Lecture 205: The History of the Divine Service at Altars (XIV) – The History of Slaughtering Non-consecrated Animals and Eating Meat (II)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy


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Lecture 205: The History of the Divine Service at Altars (XIv) – The History of Slaughtering Non-consecrated Animals and Eating Meat (II)



In the previous shiur,we began to examine the history of the slaughter of non-consecrated animals. At the earliest stages, man was permitted to eat "every herb bearing seed" and from every tree upon which there was "fruit yielding seed." Later, in the wake of his sin, he was permitted to eat "every green herb" like the animals. When was man granted permission to eat meat? We saw that according to several commentators, man was permitted to eat meat from the very beginning of creation. In this shiur,we will consider the dominant view found in Chazal and the Rishonim, according to which permission to eat meat was granted only in the aftermath of the flood.  


In this context, we must deal with two issues: First, why should the eating of meat be forbidden? Second, why after the flood was permission granted to eat meat?


Why Was the Eating of Meat Forbidden?


A. Man was not granted permission to use God's creation


R. Meir Ha-Levi Abulafia (Yad Ramah) on Tractate Sanhedrin writes:


When we said that he was not permitted to eat meat, we did not mean to say that he was explicitly commanded about this, but rather that he was not granted permission. For presumably all created things in the word were forbidden to him, like a slave who may not derive benefit from something belonging to his master without first receiving permission to do so. That which was permitted to him was permitted, but meat, which was not permitted to him, was not permitted. However, he was not warned about this, but only about eating a limb from a living animal.


In other words, there was no explicit prohibition against eating meat. Rather, by the dictates of common sense, a person may not benefit from anything in this world without first securing permission from his master. According to R. Meir Abulafia, the underlying idea is that everything that was created belongs directly to God and not to man. Meat was not allowed to man and was therefore prohibited to him, even though he was never explicitly warned about this.


B. The animals had not yet been blessed, So there was concern about a decline in their numbers


The Maharal of Prague writes in his Chiddushei Aggadot on Sandedrin (59b):


"He was not permitted to eat meat." Some explain the reason: Since the animals had not yet blessed, because the snake was still to sin and therefore it should not be included [in the blessing], if the animals were to be hunted and eaten, they would become diminished in numbers… and therefore meat was prohibited. But when Noach emerged from the ark, the animals were blessed, and at that point man was granted permission to eat meat.


Since the animals had not yet been blessed, were they to be caught and eaten, they would diminish in number, and therefore man was forbidden to eat them. After the flood, the animals were blessed, as a result of which man was permitted to eat them, as there was no longer any concern that eating them would lead to the extinction of certain species.


C. Noach was granted permission to eat animal meat because of his efforts to care for the animals during the flood


The Radak writes in his commentary to Bereishit:


[God] gave each animal the organs that it needed. He gave the lion and similar animals the organs needed for preying on other animals, e.g., teeth and claws, along with bravery. And He gave animals that are preyed upon outside populated areas, like the deer and the gazelle and the like, organs needed for swift running. And you can apply this to other creatures. It all follows from His wisdom, He being a God of truth and without iniquity. Even though some are predators and others are preyed upon, He prepared food for those preyed upon in a manner fit for them, as He did for the predators in a manner fit for them. At some point, they all die; whether the preyed upon die a natural death or as a result of being preyed upon, it is all the same to them…

Even predatory animals eat other things besides their prey, even though they live mostly off of their prey… Nevertheless, when they do not find prey, they eat grass and other things rather than die of hunger… For God gave all of the green herbs to the predatory animals, as He gave them to those who are preyed upon, as it is stated: "And to every beast of the earth… I have given every green herb for food" (Bereishit 1:30).

"To you it shall be for food" (ibid. v. 29) – that which is mentioned in the verse – every herb and every tree – but He did not permit them to eat meat until after the flood. And we do not know the reason.

