It’s Not Your Meat
Written by Kesher Journal   

By Paul L. Saal

This past summer in my capacity as Northeast Regional Director of the UMJC Iwas visiting Camp Ohr L’Dor, a Messianic Jewish teen camp about an hour north ofNew York City. While speaking to a group of teen girls that had just returned from acamping and canoeing trip I inquired how they enjoyed the food on the trip. I wasspecifically interested in their reaction since I was aware that the food had been entirely veganon their trip. One of the teens, a delightful and caring young lady surprisingly blurtedout, “It was ok but I need my meat.” I responded to her, “But that is the point, it’s notyour meat!” She and the other teens laughed, yet I hope I did not intimidate or embarrassher; this was certainly not my intention. I deemed it important though that shemight understand and that the meat she craved, just like everything else “All belongsto Adonai.” (Psalm24:1)

On its face the issue of animal welfare has no direct relevance to the growthof Messianic Judaism. But if we are to ever emerge from our self-induced comaof individual and communal narcissism, Messianic Judaism must discover and excavatea mine of inherent values beyond our own ecclesial survival. Just as participating ina funeral has long been considered one of the great acts of gemilut hasadim(the responsibility toward acts of loving-kindness), since the dead cannot rewardthe participant, so the care and protection of animals offers great ethical promise since itcan only limit our own profit, self-desires and conspicuousconsumption.

Torah and Talmud are replete with commands and ordinances concerning thehumane treatment of animals, or protecting them from tza’ar ba’alei chayyim (Bava Metzia32b, Shabbat 128b), literally hardship to their lives. Deuteronomy 25:4 legislates, “Youshall not muzzle an ox while it is threshing, recognizing the cruelty of prohibiting ananimal from eating while it labors in the presence of food. Likewise another mitzvah(Deut 23:26-26) within the same weekly parsha permits a person who labors in a vineyardto eat while he works, yet prohibits him from carrying away any produce. TheTalmud extends this permission and prohibition to any fields of labor where produce comesfrom the earth (Bava Mezia 87b). So, by extension we can deduce that God extendslike compassion to animals as he does tohumans.

The Apostle Paul evokes this passage in defense of his own rights to compensationand, like Talmud, extends this concept from animals tohumans.

Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.’ Is it about oxen that God is concerned? (I Cor 9:7-9)

Of course Paul is not arguing against God’s concern for the animals but creating a kal va’homer argument that might be stated, “If God cares so much for the rights of oxen, then how much more will he be concerned with the well-being of His servant?” It would appear from this intertexual threading that how we treat members of the animal family bears some relevance and resemblance to how we will treat members of the human family. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin draws an interesting parallel.

Perhaps the cruelest act that a parent can endure is to see his orher children being killed. The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, thebiblical archetype of a sadist, was so enraged at King Zedekiah for leading arevolt against him that after he captured the king, he murdered Zedekiah’stwo sons in his presence, then blinded him, so that the death of his sonswould be the last thing that Zedekiah would see (II Kings 25:7). In morerecent times, the Nazis often delighted in murdering Jewish children inthe presence of theirparents.

A Torah Law prohibits treating animals in the way that peoplelike Nebuchadnezzar and the Nazis treated human beings. Thus,Deuteronomy 22:6 rules that if a person comes across a nest of birds, he cannot takethe mother bird with the young, but must send the mother away to spareher feelings. Concerning the rationale for this law, Maimonides writes,“for the pain of the animals under such circumstances is very great.”1

John Wesley, founder of the evangelical movement Methodism, went even further inhis empathy when he pondered whether some divine justice might await mistreatedanimals in the afterlife, finding a “plausible objection against the justice of God, insuffering numberless creatures that had never sinned to be so severely punished” in hissermon entitled the “GreatDeliverance.”

But what does it answer to dwell upon this subject which we so imperfectly understand? It may enlarge our hearts toward these poor creatures to reflect that, vile as they may appear in our eyes, not a one of them is forgotten in the sight of our Father which is in heaven.2

The catechism of the Catholic Church recognizes kindness to animals as part ofhuman debt to theCreator.

