Return to Eden, Part II: The Eden Diet
“Then God looked over all he [she] had made, and saw that it was very good! . . . And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.” (Gen. 1:31, 2:3) So ends the first version of the Bible’s creation story.
It is ironic that Christian defenders of meat-eating like to cite verse 28 of this account, in which God gives the new man and woman dominion over the animals, to defend their habit. Readers of PT and many other animal advocates know that in fact Eden was vegan: in the very next verses, God assigns both humans and animals a plant-based diet. Furthermore, the text tells us that God created the humans in God’s own image--and no Jew, Christian or Muslim would claim that God’s dominion means that God created humans or other animals in order (metaphorically speaking) to fatten us up and eat us! Jewish tradition interprets the word translated “dominion” to mean guardianship; just as God’s rule is generous, life-giving, and empowering, so must be the dominion exercised by all who bear the divine image.
This rich myth, presented in two versions (roughly, chapters one and two of Genesis), is a seedbed for all three Abrahamic faiths. God’s best dream for our planet, the story says, is a garden-earth, its care assigned to humans, where all living beings breathe the divine breath and live together in peace, where humans and animals alike dine well on the garden’s bounty. The second version is not without problems. However, for those deeply concerned about Earth today-- dangerously poisoned and full of want, excess, evil, and suffering--it inspires with its vision of what could be, what we are to work for--a beautiful world of peace and plenty for all species.
The first version climaxes with the Creator in effect taking a holiday to savor and enjoy the beauty and goodness of the new universe, and declaring the day hallowed and blessed. It implies that here is the origin of the Jewish custom of observing the seventh day, the Sabbath, as a holy day. Later in the saga of Israel’s history, in the giving of the Ten Commandments or Ten Words through Moses on Mt. Sinai (Ex. 20), the link is made explicit: God’s celebration of the seventh day of creation is cited as the model for the commandment to “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to . . . your God; in it you shall not do any work. . . .” The basis given for this command is God’s resting and hallowing the seventh day in the first creation story. It implies that this weekly celebration, as a remembrance and recapitulation of God’s holiday to enjoy his garden-earth, would include feasting on the abundance the garden provides.
The second passage in which the Ten Words are given, Deut. 5, repeats this Sabbath command almost word for word, but offers a different foundation for observing the day. After instructing that servants/slaves and “domestic” animals are to rest as well as the householder, it says “You shall remember that you were a servant [slave] in the land of Egypt, and that . . . your God brought you out with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore . . . God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.”
Taken together, these two rationales for Sabbath observance have a strong potential for furthering the cause of peace and amity between humans and animals, as we shall see.
Celebration of Creation
Biblical texts give little detail about how the Sabbath is to be observed. The people are not to collect fuel or kindle a fire in any dwelling. While the Israelites sojourned in the wilderness they were not to gather manna, the daily food from heaven, on the Sabbath morning; extra manna had to be gathered the previous morning. A passage in Isaiah speaks against “trampling on the Sabbath” by striking bargains or carrying on one’s regular business; rather, the day is to be one of rest, delight and enjoyment. Over the centuries, certain positive actions such as attending a synagogue to pray and hear a portion of Torah read, and eating certain foods, became a regular part of the day’s observance. Jews of late biblical and later Roman times typically ate fish, which was not considered to be meat, on the Sabbath. In time a large body of specific prohibitions accumulated, classed in thirty-nine categories about 200 BCE. They were important to Jewish identity, but for many they also became a burden that tended to overwhelm the day’s delight and enjoyment. Others felt that the prohibitions were beneficial by enabling them to focus on study, prayer, and family unity and enjoyment.
Perhaps the most ancient, and constant, is that against lighting a fire, which has been interpreted as foregoing human mastery over and manipulation of nature. Opinions differ, especially in our technological society, as to which actions today are covered by this prohibition. Traditionally observant Jews include starting a vehicle, because it means igniting gasoline. For example, ex-senator Joe Lieberman, in his book The Gift of Rest, noted with some amusement that when his Senate duties detained him until sunset on Friday, his observance of this prohibition meant a long walk to his home, even in heavy rain, trailed by dutiful secret service people--all in the interest of Sabbath rest.
