Lecture 208: The History of the Divine Service at Altars (XVII) – The History of Slaughtering Non-consecrated Animals and Eating Meat (V)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

In the last two shiurim,we examined the opinions that maintain that an allowance was granted to eat meat because of a change in reality following the flood or because of man's superior standing in relation to animals. In this shiur,we will consider the position according to which the allowance to eat meat symbolizes the spiritual fall of man in the wake of the sins that led to the flood. First, we will relate to an interesting viewpoint according to which there is a connection between the allowance to eat meat and the eating of sacrificial meat.


The Connection Between Offering Sacrifices and the Allowance to Eat the Meat of Non-consecrated Animals


The Midrash Aggada on Parashat Noach states as follows:


"Every moving thing that lives" (Bereishit 9:3) – Meat of desire [the meat of a non-consecrated animal] was permitted to Noach because he offered a sacrifice, and furthermore, because everything is destined to die. But to Adam it was not permitted because everything was meant to live, until he sinned and death was decreed upon all creatures. Why was Adam not permitted to eat meat? So that a sinner should not be rewarded.[1]


According to this midrash, before man offers a sacrifice to God, he cannot eat meat of desire. The allowance to eat the meat of an animal stems from the fact that the Torah granted permission to kill the animal for the sake of a sacrifice. Since the Torah allowed the killing of an animal for this purpose, the eating of meat of desire was also permitted.


Noach's sacrifice is the first sacrifice explicitly mentioned in the Torah together with an altar and with concepts that are familiar to us from the book of Vayikra (a clean animal, burnt-offerings, sweet savor). The midrash therefore associates the allowance to eat meat with the sacrifice offered by Noach.


While Kayin and Hevel also brought offerings – Kayin from the fruit of the earth and Hevel from the firstlings of his flock – these were brought without an altar and without the concepts that are familiar to us from the book of Vayikra. According to Chazal, Adam also brought a sacrifice, although there is no hint to this in the verses themselves.


The midrash cites an additional reason: "Because everything is destined to die." To what extent is this rationale connected to the previous one? The continuation of the midrash relates to this question, and thus explains why meat of desire was forbidden to Adam. The midrash answers that in the days of Adam prior to his sin, there was no death in the world, and there was therefore also no reason to permit meat of desire. Only after the period of Adam was meat permitted, so that a sinner should not be regarded as having been rewarded.[2]


In other words, God's "eating" of a sacrifice is what permitted man's eating of non-consecrated animals. Without the offering of a sacrifice, it would have been impossible to eat the meat of non-consecrated animals.


The Allowance to Eat Meat as a Symbol of Man’s Spiritual Descent


The Abravanel in his commentary on the book of Devarim describes the process that took place from the beginning of creation – from Adam to Noach – as a significant moral descent:


What is more correct in my opinion regarding this midrash is that meat was prohibited to Adam because of his perfection, and that it was permitted to Noach and his children because of the wickedness of their natures.

What this means is that man's feeding on plants in very good and appropriate… However, meat is the opposite of all this, for it 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…

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… And when man began to multiply, and the sons were more evil than their fathers, and all flesh corrupted their ways, even though they fed on plants and not on the flesh [of animals] - to the point that they were doomed for destruction in the days of the generation of the flood – God saw that the good practice that He had given to man did not benefit them because of their character, and he therefore permitted meat to Noach and his children. As if to say: Eat what you wish, whether from plants or from animals, "even as the green herb I have given you all things" (Bereishit 9:3), for because of the wickedness of your character, there is no remedy through this practice, but only through punishment… Therefore, He permitted them to eat meat, which is good and bad, saying immediately thereafter: "Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you…"

However, at Mount Sinai, when Israel came to seek perfection, God saw that it was not fitting to ban meat outright, as they too are men of the flesh and their passions overcome them, and they were not at the level of simplicity, as was Adam. It was also not appropriate to permit it outright, as they were not as far from remedy as the generation of the flood…

This may be likened to a doctor who goes in to visit with two patients. The one has a chance to live, while the other has no chance to live. To the one who has a chance to live he says: Do not eat such-and-such. Whereas about the one who has no chance to live he says: Whatever he wishes, give him.

So too for the generations that angered [God] from Noach to Avraham: "Even as the green herb have I given you all things." But regarding Israel, who are destined for the World-to-come, He said: "This you shall eat… but this you shall not eat" (Vayikra 11). (Abravanel, Devarim 14:3).


The Abravanel views the fact that Adam was not permitted to eat meat as testimony to his integrity. He lacked the cruelty to shed the blood of animals for nothing, and the eating of plants was meant to guide him in the path of justice and straighten his ways and lead him to perfection. In the generation of the flood, all flesh corrupted their ways and were doomed for destruction, and therefore God permitted Noach and his descendants to eat meat together with the eating of plants.


The Allowance to Kill Animals and Eat Them


The Ramban states:


When they sinned and all living things corrupted their ways on the earth, and it was decreed that they should die in a flood, for the sake of Noach - God saved of them enough to maintain the species, and He granted them permission to slaughter and eat them, as they exist for his sake.

