest people trailing behind, when you were exhausted. And he did not fear God” (Deut. 25:17-18).

Is this really as bad as the quote by George: “Yes! Yes! Everybody has to like me. I must be liked!”

Korobkin writes: “Because of Haman’s obsession with image, he decided that … he had to wipe out the entire Jewish people.” Where does George Costanza fit in here?

In conclusion, it can be said that Korobkin might be very well versed in Tanakh and Talmud but not in “Seinfeld.” Comparing harmless characters of this TV show to one of the worst Jew haters and pogrom planners is nothing short of historical relativism.

We are obliged to drink so much on Purim that we can’t differentiate between “Haman is bad” and “Mordechai is good.” However, no matter how much I’ll drink, I think I’ll be able to differentiate George Costanza (may he live to 120) from Haman (may his name be cursed).

Benjamin Rosendahl
Los Angeles

‘Paradise Now’

Rob Eshman’s review of “Paradise Now” adds credibility to the movie’s critics (“Not Our Movie,” March 10). By admonishing one of the would-be bombers that his act would “destroy us” (Palestinian recognition) is precisely the point. We should not be bothered about innocent civilians about to be murdered; our only concern is to have the world believe in our cause.

Contrary to the two anti-heros’ impoverished circumstances, many of the bombers have been identified as middle class (at least by Palestinian standards), so their intended murderous act is not out of economic desperation but cold blooded and motivated by a warped ideology.

Peter Daniels
Los Angeles

“The film and its director were warmly received at a sold-out audience of nearly 500 at the University of Judaism [UJ]” (Where in the World Is ‘Paradise’?” March 3).

I was at the screening at the UJ for “Paradise Now.” The moderator was insensitive to some of his audience for the reason that some of the audience have family in Israel who are members of the Israel Defense Forces and citizens of Israel.

This moderator, who contributes to your paper, opened with the greeting, “Did you enjoy the movie?” What’s to enjoy? Watching murderers being groomed and selected from poor people and being brainwashed?

I think the audience was mostly left wing. I didn’t stay for the panel, as we had to leave, but the director of the movie and the movie should not be glorified, because it sends a message of “murderers who are really human beings” — a contradiction in terms.

Whatever the cinematic skill of the film, it should not have been shown in that venue. I wrote the UJ and many of the rabbis and teachers there, and I am writing you — there were objections to the screening.

Joanna Aloni-Boldon


Your March 10 opinion page contained articles by Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post (“Every Jew Is on the Front Lines of War”) and Wafa Sultan an Arab American psychologist (Middle Ages and 21st Century Clashing”). Glick whines that Jews are perpetual victims and that the Kadima gang stinks, whereas Sultan extols Jewish virtues and accomplishments.

Unfortunately, Glick refuses to see the forest (either Israeli or Palestinian) for the trees. Glick does not realize that the cause of anti-Semitism is jealously.

The enormous accomplishments of so few people in Israel and the Diaspora foments hatred by those who are failures in our modern world. Smart Jews know that Israel cannot be destroyed militarily and that the West Bank is an unnecessary burden. The Gaza disengagement gave Israel a great worldwide public relations boost.

I believe that when a Palestinian state is finally established, whether behind a wall or not, worldwide anti-Semitism will no longer be as fashionable as it is today.

Martin J. Weisman
Westlake Village


Jonathan Klein may not realize it, but he is indeed helping to save countless lives by “refusing to consume the flesh of once-living, breathing animals” (“I Love You, Carnivore,” March 3). It is estimated that each vegetarian saves 83 animals every year.

The Jewish religion has an entire code of laws mandating that animals be treated with compassion. “Tsa’ar ba’alei hayim” is the commandment to prevent the suffering of all living beings.

In addition to saving animals, vegetarians also save more water, land and resources than just about anyone else on the planet. And, of course, vegetarians are far less likely to die from heart disease, cancer and other diseases, so we can spend more time with our loved ones.

I have been vegan for 17 years, and I don’t miss meat one bit, because mock meats have basically the same taste and texture as meat. There is a lot of helpful information on vegetarianism at JewishVeg.com. I encourage everyone to check it out.

Stewart David
Asheville, N.C.

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