The trend to try out a vegan or plant-based lifestyle as a New Years’ Resolution has become a movement and celebration called Veganuary. Although Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook is quoted as saying that the Garden of Eden was a vegan paradise, the perception of kosher food as brisket, deli, and chicken soup remains. But a different reality is emerging this Veganuary. Israel has the highest percentage of Orthodox Jews and the highest percentage of vegans worldwide.
High-profile proponents of kosher veganism, such as Mayim Bialik, are changing this view, one plant-based meal at a time. Bialik says, “For me, being vegan is a beautiful way to honor the way my tradition honors the lives of all creatures. The laws of kashrus are specifically geared towards an understanding of the significance of animals, the value they bring, and the potential they have to elevate our human experience. Historically, meat was not eaten very frequently and there is no halacha about having to eat meat. It is minhag, but I live a fulfilling Torah observant life as a vegan.” She continues, with specific examples. “On Pesach, I follow Rabbinical guidelines which have existed for thousands of years about substitutions for the zeroah, for example. I may not each fleishik on Shabbos, but I still can have delicious pareve cholent. And I make vegan (water) challah and enjoy all of the foods most Jews enjoy even if it means I have to make them from scratch: hamantaschen, sufganiyot, mandelbrodt, rugelach – even “honey” cake which I make with agave!” Bialik is grateful to combine her veganism and Judaism with pride. “HaShem granted me a mind with which to decide how I live my life according to the laws and customs of Moses and the people Israel. Being vegan is an assertion of my autonomy, a love letter to the creatures of the universe with every meal, and a dedication to being myself in Judaism. That’s the best expression of frumkeit for me!”
In addition to Bialik, the observant Jews below are all offering guidance to help make plants more palatable. Whether you might try eating more plants for just the month, are interested in animal rights or want to go whole food plant-based for health reasons, this list may just help make it easier. Do you have a suggestion of another Orthodox Jew in plant-based food we should know about? Please comment below.
Israeli-based and founded by Hasidic Jews, VeganNation is on the cutting edge of the vegan industry. Co-founder
only wears a synthetic shtreimel. Their start-up company was created to bring together the vegan community worldwide, to the tune of six million in profit for their company so far. They connect businesses, organizations and consumers using networking, and a currency they created themselves for use by vegans. They also offer consultations and support for vegan businesses.
You’ve already heard from us about Veestro, the company that has innovated how to ship plant-based kosher meals all over the U.S. In Israel, Bayla Haskel offers Veg It Out, a vegan recipe, meal plan and soon-to-be meal delivery service. Looking for some food inspiration? Check out the recipes of these kosher plant-based chefs. Batel Gershowitz cooks up Moroccan-inspired plant-based deliciousness. Dan Shuman is a plant-based food recipe innovator after losing 170 pounds on the diet. Rabbi Donn Gross in Caldwell, NJ cooks kiddush for his own vegan minyan and runs a vegan catering service called Meals to Heal.
Rabbi David Rosen, is unofficially the spokesperson for Israel’s vegan community. He has been president of the International Jewish Vegetarian Ecological Society for 30 years, is the former chief rabbi of Cape Town and Ireland, and is the current international director of Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee (AJC). He doesn’t wear any leather except for his late father’s tefillin and touts his wife’s tofu-based lemon cheesecake as something that makes his Shavuos sweeter. He is a source of rabbinic support and guidance to others looking to make the leap. Rabbi Asa Keisar reaches out to Orthodox communities by explaining that veganism is a mitzvah (avoiding cruelty to animals) as well as the Torah’s ideal for the way humans should eat. He has pioneered the Kosher Vegan Hechsher and aims to educate both the food industry and consumers as to how to navigate a vegan lifestyle. His book, Velifnei Iver Hashalem, offers a Torah perspective on animal cruelty.
Dr. Ronnie Herschman has been a cardiologist in the New York area for over 30 years and has over 400 patients on a Whole Foods Plant-Based diet. He is also a medical innovator and investor and started Hershman Holdings and HealthEffect, a Healthcare-specific disruptive marketplace where a global community collaborates to bring medical innovations to market quicker, and improve the health of the world. In Los Angeles, Dr. Uri Ben Zur is a cardiologist to the stars who has also helped hundreds of patients transition to a whole foods plant-based diet. He has written two books on the topic, combining Torah wisdom with medical research and advice for how to make the change.
The Facebook groups Observant Jewish Vegans & Almost Vegans, Kosher WFPB and several WhatsApp chats are all vibrant, busy online communities offering support, information, recipes, tips and news relevant to Orthodox Jews on vegan and whole food plant-based diets. From restaurant and nutritionist recommendations to new product alerts, these groups offer fast resources from a worldwide network of participants. While WFPB groups are geared more towards those on a plant-based diet for health reasons, and those with Vegan in their name may have more members who are ideologically vegan, there is plenty of crossover and accommodation across the board.