THEY SHALL NOT HURT OR
By: Vasu Murti email@example.com
Please feel free to contact the author with you comments or to obtain a complete copy
of this book (see ordering details at the end)
The ethical basis for vegetarianism and animal rights is secular and nonsectarian.
The religious basis for vegetarianism in the Western religions, however, has its origin
both in the Bible and the Jewish tradition. To this day, the largest number of religious
vegetarians outside India can be found in Israel. According to the Bible, God intended the
entire human race to follow a vegetarian diet.
"And God said: Behold! I have given you
every plant-yielding seed which is upon the
face of all the earth, and every tree, in which
is the fruit of a tree-yielding seed; you shall
have them for food."
Paradise is vegetarian. Rashi (Rabbi Solomon von Isaac, 1030-1105), the famous
Jewish Bible commentator, taught that "God did not permit Adam and his wife to kill a
creature and to eat its flesh. Only every green herb shall they all eat together."
Ibn Ezra and other Jewish biblical commentators agree.
According to the Talmud (compilations of rabbinical dialogue and commentary on the
Bible), "Adam and many generations that followed him were strict flesh-abstainers;
flesh-foods were rejected as repulsive for human consumption." Moses Maimonides
(1135-1204), Judaisms greatest and most influential theologian thus far, taught that
meat was prohibited because living creatures possess a degree of spiritual superiority,
resembling the souls of rational beings.
Although man was made in Gods image and given dominion over all creation
(Genesis 1:26-28), these verses do not justify humans killing animals and then devouring
them, because God immediately proclaims He created the plants for human consumption.
(Genesis 1:29) Dr. Michael Fox of the Humane Society has argued that the word
"dominion" is derived from the original Hebrew word "rahe"
which refers to compassionate stewardship, instead of power and control. Parents have
dominion over their children; they do not have a license to kill, torment or abuse them.
The Talmud (Shabbat 119; Sanhedrin 7) interprets "dominion" to mean animals may
only be used for labor.
Man was made in Gods image (Genesis 1:26) and told to be vegetarian (Genesis
1:29). "And God saw all that He had made and saw that it was very good."
(Genesis 1:31) Complete and perfect harmony. Everything in the beginning was the way God
wanted it. Vegetarianism was part of Gods initial plan for the world.
"It appears that the first intention of the Maker was to have men live on a
strictly vegetarian diet," writes Rabbi Simon Glazer, in his 1971 Guide to Judaism.
"The very earliest periods of Jewish history are marked with humanitarian conduct
towards the lower animal kingdom...It is clearly established that the ancient Hebrews
knew, and perhaps were the first among men to know, that animals feel and suffer
After humans ate of the forbidden fruit, the earth gradually became
"corrupt...and full of violence." (Genesis 6:11) The peace of the garden was
destroyed. (Genesis 3:17) Conflict began between humans and animals. (Genesis 3:15) The
violence described above quite possibly included the drinking of blood and the tearing of
limbs from animals, because both these practices are forbidden in the Bible.
The sacrifice of animals began. (Genesis 4:4) The skins of animals began to be
used as clothing. (Genesis 3:21) Human beings began to murder one another. (Genesis
4:8,23) This violence increased to such a degree that God regretted having created
humankind. (Genesis 6:13,16) So God decided to destroy the human race; choosing Noah and
his family to survive the great Flood.
After the Flood, God revised His commandment against flesh-eating. Human beings,
since eating of the forbidden fruit, seemed incapable of obedience on this issue. One
Jewish writer comments, "Only after man had proven unfit for the high moral standard
set at the beginning, was meat made a part of the humans diet." Others claim
flesh-eating was permitted to prevent cannibalism. We read:
"The fear of you and the dread of you shall be
upon every beast of the earth...Into your hand
they are delivered...Only you shall not eat the
flesh with its life, that is, its blood."
This commandment against consuming blood is repeatedly given throughout both the
Old and New Testaments: Genesis 9:3; Leviticus 17:10-12, 19:26; Deuteronomy 12:16,23,25,
15:23; Acts 15:19-20,29. The Bible identifies blood with life itself: "...for the
blood is the life..." (Deuteronomy 12:23). The blood of a slain animal, which
symbolizes the essence of life, must be returned to the Giver of Life. This commandment
against consuming blood was first given to Noah, who was not Jewish; it was intended for
all mankind. (Acts 21:25)
Rabbi Samuel Dresner makes this observation: "The removal of blood...is one
of the most powerful means of making us constantly aware of the concession and compromise
which the whole act of eating meat, in reality, is...it teaches us reverence for
life." According to Dresner: "...the eating of meat is itself a sort of
"Man ideally should not eat meat, for to eat meat a life must be taken, an
animal must be put to death." Rabbi Milgrom regards the commandment against blood as
a law that permits man to "indulge in his lust for meat and not be brutalized in the
It is important to note that before the Flood, when humans were vegetarian,
lifespans were measured in terms of centuries. Adam, for example, lived to be 930 years
old. Seth (Adams son) lived to 912. Enoch (Seths son) to at least 905. Kenan
(Enochs son) lived to 910, all the way up to Methusalah, who lived for 969 years.
After the Flood, when flesh-eating was permitted, human lifespans were reduced to decades.
Abraham, for example, lived to be only 175. Genesis 1:29-31 was a blessing; Genesis 9:2-4
Thus, the Lord reluctantly allowed His creatures to become innocent victims of
human tyranny and brutality. It would be erroneous, however, to assume God became
indifferent to the plight of the animals, or that humans have no moral obligation towards
them. The Lord is good to all and "His tender mercies are over all His
creatures." (Psalm 145:9,16-17) God provides food for the beasts and birds. (Psalm
104:24-28, 147:9) God considered animals as well as humans when admonishing Jonah:
"...and should I not have pity on Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than
sixscore thousand persons...and also much cattle?" (Jonah 4:11)
Rebecca was judged to be a good wife for Isaac because of the kindness she showed
to animals. Abrahams servant Eleazar asked Rebecca for water. She not only gave him
water, but also went to provide water for his camels as well. Rebeccas concern for
the camels indicated she had a tender heart and felt compassion for all Gods
creatures. It convinced Eleazar that Rebecca would make a suitable wife for Isaac.
Jacob also showed concern for animals. After their reconciliation, his brother
Esau said to him, "Let us take our journey and let us go, and I will go before
thee." But Jacob was concerned about his flocks and his children. He replied:
"...the children are tender... the flocks and the herds giving suck are in care to
me; and if they overdrive them, one day, all the flocks will die...I will journey on
gently, according to the pace of the cattle that are before me, and according to the pace
of the children, until I come unto my Lord, unto Seir." (Genesis 33:12-14)
"A righteous man cares for his animals, but even the mercy of the wicked is
cruel." (Proverbs 12:10) A Jewish legend says Moses was found righteous by God
through his shepherding. While Moses was tending his sheep of Jethro in the Midian
wilderness, a young kid ran away from the flock. Moses ran after it until he found the kid
drinking by a pool of water. Moses approached the kid and said, "I did not know that
you ran away because you were thirsty; now, you must be tired." So Moses placed the
animal on his shoulders and carried him back to the flock. God said, "Because thou
has shown mercy in leading the flock, thou will surely tend My flock, Israel."
