I have been growing more and more inclined to keep a vegetarian diet. Recently, after speaking with an unabashed vegetarian, she sent me a link to a documentary which contains videos of the slaughtering of cows under kosher supervision. The videos show treatment to animals that seems to be beyond cruel. The animal suffers much longer than I would have anticipated and while it may be within the letter of the law, I find it hard to believe that the Tora would sanction such cruelty. What are the limits of saar baalei hayim? Do you believe that there is room to say that one should consider keeping a vegetarian lifestyle when it reflects a sense of sensitivity and refinement on their part?
One could write a book on the subject. Here is a short version:
- I deplore any and all instances of gratuitous ssa’ar ba’ale hayim (cruelty to animals). Such things must be stopped.
- A person contemplating to refrain from eating meat for this reason should not lose sight of the fact that what one eats, or chooses not to eat, will have no impact whatever on what goes on in abattoirs. [Added in response to comment: I do not accept that the consumer should have to pay extra for “certified humanely-slaughtered kosher meat”. This is the responsibility of the supervising authority; an establishment that does not treat animals humanely should have its kashruth supervision suspended until the issue is corrected. Kosher meat is expensive enough without placing further burdens on the consumer.]
- The Tora (B’reshith 9:3) specifically permits eating meat. The Tora does not command nor even exhort us to be vegetarians; many misswoth involve the eating of meat. The only Tora text that even relates to vegetarianism that comes to mind
- Knowing that the following will be contestedI understand that from a medical perspective, protein in general, and animal protein in particular, is important and healthy.
- The fact is that all peoples and all cultures consume meat. This has been so from time immemorial. The only exception that comes to mind is traditional Indian culture; their abstention from meat is rooted in ‘Avodha Zara, i.e. their veneration of cattle. Rambam writes of this in Mor’e HaN’vukhim3:30 and 3:46.
- I do not see this as being at the top of our Jewish agenda, and I question the level-headedness of those who do. Present day Western culture has almost eliminated the distinction between man and beast; Tora Judaism unabashedly places humans above animals. Once upon a time this was deemed by all cultures to be self-evident.
- I similarly question whether those who feel that the question of granting ‘s’mikha’ to women is the most burning issue that the Jewish people must grapple with today have their heads screwed on straight. (I am not here expressing an opinion on the matter. I am drawing attention to what I consider to be misplaced priorities.) Both are examples of adopting an agenda from without the framework of Tora, from external society, and placing it on a pedestal. I cannot help but feel that something about these positions is not quite right.
These, briefly, are my thoughts.
Rabbi David Bar-Hayim