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Thou Shalt Not Kill

 "Actually, one who is guided by Jesus Christ will certainly get liberation. But it is very hard to find a man who is actually being guided by Jesus Christ...violence is against the Bible's injunctions. How can they kill if they are following the Bible?"

--Perfect Questions, Perfect Answers

"If you love your neighbor as yourself, then why this 'civilization' which claims to be Christian, is slaughtering so many animals, and why they are constantly slaughtering each other in wars, in the streets? Jesus says you will not kill...and my spiritual master is giving love of God, he is giving love of God to the world."

--Srimad Bhagavatam lecture, 1971

At a monastic retreat near Paris in July of 1973, the following conversation took place between A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and French Roman Catholic Cardinal Jean Danielou:

ACBSP: Jesus Christ said, "Thou shalt not kill." So why is it that the Christian people are engaged in animal killing?

CD: Certainly in Christianity it is forbidden to kill, but we believe that there is a difference between the life of a human being, and the life of the beasts. The life of a human being is sacred because man is made in the image of God; therefore, to kill a human being is forbidden.

ACBSP: But the Bible does not simply say, "Do not kill the human being." It says broadly, "Thou shalt not kill."

CD: We believe that only human life is sacred.

ACBSP: That is your interpretation. the commandment is "Thou shalt not kill."

CD: It is necessary for man to kill animals in order to have food to eat.

ACBSP: No. Man can eat grains, vegetables, fruits...

CD: No flesh?

ACBSP: No. Human beings are meant to eat vegetarian food. The tiger does not come to eat your fruits. His prescribed food is animal flesh. But man's food is vegetables, fruits, grains...So how can you say that animal killing is not a sin?...Jesus Christ taught "Thou shalt not kill." Why do you interpret this to suit your own convenience? When there is no other food, someone may eat meat to keep from starving. That is another thing. But it is most sinful to regularly maintain slaughterhouses just to satisfy your tongue. Actually, you will not even have a human society until this cruel practice of maintaining slaughterhouses is stopped.

In 1974, near Frankfurt, Germany, a similar discussion took place with Father Emmanuel Jungclaussen, a Benedictine monk:

Father Emmanuel: We Christians also preach love of God, and we try to realize love of God and render service to Him with all our heart and all our soul. Now, what is the difference between your movement and ours? Why do you send your disciples to the Western countries to preach love of God when the gospel of Jesus Christ is propounding the same message?

ACBSP: The problem is that the Christians do not follow the commandments of God. Do you agree?

FE: Yes, to a large extent you're right.

ACBSP: Then what is the meaning of the Christians' love for God? If you do not follow the orders of God, then where is your love? Therefore we have come to teach what it means to love God: if you love Him, you cannot be disobedient to His orders. And if you're disobedient, your love is not true...They have rubber-stamped themselves "Christian," "Hindu," or "Mohammadan," but they do not obey God. That is the problem...The first point is that they violate the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" by maintaining slaughterhouses. Do you agree that this commandment is being violated?

FE: Personally, I agree.

ACBSP: Good. So if the Christians want to love God, they must stop killing animals...This program follows the teachings of the Bible; it is not my philosophy. Please act accordingly and you will see how the world situation will change.


The March 1986 issue of Hinduism Today reported that across the board, Hindu religious leaders condemn abortion at any stage of fetal development as killing (some say murder) and as an act which carries very serious karmic repercussions (like the killing of cows). I commented on the Democrats For Life email list in 2007 that abortion falls somewhere between cow-killing and murder in the Hindu religious tradition, prompting Bill Samuel (raised a Quaker and a lifelong vegetarian) to exclaim, "Do something!"

Since all of Srila Prabhupada's words are recorded on CD ROM, we can determine if Srila Prabhupada ever used the word "murder" with regard to abortion. My understanding is that Srila Prabhupada referred to abortion as killing, not murder.

And Srila Prabhupada was very specific in his choice of words! For example, Srila Prabhupada said in conversation with Father Emmanuel Jungclaussen, a Benedictine monk, in 1974, "If you do not follow the first order, 'Thou shalt not kill,' then where is the question of love of God?"

