Rav Kook Was Not a Vegetarian!

Among the many false claims about Rabbi Avraham Yitzkak HaCohen Kook is the assertion that he practiced vegetarianism.

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While Professor Richard Schwartz does not make the claim that Rav Kook in fact practiced vegetarianism, many others have implied or stated as much. Even Professor Schwartz's characterization of Rav Kook's position as providing "the strongest support for vegetarianism as a positive ideal anywhere in Torah literature" might be misunderstood. The present article, an except from a longer essay refuting six claims about Rav Kook, is reprinted with permission from The Canadian Jewish News, August 24, 1995.

Sixty years after his death, Rav Kook's name can still be heard quoted lovingly by a variety of Jewish groups, all of whom see Rabbi Kook as "one of them." It might be worthwhile now to take a careful look at some of the more common claims made today about Rabbi Kook.

Claim 5: "Rabbi Kook was a vegetarian."

At least a few times a year one can read articles in the Jewish press praising vegetarianism and listing famous Jewish vegetarians. Rabbi Kook's name almost invariably appears.

In fact, Rabbi Kook wrote a fascinating pamphlet entitled The Vision of Vegetarianism and of Peace. There he had some positive theoretical things to say about vegetarianism.

But in that same pamphlet, Rabbi Kook has some sharp words for people who promote vegetarianism these days, in our imperfect world. Such an ideology is clearly a sign of pretentiousness, he says. Rabbi Kook sarcastically writes that the vegetarian today "has already made everything better in this world, has already removed the kingdom of wickedness and of lies, national hatred, racial prejudice…. It is as if all these no longer exist in the world," and all that remains to be fixed in this world is the relationship of human beings and animals, says Rabbi Kook.

As one might easily deduce from his writings, Rabbi Kook was not a vegetarian.

Martin I. Lockshin

Martin I. Lockshin, Ph.D., is a professor at the Centre for Jewish Studies at York University in Toronto. He received rabbinic ordination after studying at the yeshiva founded by Rav Kook in Jerusalem.