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PYP 095: Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz on Animal Welfare and Human Dignity

rav-shmulyRabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is Founder and CEO of the Shamayim V’Aretz (Hebrew for “Heaven and Earth”) Institute for Animal Welfare. Newsweek magazine named him to their list of “America’s Top 50 Rabbis” (whatever in the world that means!) in 2012 and 2013.


He’s a real intellectual and ethical powerhouse: a prolific writer, with op-eds in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal and a regular column in Jewish Week. And – here’s what I really dig about Shmuly – he’s not afraid of taking on organized religion, including his own, when it falls down on the job. One example: a May 2014 opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal called “Why This Rabbi is Swearing Off Kosher Meat.”

I got a chance to interview Shmuly through a mutual friend, Lisa Karlan, a board member of Shamayim V’Aretz. In our conversation, I was struck by his gentle nature and warrior fierceness in pursuit of a more just and kind world. I left the conversation impressed and inspired. I hope you feel the same.

We discussed:

  • why the social justice community typically excludes the animal kingdom
  • how Shmuly got involved in animal welfare activism
  • Shmuly’s “big plate of beef” revelation in grad school
  • going vegan on his wedding day
  • the importance of community, and the founding of Shamayim V’Aretz
  • the “big tent” approach to advocating for animal welfare
  • expanding the definition of “kosher” to include ethics
  • how our appetites can blind us to obvious ethical imperatives
  • the religious “Kool-Aid” that tells us that humans are the center of the universe
  • the need for a responsible theology that balances human needs, responsibility, and dignity
  • how religious people can miss the big ethical picture by cherry-picking texts and issues
  • the importance of the “brief moment between the stimulus and the response”
  • Shmuly’s fight to reform the kosher slaughter industry
  • the connection between the Passover story of freedom and our own lives
  • and much more…

Enjoy, add your voice to the conversation via the comment box below, and please share – that's how we spread our message and spread our roots.

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6 comments on “PYP 095: Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz on Animal Welfare and Human Dignity

  1. Enjoyed this podcast, Howie. Wanted to touch base with you, and wish you a Happy Passover!

  2. Leah Stolar says:

    Thank you for this wonderful podcast with Rav Shmuli. It is so nice to see the plant-based themes intertwined with the Jewish themes. I enjoyed checking out ???? ????.

  3. Leah Stolar says:

    The question marks were Shamayim V’Aretz in Hebrew characters.

  4. Jane Birch says:

    This is one of my favorite episodes (and I love so many of them!). Thanks Howard and Rabbi Yanklowitz! I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon). We also have a health code. It is called the Word of Wisdom, and it matches a whole food, plant-based diet. Sadly, we have not paid enough attention to this treasure we have, but when I hear people of other religions discuss their relationship with food, there is so much overlap and things we can learn from each other! If you are interested, I have a website devoted to the Word of Wisdom. You can find a description of this health code here:

    1. Howard says:

      Thanks, Jane. I’ve often wondered about why religions don’t take advantage of their influence to promote healthy habits. My family and I were in New York City last week, and saw some extremely orthodox Jews smoking cigarettes. My wife commented that in her eyes, there was a certain disconnect between being grateful to God for our bodies, and then poisoning them with cigarettes.

      And while we understand that smoking is a complex behavior and not one deserving of shaming, the fact is that their religious teachers could, and don’t, emphasize earthly care of the “temple of the soul” that has been graciously bequeathed to them.

      1. Jane Birch says:

        Howard, I fully agree. You stated that so beautifully and eloquently. Religion inspires us to be our best selves and to develop our full potential. Care for our bodies, for each other, and for the earth seem central to this endeavor. The virtues and blessing of eating a healthy diet resonate at a deep level with the more profound values of every religion.

        I hope you’ll take a time to watch a 12-minute video I just completed. It introduces the Mormon Word of Wisdom from a whole food, plant-based perspective!

        Discovering the Word of Wisdom: A Short Film

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