A visitor responded, "Christians take this commandment to be applicable to human beings, not to animals."

Srila Prabhupada said, "That would mean that Christ was not intelligent enough to use the right word: murder. There is killing, and there is murder. Murder refers to human beings. Do you think Jesus was not intelligent enough to use the right word -- murder -- instead of the word killing? Killing means any kind of killing, and especially animal killing. If Jesus had meant simply the killing of humans, he would have used the word murder."


"Thou shalt not kill does not apply to murder of one's own kind only; but to all living beings: and this Commandment was inscribed in the human breast long before it was proclaimed from Sinai."

---Count Leo Tolstoy

In his 1984 pamphlet, "You Mean *That's* in the Bible?", aimed at a Christian audience, on the topic of vegetarianism, writer Steven Rosen notes: "scriptural knowledge is simple for the simple--but it is difficult for the twisted. The Bible clearly says 'thou shalt not kill' (Exodus 20:13). It could not be stated more clearly.

"The exact Hebrew is lo tirtzach, which accurately translates: 'thou shalt not kill.' One of the greatest scholars of Hebrew/English linguistics (in the Twentieth Century)--Dr. Reuben Alcalay---has written in his mammoth book The Complete Hebrew/English Dictionary that 'tirtzach' refers to 'any kind of killing whatsoever.' The word 'lo,' as you might suspect, means 'thou shalt not. DON'T KILL! Let's face it, the Bible is clear on this point."

Rosen repeats this observation in his 1987 book, Food for the Spirit: Vegetarianism and the World's Religions: "Essential to the principle of compassion and mutual love is the Sixth Commandment: Thou shalt not kill. Although simple and direct, the commandment is rarely taken literally. The exact Hebrew for Exodus 20:13, where this commandment is found, reads 'lo tirtzach.' According to Reuben Alcalay, the word 'tirtzach refers to 'any kind of killing whatsoever.' The exact translation, therefore, asks us to refrain from killing in toto.

"'Thou shalt not' needs no interpretation. The controversial word is 'kill,' commonly defined as 1) to deprive of life; 2) to put an end to; 3) to destroy the vital or essential quality of. If anything that has life can be killed, then an animal can be killed; according to this commandment, the killing of animals is forbidden.

"Life is commonly defined as the quality which distinguishes a vital and functioning being from a dead body. Although a complex phenomenon, life manifests its presence by symptoms as recognizable to a student of the world's scriptures as to a biologist. All living entities pass through six phases: birth, growth, maintenance, reproduction, dwindling and death. An animal, then, by man's definition as well as by God's, qualifies as a living being. What is living can be killed, and to kill is to break a commandment as holy as any."

Rosen repeats these arguments again in his 2004 book, Holy Cow. "There are several studies on the significance of 'Thou shalt not kill' from a vegetarian point of view. The most noted work from this perspective would be Aaron Frankel's much-referred to book, Thou Shalt Not Kill--the Torah of Vegetarianism, which was ...1896."

And again: "According to Reuben Alcalay, one of the twentieth century's great linguistic scholars and author of The Complete Hebrew-English Dictionary, the commandment refers to 'any kind of killing whatsoever.' The original Hebrew, he says, Lo tirtzakh, which asks us to refrain from killing in toto. If what he says is true, we can analyze the commandment as follows: 'Thou shalt not' needs no interpretation. The controversial word is 'kill,' commonly defined as (1) to deprive of life; (2) to put and end to; (3) to destroy to vital or essential quality of. If anything that has life can be killed, an animal can be killed as well; according to this commandment, then, the killing of animals is forbidden."

However, Rosen admits: "The Hebrew word for 'murder' is ratzakh, whereas the word for 'kill' is haroq. The commandment, in the original Hebrew, indeed states: 'Lo tirtzakh' (a form of ratzakh), not 'Lo Taharoq.' In other words, it is 'Thou shalt not murder,' as opposed to 'Thou shalt not kill.' Why, then, does Reuben Alcalay say that tirtzakh refers to 'any kind of killing whatsoever' ?

