A Vegan Seder?

By | Mar 19, 2013
Culture, Food, Latest

This year will be the third year my Jewish vegan friends and I celebrate “veder,” our version of a vegan Passover seder. All of the traditional dishes are served — matzah brie, brisket, gefilte fish, potato latkes, matzah ball soup, kugel and macaroons — in veganized versions without meat, dairy or eggs. Though not all the dishes are appropriate for Passover, the meaning of the holiday and the traditional foods serve to reconnect us to our Jewish roots. Not only is all the food vegan, we incorporate nonhuman animals into our service.

As we thought about what a veder might mean to us, we began to put together what would become our haggadah. It’s similar to those used in most seders, focusing on escape from slavery and celebrating the meaning of freedom. Where it differs is our inclusion of nonhuman animals.

As ethical vegans, we see the eating and using of other animals for food, clothing, entertainment and scientific experimentation as unethical. We see animal rights as the next great social justice movement. As Jews and vegans, we share the values of justice, equality, fairness and compassion not only towards humans, but to nonhumans as well. And so when we tell the stories of oppression, we tell their stories as well.

Our table looks just like any other seder table, except our seder plate is slightly different. Rather than a lamb shank bone, we use a dog cookie cutter to make a playful bone-shaped piece of tofu. We replace the egg with a small dab of commercial “egg replacer” used in vegan baking. We will be serving wines by Vegan Vine, which uses no animal ingredients in the fining/filtering process. Most people, including a large amount of vegans, don’t know that a majority of wines are fined with egg, gelatin or isinglass, the fish bladders of sturgeon. Even some kosher wines may be made with animal ingredients that render them unfit for the typical Passover meal.

Last year, we were able to include Frederick and Douglass, our beagles who were rescued from an animal testing lab in Spain the day before Thanksgiving 2011. They were named after the famous escaped slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Frederick and Douglass also escaped from a life of enslavement and are now part of our family. In fact, Douglass actually found the afikomen last year! Hundreds of millions of nonhuman animals suffer in private and university laboratories all over the world. And so their story is included in our veder.

We use the holiday not only as a time for community, but also to recharge our batteries. The dinner not only nourishes our bodies, but also inspires us to work harder in our fight to end the oppression and violence towards other animals. Retelling the story of Passover inspires us in that slavery was once an accepted part of most cultures, a lot like the enslavement of animals is today. Yet in most parts of the world, human slavery is no longer accepted. Unfortunately animal slavery is still part of the fabric of our culture.

As fellow Jews, I ask that you take a fresh look at the meaning of freedom. Does your definition include nonhuman animals? If not, why not? Passover is a great time to begin to include animals in your moral world.

Gary Smith is co-founder of Evolotus (www.evolotuspr.com), a PR agency working for a better world. Gary blogs at The Thinking Vegan (http:thethinkingvegan.com) and has written for Elephant Journal, Jewish Journal and as a guest blogger for Mother Nature Network (MNN.com). Gary and his wife adhere to a vegan lifestyle and live with their cat Chloe and their two rescued laboratory beagles, Frederick and Douglass, in California.


21 thoughts on “A Vegan Seder?

  1. Poochie says:

    It is great to see how traditions can evolve as long as we have an open mind and heart. Thank you for sharing.

    I just wish Moment Magazine had used an image of your “veder” instead of one with a dead animals bone and a chicken period by-product.

    1. Mitzi Ocean says:

      I am going to a vegan Seder too (love the VEDER) and had been invited to more than one, but am going to the one with a lot of my activist friends. 4 all who care here is me at our double Passover action: giving away Free yummy vegan food and info leaflets that the public can taste it and ‘Passover Awareness’ of the once slaves now being the en-slavers (My friends and I had to leave suddenly b4 the end because the roof of a friend’s cat rescue for 270 cats ( many in treatment and mother with newborns) fell-in and we had to fix it and care for the cats, the old building is in bad condition, but we have no money , why are so many animal activists poor? ) FREEDOM..LOVE…LIGHT…PEACE 2 ALL: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=4647933637703&set=a.4647913837208.1073741827.1274064331&type=1&theater