Animals are God’s creatures. He surrounds them with providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should remember the gentleness with which saints like Saint Francis of Assisi or Saint Philip Neri treated animals.3

Given the imperative for animal welfare in both Jewish and Christian traditions, whythen does it seem that sermons are rarely spoken today on the subject and in fact manyself- proclaimed “believers” are oddly and outspokenly hostile to the concept? I believethe reason is twofold. First, many intuit that care and concern for animals might requireself-limitation, discipline and sacrifice. Furthermore, concern that religious andgovernmental polities might increase such limitations is again understood as an impingement uponthe right of the individual to have unbridled choices. The second reason I believe ismerely an extension of the first. In a society obsessed with self-gratification, the impositionor even the suggestion of limits is generally met with suspicion. Perhaps this is whylimiting human consumption or use of animals has been postured as a competition for thegreater good of each. The Catholic catechism goes on tostate:

The Creator however, entrusted animals to the stewardship ofthose he created in his image. Hence it is legitimate to use animals for foodor clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work andleisure. Medical and scientific experimentation on animals, if it remainswithin reasonable limits, is a morally acceptable practice since it contributesto caring for or saving humanlives.

It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.4

This statement lacks any prohibition beyond the generalizations “if it remains within reasonable limits” or “to suffer or die needlessly.” No effort is made to define the limits of use or suffering, leaving unqualified discernment to the individual. Can it not be argued that any money spent on animal care could instead go to the relief of human misery? How should these expenditures be weighed against those funds that are spent on the priority of human leisure, which is given as an appropriate reason for animal domestication? From this we can extrapolate that it is more worthy to spend money to train a horse or a greyhound for racing which is an enterprise of human leisure than it is to treat an animal for health related issues since these funds could have been used to feed the poor.

Similarly Moses Isserles, the 16th century codifier of Jewish Law states, “Whenever it is for the purpose of healing there is no prohibition against cruelty to animals.” (Shulchan Aruch, Even haEtzer 5:14) Still there are moral questions which must be answered. How much pain is permissible to cause to animals? And how substantial must the gain to human well-being be? It is certainly not unusual today for the development of cosmetics to be positioned under the rhetorical cover of human healing.

When animal advocacy is properly understood as balancing the greater good of Adonai’s creation, then reasonable controls can be considered. Dr. Avraham Steinberg, the author of the three-volume Encyclopedia of Jewish Medical Ethics offers the following guidelines concerning the treatment of animals in research of human diseases:

 

1.   Whatever is needed to cure a sick patient, even one who is not dangerously ill does not violate Jewish law against cruelty to animals.

2.   There is need to militate against the pain of experimental animals as much as possible and to provide proper nutrition.

3.   It is preferable to use lower forms of animals since they do not have as well developed nervous systems.

4.   One should use the fewest number of  animals possible consistent with the experimental needs.

5.   Wherever alternatives, such as tissue cultures or imaging techniques, are available they should be used.

6.   Animal experiments should not be done to reconfirm well known and well documented findings.5

 

I am not arguing for or against any of Dr. Steinberg’s guidelines for the practice of medical ethics, rather I am observing that he has taken into account both contemporary medical needs and the Jewish mandate to alleviate animal suffering. This condensed list represents a very brief distillation of Dr. Steinberg’s much more exhaustive conversation of medical ethics for animal experimentation based upon Jewish law, but it highlights an important value set. Steinberg’s ethics guard against commercial distortion of Judaism’s assertion that human need trumps animal suffering. Dr. Steinberg repeatedly invalidates excesses that can be commercially motivated.

The conceptualization of competition between animals and humans has been unfortunately elevated, confused and distorted by many of the proponents of “animal rights.” Peter Singer, a professor of Bioethics at Princeton University has been one of the most outspoken, prominent and controversial of animal advocates. His seminal work Animal Liberation has been cited as a formative influence on leaders of the modern “animal liberation” movement. The central argument of the book is an expansion of the utilitarian idea that “the greatest good of the greatest number” is the only measure of good or ethical behavior. While I agree with this important value, faith commitment does not allow this to be the onlymitigating qualifier of Messianic Jewish ethical values.

