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Why Aren't We Vegetarians?

Why Aren't We Vegetarians?

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Question:

If Judaism requires us to be kind to animals, shouldn't we be commanded to be vegetarians?

Answer:

I have the utmost respect for anyone who chooses not to eat meat out of concern for animal welfare. And there have been some who have suggested that this is in keeping with Judaism's ideals (although all agree that Judaism allows eating meat).

But there is another way of looking at it, a more spiritual angle, that indicates that eating meat is not just an accommodation to human desire, but has a holy purpose.

The Talmud teaches that the reason Adam and Eve were created after all other creatures was to teach them a dual lesson: humans can be either the pinnacle of creation, or its lowest life-form. If they act appropriately, then everything was created just to serve them; but if they debase themselves, then they should remember that "even a flea preceded you."

The human being is the only creature with free choice. This means we can either work on ourselves and become better than our nature, or abuse our gifts and become worse. Only a human can be generous, kind, selfless and act higher than his or her instincts; and only a human can be cruel, destructive and murderous. (Although sometimes animals do what seem like acts of kindness or destruction, they are invariably just following their instinct for survival — there is no altruism or malice in their actions.)

When we use our freedom to act in a kind, holy and selfless way, we are the highest life form, and the rest of creation is there to serve us. Then, by eating other creatures we are in fact elevating them to places where they couldn't go by themselves.

For example, if I eat a tomato, and then expend the energy that that tomato gave me in performing an act of kindness, the tomato has become a partner in my action, thus making the world a better place — something a tomato can't do on its own.

On the other hand, if I use my energy only to further selfish goals, or to oppress or inflict harm, then what right do I have to eat a tomato? The tomato never hurt anybody, and by eating it and causing harm I am corrupting an innocent tomato!

This is why Judaism doesn't see eating animals as necessarily being cruel. In fact, it could even be cruel not to eat animals, because you are robbing them of a chance to serve a higher purpose (unless of course it is for health reasons). However if you yourself are not living a life of purpose, then it is just as cruel to eat a tomato as a chicken!

If the physical world is your only reality, then you have reason to feel guilty when you consume other life forms. But when you see the spiritual world as just as real (if not more), then even eating can become holy.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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Steven Arizona June 25, 2017

Thank you Chabad and Rabbi Aron Moss for an informative article and for expressing Judaism's respect for those of us not eating animals out of concern for their welfare.

The article's argument for eating meat does not consider how the possible elevation of animals by our act of eating them might be negatively impacted by various factors including the pain and suffering involved for the animals, the mandates of Judaism to be kind to animals as pointed out in the "question," and mandates to care for the earth.

More info is needed to consider whether these factors squash any elevation to a higher place we are supposedly giving animals and whether the suffering caused by the meat, fish, egg, and dairy industries go against the mandates to take care of the earth and animals.

There is a growing concern by Jews and other people about the animals-for-food industry including dairy, fish, and eggs-- industries becoming exposed for their cruelty. Reply

Michael G Wentz Spokane March 30, 2017

Yes, but if we eat animals raised in inhumane factory farms are we not sharing in the mistreatment of the Lord's creation? Reply

Madeleine United States February 19, 2017

See "The Lecture the Entire Jewish Nation Must Watch - Asa Keisar" on YouTube. (I am not permitted to offer the link here.) Asa Keisar presents a convincing argument that veganism is mandated by the Torah. I completely agree with Asa Keisar, and I am vegan. He will tell you this, but I want to state it here: Animals were created for their own purpose (not for human use), and the essential purpose of their existence is not to die but to live.

Reply

Rabbi Yossi Grossbaum, for Chabad.org Folsom, CA January 31, 2017

To Anonymous RE: non-Kosher animals You can ask the same question about all forbidden parts of the world, why did G-d create it if we can't elevate it by our positive interaction with it? The basic answer (obviously extremely condensed) is that the very act of "pushing it away", i.e. not eating the non-Kosher food; is, in itself, a method of elevation. See Tanya Chapter 27 for details. Reply

Glenn Santa Monica January 20, 2017

Why aren't we vegetarians? Rav Abraham Isaac Kook is my model. I wonder if the laws of Kashrut don't make it hard to eat meat after dairy (6 hours) because Hashem wants us to be vegetarians. The laws of kosher slaughter are hard maybe because Hashem doesn't want us to kill animals. We can live a healthy life being a vegetarian so I wonder if this isn't another way of Hashem guiding along Rav Kook's path. May the 3rd Temple be rebuilt speedily in our time and may our sacrifices being only of the finest wheat and stalks of wonderful dates from the Jordan valley. Cain yehi ratzone. B"H and Shabbot Shalom Reply

