For there is nothing inaccessible for death.
All beings are fond of life, hate pain, like pleasure,
shun destruction, like life, long to live. To all life
- Jain Acharanga Sutra.
Dear Rabbi Gellman,
for the love of animals:
Much of the work I do to help end animal suffering is focused on the harm done by the semitic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). I often receive information about clergy who help to perpetuate this suffering. A colleague sent me an article from May 4, 2011, Newsday article titled "God Squad: Biblical views on eating meat" where you state: "I'm an animal lover. I eat meat."
Rabbi Marc Gellman. I too
love animals, therefore: I do not consume their flesh, do not wear their skins
or exploit them for their milk and eggs. I do not submit them to hideous
experiments which maim, poison, mutilate and kill them. I do not take pleasure
in seeing them forced to perform for human amusement in ways that nature never
intended. They are entitled to their own lives, so do not exist as human
the nature of love:
Recently there was a story in the news of a woman who killed her 6 year old son.
She is quoted as saying "I love my son very much." Such words have a terrible
resonance. It seems incomprehensible that one can love a child and then kill
him. It is an irresolvable contradiction.
There are several possibilities for your confusion with regard to animals.
Perhaps you are not aware of the meaning of love in its fullest sense. One
definition by Rabbi Eliyaho Dessler from the Jewish point of view defines love
as "giving without expecting to take" (from his Michtav me-Eliyahu, Vol. 1). By
this definition, there is no love when the lives of sentient beings, who desire
to live, are violently taken.
Yet you state, with some assurance, though slightly bemused: "I am an animal
lover. I eat meat." Love is a term often associated with empathy and compassion,
defined as: "deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to
relieve it". The fear and terror experienced by an animal during slaughter or
while being violated, can in no way be construed as the result of a loving
Another possibility for your confusion may well reside in the self-serving notion of biblical compassion, based on the concept of dominion:
Genesis 9:1-3: "God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.'"
The allowable slaughter of an animal acclimates the human spirit to tolerate violence, as it suppresses the instinct of kindness. As you know rabbinical duties require viewing animal slaughter to insure that it is carried out according to tradition. During a discussion with a rabbi, he noted that, when he witnessed the slaughter, the screams of the animals were terrible. When he revealed that he was not a vegetarian, I understood how his heart was so numbed to the suffering he had witnessed, that he was still willing to consume the product of such pain and terror. When we close our hearts to the suffering of others it becomes easier to dismiss their lives as worth less than our own, so that we may benefit from their misery. As a result of this discussion, it became apparent to me that I could no longer associate myself with the Jewish faith. The concept of dominion so violated my deepest beliefs of compassion, that my sense of well-being was at risk if I remained.
There are biblical clauses which pretend to temper the brutality of dominion with sweet words such as: Proverbs 12:10: "The righteous person regards the life of his or her animal." Closer scrutiny reveals the true nature of these words: "In Judaism, one who is unnecessarily cruel to animals cannot be regarded as a righteous individual," Professor Richard Schwartz, Jewish Vegetarian Association. The intent of the necessity clause is to present cruelty to animals as a righteous endeavor, for it implies: one who is of necessity cruel to animals can still be regarded as a righteous individual.
Sir Bertrand Russell astutely noted the intention of the concept of 'righteous' wrong doing, when he stated: "The essence of the conception of righteousness, therefore, is to afford an outlet for sadism by cloaking cruelty as justice." The accuracy of these words becomes even more apparent when one considers the following:
In the Torah humanity is given dominion over animals (Gen. 1:26), which gives us the right to use animals for legitimate needs. Animal flesh can be consumed for food; animal skins can be used for clothing. The Torah itself must be written on parchment (animal hides), as must mezuzah scrolls, and tefillin must be made out of leather....dominion does not give us the right to cause indiscriminate pain and destruction. We are permitted to use animals in this way only when there is a genuine, legitimate need, and we must do so in the manner that causes the animal the least suffering.
A genuine concern for animal well-being, would not condone doctrine that has delivered so much suffering, nor would it proclaim teachings that ultimately sanctify animal abuse as legitimate. Since first uttered, the excuse for animal exploitation based on human need, has led to uncountable and unspeakable abuses for animals, based on their exclusion from full compassion. Those wishing to profit from animal misery are inventive, as they easily find needs to justify their cruel, self-serving activities To the victim, discriminate violence is just as harmful as indiscriminate violence. The taking of a life that is not freely given always results in intense fear and pain. To knowingly exploit or inflict harm on another living being for one's own needs is to excuse all violence, cruelty and abuse.
