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The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Rachel bat Yakot

Treatment of animals

What is the moral justification to slaughter animals and eat their flesh? Should we educate for vegetarianism? Why is there a Mitzvah to eat meat on Shabbat? Rabbi Eliezer Melamed teaches us the Jewish perspective on correct animal treatment.


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

2 min read
One of the issues that is important to determine morally, is what is the appropriate treatment, according to the Torah, towards animals. To do this we will take a series of Halachot, and at first, we will explain their basic principle. The main rule is that animals should be treated humanely and fairly, and the Torah prohibits causing harm to animals. In addition, it is not only forbidden to harm animals, but we are also commanded to take action in order to ease their suffering, as we learned from the commandments of unloading the donkey. A man, who sees a donkey lying under his burden, is commanded to unload the cargo off, in order to prevent him from sorrow. From this, we learn that whenever a person sees an animal suffering, and he could help it, he is obliged to try and save it from its distress.
Seemingly, there is a conflict, if the above is true, how do we slaughter cattle, animals and birds, and eat their flesh? It seems there is no greater cruelty. However, the rule is, that when there is a conflict between human and animal's needs, human needs come first. Just as the animals can eat plants, people may eat animal products; however, for any non essential need, it is prohibited to harm animals. Therefore, since meat is very important for human nutrition, the Torah allows us to slaughter animals in order to eat. Also, there is doubt how much suffering slaughtering an animal causes. It is possible that the moment of slaughter is so short that the animal feels very little pain.
In the early generations, Adam was forbidden to eat meat. And even though it says, "ורדו בדגת הים ובעוף השמים ובכל חיה הרומשת על הארץ", "and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creepeth upon the earth" the meaning is that according to the ideal of creation the animals should be servants to mankind, for man is the crown of creation, but he is forbidden to be cruel towards them, and forbidden to kill them in order to eat them.
However, following the sin of Adam and the sins of the generation of the flood, the whole world had fallen from its original virtue, people became less ethical, the nature of the animals became less spiritual, and they turned to brutality and began to devour each other. Even the land was corrupted and produced thorns and thistles. In this new state, there is an obligation on man to first correct the moral foundations of human relations, not to steal or rob, let alone not to kill, and only after the basic morality between men is correctly established, and wars and injustices will cease to be, only then we may continue to rise in morality and seek to better our relationship with the animals. For that purpose, it was necessary to draw a distinct line between the animals, and man who was created in God's image, in order to highlight the purpose and responsibility of man, that it is only his responsibility to fix the world and raise it to a higher place. For that reason, after the flood humans were allowed to eat animal flesh, as it is said to Noah: "כירק עשב נתתי לכם את כל" "As the green herb have I given you all"
We need to explain further that following the sins of Adam and the generations before the flood - nature itself has changed. That is, the moral fall affected all aspects of life, including the nutrition system. Up to the generation of the flood people could receive all their nutritional needs from plants. After the sin and the collapse of all systems of nature - plants were no longer sufficient for a person, and therefore God allowed Noah and his sons eat the flesh of cattle, birds, animals and fish. In other words, the moral drop of the world created a completely new eco-environment, in which we have to do things contrary to the original ideal. Also, in the current state of the world, if we stop eating meat, it is not clear that it would be good for those species that we used to eat their flesh. If we will not continue to raise and breed them for mankind, their number in population will decrease rapidly, because currently they breed under supervision; however, if all the oxen and chickens were set loose, soon there will be very little of them left.
But still, we remember that in the ideal situation, before the sin, Adam was commanded not to eat animal products. And therefore we know that in the future after the world will be amended, heaven and earth will be renewed, and the nature of man and animals will change and will rise spiritually, then we shall revert back to that ideal moral sensitivity, according to which It will be forbidden to kill animals to eat their flesh (Rabbi Kook, the vision of vegetarianism and peace B).