But in favorable weather a walk can be more enjoyable and healthy than a car ride. Despite ironies and inconveniences, Lieberman is far from being alone in finding the Sabbath a happy and refreshing gift, a celebration that he and his family look forward to during the week, as they keep an eye open for special treats for the Sabbath dinner. He brings home fresh flowers for the table, which will also be adorned with a tablecloth, the family’s best china, and the Shabbat candles, lit shortly before sunset. Family members dress up. The meal is leisurely, with enjoyment of both food and conversation.
A cherished poetic image for the coming of Shabbat is the welcoming of a bride. Correspondingly, in keeping with the this-worldly nature of Judaism, which affirms pleasures as gifts from God, married couples are encouraged to celebrate the day (or rather night) by making love. The ordinary marriages of ordinary people, whether made up of exemplary, flawed, or selfish persons, on this holyday echo the joyous and unsullied union of Adam and Eve in the Garden.
Of course not all religious Jews consider the traditional Sabbath, its (double) core and its many specific ordinances, to be an inseparable whole. Many congregations affirm and celebrate the heart of the event as they interpret it, feeling free to dispense with individual prohibitions; e.g., they drive their cars to synagogue or temple for Shabbat services, or turn on the oven to heat dinner. But it will remain a day off from the week’s work, and a day for happiness, following the model of God’s celebration of God’s good creation.
Freedom for All
The other base of the Sabbath is liberation. The idea of a weekly day off from labor for everyone--householders, slaves, “domestic” animals--was unheard-of in ancient Pagan cultures. As Rabbi Michael Lerner points out, there was nothing to stop slaveholders and animal “owners” from forcing those they controlled to labor long hours every day, day after day, until they dropped or dropped dead. A holy day of rest for all was revolutionary. Reactions to it in ancient Rome were mixed, the mixture decidedly affected by class. Intellectuals like Seneca, Tacitus, and Juvenal thought Sabbath rest irresponsible, a waste of valuable time, and that it marked Jews as lazy and shiftless; patricians feared its subversive influence on slaves. Unsurprisingly, slaves and workers thought it was a wonderful idea, and were attracted to Judaism.
Sabbath equality--the fact that rest is for animals too--has even more radical implications, which are firmly in keeping with the Eden Diet,, and which are being more deeply explored at present than ever before. Traditionally, Sabbath menus have not followed the Garden Diet but have included meat, which has long been associated with festivity and abundance. However, occasional saintly figures such as Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935), himself a strong supporter of vegetarianism, have anticipated it in a general way: he cites the nonviolent diet God originally prescribed, and held that the en-Light-ened person in the future would shun meat-eating altogether out of compassion for animals. He sees this as taking place especially in the Messianic Age to come. (See Rabbi Kook ) Present-day Jewish animal activists are developing the idea more concretely. Roberta Kalechofsky (pictured) in the Introduction to her Vegetarian Shabbat Cookbook co-authored with Roberta Schiff, having described the enormous harm that animal agriculture is causing the earth, tells her readers
“Celebrating Shabbat with vegetarian food continues the revolutionary spirit in which the Shabbat was first conceived of as a gift of freedom for human beings. It becomes a gift for all the creatures which God blessed; it restores our harmony with that first miraculous Shabbat when God looked at the created world, found it good, blessed it, and rested on the seventh day.”
Exodus, Judaism’s founding event commemorated in the Sabbath, is indeed a great gift to the world’s oppressed and enslaved, the gift that keeps on giving. Roman workers and slaves were by no means the last to be inspired by its message that God desires rest and freedom for the lowest and last. Southern slaveholders passed laws to prevent enslaved people from learning to read, partly because those who did were so preoccupied with Exodus, composing subversive songs like “Go Down Moses.” Latin American liberation theologians applied it to the abject condition of peasants and city slum-dwellers, who caught the spark and began to study this and other biblical passages with big changes in mind. Jewish and Christian feminists of the Second Wave saw the freeing and empowering of women as a further working-out of the exodus principle. Today Jewish and Christian animal activists are finding inspiration in the story as they/we work to liberate our animal cousins.
There are signs that this is a concept whose time has come. In the last five or ten years there has been a great increase in our population’s awareness that vegetarian/veganism is not an ascetic diet but a sensitive, varied, and even enviable lifestyle. Thus the idea of a Sabbath that is both festive and plant-based can speak to a larger audience than before, with potential for people in the other two Abrahamic faiths as well. It seems that animal activists such as Roberta Kalechofsky and Richard Schwartz, who seek to promote vegetarianism (including a meatless Sabbath) among Jews, are riding the wave of the future.
