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Mayim Bialik Talks Veganism and Religion

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Mayim Bialik has come a long way since her carefree, hat-wearing days as a teen star on “Blossom.” Now a busy mother and a co-star on “The Big Bang Theory,” the brilliant actress (she has a PhD in neuroscience) has been very open about her life, including her career choices and parenting techniques.

This week, the actress is celebrating Tu Bishvat, which she describes as a sort of Jewish Earth Day. In a post on Kveller.com, a Jewish parenting website, she talks about her green efforts by explaining the connection between veganism and Judaism. As an environmentalist, it makes sense to her to live a vegan lifestyle, since it’s so much better for the planet.

“The health benefits of limiting meat and dairy are well documented, but perhaps more compelling is the environmental impact of a world devoted to massive consumption of animal products, which is truly unbelievable. Here’s an example: cattle around the world eat the amount that 8.7 billion people eat, and consume ten times the grain that Americans themselves eat. A Harvard nutritionist has stated that 60 million hungry people could be fed if meat intake was reduced by 10%. It’s unfathomable. Being vegan is truly an earth-loving act!” she writes.

Although Bialik was not raised in a religious household, as an adult she has chosen to lead an observant Jewish lifestyle, which, for her, ties in very well with her dietary choices. She says that her Jewish beliefs actually help strengthen her decision to be vegan, and contrary to popular belief, there are passages in the Old Testament that support veganism, which she lists:

“The Torah is overflowing with discussions of our responsibility to the planet, the beauty of the earth and all of its produce, and the need to care for the earth and treat it with utmost respect…In terms of biblical support for the consideration of the welfare of animals, sources are more scattered but in many cases, more profound.

1) In the story of Creation, humans are commanded to rule over all creatures. This is both a call to elevate our existence and to care for those dependent on our mercy.

2) Not only do we rest on Shabbat, but our animals get to rest, too (see Exodus 20:10).

3) Owners are responsible for how animals are being used: you can’t plow with an ox and mule harnessed together, as the animals are of unequal size and strength and might suffer (Deuteronomy 22:10).

4) There is a specific mitzvah to send away a mama bird before taking her chick!

5) And this one makes me all emotional: you one may not slaughter an animal along with its babies (Leviticus 22:28).” 

Although she admits that there are many references in the Torah to eating meat and sacrificing animals, she argues that we don’t necessarily have to follow those examples, because God allows humans to “use our capacities and responsibilities as we see fit.”

Bialik has also partnered with a vegan Rabbi to start a kosher vegan institute called Shamayim V’Aretz, which is dedicated to social justice for animals. The institute is just getting off the ground, and they are looking for people to help, through volunteering, donations, and joining the staff. Bialik is quick to point out that anyone interested in the work — vegans and meat-eaters alike — is welcome, but meat-eaters should be aware that they’ll probably be subjected to delicious vegan food at some point!

Bialik is well aware that this world can be scary and sad, but her dietary and religious choices help her cope, and in fact it was Judaism that helped her navigate the “search for purpose and meaning amidst a tragic and often heart-breaking mortal existence.”

She explains, “And just as Judaism lets me learn Torah and Talmud, and just as Judaism lets me place boundaries around what you want to see of me and what I want you to see, and just as Judaism sustains my doubt and my fear and my anger and my love, Judaism lets me be me. And I am a vegan Jew.”

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