Lecture 204: The History of the Divine Service at Altars (XIII) – The History of slaughtering non-consecrated animals and eating meat

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

The History of the Slaughter of Non-Consecrated Animals and its Significance

 

In the previous shiur,we began our discussion of the prohibition of bamot and related to the situation prior to the Mishkan and to the erection of the Mishkan. In the wake of the Torah's account in Vayikra 17, we began to examine the Torah's attitude toward the slaughter of non-consecrated animals after the erection of the Mishkan, and we brought three reasons for the prohibition of slaughtering non-consecrated animals in the wilderness.

 

In order to properly understand this prohibition, we will examine the Torah's attitude toward the slaughter of non-consecrated animals and the eating of meat, starting from the creation of the world. In what way did the spiritual and moral state of the generation of the flood affect this issue? What changed with the building of the Mishkan and what changed again with Israel entry into the Promised Land?

 

The Beginning of Creation

 

A. Herb bearing seed as opposed to all the grass of the field

 

Chapter 1 of the book of Bereishit describes the creation of man and the food given to him:

 

And God said, “Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth and every tree on which is the fruit yielding seed; to you it shall be for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb of food;” and it was so. (Bereishit 1:29-30)

 

The Torah permits man to eat "every herb bearing seed" and every tree on which there is "fruit yielding seed," while the animals are only allowed to eat "every green herb." Man may only eat herbs bearing seed and the fruit of trees that yield seed, and animals may only eat green herbs, but not the fruit of trees.

 

This situation changes in the wake of Adam's sin:

 

And to the man He said, “Because you have hearkened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree, of which I commanded you, saying, You shall not eat of it: cursed is the ground for your sake; in sorrow shall you eat of it all the days of your life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to you; and you shall eat the herb of the field.” (Bereishit 3:17-18)

 

From then on, man may eat all kinds of herbs. There is a transition from plants bearing seed and trees on which there is fruit yielding seed to the herbs of the field.[1]

 

The Ramban explains the matter as follows:

 

He gave Adam and his wife every herb bearing seed and every fruit of the tree. And to the beast of the earth and the birds of the air He gave every green herb, not the fruit of the tree and not the seed. And their food was not all the same. But meat was not permitted to them until the sons of Noach, as our Rabbis have said (Sanhedrin 59b), and this is the plain sense of Scripture…

And the meaning of: "[Behold I have given you] every herb bearing seed… and every tree, on which is the fruit yielding seed; to you it shall be for food" is that they will eat the seeds of the herbs, like the seeds of wheat and barley and legumes, and the like, and they will eat all the fruit of the tree. But the tree itself they will not eat, and also not the herbs, until man was cursed and he was told: "And you shall eat the herb of the field." (Bereishit 1:29, s.v. hineh)

 

The Chizkuni similarly writes:

 

"Behold I have given you" – I am giving you now…

"Every herb bearing seed" – like grains and legumes and the fruit of trees. These are for human consumption, but to every beast of the field I have given every green herb, such as cabbage, beets, and the like. And when man sinned, it was decreed in his regard that he should eat herbs, as it is stated: "Thorns also and thistles… and you shall eat the herb of the field." This is what it is stated: "Man is like the beasts that perish" (Tehillim 49:21) – for were he permitted to eat meat, we would find that a sinner profits [from his sin]. (ibid.)

 

At the beginning of creation, there is a clear distinction between human food and animal feed: herb bearing seed and the fruit of the tree for man, and green herbs for animals. Following Adam's sin, man is likened to a beast, and his food is equated with that of the animals: "And you shall eat of the green of the field."

 

The punishment in this equation arises in the verse: "Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to you; and you shall eat the herb of the field." The Radak (ad loc.) explains: "You shall eat the herb of the field, instead of what you had been eating, the fruit of the trees in the garden."

 

The sin brought with it a decline in man's spiritual state, which is reflected in the fact that he now eats the food originally assigned to animals, and in this way he resembles them. The Chizkuni adds that were Adam permitted at this stage to eat meat, the sinner would profit.

 

Why was the eating of herbs that do not yield seed forbidden at the time of creation? Eating such herbs entails destroying them, as they are void of the capacity to naturally reproduce. Eating herbs bearing seed is permitted because they can reproduce, and therefore eating them does not involve their destruction. In this sense, it may be possible to see a similarity between this state and the prohibition to eat meat, which involves the killing of an animal. Therefore, the next stage following the flood is the allowance to kill animals and eat their meat.