Singer believes that there is no reason not to apply this assertion to other animals, arguing that the boundary between human and “animal” is completely arbitrary. There are more differences between a great ape and an oyster, for example, than between a human and a great ape, and yet the former two are lumped together as “animals” while we are “human.” He popularized the term “speciesism,” to describe the practice of privileging humans over other animals. The fact that Singer is an atheist removes the only logical reason to give such a privilege to humans and to do so in a hierarchical sentient relationship to humans: divine impartation.6

In particular, Singer argues that while animals show lower intelligence than the average human, many severely intellectually challenged humans show equally diminished, if not lower, mental capacity, and that some animals have displayed signs of intelligence sometimes on par with that of human children. Singer therefore argues intelligence does not provide a basis for providing nonhuman animals any less consideration than such intellectually challenged humans.

While Singer has been logically anti-abortion, stating that it is wrong to kill an innocent human and a fetus is as innocent as a human can be, therefore it is wrong to kill a fetus. But his equating of a newborn to a fetus has given both liberals and conservatives reason to pause. In his book, Practical Ethics, Singer states:

I have argued that the life of a fetus (and even more plainly of an embryo) is of no greater value than the life of a non-human animal at a similar level of rationality, self-consciousness, awareness, capacity to feel, etc., and that since no fetus is a person no fetus has the claim to life as a person. Now it must be admitted that these arguments apply to the newborn baby as much as to the fetus. A week-old baby is not a rational and self-conscious being, and there are as many nonhuman animals whose rationality, self- consciousness, awareness, capacity to feel, and so on, exceeds that of a human baby a week or a month old. If the fetus does not have the same claim to live as a person, it appears that the newborn baby does not either, and the life of a newborn baby is of less value to it than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee is to the nonhuman animal.7

For Singer the value of life is contingent upon its ability to experience pleasure and pain primarily. The ultimate goal is for a life to experience pleasure. I will mention again that Singer, who is an adamant atheist, would not ascribe any inherent moral worth or value that is endowed by a Creator. Therefore he perceives of everything as a contest for power pitting each species against the other in an assertion of self-interest. In the end it is the most powerful that ascribes the value of life in Singer’s thinking, so in this way Singer, who is motivated by his hatred of human power, steps in a trap created by his own philosophy. Though he often evokes his own family history of Holocaust survival, he cannot avoid the ideological comparisons between his own insensitivity to all human life and that of Nazi sympathizers.

The “animal rights” organization PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) attempted to turn the table on these comparisons with the provocative 2002 advertising campaign “Holocaust On Your Plate” which equated the eating of meat to genocide. Despite the fact that key leadership figures in PETA are Jewish, they could not mollify the Jewish community, which was outraged by the diminution of the unique horror of the Holocaust. Though PETA has made many important contributions toward raising the awareness of animal exploitation and abuse, the extravagances of their public persona have tended to marginalize the organization and have added to the perception of the human versus animal dichotomy. PETA and like thinking proponents have, in my opinion, jeopardized public concern for animal welfare by erroneously making it an issue of animal rights.

As I established earlier, the ethical priority of choice has made the public foruma battleground for special interests groups. Already overcrowded by the humaninterest, the larger public is not ready to negotiate with a population presumablylobbying for animal rights and liberation. But are they? Are animals really concerned with equalityor inherent rights? Were the emphasis placed upon human responsibility to act kindlyrather than on animals’ rights, activists like PETA might be morepersuasive.