Compassion for animals
The Talmud (BM 85, a) tells a wonderful story that helps in understanding the way we should treat animals. Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, was one of the generations' greatest. His great enterprise – editing the Mishnah - is the foundation of the study of Torah Shebe'al Peh, the oral tradition. It also said that he had ""תורה וגדולה במקום אחד Torah and greatness in one place, in that he was a great scholar in addition to being extremely rich and holding a high status in the kingdom of Rome. One day a calf was taken for slaughter, the calf sensed it, and in order to escape his fate, he fled and hid his head under Rebbi's garment, bursting into tears. Rebbi said to the calf - go to the butcher for that is the purpose for which you have been created. At that time it was said in heaven that since Rebbi did not have mercy on the calf, he shall be doomed to anguish and suffering. Rebbi suffered for thirteen years from severe periodontitis and pain during urination. One day his handmaid cleaned the house and found little rat pups, and wanted to throw them out. Rebbi told her - leave them, as it was said: "ורחמיו על כל מעשיו" his mercies over all his works (Psalm 145, 9). At that time it was said in heaven that since Rebbi had shown great mercy towards animals, he is worthy of receiving mercy himself, and his anguish was relieved.
Even though according to Halacha we are allowed to slaughter animals to eat their flesh, our sages came to teach us through that story that at any rate we should show a little regret for having to kill them because in the ideal situation of the world, people could make do with vegetarian food, and only after the world was brought down from its original virtue following the sin of Adam and the sin of the generation of the flood, the laws of nature changed, and humans began eating animals. But from the ideal truth aspect, we should be a little bit disturbed when we see the suffering of animals. This is why Rebbi was punished with suffering when he didn't show pity towards a calf, for by his highness and righteousness he should have shown mercy towards the calf, and let him hide for a little while under his garment until he calms down and agrees to go. And when he ignored his sorrow and drove him away, he was punished by suffering. In the same way, when he showed his compassion for their little rat, pity was shown on him from heaven. (According to Rabbi Kook's vision of vegetarianism and peace A)
It should be noted that precisely because the Rebbi was a great man – he got a more severe punishment. For all the desire and will of a great man, is to attain a high moral state, to be pure and perfect, which is why the righteous rejoice in the suffering that comes to purify them and wash them clean. And it is told that Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi himself would ask in his prayers that if it is seen in Heaven that he needs more refinement, he should receive more suffering. And because these sufferings came on him by his moral virtue, to sanctify and purify him, the sages say, that in all the years he suffered the world did not suffer from drought (BM there).

For our purposes, we learned from the words of our sages, that we should develop the natural feeling of compassion toward animals, and even though today we are used to eating their flesh, we should know that it is not ideal, and we should try to alleviate the sorrow of animals. And in the future, when the world will be amended, we will rise to the level of Adam, and will not have to harm animals to eat their flesh.

Do not educate for vegetarianism
After learning that the primordial ideal was that humans would not eat animals, naturally arises the question, Is it appropriate to encourage people to refrain from eating meat for reasons of morality and conscience? Rabbi Kook writes that even though according to the ideal whole we were not meant to slaughter animals to eat their flesh, and that it is even hinted in the Torah, in the way it presents the matter of eating meat as a 'passion', it says, "כי תאוה נפשך לאכול בשר, בכל אות נפשך תאכל בשר" " because thy soul desireth to eat flesh; thou mayest eat flesh, after all the desire of thy soul " (Dvarim 12,20), anyway, today the teaching is that while there still is a desire within man to eat meat, it is a sign that we have still not reached that higher moral level in which we should avoid killing animals (Rabbi Kook vision of vegetarianism and peace D). Our main obligation now is to repair all relationships between human beings so that they will be in moral integrity, for obviously a serious injury to a person is infinitely more severe than an injury in animals. Man is created in the image of God, and has thought and emotion, and when someone does him injustice he is sorry and hurt far more than an animal that does not have wisdom. And to properly emphasize the moral claim of "ואהבת לרעך כמוך", Love thy neighbor as thyself, the Torah ordered us to give up, for now, the supreme moral demand not to harm animals (Rabbi Kook vision of vegetarianism and peace E F).
Therefore, a person may slaughter animals to eat, and as the Sages say (Kiddushin 82a), all creatures were created to serve man, and in the current moral level of the world, that means you can eat them. And what's more, if we were to get too concerned with education for compassion and love for animals, it could cause terrible human relations. For some people who are not well developed morally would say to themselves: "Since we are not careful about killing animals and eating them, you can also kill the people who stand in our way, and maybe even eat their flesh". And there would be others, who would express their goodness only towards animals, for in every evil there is a spark of conscience and good, and after they appease their consciences, they will be were able to steal, rob and kill people without any interference of conscience, for in their hearts they will boast on their compassion towards their pet (vision of vegetarianism F 11). Therefore, the Torah instructed us not to refrain from eating meat, and so is the custom of almost all the Gdoley Torah, and only a few radical idealists refrain from eating meat.