 

R. Spiegelman proposes an additional intermediate stage. We know that in the wake of the sin, God made man and his wife coats of skin. It is possible that just as man had been forbidden to eat the meat of animals, he was also forbidden to uses their skins; any use of an animal involving its killing was forbidden to man. By making them garments of skin, God made it clear to man that he had been demoted; he was now permitted to use the skins of animals.

 

B. Eating animals

 

There is no explicit prohibition in the Torah barring Adam from eating meat or drinking an animal's blood. Nevertheless, the verses point in a certain direction.

 

▪ We can infer from the fact that the Torah permits every herb bearing seed and every tree on which is the fruit yielding seed that only these are permitted, but everything else, including animals, is forbidden.

 

▪ After the flood, God says to Noach: "Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things" (Bereishit 9:3). The fact that this was said to Noach indicates that this allowance was introduced after the flood, for in the wake of the flood, the relationship between man and animals changed.

 

▪ In this context, the Torah emphasizes: "But flesh with its life, which is its blood, you shall not eat" (Bereishit 9:4). According to Rashi, the reference here is to the eating of the flesh of a living animal. According to the Ramban, we are dealing here with the prohibition to eat blood.

 

▪ In addition, the Torah adds the prohibition of murder: "And surely your blood of your lives will I require… Whosoever sheds man's blood by man shall his blood be shed" (Bereishit 9:5-6).

 

However, beyond these inferences the Torah explicitly prohibits the eating of meat. The gemara in Sanhedrin states:

 

R. Yehuda said in the name of Rav: Adam was not permitted to eat meat, as it is written: "To you it shall be for food. And to every beast of the earth" – but not the beast of the earth for you. But with the advent of the sons of Noach, it was permitted, as it is stated: "[Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you;] even as the green herb have I given you all things." One might think that the prohibition of flesh cut from the living animal does not apply to them. Therefore, the verse states: "But flesh with its life, which is its blood, you shall not eat." (Sanhedrin 59b)

 

The gemara apparently joins the end of the verse 29 to the beginning of verse 30:

 

And God said, “Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, on which is the fruit yielding seed; to you it shall be for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, where in there is life, I have given every green herb of food;” and it was so.

 

Thus, the verse is created: "To you it shall be for food, and to every beast of the earth."

 

This is the way Rashi explains the verse:

 

"To you it shall be for food and to every beast of the earth" – Scripture places cattle and beasts on a level with them [human beings; that is, it places all alike in the same category] with regard to food, and did not permit Adam to kill any creature and eat its flesh, but all alike were to eat herbs. But when the era of the sons of Noach began, he permitted them to eat meat, as it is said: "Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; even as the green herb" that I permitted to the first man, so "have I given you all things."

 

A central question that will help clarify our issue concerns the relationship between two statements of God. On the one hand, it says:

 

And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, replenish the earth and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Bereishit 1:28)

 

On the other hand, immediately afterwards it says:

 

And God said, “Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, on which is the fruit yielding seed; to you it shall be for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, where in there is life, I have given every green herb of food; and it was so.” (Bereishit 1:29-30)

 

What is the meaning of the verse regarding dominion in verse 28, as compared to the relationship between man and beasts in verses 29-30? Apparently, man is permitted to use animals in his work, but he is like them with regard to his food, and therefore he may not eat them.[2]

 

Was the eating of meat forbidden to Adam?

 

We saw in the gemara in Sanhedrin that Rav understood as obvious that Adam was not permitted to eat meat. But from the continuation of the gemara there, it appears that the plain explanation of the dominion over animals mentioned in verse 28 is that one is permitted to eat the meat of animals, but in the wake of the words of Rav, the gemara reinterprets this dominion to mean that man is permitted to do his work with the help of animals.

 

We will now cite several commentators who understood that Adam was in fact permitted to eat meat.

 

A.R. Saadya Gaon

 

R. Saadya Gaonwrites in his long commentary:

 

The words "And have dominion over the fish" includes the methods of catching fish from the seabed and the rivers, and preparing the species that are permitted to be eaten in cookware and eating them, and removing pearls from oysters, and using the parts of the skin and the bones that are fit for use, and everything connected to this…

The words "and over the birds" refers to the various methods of catching birds that fly in the air, and training them to catch each other, and preparing from them food for a person's meals and potions for medicines and the like…

With the words "and over the animals," He gave him the control and the power to use every one of them and to eat the meat of animals fit to eat, using the various methods of cooking and the different types of food, and to be healed from that which works as medicine, and to ride on those that are fit for riding, like mules, and to know how to derive all kinds of food from them.

Two questions can be raised here, and both have the same answer. The first: He said to Adam, "Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed," which implies that He did not permit him to eat meat. And the second: How could he say, "And to every beast of the earth"? Surely we see that the lion and other animals devour flesh and not herbs!

