Three Things I Observed on The Vegan Rabbi Tour

By Jeffrey Spitz Cohan, Executive Director.

Now we know what it’s like to be a rock star. 

Ten gigs, in eight cities, in nine days, in April. Bloodshot eyes and flight delays. 

We weren’t playing loud music, singing unintelligible lyrics, or smashing guitars. Instead, we were spreading the word about the intersection of Judaism and veganism, speaking to college students, synagogue-goers, and even to a local rabbinic association. 

This was The Rabbi Akiva Gersh Speaking Tour, organized by Jewish Veg. Akiva – an Orthodox rabbi, devout vegan, and signatory on the Jewish Veg Rabbinic Statement – engaged audiences on both coasts and several places in between. 

Having both the duty and good fortune to accompany Rabbi Gersh on much of the tour, I’d like to share three observations:

People gather to hear Rabbi Akiva Gersh at Beth Tikvah in Roswell, GA.

Jews are thirsting for this information

So there’s an intersection between veganism and Judaism? That’s putting it mildly. Our text and tradition point strongly toward eating plants, not animals. 

The overwhelming reaction we received on tour was “tell me more.”

People, at one tour stop after another, were not only riveted to Akiva’s presentation, they often stayed afterward to ask questions and keep the conversation going. 

I’ve often said, Jewish Veg shouldn’t even have to exist, since there is so much in the Torah and in our rabbinic tradition that emphasizes eating plants and treating animals compassionately. But because Jewish educators at every level fail to impart this, it is a darn good thing we do exist. 

The reaction to this tour affirmed that there is a strong demand out there for this information. 

After addressing members of the Atlanta Rabbinic Association, Akiva posed for a photo with some of the rabbis.

Rabbis need the information, too

The very first stop in the tour was one of the most interesting, and most revealing. Akiva met with members of the Atlanta Rabbinical Association. 

While two of the rabbis were vegan, most of the others seemed unfamiliar with the content of Akiva’s presentation, which focused on the teachings of Rav Kook and Rav Soloveitchik

Are these rabbis derelict? Certainly not. The unfortunate reality is, our rabbinic seminaries – across all denominations – do a poor job of educating future rabbis about the connection between plant-based diets, Torah mandates, and rabbinic commentaries. 

This is analogous to medical schools that neglect to educate future doctors about the role of nutrition in preventing and mitigating disease. 

The moral of the story is, Jewish Veg needs to meet with a lot more rabbinic associations. 

Rabbi Akiva Gersh discusses the three key ideas from the Torah that support veganism.

Here’s looking at you, Yid

The pandemic – while no less a tragedy for humanity – did benefit Jewish Veg in one way: 

Thanks to Zoom, we were able to reach more people with our message than ever before. 

That said, it was great being on tour with Rabbi Gersh, meeting people in person, and looking them in the eye when we explain the pros of veganism and cons of eating animals. 

Yes, we can indeed reach more people online, and we will continue to hold online events. But the tradeoff is width versus depth. We can penetrate more deeply into people’s hearts when we’re with them in person. 

For the foreseeable future, our programming will be both online and in person, sometimes even simultaneously. 

It sure was nice to be in the same room with people who are interested in learning about the Judaism-veganism connection

Interested in bringing an online or in-person presentation to your community? Check out our Speaking Engagements page.

And if you’d like, check out our video trailer with highlights from the tour.