Might Does Not Make Right -
Reflections From Isaac Bashevis Singer

The following is an excerpt from Eternal Treblinka by Charles Patterson.  

The importance of vegetarianism to [Isaac Bashevis] Singer was evident in the interview he gave in his Manhattan apartment on August 9, 1964. After Singer and the two interviewers finished covering a wide range of topics, including Singer’s early years as a writer in America, the art of translation, and world and Yiddish literature, one of the interviewers said, “I guess that’s about it.” But Singer was not finished. “Let me add that I am a sincere vegetarian. You may be interested to know that even though I don’t have any dogma, this has become my dogma.” He told the interviewers that as long as we are cruel to animals and apply to them the principle that might makes right, that same principle will be applied to us. “This is lately my kind of religion, and I really hope that one day humanity will make an end to this eating of meat and hunting of animals for pleasure.”

Singer told the Newsweek reporters who came to interview him about his Nobel Prize for Literature that the suffering of animals made him 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 gun, it gives me a feeling of misery and sometimes anger with the Almighty.” He said it makes him want to ask God, “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 years in peace?”

In another interview in the early 1980′s when Richard Burgin asked him about his vegetarianism, Singer told him, “I really feel that sensitive people, people who think about things, must come to the conclusion that you cannot be gentle while you’re killing a creature, you cannot be for justice while you take a creature who is weaker than you and slaughter it [sic], and torture it [sic].” He said he had this feeling since childhood (“many children have it”)…As he got older, Singer felt he would be a “real hypocrite if I would write or speak against bloodshed while I would be shedding blood myself.”

He told Burgin, “It is just common sense to me that if you believe in compassion and in justice you cannot treat the animals the very opposite simply because they are weaker or because they have less intelligence. It’s not our business to judge these things. They have the type of intelligence they need to exist.”

In the same interview Singer said, “I cannot call God merciful and I feel a great protest in myself against creation. I also see that man is merciless. The moment he gets a little power, other people’s misfortunes are nothing to him.”…Singer ended the interview by telling Burgin, “The man who eats meat or the hunter who agrees with the cruelties of Nature, upholds with every bite of meat or fish that might is right. Vegetarianism is my religion, my protest.”

In the Foreword he wrote for Dudley Giehl’s book on vegetarianism, published in 1979, Singer asked what he considered the eternal question: “What gives man the right to kill an animal, often torture it [sic], 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, bird, or even a mouse – knows that this theroy is a brazen lie, invented to justify cruelty.

The only justification for killing animals, Singer wrote, is “the fact that man can keep a knife or an ax in his hands and is shrewd enough and selfish enough to do slaughter for what he thinks is his own good.” He praised Dudley Giehl for arousing people’s consciences by telling them that by eating the flesh of animals and by hunting, they are committing murder. “All their nice talk about humanism, a better tomorrow, a beautiful future, has no meaning as long as they kill to eat or kill for pleasure.” Although Singer wrote that he is aware that humanity’s disregard for animals will not end soon, “it is good that there are some people who express a deep protest against the killing and torturing of the helpless.”

Singer concluded his Foreword with a warning: as long as human beings go on shedding the blood of animals, there will never be any peace. “There is only one little step from killing animals to creating gas chambers..and concentration camps…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.” - Excerpted from Eternal Treblinka by Charles Patterson

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