Perhaps because it was revealed and known before Him that there would be a generation of the flood and that Noach would rescue the rest of the living creatures along with himself, He said to give them to him in return for his work with them, for the Holy One, blessed be He, does not withhold reward from any creature, and all the more so not from man. (Radak, Bereishit 1:25)


Similarly, he writes in his commentary regarding the allowance to eat meat that was issued after the flood:


And it seems that it was for this reason that He permitted Noach to eat meat, as he troubled himself with the animals, birds, beasts, and insects, to keep them alive in the ark. The animals were created for the sake of man, whether for his work or for his food, but man was not permitted to kill and eat them until Noach [when permission was granted] because he had troubled himself with them. (9:4)


The Radak does not really give a clear answer to our question. The fact that Noach took the trouble and cared for the beasts, animals, birds, and insects, keeping them alive in the ark, granted him an allowance to eat meat. Before that there was no such allowance, because there was no reason to grant it. The Radak's fundamental position is that animals were created for the sake of man, whether for work or for food. The prohibition to eat meat until the time of Noach was a temporary prohibition, set in place so that in the future, the allowance to eat meat could be given to Noach as a reward for caring for the animals in the ark.


D. Man's Dominion over animals was meant to allow them elevation and a part in God's freedom


A ruler is responsible for the fate of his subjects and it is not his role to eat them. R. Samson Raphael Hirsch in his commentary relates to the meaning of man's dominion over the animal kingdom:


"And let them have dominion" – Here at once "Adam" is taken as the collective conception of human beings, hence the plural form. "Let them have dominion" (redu) – fundamental meaning, to bring something down from its free height into the hand, i.e., into your power. Similarly: "And he scraped it out (va-yirdehu)in his hands… that he had taken the honey out of the carcass of the lion" (Shofetim 14:9). And similar in rabbinic Hebrew: rodeh pat, bringing the loaves sticking fast to the walls of the oven down into your hands. From that, bringing something out of its free independence into your power, making it subservient to you. Used with the accusative, it means to make the whole condition subservient, used thus only twice: "And the other shall not rule (yirdenu) with rigor over him in your sight" (Vayikra 25:53); "That smote (rodeh) the people with wrath" (Yeshaya 14:6). In both cases, it refers to exercising force beyond the authority which normally pertains to a master or a king. In all other cases, we find it used with a preposition, rada be-, ruling over certain conditions of an object, bringing something into subjugation in certain respects.

This is the position man is to have towards all other living creatures on earth. He has not been given the mission to make them all, and indeed not entirely, subservient to him. The earth and its creatures may have other relationships, of which we are ignorant, in which they serve their own purpose. But man has been given the position to have dominion over them, to exercise his mastery over living creatures, and on the earth itself, to bring some of them out of their free independence under his hand for the fulfillment of his human calling.

If man approaches the world as Adam, in the image and likeness of God, and demands its service only in the service of God, then the earth gladly renders it, gladly recognizes man as its ruler. His mastery is no enslavement or degradation, but rather a raising and elevation of all earthly material elements into the sphere of free-willed moral God-serving purposes. The whole world bows willingly to pure God-serving man. But if man misuses his position, if he does not approach the world as Adam, as the representative of God, but in his own power of mastery, then animals, too, do not willingly bow their neck to him.

So our Sages teach: "He who is in our image and likeness, let them have dominion (yirdu); he who is not in our image and likeness, let them go down (yeredu); if they merit, let them have dominion, if they do not merit, let them go down" (Bereishit Rabba 8:12). For rada is not kavash, "subdue;" rada is only the relation of a ruler to the people, which indeed is only a conditional one. Kavash is a different relation, which in v. 28 specializes the relationship of man to the lifeless earth. We meet the word kavash in kevesh, the ramp of the altar, on which our Sages say derekh kevusha, "downtrodden," and in kivshan, the furnace, in which the things that are thrown into it are completely demolished and changed. So that kavash means forcibly trodden down so that it cannot arise, to completely force or change and reform something in its innermost nature. This calling, to impress his stamp on a thing, to change it completely to his "thing," man is given only over lifeless nature. Things that belong to that, are to be material and means for him to carry out his ideas. Kivshan is at the root of human art, the great calcinating furnace which reduces and produces the raw materials of the earth in quite changed forms. That is why it differentiates so clearly in v. 28: "Replenish the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air." For originally (during the first 1526 years), man was not allowed to kill living creatures. (Bereishit 1:26)


R. Hirsch relates to the difference between man's relationship to the inanimate world, which man subdues and does with as he pleases, and his dominion over living creatures. He sees this as paralleling the linguistic difference between lirdot b- and lirdot et. Man's rule over the animals does not involve subjugation and degradation, but rather raises them and offers them a part in Divine freedom. He does not subjugate them; they have a purpose of their own.


