Tuesday, January 15, 2008 I was asked the following question:
Shalom Rabbi Dan,
Since the production and consumption of meat and other animal products violate
Jewish mandates to preserve our health, treat animals with compassion, protect
the environment, conserve natural resources (bal tashchit), help hungry
people and seek and pursue peace, shouldn't Jews be vegetarians?
was my response:
I will attempt to address your questions as directly as I can.
You pose questions for which you, already, have your own answer. Clearly, given
your predilection of favoring a vegetarian diet, you should refrain from eating
meat or meat products. However, I believe that your correlations, at least, in
part, do not hold theological water.
Clearly, Jewish Law mandates that we make a serious attempt to maintain our
health and we do that by abstaining from those foods and/or substances which
would impair our living by that mandate. However, meat, per se, does not lead to
poor health, when eaten in moderation, unless, of course, one's body cannot
tolerate meat. The average person's body has the capacity to properly utilize
the beneficial aspects of being carnivorous. Therefore, within limitation, meat
can be quite a health preserver.
Treating animals and, for that matter, human beings, with compassion is, of
course, the most important aspect of living a Torah life. The Laws of Kashrut
were imposed on us, precisely, to insure the slaughtering of animals in a
compassionate fashion. I am certain that you, based on your professional
expertise and authorship of works on this subject, are quite well versed in
Your reference to protecting the environment and conserving natural resources is
well taken. However, animals, as are all of Hashem's creations, are
destined to live on this world for only so long. Life here is temporal and as
one animal leaves this olum another is born to replace it.
Animals are no more or less a natural resource on this planet than we are as
humans. For that matter, there is not one "natural resource" that does not come
into being only to end its stay here at some point in time. Theoretically, you
could make the same argument for cutting down trees to make kindling wood or for
changing farmland into housing developments...each process and every aspect of
each process is the Will of Hakodosh Barachu. Yes, the tree offers scenic
beauty that has value on both a spiritual and an aesthetic level and, after it
is cut down, serves to warm and indirectly feed humanity.
Lastly, you speak of helping the hungry and pursuing peace. Should I infer that
there is a direct correlation between hunger and war or non-peace? I don't. It
isn't the hungry who perpetrate wars. Rather, it is those with wealth who deny
their citizens even a small morsel merely to maintain their control over them
and, all too often, send them off to war to kill or die for their leaders'
nefarious plans. Of course, peace should be pursued. However, even more
important is the pursuit of justice.
Torah is perfect...clearly, it allows for eating meat. And, equally as clear are
its prohibitions against the eating of various meats and sea food. Torah tells
us, exactly, what is and what isn't acceptable in our diet.
Prior to our receiving Torah on Har Sinai, your wish for a vegetarian diet was
the mandate-of-the-day. However, Shavuoth, the day on which we received
Hashem's Word, ended that mandate and meat and fish, within certain prescribed
limitations became permissible as nourishment.
As an aside. Even eating vegetables requires the "killing" or destruction of
something that grows from and on this planet. Humanity can not survive without
food and all food comes from something that, previously, had a "life of its
In conclusion, everything has its place in Hashem's Master Plan. Even our
"conversation" has a higher purpose than either of us is aware of.
May Hashem's Will prevail and may we all prevail to abide by it and, thereby,
live in peace.
you have questions about a personal matter, or jewish practices
and customs, you can submit them to me by e-mail.
I answer all queries directly, or through this column, when the
question is informative to our community.
you for your kind attention and this opportunity to share with
Rabbi Dan S. Wiko
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