As a result, the animal versus human dichotomy has been intensified by the polarization ofthe issue between political conservatives and liberals. As an example, the BostonHerald’s conservative columnist Don Feder wrote of PeterSinger:

The two halves of Mr. Singer’s philosophy (animal rights and the denial of rights to human ‘non-persons’) are symmetrical – fewer people, more room for animals. A Los Angeles talk-show host Dennis Prager puts it; ‘Those who refuse to sacrifice animals for people will end up sacrificing people for animals.’ Mr. Singer proves Mr. Prager’s thesis.8

The political lines are clearly drawn and they have often served as religious boundariesas well. Feder and Prager are both religious “neo-conservatives” as well aspolitical conservatives, who have equated the culture wars with the battle for faithin contemporary American society. Though neither Feder nor Prager areofficial spokespersons for any coalition of the religious right, both are representative ofthis socio-religious sub-culture and are indicative of its broad animus toward animalactivism. Unfortunately, in the midst of the cross polemic the essential issues of animal as wellas human welfare are both being subverted. Mathew Scully, a former speechwriterfor George W. Bush, comments on Feder’s article in his bestselling bookDominion.

I think from both the left and the right they are bringing to thefairly simple questions of human love, duty and kinship a preoccupationwith human power. Professor Singer sees human power and he hates it. Sohe drags it into his bio-ethics lab and turns the terror back on manhimself. Mr. Feder and Mr. Prager (a theologian) see human power and love it –a little too much. So with other conservatives they invent, as we’llsee, unfeeling creatures and ‘generic beings’ and false dilemmas, lestany animal get in the way of man’s designs, caprices, or commercialaims.

Fixation on power, they would all abuse power, in Professor Singer’s case by killing off the two things that not only infants and unborn children but our fellow creatures, too depend upon most in the human heart – reverence and mercy.9

The main point that Scully, who is a card-carrying neo-con, so aptly distinguishes isthat often this false dichotomy of what is good for the animal is bad for the human is reallya protection of the commercial interests of the few and the powerful. Over emphasis onthe protection or dismantling of human power is fruitless without anappropriate understanding of human responsibility andlove.

This is where I wish to return the discussion to human responsibility as image bearersof the Creator. To do so I will again first contend with the theological content,paying special attention to what we can learn from the text itself, but also to whatMessianic Judaism, seeking a moral vision, might learn from how we approach the text. I willthen again discuss the socio-moralimplications.

The World of the Torah; A Tough Place for Man orBeast

At first glance Torah can be a tough read for those concerned about animal welfare. Much of the cultic material, especially in Leviticus 1-7, concerns itself with sacrifice, which is more than occasionally of the animal variety. We must understand the animal sacrifices in Torah within the cultural and cosmological context of ancient Israel and its surrounding neighbors. While it is true that many of the particulars of Israel’s sacrificial cult were borrowed from the surrounding culture and parallel cultures of pagan neighbors, the sacrifices they offered are to be understood theologically according to the particular character of their God and in accord with the peculiar covenantal relationship that he enacted with them. In this respect Israel’s sacrificial system is, again, a domestication of existing practices by inculcating God’s highest values into a normative ritual milieu. The community of faith in the Hebrew Scriptures put incredible energy and attentiveness into these offerings as material gestures, which defined the importance of God for the life of the community. The various sacrificial practices prescribed for Israel were vehicles designed to celebrate, affirm, enhance, or repair the defining relationship between them and God.

No doubt Israel’s devotion to God was of little consolation to the animal populationin their camp, but it can be argued that the detailed regimen would have proved limitingand more humane than the practices of neighboring sacrificial cults. This is laterunderstood and augmented in the derivative rabbinic tradition of shechita (humane ritualslaughter). Certainly the teachings of Torah were instructive to Israel regarding the value of alllife. But the drama of sacrifice and its ancillary teaching on the preparation of meatfor consumption would prove additionally instructive. Prohibitions against eatingblood (Lev 17) and “cooking a young goat in its mother’s milk” (Ex 23:19, 34:26;
Deut14:21) ritualize the sanctity of alllife.