Animals are to be rested on the Sabbath. (Exodus 20:8-10, 23:12; Deuteronomy
5:12-14) One is forbidden to kill a newborn ox, sheep or goat until it has had at least
seven days of warmth and nourishment from its mother. (Leviticus 22:27) The Bible also
forbids killing a calf or a lamb with an ox or an ewe on the same day. (Leviticus 22:28)
It is a biblical commandment to help an animal in pain, even if it belongs to an enemy.
(Exodus 23:5) If one sees an injured animal, it is his duty to help. (Deuteronomy 22:4)
One is even promised a long life for not disturbing a mother-bird with her children.
(Deuteronomy 22:6-7) Moses Maimonides commented that if the Torah teaches that even
animals should not be caused grief, "how much more careful must we be that we should
not cause grief to our fellow men."
In the Book of Numbers appears the well-known story of Balaam, the pagan
soothsayer sent by the Moabites and Midianites to visit and place a curse upon the
Israelites. God sends one of His angels to stop Balaam, and the ass upon which he is
riding suddenly sees "an angel of the Lord standing in his way." The animal
turns away from the path, and crushes Balaams food against a wall, finally lying
down beneath his rider. Balaam, angry and confused, strikes his ass three times, and
finally, "the Lord opened the mouth of the ass and said unto Balaam, What have
I done unto thee? Am I not thine ass upon which thou hast ridden all thy life long unto
this day? Was I ever wont to do this unto thee? And he said, Nay. Then
the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the
way...and he bowed his head and fell on his face. And the angel of the Lord said unto him,
Why hast thou struck thine ass three times?...and Balaam said unto the angel
of the Lord, I have sinned, for I knew not that thou stoodest in the way against
me." (Numbers 22:23-35) Maimonides quotes this passage as a basis for the
"rule laid down by our sages, that it is directly prohibited in the Torah to cause
pain to an animal."
The sages noted animals were created before humans. Fish and birds were created by
God on the fourth day (Genesis 1:20-25), while other animals were created on the fifth.
The Israelites were commanded to leave fields untilled and unharvested for the poor and
the animals every seventh year. (Exodus 23:11) Balaam compared Israel to "a wild bull
full of towering might;" its people are like lions. (Numbers 23:22,24) According to
the Bible, God provides for animals and their ensoulment. Psalm 104:21-30 praises God for
providing animals with food and a life-giving spirit.
The apocryphal Book of Judith similarly praises God, saying, "Let
every creature serve You, for You spoke and they were made. You sent forth Your spirit and
they were created." Throughout the Bible, the Lord is called a Shepherd and Israel
His flock. The Lords protection of His people is compared to that of an eagle
towards its young. (Deuteronomy 32:10-12) Isaiah favorably compares the ox and the ass to
Israel. (Isaiah 1:2-3) God shields Jerusalem like a bird (Isaiah 31:5) and wild beasts
honor the Lord for providing water in deserts and wastelands (Isaiah 43:20).
The prophet Joel says in times of crisis, "even the beasts of the field"
cry out to God. (Joel 1:20) Animals, along with men, were even involved in repentance.
(Jonah 3:7-8) In Proverbs, the ant is praised for its diligence (6:6-8), while ants,
rock-badgers, locusts and lizards are said to be "wise beyond the wisest"
"For man is a creature of chance and the beasts are
creatures of chance, and one mischance awaits them
all: death comes to both alike. They all draw the
"Men have no advantage over the beasts, for all is
emptiness. All go to the same place: all came from
the dust, and to dust all return."
"But now ask the animals to teach you, and the birds
of the air to tell you. Or the reptiles on earth to
instruct you, and the fish of the sea to inform you.
"Which of all these does not know that the hand of
God has done this? In His hand is the soul of every
living thing, and the breath of all mankind."
The Bible teaches that Divine Wisdomthe answer to lifes most pressing
questionsis known only by God. (Job 28:23-28) It is not known to man (Job 28:13) or
the animals (Job 28:7,8,21). God speaks to Job and asks him:
"Who puts wisdom in the heart and gives the cock its understanding? Who
provides nourishment for the ravens when their young cry out to God and they roam about
without food? Do you know about the birth of the mountain goats, watch for the birth pangs
of hinds...they deliver their progeny in the desert. Who has given the wild ass his
freedom and who has loosed him from bonds? I have made the wilderness his home, and the
salt flats his dwelling. Will the wild ox consent to serve you and to pass the nights by
your manger? Do you make the steed to quiver while his thunderous snorting spreads terror?
Is it by your discernment that the hawk soars, that he spreads his wings toward the south?
Does the eagle fly up at your command, to build his nest aloft?"
---Job 38:36,41; 39:1,3,5-6,19,20,26-27
According to the Torah (Genesis 6:9), Noah is honored as a "tzaddik,"
or a righteous man. Commentators say this is because he provided charity ("tzedakah")
for so many animals on the ark. The high level of awareness and concern given to the care
and feeding of the animals aboard the ark reflects the traditional Jewish value of not
causing harm to animals, or tsaar baalei chayim. This moral
principleofficially set down as law in the Bible and elaborated upon in the Talmud
(Shabbat 128b), the medieval commentaries and the Responsa literaturepermeates the
many legends that grew up around the leading figures in the Torah and in Jewish history.
Kindness to animals has always been valued by the Jewish tradition; it has also
been considered an important measure of a persons piety, compassion and
righteousness. From this value emerged the stories about how shepherds such as Moses and
David were elevated to national leadership because of their compassion for their lambs.
There are also many "maysehs," or moralistic folktales in Judaism about
sages who rescued or fed stray cows and hungry chickens, watered thirsty horses and freed
The Talmud (Baba Mezia 85a) contains the story of Rabbi Judah. A calf was being
taken to be slaughtered. It broke loose, and hid its head under the rabbis skirt. It
cried out in terror. The rabbi said, "Go, for you were created for this
purpose." In heaven, the response was, "This man has no pity, let suffering come
upon him." The rabbi then began to suffer from disease for the next thirteen years.
One day his maidservant was going to sweep away some young weasels. The rabbi said to let
them be, quoting Psalm 145:9, "and His tender care rests upon all His
creatures." The rabbis health was then restored.
In the Talmud (Eruvin 100b), Rabbi Yochanon teaches, "Even if we had not been
given the Torah, we still would have learned modesty from the cat, honesty from the ant,
chastity from the dove, and good manners from the rooster. Thus, the animals should be
According to the Talmud (Shabbat 77b), the entire creation is to be respected:
"Thou thinkest that flies, fleas, mosquitos are superfluous, but they have their
purpose in creation as a means of a final outcome...Of all that the Holy One, Blessed be
He, created in His world, he did not create a single thing without purpose."
