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Can You Eat Meat and Serve God
By: Ron Singer
One of the most outstanding facts that amazed Mark Twain was the seeming immortality of the Jewish nation. Here is an excerpt from an essay he wrote entitled " ON THE JEWISH PEOPLE".
"The Egyptian, the Babylonian and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed and made a vast noise, and they were gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality ?"
When Mark Twain wrote this essay 100 years ago, the Jewish nation's eternal covenant with God had been in effect for about 3400 years. And its equally eternal mission had been in effect for about 3900 years. The mission was to bring God's blessings to the earth. And the covenant called for this particular people to be a nation of priests, holy and in God's service so God would bless them before the entire world for living in harmony with His eternal will. Among the many commandments which God set forth was the system of dietary laws which allowed a people, unwilling to give up meat eating, to do so in a way which might lead ultimately to the vegetarian diet originally desired by their Creator, i.e., a diet rich in nutrition, easy on the planet, kind to animals and more healthy than the flesh based diet which they whined for after leaving Egypt.
One hundred years ago only God knew that Elsie the cow and her calves were going to suffer unspeakably cruel changes in their pastoral lives. Instead of grazing peacefully with freedom to move, they would endure cruel, denigrated lives confined in feed lots full of their own excrement. No one knew that the burgeoning cattle industry would damage the water and air supply, and herald in an age of degenerative diseases. Only God could have been aware that in order to minimize maintenance costs, cattle and poultry were going to be forced into cannibalism by being fed the rendered corpses of their fellow creatures and that this would endanger the health of the planet with bovine encephalitis.
The history of the Jewish people is filled with many punishments. In the past when Jews failed to serve God purely, He would punish them according to the curses written in the Torah and the words of the Prophets. Our people had a job to do and punishment was the correction that the Lord of the covenant employed to get us back on track. Today there is no more illiteracy, and no more lack of awareness of the dangers facing the nation of Israel and the planet itself. There is no possibility of being a comfortable Jew in a distressed world. To "love God with all our hearts, souls and might" is our credo, our mission, our destiny, and the secret of our nation's immortality.
The Torah is all about how we should be toward one another, the world and God. In short, it is about "tikkun haolam", which means the repair and maintenance of the creation which God gave us in trust. Judaism, therefore, is about raising the world to its highest state, with the ultimate goal of creating the "marriage of heaven and earth". When this eternal mission is accomplished, heavenly truth, justice, mercy and love will be reflected by earthly reality. The world will then be in the state of true beauty and a praise to both God and man.
In light of our mission, the job of the Jewish establishment is to be on the cutting edge of environmental issues, social issues, jurisprudence, medical developments, politics, and of course the quality of agriculture and real foods. Recognition of this Divine responsibility will mean stepping out of the "shtetl" mindset and taking the Torah with all its information on every subject of human endeavor, to the center stage of world affairs. This will be Judaism in practice, a praise to our Creator, and a blessing to His creation. Such a vigorous and unadulterated Judaism, would among other things become the greatest spokesman for vegetarianism. Vegetarianism is one of the first commandments of the Torah and it is inseparably paired with the Torah view of the messianic, world to come when God's kingdom will be one in heaven and on earth. Then "The Lord shall be King over all the earth; on that day the Lord shall be One and His name One." (See the last line of the Alenu pledge).
Some of us see the writing on the wall. We responsibly bring our Jewish energy into the creation, but we do so as individuals. Jewish vegetarians are the only unified group which applies Torah principles to world issues. We know that meat tastes good, but we courageously asked the existential question, "Is it is possible to go on eating meat and serve God in today's world ?" The Talmudic writer who wrote "there is no joy without meat" would see that in today's world there is plainly no joy with meat. For how can the Creator of all life be pleased with factory farming which destroys the rights of His creatures to live as He intended them to live? And how can God delight in the holiday festival where veal is served? For how can anyone serving God think that a new born calf is meant to be placed in a stall no bigger than its body and purposely be fed an iron deficient diet to atrophy its muscles and give its flesh the soft, white texture of veal? Then when he is no longer able to stand, is it fitting that he be removed from his prison and prepared for a feast to honor God?