It should be noted that the sacrificial systems of the ancient world were threateningto human life as well. It is well documented that human sacrifice was not anuncommon practice on the Sumerian plain or the Phoenician coast. The Bible also recordsthe abominable practice of human sacrifice among Israel’s neighbors to pagan idols.On several occasions in Scripture an extreme sacrifice of a child is made to God(Jer 19:5; Mic 6:6-8; Judg 11:29-40; 2 Kings 3:26-27). These are rare occurrences that neednot be explained away as an embarrassment. I think they are best to be understood,as barbaric as they seem to us, as indications of the depth of urgency that was felt inregard to ceding what is of worth over to God, in the context of a world that did notcondemn, rather normalized these sacrifices. Though silent on a few occasions (Judg 11:29-40;2 Kings 3:26-27), at other times God strongly condemned the action(Jer 19:5).

It is in the context of these human sacrifices that Torah introduced the concept ofanimal sacrifice as substitutionary. God’s command to offer all firstborn sons to himis ameliorated by the counter command to redeem them with an animal sacrifice
(Ex 22:28-29; 34:19-20). This can be understood in each case contextually by the divineself-attribution of compassion. In essence a compassionate God provided a way out, by concurrently engaging and reforming the abominable practices of the ancientworld. What I think is essential in understanding the impact of the ritual is that it isnullified unless the exchange of innocent life can evoke sentimentality. Though clearly thehuman life is valued higher in Torah, in the sacrificial cult, an animal’s life is considered to beof great value to be offered as ransom for the firstborn of Israel. Torah’s identificationof animal life with human life, which is created in the image of God, demands that weplace higher value upon these lives than mereproperty.

It is also helpful to understand the animal sacrifices as occurring within the confinesof the Mishkan. The regimen of the sacrificial cult (Lev 1-7) occurred directly afterthe Mishkanwas completed and filled by the presence of God (Ex 40: 34-36). The ritualof Mishkanbuilding is a sacred drama of world building in which Israel participateswith God, bringing his cosmic plans into their socio-moral plane. Jon Levenson describesthe parallels between the construction of the Mishkanand the construction of theworld.

The function of these correspondences is to underscore the depictionof the sanctuary as a world, that is, and ordered supportive, andobedient environment, and the depiction of the world as a sanctuary, that is aplace in which the reign of God is visible and unchallenged, and his holinessis palpable, unthreatened and pervasive.10

The Mishkandoes more than complete the cosmic design; it effectivelyreclaims creational intentions from the disruptive forces of chaos and human sin and re-createsthe primordial hopes. Since the Mishkanis Israel’s primary locus of worship, the actsof Mishkanbuilding and occupying bind together Israel’s vocation with God’sre-creational purposes.

It is here in the Mishkan, a ritualized world that represents the consummation ofGod’s work of creation as well as the rescue of peaceable order from the forces of chaos,that Israel is brought face to face with the horror of animal death as a conciliatory measurefor human disobedience. By engaging in this sacrificial drama, Israel is urgedtoward contrition and is asked to assume their role as a “kingdom ofpriests.”

It would be difficult to reflect on the sacrificial system from a Messianic Jewish perspective without taking into account what the Apostolic Witness has to say about it. While Romans and Hebrews both seem to agree that Yeshua as a sacrifice to God has replaced the “well worn” system of the Hebrew Scriptures, replete with animal sacrifices, our entire understanding of Yeshua as priest and sacrifice is cast in the categories of Israel’s sacrificial practices. Without taking seriously the efficacious material gesture, as well as the pure brutality of animal sacrifices, the Apostolic Witness claims simply do not work.

Like the ritual slaughters in the Mishkan, the sacrifice of Yeshua begs us to examineour damaged relationships with God and with man, bringing the cosmic drama ofchaos versus order into the arena of the world we occupy, initiating the peacable kingdomof God. Just as empathy with the sacrifices in the Mishkancaused the worshiper tobe disemboweled before God, so Yeshua invites us to pick up our crosses daily.This becomes mere metaphor unless we can identify with the sacrificial death ofYeshua, informed by the historical material gesture of animal sacrifice in all of its brutality. Iam yet unsure if eating meat during or following the participation in Hazikaronmakes poignant or banal the sacrificial work ofYeshua.