The Talmud (Avodah Zorah 18b) also forbids association with hunters. Rabbi Ezekiel
Landau (1713-93) was once asked by a man if he could hunt on his large estate. The rabbi
"In the Torah the sport of hunting is imputed only to fierce characters like
Nimrod and Esau, never to any of the patriarchs and their descendants...I cannot
comprehend how a Jew could even dream of killing animals merely for the pleasure of
hunting...When the act of killing is prompted by that of sport, it is downright
The Talmud (Gittin 62a) further teaches that one should not own a domestic or wild
animal or even a bird if he cannot properly care for it. Although there is no general rule
forbidding animal cruelty, so many commandments call for humane treatment, the talmudic
rabbis explicitly declared compassion for animals to be biblical law (Shabbat 128b).
According to the Talmud (Shabbat 151b), "He who has mercy on his fellow
creatures obtains mercy for himself." The first century Jewish historian Josephus
described mercy as the underlying principle of all Jewish laws. These laws, he
says, do not ignore the animals: "Ill treatment of a brute beast is with us a capital
The Tanchuma, homilies from the 5th century AD, teach:
"If men embark on a sea voyage and take cattle with them,
and should a storm arise, they throw the cattle overboard,
because people do not love animals as they love human
"Not so is the Lords love. Just as He is merciful to man,
so is He merciful to beasts. You can see this from the
story of the Flood. When men sinned, the Lord decided
to destroy the Earth. He treated both man and beast alike.
But when He was reconciled, He was reconciled to both
man and beast alike."
During the Middle Ages Yehudah Ha-Chassid taught, "The greatest sin is
ingratitude. It must not be shown even to the brute. That man deserves punishment who
overloads his beast, or beats or torments it, who drags a cat by the ears, or uses spurs
to his horse..."
The medieval work Sefer Chasidim, or The Book of the Pious, says,
"Be kind and compassionate to all creatures that the Holy One, Blessed be He, created
in this world. Never beat nor inflict pain on any animal, beast, bird or insect. Do not
throw stones at a dog or a cat, nor should ye kill flies or wasps."
According to Shulhan Aruch, the Orthodox Code of Jewish Law, no special
blessings are given for meat dishes. "It is not fitting to bless God over something
which He created and which man has slain." It is also forbidden to celebrate the
acquisition of a leather garment. Similarly, it is a custom never to wear leather shoes on
Yom Kippur. "One does not ask for forgiveness of sins while wearing articles made
from the skins of slaughtered animals." Shulhan Aruch teaches: "It is
forbidden, according to the Torah, to hurt any living creature. It is, on the contrary,
ones duty to save any living creature, be he ownerless, or if he belongs to a
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch taught, "The boy, who in crude joy, finds delight
in the convulsions of an injured beetle or the anxiety of a suffering animal will also be
dumb towards human pain." British historian William Lecky noted, "Tenderness
towards animals is one of the most beautiful features of the Old Testament."
There is considerable evidence within the Bible suggesting Gods plan is to
restore His Kingdom on earth and return mankind to vegetarianism. Rabbi Abraham Isaac
Kook, the Chief Rabbi of prestate Israel, wrote: "It is inconceivable that the
Creator who had planned a world of harmony and a perfect way for man to live should, many
thousands of years later, find that this plan was wrong."
Rabbi Kook believed the concession to eat meat (Genesis 9:3) was never intended to
be a permanent condition. In his essay, "A Vision of Peace and Vegetarianism,"
he asked: "...how can it be that such a noble and enlightened moral position (Genesis
1:29) should pass away after it once has been brought into existence?"
The Hebrew words "nephesh chayah," or "living soul" are
used in reference to animals as well as humans in Genesis 1:21,24, 2:7 and four hundred
other places in the Bible. The books of the bible emphasize vegetarian foods. Flesh-foods,
however, are mentioned with distaste and associated with bloodshed, lust, slaughter and
Right after Adam and Eve eat of the forbidden fruit, God tells them: "Cursed
be the ground because of you. In toil shall ye eat its yield, all the days of your life.
Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you, as you eat of the plants of the field. By
the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat." (Genesis 3:17-19)
The Bible contrasts the divinely favored Jacob, a man of peace, with his brother
Esau, a hunter. (Genesis 25:21-34; Malachi 1:2-3) In Genesis 27:28, the patriarch Isaac
blesses his son Jacob, that God may give him the dews of the heavens, the fertility of the
earth and an abundance of grain. Jacob prays for bread. (Genesis 28:20-21)
"Do not mix with winebibbers or with gluttonous
eaters of meat."
In his essay, "The Dietary Prohibitions of the Hebrews," Jean Soler
finds in the Bible at least two times when an attempt was made to try the Israelites out
on a vegetarian diet. During the period of exodus from Egypt, the Hebrews lived entirely
on manna. They had large flocks which they brought with them, but never touched.
The Israelites were told that manna "is the bread which the Lord has given
you to eat." (Exodus 16:5) For forty years in the desert, the Israelites lived on
manna (Nehemiah 9:15,21). The apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon (16:20) calls manna the
food of the angels. Manna is described as a vegetable food, like "coriander
seed" (Numbers 11:7), tasting like wafers and honey (Exodus 16:31).
On two separate occasions, however, the men rebelled against Moses because they
wanted meat. The meat-hungry Hebrews lamented, "Would that we had died by the hand of
the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots." God ended this first
"experiment in vegetarianism" through the miracle of the quails.
A second "experiment in vegetarianism" is suggested in the Book of
Numbers, when the Hebrews lament once again, "O that we had meat to eat."
(Numbers 11:4) God repeated the miracle of the quails, but this time with a vengeance:
"And while the flesh was between their teeth, before it was even chewed, the wrath of
the Lord was kindled against the people, and He struck them down with a great
plague." (Numbers 11:33)
The site where the deaths took place was named "The Graves of Lust."
(Numbers 11:34; Deuteronomy 12:20) The quail meat was called "basar taavah,"
or "meat of lust." The Talmud (Chulin 84a) comments that: "The Torah
teaches a lesson in moral conduct, that man shall not eat meat unless he has a special
craving for it, and shall eat it only occasionally and sparingly." Here, according to
Soler, as in the story of the Flood, "meat is given a negative connotation. It is a
concession God makes to mans imperfection."
Rabbi Kook taught that because humans had an insatiable desire to kill animals and
eat their flesh, they could not yet be returned to a moral standard which called for
vegetarianism. Kook regarded Deuteronomy 12:15,20 ("Thou mayest slaughter and eat...
after all the desire of thy soul,") as poetically misleading. He translated this
Torah verse as: "because you lust after eating meat...then you may slaughter and
In his book Judaism and Vegetarianism, Dr. Richard H. Schwartz notes that
Gods blessings to man throughout the Bible are almost entirely vegetarian: products
of the soil, seeds, sun and rain.
"For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land,
a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that
spring out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat and
barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a
land of olive oil and honey; a land wherein thou shalt
eat bread without scarceness, and thou shalt not lack
anything in it."
In the Bible, Israel is repeatedly called a "land flowing with milk and
honey." (Exodus 3:8,17; Leviticus 20:24; Numbers 13:27, 14:8; Deuteronomy 11:9,
26:9,15, 27:3, 31:20; Baruch 1:20; Ezekiel 20:15) God Himself describes Israel as a
"garden land," saying He brought His people there to "eat its goodly
fruits." (Jeremiah 2:7)
"The lambs will provide your clothing, and the goats
the price of a field. You shall have enough goats
milk for the food of your household, and the
nourishment of your maidservants...