Today when McDonald's burgers enjoy a rabbinic hechsher in our holy land and when every burger sold means that another square yard of precious God-made rain forest is destroyed, can a Jew still remain dormant and ignorant of the responsibility to respond with a vegetarian alternative? The Maccabees responded when God's Temple was desecrated. Today, Jewish vegetarians respond when His entire creation is being destroyed by primitive appetites combined with advanced technology. The Jewish response today cannot fail to bring about a transformation in the minds and hearts and palates of Jewish people. For we were chosen to bring light to a world addicted to self destructive habits (Genesis 8:21). Today there simply is too much danger to the creation itself for us to respond weakly or insufficiently. An apologetic vegetarian movement is not a viable approach to one of the very first Torah commandments, especially one which impacts on the fate of humanity and the entire creation.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said that if God is not of the utmost importance in your life then He is of no importance at all. The Jew who eats meat and waxes fat is not the Jew who brings salvation to a desperate world. Nor is he one who truly serves his God with all his God-given talents, power and means. A Jew is chosen to conquer his negative or animal impulses and desires not to disguise them with primitively inspired rhetoric and quasi-authoritative legal literature.
As a child grows to maturity his illusions fade away one after another. Hopefully faith in the Creator inspires him/her to live a rich and fulfilling life. For a nation to mature it is no less imperative to give up addictive, convenient illusions. The survival of our people and our planet depend on the ability of the Jew to transform his appetite for meat to suit the will of His God, the needs of the world, not to mention the true needs of his/her own body. Yet despite the Divine preference for a vegetarian world, which was most beautifully expressed by the Prophet Isaiah, the Jewish religious establishment remains against vegetarianism. This reaction by our establishment should come as no surprise, for establishments by their nature tend to be reactionary and in the service of their own survival. Take for example the American Medical Association's attack on the practice of natural medicine in the 1970's. After two decades of doctors willing to risk losing their licenses, the natural medical practices began finding their way into the "complimentary medicine" departments of our medical hospitals.
Vegetarianism is more of a Jewish issue than most people want to realize. For in Israel preference for meat eating is creating the basis for the next war with Syria and possibly even Jordan. Both military experts and politicians believe that the next war will break out as a result of the shortage of water flowing from the Hermon and Golan regions in the north of Israel. Our religious establishment is fully aware of this fact. How a simcha can come to Israel from meat eating when producing 450 kilograms of meat (that's just 990 lbs.) requires the amount of water it takes to float a naval destroyer is beyond comprehension or rationalization.
King David, who sang, "Seek peace and pursue it" (Psalms 34:15), was a warrior, yet I believe he would prefer our ancient traditional fare of barley and lentils to meat, if a war with Syria, over such self-indulgent reasons as burgers, shnitzels and steaks from degraded and tortured animals, could be averted.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch said regarding the injunction not to waste God's resources, i.e., "bal tashchit" taken from Deuteronomy 20:19-20; that we should use God's property wisely and with a sense of awe. He said we should waste nothing. Neither from America where 70 - 80 % of grain is grown to feed animals for slaughter nor from Israel where a dunam (1/4 acre) which can grow 5000 lbs. of potatoes is used instead to produce a shamefully wasteful 41 lbs. of meat, does any light or blessing reach the 20 million human beings who die every year from hunger and related causes.
The father of our nation, Avraham, was told by God that his mission was to be a blessing (Genesis 12:2,3). And though he served meat, I strongly doubt whether He would feel proud at the sight of modern Jews with stomachs full of tortured flesh in total oblivion of God's suffering creatures and the damage done to our health and our planet. As a friend of God, our father Avraham loved and served God with all his heart, soul and might to repair and shape the world around him to suit the will of his God. Today the Jewish nation is a powerful force for tikkun haolam, i.e., repairing the Creation. We have abundant resources of every kind. We are influential in every field of human endeavor. If we decided to be committed to being the kind of Jews which would make our father, Avraham proud, we could bring the world into the prophesied new world which our Prophets describe. In order to bridge the gap to this corrected world to come, we must return to the diet which God first gave mankind and the one which our Prophets and sages say will be our final one.
