Lecture 206: The History of the Divine Service at Altars (XV) – The History of Slaughtering Non-consecrated Animals and Eating Meat (III)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

After having dealt with the question of why meat was initially forbidden for human consumption, we will now address the issue of why meat was later permitted in the aftermath of the flood.


After Noach emerged from the ark and after he built an altar and offered sacrifices, God blessed him and his sons with the renewal of the world after the flood:


And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air, upon all that moves upon the earth, and upon all the fish of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you, even as the green herb have I given you all things. But flesh with its life, which is its blood, you shall not eat. And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheds man's blood by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God made He man. (Bereishit 9:2-6)


Four issues are discussed in these verses:


1. A change in the relationship between man and the animal kingdom, so that now the fear of man is upon all animals. In contrast to the harmony and the division of roles between all the creations, from man at the top to the green herbs and inanimate objects at the bottom, which reigned in the days of Adam, now the relationship is one of fear and dread cast by man upon the animals.


In the words of R. S. R. Hirsch in his commentary:


The attachment between man and animal is broken; animals fear man. He is no longer their guiding master; man has unlearned to understand animals and they keep fearfully away from him. (Bereishit 9:2)


2. Permission to kill animals and eat them.


3. A prohibition to eat the blood of animals, or, according to Chazal, a prohibition to eat the limb of a living animal.


4. A prohibition to shed the blood of an animal, or, according to Chazal, a prohibition to eat the blood of a living animal.[1] 


There is an inner connection between these four issues. Since man is meant from this point on to kill animals in order to eat them, animals are now afraid of man.


Since the Torah grants here a far-reaching allowance to kill animals, it restricts the allowance, so that it does not include the blood of an animal, and according to Chazal, the limb of a living animal. For this reason, the Torah also warns about the severity of killing a human being and shedding his blood.[2]


The primary issue to which we will relate in the coming shiurim is the reason for the allowance to kill and eat animals that was granted to Noach after emerging from the ark following the flood. Several approaches have been taken to answer this question.


1. The first approach is comprised of realistic explanations that explain why the world changed at this time. One of the main questions is whether this change reflects man's superiority or his moral downfall and spiritual decline.


2. The second approach is comprised of explanations according to which the flood was followed by a spiritual ascent, whether because of the human actions that were taken to rescue the animals, because of a sharper distinction between the rank of man and that of animals, or because of the connection between man's higher rank and his Torah and eating meat.


3. The third approach is comprised of explanations that point to a moral fall, which led in the end to man's decline. On the face of it, this is an ongoing process since the beginning of creation, a direct continuation of the moral corruption that led to the flood itself. The different opinions revolve around the moral flaw in the killing of animals, which is considered bloodshed, and the low level and grave consequences of eating meat.


We will begin with the first two sets of explanations in this shiur, and we will continue from there in the next shiur.


Realistic reasons for permitting the eating of meat[3]


1. Shorter human lifespan and altered climactic conditions


R. Hirsch refers to this approach in his commentary:


With the altered conditions of life, mankind also received a fresh kind of food. It is not unlikely that the shortened duration of life, where everything that the earlier generations had lived through in seven to eight hundred years had to be concentrated into seventy to eighty years, the quicker development and the rapid changes, all stipulated for animal food. The differences in temperature, the changes of seasons and climates, could equally have been not without influence in the permission now given for animal food. Thereby mankind becomes less dependent on the food that the earth grants it.

Before the flood, as has already been remarked according to the teachings of our Sages and in accordance with geological assumptions, the temperature was much more constant and vegetation more luxurious, so that vegetarian food was always available in sufficient quantity and there was no necessity for a meat diet. The Torah demands no vegetarianism; it has no aversion to the eating of meat and it even makes it a duty on Yom Tov. If our physical condition were still the original one, probably the eating of meat would not be permitted to us, but now it is probably necessary.

But as soon as we were allowed to eat animal food, dietary laws started. For even the later prohibitions of food in the Jewish laws are concerned solely with animal food, which, originally not allowed, was only permitted with restrictions.