Anonymous January 19, 2017

I don't understand. If an animal's purpose in this world is to be for human benefit and to be elevated in that way, then why did Hashem create non-kosher animals, which cannot be eaten or even sacrificed? Reply

bob Brooklyn May 30, 2015

Rav Cook said that we will evolve to a time where we will feel compassion towards the animals and no need to eat them .Eating them was a compromise in the bible. Some of us have gotten to that point .Other blindly turn a compromise into a divine mission Reply

Anonymous Denver February 1, 2015

Meat I need not remind those who argue against eating meat that during our exodus, G-d, blessed be, gave us both mana and quail. For those of you who don't know what a quail is, it's a bird, an animal, and most of all "meat."

As to Anonymous, February 1, we use to Kosher our own meat. And some of us still do. You just need to learn and follow the related laws when doing so. Reply

Dovid L. Virginia February 1, 2015

"Every moving thing that lives, for you shall be for food; like the green herbiage I have given you everything."
Bereishis 9:3

I intentionally include some meat in my diet because Hashem has given me permission to do so. This also allows me to consciously observe the mitzvos regarding separation of meat and dairy foods. Reply

Anonymous February 1, 2015

vegetarianism
As someone else commented here it seems that eating meat was allowed but not encouraged? If you don't get enough vitamin B12 for a long time you can end up with a serious neurological disorder. So I tend to trust the balanced and wisdom of the Torah.
However, if there is no Kosher food store unless you travel 2-3 hours out of town or there is simply no Kosher meat available, Veganism seems like the best option.
The only concern I have is that if one is Jewish and vegetarian, is s/he unwittingly adding something else to Judaism, and or creating another religion in theory. Reply

Susan Williams Australia January 31, 2015

Killing animals to satisfy greedy, selfish desires. Absolute rubbish! Meat is indefensible murder and cannot be morally justified. Reply

Glenn Santa Monica, CA January 29, 2015

We aren't all Vegetarians but this is not the say that we shouldn't be. We don't need to eat animals to do good deeds or more specifically follow Hashem's commandments. We can nourish ourselves -- to do good things -- without eating meat and killing animals. Just because Hashem has given us dominion over animals and has not prohibited us from eating animals, doesn't mean that doing so is preferred.

I'm not certain it is accurate to say that animals act only on instinct. Broad sweeping statements about animal behavior may not be accurate.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook (1865-1935), the first Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel and a highly respected and beloved Jewish spiritual leader, is a great teacher on this topic any many other.

When Mosciach comes I pray the need to kill animals for sustenance will end. Kain yehi ratzon!

Respectfully yours,

Glenn Reply

JosephD Connecticut January 29, 2015

Very nicely written Rabbi Moss ! Reply

Doron Redwood City January 29, 2015

Why not try to make this reality more like Gan Eden? Genesis 1:29: And G-d 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. Reply

Katherine Englebardt January 29, 2015

All life feeds on other life. The smallest bacteria and viruses "eat" us.
I am ok with eating whatever, as long as we express gratitude for the food that sustains us, and honor our planet as best we can. Reply

Anonymous usa January 29, 2015

What about empathy? Not eating an animal is in my point of view a mitzvah. The Thorah teaches us to have empathy whether this is for a human, an animal or even a tree. How can you have empathy when you hear an animal scream while he is being slaughter? Killing to elevate an animal is not rational nor ethical and your arguments doesn't stand. If I push your argument... what you are telling us is that It is a mitzvah to eat meat, therefore it is a mitzvah to kill an animal and to elevate him and since you are killing him it is a mitzvah not to have too much empathy and to kill him for a "good cause" (which by the way we can do without kiling)...this makes no sense. Reply

Anonymous Israel January 29, 2015

I must say this is a rediculous reason. Believimg that were doing the animals a " favor" by eating them because it can elevate them to higher purpose?? Animals have feelings, unlike a tomato.
Be Vegan or eat meat, but dont use Judaism to justify your choices...( since killing an animal is not moral!) Reply

Daniel mexico January 29, 2015

We were vegeterians before Noa?? Reply

Rivke Everywhere June 30, 2012

I've always seen the allowance for weakness In my view, meat was allowed, not encouraged.
That allowance could be for mortal weakness or desert environments with little plant life (survival at its core).
I think it is an allowance for times of extremity, not a usual thing.

The elevate for spiritual use argument is weak at best. Reply

TheGideonLion San Diego, CA July 8, 2011

Fraud It is a tired and fraudulent argument I have heard too many times. Please let it be put to rest once and for all. Reply

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