"He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, but
he who follows frivolity will have poverty enough!"
---Proverbs 27:26-27, 28:19
God sent ravens to feed the prophet Elijah. Elijah lived on bread and water; by
the grace of God, he provided a widow with flour and oil. (I Kings 17:4-16) When fleeing
for his life in the desert, Elijah fell asleep under a tree. An angel later awoke him and
gave him a hearth cake and a jug of water. (I Kings 19:3-8) Elijah never died, but was
lifted up into heaven. (II Kings 2:11) Elisha raised a child from the dead (II Kings
4:32-37) and multiplied twenty barley loaves to feed one hundred men (II Kings 4:42-44).
God is loving and forgiving: "Come now, let us see things right, says the
Lord. Though your sins be as scarlet they may become white as snow; though they be crimson
red, they may become white as wool. If you are willing and obey, you shall eat the good
things of the land. But if you refuse and resist, the sword shall consume you; for the
mouth of the Lord has spoken!" (Isaiah 1:18-20)
God can provide for mans needs: "The Lord will give you the bread you
need and the water for which you thirst. He will give you rain for the seed that you sow
in the ground and the wheat that the soil produces will be rich and abundant."
(Isaiah 30:20,23) The Lords threat to a disobedient Israel? "No grapes on their
vines, no figs on their fig tree." (Jeremiah 8:13) God commanded Ezekiel to live on
bread made of wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet and spelt. (Ezekiel 4:9) God spoke to
Jerusalem as His beloved (Ezekiel 16:1-14), saying, "Thus you were adorned with gold
and silver; your garments were of fine linen, silk and embroidered cloth. Fine flour,
honey and oil were your food."
"He causes the grass to spring up for the cattle,
fruits and vegetables for man to cultivate, that
he may derive sustenance from the land...and
bread to improve a mans health."
The prophet Joel describes Gods blessings as green pastures, grain, oil and
fruit-bearing trees. Gods "immense good gifts" are described by Ezra as
vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees. (Nehemiah 9:25)
The Song of Songs poetically depicts the mutual love between God and Israel as a
relationship between the lover and the beloved. The prophets Isaiah (5:1-7, 54:4-8),
Jeremiah (2:2,32) and Ezekiel (16:23) also characterized the covenant between God and
Israel as a marriage. The divine bounty is mentioned in terms of figs, honey, spices,
milk, saffron, cinnamon, fruits, apples and pomegranates.
Philip L. Pick, founder of the International Jewish Vegetarian Society, writes:
"The practice of vegetarianism is implicit in the teachings of Judaism and is evident
from the oft-repeated phrases in Genesis to man and all creatures wherein there is a
living soul. This indicates a common life and a shared destiny and the principle is
exemplified throughout biblical writings. Nowhere is it stated that the abundance of flesh
shall be the reward for observing the Law; rather, there are promises of fruits of the
vine and pomegranates, wheat, barley and oil, and peace when each man shall sit under the
shade of his own fig tree, not, let it be noted, under the shadow of his own
"And they shall beat their swords into plowshares
And their spears into pruning hooks
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation
Neither shall they learn war any more
"But they shall sit every man under his vine
And under his fig tree
And none shall make them afraid
For the Lord of hosts has spoken."
---Isaiah 2:4, Micah 4:3-4
Gods desire is to extend His spirit of divine peace to mankind and the rest
of creation. A reconciliation. To return the world to a vegetarian paradise, so all His
creatures may again live together in perfect peace:
"Then I will make a covenant on behalf of Israel with
the wild beasts, the birds of the air, and the things that
creep on the earth, and I will break the bow and sword
and weapon of war and sweep them off the earth, so
that all living creatures may lie down without fear."
It is important to note that God plans to make His covenant with the animals
themselves. This is not the first time God deals directly with animalsHe made a
similar covenant after the Flood:
"I now make My covenant with you and with your
descendants after you, and with every living creature
that is with you, all birds and cattle, all the wild
animals with you on earth, all that have come out
of the ark. I will make My covenant with you:
never again shall living creatures be destroyed
by the waters of the Flood..."
The future Kingdom of Peace is described clearly by Isaiah:
"The wolf shall dwell with the lamb
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid
and the calf and the lion and the fatling together
And a little child shall lead them.
"The cow and the bear shall feed
their young shall lie down together
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The suckling child shall play over the hole of the asp
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adders den
"They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain
For all the earth shall be in full knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea."
According to the prophet Jeremiah:
"The day is coming, sayeth the Lord, when I will
make a new covenant with the house of Israel and
the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant
I made with their fathers the day I took them by the
hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt, for
they broke My covenant and I had to show Myself
"But this is the covenant which I will make with the
house of Israel...I will place My Law within them
and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God
and they shall be My people."
The prophet Ezekiel speaks similarly:
"I will make a covenant of peace with them and rid
the country of ravenous beasts, that they may dwell
securely in the desert and sleep in the forests.
"I will place them about My hill, sending rain in due
seasons, rain that shall be a blessing to them. The
trees of the field shall bear their fruits, and the land
its crops, and they shall dwell securely on their own
"They shall no longer be despoiled by the nations or
devoured by beasts of the earth, but shall dwell secure
with no one to frighten them. I will prepare for them
peaceful fields for planting...Thus, they shall know
that I, the Lord, am their God, and they are My
people, the house of Israel, says the Lord God."
The Bible thus begins and ends in a Kingdom where slaughter is unknown, and
identifies the one annointed by God to bring about this Kingdom as "Mashiach,"
or the Messiah. Humanitys very beginning in Paradise, and destiny in the age of the
Messiah are vividly depicted as vegetarian. "In that future state," taught Rabbi
Kook, "peoples lives will no longer be supported at the expense of the
animals." Isaiah (65:25) repeats his prophecy again. This is Gods plan.
"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
a broken and contrite heartthese, O God,
You will not despise."
What, then, are we to make of the ancient practice of sacrificing animals?
According to the Christian scholar Erdman, the life, teachings and death of Rabbi
Yshua (Jesus) are "the perfect sacrifice." He regards the entire Book of
Leviticus as prophecy.
Yshua taught that God desires "mercy, and not sacrifice," (Matthew
9:13, 12:7) and he opposed the buying and selling of animals for sacrifice (Matthew
21:12-14; Mark 11:15; John 2:14-15). Christian doctrine implicitly teaches that
Yshua came to do away with animal sacrifice. (Hebrews 10:5-10) Clement of
Alexandria, an early Christian theologian, wrote: "...I believe that sacrifices were
invented by men to be a pretext for eating flesh."
Rav Yoseph Albo (c. 1500 AD), the great Jewish mystic, taught that God
acknowledged sheer human weakness, and therefore, decided to permit humans to eat meat.
Albo cites the story of Cain and Abel, arguing that when Cain saw Abel kill an animal as a
sacrificeand receive a rewardCain misunderstood, and assumed that killing was
permissible. Albo states that Cain, "conveniently interpreted" the whole
situation. Albo warns us not to do the likewise.