Nevertheless, He did not grant them permission [to eat of them] while they are still alive, and He prohibited eating the limb of a living animal. And He added to them commandments forbidding all the blood, because it maintains life… For He permitted the body of animal after it is dead, but not the life itself. (Bereshit 1:29)


The Ramban's underlying assumption is that fundamentally, all living creatures should have died in the flood; it was only by virtue of Noach that two or seven of each type of animal were saved in order to preserve the species. Since they were saved by virtue of Noach, Noach was granted absolute rule over them, which included the right to kill them so that they may serve as human food.


We saw in the previous shiur that according to the Ramban, killing an animal for the sake of human consumption is morally flawed, and therefore Adam was prohibited to eat meat. It is not clear why the fact that Noach was to be rewarded for rescuing the animals at the time of the flood constitutes sufficient grounds for retreating from the fundamental moral approach that sees a moral flaw in the killing of animals in order to provide food for man.


R. Kook’s Position


According to R. Avraham Yitzchak Kook (in his "Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace"), the allowance to eat meat that was granted to Noach and his children testifies to the moral decline of man that led to the punishment of the flood. In the wake of this decline, there was a moral retreat and concession to the human species.


In the corrupt state in which man finds himself since the flood, moral concern about animals is inappropriate for him and his present moral level. As long as man has not repaired his relationships with other people, he should not be burdened with moral concern about animals. In his present situation, it is unfair to require a person to occupy himself with such concern.


In a situation in which man denies his morality, his egotism can destroy him. He must therefore be radically distanced from the animals, so that he not feel that he is one of them and sink down to their level. Continuing to live in harmony with the animal kingdom would have prevented man from rising above material pleasures, something that would have made him forget his human superiority.


If while he is still in a state of moral imperfection, man would nevertheless be bound by moral obligations toward animals, the importance that he would show to animals would no longer be available to him to show to other human beings. Man would therefore turn his lowest, darkest passions toward other people, while at the same time displaying moral conduct to animals.


In the future, when the appropriate time will arrive for man to demonstrate his moral perfection towards all of creation, there will no longer be a need for any moral waiver, and man's attitude toward other human beings, on the one hand, and towards animals, on the other, will be repaired and perfect, each in fitting measure.


In the end absolute moral truth, the true knowledge of God on earth, will emerge victorious, to the point that man will no longer have to make any moral concessions, and he will be able to stand forever in accordance with the Divine attribute of justice, as it was meant to be created: "In the beginning God [Elohim] created" (Bereishit 1:1). (11)


Then human beings will recognize their companions in Creation: all the animals. And they will understand how it is fitting from the standpoint of the purest ethical standard not to resort to moral concessions, to compromise the Divine attribute of justice with that of mercy [by permitting mankind's exploitation of animals]; for they will no longer need extenuating concessions, as in those matters of which the Talmud states: "The Torah speaks only of the evil inclination" (Kiddushin 31b). Rather, they will walk the path of absolute good. As the prophet declares: "I will make a covenant for them with the animals of the field, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground; I also will banish the bow and sword, and war from the land [and I will cause them to rest in safety. I will betroth you to Me forever; and I will betroth you to Me with righteousness, with justice, with kindness, and with compassion; and I will betroth you to Me with faith, and you will know God]" (Hoshea 2:20). (12)




R. Kook understands that man was granted permission to eat meat because of his moral fall. As long as the human species has not corrected the moral depravity of one person controlling another person to do him harm, there is no point in relating to animals in an inappropriately pious manner.


There is a direct connection between man's general moral state, the clearest expression of which is found in man's relationship to his fellow man, and the allowance to eat animal meat.[3]


Moreover, as long as man is at a low moral state, it is of utmost importance that he increase and strengthen the fundamental gap that exists between humans and animals, so that he not feel himself as one of them and expose himself to the danger of being affected by the behavior of animals and allowing his spirit to fall to the level of animals.


In this situation, maintaining a prohibition to eat the flesh of animals would make man forget his human superiority and stand in the way of his moral development. Therefore, the allowance to eat meat separates man from beast, and allows man to concentrate on his human virtues.


Only God, with His full knowledge of the world, can use His supernal judgment to waive some aspect of moral improvement for a particular time in order to prepare the world for its full and perfect repair in the future. At that time, man will no longer have to make a moral concession, and it will be possible to govern the world at the most perfect level possible, in accordance with the Divine attribute of justice, with which God had intended to create the world.


In that future time, the prohibition of eating animals and of slaughtering them for non-consecrated purposes will return, as will man's virtuous attitude toward animals.


(Translated by David Strauss)


[1] Cited by R. Kasher in Torah Sheleima, Parashat Noach, Bereishit 9:3 (p. 462, no. 14).

[2] It is interesting to note the similarity between the midrash's understanding of the allowance regarding meat and the Karaite position mentioned in the shiur before the last, which also connects the allowance to eat meat to the offering of sacrifices, and therefore prohibits the eating of meat in the exile after the destruction of the Temple.  

[3] In Nazi Germany, while millions of human beings were being killed, there was a sharp rise in the number of animal welfare organizations. It was as if that measure of mercy and compassion found in man, when directed towards animals, was not available for fellow humans. In the words of the prophet: "Those who slaughter meh kiss calves" (Hoshea 13:2)