My thanks to Richard Schwartz (president of Jewish Vegetarians of N. America and author of Judaism and Vegetarianism) for helpful suggestions.
The painting of Eden is by Jan Brueghel the Elder; the painting of Harriet Tubman and passengers is by Paul Collins. I have not been able to find the name of the creator of the wood sculpture or its photographer.
The essay in the Sept-Oct. issue will continue the Return to Eden theme with a discussion of the potentials for a meatless Sunday among Christians.
Indian Dolphins Declared Persons
Splendid news: India has officially recognized dolphins as non-human persons, whose rights to life and liberty must be respected. Dolphin parks that were being built across the country will instead be shut down. See Dolphins
--Contributed by Robert Ellwood, Judy Carman and Will Tuttle
Meatless Monday in San Diego Schools
The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education has approved "Meatless Monday" starting this fall. Due to the high obesity rates in children and the health benefits of plant-based diets, school officials support the decision to offer kids tasty, healthy foods and therefore a good start in regards to eating habits. See San Diego
--Contributed by Lorena Mucke
“If the creation, including our fellow creatures, is impiously used apart from a gracious, primeval joy in it, the very richness of the creation becomes a judgment.”--Joseph Sittler
“Every day forty thousand children die in the world for lack of food. We, who overeat in the West, who are feeding grains to animals to make meat, are eating the flesh of these children.”--Thich Nhat Hanh
--Contributed by Lorena Mucke
“We are all victims of the violence that animals suffer… their liberation is also our liberation.”--George Bernard Shaw
--Contributed by Lorena Mucke
Glimpses of the Peaceable Kingdom: Adoptions
Mother Dog Adopts Orphaned Chimp
This large-hearted mother seems a little bemused at times by the hugs and holds of her biggest baby.
See Odd Couple
--Contibuted by Karen Borch
Mother Cat Adopts Orphaned Hedgehogs
This baby hedgehog and his three siblings (small European cousins of the American porcupine) have also found a loving mother. Let’s hope she doesn’t try to groom her adopted babies the wrong way around . . . . See Hedgehogs
--Contributed by Marjorie Emerson
Pioneer: Philip Wollen, 1950-
Australian Philip Wollen grew up not questioning the conventional meat-based diet; he reports that his favorite dishes were fillet mignon and lobster. As an adult he took up a career in banking, at which he was very successful, becoming a general manager at Citicorp and later vice-president of Citibank; he amassed considerable wealth. But his life changed drastically as a result of one day seeing a scene of appalling, horrifying cruelty to animals. He retired from banking in order to devote his life to giving: promoting kindness especially toward the most vulnerable beings, animals and children.
He established a foundation in Melbourne, the Winsome Constance Kindness Trust, which supports more than 500 projects in more than forty countries in five key areas: besides children and animals, the sick, the environment, and aspiring youth. The mission statement of the Trust reads “to promote kindness towards all other living beings and enshrine it as a recognisable trait in the Australian character and culture”. The foundation, named after Wollen’s mother and grandmother, provides funding for schools, sanctuaries, shelters, orphanages, lion parks, vehicles, ambulances, bio-gas plants, disaster recovery, medical equipment, food, and medicine.
In choosing the projects he supports, Wollen is assisted by an international network of contacts who conduct “due diligence” on his behalf. His preference is for small pro-vegan programs that “punch above their weight”.
Wollen describes himself as an “ahimsan” – derived from the Sanskrit word “ahimsa” – which means “non-violence to any living being”. He believes that ahimsa is “the most beautiful word ever written at any time, in any country, in human history.” Wollen does not distinguish between the suffering of human and non-human animals. He summarizes his philosophy as “In their capacity to suffer, a dog is a pig is a bear ... is a boy.”
He has earned a number of awards and honors: he received the “Order of Australia” in 2005, the “Australian Humanitarian of the Year” in 2006 and in 2007; on Australia Day, he received the award “Australian of the Year Victoria”.
Every year the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics in Britain invites one or more outstanding individuals to become Honorary Fellows. Among current honorees are the Nobel Laureate for Literature Professor J. M. Coetzee of South Africa, and multiple Emmy-award-winning television personality and philanthropist Bob Barker. In March of this year, Philip Wollen joined this distinguished body of individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the protection of animals.
Andrew Linzey, pioneering theologian of animal issues and Director of the Centre, says “It is a great pleasure to honour someone who has worked so sacrificially to improve the world for humans and animals.”