Some scholars believe the sacrifices were of Egyptian origin. The medieval Jewish
philosopher Abarbanel cites a Midrash (a teaching based on Jewish values and tradition)
that indicates that the Hebrews had become accustomed to animal sacrifices while in Egypt.
To wean them from their idolatrous practices, God tolerated the sacrifices, but commanded
that they be offered to Him in one central sanctuary. Abarbanel writes: "Thereupon
the Holy One, blessed be He, said, Let them at all times offer their sacrifices
before Me in the Tabernacle, and they will be weaned from idolatry, and thus be
Moses Maimonides writes that by redefining the sacrifices, "idolatry was
eradicated, and the vital principle of our faith, the existence and unity of God, was
firmly establishedwithout confusing the minds of the people by the abolition of
sacrificial worship to which they were accustomed." Maimonides further teaches that
animal sacrifice served as a substitute for child sacrifice, a practice which was
widespread among ancient peoples.
The story of Abraham and Isaac implies animal sacrifice was replacing human
sacrifice. The ram caught in the thicket suggested to Abraham that he could substitute an
animal as an offering to God. God never commanded Abraham to sacrifice the ram. Abraham
saw the ram caught in the thicket, and concluded that it could serve as a substitute for
Rabbi Joseph Hertz writes that human sacrifice was a religious practice,
"rife among the Semitic peoples, as well as their Egyptian and Aryan neighbors."
Among these ancient peoples, the sacrifice of animals was a well-established mode of
religious worship, much like the reciting of prayers or the singing of hymns is today.
According to Rabbi Hertz, the sacrificial cult was necessary to ancient religious
practice, and unless the laws of Moses included this "universal expression of
religious homage," Moses mission "would assuredly have failed, and his
work would have disappeared."
Animal sacrifice was an acceptable form of worship in biblical times. At no place
in Leviticus, or any of the other books of the Bible, is the ritual of animal sacrifice
formally explained. Like prayer and praise, animal sacrifice was regarded as a
"universally current expression of religious homage." The rabbis say animal
sacrifices were too prevalent in the ancient world to be abolished. Thus, they had to be
reformed, replacing pagan values with those of Judaism.
Other scholars are of the opinion that animal sacrifices were never divinely
ordained. In his 1961 book, Moses and the Original Torah, Abba Hillel Silver refers
to biblical texts such as Jeremiah 7:21-22 and Amos 5:25, and cites differences in the
style and content of passages referring to animal sacrifice when compared with other parts
of Torah, to prove his thesis that the original Mosaic Law contained no instructions
concerning sacrifice. The sacrificial cult, Silver insists, was a pagan practice which
became absorbed into Torah. Few rabbis, of course, would agree with Silvers
analysis. They would voice the traditional view, that the Hebraic sacrificial system
differed considerably from those in the pagan world.
In his book, Moses: The Revelation and the Covenant, Jewish theologian
Martin Buber explains that most historians believe the tale about the Exodus and the
Passover was a legend used to make an ancient pagan festival appear to have been ordained
by Moses. "Moses reintroduces the holy and ancient shepherds meal," Buber
observes, "renewed in meaning and form." Ancient shepherds annually slaughtered
the first-born of their flock.
During the night of the full moon, shepherds would smear the blood of the animal
to keep demons from hurting their own first-born. The original meaning of the word "pessah"
(Passover) has been lost. Buber asserts that Moses took already existing practices in the
pagan world and merely centered them around God. "Moses did not change the custom of
the ages into a cult," writes Buber, "he did not add any specific sacrificial
rite to it, and did not make it dependent on any sanctuary; but he consecrated it to
In his excellent A Guide to the Misled, Rabbi Shmuel Golding explains the
orthodox Jewish position concerning animal sacrifices: "When G-d gave our ancestors
permission to make sacrifices to Him, it was a concession, just as when he allowed us to
have a king (I Samuel 8), but He gave us a whole set of rules and regulations concerning
sacrifice that, when followed, would be superior to and distinct from the sacrificial
system of the heathens."
The Hebraic sacrificial cult followed certain basic rules of conduct:
1). Human sacrifice was completely forbidden. Leviticus 20:2 declares,
"Whosoever of the children of Israel...that giveth his seed (children)
unto Moloch, he shall surely be put to death." And in Psalm 106,
human sacrifice is described as one of the sins of past generations:
the worship of the golden calf, the worship of Baal, and the offering
of "the blood of sons and daughters...to the gods of Canaan."
2). Blood rituals were limited to only "clean" animals; grazing
animalsthe herbivores. The meat of carnivorous creatures is forbidden, since heir
predatory habits might become a part of mans already too aggressive nature. This may
be seen as a step towards vegetarianism.
3). No eating of fat or drinking of bloodblood symbolizes the essence
of life, and must be returned to the Giver of Life.
4). Animal sacrifices were first supplemented by vegetarian
offeringsfirst fruits and fine cakes of flour.
Thus, the Book of Leviticus radically transformed the pagan ritual of animal
sacrifice, and used this ritual to confront man with the glaring contradiction between his
desire for animal flesh and Gods designation of life as something holy. Animal
sacrifice was once an occasion for indulging in magical, sadistic and gluttonous impulses.
It was subsequently redefined as a rite of atonement performed by Temple priests.
Animals were supposedly sacrificed primarily to celebrate the glory of God, and
only secondarily to satisfy the cravings of the worshippers. Select portions of the
carcass, and sometimes entire carcasses, were offered before God on a flaming altar.
Blood, believed to contain the essence of life, was ceremonially separated from the flesh.
The blood was returned to the Giver of Life. With wine, bread, and music, the corpse of
the animal became part of a banquet of thanksgiving. In this reshaped and reformed
sacrificial cult, the pagan values were replaced with those of Judaism: monotheism,
holiness, cleanliness, thanksgiving, etc.
Significantly, one could not slaughter an animal whimsically, outside of religious
sacrifice. To do so was to commit a very sinful act: "Bloodguilt shall be imputed to
that man; he has shed blood, and shall be cut off from among his people." (Leviticus
17:3-4) Indeed, throughout the Bible, the spilling of innocent blood is condemned. The
exact Hebrew in Exodus 20:13 ("Thou shalt not kill,") is "lo tirtzach."
One of the greatest modern Hebrew scholars, Dr. Reuben Alcalay, writes that "tirtzach"
refers to any form of killing whatsoever.
A Midrash states: "In the Messianic era, all offerings will cease, except the
thanksgiving offering, which will continue forever." God makes it known throughout
the Bible that He values acts of love, justice and mercy more than bloody rituals:
"Doth the Lord desire holocausts and victims, and
not rather that the voice of the Lord should be
obeyed? For obedience is better than sacrifice:
and to hearken rather than to offer the fat of rams."
---I Kings 15:22
"To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices
unto Me? Saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt
offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts, and
delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs,
or of he-goats.
"When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide Mine
eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers,
will not hear, for your hands are full of blood."
"Add whole-offerings to sacrifices and eat the flesh if
you will. But when I brought your forefathers out of
Egypt, I gave them no commands about sacrifices. I
said not a word about them.
"The children of Judah have done evil in My sight...they
have set abominations in the House which is called by
My name, to pollute it."