      1. Mitzi Ocean says:

        I attended the most beautiful Seder of my long life. A Veder (Vegan Seder); on the table there was numerous well balanced, healthy, non-violence based delicious food. Around the table there were beautiful people of all ages. We all enjoyed the fact that we could be totally relaxed that we’d not see or smell the flesh of a murdered life or the products of animal slavery on our festive table.
        The parents read from the Hagadah and explained to the children how we once suffered as slaves and why we must choose not to inflict slavery and/or suffering on other living beings. The children were encouraged to ask questions and they did and every question was answered in full. There was singing, the elated jumping-joy of finding of the ‘Afikoman’!!

  2. The Vejewtarians have been using a delightful haggadah that is quite traditional and it is vegan for their vegan seder their leader Dr. Andy Mars has been having for I think over twenty years.

  3. Quincy says:

    I would love to share this important piece but really don’t want to post this horrific picture of torture along with it. Anyway to change the picture or at least provide an alternate ? It kind of defeats the purpose and is so gross .
    It also gives me Shanda .

  4. Suasoria says:

    Thank you Gary – and whoa, talk about an inappropriate picture! “Here’s a body part from a dead animal to look at while you read this!”

  5. Arielle says:

    Last year I made a jackfruit-brisket for the plant-based seder at our friends’ house. This year we’ll bring that again, and also some homemade vegan macaroons to finish the night off. The main challenge this year will be figuring out a good matzoh ball soup recipe for our hostess’ gluten-free needs.

  6. Andy Mars says:

    Way to go, Gary. Quite correct, Marie. Anyone interested in our VeJEWtarian group can connect through our VeJEWtarian Meetup group, our VeJEWtarian Facebook group, or http://www.VeJEWtarian.org.

  7. Andy Mars says:

    Yes, vegan seders are the Jewish ideal. While I have been vegan for about thirty years, I did not lead my first vegan seder until 1987. I have not missed a year, though, since then. I also wrote my vegan haggadah back then that covers everything that a traditional haggadah ought cover and includes the vegan message as well. Veganism is the Jewish ideal. When all was good in Gan Eden, the world was vegan. When all will be good again with the coming of the Moshiach, the world again will be vegan. There is no reason, though, that we can not elevate these in between days to the level of holiness of the ideal beginning and end. It is the Jewish ideal, and we do not have to accept or contribute to a non-ideal world. Especially with Passover being the Festival of Freedom, it makes much sense for us to focus on the freedom of all of G-d’s creatures. One common confusion, though, that many Jews (and non-Jews) have is the difference between that which is “tradition” and that which is “commandment.” We may have grown up with traditions that involved the consumption or usage of animals, but there are no such commandments here. Instead of the traditional symbol of the roasted egg on the seder plate, I use a roasted avocado pit. It is similarly oval, smooth, and representative of new growth. Instead of the traditional symbol of the shank bone on the seder plate, I use a red beet. It bleeds and can similarly represent the painting of our doorposts red. Gefilte fish, matzvah ball soup, and other such traditional foods are not necessary to a seder, but vegan versions are certainly possible. We are having vegan matzah ball soup at our seder again. For those who refrain from eating kitanyot on Passover, an appropriate vegan diet is still easy to follow. Vegan seders have been around a long time. There is even reason to believe that Rabbi Moses ben Maimon held vegan seders around eight hundred years ago.

  8. David says:

    There’s “every reason” to think the Rambam had vegan seders? Could you mention one?

  9. Esther says:

    Is this a joke?

  10. Andy Mars says:

    What was posted above stated “even reason,” not “every reason,” David.

    For example, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon states in his “Guide for the Perplexed:”
    “It should not be believed that all beings exist for the sake of the existence of humanity. On the contrary, all the other beings too have been intended for their own sakes and not for the sake of anything else… There is no difference between the pain of humans and the pain of other animals.”

    In fact, there is even a vegan restaurant in Brooklyn based on the veg teachings of Rabbi Moses ben Maimon – http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/94051/meatless-moses.