It is interesting to note that when Yeshua gave himself as a vicarious sacrifice,he promised the contrite thief who was crucified with him that he would “be with mein paradise (paradeis lit. garden)” (Luke 23:43). This allusion to Gan Eden begs us,along with its scriptural connections to the sacrifices in the Mishkan, to considerYeshua’s sacrifice as intended for reparation of the relational disharmony wrought byhuman disobedience.

Eating East ofEden

By every indication, in the two “utopian” scenarios in Scripture, both humankind andthe animal population are portrayed as vegetarians. The first scenario is directly afterthe creation when humankind dwelt in GanEden.

God said, ‘See, I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon allthe earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; they shall be yoursfor food. And to all the animals on land, to all the birds of the sky, andto everything that creeps on earth, in which there is the breath of life, [Igive] all the green plants for food.’ And it was so. (Gen1:29-30)

The second is envisioned in the prophetic mind, a reality greater than the present,a Messianic Age when all of the world will be in harmony represented by thereformed eating habits of nature’spredators.

The wolf shall dwell with thelamb, The leopard lie down with thekid;

The calf, the beast of prey, and the fatlingtogether, With a little boy to herdthem.

The cow and the bear shallgraze, Their young shall lie downtogether;

And the lion, like the ox, shall eat straw. (Isa 11:6-7)

 

But what occurs in between, the space in time that we occupy is most germane toour discussion. A cosmic rift initiated by human disobedience entered into thesocio-moral plane. The severed relationship between God and humankind as portrayed inScripture is more than metaphysical, having damaging effects upon the entire world order. Asa result of human evil, the fragile harmony that exists between humans and animals, andall animal life itself is consequently threatened. Following the divine pronouncement ofthe ensuing curses wrought by human disobedience, God clothes the man and womenwith animal skins (Gen 3:21). Apparently neither vegetation nor human ingenuitywas adequate to hide the naked exposure of mankind after its fall. The implication isclear, human moral failure costs more than humanlives.

As described by the first two commands given in Genesis, humankind was giventhe responsibility of being the image-bearers of God in this world in two distinct ways.First, humanity is commanded to have dominion in this world. “Be fertile andincrease, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and allthe living things that creep on earth (Gen 1:28).” The second divine charge to humanity isto “till” (lavdah, literally to serve or to worship) the ground (2:15). While the commandis very much the same as the first command, it is actualized quite differently. In thefirst, humans image God as kings, but in the second, as servants. Dominion or masterydoes not suggest unbridled freedom to ravage, exploit and exhaust the rest of theanimal kingdom, rather as the only beings created in the image of God, humans are expectedto be benevolent rulers, serving the creation as he does. This command is later replicatedto Israel as an archetype of a renewed humanity when it is commanded to be a “kingdomof priests (Ex 19:6)” charged with the responsibility of partaking in the restoration ofthe relational order between God, humankind and thecosmos.

It would appear from the narratives of Genesis 1-2 and from the messianicexpectations of Isaiah 11, that animals were originally intended for a more intimate relationshipwith humanity than a mere food source. In Genesis 2:18 God declares, “It is not good for manto be alone; I will make a fitting helper for him.” But there is a gap between thisdeclaration and the creation of the women from the rib of man in verse 21. In between, in verses19 and 20, God creates the animals from the dust of the earth just as he did the man. Alsothe animals are brought before the man who is given charge to name each of them, “butfor Adam no suitable helper was found.” From this we might infer several thoughts.First, this reiterates the idea of man as the benevolent ruler. Although the animals werecreated much as he was, only the human is able to participate in the creative task ofnaming.

Second there is a clear intimacy between Adam and the rest of the creatures; notonly does he know the animals well enough to give them suitable names, but there isan implied potential for one of them to be his special mate. One aggadah goes so far asto suggest that Adam had sexual intercourse with each of the animals beforedetermining that the chemistry was wrong (Yevamot 63a). Whatever the unstated processof evaluation was, the Torah is clear that it is only after eliminating the rest of theanimal world, as suitable mates, that God provided one that Adam could say was “bone ofmy bones and flesh of my flesh (v.23).” Michael Wyschogrod comments on thisodd narrative and itsimplications.