Vegetarianism is the ideal. It is the diet without which tikkun haolam cannot be accomplished. To think that our modern meat-based diet and repairing the Creation and being a praise to the Lord God of Israel is a workable and acceptable formula for Jews is simply a delusion based on the ancient and primitive lust for flesh. Our people have been thinking with their stomachs for centuries. It is time to wake up and be holy and think with our minds and our hearts.
So why do we eat flesh when it destroys our bodies and our planet; tortures God's creatures; and angers our God ?
The knee jerk response to the vegetarian argument begins with a false interpretation of Genesis 1:28. The critical words of God say, "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creepeth upon the earth." The rabbinic establishment's claim is that the terms "subdue" and "dominion" indicate God's intention for mankind to eat animals. Either our sages stopped reading the Torah after this verse or some other influence caused them to ignore the very next verse which clearly proves God's intention for a vegetarian and preferably a vegan diet for His creatures. "And God said: 'Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed - to you it shall be for food: and to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is a living soul, I have given every green herb for food.' ", Genesis 1: 29.
How our leaders, who brought us voluminous commentaries delving into the most minute details of life, can read these two verses and conclude that God wants us to eat meat, is a case for pathological rather than for clerical study. And for the Kabbalistic commentary that eating meat elevates the soul of these animals to be promoted as a rationalization for our meat based diet is simply an abdominal view of mysticism and discredits the Torah's mystical knowledge which will evolve our nation to its true state of holiness when it is truly understood and applied.
When Moses cried to God in Numbers 11 that he cannot take the people's whining for meat, the following verses 11:19-20 should have made warning lights go off in the minds of literate carnivores: "Ye shall not eat one day, ... but a whole month, until it come out at your nostrils, and be loathsome to you; because that ye have rejected the Lord who is among you..." And God's response to the meat eating of the nation should have brought the entire issue of meat eating to the establishment's conference table. "While the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague" (Numbers 11:33). There was definitely no joy in meat eating on that day.
For a nation which has received fewer of God's blessings than His curses, the intelligent members must take a good look at what they are doing and what God says He wants them to do. Responsible Jews must pick up the Torah and take a fresh look at the issue of meat eating, as well as any other ethno-cultural behavior which is offensive to God. By themselves, the health imperatives for a vegetarian diet are so overwhelming that religious belief alone needn't be the issue which affects a change to a vegetarian diet. And the humanitarian, ecological and political reasons, are no less an impetus to transform our diets. But for a nation whose chief Prophet, Isaiah says in Chapter 66:3, "He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; He that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he broke a dog's neck," there is sufficient and clear proof of the Divine imperative to adopt a vegetarian diet.
The first Chief Rabbi of Israel understood God's desire for a vegetarian world. And in his book, A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace, Chief Rabbi Avraham Isaac HaCohen Kuk advocated the adoption of a vegetarian way of life. His best student, Rabbi David Cohen, known as the Nazir became a vegetarian; and his son, Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Sha'ar Yeshuv Cohen, has never tasted flesh. The former Chief Rabbi of Israel and also of the I.D.F. Rabbi Shlomo Goren was a vegetarian. They shared the messianic vision of the Prophet Isaiah in which God says, "And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, And the leopard shall lie down with the kid; And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; Their young ones shall lie down together; And the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, And the weaned child shall put his hand on the basilisk's den. They shall not hurt nor destroy In all My holy mountain; For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, As the waters cover the sea" Isaiah 11:6-9.