Summer brings thoughts of outdoor cooking, chilled soups, and the old fashioned simple-to-make popsicle.
The first recipe is from The Vegetarian Shabbat Cookbook by Roberta Kalechofsky and Roberta Schiff.
Cold Curried Green Pea Soup
Chilled soups are lovely to serve for a summer Shabbat evening and curried chilled green pea soup makes for a nice surprise soup.
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 pound packaged (2 cups dry) split green peas
4 cups of water
1 medium onion chopped
1 rib of celery chopped
2 teaspoons prepared green curry (Thai Kitchen Green Curry Paste works well)
Pinch of salt
Oil a large soup pot. Saute onions and celery for about five minutes on low heat.
Rinse peas, put in a pot. Add water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer for about 40 minutes. Add salt and curry. Puree in pot. Adjust seasonings.
--Roberta Kalechofsky and Roberta Schiff
The Vegetarian Shabbat Cookbook is available from Micah Publications, firstname.lastname@example.org
Blueberry Coconut Popsicles
1 cup blueberries
⅛ cup liquid sweetener
Juice of 1 lemon
12 oz coconut milk
Pour sweetener and lemon juice over berries and mix gently Put coconut cream in a medium mixing bowl and whip until thickened, adding in the blueberry mixture while whipping.
Some of the berries will break down releasing their juices and creating texture. If you want the berries whole, hand mix them in gently, using a rubber spatula. If you prefer a quicker alternative and a more purple colored pop, simply blend all of the ingredients together.
Pour mixture into popsicle molds. Place a sturdy 6 inch (cleaned) twig in place of the stem for each popsicle, and freeze for 2 – 6 hours or until completely frozen. When ready to serve, run the molds under warm water for a few seconds and gently pull popsicles from molds.
Book Review: The Eloquence of Grace
Joseph A. Sittler, The Eloquence of Grace: Joseph Sittler and the Preaching Life. James T. Childs and Richard Lischer, Eds.. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock (Cascade Books), 2012. Paperback, xiii + 325 pp,
By Robert Ellwood and Gracia Fay Ellwood
Gracia Fay: In all honesty--that is to say, with Full Disclosure--I can’t claim to be completely objective about this book, considering the nature of my personal acquaintance with its author in my student years at the University of Chicago. To understand something of this remarkable man, one must know a little about the place and time. A graduate school of religious studies was likely to be an unwelcoming place for the rare woman student in the early 1960s; professors tended to deal with my vaguely-embarrassing presence by acting as though I were not there, and ignoring or facilely dismissing the rare comments I ventured to make. I came so close to invisibility that my advisor changed the date of my MA oral exam without feeling it necessary to inform me. After my exam (which I passed), he and the other examiner in the Religion and Literature program told me that in order to succeed in getting a Ph.D. at Chicago, I would be expected to be twice as good as a man. If I thought I qualified, I could talk to them about it.
Joseph Sittler made a huge impact on me because he was so different. He saw nothing strange about a woman in a Divinity School; I was simply a human being who wanted to learn and talk about the religious implications of literature and about experiencing the presence of God, topics that interested him as well. He listened intently and responded sensitively. The effect of actually being seen and heard was both intellectually stimulating and healing.
This rare openness of mind and heart was perhaps because he was both in step and out of step with the concerns of the times. Other theologians in the ‘Fifties and ‘Sixties were preoccupied with God as Totally Other, Demythologization, the Death of God, Existentialism, and similar issues having to do with God and “Man.” Sittler could dialogue capably on these topics, but what he most wanted to explore was “Nature and Grace”: the presence of God’s grace and glory throughout creation, Christ as the One who unites and redeems not only humans but all things, our civilization’s abuse of the earth we should be regarding with joy, and the need for humans to become active in God’s project of cosmic redemption. He mentioned animals occasionally as one aspect of creation, but did not highlight them particularly. I doubt it ever occurred to him to question eating them. But if it had--well, because he was able to see and hear me in those days of widespread obliviousness, I believe he would have responded to the animal concern also with Grace.
The Nature-and-Grace theme appears in many places throughout this collection of his talks and sermons--and he was a superb preacher--but not all of them are relevant to it. Those that highlight it are “Sittler Introduces Himself,” “Unbridled Grace,” “The Care of the Earth,” “Epiphany, Glory, and 63rd Street,” and especially the delightful sermon on Noah and the Ark, “The Nimbus and the Rainbow.”