"Loyalty is My desire, not sacrifice. Not burnt offerings,
but the knowledge of God."
"As for sacrificial gifts, they sacrifice flesh and eat it. But
in these the Lord has no delight."
"I hate, I spurn your pilgrim feasts, I do not delight in
your sacred ceremonies. When you present your
sacrifices and offerings, I will not accept them, nor
look on the buffaloes of your shared offerings...
"But let justice roll down as waters and righteousness as
a mighty stream. O house of Israel, did you offer Me
victims and sacrifices for forty years in the wilderness?"
"With what shall I come before the Lord and bow
before Him? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings,
with baby calves? Will the Lord be pleased with
thousands of rams or ten thousand rivers of oil?
"Shall I give Him my firstborn for my transgression?
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has
shown you, o man, what is good. And what does
the Lord require you to do, but justice, love, kindness,
and to walk humbly with thy God?"
"God, the Lord God, has spoken and summoned
the world from the rising to the setting sun...
"Shall I not find fault with your sacrifices, though
your burnt offerings are before Me always?
"I will not take a calf from your house, nor a he-goat
from your folds. For all the animals of the forest are
Mine, and the cattle in thousands on My hills.
"If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the earth
and its fullness are Mine. Shall I eat the flesh of
bullocks or drink the blood of goats?
"Offer the sacrifice of praise to God, and pay your vows
to the Most High."
"Sacrifice and offering Thou hast not desired...
Let my prayer be prepared as an incense offering
before Thee, the lifting of my hands as the evening
---Psalm 40:6, 141:2
"To practice righteousness and justice is more acceptable
to the Lord than sacrifice."
"Guard your steps when you go to the House of God:
to draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice
of fools, for they do not know they are doing evil."
Rabbi Zalman Schachter makes no apologies for past injustices inflicted upon
animals in the name of religion. Much of the Bible was spoken to primitive tribes,
wandering through the desert. "Our forefathers were a pastoral people," he
writes. "Raising animals for food was their way of life. Not only did they eat meat,
they drank water and wine from leather flasks, they lived in tents and wore clothes made
from skins and sewed together with bones and sinews. They read from a Torah written on
parchment, used a rams horn as a shofar, and said their morning prayers with
leather tefellin." He adds, "Are we ashamed to recall that Abraham had
two wives because in todays Western world he would be called a bigamist?
Vegetarianism is a response to todays world...Meat-eating, like polygamy, fit
into an earlier stage of human history."
The Bible calls for compassion towards animals and exalts vegetarianism as a moral
and spiritual ideal. The healing powers of a vegetarian diet are not ignored. We have the
example of Daniel, who lived as a vegetarian, and refused to eat the meat (or drink the
wine) that King Nebuchadnezzar ordered his servant to give him while he was imprisoned in
Babylon. We read in Daniel 1:8-15: "he would not defile himself with...the
Kings meat... (lived on) beans, lentils and pulse." After ten days, Daniel and
his companions looked healthier and stronger than those who ate the kings food.
But it is Isaiah, who consistently denounces the slaughter and bloodshed of humans
and animals. He declares that God does not hear the prayers of animal-killers (1:15),
repeating this again: "But your iniquities have separated you and your God. And your
sins have hid His face from you, so that He does not hear. For your hands are stained with
blood...their feet run to evil and they hasten to shed innocent blood...they know not the
ways of peace."
Elsewhere, we read, "You have not honored Me with your sacrifices...rather
you have burdened Me with your sins, you have wearied Me with your iniquities."
(43:23-24) Isaiah laments that in a time of repentance he saw "joy and merrymaking,
slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine, as you
thought, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." (22:13) Isaiah
equates the killing of animals with murder: "He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a
man. He that sacrificeth a lamb is as if he cut off a dogs neck..." (66:3) On
two separate occasions (11:6-9, 65:25), he speaks of a future world, where "the lion
shall eat straw like the ox," and the whole earth is returned to a vegetarian
With the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD, the
sacrificial system of the Hebrews came to an end. Since the killing of animals outside of
sacrifice was forbidden (Leviticus 17:3-4), many Jews gave up meat-eating altogether. Meat
consumption virtually died out at the time. In the Talmud (Tracte Babba Bathra 60b), Rabbi
Yishmael is quoted as saying, "From the day that the holy Temple was destroyed, it
would have been right to have imposed upon ourselves the law prohibiting the eating of
A complicated set of dietary laws and ritual slaughter evolved to replace the
sacrificial system as a means of atonement for killing Gods innocent creatures. The
process of slaughter is strictly regulated. The procedures are described in the Talmud.
The slaughterers must be specially-trained, God-fearing, observant Jews. The knife used in
killing the animals must be sharper than a razor, with no indentation.
The killing involves cutting the esophagus and the trachea, severing the jugular
vein and carotid arteries. This is intended to cause virtually instantaneous
unconsciousness. The only pain the animal is intended to experience is the cutting of its
skina pain minimized by the sharpness of the knife. "Humane slaughter," an
oxymoron, is the intention behind such ritual killing.
In "Kashruth and Civil Kosher Law Enforcement," Sol Friedman
explains the meaning behind ritual slaughter: "In Judaism, the act of animal slaying
is not viewed as a step in the business of meat-preparation. It is a deed charged with
religious import. It is felt that the flame of animal life partakes of the sacred, and may
be extinguished only by the sanction of religion, and only at the hands of one of its
sensitive and reverential servants."
Rabbi Zalman Schachter writes: "When our grandmother brought a live chicken
to the schochet (slaughterer), she witnessed a sacred and skillful act intended to
minimize the distress that is felt by both the victim and the meat-eater when an animal is
killed for food. By direct observation, she was thus qualified to transmit to her family
the sentiment that, unlike everything else on the table, animal food comes to a Jewish
table as a special dispensation and through the hands of a person dedicated to the service
Rabbi Schachter further states: "The ranks of the vegetarians might be
swelled considerably if one had to watch a creature being killed before one could eat of
Dietary laws replaced the sacrificial system. Leviticus 17:10 states, "And
whosoever...that eateth any manner of blood, I will even set My face against the soul that
eateth blood." The talmudic literature even declares that the soul or life-force can
be found in the blood. This concept is also found in early Hinduism, in which it is taught
that as the heart pumps the blood throughout the body, it also pumps the symptom of the
life-forceconsciousness. Therefore, the blood of living creatures is considered
sacred. To free the meat from blood, it is salted and soaked in water several times. This
process is defective, however, in that all the blood is never completely drained out.
"Thou shalt not boil a kid in his mothers milk." (Exodus 23:19;
Deuteronomy 14:11) According to Rabbi Kook, this practice is forbidden because it reflects
both the moral wrong of denying a calf the natural enjoyment of its mothers breast
as well as the "hard and cruel" practice of eating animal flesh. The very same
concern for the relationship between the mother and the offspring is expressed in
Leviticus 22:28; a cow and its calves or an ewe and its lambs cannot be killed on the same
These concerns have led to dietary restrictions separating the consumption of meat
and dairy products. Meat cannot be touched by any utensil or cooked in any pot used in the
preparation of dairy foods. This also applies to serving vessels and utensils. No butter,
milk, or cream can be on the table, and dairy products can only be eaten no less than
three hours after a meal has been served.