For me, the most important lesson that emerges from all of this is a recognition of the proximity, from God’s perspective, of human beings and animals. However great the gulf may seem from the human perspective, from the perspective of God who is infinitely above both humans and animals, the gulf is not as absolute as it seems to humans. It is, of course, that only the human being was created in the image of God which at the very least means that humans are closer to God than animals. But it does not mean that the gulf between humans and animals is as absolute as that between humans and God. Humans and animals are both finite creatures and while, in the final analysis, only woman is the proper companion of man, animals are also companions though less than fully satisfactory ones.11

Given the level of companionship intended between humans and animals itis understandable why, in the original scheme of creation, animals were not on themenu. Despite the implications of the animal skin clothes provided by God at the endof Genesis 3, there is no explicit mention of humans eating animals until after theflood. That God permits the eating of animals is best understood as a concession to theinnately evil character of humankind. God restates the command to “be fertile and increase,and fill the earth” (Gen 9:1), but now it is followed by the sober evaluation of therelational disharmony.

The fear and the dread of you shall be upon all the beasts of the earthand upon all the birds of the sky – everything with which the earth isastir – and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hand.Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses, Igive you all these. (Gen 9:2-3).

Recognizing its ineradicably evil disposition, God acknowledges that rather thana benevolent ruler who serves creation, man has become a predatory dictator, arather distorted image of theCreator.

Along with the permission to eat animals though, comes an immediate set ofprohibitions against eating animal blood and shedding human blood (Gen 9: 5-6). It is almostas though God expects that when man kills animals, the taking of human life is anear probability. Though Torah contains a great deal of instruction concerning whichmeats may and may not be eaten, it seems rather easy to conclude that God would preferhis image bearers to bevegetarians.

Between the two “Utopian” scenarios of creation and consummation,Scripture establishes a trajectory whereby redemptive revelation initiates the return to Gan Eden,a peaceable kingdom of God’s intended order. Though he is not a theologian andhis writing is non-religious in orientation, Mathew Scully has captured, I believe, theessence of Scripture’s eschatological trajectory, describing the potential relationshipbetween humankind and animals and how it reflects upon the relationship betweenpeople.

“In a drop of rain can be seen the colors of the sun,” observedthe historian Lewis Namier. So in every act of kindness we hold in ourhands the mercy of our maker, whose purposes are in life and death, whoselove does not stop at us but surrounds us, bestowing dignity and beautyand hope on every creature that lives and suffers and perishes. Perhaps thatis part of the animals’ role among us, to awaken humility, to turn ourminds back to the mystery of things, and open our hearts to that mostimpractical of hopes in which all creation speaks as one. For them as for us, if thereis any hope at all then it is the same hope, and the same love, and thesame God who shall “wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall beno more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be anymore pain: for the former things are passed away.”12

Examining the Social and MoralImplications

I strongly suspect that Mathew Scully is on to something. Concern for the welfareof animals should be a reflection of how we view all life, and the Creator of life. Inthis respect, the way we treat animals can have the capacity to transform ourrelationships with men and God as well. Yeshua teaches in the Sermon on the Mount to “loveyour enemies” (Matt 5: 43).Torah teaches to even extend concern to the animal of anenemy. “If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, donot leave it there; be sure you help him with it.” (Ex 23:5) The intention of the commandis to prevent an animal from suffering due to a dispute between its owners. A thirdcentury midrash though, teaches how obedience to this command can enhance and repairyour relationship with such anenemy.