Robert: I first heard Joseph Sittler speak during a Religion in Life week when I was a student at the University of Colorado, I think sometime during the 1952-53 academic year. I recall the slim, youthful-seeming (he was then 48) theologian holding the rapt attention of an audience of oft-restless undergraduates with his energy, his quickly-moving finger, and his penetrating intelligence. I am sorry to say I don't remember much of what he said, but the total presence of the man was unforgettable.
It was a flush time for mainstream American religion. The postwar religion "boom" was still in force, the Cold War was at its coldest (university chaplains, referring to Communism and Christianity, liked to say, "It takes a faith to fight a faith"), theology, then represented by figures of the statue of Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, and Reinhold Niebuhr, was intellectually important in a way it rarely is today. Joseph Sittler was not as prominent a theologian as they, but in some ways it was he, not their existentialism or rather dark realism (to over-simplify, to be sure), that pointed to the future. Their concerns were God and humanity, our depravity and inner estrangement from the Divine Ground of Being, while his increasingly were the enjoyment and care of the Earth God had given us.
Then as later there were those who asserted that mere nature was not the proper concern of theology, or, more likely, had never even thought about it. But Sittler, in fresh, sometimes sparkling lectures and sermons and articles, showed that ecology was directly linked to the biblical covenants between God and humanity, and Christian views of the purpose of human life. Two sermons in particular preserved in The Eloquence of Grace bear this out. "The Care of the Earth" (1961) centers on two expressions: the Westminster Catechism's profession that "the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever"; and a sentence from a sage and saint of Roman Catholic Christianity, Thomas Aquinas: "It is of the heart of sin that men use what they ought to enjoy, and enjoy what they ought to use."
The implication for nature ought to be clear. We are meant to enjoy and respect nature, including its animal life, so as to glorify (and enjoy) the God who made it; but all too often we merely use it, to satisfy our appetites and our inordinate desire for power over it. We kill merely because we can; we eat more than we need, we eat things we do not need, because we can. But in so doing, as Sittler and a few others increasingly perceived, we are destroying not only what was meant to be deeply enjoyed, but our very home and even ourselves.
This point is brought to sharper focus in "The Nimbus and the Rainbow." Here the nimbus or halo, which in conventional religious art encircles the head of a holy person, is contrasted with the rainbow, the sign of God's all-embracing grace and covenant which as it were encompassed the earth after the flood of Noah. Says Sittler: "For whereas the nimbus is the sign of the precision of grace, the rainbow is the sign of the theater, the scope, and plenitude of grace." The nimbus marks one who, like Noah, heard the word of God and responded; but the response is not within himself [herself] alone, in some private anguish of soul, but must be spoken through playing a generous role in the theater of the world, natural and human and above all, both together.
Decades before ecology was on most people’s horizons, Joseph Sittler invited us to open our eyes and see the cosmos, flooded by the rainstorm of evil, as overarched by the rainbow of God’s grace. He was a man for his time and for ours as well.
Poetry: Richard Wilbur, 1921 -
This 1959 poem made a powerful impact on Joseph Sittler, who quoted it more than once in his sermons.
Advice to a Prophet
When you come, as you soon must, to the streets of our city,
Mad-eyed from stating the obvious,
Not proclaiming our fall but begging us
In God's name to have self-pity, . . .
Nor shall you scare us with talk of the death of the race.
How should we dream of this place without us?--
The sun mere fire, the leaves untroubled about us,
A stone look on the stone's face?
Speak of the world's own change. Though we cannot conceive
Of an undreamt thing, we know to our cost
How the dreamt cloud crumbles, the vines are blackened by frost,
How the view alters. We could believe,
If you told us so, that the white-tailed deer will slip
Into perfect shade, grown perfectly shy,
The lark avoid the reaches of our eye,
The jack-pine lose its knuckled grip
On the cold ledge, and every torrent burn
As Xanthus once, its gliding trout
Stunned in a twinkling. What should we be without
The dolphin's arc, the dove's return,
These things in which we have seen ourselves and spoken?
Ask us, prophet, how we shall call
Our natures forth when that live tongue is all
Dispelled, that glass obscured or broken
In which we have said the rose of our love and the clean
Horse of our courage, in which beheld
The singing locust of the soul unshelled,
And all we mean or wish to mean.
Ask us, ask us whether with the wordless rose
Our hearts shall fail us; come demanding
Whether there shall be lofty or long standing
When the bronze annals of the oak-tree close.