In continuation of the words of R. Hirsch, let us note another point connected to the relationship between man and animals and man's role in creation.


In the beginning, following the creation, man rules over his kingdom and governs it. The king's role is to ensure world order and harmony between animals. His fundamental responsibility for all the subjects in the kingdom does not allow him to eat his subjects, but rather to be concerned about their existence. Man clearly stands at the top of this pyramid, but he is not authorized to deny the existence of his subjects. In such a world, even the status of the animals is high and dignified. They have their own independent purpose, and they are an integral part of the creatures who live in harmony in this world, with man above them and the plant kingdom below.[1]


E. The souls of animals have a degree of perfection


The status of animals is also addressed by the Ramban:


Meat was not permitted to them until the sons of Noach, following the opinion of our Rabbis. This is also the plain sense of Scripture. This is because animals, which have a sensitive soul, have a degree of perfection in their soul similar to man, who has a rational soul. They choose what is for their good and their food, and they flee from pain and death. Scripture says: "Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upwards, and the spirit of the beast goes downwards to the earth?" (Kohelet 3:21). (Ramban, Bereishit 1:29)


            The basis of the prohibition to eat meat is that one should not kill living creatures because of the similarities between them and human beings.


F. Man had no desire to eat meat because eating meat was regarded as murder


The Tur in his commentary to the Torah is struck by the Torah's wording: "And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for food, and it was so" (1:30). What is meant by "and it was so"? Nothing happened after this statement. God had merely assigned food to the different animals.


The Tur cites in the name of his father, the Rosh, as follows:


"And it was so" – God put it in their hearts that they should not desire to eat meat, so that the prohibition of killing an animal for them was like the prohibition of killing a human being for us today. For without that, they would not have been able to obey that command.


The words of the Tur are brought by R. Kasher in his Torah Sheleima (notes to Bereishit 1:30). According to this understanding, it was human nature not to desire meat, since there was no thought of killing an animal. Killing an animal was viewed as murder, and therefore such an option was out of the question.


G. Killing animals - Unnecessary bloodshed


R. Joseph Albo, author of Sefer Ha-Ikkarim presents his own position on the subject of eating meat and killing animals (III:15). He brings two arguments. First, the killing of animals involves "cruelty, anger, and becoming accustomed to the evil trait of unnecessary bloodshed." Second, eating the flesh of animals leads to "a fouling and dulling of the soul," similar to what the Torah says in Vayikra 11:43: "You shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creeps, neither shall you make yourselves unclean with them, that you should be defiled by them."


R. Albo states:


What all this means, in my opinion, is as follows: For in addition to the fact that killing a living creature involves cruelty, anger, and becoming accustomed to the evil trait of unnecessary bloodshed, eating the meat of certain animals leads to thickness, a fouling and a dulling of the soul, as this verse explains, for after He prohibited certain animals to Israel, He said at the end: "You shall not make yourselves abominable… neither shall you make yourselves unclean with them, that you should be defiled by them," teaching that they create thickness and dullness of the heart. And so the Rabbis said regarding this verse (Yoma 39a): "Sin dulls the heart of man, as it is stated: 'Neither shall you make yourselves unclean with them, that you should be defiled by them' – read not ve-nitmetem [that you should be defiled], but ve-nitamotem [that you should become dull-hearted]."

And for this reason even though the meat of certain animals is good and proper food for man, God wanted to remove the small amount of good in eating meat because of the strong and great amount of evil that can result from it, and therefore He prohibited meat to man.


The Abravanel in his commentary to Devarim (14:3) similarly explains:


[Eating meat] begets boiling red blood, so that one is prone and ready for cruelty, anger, and malice, and [meat] is liable to spoil and leads quickly to death.


Since the killing of animals leads to cruelty and unnecessary bloodshed, God forbade the eating of meat:


And since God wanted to straighten the ways of man and lead him along the paths of righteousness and bring him to perfection, He commanded him to eat from the more perfect plants.


H. "His tender mercies are over all His Works" – It is morally wrong to kill an animal in order to eat it


In the book, "A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace," R. David Ha-Kohen, known as "the Nazir," edited several chapters written by R. Avraham Kook dealing with the Torah's attitude toward eating meat. He first speaks of justice relating to the animals. The natural justice that God implanted in man is outraged by society's prevailing attitude toward animals:


There is a general moral shortcoming in the human race, in that people do not act upon the good and virtuous feeling not to take the life of any living thing for the sake of their own needs and pleasures.