And for the two questions there are two possible answers. The first, the Torah speaks about the majority and ignores the minority… And since most of what man eats is vegetable, and without them he could not exist, and since for him eating meat is less common and it is not necessary, and animals too eat mostly vegetables and only a minority eat meat, the verse mentions what is more common and omits what is less common…

And the second answer is that He prohibited man to eat the meat of animals, and He also prohibited animals to eat one another, only at the beginning, for there were then only a small number of each species, and had they eaten each other, they would all have been destroyed and disappeared. Therefore, He pushed off [the allowance to eat meat] until they increased in number, and then He permitted them.

 

R. Saadyaunderstands that the allowance of dominion over animals includes permission to eat meat, and he assumes that the world that is described in Bereishit 1 is the world as we know it today; the nature of animals has not changed.

 

In his second answer, he argues that following the creation there was a temporary prohibition against eating meat in order to allow the animals that would be eaten to multiply. In any case, by the time of Kayin and Hevel, meat was already permitted. The words, "And in process of time it came to pass" (Bereishit 4:3) are explained by Rav Saadya as follows:

 

They waited until the young of the animals multiplied in the land in such a way that they could eat and sacrifice them without bringing to their extermination.

 

R. Sammet[3] cites the theory proposed by Moshe Zucker in his book on R. Saadya's translation of the Torah that R. Saadya's interpretation served a polemical need. The Karaites forbade the eating of meat without a sacrifice, and one of their proofs was that meat was not permitted for consumption until after Noach offered a sacrifice. One of the founding fathers of the Karaites in the ninth century, Daniel al-Kumisi, writes:

 

Anyone who eats meat in exile is unclean, as it is written, "All who eat it will be unclean" (Hoshea 9:4), because meat was not permitted without an altar from the time of Adam until Noach offered sacrifices. And afterwards it is written: "Every moving thing that lives shall be your food." Therefore, it is forbidden to eat meat in exile. (Hoshea 9:10)

 

The Karaites understood that one is not permitted to eat meat until a sacrifice has been offered on the altar. Therefore, after the creation, it was forbidden to eat meat until Noach built an altar and offered sacrifices. This is what permitted the eating of meat.

 

According to their view, in the exile after the destruction of the Temple, when there is no sacrificial service at the altar, there is also no allowance to eat meat, as was the situation prior to the Noach. This stems directly from the destruction, as al-Kamisi writes in his commentary to Tzefanya (2:3): "And mourn over Zion and abandon meat and wine." This is very similar to the argument advanced by the Pharisees before R. Yehoshua in the aftermath of the destruction, as described in Bava Batra (60b): "Shall we eat meat which used to be brought as an offering on the altar, now that this altar is in abeyance?"

 

It is possible that that R. Saadya Gaon's comment was made to counter the view of the Karaites. He therefore says that Adam was permitted to eat meat by virtue of the allowance granted him to have dominion over the animals; if the allowance was limited, it was only for a short while until the animals multiplied. By the time of Kayin and Hevel, eating meat had already been permitted outright.

 

B. Shadal (R. Shmuel David Luzzatto)

 

In his commentary on the verses cited above, Luzzatto explains:

 

"And have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air" – Even though they do not become enslaved to man to do his work, man exploits them for all his needs, for eating and for working.

Now it may be asked: Why is there no mention of eating meat, neither with regard to man, nor with regard to the animals?

Many have already believed that the slaughter of animals was not permitted prior to the flood. This is very far-fetched, seeing that man by his nature and the formation of his body and the form of his teeth is equally fit to eat vegetables and meat, and were it not the Creator's desire that he should eat meat, He would not have created a body fit for that.

But it seems to me that the allowance to eat meat is included in the words: "And have dominion over the fish of the sea." For He said this to Noach. After saying to him, "And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth" (9:2), He explained: "Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you." But to Adam, it was not necessary to be more explicit [it was not necessary to explain that the allowance to have dominion over the animals includes an allowance to eat of their flesh]. But for Noach, since it was necessary to issue a warning regarding the spilling of human blood, He first said that there is no prohibition to slaughter animals.

It should be added that the words, "And have dominion over the fish of the sea," are a clear proof that the killing of animals is permitted [for the purpose of eating], for how is it possible to have dominion over fish without their leaving the water and dying? It cannot be suggested that this means that they should extract fish oil after they are dead and they should use their teeth, because having dominion and control does not refer to using something that is dead, but rather to ruling over a living body, whether to enslave it or to kill it. That which they said (Bava Kama 55a) that someone drove a wagon by means of a goat and a mullet together – this is something that is not common.