"The difference between these two words--'kill' and 'murder'--has more to do with the modern usage than original texts: the demarcation between these words may have been different in biblical times. Indeed, the Bible appears conflicted in this regard, as do the Bible translations. The HarperCollins Study Bible, which is the New Revised standard Version and the rendition used by the Society of Biblical Literature, interprets the commandment as 'Thou shalt not murder,' but it then includes a footnote saying 'or kill.' The New Oxford Annotated Bible does the same.

"The King James Version of the Bible, and others too numerous to mention here, translate the verse as 'Thou Shalt not kill,' while others keep going back and forth, changing from 'kill' to 'murder' and, every few years, back again. Perhaps the most important version to use the word 'kill' instead of 'murder' is The Holy Bible: From Ancient Eastern Manuscripts. This work is based on the earliest editions of the text, making use of rare Aramaic fragments. Here we find that the Exodus verse is unequivocally rendered as 'Thou shalt not kill,' though a lengthy Introduction explains why well-meaning translators choose otherwise."

In Holy Cow, in the chapter entitled 'Thou Shalt Not Kill', Steven Rosen quotes Philip L. Pick (1910-1992), founder of the Jewish Vegetarian Society, after researching the subject for nearly 30 years, as having concluded: "...the oft-used translation 'thou shalt not commit murder' wrongfully restricts the original meaning of the word. Certainly today, the abundance of non-flesh, health giving foods unquestionably means that every time a creature is killed for food a sin against God has been committed."

"If you want to pass from the consciousness of flesh into the consciousness of Spirit, you must withdraw your attention from the things of the flesh," taught Dr. Charles Filmore, founder of Unity.

"You must recognize that there is but one universal life, one universal substance, one universal intelligence, and that every animal is contending for its life and is entitled to that life.

"But in the matter of animal slaughter, who countenances it or defends it after his eyes have been opened to the unity of life? Let us remember that the right kind of food will give our minds and our spirits opportunity to express that which is one with ideal life."

Founded in the 19th century at Lee's Summit, Missouri, the Unity School teaches that the time will come when man will look back upon eating animal flesh as he now looks upon cannibalism:

"As man unfolds spiritually he more and more perceives the necessity of fulfilling the divine law in every department of his life. From experience and observation Unity believes that somewhere along the way, as he develops spiritually, man comes to question seriously the rightness of meat as part of his diet. Man is naturally loathe to take life, even though the idea of killing animals for food has so long been sponsored by the race that he feels it is right and proper to do so.

"However, the Commandment, 'Thou shalt not kill,' considered in its fullest sense, includes the killing of animals...There is a kindred spirit in all living things--a love for life. Any man who considers honestly the oneness of life feels an aversion to eating meat: that is a reaction of his mind towards anything so foreign to the idea of universal life."

Civil rights leader Dick Gregory credits the Judeo-Christian ethic and the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with having caused him to become a vegetarian. In 1973, he drew a connection between vegetarianism and nonviolent civil disobedience:

"...the philosophy of nonviolence, which I learned from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during my involvement in the civil rights movement was first responsible for my change in diet. I became a vegetarian in 1965. I had been a participant in all of the 'major' and most of the 'minor' civil rights demonstrations of the early sixties, including the March on Washington and the Selma to Montgomery March.

"Under the leadership of Dr. King, I became totally committed to nonviolence, and I was convinced that nonviolence meant opposition to killing in any form. I felt the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' applied to human beings not only in their dealings with each other--war, lynching, assassination, murder and the like--but in their practice of killing animals for food or sport. Animals and humans suffer and die alike...Violence causes the same pain, the same spilling of blood, the same stench of death, the same arrogant, cruel and brutal taking of life."

In a 1979 interview, Gregory explained: "Because of the civil rights movement, I decided I couldn't be thoroughly nonviolent and participate in the destruction of animals for my dinner...I didn't become a vegetarian for health reasons; I became a vegetarian strictly for moral reasons...Vegetarianism will definitely become a people's movement."

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