Prof. Yael Shemesh: Veganism - Not a Passing Fad

The veganism trend, which is gaining steam in recent years, actually traces its roots to biblical times and is considered a moral and healthy dietary alternative. But when did man begin to eat meat? And which vegetarian dishes were prominent in the biblical menu?

Prof. Yael Shemesh, a lecturer in BIU’s Zalman Shamir Bible Department, is a vegan and blogger of “Long Distance Vegan,” where she shares her experiences as a long distance runner and her vegan lifestyle. 

“Veganism became popular largely thanks to technology,” says Shemesh, noting "the unprecedented volume of information readily available to the public about its benefits on the one hand, and heightened awareness of animal abuse issues on the other. The internet offers a plethora of lectures by doctors and scientists enumerating the health advantages of veganism. As a result, the number of health-motivated vegans is on the rise. Additionally, the revelation of the significant ecological damage created by the animal products industry is motivating environmentally-conscience people to opt for veganism.”

 “Proof that veganism was preferred both by G-d and by man can be found even in the Bible: 'And G-d said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.’ (Genesis I: 29) The very first chapter of the first book of the Bible in essence instructs man to eat only vegetation. Only after the great flood during Noah's lifetime is man allowed to consume meat. Consequently, the first ten human generations were vegetarian. It was G-d’s first decree, and the permission given to eat meat is a deviation from that decree,” maintains Shemesh. “Some interpret that to mean that the flood destroyed all the crops, so man had to revert to eating meat. When the people of Israel were wandering in the desert, G-d 'rained down bread from heaven,' not meat. Moreover, the vegetarian diet is mentioned in the Bible not only at the beginning of time, but at the end of days as well. In Isaiah’s messianic vision, all living creatures will co-exist harmoniously '…and the lion will eat straw like the ox.'" (Isaiah 11).

The Bible, notes Prof. Shemesh, recognizes the wonders of veganism: Daniel and his comrades, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, who were exiled to Babylon as consultants under orders of Nebuchadnezzar, refused to eat at the king’s table (which was not kosher), and subsisted on grains. “They looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food” (Daniel I, 15). The moral of the story may be that there was divine intervention at hand, but our sages explain that these men were healthier because meat causes illness, while they only ate grains. Indeed, the 15th Century Abarbanel, in his commentary on Daniel, maintained that since man was permitted to eat meat during the days of Noah (who also initiated the drinking of wine), life expectancy diminished.

According to Shemesh, veganism is not a passing fad. She explains that the rising popularity of this trend stems from the growing awareness of the benefits of the vegan lifestyle. To recap, she quotes Victor Hugo, who said “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”

 For more on Prof. Shemesh click here.