In the vegetable world, no plant, as such, is forbidden to be eaten. The prohibitions of chadash, orlah, and kil'ei kerem are rooted in quite other considerations. The first dietary law which applies far beyond Jewish circles and is binding on the whole of Noachian humanity, that is, the prohibition of eating a limb of a living animal, is declared in the following verse. (Bereishit 9:3)


2. After the flood, there were no fruit trees or herbs, and therefore an allowance was granted to kill and eat animals


The Abravanel writes:


And why was Noach permitted to eat meat, which was not permitted to Adam? This is because Adam was in the Garden of Eden, a place with the choicest possible trees and fruits. As it is stated: "And out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food" (Bereishit 2:9), and man was told: "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat" (ibid. v. 16).

But when Noach and his sons emerged from the ark, they had neither herbs nor fruit trees from which to eat. And had they waited to eat until they sowed fields and planted vineyards, they would have died of hunger. Therefore, the eating of meat was permitted to them. (Bereishit 9:1)


On the face of it, this position is difficult. Why was the eating of animal meat permitted for all generations merely because of a momentary need at a particular point in time?


3. Permission was granted to eat meat for health reasons, because food had degenerated and man about to spread out across the world


The Malbim writes in his commentary:


In the days of Adam, the human body was strong, and fruits had not yet degenerated, and they could maintain a person in the same way as meat. But after the flood, [vegetarian] food became impaired, and man was prepared for spreading to the farthest corners of the earth and distant islands, and the world had become hot and cold, so that meat was necessary to maintain a person's health… (Bereishit 9:3)


Since man was about to begin to spread out across the entire world, and plants cannot satisfy his nutritional needs in all places, meat was permitted.


As mentioned above, the common denominator of all these explanations is that they are all based on changes in reality and do not express a clear and fundamental position on the issue of eating meat.


The allowance to eat meat attests to man's superior Spiritual level


The gemara in Pesachim (49a) states:


It was taught: Rabbi [Yehuda Ha-Nasi] said: An ignoramus [am ha-aretz] may not eat meat, as it is stated: "This is the law [Torah] of the beast" (Vayikra 11:46) - whoever engages in [the study of] the Torah may eat the meat of beasts and fowl, but he who does not engage in [the study of] the Torah may not eat the meat of beasts and fowl.


According to this gemara, there is a connection between Torah study and the allowance to eat meat.[4]


The Keli Yakar expresses this approach:


The eating of meat was not permitted to Adam, because an ignoramus is forbidden to eat meat. But to Noach who engaged in Torah study it was permitted. The commentators offer an explanation for this, saying that every creature feeds on that which is below him. An inanimate object, which is the lowest of beings, feeds on itself; plants feed on inanimate objects, as they draw their nutrition from the ground; animals feed on plants; and man, the species that speaks, feeds on animals.

But this only applies when he engages in Torah study and reaches perfection, so that he is called "man," for without that he is likened to an animal. And why should he eat his equal, and what perfection is added to his equal when he eats it? For all food acquires the nature of that which eats it, so that when a person eats an animal, the animal rises to the level man. But as for a man who is likened to an animal, what does he give or add to what he eats? (Bereishit 9:3)


The premise here is that eating involves a raising of the level of that which is eaten to the level of that which eats it. But if the eater is at the same level as his food, what right does he have to eat it?


The Maharal, both in his Chiddushei Aggada and in his Netivot Olam, also relates to R. Yehuda Ha-Nasi's statement that an ignoramus may not eat meat. In Netiv ha-Torah, he writes:


Rabbi [Yehuda Ha-Nasi] says: An ignoramus may not eat meat… The explanation is: The eating of meat involves making it not to exist, for the person eats it until it has lost its reality, and this indicates that the animal is not at the level of man.

