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Comments by Yonassan Gershom - 4 May 2010

In Reference to: Say No to Sanctified Animal Abuse

A few more points: Judaism has never worshipped an “angry God.” That is a Calvinist Protestant perception which has become part of American culture but is not part of Jewish culture. The “angry Jehovah” idea was never part of Judaism, although it is still part of some Christian groups.

Judaism does not sanction or encourage hunting. In fact, most rabbis through the centuries have discouraged hunting because meat shot with a gun or arrow would not be kosher to eat, so hunting for sport would be a waste of something in God’s creation for no good reason other than cruelty.

Inflicting pain for “fun” was never part of Judaism, so much so that Jewish law forbade Jews to go to the Roman Arena, and there is still a strong shunning of blood sports among Jews today. I do not know of ANY Jewish group — Orthodox, Conservative or Reform that, in your words, “allows children to kill animals for sheer pleasure.”

This is the danger of lumping Judaism, Christianity and Islam together into “Abrahamic” or “semitic” religions as a single scapegoat, because they are in fact very different in how they interpret various teachings. I cannot claim to speak for Christianity and Islam, but I do know that, while Judaism permits meat eating, it does not sanction hurting things just for “fun.”

There is also nothing in Judaism that says animals don’t feel pain. Quite the contrary. Maimonides, in the Guide for the Perplexed (12th century) says the pain felt by animals is the same as humans. So do the writings of Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, the founder of modern Orthodox Judaism in the mid-19th century. And many others as well.

I recommend you read up on the 17th-century French philospher, Rene Descartes (NOT Jewish!) for the real origins of the modern insensitive attitudes toward animals. Descartes believed animals were machines that did not feel pain — and for this he was severely sanctioned by the Catholic Church for disparaging God’s Creation.

Unfortunately, the Cartesian attitude did penetrate Western civilization. But it did NOT originate with Judaism. It originated with Descartes’ misguided secular science experiments (which have since been disproven.)

I also recommend you do a search online for Perek Shira, the “Chapter of Song” or “Song of Creation,” which is a beautiful hymn to creation from Jewish liturgy dating back to the 6th or 7th centuries, in which everything in Creation is singing hymns to God. See http://perekshira.org/about_perek_shira.html. Granted, this is not in the Reform and Conservative prayerbooks, but many Orthodox prayerbooks do still have it, and it is being rediscovered by others as well.

I do agree that modern factory farm methods and processing plants have made a travesty of these teachings, and that the way animals are raised today is not humane. This is one of the reasons I became a vegetarian. And I encourage others to do so. I am a vegetarian BECAUSE OF the teachings of Judaism, not in spite of it. I believe that vegetarianism is the highest form of kashrut. However, I do not condemn my ancestors who, because they lived in a different time and place, were unable to live up to that ideal.

Peace.

Rabbi Yonassan Gershom