Implicit in the separation of meat from dairy products in the Jewish dietary laws
is the moral question of consuming the milk of animals while eating their flesh. In the
Hindu traditions which also call for vegetarianism, the cow is especially revered as the
mother of humanity, because she provides humans with her milk.
"Thy righteousness is like the mountains of God;
Thy judgements are a great deep;
Lord, Thou dost preserve man and beast."
Expressing concern for cruelty to animals, the Jewish dietary laws also forbid the
consumption of animals that have been killed by hunters, even if they are
"clean" or "kosher" animals. Similarly, Jewish law mandates that when
catching fish, the fish be netted and not hooked, because hooks cause injury and pain to
the fish. The word "hook" is mentioned in the Bible only as a symbol of cruelty
or as an instrument of torture used by foreigners.
On the one hand, it would seem that talmudic law discourages killing
animals and eating their flesh, by surrounding the practice with all sorts of prohibitions
and taboos. Conversely, one could also argue that the dietary laws facilitate
flesh-eating by ritually undoing a moral wrongthe killing of a living
creaturewith acts of atonement to make eating the corpses of animals fitting for a
holy people; a people worshipping a God who has mercy on everything that lives.
The inconsistency in Judaisms sanctioning the slaughter of animals while
worshipping a God who has mercy on all His creatures is dealt with in Rabbi Jacob
Cohens The Royal Table, an outline of the Jewish dietary laws. His book
begins: "In the perfect world originally designed by God, man was meant to be a
vegetarian." The same page also quotes from Sifre: "Insomuch as all
animals possess a certain degree of intelligence and consciousness, it is a waste of this
divine gift, and an irreparable damage to destroy them."
In her 1975 book, The Vegetable Passion, writer Janet Barkas observes:
"The first law in the Bible is a dietary onedo not eat the forbidden fruit. It
is a hukim, or an unexplained edict with the purpose of inspiring
mans obedience and building his character. There is no reason to avoid that infamous
fruit except that it is the will of God.
"Significantly, it is only after Eve defies God and eats the apple
that killing animals for food is recorded in the Old Testament. Then, until the time of
Noah, he who killed an animal was as guilty as he who killed a man. Abel killed an animal;
Cain slew Abel; and the chain of retribution for both crimes is, allegorically,
responsible for all the evils that follow.
"The rabbis explain that meat-eating is a punishment to a Jew, not a
reward," concludes Barkas. "All the rules of kosher are attempts to make the
punishment more palatable to the animals as well as man. It is as a consequence of
original sin that man eats meat; it is not supposed to be a pleasure, and throughout
history, Jews have rarely been hunters."
During the 1970s, Rabbi Everett Gendler and his wife studied talmudic attitudes
towards animals, and came to "the conclusion that vegetarianism was the logical next
step after kashrutthe proper extension of the laws against cruelty to
animals." After becoming a vegetarian, a rabbinical student in the Midwest said,
"Now I feel I have achieved the ultimate state of kashrut."
In their book, The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism, Dennis Prager
and Rabbi Telushkin explain: "Keeping kosher is Judaisms compromise with its
ideal vegetarianism. Ideally, according to Judaism, man would confine his eating to fruits
and vegetables and not kill animals for food."
Along with the concession to eat meat, many laws and restrictions were given.
Rabbi Kook taught that the reprimand implied by these regulations is an elaborate
apparatus designed to keep alive a sense of reverence for life, with the aim of eventually
leading people away from their meat-eating habit. This idea is echoed by Jewish Bible
commentator Solomon Efraim Lunchitz, author of Klee Yakar:
"What was the necessity for the entire procedure of ritual slaughter? For the
sake of self-discipline. It is far more appropriate for man not to eat meat; only if he
has a strong desire for meat does the Torah permit it, and even this only after the
trouble and inconvenience necessary to satisfy his desire. Perhaps because of the bother
and annoyance of the whole procedure, he will be restrained from such a strong and
uncontrollable desire for meat."
A similar statement was made by a modern rabbi, Pinchas Peli:
"Accordingly, the laws of kashrut come to teach us that a Jews
first preference should be a vegetarian meal. If however, one cannot control a craving for
meat, it should be kosher meat which would serve as a reminder that the animal being eaten
is a creature of God, that the death of such a creature cannot be taken lightly, that
hunting for sport is forbidden, that we cannot treat any living thing callously, and that
we are responsible for what happens to other beings (human or animal) even if we did not
personally come into contact with them."
In the face of cultural assimilation, Rabbi Robert Gordis does not believe the
dietary laws will be maintained by Jews today in their present form. He suggests that
vegetarianism, a logical conclusion of Jewish teaching, would effectively protect the
kosher tradition: "Vegetarianism offers an ideal mode for preserving the religious
and ethical values which kashrut was designed to concretize in human life."
In his 1987 book, Food For the Spirit: Vegetarianism and the World Religions,
writer Steven Rosen makes a well-reasoned case for Jewish vegetarianism, concluding:
"...even if one considers the process of koshering to be legitimate, it is an
obvious burden placed upon the Jewish people, perhaps in the hope that they will give up
flesh-foods altogether. If eating meat is such a detailed, long, and drawn-out process,
why not give it up entirely?"
Stanley Rubens of the Jewish Vegetarian Society says: "I believe mans
downfall is paralleled by his cruelty to animals. In creating slaughterhouses for them, he
has created slaughterhouses for himself...What is the future for mankind? When the Day of
Judgement comes, we will be given that same justice that we gave the less fortunate fellow
creatures who have been in our power." According to Rubens, "it is essential for
an orthodox Jew to be vegetarian."
Rabbi Chaim Zundel Maccoby settled in London around 1890. He was a great and
saintly preacher and a dedicated vegetarian, who wore shoes of cloth to indicate his
revulsion towards leather. He brought happiness into the lives of Londons East End
Jews by teaching them compassion for all living creatures. A deeply religious man, he had
an enormous following. The crowds were so large that traffic was held up whenever he
preached in the streets.
Isaac Bashevis Singer, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature, became a vegetarian
in 1962. He asked, "How can we pray to God for mercy if we ourselves have no mercy?
How can we speak of rights and justice if we take an innocent creature and shed its
blood?" Singer has compared humanitys mass slaughter of 20 billion animals
every year to the Nazi Holocaust. In 1987 he wrote, "This is my protest against the
conduct of the world. To be a vegetarian is to disagreeto disagree with the course
of things today. Nuclear power, starvation, crueltywe must make a statement against
these things. Vegetarianism is my statement. And I think its a strong one."
Singer has also expressed the view that unnecessary violence against animals by
human beings will only lead to violence in human society: "I personally believe that
as long as human beings will go on shedding the blood of animals, there will never be any
peace. There is only one little step from killing animals to creating gas chambers a la
Hitler and concentration camps a la Stalinall such deeds are done in the name of
social justice. There will be no justice as long as man will stand with a
knife or with a gun and destroy those who are weaker than he is."