  11. JH in HK says:

    Andy, can you share more details of your Haggadah? Is it published?

  12. Daniel Cohen says:

    Yes Rav Mars has it right that Rambam definitely believed that the way that we should live was as Vejewtarians. Rav Mars’ word Vejewtarian did not exist yet then and the word vegan did not exist yet then but that’s how Rambam lived most of the time and maybe all of the time.

  13. Joe says:

    I guess when the Messia (Mashiach) comes, you will not be included in the Pascal Offering as there is a clear commandment to eat a lamb. Oh well.

  14. Ben says:

    Sorry Joe but a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.
    1) the word Messia is not a Jewish word but a Christian one,
    2) Jews do have a concept of Mashiach but that is very different from Messia,
    3) there are references and allusions to Mashiach in the Torah,
    4) there is not actual commandment for animal sacrifice in the Torah, none during our current lives and none in the future,
    5) rules are given if one is going to sacrifice but it is not commanded,
    7) the belief that there will be sacrifice again during the time of the Mashiach is only a belief and not a commandment,
    8) Rambam spoke about the allegory of it all being different from the reality of it all,
    9) if someone did command you to do something and it was wrong to do, would you do it,
    10) I know that those who do not want to see a more thorough morality will try to argue what others are suggesting they consider instead of opening their minds to being able to consider.

  15. Joe says:

    @Ben, God created all animals as well as humans. No one understands animals better than God Himself. He told us to slaughter them, and you say that’s wrong (#9)? Nothing short of full-blown blasphemy, which I’m sure you don’t mean.
    I have another question: From my understanding, your not-eating-meat-etc, is to protest the mistreatment of animals (correct me if I’m wrong). That is a noble cause. Firstly, the way to change that would be to open a slaughter-house that treats animals correctly, not by not eating meat. Second, if by abstaining, you’re protesting other people doing something the wrong way, you should not have sex because thousands of women are raped every day. Additionally, you shouldn’t drive because many drivers don’t follow the rules.
    The answer to all these questions is, that there is a Torah and there are people. The Torah is absolute and correct. People, who for their own bank accounts, run slaughter houses in a way that mistreats animals, are doing things wrong. We cannot correct that by going against the Torah. We must fight by doing the right thing – the directions dictated by the Torah.
    The venerable Seder with its traditions, was introduced by our Sages, and must be adhered to. Changing anything will not fix any wrong in the world – just introduce more.

  16. Shayna says:

    What a great article. My mum has specially prepared me all vegan dishes for this years seder, although the seder itself won’t be vegan, but I can’t complain, she has made a wonderful effort for me and when I have a family of my own we will host our very own Veders!
    I’m really glad this parallel has been drawn between the slavery of the Jews in Egypt and the current slavery of so many animals in the world, and it saddens me that on this day, so many Jews will sit at their tables blindly assuming that everything is now fine, ignoring those who are still suffering (in fact, relishing in their suffering). How ironic to celebrate freedom by eating an egg, or a slab of meat?
    I am having a boiled potato in salt water this year, for the first time ever, and I could not be happier to. Let’s hope we can spread this message and encourage more people to do the same and remove themselves from this slave industry!! Happy pesach 🙂

  17. Bernie says:

    @Joe, me thinks thou dost protest too much. You have obviously not actually read the Torah in full and if you have read it then you have not understood it. Perhaps you are just repeating what you have heard that has misled you? Or maybe you just do not want to open yourself to deeper Torah truth because you want to defend your habits instead of considering changing them? Ben is quite right that “Sorry Joe but a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.” And, your analogies are so off base.

    @Andy, I am very interested. I am going to check more into joining the VeJEWtarian group. Also is your haggada available for purchase?

    @Gary, thank you for raising this consciousness.

    @Arielle, would you share your jack fruit brisket recipe?

  18. humane harry says:

    sorry joe but there is no thing as humane slaughter. some might be better then others but that is just less bad and not really good. we don’t eat meat because we don’t want to hurt others at all. its a really simple idea. we don’t have 2 hurt others period.

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