Every year in the USA 56 billion living beings are slaughtered for consumption. This and other harmful activities considered acceptable are the use of animals for entertainment, sport and research, where they may be restrained, maimed, mutilated, poisoned, caged, forced to perform or killed. Such violence inflicted on these animals, if carried out according to protocol, is not considered abuse, but a fact of life, the natural order or a mandate from God. A view of animals based on a devaluation of their lives falls short of a reasonable notion of compassion. Yet, there are those, so intent on preserving religious tradition, they claim it is possible to be simultaneously righteous and cruel, despite the flagrant contradiction. The nature of this deception is precisely stated by George Bernard Shaw: "Cruelty must be whitewashed by a moral excuse, and pretense of reluctance."
on the nature of wisdom:
To those of you like me who still eat meat, there's great wisdom in all of
this. The genius of the Bible is that it gives us all ways to live a morally
compromised life while urging us on to try every day to live lives of modestly
higher virtue. Eating meat is OK, but we can do better. So my suggestion is to
try to eat less meat, fish and fowl (eggs are another matter).
- Mark Bittman
There is neither wisdom nor genius in a morally compromised doctrine that has resulted in so much suffering to innumerable living beings capable of feeling pain, many of whom possess a full set of emotions. A hierarchy of God/man/animal was created so that those who choose to harm animals could do so with a clear conscience. Such a hierarchy is nothing more than a Ponzi scheme, where those at the bottom lose the most. The words of Mark Bittman encouraging you to view eating meat as a spectrum where you may pick and choose to eat less, denies the wisdom that 'when you save one life it is as if you saved the entire world...' To question the killing of some animals and not others is also to devalue the wisdom of those words. When you take a life that is not freely given, you have destroyed an entire world. A life is a life.
a little bit of meat
The pragmatic view that a little bit of meat is not so bad also ignores the
impact on the human soul. The act of killing is so violent that, whether one
carries out the actual violence, orders it or condones it by participating in
the by product, it serves to stifle compassion. One has to ignore the harm none
and somehow pretend it was not so bad. With this deception the seeds of cruelty
are sown. Violence once it is unleashed is seldom contained, so it is with the
slaughter of an animal. It becomes just a bit easier to kill a person who is
perceived as having wronged us. This violence too has a way of escalating, as
there are always additional repercussions.
Genius would not create an illusion of compassion in order to endorse
slaughter, abuse and exploitation. It is sinister to encourage aggression and
exploitation in moderation of those who are weak and defenseless. Morality is
not contingent on how we treat our equals or superiors, but how we treat those
we can harm with impunity. Consider:
The greatness of a nation and the progress of its moral development are
measured by the way it treats its animal.
Sympathy for the lowest animals is one of the noblest virtues with which man
- Charles Robert Darwin
There is no genius in condoning the violence of animal abuse, while hinting at kindness. Such a policy is merely a political gesture, designed to placate those who would resist more compassionate teachings. It serves to promote religious loyalty and financial support, as it encourages aggressive human tendencies. With this model, those at the top increase their wealth and power, while those at the bottom are destroyed without mercy. Wisdom is defined as the quality of having experience, knowledge and good judgment. It is questionable whether a system which condones violence to the weakest and most vulnerable among us, exhibits good judgment. Experience and observation would seek a way to encourage the nobler traits of human nature: compassion, empathy, love, inner peace and restraint.
Marc Bittman coyly encourages "Finally, don't beat yourself up. You're not a
hypocrite. You may not even be a sinner, but you are trying to do better.
There's no shame in this. Go have a salad. I'll join you. Your diet may not be
perfect, but your soul is in terrific shape."
It is not necessary to beat yourself up, a fittingly violent metaphor by Mark
Bittman, in order to become vegetarian or vegan. It is merely necessary to
consider the suffering found in a pound of flesh, and whether that suffering is
worth your momentary pleasure. One could say that you have not bridged the
contradiction between your genuine compassion for animals with a doctrine which
allows for their slaughter and abuse. There is much to gain by looking to the
source of this affection within your soul, then considering whether you feel
comfortable with the violence of your decision. The fact that you have
compartmentalized abuse to certain animals and activities, indicates a yearning
for a broader definition of compassion. When you eat beef, though not veal you
kill the mother of the veal calf. There is very little qualitative difference to
an animal who has been shot during a hunt and one who has had his throat slit by
a butcher. It is not clear why one seems more cruel than the other. What is to
be considered is your basic instinct of compassion and the equivalence of the
suffering inflicted in both instances.