Sharing a vision of the world to come has earthly responsibilities. There is an adage that a person who is truly free knows the relationship between his destiny and his responsibilities. When God gave Noah the permission to eat meat after the Flood in Genesis 9:3-6, there were consequences which produced the enmity between the human and the animal kingdoms. The vision of Isaiah is a clear reversal of this ancient war. And the Jews who actively share Isaiah's vision and are involved in our mission to repair the Creation, know that a vegetarian lifestyle is prerequisite to this Divine service.
Pikuach nefesh, i.e., saving a life, is the loophole which allows Jews to break most laws in the Torah. Daniel did not want to defile himself with the food or wine of our Babylonian captors. He proposed in Chapter 1:12 that he and his men eat a vegetarian diet. Verse 15 of that chapter proves that Daniel's was the healthy choice. Today's degenerative diseases, the destruction to the environment, the inhumanity of factory farming, and the obvious desires of the God of Israel, should allow even the hard-core carnivore to use pikuach nefesh as the loop-hole to saving him/herself, his family, his community, to choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19) and to share in our national vision as proclaimed through the mouth of the Prophet Isaiah.
Vegetarian living is pikuach nefesh today more than ever before. And guarding our lives and souls (Deuteronomy 4:15) is a basic commandment. When the Food and Drug Administration and the rabbinic councils allow us to eat toxic "foods", full of carcinogens, hormones and antibiotics which weaken our bodies and our genes, the time has come for Jews, in particular, to develop a new standard for kosher foods which are factually in tune with the Torah - even if this contradicts established beliefs.
Established behaviors have a cultic kind of hold on all groups. But Jews have never enjoyed the luxury of Divine approval for cultured contradictions of Divine priorities. The insistence that flesh eating is in anyway representative of the Will of God is simply bearing false witness to the Creator Himself and amounts to nothing less than blasphemy. And while the Torah speaks of animals we are permitted to eat and the sacrifices we made before the previous destruction of the Temple; these were concessions which God made. God allowed a stubborn people to eat meat in a limited way, but this was neither His intention nor His desire. This view is supported by our greatest sages, Rashi, Avraham Ibn Ezra, the Rambam (Maimonides), the Ramban (Nachmanides).
In K'lee Yakar, Efraim Lunchitz explains that the laws of kashrut were meant to raise us to give up meat entirely. And Rabbi Joseph Albo joins many other Torah Greats who support the belief that in the days of the Messiah people will return to the vegetarian diet which God originally wanted us to eat.
Jews have typically ignored the writing on the wall announcing an impending disaster. Our punishment was cruel. Nevertheless we always maintained that our way was Divinely inspired and that our punishment was inflicted because of the apostate Jews who do not follow the orthodox way of life. That literacy opened the eyes of many Jews to the many absurdities of our religious establishment is a known fact. That these absurdities turned many Jews away from their Torah is a tragedy that resulted from the discrepancies between the Torah and the established religion.
Our establishment's refusal to take a stand on the crucial environmental /Torah issues which motivate Jewish vegetarians is one of the reasons so many young Jews become alienated from our faith.
Today more than ever Jews need to see that the Torah is relevant to world issues and vital to world survival. They need to reestablish their lives and identities as Jews. This will take courage and wholehearted use of our keen mental faculties. And it will take a courageous and sincere application of the teachings of our greatest sages whose vegetarian views have been swept under the table by an establishment more eager to curry favor with the lowest natures of our masses than to guide and exhort us to finally become the true Jewish nation which fears, loves and wholly serves our Creator and at long last, enjoys the limitless blessings He is waiting to bestow upon us and the entire world.
