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The Bible and Vegetarianism -- a Jewish View
Bible and Vegetarianism
28 Nov 1995

I have found the lack of theological acumen on the part of Mike and others who post in this subject to be truly amazing. There is no doubt that God's initial intention was that people should be vegetarians. In Genesis 1:29 we read, "And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed--to you it shall be for food (meat)."

Rashi, a famous Torah commentator states the following: "God did not permit Adam and his wife to kill a creature and to eat its flesh. Only every green herb shall they all eat together." (from his commentary on Gen. 1:29)

This view is widespread. Early scholars such as Abraham Ibn Ezra, Maimonides, Nachmanides, and Rabbi Joseph Albo agree. Later scholars such as Rabbi Hirsch, Moses Cassuto and Leibowitz concur.

Cassuto states in his commentary "From Adam to Noah": "You are permitted to use the animals and employ them for work, have dominion over them in order to utilize their services for your subsistence, but must not hold their life cheap nor slaughter them for food. Your natural diet is vegetarian..."

{As an aside, one of the most misused biblical words is the word "dominion." We have dominion over the Earth and its creatures in the sense that we are caretakers and guardians of the Earth. I write this because I notice Mike, in true fashion, brings up the word dominion.}

The Talmud agrees with the vegetarian outlook. "Adam was not permitted meat for purposes of eating."

Nachmanides gives a reason for the vegetarian dietary laws. "...because living creatures possess a moving soul and a certain spiritual superiority which in this respect make them similar to those who possess intellect (people) and they have the power of affecting their welfare and their food and they flee from pain and death."

The Jewish philosopher Joseph Albo maintains that in the killing of animals "...there is cruelty, rage, and the accustoming of oneself to the bad habit of shedding innocent blood..."

Right after giving the vegetarian diet law in Gen. 1:29 God "...saw everything He made and behold, it was very good." (1:31)

The vegetarian lifestyle was God's initial plan.

If anyone is interested, a strong voice for vegetarianism is Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook. He was the 1st Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel in the early 20th Century. He wrote a book entitled "A vision of Vegetarianism and Peace" (edited by Rabbi David Cohen).

Mike cries out...."What about Noah and Genesis 9?"

It must be remembered that death entered the world because of the disobedience of Adam and Eve. By the time of Noah, humanity had degenerated greatly. The aforementioned Rabbi Kook states the permission to eat meat was only a temporary concession. He states, "It is inconceivable that the Creator who had planned a world of harmony and a perfect way for man to live should many thousands of years later, find that this plan was wrong."

People are not always ready to live up to G-d's highest ideals! For instance, G-d intended marriage to be a life long union between the husband and wife. But because of sin our marriages often end in divorce. G-d allows the divorce but is not happy with it. As people we should strive to "do the right thing." The same can be said for our dietary habbits.

Now back to Genesis 9. The permission given to Noah to eat meat was not unconditional. Rabbi Samuel Dressner states, "The removal of blood which kashrut teaches is one of the most powerful means of making us constantly aware of the concession and compromise which the whole act of eating meat, in reality is. Again it teaches us reverence for life."

Moses Cassuto, states: "Apparently the Torah was in principle opposed to the eating of meat. When Noah and his descendants were permitted to eat meat this was a concession conditional on the prohibition of the blood. This prohibition implied respect for the principle of life and an allusion to the fact that in reality all meat should have been prohibited. This partial prohibiton was designed to call to mind the previously total one."

There is an interesting statement in Genesis 9:5 which immediately follows this conditional permission to eat meat. G-d states "...and surely, your blood of your lives will I require." The Rabbis base the prohibition of suicide on these words. I think, however, that coming directly after flesh is allowed, a vegetarian such as myself might reason that this passage hints that eating meat is a slow form of suicide. Is G-d saying here that if one eats meat there will be a penalty? I believe health studies would say, yes!

Rabbi Kook believe's that the craving for meat in people is a manifestation of negative passions rather than an inherent need. This I think is borne out by the fact that the non sacrificial meat is called b'sar ta'avah (meat of lust).

The prophet Isaiah gives us a brief glimpse of restoration in his book (Isaiah 11: 6-9)

"And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them and the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox... They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain."

What a glorious prophesy! Based on this vision Kook states that in the Messianic era, "...the effect of knowledge will spread even to animals...and sacrifices in the Temple will consist of vegetation, and it will be pleasing to G-d as in days of old..." Joseph Albo concurs that in the days of Messiah, people will again be vegetarians.

Amos 9:14: "And they shall plant vineyards and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens and eat the fruit of them."


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