Hebrew In Israel | Vegetarians, Vegans and Torah – Learn Torah

Hebrew In Israel | Vegetarians, Vegans and Torah – Learn Torah

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For the past couple of months I have been friends with several vegetarians/vegans and have learnt a lot from them.  Some of these friends are also Torah practicing Jews who insist that the Torah/Judaism preaches their ideals.  This obviously developed into a discussion due to the fact that there is no such thing as this at all.

I resent the attempts to tie these practices with religious ideas.  These ideas (i.e vegetarianism/veganism) are claimed to be supported by biblical or Halakhic sources, but none of them really come from any of this.

The Torah clearly states that man is allowed to eat meat (and actually has to eat it), and Halakah has no actual say on the subject.  Most religious figures who promoted this life style did it out of health ideas, and might have found some philosophical side in Torah to support their claim.  However, when it comes to the actual sources I disagree with the claims.

What Does The Bible Say?

In Genesis 2:16 we find the following:
וַיְצַו יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, עַל-הָאָדָם לֵאמֹר:  מִכֹּל עֵץ-הַגָּן, אָכֹל תֹּאכֵל
Then the YHWH God commanded the man, “You may freely eat fruit from every tree of the orchard
Many have presented this verse as evidence that Adam and Eve were created to be vegetarians.  This verse states that man was allowed to eat from all of the trees, however the idea is to contrast all the trees to the tree of knowledge.  Hence it is not an idea of vegetarianism but as a build up to the focal point of the expulsion from the garden due to the eating of the tree.

Genesis 9:2-3
וּמוֹרַאֲכֶם וְחִתְּכֶם, יִהְיֶה, עַל כָּל-חַיַּת הָאָרֶץ, וְעַל כָּל-עוֹף הַשָּׁמָיִם; בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר תִּרְמֹשׂ הָאֲדָמָה וּבְכָל-דְּגֵי הַיָּם, בְּיֶדְכֶם נִתָּנוּ.  גכָּל-רֶמֶשׂ אֲשֶׁר הוּא-חַי, לָכֶם יִהְיֶה לְאָכְלָה:  כְּיֶרֶק עֵשֶׂב, נָתַתִּי לָכֶם אֶת-כֹּל.
Every living creature of the earth and every bird of the sky will be terrified of you. Everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea are under your authority.  You may eat any moving thing that lives. As I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.
Once again these two verses are used to argue that before this point in Human History man was vegetarian.  However once again this is a misread of the text.  The context of this section is in direct connection the violence of all living things on the earth.  God is now allowing mankind to use all creatures to its own benefit, even if it is killing them.  The amount of violence that had developed before the flood would have impressed on Noah and his family to refrain from killing at all.  God, however, is saying not to be concerned with this.  Killing an animal for the benefit of man is not a problem; it is the killing for no reason which is the issue.  That is the violence of the story-pointless killing.

What Does History Say?

From researches I have read on human diet and work done by Dr. Haya Katz PhD, we see that in ancient times people did not eat much meat due to how expensive it was, and most of the time they suffered from protein deficiency.  Most of the bones found in archeological sites show a consumption of fish, and the assumption is that most people ate grains and vegetables and used milk products for protein.  Birds were a common source of food, and if they could hunt they could catch deer.  In overall we see that whatever form of protein that was available was used and no one would give up any of these sources.

What Did Rabbis Say?

In truth this subject was a non subject because not only could you not state an ideal of cutting a food source, it was understood that from Noah meat was allowed.  The main person to present this ideal in a Jewish source was Rabbi Kook in several essays collected by his student Rabbi David Cohen HaNazir who himself was a vegetarian (Chazon Hatzimchonot VeHashalom 1902-1904).  In many places Rabbi Kook ignores the simple meaning of the text, and gives a completely detached interpretation.  A key point in his writings is that the idea belongs to the end of days when the sin of Adam and Eve is fixed, the world will return to the state of the garden.  This obviously assumes that Adam and Eve were vegetarian, something that has yet be proven.  But regardless of that, Rabbi Kook was very clear when this time will be, but vegetarian and vegans try to use his teachings to claim that we should start now.  Because this is a Mashiach/End of days idea it has no Halakhic merit and can be ignored.
Another argument used is that animals suffer when dealt with in the meat industry and therefore the meat is forbidden under the law of “Ts’ar Ba’aley Chayim”- maltreatment of animals.  Though I do not find any Torah or Halakhah to support that the meat is forbidden, I would say that it is common sense to treat our food well because we eat it.  Any bad treatment of animals can result in bad and somewhat unhealthy meat.  When an animal is in stress it releases an acid which spoils the meat.  However, it is a long way from being humane to harming all mankind and taking away a food source.  The Torah clearly states that all animals were given to us to use, and there is no reason to claim otherwise (I have to admit that I wonder how much God actually plays a role in their world).

Conclusion

As we have seen, there is no verse of Halakhah that claims that we need to be vegetarian.  At most, the claims of vegetarians and vegans show that we need to change the meat industry, but in no way does anything say that we are to cut off a legitimate and divinely sanctioned food source.
Originally Published:  4 November 2015

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