It is true that we have brought the world the knowledge of God, but we have a mission beyond what we have yet accomplished. We are called upon to bring to the world a knowledge of what God truly desires. The Torah is easy to understand (Deuteronomy 30:11-14) and any wholehearted reading of our covenant will bring into fine focus the absurdity of claiming that eating flesh is a part of our Divine mission. The Torah goes on to give Divine perspectives on all aspects of private, commercial, professional, community and national life. It is our responsibility to learn what these perspectives are, to build our identities accordingly and to build our lives, our communities and our nations upon them. When controversy over meaning arises we would do best to use our energies to understand the will of God rather than to hide our primitive cravings in a garment of mythology, the likes of which only rapacious tailors would weave for an equally foolish emperor. The great Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch said in commenting on Moshe Rabbenu's request to see God (Exodus 33:13-22), that seeing God is not our goal but seeing human and worldly affairs from God's perspective should be our goal.
The Bible is the guide for our people and through the Prophet Isaiah, God tells us that we are dying for lack of knowledge and that our leaders are leading us astray (Isaiah 3:12). And to help us transform the sentimental view of our typical Jewish lifestyles into a truer and more dynamic one, in sync with our national calling, it is worth contemplating another passage of the Prophet Isaiah. Chapter 29:13 - 14 says, "And the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near, And with their mouth and their lips do honour Me, But have removed their heart far from Me, And their fear of Me is a commandment of men learned by rote; Therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work and a wonder; And the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, And the prudence of their prudent men shall be hid." At the beginning of 1999, US Government legislation stopped kosher and other meat packers from receiving cows and chickens which had been eating feed composed of the "rendered" animals of other cows and chickens. The scandal and court trial of TV celebrity, Oprah Winfrey last year outraged the nation. Congressmen heard the news about this link to bovine encephalitis and did what was sensible and intelligent to prevent an epidemic. If not for secular leadership our religious establishment would still be giving hechshers to a clearly certifiable threat to our lives.
It is difficult to wean a child, both for the child and for the mother, but the Jewish people must wean themselves from the comfortable myth that our establishment is feeding us the complete and unadulterated word of God. The failure of the establishment has put our people on the critical list so many times throughout history that it behooves us to use their knowledge as a reference for study rather than to trust them with the critical decisions which can anymore affect our lives and the fate of the world at large.
Whether or not Judaism has strayed from the Torah or not is a giant question requiring serious study for anyone who is interested. However, when it comes to its attack on vegetarianism, our establishment is simply in denial because their is no logical, biblical, social, environmental or scientific basis for denying the truth and righteousness of a Jewish vegetarian lifestyle. And with so many Torah true reasons and rabbinic advocates for beginning a vegetarian life added to the life threatening reasons; anyone who uses any religious reason to prevent his/her family from becoming vegetarian is simply practicing sentimental suicide.
In conclusion, given the nature of established orders to evolve a life of their own, which may not necessarily be in concord with their original purposes, it is incumbent upon the Jewish Vegetarian Societies to immediately embark on the development of a new code of kosher laws.
As difficult as it is to convince someone of the obvious, the task remains for Jewish vegetarians to convince our establishment that this new and higher order of kashrut must be employed immediately. Pikuach nefesh demands that our finest minds be turned to the task of decertifying heretofore kosher foods containing known carcinogens and life threatening substances as unfit for consumption by Jews. Furthermore, any heretofore kosher foods which are produced in ways which are cruel to animals (tsar bal haim) and destructive of the environment must be reclassified as not kosher.
So what's a Jew to eat? We started with manna, but failed to develop ourselves as a vegetarian nation. Now after 3500 years of evolution and the benefit of biblical, biological and environmental reasons for transforming ourselves to a vibrant nation of vegetarians, our next evolutionary step is to finally get God's message and enjoy the world of delicious, healthy and truly kosher, vegetarian foods.
Manna is no longer available, however there is a cornucopia of meat and dairy analogues which taste and feel like real meat and cheese to help in the transformation to a vegetarian diet. And of course there is a limitless supply of delicious recipes for the most healthful and satisfying meals.
Our greatest leaders understood God's messianic vision as described by Isaiah. The tikkun is left for our generation to put this vision on our agenda and our energies into its fulfillment. May our efforts be worthy of our covenant and of our ancestors' efforts to bring us to this challenge.
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