International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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North America: late 20th Century
Isaac Bashevis Singer (1904-1991)

I. B. Singer was an outstanding writer of Yiddish stories. His best-selling novels include "The Family Moscat", "Satan in Goray", "The Magician of Lublin", "Gimpel the Fool", "The Spinoza of Market Street", and "The Slave". He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1978.

He was a staunch vegetarian for his last 35 years, primarily because of compassion for animals. He was fond of saying that he was a vegetarian for health reasons - the health of the chicken. He frequently included vegetarian themes in his stories. In his short story, "The Slaughterer", he described the anguish that an appointed slaughterer had trying to reconcile his compassion for animals with his job of slaughtering animals. He felt that the eating of meat was a denial of all ideals and all religions: "How can we speak of right and justice if we take an innocent creature and shed its blood".
- Richard Schwartz

Although Berry interviewed many distinguished vegetarians, he particularly remembers his conversations with the Nobel prize winning writer Isaac Bashevis Singer: "Vegetarian themes and motifs have sounded through even his earliest work." Asked whether he turned vegetarian for his health, Singer replied, "I didn't do it for my health but for the health of the animals." - from a review of Professor Rynn Berry's 'Famous Vegetarians'


People often say that humans have always eaten animals, as if this is a justification for continuing the practice. According to this logic, we should not try to prevent people from murdering other people, since this has also been done since the earliest of times.

Even in the worm that crawls in the earth there glows a divine spark. When you slaughter a creature, you slaughter God.

As often as Herman had witnessed the slaughter of animals and fish, he always had the same thought: In their behavior toward creatures, all men were Nazis. The smugness with which man could do with other species as he pleased exemplified the most extreme racist theories, the principle that might is right. - Enemies, A Love Story

In his thoughts, Herman spoke a eulogy for the mouse who had shared a portion of her life with him and who, because of him, had left this earth "What do they know - all these scholars, all these philosophers, all the leaders of the world - about such as you? They have convinced themselves that man, the worst transgressor of all the species, is the crown of creation. All other creatures were created merely to provide him with food, pelts, to be tormented, exterminated. In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka." - "The Letter Writer" from The Seance and Other Stories

The same questions are bothering me today as they did fifty years ago. Why is one born? Why does one suffer? In my case, the suffering of animals also makes me very sad. I'm a vegetarian, you know. When I see how little attention people pay to animals, and how easily they make peace with man being allowed to do with animals whatever he wants because he keeps a knife or a gun, it gives me a feeling of misery and sometimes anger with the Almighty. I say "Do you need your glory to be connected with so much suffering of creatures without glory, just innocent creatures who would like to pass a few year's in peace?" I feel that animals are as bewildered as we are except that they have no words for it. I would say that all life is asking: "What am I doing here?" - Newsweek interview, 16 October 1978 after winning the Nobel Prize in literature

There reposed within me an ascetic who reminded me constantly of death and that other's suffered in hospitals, in prisons, or were tortured by various political sadists. Only a few years ago millions of Russian peasants starved to death just because Stalin decided to establish collectives. I could never forget the cruelties perpetrated upon God's creatures in slaughterhouses, on hunts, and in various scientific laboratories. - Lost in America

extracts from foreword to 'Vegetarianism, a Way of Life, by Dudley Giehl':

Even though thc number of people who commit suicide is quite small, there are fcw pcoplc who have never thought about suicide at one time or another. The same is true about vegetarianism We find very few people who have never thought that killing animals is actually murder, founded on the premise that might is right . . . I will call it the eternal question: What gives man the right to kill an animal often torture it, so that he can fill his belly with its flesh. We know now, as we have always known instinctively, that animals can suffer as much as human beings. their emotions and their sensitivity are often stronger than those of a human being. Various philosophers and religious leaders tried to convince their disciples and followers that animals are nothing more than machines without a soul, without feelings. However, anyone who has ever lived with an animal be it a dog, a bird or even a mouse - knows that this theory is a brazen lie, invented to justify cruelty.