In the course of his discussion, R. Kook relates to the prohibition of eating meat. The dominion over animals that was permitted to Adam is not the dominion of a dictator. God's world of justice is characterized by the verses "His tender mercies are over all His works" (Tehillim 145:9) and "The world is built by love" (ibid. 89:3). The author cannot imagine that such a lofty moral virtue can disappear from the world without resolution in the future:


There is an important branch of human progress, which is now, according to the state of the current culture, merely a pleasant dream of certain radical idealists, and it is a natural, moral striving for the feeling of human uprightness – paying heed to the fate of animals, in the full sense.

The cruel philosophies… in accordance with their views on human morality from the perspective of general philosophy, have caused man to slip, each in its own way, to totally strangle within himself any feeling of uprightness with respect to animals. They have not managed, nor will they ever manage, with all their sophistication, to change the nature of natural justice, which man's Creator has planted within him. And even though with respect to animals it is like a dying ember, buried beneath a very great pile of ashes, nevertheless, they cannot deny what is felt in every feeling heart that it is a general moral shortcoming of the human race, that man does not follow that good and virtuous feeling, so that he should not take the life of any living creature for the sake of his needs and pleasures.

Our Sages did not participate in that philosophical sophistry, and they tell us that the holy Rabbi [Yehuda Ha-Nasi] was punished with afflictions because he said to a calf being led to the slaughterhouse that broke away and hid under his skirts: "Go, for this were you created." And he was healed by way of his actions, when he showed compassion to certain weasels (Bava Metzia 85a).[2] They did not act like the philosophers, to turn darkness into light in order to reach a compromise with practical life, because it is impossible to imagine that the Lord of all things, who shows compassion to His creatures, would put an eternal law like this in His very good creation, that the human race cannot exist unless it violates its moral sense through the shedding of blood, even if it is the blood of animals.


I. Meat was not permitted to Adam


No educated and thinking man is in any way in doubt that the dominion mentioned in the Torah, "And have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over every living creatures that moves on the earth" (Bereishit 1:28), does not refer to the dominion of a dictator, who abuses his people and slaves merely to achieve his personal desires and arbitrary wishes. Heaven forfend that such a despicable law of slavery should be sealed with an eternal seal in the world of God who is good to all and whose "tender mercies are over all His works" (Tehillim 145:9) and who said: "The world is built by love" (ibid. 89:3).

And furthermore, the Torah already testifies that humanity in general once succeeded in rising up to this lofty moral status. As Chazal have explained the verses that prove that Adam was not permitted to eat meat: "Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed… for food" (Bereishit 1:29). It was only after the sons of Noach came, after the flood, that it was permitted to them: "Even as the green herb have I given you all things" (ibid. 9:3). Now, is it possible to imagine that such a highly valued moral good should be lost forever? About this and the like it is stated: "I will fetch my knowledge from afar, and will ascribe righteousness to my Maker" (Iyyov 36:3). In the future, He will broaden our steps and remove us from this complicated question.


            R. Kook argues that it is impossible to imagine that God, who shows pity to all His creatures, would make an eternal law like this, that a person should shed blood, even if it is animal blood. It is not by chance that he uses the word "bloodshed" in reference to animals (following the wording of the Torah with respect to non-consecrated animals in the wilderness after the building of the Mishkan – "Blood shall be imputed to that man; he has shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people" [Vayikra 17:4]). But when he uses the term, he is referring to killing animals in general in order to eat them, and not just to the special period in the wilderness following the erection of the Mishkan.


(Translated by David Strauss)


[1] R. Yoni Grossman, in a VBM shiur on Parashat Shavua, "Bein ha-Olam ha-Rishon ve-ha-Sheni."

[2] "A calf was being taken to the slaughter, when it broke away, hid his head under Rabbi [Yehuda Ha-Nasi]'s skirts, and lowed in terror. He said: ‘Go, for this were you created.’ Thereupon they said [in Heaven]: Since he has no pity, let us bring suffering upon him. One day Rabbi [Yehuda Ha-Nasi]'s maidservant was sweeping the house; seeing some young weasels lying there, she made to sweep them away. He said: ‘Let them be, for it is written: 'And his tender mercies are over all his works.' They said [in Heaven]: Since he is compassionate, let us be compassionate to him."