Shlomo Goren, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel is vegetarian. Rabbi David Rosen,
former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, and Shear Yashuv Cohen, the Chief Rabbi of Haifa, endorse
the vegetarian way of life. One of the greatest modern Jewish thinkers, Martin Buber,
advocated vegetarianism, as did Albert Einstein. Austrian writer and poet Franz Kafka
(1883-1924) was vegetarian. The late Rabbi M. Kossowsky, who was not a vegetarian, called
vegetarianism, "The very pinnacle of ethical achievement."
The Pythagoreans, Neoplatonists, Hindus, Buddhists and Jains have all forbidden
animal slaughter at various times in human history because of a belief in transmigration
of souls and, consequently, the equality of all living beings. The doctrine of
reincarnation is held by the Kabbalists, and was used to justify vegetarianism in Sedeh
Hermed; a huge talmudic encyclopedia authored by Rabbi Hayyim Hezekiah Medini
In Wheels of a Soul, Rabbi Phillip S. Berg, a renowned contemporary
Kabbalist, explains: "...the concept of reincarnation is by no means exclusive to
Judaism. The idea was prevalent among Indians on the American continent; and in the
Orient, the teaching of reincarnation is widespread and influential. It is the basis of
most of the philosophical systems of India where hundreds of millions accept the truth of
reincarnation the way we accept the truth of gravityas a great natural and
inevitable law that only a fool would question."
According to Rabbi Jacob Shimmel, "We are reborn until we reach perfection in
following the Torah...In Hebrew, reincarnation is called gilgul, and there is a
whole section of the Kabbala entitled Sefer HaGilgulim. This deals with
details in regard to reincarnation."
One remarkable figure from this mystical school of Jewish thought is Rabbi Isaac
Luria (1534-72). Born in Jerusalem, he became a brilliant student, noted for his
intelligence, logic and reasoning abilities. By the age of 15, Luria had surpassed all the
sages in Egypt in his understanding of talmudic law.
With a thirst for higher knowledge, he studied the Zohar and the Kabbala.
For seven years, he lived as an ascetic on the banks of the Nile River; fasting often,
seeing his wife only on the Sabbath, and merely for brief conversation, if necessary.
During this time, he experienced many strange voices and ecstatic visions. At times, the
prophet Elijah appeared to teach him the secrets of the Torah. Luria later went to Safed
(in Palestine) and became the spiritual master of the community of mystics there. He
taught that the good souls in heaven could be brought down to inhabit human bodies.
Luria saw spirits everywhere. He heard them whispering in the rushing water of
rivers, in the movement of trees, in the wind and in the songs of birds. He could see the
soul of a man leave the body at the time of death. Intimate conversations were often held
with the souls of past figures in the Bible, the talmudic sages and numerous respected
His disciples said he could perform exorcisms and miracles and speak the language
of animals. They wrote: "Luria could read faces, look into the souls of men,
recognize that souls migrated from body to body. He could tell you what commandment a man
had fulfilled and what sins he had committed since youth."
Many of Rabbi Lurias contemporaries were convinced he was "Mashiach,"
the Messiah or the one annointed by God to establish His Kingdom on earth. Its been
said Lurias respect for life was so great that he would avoid stepping on insects,
or treading on grass. Rabbi Yshua also taught that only the meek and gentle would
inherit Gods Kingdom (Matthew 5:5), and this is consistent with Genesis 1:29-31,
Psalm 37:11 and the prophecies of Isaiah 11:6-9, 62:25.
The late Rabbi Isaac ha-Levi Herzog once predicted that "Jews will move
increasingly to vegetarianism out of their own deepening knowledge of what their tradition
commands...Mans carnivorous nature is not taken for granted or praised in the
fundamental teachings of Judaism...A whole galaxy of central rabbinic and spiritual
leaders...has been affirming vegetarianism as the ultimate meaning of Jewish moral
"...I am the Lord, who practices kindness, justice
and righteousness in the earth...in these things I
delight, sayeth the Lord."
According to Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg: "Whoever is merciful to all
creatures is a descendant of our ancestor Abraham. (Bezoh 32b) In the sacred
writings of Judaism, Jews are described over and over again as merciful people, the
children of merciful people (Yebamot 79a, Shabbat 133b)."
Man is said to have been made in the image of God. (Genesis 1:26) Humans are to be
holy, because God is holy. (Leviticus 19:2) Humans are commanded to walk in Gods
ways. (Deuteronomy 10:12) "After the Lord your God ye shall walk." (Deuteronomy
13:5) The Talmud (Sota 14a) asks, "How can man walk after God? Is He not a consuming
fire? What is meant is that man ought to walk after (imitate) the attributes of God. Just
as the Lord clothes the naked, so you shall clothe the naked. Just as he visits the sick,
so you shall visit the sick. Just as the Lord comforted the bereaved, so you shall also
comfort the bereaved; just as He buried the dead, so you shall bury the dead." Rabbi
Yshua also taught his disciples:
"...for I was hungry and you gave me food; I was
thirsty and you gave me drink...naked and you
clothed me; in prison, and you visited me...
insofar as you do it to the least of these brothers
of mine, you did it to me."
In Judaism, this spirit of compassion extends to animals. A New York monthly, The
Jewish Spectator, stated in June 1969:
"Cruelty to animals is forbidden by Jewish law...
Cruelty to animals is known...as tzaar baaley
hayimpain inflicted upon living creatures.
This is a grave sin according to Jewish law."
Dr. Richard H. Schwartz reported in The Jewish Spectator in 1980 that
legislation outlawing meat-eating had been unsuccessfully introduced in the Israeli
Knesset (Parliament) by Mordecai Ben Porat. In secular, political language, Porat argued
that Israels fragile economy was impaired by rising health care coststhe
increasing expenditures went primarily to combatting diseases caused by eating animal
Dr. Schwartz makes a very rational case for Jewish vegetarianism on moral,
economic, and physiological grounds, as well as religious grounds, in his own book, Judaism
Unfortunately, Judaism does not yet condemn meat-eating as a sin, nor are animals
unequivocally given the right to life. However, a strong case can be made that Judaism
does revere vegetarianism as a moral ideal. It may be argued that whereas Christianity
desperately needs more personalities like St. Basil, St. Filippo Neri, John Wesley, and
Dr. Albert Schweitzer, to awaken believers God-given compassion for animals, Judaism
has never excluded animals from moral concern.
Many Jewish teachings on tsaar baalei chayim, or concern for
animals, are consistent with the animal rights ethic. The talmudic rabbis interpreted the
permission to eat meat given in Genesis 9:3 as a concession to human lust and brutality.
Mans earliest beginnings in Paradise, as well as his destiny in the coming Kingdom
of Peace are vividly depicted in the Bible as vegetarian.
Commandments and teachings that clearly define compassion towards animals,
including dietary laws to determine what kind of animals humans may eat and how to
slaughter and prepare them, were deemed necessary to guide the human race through this
dark period of time that will eventually give way to an era of peace among men, and peace
among all creatures.
A complete hard copy of They Shall Not Hurt Or Destroy can be
obtained for $20.00 US including postage and handling from:
30 Villanova Lane
Oakland, CA 94611