Rabbi Alexandri said: Two donkey drivers who hated each otherwere walking on a road when the donkey of one lay down under its burden.His companion saw it, and at first passed on. But then he reflected: Is itnot written in the Torah, ‘If you see your enemy’s donkey laying downunder its burden…?’ So he returned, lent a hand, and helped his enemyin loading and unloading. He began talking to his enemy: ‘Release a bithere, pull up over there, and unload over here.’ Thus peace came aboutbetween them, so that the driver of the overloaded said, ‘Did I suppose thathe hated me? But now look how compassionate he has been.’ By and by,the two entered an inn, ate and drank together, and became fast friends.What caused them to make peace and become fast friends? Because one ofthem kept what was in Torah. (Tanhuma, Mishpatim1)13

The point is that the Bible teaches us how to treat all with dignity and compassion,friend and foe, man and beast and even our enemy’s beast. There is much that we can learnnot only from Torah, but also from the rabbinic tradition that can help us to live inaccord with God’s highest values as we endeavor to ascertain them. The rabbinic traditionfor keeping Torah can surprisingly help facilitate living out the moral vision of theBesorah as well, if the two are understood in a comprehensive narrative scheme where thelatter does not abrogate theformer.

The keeping of kashrut can help to create an environment whereby compassion for lifeis inculcated at each meal. All of my children have grown up separating meat and dairy.In a society where meat comes in shrink-wrap and milk in a carton, awareness of milk asa picture of life and meat as a picture of death can be overlooked. But by followingthe rabbinic tradition derived from Torah (Ex 23:19, 34:26; Deut 14:21),my childrenlearned a lesson in the sanctity of life every time they set the table separatingmeat and dairy. By eating only kosher meats presumably we are assured of thehighest emphasis placed upon making the slaughter of the animals fast and humane. WhileI believe modern shechita needs to enter the 21st century,14 it still represents a traditionof higher accountability. Also, the unique nature of shechita lowers the possibility thatwe ignore sustainable agricultural measures and social justiceissues.

Talmud recognizes that the eating of meat is a concession to human desire. Thoughit teaches that both meat and wine should be served at every festive occasion(Pesachim 109a), it also teaches: “A man should not eat meat unless he has a special craving forit (Hullim 84a).” In this respect the tension between the olam ha-bah (age to come) andthe olam ha-zeh (present age) are upheld. I have already expressed my opinion, based onthe narrative flow of Torah, that vegetarianism is God’s ideal. However, if God allowsfor concessions so must we. Still, any efforts we can make to place limitationsupon ourselves can only prove to be helpful, not only in decreasing the suffering of theanimal population, but also by training us to be better stewards of the Earth’s resourceswhich are not ours but Adonai’s. (Lev25:23)

 

1     Joseph Telushkin, The Book of Jewish Values: A Day-By-Day Guide To Ethical Living (New York: Bell Tower, 2000), citing, A Guide to the Perplexed, 3:48.

2     John Wesley, Sermon Sixty, “The Great Deliverance,” ed. Sarah Anderson (Nampa, Ind.: Wesley Center for Applied Theology at Northwestern Nazarene University, 1999).

3     Catechism of the Catholic Church, Sec. 2415-2418 (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1994), 580-581.

4     Ibid.

5     Avraham Steinberg, Encyclopedia of Jewish Medical Ethics, Vol. 1. (Jerusalem, Feldheim Publishers, 2003), 258-272.

6     Peter Singer, Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for our Treatment of Animals (New York: Random House, 1975). Singer throughout this work equates human dominance to inter-species racism.

7     Peter Singer, Practica­l Ethics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 169.

8     Don Feder, “Professor Death takes Ideas to Princeton,” Boston Herald, October 28, 1998.

9     Matthew Scully, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2002), 23.

10   Jon Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), 86.

11   Michael Wyschogrod & R. Kendall Soulen, eds.,  Abraham’s Promise: Judaism and Jewish-Christian Relations (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2004), 109.

12   Scully, 398, quote taken from Revelation 21:4.

13   The Book of Legends: Sefer Ha-Aggadah: Legends from the Talmud and Midrash, Hayyim Nahman Bialik and Yehoshua Hana Rawnitzki, eds. (New York: Schocken Books, 1992), 459.

14   There have been countless articles in the past two decades concerning the potential for new standards of kashrut that take into account the most modern standards of slaughter. It should be easy to conclude that more expensive meat is a small price to pay for obedience to the commandments, greater identification with the community, and Godly observance of the sanctity of life. Besides, if the increase cost of meat leads to lower personal consumption, all the better.

 
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