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Is vegetarianism the ultimate ideal for humankind?

With all the commotion being made about laboratory created meat, the new technological development raises interesting ethical questions whether the slaughtering of animals ought to even be continued, since artificial meat is available. Should the practice of kosher slaughter be continued? Obviously, none of us can expect to know the future. Time will tell whether such a meat alternative is even considered healthy for human consumption. That being said, if the technology can truly replicate meat in a safe and healthy way, we may live to see the day when animals will once again live peacefully with humankind. This idea is hardly original; its roots go back to the time of Philo of Alexandria, the early Midrashic literature, if not earlier.

On the practical side, everyone in the kashrut industry has long known that the biggest problem with kashrut is most typically the meat! Eliminate the problem with meat, religious Jews can eat their food with less anxiety and angst!

Some rabbinic thinkers in the last two hundred years or so have expressed some important thoughts about the rational behind vegetarianism, which exists  in Jewish thought and tradition. Marcus Kalisch, a British rabbinic scholar (1825-1888), writes about the vegetarian diet of Adam:

The lifeless creation was produced for the living beings; vegetation was destined for men and animals; no being “with a living soul” was originally intended as the food for another living creature; man was assigned to eat the seed-giving plants, and grain, and the fruit of trees; to the animals were left the grass and the herbs (vv. 29-30). Although man was permitted the dominion over the beasts of the field, the fishes of the water, and the birds of the air, he was not allowed to extend that dominion to the destruction of life; he was the master, not the tyrant, of the animal kingdom — he might use, but not annihilate it . . .

. . . Every living being has a right to exist, and to enjoy its existence; God had blessed the animals with fruitfulness; man was not allowed to counteract that blessing by killing them for his sport or his appetite. God created the world for peace and concord, no being should rage against another; the sin of man brought warfare among the living creatures; the cries of agony rent the air; man and beast raged among themselves, and against each other; the state of innocence was succeeded by the age of passion and violence; and it was only after the fall of man that animal food was permitted to him (9:3).[1]

Less than a century later, R. Abraham Isaac Kook (1864-1935) expressed a similar perspective, envisioning a time when human beings will once again live in a state of peace with the animal world, and will not need to subsist on them for sustenance: “The thrust of the idealism that continues to develop will not remain forever in its confinement. Just as the democratic aspiration will emerge into the world through the general intellectual and moral perfection, “when man will no longer teach his brother to know the Lord, for they will all know Me, small and great alike” (Jer. 31:34), so will the hidden yearning to act justly toward animals emerge at the proper time.“[2]


Notes:

[1] Marcus M. Kalisch, A Historical and Critical Commentary on the Old Testament (London: Longmans, Brown, Green and Dyer, 1858), 78.

[2] Abraham Isaac Kook,  “Talele Orot”, Tahkemoni, Vol. I, (Bern, 1910, 21), cited from Ben Zion Bokser’s, Abraham Isaac Kook: The Lights of Penitence, the Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems (New York: Paulist Press, 1978), 23.




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