The only justification for killing animals is the fact that man can keep a knife or an axe in his hands and is shrewd enough and selfish enough to do slaughter for what he thinks is his own good. The Old Testament has many passages where the passion for meat is considered to be evil. According to the Bible, it was only a compromise with so-called human nature that God had allowed people to eat meat. I'm often astonished when I read about highly sensitive poets, preachers of morality, humanists and do-gooders of all kinds who found pleasure in hunting - chasing after some poor, weak hare or fox and teaching dogs to do likewise. I often read of people who say that when they retire they will go fishing. They say this with an understanding that from then on they won't do any damage to anybody. An epoch of charity and tranquility will begin in their life. It never occurs to them for a moment that innocent beings will suffer and die from this innocent little sport.

. . I personally am very pessimistic about the hope that humanity's disregard for animals will end soon. I'm sometimes afraid that we are approaching an epoch when the hunting of human beings may become a sport. But it is good that there are some people who express a deep protest against the killing and torturing of the helpless, playing with their fear of death, enjoying their misery. Even if God or nature sides with the killers, the vegetarian is saying: I protest the ways of God and man. We may admire God's wisdom but we are not obliged to praise what seems to us His lack of mercy. It may be that somewhere the Almighty has an answer for what He is doing. It may be that one day we shall grasp His answer. But as long as we don't understand it, we shouldn't agree and we shouldn't flatter Him. long as human beings will go on shedding the blood of animals, there will never be any peace. There is ouly one little step from killing animals to creating gas chambers a la Hitler and concentration camps a la Stalin . . . all such deeds are done in the name of 'social justice'. There will be no justice as long as man will stand with a knife or with a gun and destroy those who are weaker than he is.

From Food for the Spirit: Vegetarianism and the World Religions, by Steven Rosen (Bala Books, 1987, ISBN 0-89647-021-0).

Preface - by Isaac Bashevis Singer

Vegetarianism is my religion. I became a consistent vegetarian some twenty-three years ago. Before that, I would try over and over again. But it was sporadic. Finally, in the mid-1960s, I made up my mind. And I've been a vegetarian ever since.

When a human kills an animal for food, he is neglecting his own hunger for justice. Man prays for mercy, but is unwilling to extend it to others. Why should man then expect mercy from God? It's unfair to expect something that you are not willing to give. It is inconsistent.

I can never accept inconsistency or injustice. Even if it comes from God. If there would come a voice from God saying, "I'm against vegetarianism!" I would say, "Well, I am for it!" This is how strongly I feel in this regard.

In orthodox religious circles, this would be considered heretical. Still, I consider myself a religious man. I'm not against organized religion, but I don't take part in it. Especially when they interpret their religious books as being in favor of meat-eating. Sometimes they say He wants sacrifice and the killing of animals. If this is true, then I would never be able to comply. But I think God is wiser and more merciful than that. And there are interpretations of religious scriptures which support this, saying that vegetarianism is a very high ideal.

Whether the mass of people accept the vegetarian interpretation of religion or not really doesn't matter. At least not in my life. I accept it implicitly. Of course, it would be wonderful if the world adopted vegetarianism, on religious grounds or any other. But this is not likely. I am a skeptic, it's true, but I'm also realistic. In any event, what the people in general do will not affect me. I will continue to be a vegetarian even if the whole world started to eat meat.

This is my protest against the conduct of the world. To be a vegetarian is to disagree -- to disagree with the course of things today. Nuclear power, starvation, cruelty -- we must make a statement against these things. Vegetarianism is my statement. And I think it's a strong one.

Author Steven Rosen makes a similar statement in his book. And although I do not necessarily agree with everything he says, point for point, I do find his work fascinating and convincing. He correctly points out that various philosophers and religious leaders have tried to convince their following that animals are nothing more than machines, put on earth for our pleasure, with no purpose of their own. Mr. Rosen smashes this idea, however, and every reader who is predisposed to the vegetarian ideal will enjoy his logic and reason in doing this.

Copyright (1986) Isaac Bashevis Singer