Allow yourself to believe in your own sense of compassion in order to decide
whether 'a little bit of slaughter' leaves you feeling comfortable and peaceful.
It did not for me. I have sought out the wisdom of the Jain religion. I am not
suggesting that you follow suit, but that as the spiritual leader of your
community, that you consider whether you can in good conscience endorse cruelty
a revolutionary concept:
Genius would find a way to encourage the best that is present in human nature:
compassion, empathy, restraint from violence. Just as violence builds on itself,
so too does compassion. There is religion in India called Jainism, which has
resulted in a community that has lived non-violently for thousands of years.
Though a small percent of India's poplulation, the Jains have had a profound
effect on Indian society. Needless to say there have been no Jain holy wars or
wars of any kind, no inquisitions, no crusades, no holocausts, no entifadas, no
jihads and no imperialism over one's neighbors. The understanding that
compassion is not something to be granted to others: human or animals
conditionally, but rather is to be extended completely to all has resulted in
more peace for humanity. Isaach Bashevis Signer too understood the implications
of universal compassion for all beings:
I think, as a rule, a vegetarian is not a murderer, he is not a criminal. I believe that a man who becomes a vegetarian because he has compassion with animals is not going to kill people or be cruel to people. When one becomes a vegetarian it purifies the soul.
The profound realization that compassion is not something to be doled out to
others, as we deem necessary, but is instead a reflection of our spiritual
well-being is revolutionary. This profound wisdom is called ahimsa. It does not
allow for violence as a concession to human weakness, instead it encourages the
best in mankind. Is it not be the function of religion to encourage a higher
level of existence rather than to condone man's baser instincts with the hope
that this will lead to a lessening of the same? Jainism grants ahimsa to all
living beings, as it seeks to avoid violence that would cause suffering to
anyone. With this view human and animal lives merit the same consideration, each
life has an intrinsic value:
All beings are fond of life, hate pain, like pleasure,
shun destruction, like life, long to live. To all life
- Jain Acharanga Sutra
All things breathing, all things existing, all living beings whatever, would
not be slain or treated with violence, or insulted, or tortured or drven away.
This is the pure unchanging eternal law, which the wise ones who know the world
- Jain Acharanga Sutra
He who harms animals has not understood or renounced deeds of sin...He who
understands the nature of sin against animals is called a Sage.
- Jain Acharanga Sutra
The wisdom of this tradition is based on the observation that universal
compassion for all beings is as beneficial to those who bestow it as to those
who receive it. Isaac Bashevis Singer, a man of great intellect and compassion,
understood the wisdom inherent in this view:
When a human kills an animal for food, he is neglecting his own hunger for
- Isaac Bashevis Singer
Non-violence to living beings is kindness to
oneself. For thereby one's own self is saved from various kinds of sins and
As you have indicated some ambivalence your decision to eat ''some meat," I ask that you consider:
Those who eat the meat of other (living beings) in order to satisfy their
own flesh, they are definitely murderers (themselves), since without a consumer
(there can be) no killer.
- Acharya Hemacandra (Jain ascetic/scholar )
It is not necessary to be a Jain to understand the wisdom of ahimsa. Creative and intelligent individuals throughout history, of many cultures and religious persuasions, have also understood the meaning of the words of Acharya Hemacandra:
I have learned from an early age to abjure the use of meat, and the time
will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now
look upon the murder of men.
- Leonardo da Vinci
The following was received from an activist colleague, not of the Jain faith. Consider the awe and wonder, so beautifully expressed, inherent in each life. :
As each birth of each creature seen is as a first
- a genesis... It is felt as if it were the very first time - it has to it a
"newness" as if it had never been seen or felt before. Such is a heart who
feels, who has not been calloused, nor desensitized and whose eyes remain open.
Each life is precious. Each life is unique. For who does not marvel and the
heart skip a beat to see a live birth ?
- Charlett Hobart
Remember the veal calf you would not consume, and think of the others...
I wish you the courage of your compassion.
PS: Dear Rabbi Gellman...
Do we (all living beings) not all breathe the same
What right have we to violently take that breath, life, joy, from another?
Is not all breath divine breath?
- Sharon Azar