In the future, however, the world would rise in morality, and as the Kabbalists say the animals will also progress and evolve to the point that they can talk, and even their moral virtue will change completely, and as the prophet Yisha'ayah said "וגר זאב עם כבש, ונמר עם גדי ירבץ, ועגל וכפיר ומריא יחדו, ונער קטון נוהג בם. ופרה ודב תרעינה יחדו ירבצו ילדיהן, ואריה כבקר יאכל תבן. ושעשע יונק על חור פתן ועל מאורת צפעוני גמול ידו הדה. לא ירעו ולא ישחיתו בכל הר קדשי, כי מלאה הארץ דעה את ה' כמים לים מכסים". 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. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the basilisk's den They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.(Yisha'ayahu 11, 6-9) Then all will understand that it is not fitting to kill animals to eat their flesh. In the words of the prophet Hoshea "וכרתי להם ברית ביום ההוא עם חית השדה ועם עוף השמים ורמש האדמה, וקשת וחרב ומלחמה אשבור מן הארץ" And in that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground; and I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the land, and will make them to lie down safely (Hoshea 2 20). (Rabbi Kook, vision of vegetarianism and peace, 12, 32).

Special righteous customs regarding eating meat
We learned in the previous Halachot that according to the primordial ideal, man was not supposed to kill animals in order to eat, as explained in the Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin (59, b). Only after the sin of Adam, and the sin of the generation of the flood, when the world lost its original moral level, and animals too became less spiritual, the laws of nature changed, and animals began to devour each other, man was allowed to eat animal products. On Shabbat and Yom Tov there is even a Mitzvah to eat meat as commanded in the Torah to rejoice on a Yom Tov, and the vast majority of people become happy by drinking wine and eating meat (Beur Halacha 529,2 'Keitsad'). And on Shabbat, there is a mitzvah to savor, and since most people relish eating meat and drinking wine, there is a mitzvah to eat meat on Shabbat (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 150, b; Mishna Brura 242, a). When the Temple existed, there was also a Mitzvah to eat the meat of certain Korbanot.
Seemingly one might ask since we learned that originally humans were not permitted to eat meat, how did meat eating, that was forbidden by the initial ideal now become a mitzvah? The simple answer is, because our morality has changed, in practice, there is currently no moral problem with eating meat, and since we are commanded to rejoice on the Shabbat and Yom Tov, and meat causes joy, we are ordered to eat it. But there is a deeper explanation in the Kabala, that in our current moral state it is good for us to eat meat. According to the Ari, because of the sin, the whole world fell from its original level, still life, flora, fauna and man, all dropped from their high level and some evil got mixed in them. Therefore when a Jew eats them in holiness, the evil separates from the good and the good can revert back to its origin. When a man eats an animal, the evil within it comes out as waste, and the good part is absorbed in his body and converted into energy, giving power to do good deeds, and thus the animal rises to the level of man. The same concept is true with plants sucking their food from the still, and thus uplifting the good in the inanimate world. And when an animal feeds off plants, it raises the good which is in flora, to the level of living. So when humans eat the animals and behave morally and get closer to G-d, through the food chain they return the world to its original moral state. This is especially true when we eat meat on Shabbat and Yom Tov, or a Mitsvah dinner such as a wedding, etc. the meat becomes a part of the joy of a mitzvah and assists in its existence. In a plain dinner, however, The Kabbalists tell us, it is not always that way, for if the person does not behave properly, then the meat eating was not a part of any amendment and purification. Therefore, some righteous people avoided eating meat on plain dinners, because their intention is that their eating would be only as a part of a mitzvah, and if it is not absolutely clear that the good in the flesh rises by their eating, there is a moral problem with killing the animals for food.
According to this, it is understood what the sages said, that from a moral point of view, a wicked Am Ha'arets should not eat meat (Pesachim 49, b). The reason is that a person without Torah and good morals, who hates scholars and people of quality, is not considered to be superior to the animals, and therefore has no right to kill them and eat them.
That is generally the sages view on eating meat in our time. Although, there are individuals, that the fine moral feeling touched their hearts, and they undertook not to eat meat at all, even though according to the Kabala, it is appropriate to eat meat in a Seudat Mitzvah. In any case, there were Kabalists who saw this as a good thing for being extra pure, ("Sdey Hemed" Ma'arehet Ahila, eating meat) and Rabbi Kook calls them radical idealists. But the general guidance, to any person who desires to be sanctified and to serve G-d, is to deal mainly with repairing morality between man and his fellow, and to eat meat at Seudot Mitzvah.

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