And this is certainly because the material, which is the beast, is not at the level of the rational. Therefore, a Torah Sage is permitted to eat meat until the animal no longer exists, because at the rational level, there is no reality to the material beast, and therefore he may eat it. But an ignoramus has not reached this level, so that one can say that the animal is not at the level of the ignoramus, for an ignoramus lacks Divine intellect, and therefore an ignoramus is forbidden to eat meat.

This is the reason that meat was not permitted to Adam, who was called by that name because of the material earth. Therefore, Adam was not at that level that was not the level of animals, since he was called Adam because of the earth.

… But Noach was called "a man of the earth," master of the material earth, and therefore the animals were not found at his level, and he was permitted to eat meat. (chap. 15)


The Maharal notes that when one eats meat, he consumes it to the point that it no longer exists. This greatly sharpens the huge difference between the level of man and the level of an animal. Therefore, the allowance to consume meat was granted specifically to a Torah scholar, who is found at a rational level, a level that is higher than that of the animals. In contrast, an ignoramus lacks "Divine intellect," and is therefore forbidden to eat meat. Noach, who was superior to Adam, is called "a man of the earth" (9:20), which means master of the material earth. He was granted permission to eat animals, which were at a lower level than him.


In his Chiddushei Aggadot on Tractate Sanhedrin, the Maharal writes:


But why were fish forbidden to the children of Noach, for He permitted them only the fruit of the trees and the herbs of the field? The Sages alluded to this in what they said: "An ignoramus may not eat meat." The reason is that an ignoramus who is entirely material is not fit to be above material beasts, for an ignoramus too is beastly, and it is inappropriate that the one should overpower the other to eat it.

Adam was called Adam because he was created from the earth (adama), and all the generations to Noach relate back to Adam who was created from the earth, until Noach came, who was "a man of the earth;" that is, he ruled over the earth. Therefore, it was inappropriate that man should rule over beasts or any other animal until Noach came, who was a man of the earth, and therefore he was permitted to eat meat.

It would seem that even if the animal died on its own it would have been forbidden to eat it. For "green herbs" comes to exclude – only green herbs that have no soul [are permitted], but beasts of the field, even when they have no soul, are forbidden.

The reason is not that God had pity on animals not to kill them. Rather, man is not so superior that he should eat meat, which had a vital soul. Were this not so, the Torah should have written that God allowed animals that died, and all the more so green herbs. (59b)


In his Chiddushei Aggadot, the Maharal explains that an ignoramus is forbidden to eat meat, because he is entirely material, and therefore, it is not fitting that something material should eat something material.


The Maharal distinguishes between Adam who was created from the earth and Noah who was called "a man of the earth," who rules the earth. As was explained above, since Noach enjoyed a higher rank, he was permitted to eat meat.


The reason that Adam was forbidden to eat meat is not that God in His mercy decreed that man should not kill animals, but rather that man's rank is not so much higher than that of animals, that he should eat their meat, for animals too have a vital soul.[5]


(Translated by David Strauss)


[1] See the view of R. Chanina ben Gamliel in Sanhedrin 59a.

[2] We note the connection between the various elements in order to understand the precise context of the allowance to kill and eat animals.

[3] Some of the sources are taken from R. Yaron Ben David, "Akhilat Basar Lekhatchila o Bedi'eved,” Yachdav 2 (Kibbutz Be’erot Yitzchak).

[4] Some Rishonim explain that an ignoramus may not eat meat that he himself prepared, as he is not fluent in the laws of ritual slaughter and salting, and we are concerned that he will come to eat something that is forbidden (Ritva, Ran, and others).

According to this view, the prohibition is limited to the meat of cattle or birds, as they are governed by many complicated laws of which an ignoramus is not familiar. But it does not apply to fish (so writes the Maharsha).

[5] The Malbim, as cited above, mentions this position: "Nevertheless, I only permitted you to eat the meat of an animal if it is not alive, for in that way it will be elevated to the body of man. But you may not eat meat with its life, its blood, [that is], if its life is found in its blood, as the blood carries the vital soul, as this is murder and cruelty."