Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Why am I a "Weekday Vegetarian"?

Why am I a "weekday vegetarian" (i.e. a person who only eats meat on Shabbos and Yom Tov)?

This is a question that doesn't have a simple answer. If I refrained from eating meat solely for "ethical reasons", then I certainly could not justify eating meat on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

I am a weekday vegetarian primarily as an attempt to eat in a more refined manner; as a reminder that eating should be done for the sake of the soul and not just to fulfill the cravings of the body.

It is taught that a person is able to elevate and extract the sparks of holiness found within the food he eats by ensuring that is food is kosher and by saying blessings with concentration before and after partaking of the food. The actual process of eating separates the food's spiritual component and nourishes and strengthens the soul. That which cannot be elevated and refined is expelled from the body as waste.

Numerous Kabbalistic and Chassidic works teach that it is exceptionally difficult to properly elevate the holy sparks contained within meat because the true quality of meat is dependent upon the moral character of the shochet and the intentions that he has when slaughtering the animal..

While I can be confident that the pack of boneless chicken breasts that I purchase from the kosher butcher is indeed kosher, I can never know just how pious the shochet was or what was in his heart and mind at the moment he took this chicken's life.

This leads me to the question, "Who am I eating this chicken for?" Am I eating it to fulfill the craving of my body for the taste of meat, or am I eating it to strengthen my soul?

It is obvious that I can also eat for the sake of my soul by eating vegetables, grains, and fruits. So why must I eat this chicken? I would be dishonest if I did not acknowledge that I chose to eat chicken solely because my body desired the taste of chicken.

As a Jew who desires to put the needs of his soul above the needs of the body, I no longer chose to end the life of animal simply to fulfill a bodily craving and thus refrain from eating meat during weekdays.

Isn't it hypocritical, however, to sanction the death of animal to fulfill your bodily craving on Shabbos and Yom Tov? Death is death no matter what day of the week it is.

I don't dispute this last statement. However, Shabbos and Yom Tov are imbued with a quality that is not existent during regular weekday. The spiritual component of food eaten on Shabbos and Yom Tov does not need to be separated or refined because it is transformed into food that is completely spiritual; food that nourishes the soul alone.

On Shabbos and Yom Tov a person is supposed to eat foods that he enjoys eating as a way of celebrating the day. A person's bodily craving for meat is no longer just a bodily craving since the character of the food has been transformed into something that is purely spiritual. His bodily craving is now a spiritual craving. Meat, with all the issues surrounding it, becomes something that a person is permitted (and even required) to partake of because it serves to nourish the soul. Since the intrinsic holiness of Shabbos and Yom Tov spiritually elevates both the act of eating and the food we eat, the act of shechita becomes not just a concession, but an act that brings about eternal benefit to all concerned.

And it is for this reason that I permit myself to eat meat on these days.


At October 5, 2010 at 7:50:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

I normally eat fish or sometimes vegetables and not meat for weekday meals for a whole other reason; it's cheaper.

Your personal practice works for you, but I recommend getting a reality check on its theoretical aspect from a Rav or Rebbe who knows you.

At October 5, 2010 at 7:52:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Bob: I would not have proceeded with this practice unless I first went for my "reality check" :)

At October 5, 2010 at 10:11:00 AM EDT, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Does your entire family also go vegetarian during the week, or just you?

At October 5, 2010 at 10:20:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Neil: No, just me. For example, on a Sundays if we go out to eat at a fleishig restaurant they will get meat and I order the falafel. On nights when we are home and the kids request hot dogs, my wife makes me vegetables. She has been very accomodating after I first spoke to her about it during Chanuka last year.

At October 5, 2010 at 12:49:00 PM EDT, Blogger redsneakz said...

Because of some blessed events in my own life, I am just now learning that you're back posting. I have missed your honest self-reflections and insights greatly.

At October 5, 2010 at 12:50:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Glad you are back reading again!

At October 5, 2010 at 3:24:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Tal Moshe Zwecker said...

I once did this for several months one year when I was a teen living at home. When I met my Rebbe and saw that he ate meat during the week etc. I gave it up.

At October 5, 2010 at 6:07:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Interesting. What caused you to do this as a teen?

At October 6, 2010 at 2:07:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Long Beach Chasid said...

I worked in a slaughterhouse for 6 months. Personally did melicha and nikor as well. I watched the shechita as well as the bedikah. Its a tough job but I felt like I was helping the Jewish people.

Teva Meat found in your local trader joes. Lubavitch/Chassidishe Shechita.

At October 6, 2010 at 7:16:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

LBC: After that first-hand experience did you find it more difficult to eat meat?

At October 6, 2010 at 6:44:00 PM EDT, Blogger Alice said...

I'm impressed with any from-the-heart change in eating habits.

I've been doing a highly structured eating regime for many months now in order to get to a very healthy weight after having two kids, and to then God willing maintain it forever. It's amazing how challenging it can be to change eating habits. (I know that's the most obvious statement ever.) To me it's about honesty, and therefore there is a large spiritual aspect to it.

It's no fun watching people eat food you'd like to be enjoying on some level, but it is fun to reap the personal benefits of not doing it that come later.

At October 7, 2010 at 9:36:00 AM EDT, Anonymous snag said...

Welcome back.

I don't buy this.

If a person eats to strengthen his body (and Hashem made the teva that one enjoys eating too, that it is not an aveira if kept in proper context), then he is being mekayeim בכל דרכיך דעהו (in all your ways know Him [Hashem]), then he is elevating the food during the week as well.

At October 7, 2010 at 9:40:00 AM EDT, Anonymous snag said...

*He eats to strengthen his body to be able to serve Hashem (though maybe even if he eats with a simpler kavonnoh of merely taking care of his bodily health it should be a mitzvoh, ונשמרתם מאוד לנפשותיכם).

At October 9, 2010 at 7:11:00 PM EDT, Anonymous yy Bar-Chaiim said...

SHULEM, ASJ. Finally had a chance to take a look at your revitalized blog. You are a dramatic one, leaving us so suspensfully waiting for you like that!

Great to see you back and in full form. And yes, I agree with your suppositions:

1) that meat is intrinsically harder to spiritually uplift (has more raw body appeal to it) and to ethically justify (animals DO have a nefesh!)

2)Many of us do not need fleishigs for proper nutrition if we get it on Shabbos and Yom Tov (and it may be the opposite!)

3)Shabbos and YT imbue the food we naturally like with an extra degree of spiritual quality, making it much easier to consume with the right kavannas.

For the record, i do pretty much the same as you, except that I'm careful to not be "religious" about it. If I'm at a special event that serves fleishigs with a hekhsher we eat, for example, and certainly if it would make my hosts uncomfortable if I didn't, then I'll eat. But where I can, i avoid weekday fleishigs and certainly the real chunky stuff!

On the other hand I'm a little makpid to ask my wife to include some real beef in the chulent (despite the expense for us Israelis).

All in all, I'd say this is one of those minhagim which must truly be observed ONLY with private integrity. "One man's meat is another's poison" should be taken literally!

At October 9, 2010 at 10:35:00 PM EDT, Blogger Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

I try very hard to be a weekday vegetarian, and I really appreciated this post.

At October 10, 2010 at 1:17:00 AM EDT, Anonymous long beach chasid said...

After working in the slaughterhouse I always want to eat tacos. I'm a weird one.

At October 10, 2010 at 3:26:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rabbi Telushkin explains inA Code of Jewish Ethics (volume 2) why he no longer eats meat. He still eats fish though.


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