It seems to me that God did not want to explicitly tell Adam that he is permitted to kill a living soul, so as not to teach him to shed blood, but rather He only said to him that he should have dominion and rule over all the animals. And the allowance to kill them for the purpose of eating them was not stated explicitly, but understood by inference. However, after the flood… when there were many murderers, then God explained to Noach and his children that they are permitted to kill and eat animals, but they are not permitted to kill one another. (Bereishit 1:28-30)

 

Luzzatto suggests that Adam was granted permission to eat meat, and he brings three proofs in support of his position:

 

1.            Man by his nature with his body and teeth and digestive system is designed to eat both vegetables and meat, and the decision what to eat is subject to his choice.

 

2.            The allowance to eat meat is included in the words, "And have dominion over the fish of the sea." This is proven by the fact that to Noach it was stated explicitly: "Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you," whereas in the case of Adam the allowance is included in the words, "And have dominion over the fish of the sea." This is because the Torah wishes to prohibit the shedding of human blood, and therefore it first says that the slaughter of animals is not forbidden.

 

3.            The words, "And have dominion over the fish of the sea," clearly prove that the killing of animals is permitted, for it is impossible to have dominion over the fish without them leaving the water and dying.

 

C. Gersonides (Ralbag)

 

The Ralbag, in his commentary on Parashat Bereishit (part VI), says:

 

And the words, "Behold, I have given you every herb, etc.," indicate creation and bestowal of a certain nature, not a command. And the trusted proof is what it says at the end of the matter: "And it was so" (v. 30). And the method of this creation was that He empowered man that plants should be food for him, even though they are very far from his nature. And so too, He gave this power to the rest of the animals.

It is clear from philosophy and from the Torah that God's will does not change. It was already thought that it follows from this statement [of God to Adam] that God's will changed with His commandments… For with this statement God prohibited man to eat meat, but afterwards he permitted this to Noach, saying, "Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you." But this is a great lie; it is fitting that every religious person run away from it…

For He permitted them to eat all living things, and He said to them that it is no crime to kill them, as they are like the green herbs in relation to man, and they all exist for the sake of man. And He prohibited flesh from a living animal, as this… is a tendency to lust… And He told them that they should not think that because He permitted them to kill animals, they are also permitted to kill each other. Rather, God will punish them for this.

 

The Ralbag understands these verses as reflecting the establishment of reality, and not as God's command to man. Accordingly, eating meat was never ruled out either for man or for animals, since animal products are closer to the nature of man and animals. The explicit allowance to eat meat that was given to Noach and his children following the flood – "As the green herb have I given you all things" – is explained by the Ralbag as a fundamental statement to the children of Noach at that time. Animals were created for the sake of man just as the green herbs were created for him, and this allowance is mentioned specifically in the context of the prohibition to eat the flesh of a living animal and to kill human beings.

 

The starting point of the Ralbag's explanation of the verses is the assertion that God's will does not change and that it is impossible that that He had forbade meat to Adam and then permitted it to Noach.[4]

 

Summary

 

After examining the foods permitted to man at the beginning of creation and the transition in the wake of Adam's sin from eating herbs bearing seed and the fruit of the tree yielding seed to eating green herbs like the rest of the animals, we began to consider the matter of eating meat, mentioning the opinions of those commentators who maintain that Adam was permitted to eat meat.

 

It is clear, however, that both among Chazal and the Rishonim, the dominant view is that Adam was forbidden to eat meat, and the eating of meat was only permitted after the flood. In the next shiur, we will examine the view according to which meat was forbidden to Adam and attempt to understand the reasons for this prohibition.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)

 



[1] R. Meir Spiegelman dealt with this issue in the VBM series of shiurim on Parashat Ha-Shavua, Parashat Bereishit, 5763. In this shiur, we will cite some of his conclusions.

[2] R. Elchanan Samet dealt with this issue in his book, Iyyunim be-Parashat ha-Shavua" (Bereishit-Shemot) (third series), in his study on Parashat Bereishit. We bring here the gist of the sources cited and explained by R. Samet.

[3] Page 31, note 38.

[4] R. Samet in his notes cites several examples of the Torah changing its attitude toward certain issues. For example, erecting a pillar, which was viewed favorably in the period of the Patriarchs, was later despised because it became an idolatrous practice (see Ramban, Bereishit 28:18); the allowance to eat non-consecrated meat after Israel entered the Promised Land after it had been forbidden to them in the wilderness following the erection of the Mishkan (see Ramban, Devarim 12:20); the issue of the allowance of bamot, which was discussed at length in an earlier shiur.