Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Vegetarianism

The Halacha depends on your reason for not eating meat. Are you a vegetarian for health reasons or cruelty-to-animal reasons or none of the above? If for instance it’s for health reasons, will you get sick if you eat meat, or is it merely a "fitness" thing? There is no obligation to like meat. There is no problem with not eating meat because you don't like the taste, or for health reasons.


Vegetarianism can pose problems Halachicly and Hashkafically. We’ll start with the Hashkafa.

Hashem put animals in this world for a purpose. Their purpose is to be used by humans, whenever and however the Halachah implies. When an animal gets shechted, and the meat is eaten at a Shabbos meal, with brachos and bentching said over it, the animal has fulfilled his purpose in the world. It is the absolute best thing that could happen to the animal.
We learn that this is the best thing for the animals from many places, the simplest is Rabbi Yehuda’s statement to the calf: “Go [to the slaughter], for this is why you were created” – that is the calf’s purpose in this world.
There are other, more esoteric places that provide explanations of this, such as the Arizal, the Ramchal, and others. If you want to see more on this, check out the Sefer Shem MiShmuel on Chumash, where the topic of animals being here for higher purposes such as being slaughtered or eaten is a pretty regular theme.


You never know why animals are here – some are gilgulim or human souls who have to fix something while in their reincarnated form, some are “elevated” by becoming sacrifices, some become tefillin, some have their other purposes, but one thing is certain: Hashem created them, and He knows what is good for them. Keeping animals from their purpose, where we know their purpose according to the Halachah, is cruelty to animals, not compassion.

This does not mean that we should be unfeeling to animals. There is a story in the Gemora where a calf was trying to run from the shochet and hid behind Rav Yehuda’s cloak. Rav Yehuda said to the animal, “Go [to the shochet]! For that it why you were created!”. Even though his words were correct, Rav Yehuda was punished for his cruel attitude. Animals have their purpose, true, but that doesn’t mean we have to be cruel about it.

Another place we see this is in the ruling of the Nodah Beyehuda, that whether hunting animals for sport is halachicly permitted or not, it is an act of cruelty, a “maaseh eisav”, and therefore should not be done.

And of course, there is a prohibition of any Tzar Baalei Chaim (causing pain to any living creature).

So our Hashkafa is that animals were placed here for a reason; often that reason is to be consumed by humans. That is the will of Hashem and the greatest benefit and compassion to the animal. And it is compassion that we must show at all times.

As for the Halachah, there is a disagreement in the Poskim if nowadays it is an obligation to eat meat (i.e. cattle as opposed to poultry) on Yom Tov (see Magen Avrohom 249:6, 529:3, Machtzis HaShekel ad loc., Eliyahu Rabbah ad loc quoting Bach, Nishmas Adam 103); others hold that you get a Mitzvah if you eat meat but it is not obligatory, now that we do not have a Bais HaMikdosh (see Magen Avrohom 696:9, Rav Shulchan Aruch 696:7).

So the Torah prohibits us to be cruel to animals. The only question is: What really constitutes cruelty and what is real compassion? Only Hashem has authority to answer that, and He did, through His poskim.

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About the often cited point that we are only allowed to eat meat because it is an imperfect world, that is true. And had Adam not sinned, the world would have been different in many ways. We could not have had a Mitzvah to eat meat. But since he did sin, the world is different. So in the world that could have been, and would have been had Adam not sinned, you would be right. But in that world, we would also be running around naked. That’s what WOULD have been best. Unfortunately, Adam did sin, and the world is imperfect. We need fixing, so we die. Animals need fixing, so they get made into Tefillin, or eaten as Shabbos Seudos, or sacrificed as Korbonos, or whatever.

So if you are talking about whether it is cruel to eat and animal in today’s imperfect world, the answer is no, it is not cruel, as Rabbi Yehuda said “That is why [they were] created”.

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